“Parklife, I gave you the sun!” hollers lad-laureate Mike Skinner, as the bad weather ceases for the first time at the Heaton Park weekender. “It cost me a lot of money to buy that sun!”
This is his first UK festival performance as The Streets in eight years, and’s he’s in the mood to celebrate. Dressed in black, he strides onto the main stage to the stirring strings of ‘Turn The Page’ – the opening track of his game-changing 2002 debut ‘Original Pirate Material’ – necking from a bottle of champagne and looking like a one-man stag weekend. Walking up to the barrier, he showers the eager crowd with its contents.
Since reviving The Streets in 2018 after a seven-year hiatus, Skinner has specialised in giving people a no shilly-shallying “greatest hits” show. That means a setlist skewed towards ‘Original Pirate Material’ (the influence of its prescient fusion of styles can be felt throughout Parklife’s grime, dancehall-leaning pop and hip-hop-dominated line-up) and 2004’s ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’. An incendiary early-doors outing for ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ incites lairy bedlam along up-for-it punters more mashed than a Tory leadership candidate. Throughout, the 40-year-old hypes up the energy levels like a seasoned pro, bantering with the first few rows and feeding them champers.
His everyman charm remains undiminished, as does his unifying ability to make a crowd feel like they’re all in this moment together. “If anyone slides in the mud tonight, will you all promise that you won’t film him because he doesn’t want to see that on a Monday morning on Instagram,” he says, as casualties emerge from the Walls of Death he’s instigated to the evergreen likes of ‘Geezers Need Excitement’; as well as ‘Call Me In The Morning’ (one of a few recent new tracks that effortlessly update his legacy), covered in so much sludge, they look like they’re cosplaying Morph. Impressed by the dedication, he toasts the bottle: “I’ll drink to that!”
Backed by a tight band that includes original collaborator Kevin Mark Trail joining him on vocal duties, he brings out Jaykae to spar on a number of tracks, including last year’s lively link-up ‘Boys Will Be Boys’. Reebok Classics are destroyed to the rave-influenced ‘Weak Become Heroes’. After his 2004 number one (m)anthem ‘Dry Your Eyes’ prompts a sea of mates-hugging, Skinner says: “I am a qualified psychiatrist. I know how to make you happy’, before providing the receipts by crowd-surfing to lads-on-tour knees up ‘Fit But You Know It’, emerging from the fray and giving the crowd one final victorious hosing of Chateau D’Oblivion.
There’s also a scheduling clash of the titans: with both Migos and zeitgeist-bottling producer Mura Masa going up against The Streets. The latter even brings out Slowthai (fresh from his Parklife appearance yesterday) for a devastating run-through of their punk-rap collab ‘Doorman’ – whose telling of a night out shares some of Skinner’s DNA.
Earlier, Stockport’s Blossoms feel like indie interlopers on a line-up where beats trump guitars. The homecoming heroes are greeted by mushroom clouds of purple flare smoke, with dapper frontman Tom Ogden and co blazing through a winningly tried-and-tested slick set, with the karaoke-choruses of the likes of ‘I Can’t Stand It’ and ‘There’s A Reason Why (I Never Returned Your Calls)’ reflected back at them at defeating volume. Pure pop thrills are provided by a set from Mabel (who enlists Not3s for their colllab ‘My Lover’) while Stefflon Don marshals her silver-clad dancers through a set that begins with ‘Lil Bitch’ and culminates in ‘Hurtin’ Me’.
Sadly, tonight’s headliner George Ezra doesn’t follow The Streets’ example and stagger onstage strawpedoing a magnum. Nor are there any Blossoms-style flares. It’s easy to dismiss him as middle-of-the-road – pop music that keeps its socks on during sex, or politely takes its shoes off before entering your ears – but with his resting joy face, he brings a vat-load of charm and chill-out vibes.
With his baritone and widely popular songs, he’s basically a millennial pre-meme Rick Astley. The crowd lap up the horn-assisted likes of ‘Barcelona’ and ‘Budapest’, and his lengthy Trip Adviser-style descriptions between them. A fiesta atmosphere reigns during standout moment ‘Hold My Girl’, as the brass section jams and confetti spunks into the air. “Full disclosure – I completely forgot those fireworks were going to go off,” he laughs. “I nearly shat myself!”. If only he’d followed through and worked it into the stagecraft, he might have just usurped The Streets. But as the undeniable ‘Shotgun’ is met by dancing, it suddenly feels like the ‘Prius of pop’ (as Jack Whitehall memorably dubbed him at the Brits) has been pimped-up.
Major Lazer’ (competing against him on The Valley stage) erupt in a orgy of pyro and ticker tape – with the kind of explosion that would have probably caused Ezra to need to change his kecks – capping another memorable year for the Manchester summer party.