Saturday, June 27, 2009
Just like Glastonbury but with less mud, more Pimms
'Ladies and Gentlemen ... it's raining in Glastonbury!'
A resounding cheer greeted the MC's opening statement at tonight's 5 Alive music fest at West Wycombe Park. We were all sat in a field nestling behind the palatial mansion home of the Dashwood family (of Hellfire Club infamy) and facing a stage upon which a number of music icons from the 1980s would soon be doing their stuff. There's an open air weekend of gigs like this every year at West Wycombe, usually a mix of rock, pop and classical performances. It's a glorious location. Rising high above us was West Wycombe Hill with its creepy flint-covered mausoleum and the tower of St Lawrence's church, uniquely topped by way of a hollow golden ball in which the guests of Dashwood's naughty society would perform lewd acts. The hill itself boasts the famous chalk caves in which the Hellfire Club met and debauched. But tonight, all was sunshine, warmth and an almost oppressive humidity. Still, at least it wasn't raining like at Glastonbury.
The West Wycombe area is a posh sort of place with a village of 16th century listed shops and tithe barns and quaint little alleyways and courtyards. The place gets used a lot for filming BBC costume dramas. It was also used in the recent film version of Pride and Prejudice. Consequently, these annual al fresco gigs are not your wellies, cheap tents and cheaper lager type affairs. People brought picnics and chairs - even six seater tables and chairs - the car park was stufffed with Jags and Mercedes and the air fairly whiffed of Pimms. Apparently the most common injuries every year are either champagne cork related or choking on strawberries. All through the show, majestic red kites soared overhead eyeing up the M & S whole organic chicken carcases and cous cous.
A lot of people made an effort to dress up although there did seem to be some confusion among some of the cosplayers as to what decade we were celebrating tonight. There were enormous Afro wigs everywhere and quite a few ABBA clones. The last time I saw so many leg-warmers was while watching the original Fame.
The warm up act was a Take That tribute band appropriately named Fake That. Nothing to do with the 1980s of course but they were fun, sounded pretty authentic and they warmed up the slowly inebriating crowd nicely for the first proper act of the night ... Clare Grogan and Altered Images.
Now, you younger readers may only know Clare as the original Kochanski in Red Dwarf or as the stroppy feminist rock star Niamh Connolly in Father Ted. But to my generation, she was a pop star. And, to my utter delight (because I always had a crush on her), Ms Grogan appears to have completely avoided the ravages of time. Despite happily telling everyone that she's 47 years old and that we'd made 'an old bird very happy', she looked insanely young and fresh and was bursting with energy. She still dances in that slightly bonkers way she always did and her voice still sounds like she's six years old but she was great! If I still can act like that when I'm 47 ... oh. Bugger. They played all of their hits (surprisingly many) but the high spot was a spirited cover of the Ting Tings' That's not my name.
Next up was the act I was most looking forward to - Nik Kershaw. I always loved his quirky pop songs. They always had a dark edge to them with some strange chord shifts and menacing keyboards. He didn't disappoint. His set was immaculate, his guitar playing impeccable and I loved every minute.
Somewhat appropriately, he sang I won't let the sun go down on me as we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the hills behind us. It's a cliche but it really did look as if the sky was on fire. And still the rain held off ...
Next up was Bucks Fizz. A threesome these days rather than the full quartet that won Eurovision, they came out on stage in a riot of colour. Mike Nolan wore a Tango orange suit that I reckon astronauts on the International Space Station could have seen. Meanwhile, Cheryl Baker and Jay Aston (back together after 25 years) both bravely wore a kind of weird burlesque basque affair supplemented with coloured ostrich feathers and short furry skirts. Apparently, it was a visual pun on their band name with the ladies as the bubbly champagne and Nolan as the flat OJ. Poor old Baker's chest was overspilling the tight corset most of the time and she added some extra hand movements to the dance routines as she kept spooning herself back into her costume. They were ... okay. I was never a fan and Nolan's voice - never terribly strong - lost its way on many of the tougher notes and the dance routines were interestingly uncoordinated. But it was great fun and they were very entertaining. Again, I was surprised at just how many hits they'd had as I knew every song. They ended with Making your mind up and the inevitable whipping off of furry skirts. 'And if you want to see some ... more!'
All of which led us to tonight's headline act - Howard Jones. The reason Mr J got top billing, I suspect, is because Wycombe is his home town. It's where he grew up and, between songs, he shared stories about his childhood and teen years in the area. He became quite emotional when he pointed to West Wycombe Hill and explained that he'd both written the lyrics to New Song - his breakthrough hit - and met his wife there. His set was amazing and made more so by the almost supernatural bass expertise of Nick Beggs - late of Kajagoogoo - whose long blonde hair and camouflaged kilt added some strange glamour to proceedings.
As the evening came to a close we were treated to an excellent fireworks display and then, in tribute to the passing of the King of Pop yesterday, a Michael Jackson impersonator came on stage and blamed it pretty convincingly on the boogie. Having heard nothing but Jacko music for two days we decided to leave, thus clearing the car park nicely before the midnight stampede.
It was a great gig and it's made me dig out my old Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw albums. I've never thought of the 1980s as a particularly good decade for music but there were some real stars like Tears for Fears, Adam and the Ants, The Pogues, Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins, Missing Persons, Propaganda, The Creeps, PIL ... and Kershaw and Jones deserve their place in that list too.
And, apparently, it's still raining at Glastonbury.