I AM what the Irish call “a jammy ***tard”, and no, that last word isn’t custard.
I have this odd talent of occasionally picking up free tickets to gigs last minute: when Rihanna played at the Aviva Stadium in 2013 I went to sit down outside and have a listen, and ended up running to the front of the standing pit just as she started belting out “Umbrella”.
This time, two friends got their wires crossed and one of them ended up in Sweden instead of London this weekend. Call it the luck of the Irish or whatever you want, but that’s how I got to spend the day at Wembley Park for Capital FM’s Summertime Ball instead of my original weekend plans, which were “uhhh, I don’t know, probably nothing?”.
This was a Big One: Mark Ronson, Anne-Marie, Jess Glynne, Khalid, Tom Walker, Jax Jones, Maroon 5, Jonas Brothers and Calvin Harris were just some of who played. If you don’t recognise some of the names you’re not alone – but every act had at least one song that, even if you’re as bad at keeping up with chart music as I am, would make you go: “Oooooh, they sing this? I like this one!”
The only reason I knew the songs that I did was because my fragile, semi-homesick little soul has recently spent a lot of time listening to Spin Southwest at work—you just can’t bate a Limerick accent—and Spin’s daily playlist is pretty much the Capital FM line-up.
Immediately once we get there the good feeling is palpable—from the audience to the performers there is powerful positive energy in the air. Beach balls are tossed around below, streamers and fireworks are let off with a bang every couple of minutes. The Middle-Aged Irish Mammy in me can’t stop commenting about “isn’t it great they got the weather” and the Pasty-Faced Irish in me can’t stop “thanking God we’re in the shade, sure my skin would be sizzled”.
The festival kicks off with Mark Ronson, a big name on his own, and maybe a strange choice for the first act when people are still streaming into the arena, finding their seats and getting food and drink, but once it starts it is absolutely non-stop—and is meticulously well-organised. Each act plays their top crowd-pleasers for around twenty minutes and is followed immediately after by the next act: one act after another, bopper after bopper with not a minute of dead air or extended swap-overs, and for longer intermissions the Capital FM crew come out to keep the crowd hyped up. They even give away several thousand pounds to lucky people in the audience. It was like the Late Late Toy Show, but in summer, with cold hard cash instead of toys, and a distinct lack of Ryan Tubridy.
Good organisation can only get you so far, so it’s lucky that every act whips the crowd into a frenzy: Top 10 hits with belting vocals, good stage presence and crowd control, incredible back-up dancers, and in some cases, a parade of enormous puppets dancing up the aisles in the standing section like the last dregs of a St Patrick’s Day parade who refused to stop partying once March 18th came around.
You can hear people’s voices growing hoarse as the acts get even bigger and the songs even more recognisable. By Calvin Harris’ last song it feels like a Combine Harvester has done a number on my vocal chords, but all 80,000 people in the sold-out venue carry on regardless, singing as the sun sinks and streams summer evening rays into the arena— somewhere, a Child of Prague had done its job.
The day as a whole was like a nostalgic suckerpunch to the gut—not just the fact that the Jonas Brothers have reunited or even the fact that they brought Busted, actual Busted! ACTUAL BUSTED! on stage to perform Year 3000. Jess Glynne may have been influenced from her time supporting the Spice Girls on their recent UK and Ireland tour as she stalked on to the stage in a neon green tracksuit and blue eyeshadow, the epitome of 90’s Girl Power.
Maroon 5, (or Maroon a Cúig as I’ve started calling them and found I can’t stop) have been around for longer than many of the acts playing today and they know how to control a crowd and play their songs in an order that gets the biggest reaction. Where we were sitting was a family-oriented section—surrounded by small kids and their parents with both generations knowing all the words. Frontman Adam Levine alluded to this, and their being Ancient by industry standards, by asking the screaming crowd: “Who here is sixteen or seventeen?” and at the roaring response, he laughed: “This song is older than you!” before starting into Classic Bopper™ This Love.
This was my first time seeing every act on the line-up, and more than one has successfully found a fan for life in me (Special shoutout to Anne-Marie, who may well be the most adorable act I’ve ever seen on stage).
Everything tastes better when you’re hungry, and in the same sense, everything is more fun when it’s unexpected. Had I bought a ticket months ago and was counting down the days to see my favourite act and hear my favourite song, I may have been more critical in parts—but there was no room for disappointment.
Sure, I was just happy to be there.