Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Celebrating the Best of British with Britfest 2024

2024 is the first year for Britfest, a Cheshire based celebration of all things British, from iconic bands and cultural icons to fish and chips and rain, which failed to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of families who gathered to enjoy a weekend of fabulous entertainment.

With a main stage featuring the headline acts, a smaller stage with a variety of bands and other entertainers, a ‘Mindful Meadow’ offering yoga and wellbeing sessions and a glamping village, Britfest seems to be positioning itself as the Glastonbury of the North. There was certainly plenty of space, plenty of variety and easy access to a well-managed weekend with a wonderfully happy and convivial atmosphere.

Compèred by TV and radio presenters Jenny Powell and Mike Toolan, the three days seem carefully planned out to target particular age groups. The Friday line-up included Dodgy, Reef, Starsailor, The Feeling, The Lottery Winners and Scouting for Girls. Saturday saw the 80s brought to life with dizzying pace as eleven iconic artists thrilled the crowd who responded in kind. Sunday visited the 90s with the likes of The South, The Christians, Toploader, Tunde from The Lighthouse Family and Heather Small.

Saturday’s musical entertainment was complemented by two uniquely British stars - Timmy Mallet and Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards. The madcap quirkiness and diehard resilience of these two do a good job of summing up what it means to be British in these modern times and Eddie’s ‘never give up on your dreams’ message came across as beautifully authentic and sincere.

Saturday’s show was packed with songs that would make anyone of any age shout “I know that one!” whilst running for the dance floor. First on stage was Hot Chocolate. Original lead singer Errol Brown sadly passed away in 2015 so Kennie Simon has stepped in to the role with suitably slick style. Sultry disco favourites such as ‘Everyone’s a Winner’, ‘It Started With a Kiss’ and of course, ‘You Sexy Thing’ got the growing crowd warmed up on what had been a chilly start to the British summer’s day.

One of the challenges of such a broad and varied festival is the time taken to switch the stage over between bands. Second stages can fill in the gaps but many people don’t want to do that much walking and try as they might, the audience can only endure so many ice creams. The Britfest organisers solved this in a way that was both smart and entertaining by having one band supporting the next seven artists. The work involved in learning and rehearsing so many diverse songs really paid off and maintained a fabulous level of energy for both the artists and the crowd who by now were in full 80s mode with day-glo outfits, sequins, sparkles, crazy sunglasses and even full fancy dress with one fan giving a very good Freddie Mercury impression.

Owen Paul kicked off the medley with a Simple Minds cover, the anthem ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ and followed up with his 1986 hit ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’. A short set but one which definitely set the tone and showed off his skill at working the crowd. Next, Carol Decker of T’Pau strutted out her stylish version of the band’s best known hits, including ‘China in Your Hand’ and ‘Heart and Soul’.

With a quick intro from the hosts, late 80s pocket powerhouse and 1993 Eurovision runner-up Sonia spiced things up with a short selection including her Stock, Aitken and Waterman production ‘You’ll Never Stop Me Loving You’ and her Eurovision entry ‘Better the Devil You Know’.

The fast turnaround of artists slowed with one of the 80s biggest names in smoochy, soulful pop, Paul Young. More than a few people in the audience audibly swooned as he strode onto the stage, such was his heart-throb status back in the day. Mixing originals with the soul covers that he was best known for, he opened with ‘Love of the Common People’, originally released in 1967 by The Four Preps. Marvin Gaye’s Wherever I Lay My Hat’, ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ ‘Come Back and Stay’ and ‘Every Time You Go Away’ followed in quick succession, delivered through a stylish and polished performance.

The pace picked up again with two shorter sets; The Real Thing and Deniece Pearson of Five Star fame. The Real Thing are often mistaken for an American soul/R’n’B group but in fact hail from Liverpool. Their transatlantic sound translated well for the Britfest crowd with hits such as ‘Can You Feel the Force?’, ‘You to Me Are Everything’ and ‘Can’t Get By Without You’.

Five Star were a 1980s group of five siblings, managed by their father in the image of the Jackson 5 and known as much for their dance routines as for their music. Deniece keeps the dream alive with a strong, energetic performance of such hits as ‘System Addict’, ‘Stay Out of My Life’, ‘The Slightest Touch’ and ‘Can’t Wait Another Minute’.

As twilight began to descend, the day’s light, upbeat, medley style show gave way to three longer, more serious sets in a three part grand finale.

First, jazz-pop icon and songwriting legend Nik Kershaw got the biggest cheer of the day with a set that would be familiar to anyone who has seen his frequent live shows over the past few years. Although he continues to record new material, he doesn’t shy away from the crowd-pleasers that first led to his success. Although his own singles such as ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’, ‘The Riddle’ and ‘I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ have enjoyed much chart success, his only UK number one was achieved with a song that he wrote but which was recorded by Chesney Hawkes - ‘The One and Only’. It’s a song that Kershaw has taken ownership of during his live shows and which thousands of people at Britfest were only to happy to sing along to. Overall, the meticulous performance that you would expect from someone who has been writing, recording and playing live for over 40 years.

The house band finally got a well-earned break as they made way for Kim Wilde, the most charted female solo artist of the 1980s, with 17 top 40 singles, many of which she performed live, including ‘Chequered Love’, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, ‘You Came’, and her debut release ‘Kids in America’. Wilde’s early songwriting influences of OMD, Ultravox, Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Stranglers are evident in her raw yet glamorous stage presentation, mixing 80s punk styling with Marilyn Monroe pouting.

Headlining the Saturday show was Bonnie Tyler, the husky voiced Welsh soft-glam-rock star who has been singing live for nigh on 50 years. That amount of experience set the stage for an energetic, punchy set of classics and soft rock ballads that would fill the floor for the last dance in even the toughest of clubs.

From the sultry ‘Lost in France’ to the swashbuckling ‘Holding Out for a Hero’, the hits came strong and fast. ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’, a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover, was an interesting change of pace and the platinum 1983 number one ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ had everyone singing along long into the night.

All in all, a perfectly crafted and organised show which more than met the organisers aim to showcase “the best of British talent, cuisine and tradition”. Britfest has been such a success that dates for 2025 are already announced as 4th, 5th and 6th of July.

Peter Freeth

Instagram @genius.photo.pf

Web genius.photo

Images: Peter Freeth

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