Celebrating its fifth year British Summer Time Festival (BST) is designed as a showcase of live music grouped by genre into day long programmes throughout July. Kicking off the season was Phil Collins and Blondie, representing retro-pop. To come is classic rock and Americana from Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty and contemporary pop with headliner Justin Beiber, as well as contemporary rock with The Killers and classic indie with The Pixies and Kings of Leon.
By the time The Hives arrive on stage the festival is in full swing. Crowds are already pushed up against the barrier to the Golden Circle and stretching back to the food stands beyond the walkways. Here’s one of the elements that BST gets so right, no matter how far back you are positioned you are treated to the choice moments on stage thanks to monolithic video screens, with expertly live-cut and mixed images, complete with Sign Language Aides live signing the performances.
The Hives are topped off in their trademark whole band costumes, this time harlequin-like monochrome bi-sected contrasting suits. It’s a good look. Opening with tight, guitar driven Come On! Frontman Pelle Almqvist plays up to his stage personae of arrogance and pomp, teasing the audience in mock chastisement, “Europe’s not so bad after all, huh?” No argument from this audience. They blast through a tight set of fan favourites Main Offender, Hate to Say I Told You So and Walk Idiot Walk, finishing with a slightly drawn out take on Tick Tick Boom interrupted by more of Almqvist’s thoughts on “punk rock music” yeah, ‘Zupercool’!
Following on in the vein of international punk, comes extravaganza of diversity, Manhattan originated gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. Strained synth notes herald the arrival of both the sun and the perfect party band. For a moment, it feels like every crowd member is in motion, unable to stop themselves from dancing; people in fast food queues, people at the bars, even people spread out on picnic blankets are toe tapping.
With a set including notable tracks like Wonderlust King, My Companera and Start Wearing Purple, they bring all the energy and colour of globetrotting nomads. They add flourishes with extra vocals, fiddle, and accordion, as founding member Eugene Hütz races up and down the front of the stage, swigging wine from the bottle. With half of the material performed in theatrical Russian drawl, it begs the question, is the Sign Language Aide (who is still rocking in the corner of the video screen) signing in Russian?
This is not the only question British Summer Time raises. Wasn’t punk once defined by its origin with disaffected youth, DIY bands and fashion? Looking around this festival gone are the days of grass roots punk, now there are a sea of headline merch t-shirts, hefty ticket prices, a distinct division between those in the Golden Circle and those pushed against the barriers. The line-up is loaded with bands who made their name during the pop, punk, ska revival of the 1990’s. With original ’77 bands like The Damned placed early in the afternoon, or side-lined to the supporting stages. Even the next wave of bands, like US group SWMRS have more connection to the headliners than the bands of filth and the fury, member Joey Armstrong being Billy Joe Armstrong’s son. Yet, the quality of the music being performed and the love from the fans renders these observations redundant, who cares when there is sunshine, good people and brilliant music?
Bringing the spirit of California to the Oak Stage is much beloved Bay Area band Rancid. By comparison to any other band on the bill today, they may be the least likely to be written off as ‘punk light’. Their lyrics still carry the stories of the down trodden and dispossessed, even the branding of their music from their first record to their most recent album, has been presented in a low-key garage band style. In the case of this year’s Trouble Maker LP, they literally filmed the videos for each song as one continuous set in an actual garage.
Having been made up of revolving members over the years, the current configuration of members are well seasoned musicians with a distinctly ‘worn in’ and committed sense of style, Rancid will never be accused of being Instagram punks. Between guitarist Lars Fredriksen’s facial tattoos and front man Tim Armstrong’s beard, which is vying for position as the eighth wonder of the world, they cut a menacing form. Don’t be fooled for all of their ‘hard times’ material and down and out looks they still know how to make a crowd dance with infectious rhythms underpinned with bouncing basslines. Interestingly it’s the new material that shines here, particularly Ghost of a Chance and Telegraph Avenue.
It would be wrong to bypass one of the most high calibre but curiously marginalised bands appearing at BST, even if it means a schlep up to the far reaches, past the funfair, bars and food trucks to catch The Stranglers. It turns out a great many people feel this way as the crowd is almost impenetrably deep surrounding the small mouth of the Barclaycard Stage. I position myself behind Bash & Pop (aka Tommy Stinson and Steve Selvidge) who played earlier in the day. Even these fellow performers tried to stay in the crowd to listen before the overwhelming crush forced them to enjoy one of the perks of fame and slip quietly backstage to hear these legends. Forever an effortlessly cool, no frills band The Stranglers take to the stage to the wheezing chimes of Waltz in Black before chugging through an all hits set including Nice and Sleazy and giving up the goods early by playing fan favourites Golden Brown and summer sunset appropriate Peaches in the first five songs. Just as well, as anyone who wanted to make it back down the length of the park to catch headliners Green Day had no choice but to abandon the sneering face of Baz Warne and his splendid gastronomic noises (which still to this day invokes memories of red-faced and sloshed Keith Floyd).
Walking down the solid walkways, the scale of the migration of people heading to see Green Day becomes apparent, it’s like someone tipped the festival over. For anyone seeing Green Day live for the first time they are in for a treat. There are good reasons these guys fill stadiums, and sell out whenever they headline. Summoned by an ear shattering recording of The Ramones Blitzkreig Bop all eyes are back on the Oak Stage in time for the now somewhat raggedy Green Day mascot; a disorientated, tailless pink bunny sporting a t-shirt reading, “Who the f**k is Tré Cool?” (referring to Green Day’s cartoonish blue haired drummer).
Stylistically, this mascot is a little ‘on the nose’ as Green Day shows are reminiscent of being trapped in an alternate reality version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, at times emotional and at other times zany, with big musical numbers, pyrotechnics, costumes, and wacky facial expressions. This is all highly entertaining stuff and done with such attention to detail that it cannot fail to win some respect. Even bass player Mike Dirnt’s crazy mock surprise gurning at every note he plays somehow makes sense. Make no mistake, this is Billie Joe Armstrong’s show. From the moment he arrives on stage this artist has Hyde Park in his hands.
For a man so small of stature Armstrong is able to project his personality out of the stratosphere. Opening with Know Your Enemy and racing through over 25 years worth of award winning chart topping hits and including some first live outings for new material from 2017 album Revolution Radio. It is always a surprise how melodic Armstrong’s voice is and how well he understands songcraft as well as stagecraft. Green Day shows usually feature moments of audience participation, in this case the stage has been specially extended almost to the end of the Golden Circle allowing some outreach to those fans who could not afford the prized front barrier access tickets.
You have to hope this is the concession to support Armstrong’s equalising manifesto of, “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia and no Trump!” (Does he think he’s hiding in the crowd)? The purpose of this one man protest is a little unclear given how small a proportion of this audience are likely to vote in a US election, but ok, everyone seems to sympathise. Like a post-apocalyptic game show host Armstrong chooses random fans to join him on stage to sing, play guitar and share that awe-inspiring view from the stage before diving off to be carried away beaming from ear to ear. Sure, it’s gimmicky, but it also feels more generous then self-indulgent and always makes for excellent entertainment.
Like a kid who has been allowed to stay up past bed time Billie Joe Armstrong announces how he wants to play past the curfew and into the dawn, and they do play a substantial and lengthy set made up of a chain of their catchy three minute wonders, including a pacey cover of Knowledge by Operation Ivy. An extended version of the anthemic King for a Day takes a peculiar turn into a cover of Careless Whisper thanks to the saxophonist, before travelling through a crazy mash up of Shout/Always Look on the Bright Side of Life/Teenage Kicks/Satisfaction and a crowd sing along of Hey Jude.
With Forever Now it is possible to feel the inevitable wind down and prelude to not one but two encores. Finishing, perhaps predictably but always befittingly, with the world’s most popular commencement song, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). Even the most cynical lover of original punk rock cannot help feeling a little bit won over by the charm and mastery of a Green Day live show, because at Billie Joe’s game show everyone’s a winner.
There will be more coverage from British Summer Time 2017 on RockShot, meanwhile Green Day continue their Revolution Radio Tour on the continent.
Live Review by Sarah Sievers and Photography by Imelda Michalczyk of Green Day at BST in Hyde Park on 1st July 2017