As with the best holidays, the blues follow: They’re inescapable. And so it was for Stevie Wonder at Hyde Park. Such was the sublime soulfulness of Stevie and his band’s performance of ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ that the only way from such an up was an inevitable down today. But tonight when I listened to some of my recordings I felt the magic again.
The day had started inconspicuously enough. Meeting my cousin, we were excited at the prospect, but exhausted from a hard working week; keen for a catch up and a sit down.
With a mid forties average age audience, we remained seated during Corinne Bailey Rae and read the papers. Pharrell stirred us at 5.30pm and at 6.30pm we stood to attention to salut one of my all time favourite singers.
‘Songs in the Key of Life’ was the first (double) album I ever bought on cassette, and the first song I christened my first hi-fi with was ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. That’s a lot of firsts.
Through the humour and charm of his performance, frequently spouting ‘cockney’ and admonishing the crowd when they came in too soon to sing a long, Stevie had us all in the palm of his hand. And what a comforting and gentle hand it was too. He reminded us of the importance of love over hate and how we can all play a part in turning things around. His rendition of ‘Pastime Paradise’ gave me goosebumps – a gospel choir coming in strong with a heart-rending chorus of ‘We Shall Overcome’.
After he performed ‘Joy Inside My Tears’ he wiped his from mirrored-shades protected eyes. He wasn’t the only one.
Before he sang ‘If it’s Magic’ he told us that his harpist had recently died from cancer, and that the last backing track she had recorded to accompany this tune would be played with him now.
Through it all – from his array of stupendously excellent singers’ and musicians’ solos contributing to the democratic perfection of a truly beautiful and uplifting whole, the occasion was tinged with a bittersweetness. Bitter in that so many geniuses and legends of note have left us recently; a seeming rise in troubled times and uncertainty; sweet in that Stevie in all his magnificence continues to inspire – despite a debilitation that from birth must have challenged him in all aspects of his life.
His message was clear: If I can do it, you can: ‘We can all make a difference when we choose love over hate’ he said.
Poignancy infused this three and a half hour set in the most soaring way: Despite feeling ill that day, he’d arrived to be here, and as darkness fell he called out to the crowd: ‘We’ve got 20 more minutes before they close the park: Let’s turn it out!’ He didn’t want to go home, and neither did we.