You know the end of summer’s here when the Last Night of the Proms is upon us – and the weather has certainly signalled this is no uncertain terms. Although I was not at the Last Night myself, I was fortunate enough to snap up some tickets to Radio 2’s A Festival In A Day, at which some of the biggest names in music came together to give us a truly unforgettable experience. Despite the occasional downpour.
Gracing the stage on September 8th were: The Treacherous Orchestra, Simple Minds, Jamie Cullum, Texas, Jack Johnson, Manic Street Preachers, Josh Groban, James Blunt, Jessie J and Smokey Robinson – (almost) none of whom failed to disappoint.
As the gates opened at 11.30am, The Treacherous Orchestra, a fusion of musicians from both Scotland and Ireland who electrify crowds with modern, yet traditional Celtic anthems played in the crowd of around 35, 000. It was truly an experience to walk into and I couldn’t help but smile at my friend as we entered the arena to see, essentially, a mini Glastonbury in the centre of London.
Following the Treacherous Orchestra were 1980s rock hero’s Simple Minds who, despite nearing their 40th year, were another couple of decades off disappointing. Lead vocalist Jim Kerr, although old enough to be my dad, certainly knows how to rock a stage and keep a crowd. I myself was not a Simple Minds fan before the beginning of the festival (keep your guns away, please), but even with their half hour set which the festival offered, I was intrigued to say the least. Any band that can go for that long and still sound as fresh and relevant today certainly deserves some credit. I only hope that when I’m that old, I can still sound as good.
Up next to the stage was Jamie Cullum who brought a fresh, young and vibrant energy to jazz music. Despite being a fan of Cullum, and jazz, for some time, seeing it live on stage was a true honour. Playing a mix of some of his more iconic songs such as “Edge of Something” and “I’m All Over It” as well as “When I Get Famous” from his new album ‘Momentum’. The self-taught 34 year old certainly has a talent he can be proud of.
The highlight for me, though, and what made me want to buy tickets in the first place, was Scottish rock legends Texas. A band who, despite debuting in a SU bar in Dundee some years before I was born, are accountable for some of the most iconic songs of my childhood including; “Black Eyed Boy”, “Summer Son” and “Say What You Want” – all of which they played in their set. For good measure, though, they also threw in some of their latest material; “Dry Your Eyes” from this years eighth studio album. At 45, Spiteri still has a decent set of pipes on her, flitting around octaves without any effort and holding notes that even Streisand would be proud of, the whole performance seemed effortless, and yet lacked anything but energy!
Jack Johnson played a somewhat mellow set which no doubt pleased the female proportion of the audience. It wasn’t especially to my taste and was a bit bland, but then again, I’ve never been his biggest fan. There’s no denying he’s easy on the eyes, but then he’s a Hawaiian surfer – you wouldn’t really expect anything else. Sadly, I can’t really find a great deal of note for his half hour – the set of his calm and chilled out ditty’s were exactly what you’d expect and I suppose it provided a nice interlude from some of the more energised and rock-fuelled sets which had graced the stage throughout the day.
Surprises of the day definitely go to Simple Minds and also Manic Street Preachers, who rocked out with some of their iconic hits which had the audience singing along at the top of their lungs. The incomparable Josh Groban enchanted the audience with another mixture of classics and new material from the album “All That Echoes”. His charm and good looks helped to win over the audience for a sing-along of “You Raise Me Up”, which was not awful as one might expect of such a song.
Shamefully, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed James Blunt’s set. The man’s come a long way from “You’re Beautiful” and boy did he get hot! Gone is the weirdy beardy, shaggy locks and thick coats of which I remember him and hello to a slim, toned Blunt. He’s gone from musical cringe to someone you probably wouldn’t kick out of bed in the morning. If you’re wondering what I’m on about, check out the cover art to his upcoming album ‘Moon Landing’ – coming out in October. While you’re at it, check out his new single “Bonfire Heart“, which was another surprise of the day.
One of the biggest questions of the day was “What would Jessie J be wearing?” Little surprise it wasn’t much. What was a surprise however, was how controlled and refined her set and vocals were. I’d spent a lot of time im-ing and ah-ing about whether I should stay to listen to her explode in trills, runs and vocal acrobatics for which she seems to be relying on as her sole USP of late. Instead, she offered some rearranged tracks from ‘Who You Are’, and energy and showmanship to rival the likes of P!nk and Beyonce (without the circus tricks). In addition to some of her greatest hits, she also played “It’s My Party” and “Wild” from the upcoming album ‘Alive’. I was highly reserved about these tracks (and the album) when I heard the preview on iTunes and YouTube, but the songs seem to transfer much better to a live performance than they do on record. I’m still unsure how the album will do upon it’s release, but Cornish certainly deserves more credit than I was giving her at the start of the day.
Closing the show was Smokey Robinson. Frankly, a disappointment by all accounts. You can tell he’s getting on a bit and slip-slided all over his set, but hey. He’s a legend and that’s gotta count for something, right?
All in all, Radio 2’s Festival in a Day was a thrill. And definitely worth the £35 I paid for the ticket. It’s not every day you get a line-up such as that in one day for such a price. The only disappointment was the food offering. I was fortunate enough to get in their early and grab some refreshments before the hours long queues started. Although, we are British. Queuing is what we do best.
All the videos from the Festival in a Day are available on the Radio 2 webpage.