Picnic concerts: Rock'n'roll and royalty don't mix

The trend for gigs on country estates makes Fiona Sturges nostalgic for the beer-soaked mosh pits of her teens

Long ago, when I was a lank-haired, Doctor Martens-wearing 18-year-old, I went to a gig at London's Marquee Club. I still can't recall what band was playing. What I do remember is that not long into the set I received a boot to the side of my head from a passing crowd surfer and briefly lost consciousness. When I came to I was being helped to the back of the audience by a couple of sweaty strangers who, having ascertained that I knew my name and what year it was, swiftly hurled themselves back into the throng. I followed them soon after.

I tell this tale not simply to highlight the recklessness of my 18-year-old self, but because at the time I seriously believed I was living the high life. I was in London, hanging with the cool kids and going to see bands every night of the week. That I had, on this occasion, found myself in physical peril was neither here nor there. In those days, the typical attributes of the rock concert – terrible sound, sticky floors, asphyxiating heat, being routinely bathed in beer – were integral to the experience, all part of the glorious and slightly mucky ritual of live music.

Fast-forward nearly 20 years and my gig-going habits are somewhat different. It is one of the side effects of growing up that policemen really do get younger and that one prefers, where possible, to get through a concert without suffering a blow to the skull. And yes, I admit it, there are times when I prefer a sit-down concert. Thus, where in my late teens my haunts were the Marquee, the Borderline and the 100 Club, nowadays you're more likely to find me, if not at home watching DIY SOS on the telly, reclining somewhere around Row H at the Royal Festival Hall.

Apparently, I'm not the only person for whom the concert experience has undergone a change. This summer, music-lovers have already had the opportunity to see Rufus Wainwright and Diana Krall perform in the grounds of Kenwood House, an 18th-century stately home in the midst of Hampstead Heath, in a series of shows sponsored by English Heritage. At these much-trumpeted "picnic concerts" punters were able to order food hampers and pre-book deck chairs for maximum bubbly-supping comfort.

We have also, in recent weeks, had the odd juxtaposition of horseracing and indie-rock at Newmarket Racecourse with concerts by the likes of James Morrison and Razorlight. Meanwhile, last Saturday night saw those kings of reggae-lite UB40 perform in the glorious gardens of Belvoir Castle, the 500-year-old home of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, and next weekend fans of Will Young can see the silken-voiced pop idol at the Sandringham Estate, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's Norfolk retreat. The list of unlikely pop events goes on – Lily Allen at Goodwood, The xx, The Divine Comedy and Corinne Bailey Rae at Somerset House, Blondie and Status Quo at Westonbirt Arboretum, and Doves, Scouting for Girls and Katie Melua at Thetford Forest.

Now I am as partial as anyone to a nice picnic. I also love the idea of injecting a bit of drama into a show through the novel use of surroundings, as Pink Floyd once did when they performed in a Roman amphitheatre in the remains of Pompeii. But gigs sponsored by English Heritage? Concerts in the Queen's back garden? Just when did rock music become about deckchairs, picnics and aristocratic piles? How did it get so comfortable and so very genteel? What will they come up with next? Radiohead at Henley Regatta? Lady Gaga at Royal Ascot?

But then again, we live in a time when the Prime Minister claims to be a fan of The Smiths and former cabinet minister Alan Johnson can talk openly of his once-thwarted plans to become a rock star. In other words, pop music has been stripped of its mystery and, to the more seasoned fans, it has lost its rebellious spirit. Twenty years ago, your musical tastes signalled your independence from the older generation and stuck two fingers up at their old-fashioned ways. Now, in musical terms, the generation gap has closed. Thirty- and fortysomething parents now insist on listening to the same music as their offspring and teenagers appear happy to go to gigs with their parents.

In which case you might argue that concerts are simply moving with the times, and that these refined new venues aren't just a novelty wheeze but part of a wider trend set by festival organisers desperate to make the once winning combination of booze, mud and music more attractive to a cross-generational and largely middle-class audience. Consequently, we have seen the rise of the so-called "boutique" music festival, the kind that comes with chalets, yurts, baby-sitting services, circuses, cinemas, poetry readings, lectures on lifestyle, organic food stalls, cashpoints and live recordings for Radio 4. Last year's Camp Bestival in Dorset was so determined to broaden its appeal that it upgraded its children's entertainers to the main stage. Thus the mid-morning turn, Mr Tumble from the children's channel CBeebies, got a noticeably bigger audience than the evening headliner P J Harvey.

And these "boutique" events come at a price. I've already grumbled in these pages about the exorbitant cost of music festivals. But how about these one-off "event" gigs? After all, stately homes don't come cheap. No wonder that tickets for Will Young's Sandringham concert are going at £35 a pop, while Jamie Cullum's upcoming "picnic concert" at Kenwood House will set you back around £32 a person, and that's before you've booked your picnic hamper (around £50 for two).

Naturally, I'm not arguing that festivals should return to the sordid, stinking mud-baths of old, nor that gigs revert exclusively to events where punters are crammed into basement dives with leaky toilets and where the air conditioning has long packed up. But it can hardly be a coincidence that, as music fans have come to expect Pimm's, Kettle Chips and upholstered seating at concerts, many of our more traditional venues are struggling to survive. The Astoria in London, once a stronghold for up-and-coming as well as more established rock bands, was closed down a few years ago after being bought by property developers while the Hammersmith Palais, the venue immortalised in song by The Clash, recently faced the bulldozers. Meanwhile, smaller venues all over the country are having problems.

Such carping may seem rich coming from a person in her late thirties who has already admitted to relishing the sanctity of the sit-down gig. But that doesn't mean that I don't cherish the memories of gigs gone by, notably the visceral and physical thrill of watching a new or much-adored band at close quarters in a small venue where you could, very literally, smell the sweat. These are the experiences that help to define one's youth and they shouldn't be underestimated. As for incorporating picnic blankets, deckchairs and Thermos flasks into the concert experience? Well, it wouldn't have happened in my day.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there