The Libertines at Hyde Park
published: 11 /
Gillain Fish criticises the dismanagement of the British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park in London, which, poorly organised throughout, led to crushing at the Libertines' reunion gig
Firstly this isn’t an article to review any bands playing at the British Summer Time Festival (BST). I was there on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and I watched Arcade Fire, the Libertines and McBusted, all completely different bands, all completely different audiences, but all let down in some way or another by the shoddy event planning by one of the world's biggest concert promoters AEG Live and the people behind the BST. I don’t have a bad thing to say about any of the bands that I saw over these few days. I just wish I had seen them in a safer, more enjoyable environment. Hyde Park is one of London's biggest outdoor venues; it houses gigs every summer and draws in big headliners. Rolling Stones, Blur and Bruce Springsteen concerts have all taken place there in the last few years.
Things got off to a pretty disorganised start on Thursday for Arcade Fire, I was extremely lucky to have been given a premium view wristband for that night; well, at least I thought I was lucky anyway. Turns out the ‘premium view’ was in fact just half of the front standing section of the crowd. It didn’t offer any better facilities (no extra toilets, places to get any drinks) just a separate pen for the privileged few. No one working at the event seemed to know where any of the correct entrances were. We asked one girl where the ‘premium’ view section was only to be greeted with a shrug.
When Arcade Fire came on, they opened up to a half empty crowd because the premium view section was so empty. A premium view ticket cost almost £40 more than a general admission one. I would expect at least something a little more than being able to stand in a separate pen for that amount…
People I spoke to after Arcade Fire who were in the General Admission area couldn’t really see how empty the right side of the crowd was, but I can only imagine how disappointing it looked to the band. Credit to them for putting on a brilliant show (as usual) regardless.
It wasn't until Saturday that the full extent of the disorganisation became apparent though, I met my friend, so we could get into Hyde Park in time to see Wolf Alice play, one of the support acts to the Libertines. We made it in to the park just in time for their set, after finally working out where the Barclaycard Theatre, or “second stage” as billed on the event line-up was (I’d planned a lot of my viewing over the weekend around what was on there). We thought we’d just catch the last few songs from Wolf Alice…but nope. We were greeted by a queue of hundreds of people snaked around outside the theatre, I’ve been going to huge gigs at Hyde Park for years. Every time the second stage has been in a much bigger venue (usually an open sided tent). Did nobody booking the acts do ANY research into how popular they were?
We then tried to get to the Summer Stage, which was a tiny bandstand they had positioned right in the middle of all the food stalls. It was laughable that relatively big bands such as the Rifles were playing on such a tiny stage where only a few people could get anywhere near. On Saturday it was chaos with people standing on bins to get a glimpse. One friend likened it to the bandstand on our local town's recreation ground. It may have worked as a stage for unknown artists, but not for bands with considerable amounts of fans. We gave up and tried to move away, only to be caught in a massive stream of people trying to get past the bandstand and the food stalls. The organisers seemed to cram in every unnecessary food or drink stall they could and leave no room for any actual music venues. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t BST a music event not a food festival? If I hadn't of paid £55 for a ticket, I would have seriously considered walking out of Hyde Park after just a couple hours of being there.
We decided to head back to the Barclaycard Theatre leaving one whole HOUR’s worth of queuing time to get in to see Swim Deep. I’m happy to do this to get into an unannounced gig in a small venue, not at a festival where I’ve parted with a large chunk of money to see the bands listed on the line-up.
After forty minutes of queuing they announced the theatre was ‘closed’ due to a technical fault. While everyone tried to work out what was going on, the one pretty useless security man was extremely rude when we tried to get some answers. There was no apology, no proper explanation, just a rude response to me and to several others. Eventually we got told the Theatre was closed for the remainder of the night, meaning another act we were looking forward to, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, wouldn't be performing at all.
Whilst I am well aware that a "technical" hitch is something that happens with live music venues and at big festivals sometimes, I am also aware that using an eight hundred capacity "theatre" as your SECOND STAGE at an event where the capacity overall is over 60,000 is a glaringly obvious mistake by the organisers; it doesn't take a genius to work out that probably the reason they had to close the stage is because they were simply overwhelmed by the amount of people inside (and outside). No doubt it was easier to cut their losses than have an even bigger disaster on their hands. If it had just been a “technical fault” (which implies sound/stage issues rather than something to do with crowd control or safety), then why did we wake up on Sunday morning to the news that the Barclaycard Theatre would remain shut for the entire next day at BST, meaning the likes of Five, Lawson and Wheatus were either scrapped from the line-up completely or re-scheduled to an even tinier stage.
Of course, we’ve all read the terms and conditions and that “line-up subject to change” spiel keeps popping up. “You can’t book to come to an event like this and not expect some of the line-up to change” is what I got told by one member of staff at Hyde Park on Saturday. Well, yes you can actually. Usually that’s what happens when you pay to come to a gig, because you want to see the bands that are playing…if Five had broken down on the motorway or Swim Deep had the flu then maybe everyone would be a little more understanding, but the fact that the reason the bands were not able to play was obviously due to poor event planning is the reason why a simple “we’re sorry” from BST or AEG Live will not satisfy the endless stream of people voicing their opinions.
On Saturday cult rock band the Libertines played their first gig in Britain since 2010. The band, famed for the song-writing and often destructive partnership of Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, attracted an eclectic mix of fans to Hyde Park that ranged from hipster kids to middle-aged rockers. Whilst anyone that has seen or read about the Libertines before will know their gigs are chaotic and involve both the band and audience throwing themselves in and giving their all, most people that got a ticket for the reunion show at Hyde Park would have known that the crowd was likely to be a ‘rowdy’ one. The way the front section of the audience was, however, divided by a barrier that cut down the middle meant there was nowhere for people to go when the crowd surged forward, meaning those that simply wanted to get involved in things at the front ended up essentially being penned in.
Doherty stopped proceedings during their second song on Saturday to plead with the crowd to “calm down” and “move back”, but why was it left to the band to try and calm the crowd down?...Why were none of the security guards stopping people from climbing the towers in the first place? Yes, we knew the Libertines attracted a certain sort of audience and they were there in abundance - drunk, loud and feral - but didn’t someone at AEG know that when they booked this band?
Surely the layout, where the barriers were positioned separating the VIP/premium section from the general admission (cut through the middle of the crowd), was clearly never going to work for a band like the Libertines, especially not when there was no real control over how many people were actually in the General Admission area? In fact, as we spotted several people with premium wristbands on in the ‘normal’ crowd this must have only added to the overcrowding? No one is denying there were people there looking to cause trouble. That unfortunately goes with the territory at a gig like this, but a large number of the people getting crushed were just there to have a good time. But BST and AEG making a huge portion of the crowd segregated and sectioned off like herded cattle by various barriers meant many were pushed into a metal corner with no escape except for over those barriers. There was nowhere for the crowd to spread out to despite the band's best intentions to ensure everyone was safe.
If they were supposed to be checking peoples belongings on the way in how come so many got in with fireworks and flares?...Yet people had umbrellas confiscated...and CEREAL BARS!...The last time I checked you could do much more damage with a firework than a cereal bar. What’s the betting if BST had a stall selling overpriced explosives they would have been more eager to make sure people couldn't bring their own in at the gates.
So far, both British Summertime and AEG have both been very quiet in response to any customer complaints on their Social Media sites; you only need to take a look at posts on the BST Facebook page to gather a general feeling from people. Fortunately the 'NME' have posted people's complaints about Saturday, and seem to be acting as a voice for thousands of upset fans at the moment.
Since writing the original blog piece about this AEG’s Event Director Jim King released a statement about the crowd incidents and venue closures:
"Only the Barclaycard Theatre closed and this was only for the last two acts (Swim Deep and Graham Coxon)," going on to say "We had to take this action on the advice of the Safety Officer as a section of the theatre's floor became loose, and it would have been potentially dangerous to fans to continue to use it. Sometimes you have to take the right course of action in the interests of safety, however upsetting that is for the act or the fans. In this instance, it was the right decision."
He went on to confirm refunds would not be given: "We understand the disappointment of fans, but it’s a situation that happens at nearly every festival every week of the summer and I don’t agree that refunds should be given on this basis,"
Instead of addressing the issues of overcrowding, stewarding or site layout, King instead seemingly laid the blame onto the crowd "As a result of crowd pushing at the start of the Libertines' set, thirty-eight people were taken to the medical centre to be assessed and/or to receive treatment. Of that number, eight were taken to hospital for minor injuries."
I'm still finding it hard to fathom how one of the biggest concert promoters managed to take one of London's most loved outdoor music sites and turn it into a shambolic, money grabbing disaster.