Festivals in urban green spaces are the awful, expensive triumph of lazy romance over reality, argues Bernadette McNulty
I have spent the dark days of January trying to cheer myself up by finally watching the BBC’s Olympic mockumentary Twenty Twelve. Even without the frisson of the real event and potential disaster around, it still nailed the absurdities of quango culture.
A fair chunk of the laughs came from the “sustainability” and “legacy” officers attempting to work out what the difference was between them, while trying to find a use for the buildings after the games were over. When I heard this week that the Olympic Park will host two festivals this summer along with concerts in the stadium, I pictured the two officers battling it out to claim the glory as theirs.
And what’s not to celebrate? While football clubs squabble over moving to E20 and what to do with the running track, the north part of the park will open with a big shebang, maintaining the connection with the almost magical excitement that hovered over it last summer. That lingering Olympic spirit means that, for now, the Olympic Park is still hallowed ground.
In the absence of Glastonbury, the Olympics were the festival of the year. Public parks were filled with free festivals, where families could watch the sport while bands played in the background. So much of the best of the Olympic mood – Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, the Paralympics closing show, the party-starting DJs pumping out tunes at every possible moment – borrowed heavily from the culture of gentle anarchy and the ethos of determinedly enjoying yourself, whatever the weather, at which British festivals have always excelled. If Boyle’s theatrical transition from smoking chimney stacks to raving youths symbolised anything, it was that British festivals are one of our great modern industries.
All the better, then, that east London’s new frontier of green space has snaffled these events from that old stalwart, Hyde Park. After the farce of the local authority pulling the plug on Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, and problems with the venue becoming a quagmire, the world’s biggest promoter, Live Nation, probably didn’t need many carrots from the Olympic legacy people to cross the city. Hyde Park will, however, stage a new, rival festival headlined by Bon Jovi, and organised by AEG.
Although I am happy that the lovely Olympic Stadium will be not collecting dust, one aspect of the festival worries me: that the Olympic Park’s green areas, so beautifully landscaped and planted with wildflowers, will be given to a promoter to churn over.
Festivals in urban green spaces are, in my experience, the awful, expensive triumph of lazy romance over reality. The sound is terrible, the sight lines rubbish, the crowds half drunk and only half interested in who is playing. Our parks should either be sanctuaries or venues for small events that everyone can enjoy. While Westminster council officials may have looked overzealous, all councils – rightly – impose volume restrictions.
These are not true festivals, but outdoor concerts for people who don’t want to camp. They would be better housed in either Wembley or the Olympic Stadium, both expertly designed to cater for crowds. That really would be music to my ears.