Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Let’s Rock Exeter 2018 @ Powderham Castle, June 30th 2018

As I probably said last year (and the year before) it might not be the coolest festival around (Black Lace anyone?) but for pure pop pleasure you’d have to go a long way to beat a Let’s Rock line-up, that is if you’re of a...ahem...certain age. At 48 (jeez...) I fit snugly into Let’s Rock’s target audience, people who grew up in an era when pop was fun, vinyl was still king (for part of the decade at least) and millions of people of all ages tuned in to watch Jimmy Savile get suspiciously close to young ladies on Top Of The Pops. First up today though a group that can trace its origins all the way back to the 70s, Aswad, who, like many on today’s bill, played a short but sweet mini greatest hits set climaxing with Don’t Turn Around and Smile. Nice to see/hear original vocalist Angus Gaye’s son up there rappin’ away, who knows maybe he’ll be fronting the band at Let’s Rock 2038? Next up Modern Romance, now fronted by former drummer Andy Kyriacou, who Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey-ed his way through most of the band’s early 80s Latin tinged hits.

I wrongly assumed there’d be another break then and started making my way to the loo (hey, I’m 48...that cider goes right through you) and got halfway through the swamp of chairs, tents, rugs, picnic hampers and various other detritus just as Fuzzbox bounded on. Now I do love a bit of Fuzzbox but by the time I’d made my way back they’d romped through both International Rescue and Pink Sunshine and vanished backstage to get stuck in to the peanuts and crudités. Yes, Let’s Rock certainly whips through the acts. In fact the bloke from Brother Beyond was on and off so swiftly that if you’d blinked slowly you’d have missed him altogether. Still, on the plus side if there’s someone you don’t like you don’t have to put up with ‘em for long. I’m a bit uncertain of the order from here onwards (blame the age and the cider) but Wendy James stomped her way impressively through a trio of Transvision Vamp’s best bits with all the energy and attitude of a teen jacked up on speed, Bow Wow Wow’s Anabella Lwin went wild in the country and Hazel Dean got me searchin’...and indeed ‘lookin’ for love’ with an all too short set of Hi-NRG classics.

Somewhere along the way Peter Coyle (Lotus Eaters) gave us a fine Solsbury Hill (if you squint a bit he looks a little like Peter Gabriel from back in the day) and his own band’s only hit (hey, if you’re going to have a hit this ain’t a bad one to have) First Picture Of You and The Fizz (the original Bucks Fizz line up minus the old bloke) moved asses and hearts (this gig was just days after Jay Aston’s cancer diagnosis but she chose to appear and rocked her backside off...kudos). Who have I missed? Ah yes, Kim Appleby, someone else whose life was sadly touched by cancer when she lost her sister Mel back in 1990 at the age of just 23. Barring the odd release Kim’s been away from the music biz since her solo career fizzled out in the mid 90s which is a real shame judging by today’s utterly joyful set. Solo hit Don’t Worry still sounds great and after the duo’s biggest single Respectable (number one in at least 8 countries back in ‘87) she touchingly raised a single finger to her lips and then heaven in tribute to her little sis. A more than respectable comeback all round.

Black Lace came on and did what they do whilst we hid behind a tree before one of the biggest voices in pop, Heather Small BELTED her way through M People’s singles. Sadly I can’t listen to her now with picturing the short one in Miranda screaming “What have you done today to make you feel prouuuuud”, but it was nice to hear the pop housey One Night In Heaven again. Making our way back towards the stage we bumped into a lovely pair of ladies who insisted on glittering me up during Midge Ure’s set. He may have been dancing with tears in his eyes but I had glitter in mine. I’d read some disparaging remarks about Ure’s live vocals online but ignore them, he still sounds great especially on arguably the greatest number one that never was, Vienna. Maybe next year Let’s Rock should invite Joe Dolce eh? Hmmmm.  

What can I say about the next artist? I’ve been a ‘proper’ fan of Marc Almond for a good 35 years now and I’ve seen him live oodles of times. I struggled for a while to reconcile the artist who’d taken such huge risks in his career (calling an album Mother Fist and her Five Daughters, recording an album in Russian, making a video with a real life sex dwarf...I could go on) with the one who leads sing-alongs of Soft Cell songs at festivals like this but if he’s comfortable with it then so I am. And why shouldn’t he be eh? Today’s set was, judging by the comments on Facebook, one of the best received of the day and although I’m clearly biased I’d have to agree. From opening number Tears Run Rings through to set closer, a glamtastic cover of Bolan’s Hot Love, Almond’s show was a master class in festival crowd pleasing...actually no, make that delighting. Is Almond the Bowie for my generation? Experimental but capable of delivering perfect pop, a great live performer, keeps his personal life to himself, appreciated more and more the longer he’s amongst us...hmmm...could be? To borrow a title from one of his lesser known solo albums, he really is a Fantastic Star.

If I had to pick another favourite band from the 80s (aside from Soft Cell that is) then ABC would well and truly be in the top 5 and Martin Fry’s recent-ish return to epic live performances (full orchestras, more strings than a mobile phone contract) is a ruddy wonderful thing. Look Of Love, Poison Arrow, When Smokey Sings, (How To Be A) Millionaire (incredibly this track didn’t even make the top 40 back in ’84) and bringing things right up to date with 2016’s Viva Love...now we know what ABC stands for...Absolutely Brilliant Concert.

Was Nick Heyward up next? I genuinely can’t remember. As I’ve said before it was sunny, there was cider...the dog ate my homework. Maybe he was. Anyway, whenever he played the former Haircut 100 frontman still looks about 26 damn him. The Haircuts were briefly a brass powered behemoth of 80s pop and today’s set might have benefitted from more live players but I’m guessing the economics of such things are tough these days. It’s a minor quibble and Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) and Love Plus One were a crucial ingredient in making this a...cheesy link ahoy...oh come on...it has to be done...Fantastic Day. See what I did there? Oh. Alright.

Nearly there. Just two more acts to go. First off Sister Sledge, now down to just two Sledge sisters following the sad passing of Joni last year. Cop a load of these hits, We Are Family, The Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music...if there’s a Studio 54 in heaven Sister Sledge are pretty much guaranteed to be found in the VIP lounge sipping Babycham. Readers I danced my ass clean off.

Having been on my feet for roughly 14 hours already OMD needed to be pretty damn good to keep me going and the fact that I spent most of Sunday in bed nursing various aches and pains tells me that they were. By their own admission the band took themselves a bit seriously back in the day but now, older and wiser, they seem much happier up there, even lending a little lightness to one of the darkest pop songs in history, Enola Gay (about the bombing of Hiroshima back in 1945...you don’t get that from Little Mix do you eh?).  Of course there’s a lot more to OMD than songs about nuclear annihilation and this evening the synth pop holy trinity of Electricity, Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans) and Locomotion served as a timely reminder for anyone who’d perhaps forgotten just how many classic singles the band produced. Lead singer Andy seemed to be enjoying himself almost as much as the audience up there, unleashing his legendary dance moves on the crowd with more than a spoonful of self deprecation. And then it was all over, bar the fireworks, 18 acts in just over 10 hours.

Suggestions for 2019? Jimi Somerville, Tom Bailey and Holly Johnson PLEASE. How about a little Five Star if they’re still kicking about too? One thing that does need tackling is the access and egress to and from the standing area if you want to get to the bar/loos. This year you risked breaking your neck if you wanted to pick your way through the chair/rug strewn ground and the narrow supposedly chair free ‘corridors’ were far too small. Personally, unless you have a disability, I’m not really sure why you’d choose to spend the entire day plonked in a chair (I saw a fair few people actually facing away from the stage too...I mean...why...bother...going?) but there we go, each to their own. Oh...one other thing, we were informed by a Security Guard at the start of the day that bags (of any sort) weren’t allowed in the ‘standing area’ because they were a ‘trip hazard’. “How about if we carry them over our shoulder then?” I suggested helpfully. “Nope, not allowed” he countered. I didn’t argue with him. I ignored him but I didn’t argue with him. Now I’m all for health and safety but come on. The ground itself is a trip hazard. So are peoples’ legs. And as for the perilous journey to the loos and back... Indiana Jones would think twice about attempting that one.  

Anyway, let’s end things on a positive note. I saw no trouble at all, there were plenty of loos (unlike in 2016 when they seemingly forgot that men existed) and for £30 if you’re a fan of 80s pop you’d have to hop into a DeLorean and travel back to 1984 to have this much fun for so little.  

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