top of page

Let's Rock Retro Festival

The Moor in Cookham 

Is Retro cool or uncool?
Does it matter when you are having such fun?

At

Unless you are in your teens, you will already be looking back with your rose tints at a time when music was better and life was a breeze. There is certainly a valid debate that will always go on till kingdom come that the "good ol' Days" were sunnier and ''didn't we have all those wonderful bands''. It's all down to your own perspective but what is true, events such as The Let's Rock Retro Festival fill a much needed chance to look back at the sights and sounds of a musical era. It's clear from my visit to Cookham in Berkshire on Saturday 20th May 2023 that the fans aren't all of a certain vintage, but a complete span of all ages on a single mission to enjoy themselves.

Festival Crowd

The sun shines for once in 2023, the weather is on our side and there is no sign of rain all day. What a joy, the revellers arrive early in huge numbers all competing for the most courageous outfits,  smiles appear on seeing a large cow jumping up and down to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, which can only convert all those cross armed sceptics who may look down their nose at anything with "Retro" in the title. Well such a Shame as Talk Talk would say, only those of a jolly disposition seem to have arrived today... thank the Lord.

Elton John Lookalike
Retro Raver

The premise is simple, green meadows with large riverside frontage giving plenty of space to create your base before wandering amongst the party goers. Evel Knievel ambles past the Hi De Hi Yellowcoats who run into Doc Brown from Back To The Future while a throng of Prince devotees pose happily for photos. This is a typical few minutes. Though we are here to focus on the music, with a single stage providing a continuous menu of acts from yesteryear. The early acts including Junior, Janet Kay and Livin Joy play a couple of songs each using the house backing band, getting the show on the road with well known hits, Silly Games (Janet Kay), Mama Used To Say (Junior) and Don't Stop Movin' (Livin' Joy).

Livin' Joy
Junior
Backing Band
Prince Devotees

Stripped down of the backing band, Blancmange as a duo enter the stage with the charismatic Neil Arthur still fronting the band. The music is stripped of the glossy padding just electronic drums and simple synth backing, they work through Feel me, Living on the Ceiling, What's the Time? and Don't Tell me delivered with Neil's cheeky charm, a great interlude to break up the pop run so far. Eighties Hair Pop returns with Tpau and Carol decker still hitting those perfect highs during their monster number one China in your Hand and for me the better song Heart and Soul. Tpau really encapsulate that later period of the 80's, mixing everything that came musically up to that point into big Poptastic anthemic productions. The huge synths, overdriven guitar and gated drum sound just purely instantly recognisable from that time.

Neil Arthur of Blancmange
Tpau
Tpau

Roland Lee Gift melts ice creams being held with his gracious velvet vocals, a gift to us all this early on in the days musical menu. He knocks out the hits one after another starting with Suspicious Minds onto Johnny Come Home, Good Thing and She Drives me Crazy all effortlessly delivered sounding as good as 1988. The Fine Young Cannibals have stood up today as an essential Pop band.

Roland Gift of The Fine Young Cannibals
Roland Gift of The Fine Young Cannibals
Space on Stage

Nik Kershaw is no stranger to these Summer soirees, he has the ammunition and skills to keep the "good times" pumping along. A songwriter with a very consistent catalogue including the number one hit for Chesney Hawkes The One and Only. Nik delivers his tracks: The Riddle, Wouldn't it be Good and I won't let the sun go down on me. He throws a curve ball with a cover of the Yazoo classic Only You. All too soon, he is departing; no problem there is much more to come.

Nik Kershaw
Nik Kershaw
Nik Kershaw

The guitar refrain to Groovy Train encourages a lot of bums off their fold up chairs, drink in hand and heading to the stage for a taste of Nineties Baggy provided by the Liverpool band The Farm. Tracks from No. 1 album Spartacus show this was a band that caught the national Ibiza Dance vibe in 1991, riding that wave up to their Opus Altogether Now a song with a profound message that no one can resist to singalong. Peter Hooton tells us that they play The Clash's Bankrobber as it worked well for them before, it is a superb faithful rendition and demonstrates how adaptable the band is. As with many artists of the 80's and 90's they had a hiatus from about 1996 to 2004 but it is good to see that there is a place for The Farm in 2023 and they clearly soak it up.

The Farm
The Farm
Soul II Soul

1989 was a transitional year for UK music, two debut albums arrived that year that were highly influential and gave a taste of what was to come, one of those was The Stones Roses eponymous offering and the second was Club Classics Vol. One by Soul II Soul. The sound of the drum pattern on Keep on Movin' was heard from every window permeating our minds till the whole world seemed to revolve to that beat. Jazzie B's current ensemble are perfect for the early evening sun just beginning to dip. The songs are replicated with strings and an amazing band. Faultless.

Soul II Soul
Soul II Soul
Soul II Soul

Kim Wilde masters the crowd immediately, her following has never waned throughout her consistent career along with sibling Ricky. The pair treat us to Cambodia, View from a Bridge and her wonderful cover of The Supremes You keep me Hangin' on. Kim credits her brother who has been a huge part of her success, being the songwriter of her most well known songs; bowing out with You Came and Kids of America which sandwich a cover of the Dead or Alive classic You Spin me Round (Like a Record)

Kim Wilde
Kim Wilde
Kim Wilde
Kim Wilde

As the daylight begins to fade Bob Geldof joins his Boomtown Rats to give us a raucous show, he can be marmite but tonight it is agreed he is pure Chilly Jam, writhing and cavorting across the stage, producing a textbook frontman's masterclass. His vocals are spot on, a run of the classic early singles - like Clockwork, I don't like Mondays, She's So Modern, Diamond Smiles, Looking After No.1 and they finish on a song from their last 2020 album simply called The Boomtown Rats. By this time the crowd are bouncing along with Bob and he can see his work is done, this is the Bob Geldof we like, long may he reign.

The Boomtown Rats
The Boomtown Rats
The Boomtown Rats
The Boomtown Rats
The Boomtown Rats
The Boomtown Rats

Finally the bright lights and colourful back screen are ready for OMD. Andy Mclusky complete with bass launches into Electricity and from then on, no looking back, the usual high level performance from Andy and Paul who must kick themselves having such a list of songs to pick from. The sound and lighting for OMD is superb as it was for all the artists today, OMD sign off with Enola Gay .... what more could you wish for?

Crowd
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

The Festival ends for 2023, no fear there are more spread to come around the UK throughout the coming Summer with locations in Wales, Leeds, Scotland, Shrewsbury, Norwich, North East, Exeter and Southampton  all getting the retro experience. Each Festival day will have a variation of the artists above plus many others. 

 Take a look at the link:  Let's Rock Retro Festival

 Above all if you venture out to one of the dates relax, smile, eat drink and enjoy

Photography - Dan Reddick

Review - Dan Reddick

bottom of page