BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend Norwich 2015

© BBC

© BBC

Note: This is as much a diary entry for me as a shared account or review for all of you so fair warning if it turns into a stream-of-consciousness post.

From the moment I first heard about this year’s Big Weekend, it all seemed implausibly fortuitous. My best friend texted me to say that when she saw Norwich trending on Twitter that wonderful morning, she had never expected Taylor Swift to be the reason. Not only was this year’s Big Weekend going to be held walking distance from my friend’s house, the headliner was the very person we had been spiralling over since the 1989-era had begun: Taylor fucking Swift, y’all. It also happened to be the weekend immediately after my final university deadline. The perfect celebration.

Taylor Swift in Norwich is truly the most insane, unbelievable thing to happen in Norwich since… well, since last year when The Avengers came to town. (Seeeriously, people, Norwich is the place to be.) For my friends who attended UEA, I can’t imagine how bizarre it must be to go from Captain America strolling around the Sainsbury Centre one year to the world’s biggest popstar rocking up the next. In addition to Taylor, the lineup included a mixture of fresh (Florence and the Machine, Years and Years, Hozier, etc.) and throwback (Snoop Dogg, Fall Out Boy, Muse, etc.). Prior to ticket release day, only Taylor, Florence and a handful of smaller bands were announced. It didn’t matter. They had us at Taylor. We woke up and began frantically tapping refresh, secured tickets for both days and then wondered how we could possibly go back to our mundane lives what with a Taylor Swift show on our horizon.

Saturday

After a nine-hour journey orchestrated by, I presume, the devil himself, I arrived in Norwich on Friday night with a few hours to recover before the party began. We arrived in time to catch the end of 5 Seconds of Summer’s set (or 5SOS, as everyone seemed to be saying out loud in a way that offended my ears as much as when people say “lol” aloud), giving us just enough chance to quibble over the fact that there were only four band members – or rather, four seconds of summer. It’s all very confusing if you ask me.

After hearing “the American Apparel underwear song”, Hannah and I went for a wander around Earlham Park and met up with our friend Emma, heading back to the main stage in time for Charlie XCX’s set where we found yet more friends somehow (unlikely odds given the 25,000 non-friends). I had a blast dancing around to Charlie XCX’s ‘I Love It’, ‘Doing It’, ‘Famous’ and an Iggy-less ‘Fancy’. It was less of a blast, in the process of looking up her set at my time of writing, to find out that she is a mere four days older than me, serving as a cruel reminder of my comparative lack of achievements. I’ll just blast “I don’t care, I love it!” for a while until I forget. dfgfdg After Charlie came Ella Eyre in the In New Music We Trust tent. This was a casual choice that just worked out nicely timetable-wise, with our Norwich-hating foe, Ben Howard, taking up the main stage. Songs like ‘Waiting All Night’, ‘Together’ and ‘Gravity’ made Ella Eyre just as much fun as Charlie, though inviting even louder, more liberating sing-alongs. An extra bonus was her performance of Sigma’s ‘Changing’, which, combined with the general Radio 1 DJ compulsion to play Sigma’s ‘Nobody To Love’ as a hype track before every set, meant that we had little incentive to actually go to Sigma’s set. (Poor Sigma.)

When Ella finished, we needed some Eyre air, with the Years and Years/ Hozier back-to-back ahead of us. It was during this particular interlude that we discovered the blessings of the farmer’s market tent, where pizza could be bought for a miraculous £2.25, with buy-one-get-one-free offers to boot. What sorcery? I am still recovering from the shock of this bargain given the mark-up on everything else. Focus, Jess, focus

Hannah wanted to indulge her younger self so we caught part of Fall Out Boy’s set, with songs like ‘Uma Thurman’ and ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark’ going down a treat in the Saturday sunshine. After that, it was back to the tent.

While we waited for Years and Years, my friend Emma casually mentioned that the lead singer of Years and Years is good friends with Ben Whishaw. Let me explain: I feel about Ben Whishaw the way that a small child might feel about a friendly squirrel living in a tree at the bottom of their garden. To me, he is an endearing woodland creature of whom I feel oddly protective. Turns out that Olly Alexander, Years and Years’ frontman, is also a shy, adorable creature who seems to possess all of the Whishaw traits that had me so won over. As his set began, it became clear that I wasn’t the only fan. The atmosphere inside the In New Music We Trust tent was incredible and, judging by Olly’s expressions, he seemed pretty overwhelmed by his own popularity as everyone shout-sang his lyrics back at him. ‘Take Shelter’, ‘Desire’, ‘King’ and ‘Shine’ were the highlights of a set that was over all too quickly. I’d have loved them to do their covers of ‘Breathe’ and ‘Don’t Save Me’, but the set was far too good to utter a single complaint. Besides, Radio 1 played their ‘Don’t Save Me’ live lounge a few times at the main stage for me to have a song and a dance to.

We shuffled forward after the Years and Years set to prepare for Hozier. It was the brief gaps between acts that I had been most concerned about after my little fainting act at the last concert I went to. Being unentertained when I’m standing up for long periods, especially when my knees lock, is a kind of slow torture for me. At Big Weekend, though, I had nothing to worry about. Between performances were DJ sets, designed to keep the crowds happy and hyped, often throwing out bizarre sing-alongs like ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and ‘Stand By Me’, or encouraging everyone to dance with ‘Pencil Full of Lead’ and, rather predictably, ‘Uptown Funk’ (“Julio, get the stretch!”). It meant that time passed quickly and happily, so when performances began everyone was in the best of moods to enjoy them. Hozier, just like Years and Years before him, brought the house down – closing on ‘Take Me To Church’, with the crowd loudly reminding him of every word, should he need assistance. Other highlights included ‘Jackie and Wilson’, ‘Someone New’ and ‘Work Song’.

Hozier’s set over, we then shuffled on back over to the main stage because it was Florence time and we needed to get a good spot. When she eventually appeared – having probably just descended from some other plane of existence where harps play in the background, alongside the gentle sound of the ocean – the set was everything you’d wish for. Low-key gems like ‘Only If For a Night’ and ‘How Big How Blue How Beautiful’ were mixed in with dance-y crowd pleasers like ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Shake It Out’. Even confined to a stool, Florence managed to own the stage and win over the entire crowd with both her haunting vocals and her soft-spoken stage banter, which largely consisted of inviting all 25,000 of us to her brother’s house party and trying to find him a girlfriend. My personal highlights were ‘What Kind of Man’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’ but what a joy Florence’s set was, from start to finish.

After Florence, we sat on the grassy hill for a little, basking in the glory of it all, listened to a part of Muse’s set and then headed home with ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ blaring behind us.

 Sunday

Sunday started out with the threat of rain. No matter; Hannah and I had bought matching pac-a-macs for just such an occasion. Clad in our George at Asda raincoats, we headed over to catch the last few songs of Olly Murs’ set. He was starting on a funk medley as we arrived: a mash-up of ‘Play That Funky Music’, ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ that you could help but dance around to. I only wish we’d been there to see the full set and properly mix into the crowd because the performances we did see were a joy. By Clean Bandit’s set, we were properly settled in though, and more than made up for lost time. ‘Rather Be’, ‘Real Love’ and their cover of ‘Show Me Love’ were delightful specks of sunshine as the rain began to pour on Earlham Park. sdfsdf Sunday was all about Tay. After Clean Bandit, there was a long stretch before another act we were wanting to see was playing, so we wisely used a couple of hours to sit down, our legs still aching from the previous day. We were determined to still be fully dance-functional for Taylor’s set in the evening and only headed back to the main stage two sets before hers, in an attempt to find ourselves a decent spot in good time. The two sets beforehand were Imagine Dragons and George Ezra, both of whom were a delight. The Imagine Dragons frontman won me over as he assured the crowd that they were going to try and do as many songs as they could in their allotted time, and thus he was going to try not to talk too much. George Ezra won me over when he acted all humble and bashful about being given the pre-Taylor spot after Sam Smith cancelled. Bless ‘em both.

By Taylor time, my legs had graduated from discomfort to pain. The crowd was also the most tightly packed it had been all weekend, in what felt like permanent surge density. It was okay, though, because ~TAYLOR SWIFT~. As soon as she appeared, sparkling like a glitterball fairy, all pain is forgotten. Somehow I adapt to the situation’s constraints and manage to find new ways to dance. (Needless to say, I’m very glad I didn’t make the TV coverage.)

Taylor’s set had a different vibe to all the others. Unlike the relaxed crowds of the tent, this was a determined throng of people who all knew that this was the event of the weekend, with the thought, “Taylor Swift in Norwich?!” still ringing in their heads. For some, this simply manifested in cheerful excitement, but for others, it inspired some ruthless crowd-weaving as they yelled, “It’s my birthday!” at no one in particular. I guess it makes sense that the highlight of the weekend would also come with the biggest drawbacks. Hannah and I were fortunate with our spot, nearly the same one as we’d had for Florence 24 hours earlier, but it was definitely the biggest test of our patience. We’d befriended the people who had endured the wait with us and felt a united force against drunk students who would decide that eight people could squeeze into a space that a small mouse might describe as “a little claustrophobic” or, frankly, just didn’t exist. Eventually, we scared them off with scowls and sarcasm, and there was peace in our little corner of Earlham Park once more. Anyway, no pain, no gain – right? sdfsdf Every word that Taylor Swift sang was yelled back at her by her adoring crowd, as exemplified by the fact that footage I took from the crowd barely picks up Taylor’s vocal over the sheer noise of fans singing. While it was a party from minute one, with ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ providing a crowd-pleasing opener, it was the second half of the set that truly won me. From her reworking of throwback hit ‘Love Story’, with a seriously fix-it fic introductory explanation, the show went up a notch. Taylor was ascending to that higher plane of existence that Florence had visited us from the previous day, only she was taking us all along with her. She followed ‘Love Story’ with her current single ‘Bad Blood’ which, though not a personal standout on 1989, absolutely slayed live – with everyone dutifully yelling the “HEY!” on cue every time. Then came ‘Shake It Off’, and if I could relive one song from the weekend on a loop, it would be that one. It was frantic and joyful and carefree. I danced and I danced and I danced.

As you can imagine, my long-forgotten leg pain hastily returned as the crowd dispersed and it was high time that Hannah and I collapsed onto the grassy hill. We found a little spot below the BBC3 glass bubble, out of which Greg James seemed to be constantly waving, and ended up watching as Fearne, Grimmy and Lethal Bizzle (I still don’t understand) gathered on the main stage to entertain the waiting Foo Fighters’ crowd.

Sitting on that hill on a cool summer’s evening and watching the sun set behind the main stage was a low-key highlight of a magical weekend. We didn’t move from that same spot during the Foo Fighters set, dancing and air-drumming along from our seats – with Emma now joining us again. We laughed every dumb time Dave Grohl went off on a tangent about Taylor Swift, finding unique ways to dedicate song after song to her. It was an incredible set performed by a true entertainer, watched by us in the mellowest way possible. We then capped it all off with a spectacular fireworks display… IMG_2315 What a dream.

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