The longest day of 2014 saw a massive concert take place in Victoria Park, with local rock band Kasabian performing to around 50,000 people. It was the biggest event to take place in the park since 2003 and months of planning and weeks of on-site preparation went into priming Leicester for the massive influx of revellers. With ticket holders from as far afield as Scotland and Italy descending on Victoria Park and surrounding areas, Clarendon Park was in the spotlight and shops and businesses geared up for a deluge of visitors.
For Kasabian band members, Tom, Serge, Chris and Ian, this homecoming gig represented the realisation of a major ambition – to play in front of a home crowd on the tenth anniversary of the band’s inception. Speaking to music magazine Q the week before the event, lead vocalist Tom Meighan described how he felt about performing live in Victoria Park in front of such a huge crowd.
“I walk my kid around there normally,” Tom said, “It’s going to be emotional, a strange feeling but also a happy one.”
Picnics on the park
From lunchtime onwards on the day of the gig a steady stream of people started walking through the streets of Clarendon Park towards the concert venue. A ‘ride and stride’ scheme from the racecourse contributed to the footfall, and by 2pm the pubs and bars were filling up and crowds of people were waiting outside the venue for the gates to open.
Many visitors headed to Victoria Park to enjoy a picnic lunch before the gig, and several local shops saw an increase in passing trade. The Offie on Clarendon Park Road specialises in bottled beers from around the world. It stocks over 500 different world beers from Bruges favourite Zot to Mexican Negra Modelo. However, on Saturday it was wine that was the most popular buy, with lots of folk popping in to pick up a cold bottle of dry white to supplement their pre-gig al fresco lunch in the sunshine.
Also looking to capitalise on passing picnickers, The Tiny Bakery offered up a batch of freshly-baked savoury nibbles, including samosas and pizza twists. These proved popular, with shop manager Lindsey Abraham saying, “It felt very busy and the samosas went down well!”
It wasn’t just shops selling food and drink that saw an increase in trade; other nearby businesses also saw the benefit of the increased foot traffic.
Love Me Do salon director, Ellie Gough, says, “We had loads of Kasabian fans who had never seen the salon before smiling and waving as they walked by.” She adds, “Some even popped in to book appointments.”
Al fresco drinking
It was always going to be Clarendon Park’s pubs and bars that would see most of the action on the day. Preparations were made well ahead of time, with hundreds of plastic glasses ordered, extra staff booked and bars fully stocked.
Running out of beer wasn’t an issue for The Clarendon pub, as landlord Joseph explains: “Fortunately we had plenty of beer left over from the England World Cup team’s poor performance in Brazil, supplemented by a stock of canned beers, so product was never going to be a problem.”
Despite the careful planning, the sheer volume of customers was a surprise for the popular West Avenue boozer. “Nothing could have prepared us for the vast crowds on the day,” says Joseph, “People were spilling out onto the streets because there was no room inside.”
Other bars in the area were similarly inundated. Babelas Bar had its big front windows open onto the street, with people perched on the window frames enjoying their drinks in the sunshine. Meanwhile, customers in Olives Bar and Bar Dos were also drinking and socialising outside. It was a friendly, upbeat atmosphere, encouraged by the great weather and the free-flowing booze provided by some extremely hard-working bar staff.
In an interview with music mag NME the week before the gig, guitarist Serge said that he was planning on spending the night before the event at his mum and dad’s house, a stone’s throw from Victoria Park, His intention was to “walk straight through the crowds” to the venue, a route which would have taken him directly through the heart of Clarendon Park. Whether he stuck to this plan isn’t known, but it’s difficult to imagine that his distinctive presence would have gone unnoticed by the reams of fans lining the route!
As the afternoon progressed and the crowds grew bigger, there was a reassuringly large police presence in the area. Police Officers and PCSOs did a great job of directing drivers around the various diversions and road closures in place, as well as bantering and joking with people in Victoria Park and along Queens Road.
The venue’s entrance gates opened at 3pm sharp, and a large number of hardcore fans keen to get a good position near to the stage headed straight in to stake their claim to the best spots. Following this initial influx there were plenty of people still hanging out on Queens Road or in the park, finishing their drinks and picnics, seemingly unconcerned about missing the support bands. Adding to their numbers were hundreds of Leicester locals, who headed to Clarendon Park to soak up the party atmosphere and hear the music booming out of the gigantic speakers.
Front row seats
During the gig itself, a large number of residents gathered in clusters in Victoria Park, or stayed at home with a window open to listen to Kasabian’s performance, which could be heard throughout the whole of Clarendon Park. Leicester University student Vicky Edwards and her neighbours congregated outside their homes on Avenue Road Extension to enjoy both the music and the impressive laser show which lent the streets surrounding the venue a dramatic ambience.
“I feel pretty lucky to be living right here just now,” said Vicky, “I’d never fork out for a ticket, but this is just like having the whole gig delivered to your doorstep.”
At the end of the gig, the huge and high-spirited crowd spilled out of Victoria Park, many of them still belting out the chorus of the band’s closing track LSF. The portion of London Road adjacent to the venue was closed off as much of the massive audience headed into the city centre to attend one of the several after parties. Another smaller but equally raucous group headed through Clarendon Park, filling its streets with chants of ‘eez-eh’.
Some negative consequences are perhaps inevitable when there are a large number of people gathered in one area for an event like this one. At some point during Saturday night there were about half a dozen cars vandalised on Victoria Park Road and Clarendon Park Road. It’s impossible to say with certainty if these offences were committed by people who attended the gig, but it seems reasonably likely. Having been the victim of this sort of senseless, idiotic crime in the past I know how gut-wrenching an experience it is, and can empathise with the unlucky residents who came out of their homes on Sunday morning to find their car windows shattered.
Not all local retailers benefited either. Asked if her shop had seen an increase in trade on Saturday, Katie Anderson, of Andersons’ Sweets and Ice Cream, said, “That’s what we were hoping but sadly we didn’t really do as well as we’d thought – I think we were selling the wrong stuff.”
A fantastic atmosphere
Overall though, the general consensus among Clarendon Park’s residents and business owners is that Kasabian’s homecoming gig was an extremely positive and memorable experience. The long-awaited summer solstice event was wildly successful, not just from the point of view of ticket holders, but in that it gave a boost to many of Clarendon Park’s retailers and a unique and enjoyable evening of entertainment to a lot of the area’s locals.
Gareth Carnall, owner and manager of Queens Road café Fingerprints, sums up the general feeling when he describes it as an “amazing day” and says “let’s hope for more of that sort of stuff in the future.”
The Clarendon pub’s Joseph agrees, “It was a awesome day for businesses all over Leicester and, since I was part of the crowds, a fantastic atmosphere.”
As for Kasabian, their next stop is headlining Glastonbury on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday 29 June. As far as accolades go this has rightly been described as the pinnacle of their career. However, with the band posting on their website “Thank you les-tah for the greatest night of our lives,” it sounds like their homecoming gig on Victoria Park is going to take some beating.
Were you at the gig on Saturday evening or soaking up the atmosphere along Queens Road beforehand? How do you feel about Victoria Park hosting more events of this magnitude in future? How do you feel the benefits to the local economy weigh up against the possible negative impact on residents? Get in touch by commenting below and connect with other Clarendon Park folk on the subject.