REWIND SOUTH 2014 ,Henley-On Thames
We love the Eighties.
Seriously, it’s THE decade when it comes to nostalgia, whether you like pop, rock or something in between. Naturally, people who are in the business of making money will exploit this sort of thinking, and so there’s a few Eighties festivals knocking about, with Rewind the biggest and best of them all. Started in 2009, Rewind does a mini tour of the UK, with one in the South, one in the North, and one in Scotland, featuring similar but not identical line ups.
Something must be working, because as we queue to get into the South Festival, in the rather posh riverside area of Henley-On-Thames, all we can see is happy older people with rucksacks and bright make up. Held over two days (with extra evening fun for those who decide to come on the preceding Friday), it’s a smorgasbord of good and bad 80s memories, although there’s very few genuine mullets, thankfully. Saturday’s headliner is Holly Johnson, he of Frankie Goes To Hollywood fame, so it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of “Frankie Says Relax” shirts.
Amazingly, we manage to walk in, set up our tents and get into the main arena without showing anyone any tickets, which is a good thing because we didn’t have any. It’s all about looking like you know where you’re going, you see. A quick chat in the press tent reveals that RockUnited are down for the North festival in two weeks time, but it’s easily sorted out.
In the arena it’s a sea of people. Absolutely loads of them are in some sort of fancy dress, and there’s Top Gun pilots, a Honey Monster, plenty of Schoolboys and girls, a Hawkman from Flash Gordon, The Goonies and just about every superhero you can shake a stick at. It’s like being in an open air asylum where all the patients have regressed to being 15 again, and are obviously loving it.
Although there’s only a few bands of solid RockUnited interest, once you get into the vibe it’s pretty easy to just sit back and enjoy just about everyone on the bill, because they have brought with them some cracking pop tunes. First up, however, is a band very much in my interest as From The Jam open day one. The name From The Jam is a bit of a misnomer, as only bassist Bruce Foxton was actually in the band (and Stiff Little Fingers as well), but once they get going with the classic ‘Going Underground’ it’s quite apparent that the core duo of Foxton and Russell Hastings have things well and truly covered. Hastings is a revelation, playing guitar and singing with as much passion as Paul Weller ever did. He looks the part and sounds the part, and the six songs fly by, leaving many wishing they had been given a longer slot. ‘David Watts’, ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘What You See Is What You Get’… each song is a classic. Perfect openers, they deliver a seamless performance, making the most of the 20 minutes allotted to them. The only thought on many minds as they finish must surely be ‘Paul who?’, and I would highly recommend checking them out.
The weather is good, and the arena is packed. A wander around the back end, behind the many food stalls, throws up a mini fairground, a retro disco and even a karaoke tent, as well as a stage dedicated to local acts, which is a nice touch. Back in the main arena Nick Heyward delivers some bouncy tunes from his solo days as well as Haircut 100 (terrible band name), and it’s actually good to hear ‘Fantastic Day’ and ‘Favourite Shirt (Boy meets Girl)’ in a live arena.
Mike & The Mechanics are trundled on half way through the afternoon for a technically solid set Dad Rock. We get songs like ‘Another Cup of Coffee’, ‘Over My Shoulder’ and of course ‘The Living Years’, mixed up with the likes of ‘I Can’t Dance’ and ‘All I Need Is A Miracle’. Mike Rutherford is in fine voice and the band don’t put a foot wrong, but the relentless middle of the road-ness of it all stops much of the manic dancing that has been the norm up to now.
At a certain point in the proceedings we are introduced to the ‘House Band’. This makes sense, as it cuts the changeover time down to five minutes and means that solo artists and lead singers without their old band can do their sets. Set lengths very from half an hour or so right down to ten minute snippets, with Wang Chung, for example, playing their hits ‘Dance Hall Days’ and ‘Everybody Wang Chung’ plus one other song (to prove they actually have another one, I suppose) before buggering off again.
After Jason Donovan, Johnny Hates Jazz and the rather impressive Sister Sledge have shared their wares it’s time for the headliner. To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect with Holly Johnson, but as a fan of the ‘Welcome To the Pleasuredome’ album I had my fingers crossed that he would deliver his excellent version of Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ at the very least. He didn’t. Despite this, Johnson delivered in a way that made it rather obvious why he got the top spot. Starting with the old Edwin Starr classic ‘War’ he owned the stage. Behind him on the big screen were animated backdrops created specifically for each song and they worked incredibly well. As well as ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ and the sublime ‘Warriors Of The Wasteland’ we got the obvious two singles from Frankie as well as Johnson’s bouncy solo hits ‘Americanos’ and ‘Love Train’, with a soulful rendition of Johnson’s favourite Frankie track ‘The Power of Love’ closing proceedings perfectly. A great performer, if a little creepy when he addresses the crowd, Holly Johnson showed that when the eighties mixed big pop and big guitar it worked beautifully.
Day two arrives after the now traditional semi doze to the sound of raindrops on the tent. Seriously, why does it always rain at any British festival? Nonetheless, the day is relatively rain free is rather blustery, and it seems just about everyone is gathered (many in the same spot as yesterday, including us) to witness The South. Now this lot are the remains of The Beautiful South, just without Paul Heaton. This means we get Dave Hemingway on male lead vocals (a job he had on many tracks anyway) and Alison Wheeler on female lead vocals. Alison replaced Jaqui Abbott for the last three Beautiful South albums, so rather than being a pale imitation of the original band, The South are virtually the same thing. As with From The Jam yesterday, it’s odd to see a band with over twenty UK chart singles opening a festival with a 20 minute set. Mind you, they’re not exactly an Eighties band (only one album was released in that decade), but when the music is this amazing you don’t really mind. The basically roll out the hits, like “Song For Whoever”, “Perfect Ten”, “Rotterdam” and “You Kept It All In” and do a wonderful job. Hemigway and Wheeler sound great, and the crowd really get behind them on every song. Again, a great but odd start to the day.
Howard Jones pops up with some inoffensive synthipop, but does get bonus kudos for having a keytar, and then it’s time for The Boomtown Rats. They certainly know how to wind up a crowd, coming on to the boast that they are the ‘greatest band in the world’, as they launch into “She’s So Modern” and all the old punks go mental. Focus is, naturally, on Bob Geldof. Regardless of his personal circumstances, it’s certainly hard to take your eyes off him as he struts about the stage, full of piss and vinegar, clad in a mad suit with eyes blazing. The band sound okay, if a bit too quiet, and Bob shows why he’s never been considered much of a vocalist. This is okay, because it’s all about attitude with Bob, and boy has he got one. During the set he manages to piss off most of the crowd with his snidey comments, mostly aimed at the fact the people from Henley-On-Thames are too posh and too old, which makes many people near us call him names that rhyme with ‘clucking banker’. The songs rolled out are as godo as they ever were, including “Rat Trap”, “There’s Someone Looking At You” and crowd favourite “I Don’t Like Mondays”. Geldof’s borderline insanity and over the top showmanship keeps things interesting, and if the sound had been a little clearer and in your face they would certainly have been contenders for performance of the day.
Shorts sets are again the order of the day, with The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell showing that, live at least, “Golden Brown” and “Peaches” are very, very dull songs, whilst Hazel O’Connor showcases a great attitude and talent in a ten minute spot.
I’ve never seen Bonnie Tyler in the flesh, and so was quite entranced by the gravel gargling granny as she and the house band made the most of her fifteen minutes with “It’s A Heartache” and the Steinman classics “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and “Holding Out For A Hero”. On one hand it’s a little to hear Tyler straining to hit the brilliant notes of old, but on the other it’s still great to see her and hear these tracks one last time. Any more than fifteen minutes and I fear she might have passed out from the effort, but it was a good shout nonetheless.
Not being interested in Roland Gift (owner of a voice that, to me, is akin to nails down a blackboard) or Jimmy Somerville (good but seen it all before), we belt out a couple of numbers in the karaoke tent before Spandau Ballet man Tony Hadley trundles on, looking as ever like a sofa salesman. Surprisingly he rolls out a new track (well, new to anyone who hasn’t seen his other festival shows) which is very good, and fills the rest of his 35 minutes with all the Spandau Ballet classics the crowd want to hear. He sounds absolutely excellent, and is ably backed by the house band, coming together like a well oiled machine. It’s good to know that his favourite Spandau Ballet songs is also my favourite, as “Through The Barricades” is given a small live facelift. The set list is pretty obvious, but everyone is happy with “Gold”, “I’ll Fly For You” and the soppy “True”, and after thirty five minutes the set ends with a lot of happy punters, including yours truly.
So is an Eighties festival the right place for rock fans? Of course it is! There’s a smattering of actual rock acts, but if you’re into melodic rock then many of the old Eighties guard will have something for you, be it singing along to Haircut 100, admiring Howard Jones’ keytar or wondering why you didn’t notice all the guitar work in Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Spandau Ballet songs before. Retro rules, as we well know, so next year check one of these boys out.
Review by Alan Holloway
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