Open air concerts by Angela Caldin

I’d never been to a big open air concert, not properly, so when my friend suggested that we could go and see Carole King perform in Hyde Park this July, I leapt at the chance. We were on the last minute with our booking, but managed somehow to get half price tickets in the Premier View section. My friend spied a picture of some chairs as we were booking and we convinced ourselves we’d be comfortably seated just near the stage with a clear view of the delightful Carole.

Going back in time

It’s not strictly true to say that I’ve never been to an open air concert, because in 1969 I attended the Rolling Stones free concert in Hyde Park where white doves were released high above the crowd. I was overcome by the heat, the noise, the press of people and hayfever, with the result that I had to go home while this seminal event unfolded. dirty dancingMany years later, I went to Kew Gardens to see a tribute band perform the brilliant songs of ‘Dirty Dancing’, one of my all-time favourite films. People of all ages were singing along with the band and, when it came to the last song ‘I’ve had the time of my life’, which sees Jennifer Grey leap confidently from the stage to be lifted by Patrick Swayze who balances her gracefully above his head, intrepid if rather drunken groups began recreating the famous lift using whatever person power came to hand. The result was that people were failing and falling all around.

Fantasy and reality

Going to see Carole King was to be a different experience altogether, or so we hoped. We arrived in what we thought was good time to find the place teeming. Young men in high-vis yellow jackets waved us through the hordes of lesser mortals in General Admission and, after asking for directions about twenty times, we finally located the Premier View enclosure. It was heaving with people seated, and in some cases sprawled, on the grass with rugs, blankets and blow-up mattresses. There was not a chair in sight, comfortable or otherwise. We had been hoodwinked by a random picture of chairs which may have been destined for VIPs.

Nothing daunted, we shouldered our way forward and squeezed into a small patch of free space where some coverings had been laid on the grass. Gratefully, we sat down to await the headline act. For the first time, we looked up at the stage which appeared to us to be at least a quarter of a mile away and where little ant-like creatures were scurrying from side to side. As I sat down, my foot encountered something liquid and foul-smelling. The man in front of us turned round to inform us helpfully that it was horse dung, possibly connected to the cavalry barracks not far off. We looked at each other in disbelief as we realised the whole area was covered in little pools of liquid manure. We’d paid £60 each to watch Carole King in the remote distance in a miasma of noxious fumes.

CaroleStar quality

But all was not lost: there was a large screen where Carole’s image was projected and it’s right to say that she was amazing. Despite her age (she’s 74), her voice was strong and warm and wonderful. She sang everything with great enthusiasm and an even greater smile, accompanying herself on the piano. Her blond hair curled round her head like a halo shining in the lights. The lack of chairs, the price of the tickets, the stench of horse dung were all forgotten as we heard her sing her timeless, heartfelt songs.

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