A series of summer concerts in London’s Hyde Park – including shows by Madonna and Bruce Springsteen – has earned a reprieve, and will be allowed to go ahead as planned. However, from next year, the maximum number of events will be reduced from 13 to nine, and capacities will be reduced: only four of the gigs will be allowed to have the maximum 65,000 concertgoers. The other five will be capped at 50,000. In addition, tighter monitoring of the 75-decibel surrounding street-noise limit will be carried out, while controls over “low frequency noise with a repetitive beat” effectively rule out most types of dance acts from playing the venue.
Played out over the past few weeks, the furore has seen all manner of stakeholders in the events grappling with each other to defend their interests. Live Nation, promoter of the concerts, argued that it needed to run them in order to make enough money to cover its losses from staging the free, Olympic “London Live” events in Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Trafalgar Square – set to feature the likes of Blur and New Order. Residents in local areas Knightsbridge and Belgravia submitted 109 complaints about the concerts to Westminster Council; its licensing chair Councillor Audrey Lewis stated: “We have a duty to balance the needs of local residents with the desire of concert organisers to hold events.”
The Royal Parks Agency was another body caught in the middle, needing to keep both the council and promoters happy, and needing to foot the bill for bringing in more stewards to monitor the events and carry out post-event cleaning.
Inevitably, London Mayor Boris Johnson has also become involved, coming down firmly on the pro-concerts side – no doubt believing that being the man who saved concerts by major international stars makes for far better PR than being the man who shuts them down (in stark contrast to his earlier stance on the Ministry of Sound).
The overriding concern over all these opinions – and the compromise that has been reached – is that it will end with no one being happy with the outcome. Residents will not be appeased by a small drop in the number of concerts – they would undoubtedly prefer none at all. Capping attendances will restrict the sort of acts who would naturally be inclined to play there. Curbs on “repetitive beats” will keep entire genres outside the park’s ornamental gates.
Grass is greener
Most damagingly of all, any further noise restrictions will put artists off playing the venue – Graham Coxon of Blur has stated: “If they made me turn down the noise I would just refuse to play there as a protest at people being boring,” adding that it would destroy the experience of the gig for the crowd. In recent years, Reading Festival and Glastonbury have both had problems with sound restrictions, eliciting much anger from fans. A fundamental part of the rock-concert experience is the sheer physical impact of volume, and you don’t need a scientist to prove that it is simply not enjoyable if it’s possible to hear a conversation over the music.
Ultimately, too many parties with a special interest – none being able to shape the event as they want it – will result in a lack of clear leadership and management, and the events can only suffer as a result.
Even with this year’s gigs now going ahead, the venue looks fatally compromised – especially with the plethora of options available in and around London that seem to be vastly superior. Knebworth House – still a formidable venue, hosting the superb Sonisphere Rock festival – is just one alternative, without any of the issues that affect Hyde Park. Being privately owned and relatively isolated, it can be used however required by promoters, to the benefit of its events.
Perhaps it is time to let Hyde Park go back to being an oasis of calm in a busy city, rather than trying to force it to become something it is not cut out for.