It's not been a great year for festivals, with the cost of living putting a big squeeze on people’s budgets, then for those that made it to their allowed weekend, have had to face down storms more associated with the autumn.
The weekend before Jack Up Summer Party, the south coast of Britain was lashed by Storm Antoni - which wreaked destruction - I can only imagine how the organisers must have felt watching these events and wondering what delights awaited them as the forecast mini-heatwave failed to materialise, and instead rain lashed down in the week before. Fortunately, by the standards of this year they were given a window of dry, if slightly windy weather.
For those of you who have attended or followed its fortunes, the festival started life as an 80s festival, before widening its net to include 70s and 90s acts. Now entering its tenth year, it has, post-COVID, settled into a new lease of life as a ‘Summer Party’ looking to bring some of the best tribute acts to its stage. And what a stage it is - built from an Airstream caravan - those chrome campers that every cool American, down on their luck hero apparently lived in on TV shows in the 70s and 80s. It fits perfectly with its location - Retro Staycations is a campsite that has several of these beasts on the site, and you can spend the whole weekend in one, enjoying the performances from the comfort of your own space.
The formula for the weekend is very simple – with only a single stage to hang around you get an act, then an hour or so of retro music while the stage is reset for the next band – repeat until curfew. The crowd for the most part, tend to sit round the site in camping chairs, content to let the music roll over them. In fact it’s easy to tell how well received the acts are – the less popular ones may struggle to get a dozen people, while the most popular can pack out the area in front of the stage.
Opening the festival were local band Momentary High with a fairly easy collection of songs form across the years. The first tribute of the day was Simon Howard as Tom Jones. Tom Jones is an easy voice to caricature (just do a loud booming welshmen, and grunt every so often) but quite tough to mimic as he actually has a lot of subtlety in his voice, but Simon does a pretty good job, and having seen the original several times I’d say he manages it pretty well.
Also managing a pretty good impression was Utmost Elton, who as well as having a pretty accurate voice was also a fantastic piano player - as comfortable hammering the keys for ‘Crocodile Rock’ as he was playing the gentle ‘Your Song’. Across the weekend he was probably the most important man on the stage, as when not performing he was also the sound man for the weekend, ensuring the rest sounded good.
After a bubbly if unremarkable performance from Kylie impersonator, we had what was, surprisingly, the best act of the weekend. If, like me you were a child of the 80s, you will probably remember that no school disco or holiday club was complete without novelty songs to get up and dance in unison too. The kings of this genre were undoubtably Black Lace whose tracks like ‘Agadoo’ and ‘Do the Conga’ were guaranteed to bring three minutes of frenetic activity to even the direst hall. Live they are cheesy, obvious and actually very good - in between the novelty songs we are treated to snippets and medleys of some of the biggest anthems of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. And it had to be said they actually have pretty good voices, picking up the vocals of Freddie Mercury, Neil Diamond and Tom Jones with ease - it makes you wonder what they might have been if they’d become a serious band, although they probably wouldn’t have been as famous/notorious. It had to be said the crowd loved them though, and were happy to join in whether YMCA, Agadoo or creating a conga that snaked across the whole site.
Following them was always a hard sell, and The Amazing 80s versus 90s (their name, not my opinion) did their best, with moderate success. Although their interpretation of what the 90s meant (boy bands and Peter Andre mostly) wasn’t my cup of tea so I’d say the 80s won on balance.
Closing out the Saturday local favourites Ska’d for Life, have been regulars at Jack Up festivals from the beginning and drawing a decent crowd with a set filled with Ska classics. Their biggest problem was fitting their band (nine members), plus instruments on to the stage, and if they had danced too energetically, they might have ejected members into the crowd!
Considering the site, it’s a good choice for a small festival, although limited camping is available – either renting one of the airstreams or bringing a camper into the car park (no tent camping) it’s probably not the main concern of most of the attendees who choose to just come for the day. With plenty of space to spread out, decent toilets, and some good tasty food options - alongside the usual burgers, chips, and pizza we were pleased to see the arrival of mac and cheese - a delicacy that has become a staple for us at festivals. The sweeter toothed were catered for by churros, ice cream, and home-made cheesecake. Prices again were pretty reasonable with most meals hovering around the £10 mark, while a pint would set you back £5.50. Finally some fairground rides, and regular bubbles kept the younger kids occupied.
Sunday came with more of the same (well if it ain't broke…). Opening with Nya King performing as Whitney Houston. I was never a great fan of Whitney’s music (I was an indie/rock kid at that time), but she does have a great voice, and the gentler start was probably just right as a warm-up in the early afternoon sun.
By contrast Tony Lewis’ Robbie Williams, hit the ground running with a raucous ‘Let Me Entertain You’, and clearly lent heavily into the the halo generated by the real Robbie headlining the Isle of Wight Festival a few months ago, from there though it dropped off. The performance was good, but the heavily innuendo-filled banter just got a bit tiring after a while. I’ve never actually seen Robbie live but can believe this was an accurate reflection of him on stage, but it didn’t warm me to either Tony or Robbie.
The Zoots have been part of the wider Jack Up events scene for a while now, but I think this was the first time they’ve played one of the main festivals. For those who haven’t seen them, they are sort of a themed party band, with iterations focussing on The 60s, 70s or 80s. This time they bought the latter to the festival, and dressed in white, with Frankie say’s… and Choose life! T-shirts. Performing a range of styles and songs from across the board, their repertoire is impressive. As is their humour - happily resorting to props such as hoovers (Radio Gaga) and zebra hats (Africa) to ‘enhance’ the songs.
If proof were needed that Ska has a universal appeal that seems to link all people together, you had to look no further than Complete Madness. Whose performance of Madness classics, as well as a few Specials and Bad Manners thrown in for good measure, drew what was easily the biggest crowd to the front and even managed to get some of the more reticent people out of their chairs to dance.
As the evening settled in, Durran Durran came to the stage dressed in the iconic 80s regalia of the band. They put in a pretty good performance, covering most of the hits - although an ongoing synthesiser problem caused them trouble, and came to a head for ‘The Reflex’ which had to be abandoned after an unintentional two-minute intro! Credit had to be given to them for soldiering through and delivering a pretty accurate set of the original group.
Finishing the evening were Noasis one of the best Oasis tribute acts out there. Although I will confess I was in the Blur camp back in the day, Oasis were the kings of the singalong anthem at that time, and this group were a great end to the night, and the weekend.
All in all, Jack Up Summer Party shows off some of the best of the small festival scene. It’s been a tough time for many and having seen many other festivals go by the wayside trying to keep up a certain level. This festival’s recent downscaling recognises a larger truth about what makes a good show – that it isn’t really about who is playing or how many celebrities attend, but about the vibe that it creates. And while it’s good to see your favourite acts, a good tribute can generate that same atmosphere. While it may not be for everyone, it’s still worth giving this festival a try if you want something a bit broader and just really entertaining.
Check out our photos from Jack Up Summer Party 2023!
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