First review: Radio 1's Big Weekend 2011

Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga, more play in Carlisle

Photographer:Trevor Eales

Anne-Marie Douglas - 16 May 2011

Overall: 8/10

There is no doubt that organisers of Radio 1's Big Weekend are aiming to create a true festival atmosphere. Wellies? Check. Silly hats? Check. Rain and mud? Check. And on the whole they achieve it at Carlisle airport. There’s a diverse range of acts and DJs on offer to suits all tastes, which is useful since the free tickets are only offered to those with certain postcodes near to the event venue.

It's a slick operation in terms of stage times and crowd entertainment between acts too - Foo Fighters karaoke at the main stage anyone? But any event that moves venue annually is going to suffer a lack of local knowledge. In this case it is to the detriment of punters queuing at Carlisle train station for hours to catch the shuttle buses to the site that are stuck in the mess that is traffic control. Then there are the ridiculous queues that weave through the festival for an inadequate amount of toilets. And with some acts only appearing for 20-minute shows, there is a good chance that many will miss some performances.

Disabled access needs improving too, with the walk to the disabled parking area further away than at similar events, and the disabled platform on the main stage overcrowded.

Top-secret 'very special guests' Arctic Monkeys kick off proceedings on Saturday's main stage and have time to air popular new single 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I Moved Your Chair’ from forthcoming album 'Suck It And See' along with hits like ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ to a very excitable crowd. They chuck in un-heard number ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ too, just for good measure.

As would be expected from a Radio 1 show, Saturday's line up includes sets from up-to-the-minute acts like Jessie J (a.k.a. That Haircut) and an unusually dressed Ellie Goulding (did she wear a top with hearts covering her breasts at Kate and Wills' nuptials?) who plays ‘Your Song’ for an out of tune audience sing along. Not to worry though Ellie, the crowd appreciate the sentiment.

Suited and booted soul boy Plan B smartly works in a cover of Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’, tailoring in hits from his album 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' with much aplomb. Tinie Tempah is doing some adapting too, changing the lyrics in his Swedish House Mafia collaboration to “from Carlisle to Ibiza.”

The Black Eyed Peas are faultless in their execution of their huge hits, with Fergie taking to singing whilst performing the splits, while house boys Swedish House Mafia headline the In New Music We Trust stage complete with an impressive laser show and sizeable crowd given they are going head to head with Foo Fighters. It’s length rather than size that’s worrying Dave Grohl though as he admits that the group can't possibly only play for only an hour given the bands 100-plus songs in their repertoire. Instead they settle for 90 minutes of pure wall-to-wall rock smashers that showcase part of new LP ‘Wasting Light’ while reminiscing wistfully over modern classics like ‘My Hero’ and ‘Monkey Wrench’. In the end though, they don’t finish with anything from their back catalogue, instead leaving it up to a cover of Queen's 'Tie Your Mother Down' to speak volumes.

A bitterly cold Sunday doesn't stop huge crowds forming at the outdoor stage for several DJ battles with Fearne Cotton against Zane Lowe and Tim Westwood taking on Chris Moyles. Set to themed rounds, each DJ is scored by audience cheers, with Cotton surely topping it when she drops Hanson's ‘Mmm Bop’ in the Guilty Pleasures round.

Bruno Mars and Pulled Apart By Horses open the main stage and In New Music We Trust stages respectively, and given their performances and the crowd response, both probably should have played later in the day. Olly Murs jumps in for a predictable three-song, hand-swaying set and is joined on stage by pals Chris Moyles and Comedy Dave as backing singers for hit 'Thinking Of Me'.

Other highlights include Katy B ripping out 'On a Mission' and 'Lights on' and a sterling set from My Chemical Romance but nothing, however, can compare to the nervous crowd energy that awaits Lady GaGa. Predictably her arrival is really something, arriving on stage in a coffin and emerging as a heavily pregnant Gaga to hit 'Born This Way'. 'Poker Face', 'Just Dance' and 'Bad Romance' are included in a set which sees several costume changes and an emotional Gaga at the piano performing a beautiful rendition of 'Speechless'. It’s a fitting end to a quite an outstanding weekend.


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