The Retro Festival 11.9.2021 Powderham Castle
What a fun day out. Relaxed, beer swilling, nostalgic fun. Everyone’s here to hear old stuff with many dressing the 80s part…well a clichéd 80s part – counting CHOOSE LIFE t-shirts was an appropriate pastime and there were plenty of 80s wigs and dayglo stuff. No room for trendy buggers or muso snobbery. This was 80s party time. Bright day – sun with a bit of cloud cover to stop us all frying.
There were two artists that played I wanted to see that I’d never seen: Kim Wilde and Adam Ant. Peter Hook and the Light were an obvious draw and I was just happy to let the rest wash over me.
Powderham Castle sounds grand. We did catch a glimpse of the castle through some distant trees but the site was just some pleasant fields somewhere between the castle and the River Exe estuary. About 10,000 capacity and it was pretty busy. An inadequate number of food stands had joined the party, noticably, to the point that queues reached ridiculous levels at times – this was the same at Victorious Festival last month. Perhaps just not the active businesses prepared to risk investing at the moment. Maybe retiring and buying a pizza wagon for next Summer is not such a mad idea.
As well as the one main stage there was an upgrade area with access to a tent with queue free bar, better toilets, a chinese and thai food stall with a comfortable wait, tables and chairs and a marquee with some bonus performers in between the main acts. More about that later 😵
The arena had a large horseshoe of standing only with some barriers to indicate where people could start using camping chairs and other relief for 50+ year old legs. This worked well as you could quite easily wander in and out of the standing bit to see who you wanted. As usual I had my trusty pocket zoom with me and it was nice and bright for some snaps throughout the day.
We stayed in pre-pitched tents overnight, just a few hundred yards away – three guys in one round tent – we survived. (Festival buddies were Dave Pi, Simon Ma and Glasto Nige – Simon in his own spacious and, by the end of the day, well advertised tent 47 😁). I’d forgotten that feeling of traipsing across wet grass in the dark for an early morning piss. Nice toilets though but no running water by morning.
…and the bands and artists
After the sound system was warmed up by the house band that backed several of the artists, Toyah bounced on full of proud 63 year old enthusiasm.
A cover of Echo Beach and an great cover of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell were included in this short taster set which couldn’t ignore It’s a Mystery. “I’m 63 now and I still want to be singing this song…. I Wanna be Free“. The fourth time I’ve seen her since 1980 and this was once again a guilty pleasure.
I stood bemused as Five Star, well three star, leaped around in very large tracksuit bottoms in front of me. I was on unfamiliar ground.
We moved up closer to the stage for the early but undoubted highlight of the day: Peter Hook and the Light.
“Am I at the right festival?” exclaimed Hooky. “This is Blue Monday ….with love from Manchester.” They did seem an odd addition to the list of overt 80s style pop with their bass driven beautiful gloom in the sun…. amid the happy poppy onslaught.
A brilliant selection of Joy Division and New Order hits which was was pretty much identical to the Victorious Festival performance I was at last month: True Faith and Temptation this lunchtime’s highlights and Love Will Tear Us Apart, dedicated to Curtis to finish this 40 minute slot. “Lie quiet in your sleep Ian”.
Hooky takes off his t-shirt and throws it into the front few rows…and they’re off.
I could help noticing that the photographer pressed up to the stage was sporting a 1980 Ramones Non-Stop World Tour t-shirt. How was it still in one piece – I had one of those.
And on to Midge Ure’s Electronica. Hits from Ultravox largely and a bit of a race through, including Vienna and Dancing with Tears in My Eyes. These short sets really went so fast.
Fade to Grey captured the 80s feel so well. “This is a song I wrote for someone a long time ago…I hope you like it” as Midge introduced it….the first few systhesised beats of this hit for Visage were instantly recognisable to get a cheer from the ever increasing crowd in the front of the arena.
I’ll be seeing him again soon but another welcome taster.
Next up Kim Wilde. This was probably the surprise of the day. A really good bouncy set with a very pleased to be here Kim.
The Supremes song she covered Keep me Hanging on was a belter and Cambodia was much more familiar than I would’ve thought.
But I wanted to hear her do Kids in America (wo-oah!). They’ve done half an hour or so and off they go – big cheers and applause – none of these bands do encores as the timing is so tight and everyone’s got fairly short set times…. ahh relief… back comes Kim with her band and I could have gone home happy right then. A beautiful moment. Standing in a field in the sunshine in a lovely friendly crowd listening to Kim Wilde sing Kids in America… wo-oah!
(My YouTube channel clip – Kids in America.)
Either side of the Kim Wilde set and in a few of the intervals from that point there were some surprise appearances in the upgrade area bar tent, just in case there wasn’t enough music on offer. Nathan Moore from Brother Beyond quickly attracted an enthusiastic audience from a central podium in the tent.
That enthusiasm was hugely surpassed by what hit that podium next: Black Lace 😬
A monster unleashed. It was like spell no one could resist. An inevitable conga appeared. I tried to pretend I didn’t know the words, or people I knew joining the conga, but resistance was futile. The energy from the Black Lace pair was admirable. Possibly the heat had got to everyone or maybe it was just the alcohol soaking in… “Aga do do do”…no stop..help. High veleocity actions included, off we go again… “I am the music man, I come from down your way”….Jesus ..I know this as well. I was open mouthed and belly laughing at how enjoyable it all was. I had a couple of pints of water, decided to slow down a bit and go and see Tony Hadley…but not before bluntly expressing my surprise and also gratitude to the Black Lace boys. Not sure either of these guys are original members, on a read up, but no one minded.
Back out to the fresh air of near normality and the relative calm of Tony Hadley.
True, Gold and Chant No.1 (“we don’t need this pressure on – that one”) were the pick of the old Spandau Ballet numbers belted out by big Tone. To finish, a sunshine singalong to Queen’s We are the Champions.
ABC followed, which I watched mostly from afar. I saw them a few years back at a similar 80s bash at Newton Abbot racecourse and like the Lexicon of Love album but it was time for a rest. I did pop back for a photo near the end of their set, which included Look of Love and Poison Arrow.
A bit of a lull for me after that. A food queue and eating break combined with some foot and knee rest – it’s a mini-marathon not a sprint.
Howard Jones was someone I’d never seen and thought I’d enjoy but I couldn’t hear anything to draw me from my seat near the beer tent. Maybe just the timing.
Wet Wet Wet (Wet Wet would be a more honest name) was a different story. They never were my sort of thing and if they were Marti Pellow is no longer with them. Just dull. With a new lead singer they announced a selection of new songs which seemed a bad idea at an overt nostalgia event like this. I was happier with the beer tent party which revved up between the main stage bands…so were many others by the look of it.
The end is nigh…. Adam Ant is last on and of all the acts the one I was keenest to see beforehand. By the end it was Adam Ant that I’d seek out most again. Even now, 40 years on from the Ant people days, I’d still like to see him at one of his own gigs. While I was pleased to hear a first album favourites like Car… Car Car Trouble the audience at a festival like these are clearly more hits orientated.
The double drummers are such a defining sound still, with those distinctive bare drumstick clicks – best exhibited on the highlight for me and another moment of the day: Kings of the Wild Frontier.
Adam Ant seemed a little serious – but not desperate – and chat was minimal between song. I guess he’d be more comfortable in a dark Brixton Academy than a field near Exeter full of 80s party types.
With an hour long set he got more of an opportunity than others to mix hits with album tracks and more recent solo stuff. I was happy with that.
Adam was looking pretty Ant-like having slimmed back down in recent years by the distant look of him. Still the great trademark jacket, a cross on the cheek but no white stripe under the eyes…not tonight anyway. He seemed quite glued to his hat – it nearly came off at one point – and I think the hair may have gone.
Desperate but not Serious was an ear worm I went off to my tent with…. but the singles were there: Stand and Deliver (with that great ‘Huh’ bit), Goody Two Shoes, Prince Charming ….
A fun and beer packed day. Hugely entertaining. My notes and snaps probably indicate my winners – Peter Hook and the Light, Adam Ant and Kim Wilde… and don’t mention Black Lace 🤫.