It started as a dreary day, certainly not ideal festival weather, plenty of rain and clouds, torrential at times but I, along with many many others, still decided to brave the elements with hope that they wouldn’t drench any enthusiasm for a summers day in a park having a laugh surrounded by a retro theme.
With it being in the heart of Shrewsbury at the park know as The Quarry there was no designated parking, and with all the small, narrow streets the traffic was quite extreme and the surrounding car parks were rammed full so my first piece of advice is if you ever decide to attend, make sure to leave early or, better still, take the public transport option.
A short walk later and the unmistakable sounds of an 80’s soundtrack filled the drizzly air, and hoards of people dressed in their finest neon fancy dress were all heading in the same direction (so as long as you followed them there was no mistake on where to go so getting lost was not an option).
The security at the gates were very efficient, and a bit too good at there job some would probably think, thoroughly searching peoples bags and confiscating any sign of alcoholic drink that they could find (I often think that there must be a hell of an after-party) and the queues were split between General Access and the VIP Priority Access, with the latter getting in a damn sight quicker than the former (so that was a promise fulfilled).
Inside the first thing that you are struck by was the huge “LET’S ROCK” sign followed by a sea of neon. This is a festival that allows people to bring chairs, camping tables, tents, picnics…and i’m sure the kitchen sink would be allowed, and it seems people take advantage of this as the upper half of the site was already full with people setting up their own little areas of chairs, intent of enjoying the event in relative comfort.
To be fair, I would have done the same, a few bevvies, your own seats, the only thing that was missing at this point was the sun.
There was a large area with a bar and plenty of food stalls, there was a tent selling t shirts and the headliners, Soft Cell, had their own designated merch stall too. There were apparently a few rides for the younger attendees but I didn’t see those. The VIP clientele had their own 80’s themed bar/seating area with a not too shabby view of the stage, and drinks prices were what you would expect for a festival, about £8/pint. Water from the bar was £2.50 for a 250ml bottle (that was quite steep even the bar staff seemed surprised) but there was a free water point provided for fill ups.
Now for the acts. Having not been to a Let’s Rock festival before I think I had been expecting something a little different to what was put on. The first few acts were just the main artist backed by the house band, the aptly named “Let’s Rock Hit Factory”, and each act at this point had a 20/25 min slot with about 5 mins between each one.
I suppose a much more efficient way to run things and keep the audience engaged, and it was certainly enough time to allow the artists to play those well known hits that the crowd would expect to hear.
First on was “The Hit Factory” joined on stage by (in no particular order and not the full set list) Living Joy (giving us a rendition of “Dreamer”” and “Don’t Stop Moving”), Janet Kay (“Loving You”), Odyssey ( singing “Going Back To My Roots”), Hollywood Beyond (“Whats’s The Colour Of Money”) and Neal X from Sigue Sigue Sputnik – who had one of the most impressive quiffs I have ever seen (playing “Love Missile F1-11”). All in all a bit of fun for half hour with a sizable crowd by the stage strutting their stuff.
Next on was Blancmange, with their brand of electro 80’s pop, bringing a bit more of a dead pan, broody but fun vibe kicking off with “Feel Me” which, at one point was delivered with such passion that when the line “STOP, STOP” was delivered for a minute I thought something was wrong but it is indeed actually a line in the song.
The 2 piece did look a bit lost on such a big stage in the daytime, but i’m sure they were enjoying being up there and there were people in the crowd who enjoyed the performance. “What’s The Time”, “Living On The Ceiling” and “Don’t Tell Me” was the remainder of their set. For me a 8 out of 10 performance. I’m going to have to try to catch them on their own tour as it definitely lacked a decent light show.
“The Hit Factory ” were back on stage to accompany China Crisis, who were more smiles. With the crowd getting a bit merrier (and the sun making more of an appearance) they seemed to be getting more receptive. With a nod back to the 80’s where “the trousers still fit and the hair was still there” they delivered a short set of “King In A Catholic Style”, “Black Man Ray”, “Wishful Thinking” and “Christian”. Another 8 out of 10 performance as they were certainly loving being up there and it showed.
At this point it only just dawned on me that the compere for this event was Dave Benson Phillips, used to love watching “Get Your Own Back” as a kid. He tried his hardest to get the crowd rallied up, even starting a playful rift between those in the thick of it and the VIP section.
Hue & Cry (again backed by the house band) gave us a set of “Looking For Linda”, “Ordinary Angel”, “I Refuse” and, much to the crowds delight “Labour Of Love”. A fun set with plenty of crowd reaction. For me a 7 out of 10.
Local Singer Carol Decker from T’Pau was next up, to the biggest pop yet. One singer that loves being up on that stage performing, and being a local girl was happy to be doing that at home, telling us that all the songs on this set were written in the Shrewsbury Boat House that was visible from the park. “Sex Talk”, “House Of Love”, Heart And Soul” and “China In Your Hand” was the short set for today from a very energetic and talkative Carol Decker/T’Pau. 8 out of 10.
After a few shout outs from DBP it was the turn of 5Star. Unfortunately I only caught “System Addict” but in just that one song I could see (from the huge stage screens) a very high energy dance routine and huge smiles.
This is where, after a quick bow on the stage from all the performers so far and the house band, the bite sized performances we finished and the stage change overs started happening as next up was “The Original Rude Boy” Neville Staple.
To a huge ovation Neville joins his band on the stage, swaggering over to the mic in his sharp suit and trilby we are treated to a set of some Ska classics including “Gangsters”, “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum”, Nite Klub”, “Rudy A Message To You”, “Really Saying Something” (with a mention of joining Bananarama to do a rendition at a later date), “Monkey Man”, “Ghost Town” and “Long Shot Kick De Bucket”.
With a nod to Terry Hall, huge crowd chants of “RUDE BOY, RUDE BOY” and Neville exclaiming that he couldn’t stop smiling it was a rousing set from Neville and his band, there was plenty skanking in the audience. A respectable 9 out of 10 from me.
Northern Ireland lads The Undertones kicked up the energy a few notches next, Bringing their high paced punk to this market town. We get a 13 song set from them, starting with “Jimmy Jimmy” and including “Girls Don’t Like It”, It’s Going To Happen”, “Teenage Kicks” (obviously) and “Get Over You”. Part way through the set they stop proceedings, beckoning security to some trouble in the crowd and not resuming until it had been sorted. And throughout the set there lots of crowd singing and there was a much older couple really giving it some at the barrier….life goals right there. My first 10 on 10 of the day.
During the next changeover rather than your usual autonomous background music the 80’s very own Pat Sharp came on stage with his wheels of steel to play some proper cheesy crowd pleasing songs and to keep the energy of this, lets face it, partially aging crowd (myself included) going.
Some more 80’s electronica next with Heaven 17, with one of the most outrageous stage outfits so far, almost like some kind of Disco Cowboy from Dallas. “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” kicked them off, “Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry” followed with a couple more before they helped answer the age old question of the pronunciation of Shrewsbury. (I knew I was right all along).
They played a very good cover of “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie and, after a few more, finished the set with the obligatory “Temptation” (The female singer on stage certainly wowed with her voice and range on this one, what a set of pipes she has). 8 out of 10.
Soul ii Soul, my personal favorite of the day, were the next band on, the first band to really fill out the stage. Bringing the deep down dirty groove and message of one love and unity. I don’t think there wasn’t a foot tapping in the place throughout this place with Jazzie B and crew really giving a fantastic performance.
“Back o Life” and “Keep On Moving”, “Get A Life” and “Universal Love” were in the set among others including a fantastic rendition of “Nothing Compares To U”. I can honestly say that Jazzie B is a true musical genius and legend. a resounding 10 out of 10.
80’s royalty and Let’s Rock regular Midge Ure brought his brand of electronic rock next, and the barrage of torrential rain that occurred as soon as he took to the stage did not deter anyone from standing their ground. It was hammering down but Midge was hammering out the synths and guitars for a crowd pleasing set which was started with “Yellow Pearl”.
There was some numbers from his Ultravox days which included synth heavy “Fade To Grey”, Vienna and guitar anthem (and my personal favourite) “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”. 9 out of 10 performance with 1 out of 10 weather. Had I not had to protect my camera equipment i would have enjoyed it more but that wasn’t Midges fault.
Main Special Guests The Boomtown Rats perhaps had the biggest reaction of the day next, it was quite deafening when Bob Geldof came on stage, his trademark disheveled look still the same as it was all those years ago. I have to admit I never did listen to a lot of their material, so I had no idea what to expect (apart from “I Don’t Like Mondays”) so this was new to me.
I was honestly quite pleasantly surprised with what was to follow, an energetic performance from Bob and gang, plenty of swearing and plenty of participation from the eager fans. In the set they played “Trash Glam Baby”, “Like Clockwork”, “I Don’t Like Mondays” (Obviously) “Diamond Smiles” and a few others, but I have to say my pick of the set was the closing track “The Boomtown Rats”, something that was different, a thumping electronic dance-esqe track. A fantastic Perfomance 10 on 10 (Should have headlined in my opinion).
The Headliners “Soft Cell” came on to close the evening out with a sound that, all credit to them, is exactly how it sounded back then. The only modernization I can tell is the equipment used. Again another band that looked a bit lost on such a huge stage but the light show and video backdrop helped fill that, with the smoke machine aiding the colour washing of the stage in those quintessential 80’s colours along with the 80’s style video sequences that accompanied the set.
The set was opened with “Torch”, and, although it was quite difficult to see Marc Almond at times with all the smoke, you could see him smiling as the crowd cheered and hollered. Other songs in the set included “Monoculture”, “Where The Heart Is”, “Nostalgia Machine” (my pick of the set), “Sex Dwarf”, “Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go” and, to close the event the apt “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”.
Standing towards the back at this point the stage looked impressive with the minimal set up, wash of colour and a few silhouettes on the stage. Never really been a big Soft Cell fan personally but i’d still give it an 8 out of 10.
If you were to go to such a retro festival I would suggest that you take public transport, pick a spot, have a few drinks with some mates and soak up the atmosphere. Some may find it all a bit cheesy, but life’s no fun if you don’t have that occasionally.