Retro is definitely in these days, although the internet has meant that any band has a reasonable chance of breaking through, many of us still miss the days when the record companies told us who to like through the mediums of Top of the Pops and Smash Hits. The 1980s was probably the peak of this era, and so naturally the market provides plenty of opportunities for nostalgia trips. Now in its fifth year, Jack Up The 80s has been providing the fix of nostalgia to the local area. And having shared a venue with a local food festival, it has now made the move to a new site - local speedway track Smallbrook Stadium - to take advantage of more room and a later license (the half 8 finish of the original festival always felt a little strange).
The other big change is the addition of an extra night - billed as an opening night party, Friday opened its doors to a smaller number of guests to entertain them with performances from the Cheeky Girls and tribute band Abba Chique. The first part of this evening was plagued by technical problems caused by the sound desk suffering from the damp of the previous few days heavy rain. This meant the the Cheeky Girls performance was cut short, which wasn't really a bad thing as while they worked the crowd well, and danced with some energy, they really cannot sing at all. After a quick break while we were entertained by the Clubbercise dancers from the local fitness centres (they wore me out just watching them, but apparently people do that kind of thing for fun!) it was Abba Chique’s turn. The band have been a regular at The festival for several years now, and given that Abba are one of those bands who are well liked by everyone, they soon had the crowd singing along to the hits. Even the light rain that kept threatening couldn't dampen the enthusiasm.
Arriving on Saturday the weather had cleared and allowed us to get a feel for the new site - instead of the previous single area, it has now been split into two - the main arena is located in the centre of the speedway track, with a good selection of food stalls, as well as the main beer tent and a few stalls selling festival accessories. In addition to this was a second field offering some rides for the kids, as well as a petting zoo a second stage with performances from students from Platform One, the local music college. While it was good to see the site expanding, we did find that the layout made for a challenge when trying to move between the two areas, while going from the main arena wasn't a problem, to get back in again you had to join the same queue as new arrivals, going through the security checks again. While delays weren't a great problem, it was just enough to make you think twice about wandering to the other stage during quiet times, definitely something the organisers need to think about for next year.
Saturday on the main stage belonged to the local bands, with sets from Ska’d For Life and Derek Sandy providing a couple of hours of Ska and reggae respectively that set the day up nicely. The Real Thing, although technically a 70s band, provided a hit-filled session for the remainder of the afternoon.
One of the things that you look forward to is being surprised by a band - a good band doing a good show is nothing unusual, however a band that, for whatever reason, you have written off pulling out the stops and putting on a good show is always welcome. Right Said Fred were for me (as I suspect for many people) a novelty act, with a couple of mildly humorous songs, but nothing special. So I was wasn't really expecting them to deliver one of the standout performances of the weekend. If you look past the likes of "Deeply Dippy", and "I'm Too Sexy…" what you have is a seriously talented pop band, Richard Fairbrass is a natural frontman with a voice that can switch between the serious and light without jarring, while his brother Fred is a gifted guitarist. Definitely a band that are worth checking out.
Jason Donovan is probably the biggest name on the bill this weekend, and given the crowd that gathered the biggest draw. Fortunately he didn't disappoint with a set that took in his career, both as a pop singer and a musical performer, sprinkled with a few covers for good measure. While another festival regular - From The Jam - closed the evening out with a typically energetic performance of the hits of the parent band The Jam, and a few new songs for good measure.
After the forecast weather, The festival really managed to dodge a bullet with Sunday being bathed in bright sunshine, the day was again opened by Ska’d for Life - they're a good band, but the performance was a rerun of the previous days set. It would have been nice to have seen a different band in their place - certainly the Isle of Wight isn't short of acts who could step up. They were followed this time by 80s legend Pat Sharp doing a DJ set. This was followed by tribute act Bootleg Blondie. Led by almost namesake Debbie Harris, the bands’ performance was one of the most faithful to the original band I've seen.
In S Club Party, the band sang “Do you want to see Rachel do her thing?”. Well you're right out of luck with the current line up of S Club. Now down to three members, they still put together a reasonable show, and although not a big fan they were crowd pleasing enough.
Considering that S Club performed on an empty stage to backing tracks, there was a surprisingly long delay between them and Alexander O’Neal - granted Alexander did have a lot of musicians on stage - including three keyboard players - these delays seemed to be a feature of the weekend. The gaps were made more noticeable by the show seeming to shut down while the changeover happened. Music was played, but at a far lower volume than the performances, and was barely audible towards the back of the arena. It just felt like something was missing at times.
When Alexander did take to the stage his show was pretty good, and although he's clearly showing his age and not as lithe around the stage as he would like to be, his performance was still vocally as sharp as ever.
When I was young, Nik Kershaw was probably one of the first artists I really got hooked on, although being barely a teenager at the time, I never got to see him. As such I was in mixed mood about finally seeing him live - would he stand up the image of him I'd created, or would I be disappointed. Opening up with the relatively obscure ‘Radio Musicola’ I had nothing to worry about. Moving quickly through his back catalogue, and interspersing it with covers of The Killers ‘Human’ and Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’, the show was probably the best of the weekend. One of the surprising things is how good a guitarist he is, with a style that brings to mind David Gilmour’s relaxed ambient bluesy sound, something that never really came out in the keyboard-centric music he became known for.
Closing out the weekend was The Fizz, comprising of three of the founder members of Bucks Fizz, but for reasons too long to go into, no longer able to use the original name. Again this band are a regular fixture on the Jack up the 80s having played for several years, being popular with the crowd. It's easy to see the appeal of the band: some great pop songs with plenty of well-known singable choruses, and an easy manner with the crowd that engages with them and makes them feel part of the show rather than just spectating. With numbers like ‘Land of Make Believe’ and their breakthrough, Eurovision-winning, ‘Making your Mind Up’ (and yes they still do the thing with the skirts), it would take a hard hearted person not to get swept up in the sheer joy of the show. Ending the weekend on a high like that you can understand why they were chosen for a headliner.
All in all it’s been another really good weekend - Jack Up The 80s is a festival that is starting to find its feet. Yes the new site has had teething troubles, mainly with the split of the two areas and the difficulties of moving between them, but nothing that can’t be overcome. A bigger concern may be a reliance on the same acts returning to the bill each year - this year saw five bands over the weekend returning, several of them for the third or fourth time - at a larger festival this can be less of an issue, but when there are only 15 or so acts across the weekend it can start to feel a bit repetitive, no matter how good the bands are. So we look forward to next year and maybe a chance to see more of what the 80s can offer.
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Jack Up The 80s 2018 review