Radio 1’s Big Weekend prides itself on being Europe’s largest free festival, and every year they pull together the best diverse selection of performers. The biggest singers and bands not only in the UK, but also globally perform; this year some of the most famous names included Katy Perry, Shawn Mendes, Little Mix, and much more. The festival has visited the UK City of Culture in previous years, and this pattern has continued with the Big Weekend coming to the East Yorkshire city of Hull.
Whilst I was aiming to get tickets for the Sunday and was more than made up when the tickets were confirmed, I also managed to grab a pair of tickets for the Saturday of the festival as well. Initially, the first announced acts didn’t grab me so I was unsure of whether I would even try for tickets, but by the time the weekend arrived I was buzzing to go, as some of my all-time favourite bands had been announced. Many of the bands that I saw were on the Where It Happens stage, and the BBC Introducing stage – I saw a handful of bands from the latter stage who are either just about to break or have finally got their moment to break after years of patiently waiting. This feature will focus on the Saturday of the Big Weekend.
After an hour and a half drive with additional safety and security checks, I made it to the red Where It Begins tent just in time for alternative rock quartet The Amazons. Radio 1 made the decision to go ahead with Big Weekend following the tragic, unsettling events in Manchester earlier that week, and I applauded the level and scrutiny of their checks on vehicles and coaches, to make everyone feel as safe as possible. The Amazons produced a pulsating, blistering opening set and I could not have asked for a better act to kick off the stage! Hearing tracks including ‘Black Magic’ and ‘In My Mind’ lifted the atmosphere of the room and energised the crowd.
The most annoying aspect of a festival are stage clashes and racing from one side of the grounds to the other just to catch the fleeting last seconds of someone’s set, although in fairness the stages are only a few minutes apart from each other at Big Weekend. I dashed from The Amazons to watch the funky, groovy Superfood on the BBC Introducing stage. They preceded two bands from the area who received a magnitude of love and support from the crowd, with the festival goers predominately made up of people from Hull and the surrounding towns and villages. LIFE and The Hubbards may have their roots in the same city, but both make music on very versatile ends of the spectrum; LIFE produce raucous, powerful punk music discussing politics and popular music, whilst The Hubbards are indie rock to the core. Both of their performances were good in their own ways, and I hope the groups build up the momentum and support to break it into the mainstream.
Now, I don’t usually support singers or bands who achieve fame through the shortcut mechanism of auditioning for a talent show and obtaining a record deal through that route, but I recently bought my dad James Arthur’s second album for his birthday and I was impressed with the brutal honesty and story-telling in the singer’s lyrics. James Arthur has had public battles with mental health and addiction, but he has recovered and part of this process has been through music. I caught his performance of chart-topping ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’, and even though he was on the enormous Main Stage, his vocal was strong; you could sense the passion and emotion in his voice across the whole of the Burton Constable Hall. By the time Rag n Bone Man had hit the Where It Happens tent, it was busting full and at one point the volunteers were stopping people from entering – that is just how popular and in demand the Brit Award Breakthrough Artist is. It’s extremely obvious when you watch the singer live why he has built up the critical acclaim and the fan-base he has received – with his deep, husky, soulful vocals which sound like they belong to a soul singer from the 1960s, he has such a unique voice and a commanding stage presence.
Following on from Rag n Bone Man were trio London Grammar; I was a huge fan of their debut album. Whilst their vibe is mellow and chilled, Hannah’s vocals are extraordinarily powerful and are a stand-out feature of the act. It was the trio’s first Big Weekend for a few years, and they took the opportunity to perform both songs from their first record: ‘Metal and Dust’ and ‘Strong’, as well as tracks from their upcoming album. In a huge tent, they produced an eerily haunting sound, and Hannah’s goose-bumpily stunning vocals echoed around the tent. Another act who was returning to Big Weekend after a break to record new music was Lorde; after a cheeky swear slipped into her introduction, this was quickly forgotten as she put on a flashy bold performance, much like her neon outfit choices consisting of a bright pink top and green trousers.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for much of Lorde’s set, as on the BBC Introducing stage a bit of a stir was happening – a reasonably sized crowd had gathered to watch Declan McKenna. Glammed up with makeup and glitter, Declan is a superstar in the making, and as always he put everything into making his performance passionate and lively. You know you’re going to be a big deal when Clara Amfo is introducing your set – with thought-provoking tracks including ‘Brazil’ and ‘Isombard’, he could well be on one of the bigger stages come next Big Weekend.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the next performer I saw; my friend is a massive Lana Del Rey fan, and the American singer has built up a dedicated fanbase in the UK. Whilst I feel her songs are limited in their scope and sound bland, Lana is a sweetheart and in fairness to her, she sang well. Sometimes you just can’t dig an artist but I appreciated the creativity behind her performance, and she was genuinely in awe and delighted by all the people who had come out to see her, despite her megastar status. The band following on from Lana were also an American act; HAIM are a band made up of sisters, and they have a natural chemistry when they perform together. I only knew the odd song from the group before their performance such as ‘The Wire’, so it was a good opportunity to check out what else the girls have to offer, both old and new.
The final two acts of the day were also the two performances I had the highest expectations for – Two Door Cinema Club are such a dynamic and fun band to watch live, and Alex’s vocals outstand me every time. A few weeks before Big Weekend, Alex took part in a special Piano Sessions for the radio station, and the intimacy and stripped back environment showcased his vocal range. He could hit the higher falsetto vocal parts of his newer material on that day and achieved the same on the much bigger Where It Happens tent. Arguably the band is cherished on the backs of their debut album Tourist History; whilst these songs went down the best and the whole crowd was jumping and singing along at the top of their voices, there was also a good reception for songs from Gameshow.
Two Door Cinema Club
Katy Perry may have been on duties to conclude the Saturday of the festival, but the thrilling finale of the day belonged to Plan B. He rounded off the day’s proceedings on the Where It Begins performance – he may have taken a long break from music, but his appearance at Big Weekend proved he still has the fire in his soulful voice he did years ago. Armed with a radical switch in appearance since his Ill Manors days, the raw talent he has still hasn’t changed. He started off with his newer personal, gospel material, before moving onto his more familiar older RnB and grime music, finishing off with an exhilarating performance of ‘Stay Too Long’, complete with, of course, massive colourful balls chucked into the crowd to bounce around.
Day 1 of Radio 1’s Big Weekend was a success – I got to check out some bands I’d never got round to listening to before, whilst watching people such as James Arthur, Two Door Cinema Club, and Plan B, who you’d usually have to pay £20 plus just to see perform a show on their own. Day 2 of Big Weekend may have even topped the brilliance of Saturday, and you’ll be able to read my live review for the Sunday of the festival soon, featuring perhaps a little bit of fangirling over the sheer perfection of the alt-J and Royal Blood sets.