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Let's Rock Scotland

Let’s Rock Scotland – Steve’s festival diary

“Are we on the right bus?”

A question, seemingly genuine, from one of a gaggle of people attempting to board an already crowded vehicle while struggling with a picnic so vast the local Co-Op must have had to close early. They’re either on some kind of emergency aid mission for starving children, or – more likely – they’re off to Let’s Rock Scotland. If it’s the latter, then their query is redundant as the bus is packed with people in fluorescent legwarmers, ra-ra skirts, jackets with the sleeves rolled up and more terrible wigs than a Frankie Howerd exhibition.

Worry not, it is the right bus and soon we’re deposited in Dalkeith, where twenty thousand people are descending on the local Country Park. “Thank God we’re not the only ones dressed like this,” proclaims one of the tweens from the bus, clearly fearful that she would be the only one forced into neon leggings and chunky plastic jewellery. Various levels of commitment to the cause are on display, from me in my subtle Back To The Future-referencing T-shirt, through numerous authentic “FRANKIE SAY” and “CHOOSE LIFE” shirts (and at least one which has been brilliantly defaced to read “CHOOSE FIFE”), to the full-on fancy dress lunacy that sees Hulk Hogan vying for position with Rambo as we approach the park. After the most routine of searches by the friendly security staff, we’re in – and immediately confronted with hordes of hi-vis charity people collecting money for Child Bereavement. They will be wandering back and forth through the crowd all day; a perfectly British wet blanket over the day’s festivities lest anyone should become guilty of enjoying themselves too much.

Swerving the do-gooders, we set our picnic blanket down in a likely spot within sight of the stage. Somewhere nearer the front Laura Clay is getting a better view, but ten minutes later, as the park fills with people, it becomes obvious that although we can see the video screens and the scaffolding, we can’t actually see the stage itself. Too late to move now though, as our genial hosts Pat Sharp and Dave Benson Phillips take to the stage. At least, we assume they’ve taken to the stage, but they never appear on the video screens at any point during the day, so for all we know they might be hosting the show while sitting on the toilet with a couple of radio mics. Regardless, they go about their business, swapping jibes about Fun House and Get Your Own Back, and dishing out useful advice to the audience such as “don’t forget to drink lots of water,” “don’t forget to go to the toilet” and “don’t forget to put sunscreen on.” These are roundly ignored; with beer selling at £4.50 for a 300ml bottle we’ve little choice but to drink water, we know how to use the lavatory and sunscreen? Don’t be daft, Dave, you’re in Scotland now.

Useful advice dispensed, it’s on with the show. Of course we open with what might be politely referred to as the “lower end” of the bill, as the house band accompanies a dizzying parade of acts with a smaller number of hits to their name. Fuzzbox open the show with International Rescue and Pink Sunshine, before they’re ushered off to make way for Brother Beyond’s Nathan Moore, who does his hit and is sidelined in favour of Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow, then Peter Coyle from the Lotus Eaters, then finally Hazell Dean, and we’ve dealt with about a third of the artists on the bill in the first twenty minutes. A little harsh on anyone who came to see any of those acts, especially given some of the following performers who are allowed a full set. I’m looking at you, Modern Romance.

Or am I? I’m assured that’s who’s on stage, but the hirsute trumpeter certainly isn’t John Du Prez and the singer in the beige waistcoat and slacks combo certainly doesn’t look anything like Geoff Deane. In fact it’s Andy Kyriacou, who was the drummer in the band’s most famous line-up and the only thing resembling an original member. He joined the band after their first hit Everybody Salsa, but that doesn’t stop him and his band performing it along with the virtually identical Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey, Don’t Stop That Crazy Rhythm and Best Years Of Our Lives. A full four-song set, then, to the chagrin of Fuzzbox fans everywhere.

Clare Grogan from a very long way awayDespite being introduced as a Eurovision winner, a Waves-less Katrina elects to play two songs nobody knows, before settling into Going Down to Liverpool and the inevitable Walking on Sunshine, leaving the scene without even a chorus of Love Shine a Light. Time to up the ante as thousands of “gentlemen of a certain age” stand to attention for Clare Grogan and Altered Images. She leads her new band through obvious hits I Could Be Happy and Don’t Talk To Me About Love as well as unexpected first hit Dead Pop Stars and a stab at Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off before closing with the inevitable Happy Birthday and a lusty cry of “Let’s get pished!” Meanwhile I’m shamelessly attempting to make my Off The Chart co-host Julian (who couldn’t make it today) jealous with a photo of me with Clare, even if I’m half a mile from the stage and she’s just an indistinct image on one of the video screens. It still worked.

Next to the stage is Nick Heyward, who wisely avoids the unpleasant “Here’s a song from my new album” scenario with a couple of solo hits and three Haircut 100 classics. For some reason the organisers have seen fit to schedule the dreaded Black Lace Conga Party next; in a flash, thousands of revellers opt out of the attempt to form “the biggest conga line in the world” and form the world’s biggest queue for the lavatories instead. Meanwhile two chancers in Hawaiian shirts and unforgivable white trousers perform all of Black Lace’s biggest hits and, inexplicably, a version of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. Do The Conga is their choice of set closer, by which time spontaneous conga lines have broken out, some of them almost six people in length. It’s said that Black Lace’s Colin Gibb invoked the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rules to have certain allegations about his past removed from Google; if only they’d let us forget their crimes against music in the same way.

Following that thoughtfully provided comfort break, Heaven 17 are next with a set of hits and should-have-been-hits. Opening with 1981 début (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang – now depressingly topical again – they apply a subtly updated sheen to Come Live With Me, Penthouse and Pavement, Let Me Go and a lengthy intro that eventually resolves itself into Temptation to the delight of the crowd. After a lengthy pause Nik Kershaw turns up for a set apparently plagued by technical issues – the sound mix, at least from where I’m standing, leaves something to be desired but Nik powers through Wide Boy, The Riddle and Don Quixote regardless. The problems certainly aren’t a worry for the enthusiastic pink-shirted reveller who’s somehow made his way to a spot by the barrier in front of me, as he executes a vigorous Bez-style dance and punches the air as he bellows along to the chorus of Wouldn’t It Be Good in a most inappropriate manner. Despite the problems, a closing volley of The One and Only and I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me ensures Nik leaves the stage with the crowd on his side.

By now, I have to admit I’m starting to flag a little. Although Let’s Rock prides itself on being a family friendly festival, my 11 year old Mini-Me has lost what little interest she had to begin with and Mrs B has temporarily left the site to take her home. Meanwhile I’m left to dwell on my failure as a parent (although she does like David Bowie, so that’s something, but sadly Bowie is unable to be here today), the foolishness of not bringing the camping chairs and the possibility that Dave Benson Phillips had a point about sunscreen after all. Never mind, Go West are up next with a set that swings wildly between hits from their début album, some underwhelming post-1990 material, a bewildering cover of Hungry Like The Wolf, a rather better received cover of Sex On Fire and the megahit King of Wishful Thinking, all of which are greeted with equal enthusiasm by Mr Pink Shirt who’s still dancing, still punching the air and occasionally bellowing inappropriate lines into the face of his partner, the kind of woman you see described in newspaper stories as “long-suffering”.

Mrs B returns a couple of songs into Midge Ure’s set and, glory be, she’s brought the camping chairs with her! We settle into comparative luxury as Midge reminds us what an important figure he is in popular music, with a set taking in Ultravox hits like Love’s Great Adventure and Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, his solo number one If I Was and Visage’s Fade To Grey. Sadly my shout for Forever and Ever goes unheeded, but a crowd pleasing Vienna makes up for it and Midge’s performance might just be the best received set of the day. He’s followed on stage by Tony Hadley, a man in a difficult position: having left the reformed Spandau Ballet last year, he now has to try for a second time to establish himself as a solo artist and garner interest in his new album, when all anyone wants to hear is the Spandau hits. Immediately he blunders into the trap of interleaving the familiar songs with tracks from his new album, which are politely tolerated by the crowd. At least he has the decency to finish with True (although he doesn’t bring Clare Grogan on, thus missing a glorious opportunity to troll Gary Kemp) and Gold, which is all anyone really wanted to hear anyway.

"Hulk Hogan" at Let's Rock ScotlandDuring the post-Hadley lull we decide to grab some food, not that there’s much left by this time, but as we queue for the last remaining burgers we’re treated to a well marinated slab of prime gammon having a meltdown as his other half dares to order a cup of coffee. “This is why we lost the empire!” he bellows, because clearly civilisation began to collapse the moment we stopped drinking tea seventeen times a day. Yeah, okay mate. No time for remonstrations, I want to get back to my spot in time for ABC. No chance of that though, as it takes a good fifteen minutes to carve our way back through the sea of now quite drunk people without spilling burger everywhere, and Martin Fry is well into his set by the time we do. Again there’s a brief dalliance with new material, but it’s from The Lexicon of Love II so it’s mostly forgivable and doesn’t jar too harshly with Poison Arrow and The Look of Love – not as much as a welcome but unexpected airing for How To Be A Millionaire does, anyway. Mr Pink Shirt – who must have downed about £50 worth of overpriced lager by this stage – doesn’t like this one very much because he can’t punch the air and bellow the lyrics into his partner’s face, but he can do exactly that during All of My Heart. Mr Pink Shirt is starting to annoy me.

Up next, an unexpected item in the nostalgic bagging area. On paper Marc Almond seems an odd choice for second top of the bill at a retro festival, as an artist who still commands a dedicated following but has a distinct lack of mass appeal beyond those first five Soft Cell hits and a couple of successful covers as a solo artist. Once on stage, however, he doesn’t seem out of place, mixing smaller hits like Tears Run Rings and The Idol with The Days of Pearly Spencer and the inevitable Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart. Sadly he doesn’t bring Dave Ball out to preempt the imminent Soft Cell reunion/farewell show, but he does acknowledge his roots with a quick blast through Bedsitter and even brings Jacques Brel to a festival crowd via his hit version of Jacky. Then there’s a quick “Thanks, goodnight!” as he pretends to leave the stage without doing his biggest hit, the cheeky scamp. In fact we’re treated to the full 12″ version as Tainted Love segues into Where Did Our Love Go and back again over the course of about ten minutes. And he’s not finished yet: there’s still time for Say Hello Wave Goodbye with the crowd in full chorus, and a cover of T-Rex’s Hot Love to round things off.

Fireworks at Let's Rock ScotlandBy now the sun is going down, Mr Pink Shirt has disappeared (probably lying face down in a puddle of his own vomit somewhere, still dancing) but Mrs B has adopted a festival casualty. Seemingly the worse for a substance stronger than drink (but probably not much more expensive, given the bar prices), she has lost her friends, her cigarettes and, at least temporarily, her marbles. “Can I borrow your wife?” she asks. Realising that a witty Les Dawson-style response would be wasted in this situation, I say yes and Mrs B leads her off on a quest to recover at least two of her three missing items. By now the sunburn has hit and I’m starting to question my own sanity – am I warm? Am I cold? Am I really dancing with Hulk Hogan? I’m shivering, but my face and arms are hot to the touch. Only one thing for it, and that’s to start dancing and singing along to headline act Billy Ocean. Fortunately he’s happy to facilitate both of these activities, allowing the crowd to belt out chorus after chorus of Love Really Hurts Without You, Red Light Spells Danger and When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going with the minimum of interference. There’s no room for Billy’s ballads here, it’s strictly uptempo singalong fare as Loverboy and Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car bring the day to a close. Fireworks shoot into the air and thousands of rubber people stagger for the exits. We’ll all be back next year, older but hopefully wiser – when Dave Benson Phillips tells you to put on sunscreen, you’d better listen.

Let’s Rock Scotland: Dalkeith Country Park, 23 June 2018

Billy Ocean at Let's Rock Scotland

Since Rewind is brilliant, I couldn’t resist giving another retro festival a go, especially with such a stellar lineup as Let’s Rock. Joining me in this new adventure was regular festival buddy Sarah, long-suffering husband Pete, and new gig pal … read more