Holland Park Boogie

Aah, the Great British Outdoor Gig season. Currently in the fullest of swings. And with it come the customary agonies of weather watching. I was sat in front of the gogglebox, watching Pendulum put in an epic set at Glasto yesterday, under a searing afternoon sun. It took a leap of imagination to picture our sodden Jools Holland concert less than 48 hours earlier.

We’d been looking forward to the gig for a while. (And, like buses, my mate Keith had offered me tickets to The Killers/Kaiser Chiefs in Hyde Park the same night. Normally, I’d have bitten his hand off.) But even as the four of us were packing up the car with picnics, blankets and folding chairs, the sky began to drip. By the time we were skirting Tring, the wipers were on full speed.  The BBC radar hinted heavily (a deep blue-grey mass obliterating the British Isles and heading slowly east) that this rain was set in for the evening. I wasn’t sure how the girls mood would hold up under a prolonged downpour.

Driving through the new-town-in-waiting of Berryfields (pristine Aylesbury Vale station and super-size car park adrift in a sea of churned-up fields that will soon be a 3,000 home little brother to Milton Keynes) we hit the traffic jam crawling towards Waddesdon Manor. Strangely, we found this reassuring. Despite a steady leaking from leaden clouds, I was comforted that all these optimistic car-loads had not caved in to the inevitable. Carry on regardless, en masse! It is the stiff upper lip English Summer way. Further spirit-bolstering came in the guise of a text from the Chausselets, with whom we were meeting. They hadn’t given in either and were not far behind us. And the Woods, the other family in our outing, had been spotted in between.

Indeed, we all arrived at the car park within 5 minutes of each other. Although not without some wheel spinning drama as the Zafira struggled with the incline, much to the concern of a grimacing steward.

The picnic was hilarious. Making the best of wet sarnies and soggy salad under brollies and waterproofs.

 The support act – some bloke called Mick, according to daughter no 2 who later spotted him in a tent forlornly waiting to sign autographs for non-existant fans – did not help. Miserable, dirgey acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter gruel. Bleaugghh.

The mood lifted immeasurably the very moment Jools Holland and his 19 piece band hit the stage. The park was filled with a big fat sounds pumped with rich brass, driving rhythms and that delicious boogie-woogie piano of the mercurial Mr Holland. The stage was framed by the astonishing Renaissance chateau style front of the former-Rothschild manor, suitably flood lit and viewed through the forest of golfing umbrellas. 

The band lived up to the setting.  A succession of guest vocalists lit up the gloom. Sandie Shaw was brilliant, reworking Love Me Do and Puppet on a String to the point of unrecognition; Louise Marshall provided some mellow tones and the remarkable Ruby Turner, possessor of a fine set of Grade A bellows, cranked out some high octane rhythm and blues. And always Jools Holland….cajoling the crowd, laying down those honkey tonk piano lines, taking the lead vocal on a couple of ska-infused ditties and even lead guitar at one point.

The five youngsters in our gang had a blast. The three older ones were able to wander down the front and check out the trumpet techniques, potter round to the merchandise stall and refuel from the hot chocolate concession. The youngest in our party taught us all a lesson in choreographed piano and air trombone before maxing out on adrenaline and taking a well deserved nap.

I took daughter no 2 down to the front and on my shoulders she had a great view of the stage and seemed to take equal delight in nudging the umbrellas around us so that little rivulets of water dripped over me and anyone else daft enough to get too close. 

But the rain was irrelevant by now. Dad dancing had already broken out in feverish abandon, accompanied by daughters expressing simultaneous horror and amusement. Thierry took the prize for uncontained grooving. He has previous form, having wowed the dance floor at a recent 60’s retro night, but I’m pretty sure the girls were unprepared for a triple-headed patriarchal bootie shake! The Mums were as bad….

The climax arrived with the three singers on stage, belting out Enjoy Yourself backed by a full force ska work out. So good, it blew the fuses. Literally. Water in the junction box presumably. But the blackout didn’t last long and power was back within 5 minutes for the riotous encores.

A triumph, then, of resolve over rainfall, partying over precipitation, good-time boogie over bad-timed weather…. (I could go on).  The Woods have got a taste for this and are off to the Cornbury Festival this weekend. Great line up. Hope the weather holds though. Another dose of wet gigging would be just too much bad luck. 


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