Review: Paul Simon at Hyde Park

Simon’s appeal transcends the generations at Graceland anniversary gig

Paul Simon was joined on stage by a roster of star guests as he played to 50,000 fans at Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, his first UK gig for several years.

The set featured guest turns by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the choral group that rose to fame singing with Simon on his legendary Graceland album.

The 70-year-old singer first toured the UK with Graceland 25 years ago; inspired by South African township music, it was accused of breaching a cultural boycott targeted at the apartheid regime.

The record was nonetheless given credit for showcasing music by black South Africans and became Simon’s most acclaimed and successful album.

Gig-goers on Sunday were miraculously spared any hint of London’s recent stormy weather as Simon began with a few early classics, including a jazzed up version of ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’, followed by performances from Cliff and Masekela, who played with and without Simon.

The set was a slow burner and the crowd took a little while to get warmed up; but people really got moving once Simon and his band moved on to songs from Graceland, backed by a fresh burst of evening sun.

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The set closed a retro rock festival headlined on earlier days by Soundgarden and Bruce Springsteen. More than any, Paul Simon possesses multi-generational appeal, evidenced by the number of teens and Gen-Xers in the epic crowd. If singalong levels are anything to go by, the hit of the day was Graceland lead single ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – an appealing song whether or not you have vivid memories of its 1986 release. Four stars.

* Paul Simon performed at the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park on Sunday, July 15.