Last night, I had the closest I can imagine to an out-of-body experience. I was in Hyde Park, watching possibly Blur’s last ever gig, but I wasn’t actually there. I was watching it, but missing it at the same time. The band appeared to be playing a stupendous gig full of power and passion a short distance away, but myself – and the many thousands of people packed no more than a Mo Farah sprint away from the stage – simply couldn’t hear it.
The sound levels were so pitiful, the music so muffled, that Blur could make no connection with vast swathes of the crowd – it felt like the world’s biggest rock’n’roll cock-block, or having a faint memory of their incredible 2009 show here. The punters everywhere I moved to were angry and restless, complaining loudly about the money they’d spent to be there. Many left early, choirs of thousands chanted TURN IT UP! between every song. You could even see Damon getting a hint of the frustration as he failed to lead a unified 40,000-strong sing-along to ‘Tender’, since whole sections of the audience, unable to hear his lead, were singing the tune to themselves.
It was heartbreaking. A travesty, a tragedy. It saw Blur, after a career full of monumental bangs, potentially bow out with an almighty whimper. As one of a multitude of fans who’ve adored the band from day one, the whole thing was like being promised one last, brilliant shag by the love of your life, only for them to turn up sealed entirely in an inch-thick rubber wetsuit, fake a multiple orgasm and then roll over and fart on your arm.
When I got home and started Tweeting as much, I got two types of response. 1) A whole host of crestfallen fans in agreement, speaking of early departures, tearful breakdowns and ignored complaints to the sound desk. And 2) a few I-was-alright-Jack twats arguing that any proper Blur fan would’ve barged their way to one of the patches of the site near enough to a speaker that the sound was “great!”.
Granted, there must’ve been areas where the show was audible – the Golden Ticket enclave looked to be having a fabulous time; David Baddiel thought it was “brilliant” – but to suggest that hunting out decent sound quality is the responsibility of the punter is a dangerous precedent indeed. If the thousands unlucky enough to find themselves out in the sonic hinterland – by reports, any spot to the left or right of the thin strip of the site directly in front of the stage, I’d estimate at least 15,000 of the 40,000 present – all decided to shove their way into hearing range, what would we get? Pearl Jam at Roskilde.
No, Blur being suffocated on their death bed at Hyde Park should never have been allowed to happen. Nor should Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park, where organisers similarly shat on rock history by pulling the plug on a Bruce and Macca duet, and where the minimal volume prompted the Guardian’s Michael Hann to call for artists to refuse to play there. Nor should any of the summer’s Hyde Park shows, universally crushed by inadequate sound.
Here is the news: the place is no longer fit for purpose. If you’re going to sell 40,000 tickets for an event, you HAVE to provide an event that’s capable of catering for 40,000 people, whether that’s sufficient toilets, food stalls or audible music. OK, so organisers legally have to pander to the seven-and-a-half uber-wealthy local residents who complain about the noise. Hyde Park’s sound levels are now fit for, say, 10,000-capacity events.
So what should they do? Put on 10,000 capacity events. What have they done? Kept flogging enormous numbers of expensive tickets for shows incapable of entertaining the full capacity, short-changing vast numbers of gig-goers and reducing major moments in rock history to pitiful squeaks.
So let’s stop this sort of disaster ever happening again. Let the big bands play the stadiums – that’s what they’re for – and let Westminster Council give the park back to the squirrels and the sheiks. And, for the sake of justice and posterity, let Blur play one more major festival or stadium show – after all, it was devastating indeed to watch Damon, during the muffled might of ‘The Universal’, gaze out at the crowd with a look bursting with farewell emotion, and wish we could share the moment with him.