Love music festivals? Can’t be bothered with pretending to know how to pitch a tent or “washing” with wet wipes? Have we got the city for you. London’s summer festival season is a different beast from the national scene, where you can still watch amazing bands outside but also admire great architecture, wear normal shoes and get the tube home to your own bed. Whisper it – some of these events are even indoors. Summer 2016 is shaping up to be a good one. Here’s how.
THE BIG ONES
June 5-Sept 10, Wembley Stadium, HA9 (wembleystadium.com)
Two epic shows from older legends bracket this summer’s stadium gig offerings, with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band blasting off on June 5, and piano man Billy Joel wrapping up as autumn approaches. In between, there are two R&B superstars in the shape of Rihanna on June 24 and Beyonce on July 2-3. But even they can’t outdo Coldplay, who’ll play for four nights between June 15-19.
British Summer Time
July 1-10, Hyde Park, W1 (bst-hydepark.com)
These six all day shows in central London are the best opportunity to see music giants here this summer. Two classic albums will be aired in full when Carole King makes a rare appearance to take on Tapestry on July 3, then Stevie Wonder plays Songs in the Key of Life on July 10. There’s also a pop day with Take That on July 9, hip hop from Kendrick Lamar, who appears alongside Florence + the Machine on July 2, folk rock from Mumford & Sons on July 8 and something edgier with Massive Attack on July 1.
July 8-10, Finsbury Park, N4 (wirelessfestival.co.uk)
Finsbury Park residents aren’t happy about it, but former Hyde Park weekender Wireless is back in north London for its 11th event. Each of the three days offers a broad mix of sounds the kids love, with the stadium house of Calvin Harris and Eighties pop of The 1975 on July 8, bulldozing dance from Chase & Status and smooth hip hop from J Cole on July 9, then rowdy grime from the Boy Better Know crew and tropical house from Kygo on July 10.
June 11-12, Victoria Park, E3 (fielddayfestivals.com)
It’s a 10th birthday celebration for Hackney’s Field Day this year, which is marking the occasion with exclusive headline sets from two Mercury Prize winners: electro-soul man James Blake and PJ Harvey, who will play songs from her powerful new album The Hope Six Demolition Project. The rest of the bill is a hipster’s dream, with bigger names such as Roots Manuva and Air joined by the likes of Gold Panda, Parquet Courts and Meilyr Jones.
Somerset House Summer Series
July 7-17, Somerset House, WC2 (somersethouse.org.uk/music)
When it isn’t set up as a top ice skating spot, the Neoclassical courtyard by the Thames is an impressive place to watch hot bands. This year they include lively Aussie jazz-funk act Hiatus Kaiyote on July 7 and French electroswing group Caravan Palace on July 14. Among the solo acts are the returning Laura Mvula on July 10, indie rocker Courtney Barnett on July 13 and the current holder of the Mercury Prize, Benjamin Clementine, on July 9.
July 17, Victoria Park, E3 (citadelfestival.com)
The blasted heath that remains after the Lovebox Festival will become much more civilised on the Sunday, when this sibling of Oxfordshire’s posh Wilderness Festival takes over. There’ll be fancy street food, talks and pop-up theatre from the Old Vic. The music is sophisticated fare too, with Iceland dream makers Sigur Ros, Canadian electronica man Caribou and soul star Lianne La Havas all playing.
Sept 10-11, Blackheath, SE3 (onblackheath.com)
A John Lewis sponsorship should ensure that this relative newcomer appeals to the middle classes with its chefs’ stage and high-end food village. The music will suit indie fans mature enough to know their way around an avocado too. Primal Scream and Belle and Sebastian top the bill, with Hot Chip and James playing high up as well. There’s also a stage run by Heavenly Recordings for more esoteric fare.
BRING A HAMPER
Hampton Court Palace Festival
June 8-23, Hampton Court Palace, KT8 (hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com)
These fancy events, which seem to exist purely so that Jools Holland and Van Morrison have a reason to get out of the house every summer, allow you to picnic in the grounds of Cardinal Wolsey’s Tudor pied-a-terre before watching the likes of soul belter Anastacia (June 9), Dutch jazz lady Caro Emerald (June 17) and three concerts from Sir Tom Jones (June 8, 15, 16).
Live at Chelsea
June 17-19, Royal Hospital Chelsea, SW3 (liveatchelsea.com)
Now in its second year, this series not only offers the opportunity to purchase “the ultimate picnic hampers” (with the Gordon Ramsay Group keeping your sarnies free of ants) but also a chance to eat Michelin-starred food inside Royal Hospital Chelsea’s State Apartments. After that kind of spread, heading into the grounds to watch Wet Wet Wet (June 18) or Simply Red (June 19) might be a bit of a letdown.
Greenwich Music Time
July 5-10, Old Royal Naval College, SE10 (greenwichmusictime.co.uk)
With Canary Wharf glittering over the water behind the main stage and the grand Naval College just next door, this is a pleasant spot to watch mainstream acts including veteran voice Seal on July 6, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa on July 7 and big-selling Swedes Roxette on July 8. Jamie Cullum wraps things up with some fast fingered piano work on July 10.
Kew the Music
July 12-17, Kew Gardens, TW9 (kew.org)
A stage in front of the glass Temperate House in Kew Gardens can’t afford to risk any heavy metal bands, so instead there are tasteful offerings from Simply Red (July 12), Will Young (July 13) and of course, Jools Holland (July 15). Long-running ABBA tribute act Bjorn Again should shake a few leaves from the trees on July 14.
We Are FSTVL
May 28-29, Damyn’s Hall Aerodrome, Upminster RM14 (wearefstvl.com)
The first major offering of London’s festival season offers more dance music than you can shake a glowstick at, across 14 stages in an airfield. Big names include regular party starter Fatboy Slim, Swedish House Mafia escapee Steve Angello and drum and bass dons DJ Fresh and Sigma. The rejuvenated Craig David will also be in attendance with his TS5 concept.
South West Four
Aug 27-28, Clapham Common, SW4 (southwestfour.com)
The bank holiday weekend will feel significantly livelier on Clapham Common, where an A-Z of DJs from Above & Beyond to Yotto (okay, A-Y) will keep the party going non-stop. Less serious clubbers will appreciate the presence of chart-friendly names such as Rudimental, Dizzee Rascal and The Chemical Brothers. Other live acts include Boys Noize, Nero and Netsky.
Victoria Park, E3 (loveboxfestival.com)
Lovebox has been a more eclectic affair in the past, but these days its mix of hip hop and dance music seems to cater best to a severely up-for-it crowd who are as likely to be found dancing around the taco truck as the main stage. Madonna producer Diplo appears twice, in solo guise and with his band Major Lazer, there’s rap from Run the Jewels, grime from Stormzy and a legend in the form of George Clinton. The biggest draw, however, ought to be the chance to see the reformed LCD Soundsystem.
June 10-19, Southbank Centre, SE1 (0844 875 0073, southbankcentre.co.uk/Meltdown-2016)
Elbow frontman and beloved radio host Guy Garvey is in the prestigious curator’s hotseat for the latest Meltdown season on the Southbank. His band won’t be playing but he’ll do a solo set on June 17. Other notable names plucked from his little black book include Laura Marling (June 18), Richard Hawley (June 16) and a rare reformation gig from short-lived Texan band Lift to Experience (June 10).
June 18-19, O2 Arena, SE10 (0844 824 4824, the02.co.uk)
The classic rock crowd will take over the O2 for a weekend in June, with theatrical rocker Alice Cooper and prog man Rick Wakeman topping the bill. Relative youngsters The Darkness and Blackberry Smoke will also be engaging in heavy riffing, plus there’ll be film screenings, artists in conversation and a vinyl fair.
Aug 6, London Fields, E8 (visionsfestival.com)
Now in its fourth year, Visions sprawls across multiple hip Hackney venues including Oval Space, the Moth Club, the Laundry and St John’s church. Wanderers should stumble upon performers including Scottish rap trio Young Fathers, the severely heavy Lightning Bolt and powerful singer-songwriter Anna Calvi.
June 4, Camden High Street, NW1 (camdenrocksfestival.com)
More than 200 bands for 35 quid sounds fair enough, especially when they include indie favourites The Cribs, Carl Barat of The Libertines’ other band The Jackals, folk hero Billy Bragg and Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols. Dozens of lesser names will rumble along Camden High Street in esteemed venues including the Electric Ballroom, the Barfly and Dingwalls.
June 24-26, Fulham Palace, SW6 (foldfestival.com)
It stands for “Freak Out Let’s Dance”, which is what people have been doing in the vicinity of Nile Rodgers’ band Chic for many years. Because he’s in charge of this one, Chic will play every night, joined by different acts each time including Labrinth and Alison Moyet (June 24), Beck (June 25) and John Newman (June 26).
Caught by the River Thames
Aug 6-7, Fulham Palace, SW6 (caughtbytheriver.net)
Caught by the River, a nature website made by music lovers, branches out into the real world with a new festival appropriately situated right by the Thames. Following smaller events in Cardigan and Hebden Bridge, this one is more ambitious, promising to “bridge the previously un-spanned gap between mind-bending psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll shows and Springwatch”. Performers include Low, Super Furry Animals and Beth Orton.
House of Common
Aug 29, Clapham Common, SW4 (madness.co.uk/houseofcommon)
A Madness gig by another name, this is the latest guise for the Nutty Boys’ enjoyable all-dayers. There’s a strong reggae feel to this one, with legendary DJ David Rodigan and Jamaican giants Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Toots & the Maytals providing the build-up to Suggs and co.