Hard Rock Calling Festival Day 3 – Paul Simon “graces” London with his towering musical presence and “lands” an epic concert, Live Review – Sunday July 15th 2012

Posted: July 17, 2012 in Pop, Popular Music, Rock Music, World Music
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Hard Rock Calling Festival Day 3 – Paul Simon “graces” London with his towering musical presence and “lands” an epic concert.

Sunday July 15th 2012

Paul Simon performs "Mother and Child Reunion" with Jimmy Cliff during Graceland 25th Anniversary Tour, Hyde Park, London July 15th 2012

Paul Simon performs “Mother and Child Reunion” with Jimmy Cliff during Graceland 25th Anniversary Tour, Hyde Park, London July 15th 2012

I would praise and criticize the organisers of Hard Rock calling and its predecessor a week ago – the Wireless festival, in equal measure. They have different sponsors but are both run by Live Nation.  The criticism would be regarding the spectator numbers they allow in to this considerably under pressure corner of Hyde Park that annually hosts musical events between July and August.

I went to the first ever day of the Wireless in 2005 and the 2nd day of the inaugural festival of Hyde Park calling (now Hard Rock calling in 2006); The Who were headliners for the latter. I am fairly certain that in the early years of these events capacity was between no more than 35000 to 50000. Whilst this could still sometimes present a challenge in terms of getting a decent view, there was at least some breathing space around.

Spectators numbers at present are in the 70K to 80K range for big musical event days and it can be downright claustrophobic.  In addition, this number of people at last week’s Wireless festival there to see Rihanna and Drake in a relatively medium sized enclosed space combined with recent adverse weather combined to turn the usually green areas in a bog so that the organisers were obliged to lays down many tons of woodchip.

The praise I give to Live Nation is the perennial ability to attract artists of calibre or I would hazard to say, even legends to this venue.

Paul Simon is one such legend. Now, judging by the crowd demographic, many were just to there see him whatever he performed. But many were also there from my generation –  the 40 somethings -that were introduced to Paul Simon on the back of his much loved Graceland album and that was the purpose of this concert – to celebrate this classic album .

The album itself is over 25 years old being first released in the UK in September 1986 and hit number one position for the first in October remaining there for 5 weeks and then going back up to number one for another 3 weeks in February 1987. It was to spawn 2 hits singles and 2 minor hits. It won a grammy for Best Album in the US and won Paul Simon a Brit award for Best International Artist. In various lists it has been consistently quoted as being the within the Top 100 of Best Albums of all time. When you listen to the album it’s not hard to understand why? It is fuses various South African genres with folkish elements and the accordion in the pop and rock mix. This combined with Simon’s irresistible conversational style of storytelling makes for a great cocktail.

This day 3 of the Hard Rock Calling festival and many act on that interested me and therefore I felt very sorry to leave before the end of one the acts I was enjoying. Apologies to the group Big Country for that but I did not want to risk missing the start of Graceland.

But Simon did not actually start with “Graceland”. In fact the set was well crafted and split into several segments.  Although a huge cheer went up, he opened with what I assume is his regular band, in a relatively relaxed and low key way with  “Kodachrome” and  then the Gospel tinged rhthym of “Gone at Last”.  The first really known song  “50 Ways to Leave your Lover” was unveiled 4 songs in and prompted a sing-along in some section of the huge crowd. Then , what was probably the worst kept secret on the day – the “surprise” guest – Jimmy Cliff. He performed 3 of his biggest hits solo “The Harder they Come”  “ Many Rivers to Cross” and “Vietnam” .  Simon re-emerged to perform “Mother and Child Re-union” with Cliff.

Simon moved into the next phase that saw him perform another five songs, the most memorable of which were “That was Your Mother” , “Mystery Train” and “ Slip Sliding Away”

At this point you could feel the anticipation levels rise as the accomplished and acclaimed Ladysmith  Black Mambazo took to the stage to perform a couple of their own sons. And then suddenly, we were there at the highlight of the evening.  The group’s  Zulu  icathamiya singing style –a beautiful style of African  accapella floated effortlessly through the air as they and Simon eased into  first track “Homeless”  from the Graceland album.  They were continue the collaboration on  “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes” .  The South African mbaqanga rhythms started to take hold and the party vibe got going.  By the time we got to “I Know what I Know” and “The Boy in the Bubble”  the party was in full flow particularly in those sections of the crowd with younger people.  Great atmosphere.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo opening the Graceland section of Paul Simon's concert with the song Homeless, Hyde Park,  London, July15th 2012

Ladysmith Black Mambazo opening the Graceland section of Paul Simon’s concert with the song Homeless, Hyde Park, London, July15th 2012


If you look at the credit list, there were a huge number artists involved in the making and touring of the original Graceland and I’m not going to,list them here. Many of them were on the stage including the jazz and afrobeat musician Hugh Masekela  Maselela  with the backing of the Graceland ensemble performed a couple of numbers himself  including a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The rest of Graceland resumed after this interlude,  with Thandiswa Madwai duetting with Simon on “Under African Skies”.  Graceland itself and the album’s biggest hit “You Can Call Me Al”  prompted another mass sing-along and with that the Graceland part of the concert was over.

Simon was back on the stage after a few minutes to round off the evening with some of his renowned older songs.  Most impressive was the moment 80000 people went silent throughout the Park for Sound of Silence and you could almost hear a pin drop. For “The Boxer” Jerry Douglas, who earlier in the day had been on performing with Alison Krauss and Union Station was invited back on stage. The chorus “Lie la lie” rippled round the large green space emanating like a wave round the audience

The final tune of the encore  –  Late in the Evening , Simon performed with a lively almost cabaret quality. The second encore with the song Still Crazy After All These Years wound the show down nicely with Paul Simon  putting his hands applauding, bowing humbly before the vast crowd and leaving us to reflect on what had been a lengthy but memorable classic concert.  The making of Graceland -the album may have been contraversial in terms of whether or not it broke the Apartheid cultural boycott of the 1980’s in South Africa but the live show even 25 years on  is  a real gem.


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