Review by Adrian Peel

One of pop’s finest singer-songwriters – whose songs have delighted generations of music lovers – said goodbye to his UK fans with a stop on his Homeward Bound: The Farewell Tour. He brought with him fellow musical ‘heavyweights’ Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor.

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Photo courtesy of BST

A blues rock powerhouse, Raitt came out on stage at around 4.10pm, with the sun still beating down on the thousands who had turned out to see these three American icons. “Yo London!” she cried out. “I love playing these little clubs…”

The flame-haired star, 68, kicked off her blistering set with the intensely groovy ‘Unintended Consequence of Love’. A surprising choice of cover (for me) – INXS’s 1987 smash ‘Need You Tonight’ – followed, with the effortlessly cool Raitt succeeding in making it her own.

Known for her political activism, the singer couldn’t resist commenting on the recent visit of President Donald Trump, saying: “I’m really glad you know who’s left so I didn’t have to sing within an earshot of him.” She later dedicated ‘Angel from Montgomery’ to “all the women who aren’t as free as we are.”

Raitt’s solid band included former Beach Boy Ricky Fataar on drums, and she brought out vocalist Arnold McCuller (who later came out again to sing with James Taylor) to join her on a gorgeous rendition of ‘Nick of Time’, the title track of her award-winning 1989 album. Her set also included some heartfelt acoustic numbers.

James Taylor began his electrifying stint on stage with ‘Carolina in My Mind’, my absolute favourite song of his, which I’d waited years to hear performed live. It didn’t disappoint, that incredible voice sending a shiver down the spine and nearly reducing me to tears.

He also had what Americans might call a ‘kick ass’ band, saxophone player Lou Marini, Taylor pointed out, was in the classic film The Blues Brothers – while a nice touch involved old photographs of the various band members being projected onto the screen behind when the singer introduced them.

Happily, all of the timeless James Taylor tunes that one would expect to hear – ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, ‘Sweet Baby James’, ‘Fire & Rain’, ‘Shower the People’, ‘Mexico’ etc. – were all superbly delivered in that timeless voice that appears to be unravaged by the passage of time, with a mariachi trumpet break from musicians wearing sombreros a nice touch on the latter. 

Taylor recalled playing ‘Something in the Way She Moves’ for Paul McCartney and George Harrison in Baker Street back in the 60s. “This is the song that got it started for me,” he said. He too couldn’t resist commenting on the Donald Trump visit, announcing to cheers: “There is another America than the one that’s represented here – and it will be back.”

Taking the stage later than billed to the glorious strains of ‘America’, Paul Simon – dressed in a distinctive red T-shirt – received the kind of reception one would expect for someone who has provided the soundtrack to so many people’s lives (though £25 for a ‘limited edition’ souvenir programme was extortionate), from his time in Simon & Garfunkel to his phenomenally successful solo album, Graceland, and beyond.

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Photo courtesy of BST

“It [making music] has been a real privilege for me – my whole life has been that way, so thank you,” he said, adding that the songs we were to hear over the next couple of hours were mainly “songs that were meant to be danced to.”

The artist did just that to the catchy intro of ‘That Was Your Mother’, which featured accordion maestro Joel Guzman. He told the story behind the tender ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War’, calling it “the strangest song title I ever wrote,” and noted that ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is a song – a “lost child” he wanted to reclaim – that he wrote fairly quickly and one that he doesn’t sing often. “Feels good to have it back,” he said afterwards.

Simon, 76, was clearly enjoying himself and seemed relaxed when talking to the crowd. “I’m waiting for that sun to go behind that tree so I can take my sunglasses off,” he said, doing so when the sun finally did go down.

‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ and the energetic ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – both off Graceland – followed in quick succession, producing near delirium among the already enthusiastic crowd.

There were more Simon & Garfunkel songs in the second encore, namely ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘The Boxer’ and ‘The Sound of Silence’, a fitting end to a special night that will live long in the memory – a night where the UK said a final goodbye to one of the all-time greats.

Footnote:

About Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park

Set in London’s beautiful Royal Park, the event kicked off in 2013 with The Rolling Stones reliving their legendary 1969 gig and has not let up since, featuring now famous shows from Carole King, Stevie Wonder, The Libertines, Blur, Florence + The Machine, Kendrick Lamar, Black Sabbath, Taylor Swift, The Who and so many more.

Every year, each headliner is joined by a full supporting line-up across multiple stages, from major superstars to handpicked developing acts performing for fans from across the UK and the world.

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