Let’s Rock the North East Festival – Human League, OMD, ABC, Howard Jones. Sister Sledge, Midge Ure’s Electronica, Heaven 17, Pete Wylie, Toyah, Go West and more……..
Herrington Park, Sunderland, UK - 21st August 2021
I grew up in the era of fading punk, emerging New Romantic and the underground Goth scene was bubbling away. It was possibly the golden era for ‘freaks’ - those that didn’t fit into society with so many alternative music and fashion scenes. New Wave came in various guises and synth-pop was king. Gender bending, as the press called it, had another resurgence after the glam-rock years of the 1970’s. Men and women were experimenting, people pushed the boundaries – it was a very exciting period to be growing up. Commercially synth-pop will perhaps always be associated with the early 1980’s – and this festival caters for this end of the market. A large group of chart toppers from this period of time, predominantly of the synth and electronic genre.
It was raining as I arrived at the festival, and the weather forecast wasn’t good. I had my press pass, and my car was parked next to the rear of the stage – alongside artist hospitality. I had access to VIP, hospitality and was even fed by the organisers. Good stuff, we have a job to do, but it’s appreciated when we are appreciated! I quickly met several of the bands, took photos and established recognition – this always help when in the photography pit to get good images. Good stuff.
Go West arrived on stage first, not my cup of tea, and but they deserved to be higher on the bill. I spoke to their manager earlier, they had another gig to travel to, so were unusually the opener. Now
I’m no fan, but when the likes of Black Lace (of the truly appalling ‘Agado’ and ‘Do the Conga’ chart hits) and tribute bands were before them, I must admit I felt it would have been better to stay at home. The crowd liked them, they were a good opener. Another artist lower on the bill worth mentioning was Jaki Graham. The polar opposite to my own taste, and I would imagine to Elektro Vox readers too – but she managed an impressive set. I’ll also give Sister Sledge a mention too, further up the bill. Again not of interest to us electronic beat lovers, they gave a fantastic
Toyah shared the same band that had been used by Black Lace and the tribute bands. Not a good start. However, quickly I realised they were actually a good band. It all worked well on this short set
of Toyah’s most famous songs such as ‘I want to be Free’, ‘It’s a Mystery’, ‘Thunder in the Mountains’, ‘Echo Beach’ and ‘Good Morning Universe’. She is a little bundle of energy, and just as exciting to watch as her younger years. Good stuff.
Heaven 17 arrived and by now the crowd was very large, several thousand people, and it was clear they were happy to see this band. Glenn and Martyn shared the same two backing singers of Toyah
and several other bands. But as they had proved with Toyah they are very good indeed. I’m a big fan of every band Martyn Ware has been involved with, and he can be regarded as one of the great-
grand daddies of electronic music in the UK. As most readers will know, Heaven 17 was born after half of The Human League split away. Today they are as relevant as they ever were, the festival
speakers get a full work out with powerful bass synths rumbling the field. Yes, of course they played all their hits, it’s the type of festival it is. Check out their upcoming gigs where they are playing the first two Human League albums for more obscure tracks. However I thoroughly enjoyed this set of popular chart hits, and I suspect I will continue to enjoy every gig I see of theirs.
Midge Ure’s Electronica is Midge’s latest way of presenting tours and gigs. He formed this band a couple of years ago. Presumably as it seems to be very clear that Ultravox will never play live
together again. I’ve seen Electronica a few times, and either (only) quite enjoyed them, or found them a little embarrassing. I say this as hearing Ultravox songs without the musical genius of Billy
Curry leaves me a little cold. However on this occasion they have either got it together better, or my ears are becoming a little more accepting. I really thought they worked well together and added to
that spine tingling voice of Midge – hearing that “Ohhhhhhh Vienna” will never fail to raise the hairs on my skin. Yes, Midge and his new band are now forgiven.
Howard Jones writes very upbeat synth-pop. His style was a kind of musical positivity / motivational meme. All about looking after one another, doing our best for the world etc. I am all for that. In fact, as a kid and getting into all forms of electronic music I was a big fan of his. As time went by my musical direction went a little darker, and I listened less and less to Howard. I’ve never seen him play live, until this festival. Well I’m sorry Howard but judging by your performance and odd attitude backstage, you have managed to earn a living from preaching positivity, but not practising it in real life. One of his band members had to apologise for his behaviour towards the photographers. The performance itself was a tad detached and lacklustre. Forced smiles and gestures. It seemed like an act. Press the play button and go. The band was superb, especially the fantastic abilities of Nick Beggs (from Kajagoogoo) on the Chapman Stick. Mindblowing ability, truly exceptional talent with this unusual instrument and perhaps an even more unusual approach to playing it. I enjoyed the set, but Howard come on, take a chill pill.
ABC. Hmmmmm……… How do I do this? Write this review? Probably wise to be honest and truthful. I truly dislike the material they produce. Often marketed as a synth-pop band I find them to be cheesy tosh. Not for me. So, as for the review…… Martin appeared, sang and looked like the crooner he always has been. The band played well. They played all the hits the crowd wanted. I left halfway through after getting the necessary photos. Sorry guys.
5/10 (I’m being kind)
OMD, or better called their full name, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Pure legends. They may share the three-capital letter style name of ABC, but that’s where similarities stop. They are true pioneers of the UK synth and electronic music movement with a broad spectrum of musical styles. They got their big break supporting Gary Numan on his first major UK tour, and returned the favour to him in the 90’s by having him as an guest artist (some would say support) on one of their tours. Yes, they are that good – Numan is of course god-like. Andy is, as always the gig singing windmill – his dancing is as legendary as the band. Paul, quietly sits behind his keyboards most of the gig. However he does swap duties with Andy for two songs – taking over the singing for ‘Souvenir’ and ‘(Forever) Live and Die’. Andy’s bass player is essential entertainment. The band are good – very good. They play all the hits – just as this festival crowd want. They should have been headliners, I can accurately say the crowd responded so well with them – the most enthusiastic reaction for the whole festival. As always, completely mind blowing.
The Human League had been quietly making electronic music in their home town of Sheffield for a number of years when Gary Numan broke the charts in 1979 making alternative electronic music commercial acceptable. Forever associated with ‘Don’t you Want me?’ and of course this was played tonight, this band is much more than this (and a string of other hits). The trio of Phil, Susan and Joanne were placed at the front, the two girls either side. They have on numerous occasions self confess that they can’t sing well, and as a big fan I agree. But combine this with the excellent vocal abilities of Phil tonight, it all works very well – and is part of the Human League experience. Phil is one cool dude, he looks great on stage. But he has a very weird habit of whiz-walking the stage. It’s like one of those old Benny Hill speeded up videos, you almost expect him to sing fast and at high pitch like Pinky and Perky. (Note to self; I must remember the general readership age of Elektro Vox, many will not know the reference to Benny Hill nor Pinky and Perky!) (Editor: Oh we do Mr Smith.. We do!) Anyway, Phil walks fast, but sings normally as you’d expect! As per the norm for a nostalgia fuelled festival all the safe hits and tracks are played, including the solo Phil Oakey hit ‘Together in Electric Dreams’. A brilliant performance from everybody. But OMD should have been headliner.
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