Hard Rock Calling

On Saturday I was at the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park. It’s a pretty good idea to have a three-day festival in London over the same period as the Glastonbury festival as it’s easy for the acts to play both festivals over the weekend and those of us whose camping days are long behind us get to enjoy some of the Glastonbury bands and sleep in a comfortable bed.

My main reason for going was to see Neil Young, but there were a number of other acts (across three stages) to see first.

We arrived just as the first act started on the main stage. They were called The Original Sinners and my friend said he was interested to see them. It turns out that there must be more than one band of that name as these really weren’t the band he was expected. They were pretty dreadful all in all. They were followed by Rudy Vaughn who had apparently won a competition in the US to come over and play at the festival. They were even worse. And instantly forgettable (I just had to look up their name). The only thing I can remember about them was that they finished with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”.

By now I was desperate for some decent music. The next band on were The Pretenders and they didn’t disappoint. To be honest I was surprised that they were still going. Haven’t most of them died? But Chrissy Hynde still has it and their set was head and shoulders above what had gone before. They were followed by Seasick Steve. I’ve seen him on TV a few times and I’ve never really understood what the fuss is all about. But live, it’s a completely different story. He was brilliant. It’s just him and a drummer, but they had the huge festival audience hanging on every note.

The next act on was Ben Harper with his new band. I’d never heard of him and nothing I’d read about him filled me with any enthusiasm so I took the opportunity to explore the other stages. I didn’t get very far as on the first stage I walked past I came across Alessi’s Ark. I was completely entranced by their modern folky tunes and I sat and listened to all of their short set. After that I wandered back to the main stage where I was unfortunate enough to catch the end of Ben Harper’s set. Which really wasn’t very good.

The sun had be shining all afternoon, but as Harper left the stage it was becoming obvious that a storm was on the way. And sure enough, within fifteen minutes we were all rather wet. There was even some thunder and lightning.

The next band on were the Fleet Foxes. It was still raining when they came on, but it stopped soon afterwards. I love their music, but I’m afraid the rain rather dampened my enthusiasm. When they were playing and singing it was fabulous. But they take their music all very seriously and that means that inbetween songs there is interminable retuning of instruments which rather destroys the atmosphere. I’d love to see them again in a more appropriate venue. It sounds like I didn’t enjoy them, but I should point out that even after two hours of Neil Young, it was still Fleet Foxes tunes that were stuck in my head on the way home.

Some time later Neil Young took the stage. I’ve been a Neil Young fan for years (we all had copies of “After The Goldrush” when I was a teenager) and I’m appalled that I’ve never seen him before. It’s not like he rarely tours or anything.

Young opened with “Hey Hey, My My” (or perhaps it was “My My, Hey Hey” – I get those two confused) and the next couple of hours is a joyful blur of music and feedback. He played pretty much everything I wanted to hear (the full setlist is online). Oh, ok, there were a couple of things missing, but with a back catalogue the size of Young’s you’d need to play all day to fit everything in. In amongst the grunge and feedback he found time for a more folky section where he played things like “Heart of Gold” and “The Needle and the Damage Done”. If I have one tiny criticism, it’s that if he learned to finish his songs a bit sooner he could fit in twice as many. For example, he finished with “Rockin’ in the Free World” which had at least four false endings.

The encore was the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. I understand he’s be playing that a lot on this tour. But when he got to “Woke up, fell out of bed…” Paul McCartney joined him on stage. I can’t really see Paul McCartney and Neil Young as a double act so it all seemed a bit strange to me. I suppose I can say that I’ve now seen McCartney live. And I won’t have to go to one of his (increasing rare and, I expect, overpriced) gigs.

This has to be one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen (and I said that after seeing Magazine earlier this year too – been a good year for gigs so far). I think this was the last night of the tour. But he’ll be back. And if you get the chance to see him play, I strongly recommend that you take it.


  1. I got there half way through Fleet Foxes. I’ve tried terribly hard to believe the hype about them, but whilst some of their tracks are pretty pleasant and hummable, I don’t really rate them that highly. I used the time to wander around, get a beer, and decide where I wanted to watch Neil Young from.Agree with everything you say about the Neil Young set really. I’ve been a fan since I was about 17, and there aren’t any other acts I’d wanted to see as much as him. It was more than I hoped for as he can be wildly idiosyncratic, he could easily have just played tracks from his new album or the “Living with War” one. But instead we got a great selection – no “Like a Hurricane” or “Southern Man” or “Ohio”, but a lot of really great and iconic tracks. I absolutely loved every minute.

  2. Yes I was expecthing this Original Sinners http://www.myspace.com/theoriginalsinners. What we got was some really rough cock-rock. But yeah basically, what Dave said. Fleet Foxes were good but their delicate sound was lost in a place of that magnitude and an audience that was not really paying attention. I too enjoyed Alessi’s Ark, I had looked them up on MySpace beforehand so I was intending to see them and glad I did. I also managed to catch a bit of Lyrebirds who did a good enough Joy Division impersonation, Priscilla Ahn who has a lovely lovely singing voice, and Four Dead In Ohio who were quite psychedelic, dressed in black with black floppy hair and black guitars. Actually I made that last bit up. But they did a great bad-trip soundtrack. se71, Like A Hurricane has been played on some other dates of this tour. But then, we got “Old Man” and they didn’t at Glasto. The set was very much what I wanted to hear though. Needle And The Damage Done was a masterpiece.

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