If like me, you've been a fan of music since childhood, then there was probably a period in your life (for me the 1980s) where you started to discover particular bands but were, for whatever reason - too young, the acts never played near you, your parents hated them and no amount of pleading would convince them to take you. Time passes and new bands come and take their place and you forget about a lot of them, but every so often you wonder about those bands and what they would have been like to see live.
Fortunately I clearly wasn't alone in this, as over the last decade or so there's been a growth in festivals that rather than specialising in a style of music, instead focus on an era. Jack Up The 80s joined these ranks last year and was initially meant to be a one off to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Wight Crystal, a charity that provides work for people with learning disabilities, and are well known to festival goers as the suppliers of water for the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival. However favourable reviews from both critics and audiences has seen it return for a second year.
Essentially the formula hasn't changed in the last 12 months - stick a stage one end of the field, a bar the other and connect the two with a ring of stalls, then over two days put a range of 80s acts on the stage and let people party. One change that was noticeable this year was the largely ignored funfair that dominated one side was missing, instead was a wider selection of food stalls as well as stalls selling 80s outfits for those who haven't been able to find some dayglo clothing. Food prices were typical festival levels, offering a meal for about £8. Adrink would set you back £3.50 for a pint, and The bar had a good selection of beer, cider as well as a welcome four real ales on offer.
With only a single stage there are none of the clashes that multi-stage festivals cause, and so with a beer in hand we found a good spot to sit back and enjoy the trip down memory lane. The honour of opening the weekend fell to Ed Tudor Pole, who is probably as well known for his time presenting The Crystal Maze as he is with the band that sort of took his name - Tenpole Tudor. Armed only with performing a mix of skiffle and classic rock and roll. The thing that really surprised me was how accomplished a guitarist he is, despite only having an acoustic guitar his dexterity managed to produce a sound far more rounded than a single guitar should be able to produce.
By contrast Hazell Dean ignored instruments entirely and was the first of several acts to perform to backing tracks. Hazel has an amazing voice, and certainly grabbed the audience, however I have a bit of a problem with this kind of performance, and feel that if she were to have a band then the added kick would have made the show far more powerful and less hi-end karaoke.
For a couple of years at the end of the 80s wedding receptions and school discos rang to the sounds of a DJ - Jive Bunny, arguably the UK's first superstar DJ - represented the ultimate cross-generation music, providing the younger people with a mixer who used the styles of emerging dance scene, but applied them to classic 50s and 60s music and TV Themes that appealed to your gran and grandad. In the intervening years not much has changed to his formula, and he still mixes the songs that he gave new life all those years ago. It's clearly a formula that works, especially when he's in front of a group that want to relive their glory days, but it was noticeable that a sizeable number of younger people were also up and dancing too.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight is one of the songs that define the 80s and have ensured a place in history for Tight Fit. Fortunately it's about the only thing this band will be remembered for, as apart form this song their performance was made up of lacklustre covers of 80s songs. They could've learned a lot from the next act on stage, although performing a set that was also made up of covers, Doctor and the Medics make them entirely their own, giving them a goth rock spin that is as much performance as it is musicianship. At last years festival they were the surprise hit of the weekend, and their return was anticipated. Fortunately they didn't disappoint, giving one of the highlight performances of the weekend.
It would take a a big performance to top the Medics, and sadly neither of the acts for the rest of the evening were quite up to the challenge, Limahl, while still sounding as good as he ever did, didn't have the presence to clinch it, and Imagination... (feat...Leee John), while certainly having the big sound just lacked the raw energy that was required.
After the bright sunshine of Saturday Sunday morning couldn't be more different with the remnants of Hurricane Bertha swept across the South of England bringing torrential rain and high winds that caused several festivals to cancel. While Jack up the 80s escaped this fate it nonetheless saw casualties, losing the giant inflatable Stay-puft man that graced the side of the stage and the giant video screen that hung at the back of the stage. After a small delay to dry the stage The Look put in a performance that bought to mind early Blur.
Even though the rain had gone, Bertha still had one last attack on the site, with the strong wind threatening to lift (physically) the stage. This led to a delay and reordering of the acts, so Janet Kay performed at a small hastily assembled stage in front of the big one, while Jona Lewie stood on with his instruments unattainable on the closed off main stage. When the winds eased, and he finally did come to the stage his performance, though truncated by the delay was worth the wait. He even performed the song that will pay his pension - the Christmas classic 'Stop the Cavalry', despite being out of season, it was still one of the most moving performances of the weekend, given the WW1 commemorations and the wars in Gaza and Ukraine the anti-war lyrics really hit home.
If you really want to define the 80s in pop music, then Bucks Fizz are probably a good place to start, Cheesy pop tunes, a Eurovision win, and a fondness for bright primary coloured clothes make them the eighties in a nutshell. Today though they were dressed in far more muted black and greys, but the music was still as bright and bouncy as ever. Due to the weather their set was shortened but I think the crowd would've happily watched them keep going.
If they loved Bucks Fizz, I'm really not sure what they made of Hazel O'Connor, easily the most avant garde of the artists of the weekend, she started out with some obscure tracks and a bit of meandering jazz, but when she moved on to the hits they finally warmed to her. From the haunting saxophone of 'Will You?' To the raucous finale of 'Eighth Day' Hazel's voice still has the delicacy for the former and the power for the latter.
It's always great when an act that you are looking forward to exceeds your expectations, and this is exactly what The Blow Monkeys, provided. As a teenager I was a big fan, but never got to see them live. Finally getting the chance I was rewarded with a band that have developed considerably as a band embracing a far more bluesy sound than they originally had. Opening with a driving cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'Superfly', they then moved onto some of their biggest hits, but reworked with a gritty blues edge - and immensely better for it.
The final act of the evening are another returning act from last year's event. Bad Manners' boozy, raucous take on ska, while simplistic in execution is, like most ska music, infectious and it isn't long before the entire audience is up on their feet - even the ones who have stayed resolutely in their chairs the whole weekend. Frontman Buster Bloodvessel's man of the people shtick is a winning one, winning over the crowd with songs such as 'special brew' and their ska take on the can-can. Although due to finish at a very civilised 8pm, the band refuse to leave the stage, stretching out their time by another quarter of an hour before being threatened with pulling the plug.
Jack up the 80s is a young festival, but already it's establishing itself as one of the highlights of the Isle of Wight's summer schedule - offering an event that's pretty unique in the calendar, the lack of camping means that it's more an event for locals rather than a contender in the national stakes at this stage, but it is a very good festival if you're looking for something to supplement a break on the Island, and with tickets only £30 for the weekend you get an awful lot for your money. The basics are in the right place and it has the potential to become one of the great festivals out there.
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Jack Up The 80s 2018 review