Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A review of two pop picnicing evenings

Here is my review of the two nights of pop fun at Dyrham Park mentioned in the picnic story below . . . .

Human League/ABC/Belinda Carlisle/T Pau/Go West
(Friday) and Jools Holland (Saturday),

Thousands of Bath music fans descended on Dyrham Park for two nights of top quality entertainment from stars of past and present.

The two night ‘picnic in the park’ event saw a special celebration of the best of the 1980s – headlined by the peerless duo of Human League and ABC – and then a second show where Jools Holland and his amazing rhythm and blues band delighted the crowds with a stunning two hour show.

The concerts were part of that now well-trodden summer path where groups and artists descend on lovely outdoor venues and people turn up not only to have a dance and a drink but also to have a splendid picnic.

Of course the British summer being the British summer didn’t make it easy for the weekend music lovers.

Friday night’s 1980s show was dominated by rain bursts and gloomy skies – which seemed somewhat out of synch with the bright, breezy pop music that emanated from this homage to the decade that taste forgot. It was, to quote another ’80s band, Wet, Wet, Wet.

The following night, however, no-one was weather beaten. It had been raining all day and the situation looked very gloomy but Jools is very well connected and a word with the big boogie-woogie man in the sky ensured the picnics remained dry and the music reigned more than the clouds rained.

But first back to Friday – and back to the 1980s.

The ’80s were that time of volatile house prices, recessions and Coronation Street and EastEnders being the most popular programmes on telly. So not much change there then! But in terms of music and fashion it might as well be a different world.
Good time pop music, synthesisers and upbeat electronica was the dominant mood of the era and that was very apparent during the five bands that made up the Back To The ’80s extravaganza.

First up we had T’Pau, a band who not everyone remembered terribly well until they did the legendary song China In My Hand which produced the first big roar amid the gloom. Next up were probably my least favourite band on the night – Go West. The tunes were familiar, they looked in pretty good shape but there was just something about the ‘slap bass’ style that seemed incredibly dated. You may think that anything from 25 years ago would be dated, but the reality is much of the music from that era has survived the test of time.

Soon after Go West had, well, gone west, on came the still gorgeous ginger spice that is Belinda Carlisle (pictured in fine fettle above). All I could remember about Belinda Carlisle – apart from the fact that I had something of a crush on her 25 years ago – was her best known song Heaven Is A Place On Earth but you soon realised she had far more tunes in her repertoire that had seeped into the consciousness and I thoroughly enjoyed her short but lively set. She had ‘it’ 25 years ago – and boy, she’s still got it now.

Next up were a band I was really looking forward to – ABC. Their debut album, The Lexicon Of Love, remains one of the finest pure pop albums ever and its lush melodies and beautifully crafted songs have truly stood the test of time. When Smokey Sings seemed to get the best reaction of the lot, but for me it was the superb coupling of the Look Of Love and especially All Of My Heart which reminded me what a fantastic group ABC really were.

Following Martin Fry’s combo could have been difficult – but not when you are as good as the Human League.

Most of us will remember those classic hits Sound Of The Crowd, Love Action and Don’t You Want Me Baby but The Human League had a genuinely strong body of work and although Friday concentrated on those hits, there was enough depth there to make you realise it is worth plundering their back catalogue again. The best moment of the night for me was seeing the band – who all looked in remarkably good nick – produce a stunning version of Together In Electric Dreams. That remains one of the best pop songs from that whole era and is such a good tune it can help you to forget how dreadful the film was that bore its name . . .

So, Friday was a big success, not only on stage but off it. Many people had come dressed up for with pop socks, headbands and garish make-up aplenty. There was also a number of people who had dressed up and we saw Adam Ant, Boy George, Mr T and even one spectacularly ill-advised Michael Jackson to make it a feast for the eyes.

Saturday night therefore could have been an anti-climax after the fun of Friday – but Jools Holland never disappoints. His 18-piece r ’n’ b orchestra provide sheer unadulterated fun from start to finish. They are ALL amazingly good musicians but they never get self-indulgent with their talent because it is always about the song, always about the tune and always about the mood.

This was good time boogie-woogie of the highest order and for two hours Jools Holland left the large audience with broad smiles aplenty..

If the sight of Jools and his incredible army of musicians wasn’t enough to relish he also brought on excellent special guests including Dave Edmonds and the remarkable Ruby Turner. These provided splendidly varied cherries to go on top of the bountiful cake.

So two great park picnic pop nights to remember at Dyrham – even if you ended up with soggy sandwiches on Friday, got stuck in the traffic jams on the way out or found the sight of pop socks offensive.

Two great nights, two great shows and too bad we can’t do this every weekend.

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