Let’s Rock! The Retro Festival – Live Review – Temple Newsam, Leeds
By @Steve Crabtree, June 2017
The annual summer Lets Rock! The Retro Festival event hits Leeds, bringing with it baking hot sunshine, a great line up and an atmosphere that makes it a day to remember.
‘Let’s Rock’ are one-day, family-friendly, retro 80s festivals and with 14,000 tickets sold this is the biggest attended Leeds show yet.
In the past we’ve seen some of the best 80’s acts visit Leeds and play to a happy and upbeat crowd. Artists such as Go West, Billy Ocean, Alexander O’Neal, Rick Astley, ABC and Bananarama have all given polished performances of their hits, most of which have stood the test of time. They are still the sort of tunes where you turn up the car radio when they come on.
And the artists can still perform too. Seasoned pros who were making number one records when it mattered, had an abundance of talent-over-looks, and were of an era where “auto” and “tune” were still separate words, not even close to being put together.
So, as the Saturday morning temperatures begin to escalate, the sun cream is packed, as is the picnic, and the 80s fancy dress is on too. And this year’s line-up line-up is again full with quality. But at £44 per ticket before booking fees, the acts need to prove that you’ve spent your money wisely.
“Same distinct voice after 30 years”
Kicking off the show at midday are dance outfit Technotronic, who get the vibe going nicely with hits such as ‘Pump Up The Jam’ and ‘This Beat is Technotronic’. Dr and the Medics quickly follow, and Flock of Seagulls take to the stage as the remainder of the queuing thousands filter their way in to the venue, creating a sea of neon (a ‘seon’? Is that a thing? It should be!) and smiley faces.
The only female solo artist of the day is the fourth act up to the stage. Hazel O’Connor, still with the same distinct voice after 30 years, belts out tunes such as ‘Eighth Day’ and ‘Will You’ before the temperatures hit a sweltering 29 degrees. It must be thirsty work for the groups – it certainly is for the crowd.
However, if you are after refreshments, you’ll be disappointed if you want to sink a beer at regular intervals through the day. The poor organisation of logistics this year is a talking point of the day, and queues of over one hour at the one and only bar is a particular frustration for the 14,000 people who have turned up.
In fact, wherever you need to queue, the organisers seem to be catering for much smaller numbers. Be it the shuttle buses from Leeds to the venue and back, or the number of toilets available. A single free water tap is supplied as a water station, and the eight entry gates mean that people are queuing for an hour to get in to Temple Newsam.
The Facebook page is awash with disappointment on the organisation of the event, and people are hoping that they take notice of that next year, and meet demand.
“Charisma, humour and stage presence”
The day is not in ruins though, as former Haircut 100 front man Nick Heyward takes to the stage. He doesn’t disappoint anyone with stunning renditions of ‘Love Plus One’ and ‘Fantastic Day’; aptly titled for the sunny, blue skied Yorkshire that is being enjoyed by all and sundry.
Hue & Cry and From The Jam follow as early evening descends on the hill. Then there’s Imagination and Kid Creole and the Coconuts, followed by the incredible Roland Gift, lead singer of Fine Young Cannibals. He has people open-mouthed at his piercing and pitch-perfect vocals.
And then we are down to the final three acts of the day. Synth legend Howard Jones makes a good shout for the best act of Lets Rock Leeds with a brilliant set list which has the crowd taking part all the way through. ‘New Song’, ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’ and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ filter out around Temple Newsam and leave not one person disappointed. If you weren’t at least tapping your toes, you don’t have feet.
Jones is a hard act to follow… unless you’re the showman Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet. He’s not lost any of his charisma, humour or stage presence; and his voice is still bang on form. ‘Gold’, ‘True’ and ‘Through The Barricades’ are particular favourites of the Leeds crowd who are still on good form.
And what an ending. Electro group The Human League play to a now-dark hill, with a light show that takes people’s breath away. They go through their catalogue of tunes as if they have never been away. ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ has everyone on their feet singing and dancing and not wanting the show to end.
And, as Phil Oakey and the rest of the band leave the stage, it is time for the euphoric crowd to make their way out of Temple Newsam and head home, having been witness to some incredible performances once again.
The 80s is strongly associated with cheesy pop, but the songs from that era still sound as fresh and current today as they did then. These are songs that will be given air time for a lot longer than the manufactured, conveyor-belt music in the mainstream today. These people can play. They can sing. And their performances are tight.
Already the Let’s Rock Leeds 2018 show is in planning, and will be at the same place on 16th June. Early bird tickets will be on sale from 31st August, and if the organisers can sort out the issues that revellers had this year, they’ll knock out another awesome event in 12 month’s time.