Review – BBC Radio 2 Party in The Park at Victoria Park, Sunday 17th September 2023

Kylie Minogue. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

with Simply Red, Sam Ryder, Lemar, Jessie Ware, Rick Astley, Shalamar, The Pretenders and Kylie Minogue

Reviewed by Kevin Gaughan and Stuart Smithers.

Kevin writes:

This was the first in the BBC Radio 2 in the Park series outside of London – it was a huge deal for BBC Radio 2 but a massive deal for Leicester – very rarely have we had so many big names playing a single event in the city and BBC Radio 2 really went out of their way to promote the event by running special features and getting all their DJs to constantly big up Leicester during their shows in the weeks & months before (& after) the show. Jeremy Vine even did his popular midday radio show from The Old Horse opposite Victoria Park on the Friday before the festival! Huge artists like these often pass by Leicester on their tours, but not this weekend – they were well and truly all over Leicester, big time!

The Party in the Park sold about 70,000 tickets to people from all over the world – people came from all over the UK including Scotland and even as far afield as Belgium and Italy, so it was also a big deal for Leicester’s infrastructure – including the trains and busses etc. My normally empty bus from the other side of town was full of festival goers as early as 9.30 on Sunday morning.

The Party in the Park spanned the whole weekend, but unfortunately, Music in Leicester could only go on the Sunday.

Having arrived over an hour early, around ten in the morning, I joined the end of one of the already massive queues.

BBC Radio 2 Party in the Park Queue an hour before opening at 10:00 am.

After the gates opened, however, and initial teething problems with the e-ticket scanning systems were resolved, the queues were processed quickly by the numerous bag-checking stations & ticket scanners.

I did feel, however, that the bag checkers weren’t as thorough as they should have been – the terms & conditions on the tickets had lots of restrictions to keep us all safe. After a quick peek inside my camera bag, I was then asked if I had anything I shouldn’t have, and was let straight in, which was great for me, but a bit worrying if the person behind had a couple of machetes down their trousers or a bomb in their bag as they could quite easily have done – especially in this day & age.

The DJ tent & big wheel.

Anyhow, security concerns aside, I entered the huge arena, checked out the DJ tent, established where the toilets were and, importantly, the bars. Beer prices, as always, creeping in the upwards direction at over £6 for a pint of lager and £7 if you wanted a cardboard cup (otherwise it was in a can) which you could return and get 10p back! Although 10p wasn’t much, a few crafty individuals were collecting used cups and handing those in for a profit. A good way of reducing festival litter – and making a little bit on the side.

The Party in the Park main stage

Once you were in the arena, there was no escape! – you weren’t allowed to leave and come back again, which, coupled the ever-popular Simply Red kicking things off, I thought was a great way of getting everyone to come early and ensuring they stay, as opposed to people turning up just for their favourites.

Pretty much all the acts in today’s line-up have something in particular to promote and first band on, Simply Red were no exception, they were promoting their 40th(!) anniversary tour in 2025 (which doesn’t include Leicester).

All the bands were introduced by BBC Radio 2’s family of DJs with Sarah Cox and Michael Ball introducing today’s first act, Simply Red

Looking like he was dressed for a spot of decorating, frontman Mick Hucknall opened with his trademark voice and current single from their latest album, Better with you. An instant crowd-pleaser, the crowd were putty in his hands and having a good old, dance, shout and singalong right from the start.

Followed by Stars, you could see where this was going – all absolute bangers with no filler – the dancing was relentless, all the classics were there (for us maturer types, anyway!) – well, as much as they could fit in to their short 30 minute set. Rounding off with the iconic Fairground, Mick and the gang showed us that the years have served them well and there’s plenty more in them yet.

Simply Red. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

There were thirty minutes between each band where you could dance to the DJ stage before returning to the main stage for the next act. I was reluctant to lose my place in the crowd and so only left the main stage for a toilet & beer break.

The crowd were all very jolly & sociable, so it was easy to get chatting to my neighbours and the thirty minutes seemed to pass in no time.

Up next was the wonderful, Eurovision runner-up and all-round lovely chap, Mr Spaceman himself, Sam Ryder and his rather lovely gold mic stand. As he said to the audience –  he only had thirty minutes – twenty nine minutes of music and one minute to chat. But it was a lovely minute where he told us this was his last festival performance of the year.

Sam Ryder. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

He then went on to perform the Queen classic Somebody to Love  in which he had duetted with Queen at the Taylor Hawkins tribute gig in 2022.

Leaving his Eurovision song hit, Spaceman until the end of his set, he then got down with the crowd and high-fived as many people as he could along the barrier.

Sam Ryder. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Time for refreshments, I nipped over to the DJ tent to find DJ Gary Davis doing his thing.

Gary Davis. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Next up were the chocolaty smooth R&B sounds of Lemar. Having graduated from the BBC’s Fame Academy in 2002. I was looking forward to seeing this chap and seeing how he was coming along, performance-wise.

Backed up by his eight-piece band and charming bit of banter between songs, Lemar put in a lovely soulful performance which was a pleasure to watch.

Lemar. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Next up, having been introduced by Joe Whiley & Gary Davis was the soulful songstress of funk herself, Jessie Ware.

Joe Whiley & Gary Davis. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

My crowd neighbours told me they love her last album because it is ‘relatable and emotive and promotes female sexuality’.

She performed a full show with dancers on stage – mostly of her up tempo songs, but I particularly enjoyed her poignant ballad that she wrote with Ed Sheeran, Say you love me, followed by the crowd pleasing Cher cover of Believe then finishing with her crowd pleasingly clappable song, Save a Kiss.

Jessie Ware. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Stuart adds:

Just before 16.30 the crowd gathered in front of the spectacular main stage and we were greeted by a beaming Rick Astley who, in his own words, had come dressed as a banana in his soft yellow-coloured suit!

The almost age defining Rick then started to delight all of the smiling faces in front of him by belting out his greatest hits!

Rick is enjoying a renaissance of popularity that is driven, in part, by his unswerving ‘nice bloke of pop’ image that he effortlessly transmits to his many fans.

The crowd danced and gleefully sang the lyrics to Never Gonna Give You Up back to Rick and, just for a moment, everything seemed OK with the world.  And in a nod to who was to follow him on the stage later, Rick and his fabulous backing singers were all wearing Kylie t-shirts – an image from her very first album cover.

Rick Astley. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Shalamar then took to the stage with an energy and presence that kept the crowd with them when some may have slipped off for a bite to eat or to listen to the excellent Radio 2 presenters at the DJ stage.

The happy pop classics being played out there kept many of the crowd ‘throwing some shapes’ while remembering their dancing past glories with massive smiles on their faces.

Shalamar. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Back at the main stage, one of the undisputed queens of punk and new wave, Chrissie Hynde took to the stage with the rest of The Pretenders to deliver a set that oozed confidence, swagger and easy class.

Bringing some of their new material as well as their era-defining tracks, the crowd loved every moment. Singing along to their seminal hit Brass In Pockets with thousands of my new closest friends is what Sunday afternoons are all about.

The Pretenders. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

The tingling electric current of anticipation continued to build as our headline act, the timeless Kylie, got ready to burst onto the stage.

Brimming with energy and sing-a-long goodness, Spinning Around got the crowd in the mood and On A Night Like This summed up the fun everyone was having.

Kylie. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

Kylie treated her adoring fans to a couple of tracks from her new album, Tension, including an exclusive first play of Hold On To Now.

Much has been said of Kylie being able to stay relevant and attract the next generation of listeners, but watching her land hit after hit from different decades, proves beyond a doubt that this antipodean powerhouse is adored by many and is definitely here to stay as an adopted National Treasure.

Kylie & Jessie Ware. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

She also has the talent, as seen with massive meme monster tracks such as Padam Padam, to actually continue to define the here and now of pop according to how she wants it done!

Bringing her stunning set to a close with crowd pleasers such as Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and All The Lovers, fireworks then thrilled and delighted the thousands gathered in front of their Pop Icon.

Kylie. Photo (c) Kevin Gaughan

The weather, although at times threatening something deplorable, managed to behave itself leaving everyone to have a blast in the park.

A huge spotlight of awe and gratitude should be firmly shone at the phenomenal logistical efforts that went on behind the scenes to make this Radio 2 event feel safe, organised and fun!

Well done to all concerned.

Videos of the headliners:




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