It’s one of those rare days when London is absolutely sweltering. As the mercury nudges 32 degrees, crowds quickly start to gather in Hyde Park for the sixth annual British Summer Time concerts. Sprawling across six days, the festival hosts some incredible talent, the first of which is headlined by one of Britain’s greatest musical assets – founding member of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters.
At the main Great Oaks stage, fans are vying for the best vantage point to see the great artist himself, marking territories with multicoloured picnic blankets and excessive collections of beer. It is an eclectic mix of demographics – men and women, young and old are talking amongst themselves, some audibly debating which Pink Floyd song is the best in their catalogue. Many are sporting Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Pink Floyd shirts, some dating as far back as the 1972 Dark Side of the Moon tour. It’s a type of homage to the immense legacy these artists have, and continue to have, in modern popular culture.
Earlier in the day, Seasick Steve warmed up the already sweltering audience with an early afternoon walk through the American blues.
South London heroes Squeeze headlined the Barclaycard Stage. They took an enthusiastic audience through a stampede of hits as well as newer songs from their most recent album, The Knowledge.
Classic numbers proved to be particular highlights. Hits such as Up The Junction, thrown in earlier than expected, had the audience belting out the lyrics with unrelenting passion. Rockshot caught up with the band’s co-frontman Chris Difford backstage before their set – look out for our interview with him coming out soon.
Back to the main stage and it is quite a sight to behold. With two giant artificial oak trees branching over the stage to disguise the scaffolding, it’s the attention to detail that makes the overall experience that little bit more exciting. In support of Waters is another British icon – founding member of The Verve, Richard Ashcroft.
In his silver-sequinned jacket and tightly-clad leather pants, Ashcroft is the personification of rock and roll. “What a time to be alive right now!” he shouts to the audience before sparing a few lines to bestow his sincere appreciation for Waters and the chance to accompany him on tour. As anticipated, Ashcroft meanders through some of his ultimate classics – most of which are from his Britpop catalogue with The Verve. From The Drugs Don’t Work, Lucky Man and Weeping Willow, he cruises through his set with little time to pause, his face covered by black-tinted sunglasses and dark shaggy-hair.
Musically, the songs are delivered effortlessly, thanks mostly to Ashcroft’s quintet of talented backing musicians. Yet, despite his reliance on them, Ashcroft was determined to cement his presence as, not only a vocalist, but a guitarist. During Break The Night With Colour, he shifted from melodic strums to a chaotic guitar solo where his Gibson was, essentially, scratched to pieces and manipulated by nonsensical manual tuning of the strings.
Finally taking a moment to acknowledge the audience’s immense positive reception, Ashcroft appeared appreciative, until someone provocatively shouted at him to play Wonderwall – “the f*** do you think I am!” was his response. It was a moment that seemingly pulled on some historical beef once had with Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. Setting aside his spat, Ashcroft closed off his set with the iconic Bittersweet Symphony – a brilliant rendition that showcased the familiar, but also dabbled in some musically experimental territory.
With a deliberately long drawn out conclusion, it was a strong finish that set the mood for the most anticipated performance of the day – Roger Waters.
After almost an hour, the screens of the stage dim and an image of a large sphere creeps into vision. For what seems like a long time, the slow-moving images keep everyone transfixed as the shape reveals itself as the moon. Slowly Waters’ band start to appear on stage as they break into the opening notes of Speak To Me and Breathe. Like the album from which it first appeared, it proves an excellent opening for a show that would soon leave everyone completely entranced.
Roger Waters is in the UK supporting his Us + Them Tour, which, in true Waters’ style, champions the classics of Pink Floyd whilst also delivering a grandiose spectacle riddled with fierce political statements. Waters has never been shy to make bold and, oftentimes, confronting statements. For decades his music has been dedicated to protest and debate, delivered eloquently through music. On this day, he uses this exact motif to proclaim one simple but memorable message – ‘resist’.
But “resist what or who?” reads a query on screen during the interval. The answers are boldly provided on screen, with a myriad of current and historical ‘demons’ the target of Waters’ outcry: “Neo-fascism”, “pollution”, “the military”, “Mark Zuckerberg” and other such bogeymen. But, in a line-up of polarising ‘tyrants’ showcased so openly on the screen, there is no other man that receives the greatest tirade of protest from Waters than US President, Donald Trump.
During Pigs (Three Different Ones), Waters boldly takes a moment to proclaim that “the world is run by pigs” before holding a sign that hotly cries the slogan “f*** the pigs”. It is accompanied by a giant inflatable pig hovering over the audience saying “stay human, or die”, whilst images of Trump’s superimposed head on unflattering images is proudly parodied on giant screens in the background. In Waters’ own words, the protest is to showcase “that pigs are running the world and dragging it into ruin”. It is a message that is clearly received, albeit not subtly, but also highlights how a song written in 1977 can still carry resonance to this day – frighteningly.
Jumping back a few songs and Waters, along with eight fantastic backing musicians, showcases the standout Pink Floyd tracks that have proven most successful and span an incredible five albums. Great Gig In The Sky puts vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig in the spotlight, both of whom deliver such an exemplary version of the vocal solo made famous in 1973 by Clare Torry.
During Money, Ian Ritchie is brilliant with his performance of the iconic saxophone solo, whilst Comfortably Numb allows lead guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Wilson to due justice to David Gilmour’s original vocals recorded in 1979. Completing the 9-piece band onstage is David Kilminster (guitar), Bo Koster (piano), Gus Seyffert (bass) and Joey Waronker (drums) – all of whom contribute significantly to a carefully choreographed performance.
The show teeters between some newer songs and the back catalogue classics – Wish You Were Here, Time and Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II – the latter of which features a row of local schoolchildren dressed in orange jumpsuits (reminiscent of Guantanamo Bay prison uniforms), who eventually reveal black shirts with the show’s motif – resist – sprawled in white ink. It’s this powerful symbolism that reiterates a cause that has long been part of Waters’ musical ideology.
What is also important to note is the sound at this venue. At festivals, the sounds can often be stifled by nearby noise pollution and lack of acoustics – but not today. The sound during the show is beyond impeccible. As a slow image of the Battersea Power Station (the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album, Animals) starts to appear on the gigantic screens – the noise of helicopters, cracking stone, panic sirens, all reverberate in such a manner that you would often find yourself trying to see if the noises were coming from real life events.
It is an unbeatable effect, so bombastic and creative that it was hard to look away. Not to mention the other visual of note – the laser-generated Dark Side of the Moon prism complete with rainbow lasers cutting through it. Such iconic displays left the audience transfixed on the screens and the events happening around them that, often, one might even forget a song was playing in the background.
It was a show that drew upon every human sense and emotion. Where the sounds and visuals combined with powerful messages and symbolic reminders, became as fundamental as the music itself. As the 74-year old Waters neared the conclusion of his show, there was a moment to reflect upon just how fortunate it had been to journey through a musical catalogue so diverse and iconic. And, despite the retrospective theme, it is a show that feels more alive and relevant than ever. Overall, it is admirable to witness a musician doing whatever he can in a mission to “rise up for human kind”.
As he has done over many decades, Waters champions a cause he believes in with such unrelenting creativity, ambition and total fearlessness. It’s a cause one could easily get on board with.
BST Hyde Park runs until 15 July – see www.bst-hydepark.com for more information.
Review by Lilen Pautasso and Photography by Imelda Michalczyk of Roger Waters at British Summer Time, Hyde Park, 6th July 2018