Let’s Rock Norwich has become something of an institution, and with Earlham Park packed for this year’s show, there is no sign that the mammoth annual event’s popularity is fading.
As before, this year’s concert featured an array of 1980s hitmakers from lunchtime through to late at night.
In the line-up early on was Nik Kershaw, who started off with his hit Wild Boy before quipping, in between songs, “I’d love to chat but we’ve got to crack on.”
As well as his three biggest tracks, The Riddle, Wouldn’t It be Good and I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, he also performed The One and Only, the 1990s classic that he wrote for Chesney Hawkes.
Kershaw doesn’t have the stage presence of some of his contemporaries, but he more than makes up for this with his beautifully crafted, melodic songs, which could easily have held their own late on in the festival.
Peter Cox has a terrific, soulful voice and, as always, at Let’s Rock he sang like his life depended on it alongside his partner in Go West, Richard Drummie. As Cox belted out Call Me, We Close Our Eyes and the jaunty Faithful, it was hard – almost impossible – to believe that he is now aged 63. The King of Wishful Thinking was a real crowd-pleaser.
As with Kershaw, Midge Ure showcased a song that he had written for another artist, in this case Fade to Grey, released in 1980 by the new age band Visage, but his own and Ultravox’s best songs were also included, among them Vienna and If I Was.
The light-hearted atmosphere of Let’s Rock – emphasised by the 80s fancy dress of many concertgoers – moved up a gear as Black Lace got the brave ones in the audience to their feet for their Conga Party. It was a surprising highlight of the afternoon.
Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins then performed a set that was especially notable for its ever-changing graphics. Dressed like his bandmates all in white, Bailey mined the Thompson Twins’ back catalogue well, with Hold Me Now particularly popular.
As the sun faded, Marc Almond of Soft Cell took to the stage and gave probably the best vocal performance of the day, delivering powerful renditions of some of his own and others’ hits. During Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, the face of Gene Pitney, whose duet of the song with Almond was a number one in 1989, was projected onto the back of the stage.
His gold teeth flashing with light on the vast screens to either side, Almond chatted good naturedly with the crowd before getting them moving with the Soft Cell classic Tainted Love.
The penultimate set was from Erasure’s Andy Bell, who had the most notable on-stage accompaniment of the day – two female dancers with ridiculous, vast blonde wigs.
Like Almond, Bell is an excellent singer and, despite having had both hips replaced, moved about energetically as he performed Erasure hits such as Always, plus lesser-known tracks and a catchy solo number, Electric Blue.
Bell’s appearance on stage was delayed briefly because of sound issues and he later mentioned that he couldn’t hear himself through his earpieces, adding: “The sound is a little strange this evening.” At one point he even asked the audience if his vocals were flat.
But he seemed good humoured throughout and, when mentioning that at events such as these reality does not always live up to expectations, he came out with probably the funniest line of the day: “Tonight I feel like Debbie Harry inside, but I look like Lulu.”
With darkness now upon the venue, Billy Ocean rounded things off with a terrific set that melded soulful depth with elements of showbiz, such as horn noises and steering wheel movements during the infectious Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car.
Backed by three female singers and with an excellent band, Ocean whipped the crowd up with generously extended versions of Loverboy, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going and Caribbean Queen.
His sublime balled Suddenly was notable by its absence – this slow number is perhaps less suited to the end-of-the-night slot at a festival – but no one was complaining at the end of his well-received performance.
Let’s Rock Norwich 2019 was a great day of nostalgia that showed that the hitmakers of the 1980s still have lots to offer. Roll on the 2020 festival.