Aside from their simultaneous orgasm in the 1960s, music and politics have always made for tricky bedfellows. Throw in the egos of five impassioned performers - Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg and Chrissie Hynde - weather which will turn from the hottest day ever recorded in Britain to torrential rain at a moment's notice and you know we're in for a fun night as Leicester's third Summer Sundae festival wraps up with its Concert for a Landmine Free World.
The equal billing of these artists is intriguing on paper and fireworks in practice. Tonight begins with all five sitting in a line. Emmylou (whose brainchild these concerts are) kicks things off with "Red Dirt Girl", her lament to lives lost in the Vietnam War. It is so fragile you can practically hear the afternoon's raindrops falling from the leaves.
Earle is up next, and he delivers a raw and rabid "Conspiracy Theory". Baez then plays another politicised Earle song, "Christmas in Washington", before our very own Billy Bragg kicks the night's accumulated subtlety neatly in the groin and fires off his devastating "Great Leap Forward". The song has lived up to its title: it now has added the lyric, "I don't believe you can beat any axis of evil/ By putting Smart bombs in the hands of dumb people". Bravo, Billy. You held your own.
It's what happens next that is such a riveting insight into the nature of fame and celebrity. With thousands of gentle festie types unable to take their eyes off the stage, it's Hynde's turn. She starts. And then stops, has a moan about this being too quiet, this being too loud. Apologises. Then starts again. The other performers shuffle in their seats. As if that isn't bad enough, she badly misreads the nature of this concert by choosing a song called "You Bring the Biker Out In Me".
The effect of this is to highlight the difference between Hynde and her fellow performers. Sure, all are famous. But Hynde is a Celebrity. To illustrate: if she fell over coming out of a bar, Heat would publish the picture. If Earle did the same thing, he'd probably still be lying there three weeks later.
Just before the interval, Bobby Muller, from the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, makes a speech telling us why this campaign should be heard above the "chorus of righteousness". He makes three points you should know about: 1) In the First World War, 90 per cent of casualties were soldiers, in modern wars 90 per cent are civilians; 2) Land mines are unlike other weapons in that you don't have to aim them; and 3) when conventional weapons are put away, land mines remain. It may not be the perfect time and place to hear these words, but hear them we should and hear them we do.
Part two of the show involves much group singing and many highlights. Another Gram song, "Sin City", is played to perfection; Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" sounds as good in these hands as it ever will; and Bragg turns "Bourgeois Blues" brilliantly into "BushWar Blues" and earns a cheer for practically every line.
It is Bragg who sums up the delicate nature of these events. "Blimey," he tells us. "Sharing a stage with such great people's doing my head in. Thank God it's only for a couple of nights." Typically, it is Hynde who picks up on the backhanded nature of this statement and harrumphs, "Billy!".
As festivalgoers slip away, all fairy costumes and flashing deely-boppers, you have to question this mixing of pop, politics and egos. Stars' moods, like British weather, can turn from sunshine to rain on the turn of a dime. Summer Sundae's act booker - like the wheelchair-bound Vietnam Vet speaker - deserves a medal for bravery.Reuse content