'It's going to be a very special day': Radio 2's Jeff Smith talks Hyde Park line-up

'It's going to be a very special day': Radio 2's Jeff Smith talks Hyde Park line-up

BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park is returning for its ninth edition on September 15. The line-up has just been announced for the 50,000-capactity event and tickets are on sale now.

The one-day festival features headliners Pet Shop Boys, Status Quo, Simply Red, Bananarama, Westlife and Emeli Sande, alongside contemporary hit-makers Clean Bandit – a reflection of the recent shift in the station’s music policy.

Here, Radio 2’s head of music Jeff Smith opens up about booking the event and the evolution of the nation’s most popular radio station…

Why did you go for Pet Shop Boys as headliners for Hyde Park?

“I’ve seen them in lots of venues and it always struck me how they’re consummate pop entertainers. Their music is part of all those eras that Radio 2 covers, from the ’80s and West End Girls through to The Pop Kids a couple of years back, and we play them all. We’re one of the few stations, I think, who still play the whole Pet Shop Boys repertoire.

“We hadn’t asked them before to do this, so pretty much as soon as Kylie and Jason left the stage last year, I was on the phone to them to see if they’d do it this year. They’re doing a few different things this year, but they aren’t doing any festivals in the UK. They were brilliant and said, ‘We’d love to do it’. It’s been a long-cherished ambition for me and Radio 2 to have them in that scenario, and we’ve got them. It’s their only UK appearance, it’s a festival exclusive, and it’s going to be great on Radio 2, and the red button, and all the platforms we use. We’ll get a great look at what will primarily be a hits set, but there will be some new songs in there we hope as well. I think all the other acts will doff their caps to Neil and Chris. It’s going to be a very special day.” 

How big is the Radio 2 Hyde Park show on Red Button and iPlayer?

“Last year we had Kylie, Lenny Kravitz, Boyzone, All Saints. We got 1.34 million on television, and 1.29 million in on the red button. Audiovisual requests [for clips] are about 1.3 million. This is a content machine we’ve created here. It’s curated by us and carefully put together. It’s a way of not just using Radio 2, which is very powerful with over 15 million listeners a week making it the biggest radio station in the UK and Europe, but on top of that having this output on TV and across the BBC. I think it creates a really powerful focus for artists who have that appeal with a 35-plus audience. They can see them on the telly, listen to them on the radio or go online and consume content within BBC Sounds. It’s a real opportunity for us to really get this part of the audience with music that they love. Some of it I term as modern nostalgia, although some of the artists might not necessarily want to be seen as nostalgia – they’re still making modern music. But for a lot of people who go there, that’s what it is really.”

What’s the thinking behind Radio 2 staging this one-day festival?

“It was always about demonstrating the range of what we do at Radio 2. Even more so today, it’s really important to emphasise what we’re there for. I think it all works well, there’s a nice juxtaposition. We have Pet Shop Boys, but we also have Clean Bandit. We’ve got Emeli Sande, but also Status Quo. That juxtaposition of artists is how the radio station works too. When I’m thinking about the line-up for these shows, I’m thinking if there’s a family group, what do they want for a great day out? Also, if you’re listening on the radio, we’re the station the whole family can agree on. That’s what the event should be as well.

“Alongside that, it’s about exposing the audience to new things. Kelsea Ballerini is an American country artist who’s young and new to the market. We’ve supported her at Radio 2, she hasn’t been supported much elsewhere. But I think it’s something that might appeal to a range of audiences and she could well be the Taylor Swift of the future. So within the context of these megastar artists, it’s putting someone like that in the mix who can get some exposure and maybe become somebody’s new favourite artist.” 

Has it become a big platform for US artists?

“It’s not necessarily US, it’s just sometimes when we’ve got artists returning. Previously we’ve had people like Shania Twain, obviously an established artist but she was coming back for the first time in years and she certainly used it as a staging post. Obviously we had Kylie last year before she was part of the [2019] Glastonbury line-up, so we preceded them in booking her for our line-up. It’s a good showcase and shop window for artists, who are either iconic or new and emerging, including genres you might not find elsewhere.”

With Clean Bandit playing, does that reflect the shift in the BBC Radio 2 music policy?

“Over the years we’ve always had contemporary music in the mix, again to show the range of what we’ve done. Back in 2012, we first did Emeli Sande. So it isn’t a new thing for us to be [booking] what I term the new pop establishment. You might have heard it on Radio 1 initially, perhaps establishing itself with a younger audience. But Radio 2 is here to say to the older audience, ‘Look this is what your kids and grandkids are listening to, this something you might actually like’. The great thing about Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne and artists like that – and the reason why we play them – is because they play the melodic music of today. They are today’s kind of easy listening, they are making timeless, melodic music and they are at the height of their powers. It would be crazy to ignore them. Westlife emerged 20-odd years ago, and they were seen as the new young thing, but here they are now part of a nostalgic line-up. But also, we’re looking to the next generation, Clean Bandit, Kelsea and people like that. It’s really important, it’s a natural thing we do with our curation to try to expose artists within these contexts.”

What’s the audience reaction been to the new pop?

“We’ve had brilliant responses to it. On the pure RAJAR numbers, it’s been an incredible response from the audience. I would say the music policy didn’t change on January 14 as much as the schedule did, but it developed to fit the presenters as well, so it’s a natural fit. So as far as the audience is concerned, as long as the music fits in with the nature of the presenters they’ve got and we stay timeless and melodic, I think they can tolerate a whole range of music, genres and artists. Even when you get to 35, 40, 45, 55, you still want to remain relevant. You still want to know what’s going on, and we offer that to our listeners in the mix.”

The Hyde Park festival launched in 2011. Is there a long-term commitment to the event?

“I think we’re really blessed to have the opportunity to be able to do something in Hyde Park. It is a really unique place, and people like to come to London to see shows like that. It’s something we’d like to stay committed to, as long as they’ll welcome us in Hyde Park.”

To read the Q1 RAJAR analysis subscribers can click here.


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