Is there another 1980s revival going on? Aside from the fact that the charts are full with synthpop, the BBC has just dedicated a whole night of programming to the decade that began with punk and ended with Stock Aitken and Waterman, and its ultimate icon Princess Diana seems to be ruling the Twitterverse from heaven. Perhaps the 1980s is the decade that we all laugh at but can’t get enough of.
So while the faded pop stars of 25 years ago can regularly be found touring civic halls and university freshers’ balls, it seemed oddly zeitgeisty to find a bunch of them on stage at the IndigO2, for a fundraising gig organised by learning disability charity Mencap.
The night was compred by Nik Kershaw, or a man who didn’t look anything like how Nik Kershaw used to look but had the same unmistakeable voice. He did a good job in charge, cracking sardonic witticisms la Jack Dee and breaking each of the acts up with his own songs, generally performed alone with a guitar.
So which other timewarp treats were in store for us tonight? Well, flame-haired Liverpudlian ballad belter Carol Decker of T’Pau was on fine form, beginning the evening by announcing that she was “mad as a box of frogs”, and was glad tonight was for Mencap as she’d be needing them herself soon. Not only wonderfully inappropriate but entirely inaccurate as to what Mencap does. Good old Decker.
The cunning lingustics in the event’s title provided that most of the acts performed with a house band that included a pianist, a three-piece horn section (sax essential for *that* bit in Decker’s China In Your Hand) and a couple of superb backing singers. The only act that diverged was China Crisis who stuck to their own formation.
Other highlights were Steve Strange, who managed to not fall off the stage while singing Fade To Grey, and a crowd-pleasing Howard Jones, taking requests and bigging up his age-old rivalry with Kershaw.
However the night really came to life when Jimmy Somerville turned the venue into a big gay disco with the four songs you’d want to hear from him. In case you were wondering what those would be, they’re You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), Why?, Don’t Leave Me This Way and the highlight of the whole evening, a wildly emotional Smalltown Boy with Jimmy accompanied solely by the pianist. He recently released a new album of torch song interpretations of songs by acts including Blondie and The Psychadelic Furs but there was no sign of hustling for new business tonight.
Similarly, tonight’s headliner Andy Bell (of Erasure) has a new solo album ready for release, but instead stuck to 1980s Erasure tunes. Trotting out tracks from Circus and The Innocents and up to 1989’s Blue Savannah, his set served as a reminder of the good work he and Vince Clarke did all those years ago.
The 1980s undoubtedly threw up a lot of the best nuggets of pop gold, and while there are likely better ’80s line-ups out there than this, the night was well put together and it was an attractive twist to hear these pop standards performed without electronics or backing tracks. As Nik Kershaw ended with Wouldn’t It Be Good, a song lyrically appropriate for tonight’s fundraising appeal against inequality, it was good. It was an evening stuck in the past, but it was an entertaining past.