British Summertime Festival review – Stevie Wonder & N.E.R.D

The first three weekends of July saw a musical marathon unfolding in London’s Hyde Park, where tens of thousands of people – from tweens, to millennials, to middle-aged – milled around to see some of the world’s most renowned and respected artists perform at British Summertime Festival (BST). We stepped into this melting pot of pop, soul, punk, political angst and raw urbanity for the first and final days of the festival. 

Here’s what we found on the final day; a crowd-pleaser for all the right reasons, featuring Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams and a surprise turnout from N.E.R.D. 

Already no ordinary festival, there were more than a few familiar faces in the crowd: Natalie Portman, Niall Horan, Julianne Moore, Naomi Campbell, Bradley Cooper and girlfriend Irina Shayk, David Hayes, Martin Freeman and Emeli Sandé were all enjoying the show at BST for one final time. 

Our ultimate warm-up act on the Summer Stage was Gallant, a perfect mix of powerhouse falsetto and haunting rhythmic samples. Showcasing his recently released album ‘Ology’, the Washington born singer welcomed a dense crowd, ending the set on his critically acclaimed single ‘Weight in Gold’,  a shining reformation of future R&B music. 

KING opened the show on the Great Oak Stage with Charlie Wilson, Mike Phillips, the Barclaycard Discovered winners First Family and more, supporting across the Summer and Barclaycard Stages.

Corrine Bailey Ray appeared, as if a mirage, on the Great Oak Stage; creating the illusion of floating with her mirrored white jumpsuit, her voice of silky soulfulness lifting crowd into a cloud of relaxation as they sang along to ‘Put Your Record On’. The atmosphere was similar to just having finished a yoga class – heady with an untouchable tranquil.

Then came a complete contrast; the musical genius that is Mr Pharrell Williams, who exposed the entirety of his established portfolio, and in return received an explosive frenzy from the amassed 60,000-strong crowd, on a boiling hot Sunday afternoon. We were graced with an unexpected guest appearance from Chad Hugo and Shay Haley – a dirty bass with soft synth licks to make the N.E.R.D acronym complete, musically and by namesake. We experienced a full history lesson in Pharrell which left us all feeling very… ‘happy’. Yes, we went there. 

It was time for what we’d been waiting for all day – or perhaps our whole lives, the legend, the man that is Stevie Wonder. The 66-year-old ex-Motown Prince took to the Great Oak Stage, facing a very excited London crowd to deliver a 4 hour set, which was to include of one of the most influential albums in the history of music, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’. We were a bit nervous to see Stevie; expectations were high, and as such was the carnival of emotions that his music conveys. 

He started the day with a prayer, which was apt with current affairs surrounding racial tensions in the USA. As quoted… “I say Black Lives Matter because we are the original people of the world, Everyone has some black in them, some soul! Stop denying your culture!”

He then proceeded with the first track ‘Love’s in need of Love today’. The elevation through the track list lifted us above Bailey Ray’s comparatively grounded cloud-scape: it was unadulterated bliss – pitch perfect, and truly a next level experience. Our fears ebbed away. Stevie definitely loved his riffs, runs and vocal trills too – and perhaps overdid them a bit to the brink between beauty and self-indulgence; we knew he could sing, and were crying out for a few more classics. The God Save the Queen rendition on a harmonica was not as good as Cherie Amour would have been at 9pm on a Sunday evening.

There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a celebratory ‘Prince’ Tribute act lead by Stevie’s very own backing goddesses.

As the night came to a close the whole crowd switched from frenzied to footwork in some serious Salsa dancing to ‘Another Star’. There was not a single person in the crowd that had not turned into a professional dancer, and who were we to argue. We were on the same level, and we’re almost still aching from the Samba as well as that magical performance. 

Words by Chloe Quibell

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