August 2017 saw the town of Bedford celebrating its 21st year of putting on its brilliant Park Concerts. With everyone still reeling from the success of last year's event, which saw performances from rapper Dizzee Rascal and the one and only welsh legend Tom Jones, organisers really had to step up to top that for this year's concert weekend. Boy did they certainly do that!
The weekend provided three nights of amazing performers. Friday night (4th August) took us back in time to the 80s and 90s for the ultimate party that was oozing with cheesy pop goodness. The evening got off to a great start with performaces from 90s Zambian solo artist Rozalla who was most famously known for releasing the track "Everybody's Free" and singer/songwriter Nik Kershaw. Kershaw not only saw fame as a solo artist but also wrote big hits for other artists. Including Chesney Hawkes infamous "The One And only" which Nik also performed himself this weekend dedicating the song to Hawkes. Friday night also gave us the lovely and rather sparkly Baby D who performed three tracks, one of which was the amazing club classic, "Let Me Be Your Fantasy". One act of the night that was getting people talking was 80s english pop band Go West. The Duo enjoyed their peak of popularity between the mid 80s and onto the early 90s with hits including "We Close Our Eyes" and the iconic song written by the band for 1990 film realease "Pretty Woman" which was indeed the unforgettable "King Of Wishful Thiking". We were lucky to see both of these being performed on friday night also. Friday's biggest performances came from 80s pop hunk Jason Donovan, Livin' Joy and DJ Dave Pearce. Shortly after 8pm, the pit area of the arena was filled with middle aged women anxiously awaiting the arrival of their favourite 80s hearthrob. Donovan still looked great, and performed famous hits of his including "Sealed With A Kiss", "Nothing Can Divide Us", "Especially For You" which he sang with a guest female soloist for Kylie Minogue's segments of the single, the amazing "Any Dream Will Do" from the infamous musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat" and he finished his energetic set with fan favourite "Too Many Broken Hearts". In My opinion, Aussie favourite Jason Donovan has certainly still got it! His stage presence was charismatic, cheeky and comical. During sets for Livin' Joy and Dave Pearce we were treated to many 90s club classics and heavy bass beats while watching an amazing laser light show from the stage which filled the grounds.
Saturday evening (5th August) Bedford featured artists including, London based band Victoria, Bedford town boys The Wholls, 90s indie band Feeder and headliners Kaiser Chiefs! In amoungst thousands of people eating pizzas, mexican cuisine and drinking rather large quanitities of Pimms, I could feel how electric the atmosphere within the park really was. Chatter of people so excitedly waiting to see their favourite bands of the evening, including the performers families and friends. Rock/indie, Bedford boys The Wholls drew in a younger audience while performing original songs "Give It Up", "Perfect Waste Of Time" and "Roll It Out". The local lads are quickly climbing up the music fame ladder after recently signing to big recording label Sony. If you like new up and coming bands, you should definitly check them out. Their debut album is out now.
The first of the most anticipated acts of saturday night were met with a rather loud roar of excitement from the crowds of people in front of the stage. Of course this excitement was when 90s welsh rock band Feeder stepped on stage. The band formed in Newport in 1992 and were originally named Reel. The band found fame with the name feeder later on in their career. They are said to have been inspired by Nirvana, The Police and The Smashing pumpkins. Feeder gained much more media attention in 2001 during the release of their third album which featured lead track "Buck Rogers". Now some time on are now looking very different, but can still play an amazing live gig. Over the weekend we saw them perform a variety of hit singles including the chart topping "Buck Rogers", "Feeling A Moment", "Just A Day" and the very mellow "Just The Way I'm Feeling" which caused the arena to become filled with fans gently waving their mobile phones with torches on in the air. Lead vocalist Grant Nicholas also revealed that they will be releasing a best of album in September 2017. This album will feature all the favourite hits and also debut nine new tracks. During the final song of Feeder's set a flare was lit in the crowd which to be perfectly honest looked quite spectaluar with its yellow glow and smoke filling the pit area. Despite looking rather awesome, this was a big hazard which could have caused harm and this was dealt with very swiftly by the security team looking after everyone over the weekend.
Onto Saturday night's headline act! English rock band Kaiser Chiefs! The park was filled with screams and excitement when members of the band stepped on stage. Even more so for front man Ricky Wilson. The band was formed in Leeds in the year 2000 under the name Parva and released just one studio album which was titled '22' in 2003 before then establishing themselves as Kaiser Chiefs. With six studio album releases under their belts they are still going strong and continue to make great new music. The five piece opened their exciting set with the ever popular "Everyday I Love You Less And Less" to which at the end of the song singer Ricky Wilson came to the very edge of the stage to encourage ticketholders to be louder and dance. Over the course of the evening we saw them perform hits including "Never Miss A Beat", "Modern Way", "The Angry Mob" which we saw Ricky teaching lyrics to the audience to sing along with him, "Ruby", the massive "I Predict A Riot" and a favourite of Wilson's from their latest album "Hole In My Soul". Their latest singles from the 2016 album 'Stay Together' are quite different from the slightly heavier rock style that we are used to hearing from Kaiser Chiefs, they have a bit more of a slight pop/indie sound with catchy lyrics and more mellow rythms. During their set the very energetic front man was continuously playing up to cameras and playing one side of the audience off against the other during tracks. We were even asked by the band to sing "Happy birthday" as a birthday cake was brought out filled with candles on stage to celebrate the birthdays of a member of their sound crew and also drummer Vijay. After filling the park with music, strobe lighting and fans jumping around like caged animals the lads left the stage leaving us all shouting for "More, More, More" The rather tired looking band members returned to the stage once more to perform not one, but two more hits for us. They played "Misery Company" and then ended their set with the brilliant "Oh My God" I can honestly say Kaiser Chiefs have to be the best band that I have ever seen live! I am still feeling the buzz since seeing them on saturday night. And I'm pretty sure I will be for a very long time. Before this weekend I had enjoyed them, but now I love them!
Still reeling from the night before, we then attended Sunday's Bedford Park Proms. A much more relaxed kind of day with a lovely calm yet excitable atmosphere. This year's theme was Bedford Proms Goes To The Movies. Upon entering the grounds we were greeted by a replica of the famous Delorean from "Back To The Future", which looked amazing with twinkling lights and its doors up in the air so that we could see some fun movie props from the films. All that was missing was Doc Brown and Marty Mcfly. On the far side of the stage we could also see a huge inflatable of Staypuft from the Ghostbusters films and a birds of prey meet and greet tent inspired by the enchanting Harry potter film franchaise. The Proms really was an event for all of the family to enjoy. The grounds were filled with people equipped with tables, chairs and fancy food spreads. We even spotted someone that brought their own drinks bar with them. While some were sitting in their fold up chairs, covered with blankets just soaking in the ambiance, others were chatting with friends and relatives while dining on some rather exquisite meals which even included snacking on lobster! Very elegant stuff indeed. A popular and clever food choice taken by many ticketholders was large quantities of watermelon. Have you guessed why? It was a little reference to the iconic film "Dirty Dancing".
To get the musical evening off to a start we saw the young, talented and very brave children of the Pilgrim School Choir enter the stage with their teacher. All smartly dressed in their school uniform sporting lovely green blazers the children began to sing some of their favourite classics from the movies. Their time slot gave them the chance to perform well known songs from musicals and feature films including "A Whole New World" from Disney classic Aladdin, "When I Grow Up" featured in Matilda, "Do-Re-Me" from the timeless film and stage show The Sound Of Music and popular Mary Poppins track "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" which was made famous originally by Dame Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The small choir sang beautifully and were very professional on stage during their performance. It was very lovely to watch as the primary school children smiled at their families who were sitting in front of them in the pit area with cameras and tears of joy feeling immensely proud of their little ones for such an amazing achievement.
Shortly after a small interval entered the next act of the evening. The students from The Redford School of Speech and Drama. The teens looked flawless as they were elegantly dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns as they walked onto the stage to take their places. The teenagers began their set with their rendition of the chart topping single "Skyfall" which was the title track originally made famous by popstar Adele from the James Bond film Skyfall. With gentle harmonies their version was just beautiful and soothing. The Choir then went on to perform Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" which was also featured in hit TV musical show Glee. The choir featured a male and female soloist during their version of the peppy pop song with the rest of the group performing in an accapella style. One memorable part of the performance from this group of talented people, was a female soloist coming forward to sing latest disney release "How Far I'll Go" which happens to be the lead track on the soundtrack to Disney's Moana. The single was originally performed by Auli'i Cravalho who also voice's the lovely Moana in the animated feature film. The young blonde vocalist in the school choir sounded remarkably like the original voice actor while performing this song. She had the most beautiful and delicate voice, her rendition literally gave me goosebumps. The group performed a medley of music from feature films to finish their set, which again featured acapella vocals. During the medley the choir performed tracks which included "Part Of Your World" from The Little Mermaid originally sang by Jodi Benson, the "Star Wars Main theme", "Rule The World" originally performed by Take That for the film Stardust, "The Circle Of Life" from The Lion King, "The Time Of My Life" from Dirty Dancing, and an amazing leg slapping routine to "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" which was used in the film Pitch Perfect and was performed by actress and singer Anna Kendrick. During this amazing medley of memorable soundtracks the group also performed approproate theatrics on stage to accompany each hit that they sang. These young people had amazling talent and really could go far in the music industry.
For the main concert, which started around 7.30pm our ears were treated to the sounds of the London Gala Orchestra who also introduced the Bedford choral society and west end stars Joanna Forrest, Daniel Koek, and opera vocalist Alison Buchanan. Daniel had performed "Born Free" and also sang "The Prayer" alongside Joanna. Alison Buchanan performed the ever wonderful "Ave Maria" with the orchestra also. During the concert we heard many well known soundtrack releases from feature films being performed by the London Gala Orchestra which also heavily focused on the amazing compositions of the award winning John Williams to which they played some of his most memorable pieces such as the "Star Wars Main Theme", "The Imperial March" also from Star wars, the "Jaws theme" from the movie of the same name, the "Superman Theme", the "Jurassic Park Theme", the theme from the whiptastic "Indiana Jones" and many many more. At the end of the night the orchestra brought their time to a close by playing the patriotic "Rule, Britannia" and "The Land Of Hope And Glory" as they were joined on stage by all three vocalists wearing great britain attire. The grounds was a sea of Union Jack flags waving in the wind. They then performed famous music from the James Bond film franchaise during a spectacular firework display, which also saw the organisers set off what I can only explain as mushroom cloud flame throwers which were situated in the pit area of the park. Sunday was definitly the most enjoyable night of the three for me (minus the Kaiser Chiefs on Saturday evening). There was no rushing around, no being trampled on by people trying to see their favourite acts. Just good old fashioned patriotic fun.
My weekend at Bedford Park Concerts was certainly a busy one. But nevertheless a very enjoyable one. I loved my time there as did our photographer and our 2 year old son.
I wonder how Bedford will be able to top this next year?
I can't wait to find out what they will have in store for their 2018 weekend!
All photos by Kane Howie
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