2:42 PM 21 June 2022
Boy George, Nile Rodgers and Noel Gallagher headlined a second weekend of concerts in the grounds of Kenwood House.
When Bananarama took the stage on Friday, it was clear this was the 80s nightclub everyone wanted in Hampstead and Highgate.
Really Saying Something, Cruel Summer, Love In the First Degree, Robert De Niro’s Waiting – history might have forgotten what a hit machine the ‘nanarama was, but not Kenwood.
For many artists, this concert has been a long time coming, but for Boy George, the feeling is acute because it is something of a hometown celebration.
“How good to finally be here in London, where I’ve lived for nearly 40 years – in Hampstead,” he told the crowd. “I personally know every tree here. I love walking here, but I’m not going to tell you when.”
And it’s not just our boy, but Culture Club or most of them, at least. There’s a cheeky dig at fellow Hampstead resident drummer Jon Moss, who’s in a legal dispute with the band over earnings: “Right now there’s three of us because one has a strop.”
But it’s said with affection. After all, it’s “all about harmony”.
The Club is truly a powerhouse of a band and, in addition to the hits, a few choice covers are added. It’s the perfect place for Wham!’s I’m Your Man, a beloved tribute to former Highgate resident George Michael, inserted into Church Of the Poison Mind. Boy George can play down anything he wants, but Do You Really Want To Hurt Me is exactly the “moment” it should be, adjusted to his mature voice.
Saturday night was the turn of an even bigger hitmaker in Nile Rodgers. Chic themselves are pretty inherited and this line-up is as sublime a funk/disco/rock pop outfit as you could hope to find.
But the set is not only Chic hits (Le Freak, Everybody Dance), but also one of the greatest hits of Nile, the producer and guitarist. We get Modern Love and Let’s Dance (both would be in my 10 Bowie tracks), Madonna’s Material Girl and Like A Virgin, and Daft Punk’s massive Get Lucky. Is this the best alliance of all time? I’m joking of course. Nile Rodgers is a king collaborator and deservedly draws a crowd for a disco in a field. Magic.
For North Londoners, Sunday brought an uncomfortable array of Man City t-shirts as Noel Gallagher headlined with his High Flying Birds. He also made reference to walks in the woods – but this time the jokes were about “dogging”. “Our child” apparently likes to walk around his room. Gesturing to the back of the crowd, the former Belsize Park resident was well aware that Hampstead wasn’t as rock ‘n’ roll as Knebworth: “What’s that up there, Henman hill?”
But first, Jake Bugg won over some of the less savvy crowd with a set that showed how far the Nottingham singer-songwriter has come since his self-titled debut 10 years ago. At just 28 years old, Bugg was hailed as Gallagher’s successor when he emerged, and judging by the reaction, it’s the early hits that always please bread and butter. Two Fingers, Lighting Bolt and Seen It All are huge indie anthems that Bugg struggled to top. But performing live has always been his forte and recent single All I Need rounds off the 15-track set proving there’s more to come.
Trimmed in signature black denim, Gallagher is comfortable to the point of casual. Opening with a slew of “Birds” tracks (Wandering Star, It’s a Beautiful World), it’s polished rock music, complete with multiple guitar changes and a highly professional outfit. Gallagher knows what the crowd wants but does his thing first.
“Almost there,” he teases, keeping them waiting with an ethereal Dead in the Water, before launching into a chorus-stomping Oasis; the stadium filler Little By Little, the flippant importance of being idle and bat-straight renditions of Wonderwall and Stop Crying Your Heart Out.
While Gallagher doesn’t look bored, he isn’t exactly euphoric either. Playing guitar on stage in front of thousands of people is clearly his thing and comes with a practiced ease.
Pointing to a sign that read “Christmas, do you know how cool you are?”, he deadpanned, “Yeah, I do.”
Only on a full-throated Half The World Away does the emotion flow, and through the final encore of Don’t Look Back in Anger there is a reciprocity of band, crowd, song and place. that makes everyone happy at home.