Probably my favourite of the London weekend festivals is Hyde Park's British Summer Time. There's always a pleasant, day-drunk-on-rosé mood, the sound system is good, and the central London location means it's pretty easy to get home, wherever you've come from. This year, BST saw performances by extremely high profile acts like Bruno Mars and The Cure, and on Sunday night (15 July), it hosted the UK leg of Paul Simon's final ever world tour, which I attended with my dad (who else?).
Having been to the festival in some capacity every year for the past four years, I've noticed some things. Primarily, that I am not exactly a member of the target demographic for BST. It shoots for a distinctly older crowd, in general: its typical punter is someone in their forties or fifties, with a straw hat and money to spend on marked-up ostrich steaks, rather than someone in her mid-twenties buying three bottles of Heineken at once and digging around the bottom of her purse for a few quid to buy some chips in order to prevent, or at least delay, vomiting.
So when I thought about how I would assess my day in Hyde Park, I realised that – in the same way that the late, great film critic Roger Ebert would review films bearing their suitability for their intended audience in mind – the only way I could cut to the core of the BST experience would be to consult one of the very people it was designed to please: a dad. My dad. We rocked up at about 5PM, got ourselves some beers, and I put him to work:
The main support act for Paul Simon was James Taylor, who my dad – a big Carole King fan – was very! excited! to see! He described Taylor as "a proper stalwart of American folk music," to which I will just say: have you ever heard a more dad word than "stalwart" used in this casual a context?Shortly after this, he got into a ten minute conversation with the couple stood in front of us who were unfamiliar with Taylor's work and didn't know who he was ("It's James TAYLOR!" – uttered in the sort of cadence I reserve for people who say they don't know who the Kardashians are). So far, so dad.
Paul Simon's portion of the evening was probably one of the happiest concerts I have ever seen, despite it being very sad that he is retiring. He played every banger possible ("Mother and Child Reunion" all the way to "Bridge Over Troubled Water," by way of "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War") and, I imagine, left thousands of people feeling delighted with the experience. During the second encore, Simon played a few acoustic tracks, including "The Sound of Silence" and "The Boxer." My dad described this last section as "Quite spiritual."
[Of Paul Simon himself] "He's a very talented bloke."
[Immediately after "You Can Call me Al"] "That was quite good, wasn't it"
DAD VERDICT FOR THE ACTS: Five Dads out of Dad.
Dads, in general, like to get the beers in, and their desire to do so only grows exponentially in any setting where they can also moan about the standard of bar service. Those are the rules! And because of these rules, dads tend to quite like music events. In general, however, the bars at BST are pretty well managed, and the queues very orderly, which on one hand pleases dads, but on the other robs them of their important and much needed reason to complain. This made it tough to assess the BST bars' fitness for purpose. One bar, however, did allow me to perceive dad chat in action, when a secondary dad got involved in a conversation which involved me telling my dad about The Cure's BST concert the weekend before:
Dad 1 [my dad]: "They're reeling all these big stars in, weekend after weekend!"
Dad 2 [other dad]: "They work on it. They do the work."
This is dad chat 101. Put this chat in an apron with a pair of tits on the front of it and stand it at a barbecue.
[After seeing a guy with a cup which said "Craft Beer" on it, despite the festival mostly serving Heineken] "Craft beer. Another word for... expensive lager!"
DAD VERDICT FOR THE DRINKS: 10 Dads out of Dad
The General Ambience
One of my big gripes with a lot of London summer music events is that they attempt to do too much with too little space – you simply cannot fit four stages, some waltzers, and about 50 bars and food outlets into half a park without it being shit lads! You just can't! British Summer Time seem to have recognised this, and assign their bills accordingly. There are, technically, three stages at the event, but because of the size of their set-up, there's no sound clash, and they've nailed festival infrastructure, which is actually very important (you need the boring stuff so that the fun can happen! Just ask anyone who went to Fyre Festival!). BST has effective queueing systems in place, the toilets aren't gross, and somehow – as if corporate sponsor Barclaycard figured out to negotiate with the rain itself, bunging it a few grand to stay away for a couple of weeks – it's never not sunny.
"Every now and again you get a whiff of spliff. Haha."
[Of the main stage, which is flanked by two impressive looking fake trees]: "Are them real trees?"[Walking across a floored section]: "Do you know how big the invoice for this flooring probably is? Fucking massive."
DAD VERDICT FOR THE GENERAL AMBIENCE: Literally one million Dads out of Dad
The BST toilets are the best festival bogs in the UK (I would say Europe but I have known the majesty of the Primavera Sound food court loos; I have known that level of luxury and convenience and I have pissed in it), and my dad agreed:
"Very nice and clean. Silverstone toilets, I call them, when they're not port-a-cabins *very long story about Silverstone racecourse, which is where motor racing – a 'sport' you literally only like if you are a dad – happens*"
DAD VERDICT FOR THE TOILETS: Fourteen Dads out of Dad
The Overall Verdict
Obviously my dad loved it. Of course he did. He had a cracking day out (i.e. he got to eat some slightly overpriced fried chicken while dancing to "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”, and even managed to get in some celeb-spotting (he saw Jerome Flynn from Robson and Jerome and now Game of Thrones and lost his dad mind). Congrats to BST, then, on earning that most hallowed of accolades: the Dad Gold Standard. May others – but, like, not too many – follow in its footsteps.
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