BST Hyde Park is a notorious event in British history. Home to headliners in the past such as Taylor Swift, Blur, Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more, this 2 week festival has seen it all. This year, arguably one of the most heaviest lineups in recent years was announced – the Californian hard rock legends Guns n’ Roses. This Hyde Park appearance is just 1 of only 5 shows that the group are playing/have played in the UK as part of their We’re F’N’ Back! Tour, which has been ongoing since July 2021 and is due to end in October this year – so this festival appearance was billed as one not to miss. And spoiler alert – if you missed it, all I can say is I feel sorry for you.
Upon arrival, tens of thousands of people were spotted donned in leather jackets and ‘Appetite for Destruction’ shirts – some even had massive 80s-esque hair that has been drowned in hairspray; every one of them ready to party like it’s 1987 all over again. The venue has a beautiful layout, one that feels less like a festival and more like a community. Every food & drink vendor is set up looking like its own separate building, giving each place a more unique and homely feel than most other events of this style. It’s a true testament to the “village” setting of a festival. The Great Oak Stage also looks as vibrant and green as ever, with the iconic oak tree growing on the side of stage right, tucked away in between the real trees of the park itself.
The first act of the day to grace the beautiful stage are Tennessee-based sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who together form the blues rock band, Larkin Poe. They start their electrifying set with Strike Gold, taken from their latest album Blood Harmony, as their sunrise-themed logo glows on the screen above them. As Rebecca lays down the chords, Megan solos on a lapsteel guitar, intricately leading her fingerslide to the right notes, unleashing the Southern sound that hides within her fretboard. They dedicate their 4th song to blues legend Son House, as they faithfully cover his track Preachin’ Blues, bringing a blues classic forward to a new generation’s ears. The sister’s vocal deliveries are something else too – especially on Blue Ridge Mountains, where they both sing “Oh my my, say oh my my” in perfect harmony during the choruses, creating a sound that pleases the ears. All in all, it was 40 minutes of blues rock bliss – flawlessly marrying the traditional 1930s blues styling with a more modern-day hard rock/Southern rock feel, that works a little too well together.
As the last chord of their set rings out, people flocked over to the Rainbow Stage on the other side of the site to catch The Dust Coda, including myself! This is the band’s first gig back since October 2022 and they definitely do not disappoint! John Drake’s gritty voice works so well with the 80s-saturated rock n’ roll they play, all backed with a neon video backdrop displaying the beautifully trippy cover of their upcoming 3rd album. Every song they play sounds as if it was made for a stadium setting, and very soon they could be playing just that! Road to Hell, one of their latest singles, ends the set and leaves the crowd aching for more doses of refreshing rock. They only had to wait a short time though, as the new album, ‘Loco Paradise’, has just dropped – and it’s definitely one to check out!
Back to The Great Oak Stage, and the next act on are no strangers to a good time – it’s only The Darkness. Right from the word “Go”, pyro blasts out over the stage as they start with Growing on Me, and it’s not long before the heat goes too hot and singer Justin Hawkins takes his shirt off. A few songs later, Justin sees a guy in the front row with a sign saying “Can I have a pick please?” to which he replies “No sir, fuck off, get your own” with a smirk. As they power on through their set, Ethan (the pick guy) eventually gets one, as well as a second mic to do a call-and-response singing battle with Justin, to the audience’s amusement. You know, just a typical Darkness gig. They even play a snippet of Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) to appease a teasing audience member – IN JUNE. “I hope you do that for The Pretenders, otherwise it just wouldn’t be fair, would it” Justin smirks before finishing with their hit I Believe In a Thing Called Love, which gets everyone off their feet and into the air. The pyro gets switched off, and the band filter offstage as a poster for the UK leg of their ’20 Years of Permission to Land’ tour appears on the screens during the interval, showing they’re ready to party all over again this December.
Last onstage before the iconic headliners, the crowd is treated to seeing a legendary name in punk rock live and in the flesh – The Pretenders. Fresh from their blinding appearance at Glastonbury only a week before, Chrissie Hynde and co. tear into an equally-as-exciting set, covering everything from their 1979 self-titled debut album to their upcoming 12th album Relentless, due in September! Their guitarist James Walbourne absolutely kills it on guitar – his solos on Tattooed Love Boys (my personal favourite song of theirs) were immaculate, and it was hard for everyone to keep their eyes off of him! The crowd’s voices get louder and their phones go higher as the group performs classics such as Talk of the Town, I’ll Stand By You and Don’t Get Me Wrong, and listen intently to newer tracks like Junkie Walk and Let the Sun Come In. They close their hour-long set with Mystery Achievement, the last track on their debut, which perfectly ties together an incredibly enjoyable and much-anticipated performance. The only downside to their set is that they didn’t bring out Dave Grohl and Johnny Marr as they did at Glasto – but hey, you can’t have everything!
The visuals on stage have now changed from a beautiful parklife video loop to the classic dark and grey crucifix that makes up the debut album of the next band, that really needs no introduction – Guns N’ Fuckin’ Roses. They open with It’s So Easy, and when they get to the bridge where Axl sings “I see you standing there, you think you’re so cool / Why don’t you just…”, the crowd screams “Fuck off!” back in unison, so you just know that everyone here is ready to sing their hearts out. Axl Rose sounds as good as ever live, belting out every high note and giving the crowd the ol’ snake hips when he does it too. And it goes without saying that both Duff McKagan and Slash absolutely brought their A-game tonight, grooving along to each song, and controlling the crowd to look their way at any given opportunity.
Their set also saw a fair share of covers too, from Velvet Revolver’s classic ‘Slither’ (a band which Slash and Duff were in themselves) and UK Sub’s track ‘Down on the Farm’, as well as GnR staples like ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ and ‘Live and Let Die’, appearing on the Use Your Illusion double album. It’s worth noting that the visuals for every song were amazing too, complimenting each track as they played on – like on ‘Pretty Tied Up’, for example, which showed a bandaged figure in a straitjacket trying to break free, and on ‘Civil War’, which showed a Ukrainian flag waving proudly as the crowd sings “I don’t need your civil war”. After Slash’s mesmerising guitar solo, the riff that guitarists everywhere try and fail at playing blares perfectly out of the speakers, as Sweet Child O’ Mine gets everybody in the Park screaming along. Shortly afterward, the typical British rain starts to fall again as the group gets halfway through their set – ordinarily, you’d think that this would put a downer on things, but it made the beautiful 9-minute-long masterpiece that is November Rain THAT bit more special!
As the last song of the night, ‘Paradise City’, comes to a close and the band takes a bow to their adoring fans, Hyde Park is left wanting more. Hardly anybody leaves until the visuals get cut, the main lights flicker on and the exit doors open wide. The day festival has gone down a treat with everyone, and I’m certain that people will be wanting more days with lineups like this in the near future. BST, make it happen!
Review – Joe Richardson
All Guns N’ Roses live images – Guilherme Nunes Cunha Neto / @guilhermeneto
All others – Dave Hogan/ Hogan Media