Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Kew The Music 2022

8, 9 July 2022

A pleasantly genteel, picnic-friendly gathering of household names, from Will Young to Bananarama, amid the bucolia of Kew Gardens

Will Young

Will Young (Photo: PR)

Kew The Music has carved a genteel, laid-back niche for itself amongst London music festivals, both in its Kew Gardens set-up and its artistic bookings. A single stage showcases no more than three acts per evening, the better to allow time to indulge in the event series’ other USP: picnics. You can bring your own bottles and food, or preorder a hamper (from a range of three available). You can bring your own chairs, or pay extra for a deckchair and BBQ – in the Enclosure, tucked behind white picket fences. There are champagne receptions. And while a festival pint is available, the vast majority of the audience here are at wines or bubbly. It’s that sort of festival.

The music follows suit with a selection of established artists at a certain stage of life and career, mostly household names who’ve attracted and kept an audience over many years, and whose work is more likely to be played on Radio 2 than Radio 1. As with so many 2022 festivals rescheduled from the pandemic years, Kew The Music lost some of its original bookings, but most are present and correct. Van Morrison opened the series, with James Blunt up the following night, while The Gipsy Kings saw out the finalé.

We drop by for nights three and four. On the first of these, James Morrison, who could pass for a rogueish handyman, jokes to guys in the audience that first their wives were into him and then they listened and quite liked him too. His voice at times reminds variously of Terence Trent D’Arby and Bryan Adams, all strain and sinew, though it’s limited in range beyond the emoting. His Radio 2 MOR fare could have lines painted down it, but it goes well with the bubbly and the sandwiches. His biggest hits, You Give Me Something and You Make It Real among them, provoke delighted singalongs, with the audience sounding decidedly female, whatever bromancing he wishes to kindle.

Will Young, fronting a full band, points poutingly out that he’s been in ‘the business’ for 20 years and dammit if people still want him to finish on that Pop Idol provided Number 1 Westlife cover Evergreen. A vision in a wide-brimmed black hat, black top and black leather trousers, he confides that he regrets donning the latter in the heat. Opening with the retro sounds of Love Revolution, giant balloons are launched into the crowd, prompting a balloon running commentary about which colour will get to the back of the crowd first, which continues merrily through and between songs. Maybe this experienced podcast host will start another channel: The Balloon Goes Up. As to the trousers, eventually he gives in to the heat, or at least temptation, and removes them entirely. This and innuendos about back doors being smashed in are in front of this picnic crowd perhaps mildly risqué, but fall well within the grand tradition of camp. He knows where the line is, and pirouettes gracefully upon it.

His instantly recognisable voice proves to be as excellent as ever; instinctually he can throw it to whatever notes he fancies playing with, and he never misses. The plaintive Jealousy is a set – and career – highlight, and there’s room too for his early-career cover of The Doors’ Light My Fire, the raunchified Get On (a pity a video screen wasn’t in place to play the Top Gun referencing video, given the release of the film’s sequel last month) and the singalong moment that is Who Am I. And it’s impossible not to depart into the balmy night smiling.

Kew The Music 2022

Kew The Music 2022 (Photo: PR)

The fourth day is a welcome all-female affair, in contrast to the other four male-dominated nights, and is opened by Liverpool lass Rebecca Ferguson, who talks about supermoms and dedicates a track to them. She’s followed by Gabrielle, who makes comments about the size of her hips before introducing one of her most famous tracks, Rise Again. It is, she states, about being down and ready to recover – a theme that perhaps explains why she was picked by Adele to support her BST Hyde Park shows the previous weekend. The song is of course still a total rip off of Bob Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door, but nobody much minds; it’s been played on commercial radio so often down the years that there’s surely nobody here who doesn’t know at least some of the words.

The subsequent singalong for Out Of Reach, from the Bridget Jones soundtrack, surpasses it, despite the bass being rather too loud, but it’s the finalé Dreams that everyone knows inside out. It gets the requisite extended outro, Gabrielle murmuring unintelligibly sotto voce beneath her capable backing vocalists.

Bananarama, thrice since their ‘80s inception a threesome, are a twosome again. We can’t hear a word of the between-songs chat between remaining bananas Sara Dallin and Karen Woodward, but the songs are lots of fun, and in significant part a Stock Aitken Waterman karaoke of sorts. There’s material from their most recent album, 2019’s In Stereo, spliced in among with early career highlights. Nobody, it seems, much minds who sang which parts originally, or that the returning Siobhan Fahey has left again; this is music to have fun to. Masquerade proves to be an early and perhaps lesser-known highlight, but it’s the big hits the crowd have assembled for. I Want You Back, Robert DeNiro’s Waiting, Venus – with ‘crowd participation’ – and Love In The First Degree in quick succession more than tick that box. Despite what’s quite a lengthy set, it seems over too soon, and for a second night running the crowd slowly amble out of the bucolic surrounds of Kew Gardens with a sense of goodwill. It’s been genteel, filling and pleasantly musical.

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