Tuesday 21 August 2012

Erase and Rewind

I’ve always been ambivalent to the concept of 80s Music.  It seems to me that 80s music is often defined as starting with Video Killed The Radio Star – how is this when that single was released in 1979?  Also how come bands such as Iron Maiden, Metallica or The Anti -Nowhere League are not considered to be 80s bands when that is the decade in which their records were released?  (Killing Joke must be an 80s band considering it is the title of one of their singles).
So despite my mis-givings of the cult of the 80s, the celebration of naffness and big hair, I went  to the 80s Rewind Festival in Henley.

The first Rewind Festival was in 2009.  It was started in response to the attendances at previous 80s one-off shows and Package Tours (eg Here & Now).  The event is held over a weekend at Temple Island, Henley-On-Thames with 80s bands playing on Saturday & Sunday.
Now in its fourth year, the 2012 Event had ticket sales of 40,000.  The assumption is that this equates to 20,000 on each day.  Camping is also available on site, and my estimate is that there were probably between 5,000 – 7,500 campers.  I believe (although I could be wrong (I often am)) that this year was the largest attendance to date.  I did go to the first in 2009, and it was certainly a lot busier this time.

I only went on the Sunday – after considering the line-up, I really couldn’t bring myself to part with real cash to see Rick Astley, Five Star and Right Said Fred
If you look at the line-up for the 2 days you may agree with my stance:

Initial Impressions
Early Weather Forecast suggested maximum temperatures of 32 degrees – therefore dress accordingly (or in my case, don’t wear a leather coat) – fortunately, the sky was mercifully overcast from about 2:00pmn, meaning the heat and humidity was helped by a breeze and did not cause sunburn, heatstroke and general melting.
I decided to drive and park at the site.  Because I am now officially ‘getting on a bit’, drinking in the afternoon sun would just send me to sleep, I’m too tight to pay for train fares (plus the last train from Henley to Reading on a Sunday was 10:00), and it was free parking anyway.

Standing in the queue to get in, I had two prime observations:

  1. The bloke handing out Free Magazines was Graham Jones (or I think it was) from Proper Music – the film “Last Shop Standing” was to receive it’s rough cut premiere at the Solar Cinema on the site.  As an investor in this film (this statement sounds better than it actually is – I donated £10 via the website), I was thanked for my contribution and support.  He was a nice bloke, and I fully support his efforts to preserve the independent record shops (more info: http://lastshopstanding.com/))
  2. A large number of people had decided fancy dress was the order of the day.  OK, fair enough, if it somehow enhances your experience of the day so be it.  But why does a 50 year old bloke feel that he can only enjoy himself dressed as Freddie Mercury from the “I Want To Break Free” video?

Gates open, everyone slowly shuffles forward and enters the site, but only after the obligatory bag search.  No food or drink (or presumably weapons grade plutonium) may be brought into the arena – no-one found my hip flask though.
Upon entry you are presented with stalls full of tat, stalls selling deck-chairs and wind breaks for £20 a pop, and a vast array of food outlets.  As is usual for the Festival experience, food choice is plentiful but over-priced (£7 for a portion of Noodles), and the drink choice is limited and over-priced (£4 for a bottle of Carlsberg).

And so to the Live Arena (or large field with a stage) – it is a large field with a relatively small stage, so plenty of room for everyone.  What is noticeable is the amount of deckchairs arranged either in a line or some form of semi-circle marking out each groups territory.  Respectful gaps are left between each new kingdom (it might just be me, but I think there may be problems later).

But this is a Festival, it is (supposedly) all about the bands.

The Christians
Being first on is never an easy task.  The Christians know this, and even say so at the end of their first song.  The band turn in a perfectly passable performance, even if the crowd response is somewhat lacklustre (the cynical part of my brain says: “I wonder if they think they’re watching The Lighthouse Family?”)

The Straits
Made up of previous members of Dire Straits, The Straits do the rounds as a sort of Tribute Band, even if their credentials are somewhat stronger than other Tribute acts out there.  Competent, if unexciting and probably the closest Henley (if not anywhere) is going to get to seeing the actual band perform again.
 The thought occurred to me that whilst Dire Straits are perfectly listenable at home, in the car, or just around, could they really be considered as an open air festival sort of band?

The Lightning Seeds
Are the Lightning Seeds an 80s Band?  Their first chart single was in 1989, so “just”, but their heyday was in the 90s.
This was the band I was looking forward to most – a strong set but hampered by a truly awful sound (the sound problems would continue for the rest of the day – they never got the balance quite right).
The introduction to “Life Of Riley” got a huge applause, and then it sort of petered out when the crowd realised there is more to the song than the ‘music of the goals on Match Of The Day’.
The set included “You Showed Me” which I thought was a superb choice.  The crowd reaction was somewhat muted and disappointing – maybe Henley/80s Revival wasn’t in the mood for a 5/6 minute lump of psychedelic pop.  I liked it, even if no-one else did.

Adam Ant
The crowd around me started to get very busy.  It looks like Adam Ant was the most anticipated act of the day.  He certainly received the biggest cheer of the day when he hit the stage.  A proportion of the audience seemed to be disappointed that he wasn’t just delivering the cabaret-circuit style Greatest Hits package.  Starting with “Dog Eat Dog” and playing “Car Trouble”, “Zerox” and “Ants Invasion”, some of the audience were looking decidedly bemused (some of the younger members of the audience were wondering why Johnny Depp was on stage).
He finished with “Prince Charming” and the offer of audience participation in for the crossing of the arms wasn’t taken up, so the whole thing just sort of fizzled out.  Shame really, because I thought it was a blinding set, and would pay money to go see him again in future (and I was never a mad keen Ant Person, like some others I know)

Wang Chung & John Parr
Both these acts were met with a collective “Who?”.
The general rule for a festival is ‘Play The Hits’.  Unfortunately for these two, it is just a case of ‘Play The Hit’ – this is what they did and then left the stage.  Well, there is no point stringing it out when 90% of the audience have no idea who you are.

I went to Rewind in 2009 and T’Pau played there too.  To my memory, it was the same set, and it looked like she had the same coat and (daft) sunglasses on then as well.
No surprises here – “Heart & Soul” and “China In Your Hand” dutifully delivered.  Two other tracks that no-one seemed to know, then finish to polite applause.

Midge Ure
The first number was “Hymn”, unfortunately it became an instrumental when the microphones stopped working and not a single word was heard.  Why did it take the crew a whole song to realise and rectify this problem?
Midge Ure gave a thoroughly professional performance as would be expected for a man of his experience, talent and made to measure suit.
What was delivered was effectively a soundtrack to the 80s.  If he’d done a cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star”, all bases would’ve been covered.
My new theory is that Midge Ure invented the 80s.  He has a wealth of experience from the period,  the Ultravox song “Sleepwalk” sounds more 80s than anything heard before (or possibly even since), he wrote what is perhaps the New Romantics theme song (“Fade To Grey”), co-wrote the song that started the ‘video is more important than the song’ phase (“Vienna”),  he even managed to produce a song about impending nuclear destruction (“Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”).  And he was in an episode of ‘Filthy Rich and Catflap’.
He also wrote the best selling single of the decade (but the extenuating circumstances of the song preclude that one from being a symbol of success)

Roland Gift
He started slowly – I would even suggest shakily, but the confidence grew, the voice improved and he gave a good account of himself.
This was an 80s Festival and so nostalgia is never far from anyones minds.  The moment the introduction to ”Johnny Come Home” started I was immediately transported back to the moment I first saw it on The Tube in early 1985, before the band had a record contract – I had to wait another 6 months before I could get the record.
After “She Drives Me Crazy” he left the stage to applause which he fully deserved
Just one question: Did Roland Gift teach Heather Small to sing?  You can’t help notice the way neither of them seem to use their tongue whilst singing.

Marc Almond
I was never a big fan of Marc Almond and therefore wasn’t expecting too much.  But after his first song you genuinely felt he wanted to be up there performing, and putting on a show – not just “performing by numbers”.  The whole set was done with a beaming smile across his face, and a real sense of theatre in every move he made.   He knows the score, he knows what the crowd want to hear and after the fourth song announced he was a bit tired and that was it - stand back, await applause/chanting and then straight into “Tainted Love”.
He finished with a rousing, emotive version of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, and then gratefully received his applause.
Totally deserved – as I said I’ve never been a big fan, but this really was the best performance of the whole day.

Tony Hadley
Topped and tailed with cover versions.  The first was “Feeling Good”  – I think to show off his vocal range, and the ending was Stereophonics “Dakota” – just one question: Why?  Neither of these are 80s Songs as such, so why did Tone feel the need to perform them?
After the tour de force that was Marc Almond’s performance, he really did look like he was coasting.  He was dressed like an off-duty cocktail singer, and I feel conveyed an air of smugness throughout his set.  In fact I am moved to suggest that Tony Hadley is Richard Madeley in singer form.
Yes he can sing, but what he lacks in charisma he makes up for in the number of notes he can get into a single phrase.
I suppose it was inevitable – after spending the last 3 weeks successfully avoiding hearing the execrable* “Gold”, it was the penultimate track.  Oh well, never mind, it was bound to happen sooner or later (especially considering the imminent start of the Paralympics)

* This is my review, and that is my opinion – feel  free to disagree

This is the OCD bit: before each act, I made a list of the likely songs each would be performing.  I’m not suggesting the set lists were predictable, but I was never far off the actual songs played.
And then before OMD came on, I hit a wall – there are an awful lot of songs to choose from.  I didn’t realise how many OMD songs I knew.
OMDs performance was totally professional - they used the video backdrop to great effect, the sound was actually good whilst they were performing and Andy McCluskey really did engage with the audience (unlike some others during the day)).
Sadly, I only stayed for their first 6 songs – hence missing half their set and the closing Firework Spectacular (why does every event have to close with Fireworks?  It’s not as if its Bonfire Night or anything).
Having seen the size of the crowd and heard of the previous horror stories of exiting the Car Park, it was considered a prudent idea to leave before the end.
This we did, and when we eventually found the car we drove into a queue of traffic trying to get out of the car park.  And so this is how I saw the second half of OMDs set.  It wasn’t the same as being in the arena, but it was certainly more comfortable.
Musing on why OMD were as good as they were, it dawned on me.  Unlike many other 80s bands who were primarily synth driven.  OMD used the Bass Guitar to augment the sound, and much like Ultravox with Midge Ure’s guitar this added another dimension which many other bands just didn’t have.

Perhaps I’m doing the event a dis-service with this statement, but it seems to me that this Festival was more about “being there” than actually being entertained by the bands on stage.  Like some sort of obtuse Badge of Honour so you can say “I paid money to camp in a field and watch Soul II Soul, Five Star and Wang Chung.”
I paid money primarily to see Adam Ant & The Lightning Seeds.  I came away from the event glad I’d seen these two, but also Roland Gift, Marc Almond and OMD.
There are plenty of other ways to spend a Sunday, but this wan’t a bad experience – glad I didn’t go Saturday though.

And now the traditional YouTube ending - these two videos represent two favourite songs performed on the day

Lightning Seeds - You Showed Me

Fine Young Cannibals - Johnny Come Home

A pastiche of all early 1980s videos after the direcors have seen Vienna
(Not The Nine O'Clock News - Nice Video, Shame About The Song)

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