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Chilfest 2017 Review Posted on Fri 4th August 2017

A wonderful day of 80's classics at this rather excellent festival

In the space of 12 months I managed to tick off seeing three of my all-time favourite bands live. The fact that two of those lifelong ambitions occurred at Chilfest is testament to the quality of line-up and credibility of this increasingly popular July festival in leafy Hertfordshire.

A year ago The Human League topped the Chilfest bill (tick one); at the start of this summer I had to head a few stops down the Metropolitan Line to see ELO at Wembley (tick two); then, on July 8, it was the turn of OMD to headline at Chilfest 2017 (tick three).

The portents were not good for Chilfest 2017. The long-range weather forecast was predicting a break in what had been a truly balmy early summer: at worst we could expect rain, at best it would be overcast with the odd sunny spell.

Totally wrong.

It was a flipping scorcher. As the crowd of largely 30 to 50-somethings formed a queue as orderly as they’d teach their kids to, sunblock was already being applied, the shades were out and for those of us not blessed with a fringe or even a receding hairline, it was baseball caps on.

The Chilfest venue is very nice indeed. Nestled away in fields surrounded by the Chiltern Hills, the non-locals would probably only have known the small market town of Tring as a stop their train to Euston whizzed through. Yet with this being the fifth year of Chilfest, it is now becoming known for this really rather excellent festival which has – in its short lifetime – seen the likes of Rick Astley, Tony Hadley, Jason Donovan, Billy Ocean and the aforementioned Human League added to its alumni.

Chilfest has had different iterations since 2013. It’s been two days of pop and 80’s; two days of reggae/soul and 80’s and, in 2017, a single but noticeably extended day of pure 80s indulgence.

With a longer day came an extended arena: an extra field at the back of the venue allowed all the drink and food outlets to be moved to their own home, and also allowed for the addition of a silent disco (which, given the searing heat, actually became a welcome place of shade).

The devoted Chilfest following (it’s got its own Facebook page, us middle-agers like a Facebook page) had snapped up all the tickets well before July 8, and the excellent communication from the organisers meant we all knew running times, food outlets, shuttle buses to the station and even how to snap up a ‘VIP toilet pass’.

The afternoon/evening/night began with Mari Wilson – minus the famous beehive but still boasting a cracking voice. She did really great justice to covers of Nancy Sinatra and Dusty Springfield, and of course she rounded off with her own big hit, Just What I Always Wanted.

The staging changes between acts were very slick, meaning the downtime from one set to the next was kept to a minimum. The organisers have had various ‘hosts’ over the years: Keith Chegwin did a couple and – in my opinion at least – he did a really good job. For whatever reason, this year former Tiswas presenter Sally James was doing the ‘link ups’. Unless I misjudged the general mood, I’d be surprised if she got a second invite. Little charisma, often reading from a card and doing little more than introducing the acts, she added little to proceedings. Far more welcome was the DJ who filled more of the gaps with some classic pop: a field full of adults doing the YMCA never fails to amuse.

Second act up were The Real Thing. You know what you’re going to get with The Real Thing: soulful vocals and a line in patter and audience encouragement that Ms James could do well to learn from. They certainly had the audience singling along very quickly, and You To Me Are Everything is one of those timeless classics.

For me, the winner of the ‘You Surprised Me The Most’ category was Roland Gift, former frontman of the Fine Young Cannibals and still in possession of that very distinctive vocal that made hits like Johnny Come Home so popular. I’m not sure why he surprised me or what I was expecting: I just remember making a mental note that I’d happily see him again because he exceeded what I anticipated. His version of Suspicious Minds was a belter.

One of my all-time favourite 80s tracks is Temptation, so when the initial line-up announcement for Chilfest 2017 included Heaven 17, I was delighted. Not surprisingly, it was the track they played last and – if my sad ability to remember different mixes serves me well – it was veering more to the Brothers in Rhythm remix which was a big positive. I was impressed by the camaraderie between Martin Ware and Glenn Gregory: it’s so much more enjoyable watching a band when you believe they are actually enjoying being there as much as you are. It was a set that also reminded me how good Come Live With Me is, and also included a quitter superb and unique cover of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.

I’d seen Midge Ure a few years before at Chilfest, and knowing how good he was then meant he was a welcome returnee. In fact, I went out and purchased an Ultravox greatest hits compilation on the back of seeing him before (praise indeed). Vienna is another 80s classic and Midge’s performance was befitting of it – probably spurred on by the memory that Joe Dolce’s novelty hit Shaddap You Face kept it off the top of the charts in 1981.

The next hour was pure funk and soul. I’d forgotten just how good Soul II Soul were, and they really did change the tempo. In fact, the music literally didn’t stop during their set as there was always some drum beat or other, even while the legendary Jazzie B was talking to the audience. Caron Wheeler’s vocals were magnificent and Back to Life was a distinct crowd pleaser. I was pleased to be reminded just how good Get A Life was too.

The penultimate act of the day was Alexander O’Neal, who – unfortunately for him – is more often remembered these days for an ill-fated and bizarre spell in the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2015 than for his music. Sadly, he was my weak link of Chilfest 2017. A shortish set, indifferent vocals and lots of holding the mic out to the crowd just put me off. I’d looked forward to hearing Criticize live, but it wasn’t great – though to be fair, he gave a fine performance of If You Were Here Tonight.

And so to that third tick on my list – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I’m a big fan but it was no surprise, throughout their set, to hear those around me saying ‘I didn’t know I knew so many of their songs’. They’re that sort of band I suppose. Nine UK Top 20 hits, iconic tunes such as Enola Gay and Joan of Arc, and yet all too often OMD is a band name that ‘is on the tip of my tongue’ when you ask someone who sung them. Well, at Chilfest 2017, Andy McCluskey certainly sung them well. In fact, he danced them pretty well too, throwing himself around the stage as if he were, for one night at least, back in the 80s. Personal favourites for me were Tesla Girls, Forever Live and Die and Sailing on the Seven Seas.

They finished with what McCluskey described as “our fastest song”, the classic Electricity. For this fan, it certainly recharged my batteries at the end of a long, hot but ultimately brilliant day.

Article by Tesla Boy

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Last modified on: Mon 2nd October 2017

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