Revival events are nothing new with many bands reforming to play to the nostalgia market years after their heyday. Some acts find a new lease of life after taking extended breathers and continue on while for others, they really are playing to the fans made during their prime.
With events such as Rewind Festival tapping the huge 1980s music market, it was only a matter of time until the music of my early adulthood – Britpop – got the revival treatment. And who better to put on such events that 1990s-themed club promoter, Star Shaped.
Kicking off life just last year, the 2016 Star Shaped Festival was a relatively small affair. Held at North London’s Garage venue, the line-up included The Bluetones, Republica’s Saffron, The Seahorses’ frontman Chris Helme and Shed Seven among others. This year saw the festival expand to a four-date touring event at larger O2 venues.
But how does a one-day festival at an indoor club venue actually work? With doors opening at 2pm, a live band curfew of 11pm and Star Shaped Club DJs keeping things going until up to 3am (2am at today’s O2 Forum show in London), I went along to find out. First things first, is there any food? Well no. But re-entry to the venue is allowed until 7pm and it’s a short walk to Kentish Town’s finest Pret or Sainsbury’s Local for a sandwich. It’s a hot club with banging tunes, there must be water right? Well yes, at £3 a bottle. But you get £1.30 off a two pint cup of lager. So no food, expensive water and discounted large containers of beer on offer alongside your favourite Britpop-era cocktails … right.
First up on stage at 3pm are the newly reformed Salad, or Salad Undressed (pardon the pun) as they’re now styled as a duo of frontwoman and former MTV presenter Marijne Van Der Vlugt and guitarist Paul Kennedy. “Welcome to Star Shaped 2017” Van Der Vlugt said to cheers. Speaking of the North London venue she continued “The last time we were here we were supporting Blur in 1994” before kicking off with 1994 single Planet In The Ocean.
1995 single Granite Statue had Van Der Vlugt pull out a blue melodica to add an extra dimension to the duo’s stripped-back sound. They continued on to play a 12-song, 40-minute set which garnered a mixed reaction from the festival’s early arrivers with the 52-year-old frontwoman closing by promising to return with a full band as part of Indie Daze, another retro music event at the same venue on October.
A quick stage changeover and 30 minutes later we have the Jake Shillingford-fronted My Life Story taking the stage, the 51-year-old’s flamboyant style in full force as he bounds about the stage, resting one foot on monitors and making us feel his full rock star force as the band break into Breathe In/Breathe Out from Shillingford’s post My Life Story project Exile Inside.
1997 single The King Of Kissdom has the slowly filling venue audience nodding along knowingly with some hardcore fans singing along enthusiastically. “I worked out that my star jumps used to be at quarter past nine, now they’re at 20 past seven” Shillingford jokes … at 4.10pm before the troupe break into debut album Mornington Crescent cut Motorcade.
I must confess, I miss the rest of the My Life Story’s set as I leave the venue is search of a late lunch/early dinner in Kentish Town, eventually settling for a stop at the purveyors of fine sourdough pizzas – Franco Manca.
I have to choose wisely when to take my break of course given the Britpop legends that are still to play. And there isn’t a Britpop club night around worth its salt that doesn’t play a tune or two from the next band to grace The Forum’s stage – Dodgy. Kicking off with 1996 single In A Room, the Hounslow rockers immediately have the Star Shaped crowd bobbing along to their radio-friendly sound.
Next up, frontman Nigel Clark introduces the album opener from 2016 (yep, last year) album What Are We Fighting For, You Give Drugs A Bad Name, the first of four cuts from more recent material mixed into a set otherwise pulled from their 1990s heyday.
But it is hit single Good Enough from third record Free Peace Sweet that gets the biggest cheer of the festival so far with the crowd immediately singing and swaying along with the feel-good hit of the summer of ‘96, a feat repeated with 1994 single Staying Out For The Summer aired towards the end of Dodgy’s hour on The Forum stage.
Liverpudlian four-piece Space are up next. “Y’right?!” frontman Tommy Scott yells in his thick scouse accent as the group take up positions in near darkness, the frontman donning a faux-cowboy outfit, complete with a hat which shrouds his face in darkness, the group kicking off their hour with debut record Spiders cut Charlie M, with lyrics like ‘Love is better than your HIV or your universities’ looking to evoke a reaction from a mid-nineties audience.
Money brings along the group’s signature mixture of live and programmed drumming atop which Scott’s indistinguishable vocal performance sits ahead of 1997 single Avenging Angels from sophomore release Tin Planet. Killswitch gives us a taste from forthcoming sixth album Give Me Your Future before Mr Psycho takes us back to 1996. There’s something a little unsettling about Scott, the 53-year-old sipping at a bottle of red wine looks like he might just come loose.
The Ballad Of Tom Jones, the group’s highest charting single, has Catatonia frontwoman Cerys Matthews projected onto screens flanking the stage while her pre-recorded parts from the duet play over the PA. Sharks Be More Friendly, from the group’s forthcoming release, is introduced by Scott declaring his fear of water. Female Of The Species, Me & You Vs The World and Neighbourhood remind just how many great singles Space put out from their first two records.
But it’s evident from looking around at the audience, a mixed crowd of 30-somethings to 50-somethings, that many of them have turned up today on the promise that today might be their only chance to catch a reformed Sleeper play in London, the Louise Wener-fronted four piece having gone out in a blaze of glory some 19 years ago, playing the Brixton Academy in June 1996 before finally calling it a day in 1998. And never reforming for a single show ahead of Star Shaped Festival’s announcement earlier this year.
Walking onto stage to the Cheers TV show theme song Where Everybody Knows Your Name, the crowd warming up their vocal chords for the hour ahead, the four piece open with debut album close Pyrotechnician, the opening lyrics “Throw me your matches ‘cos I like to burn stuff” spurring fans to throw matches towards the stage before the song takes flight, propelling the crowd to start their relentless pogoing.
“Hello Star Shaped London people, you look gorgeous!” Wener yells. “It’s been a long time and you haven’t changed a bit” she continues, a little tongue in cheek. “You look delicious” she smirks, introducing 1994 single Delicious. The hits continue thick and fast, The It Girl’s opener Lie Detector following on seamlessly from the hit album’s lead single What Do I Do Know?
Statuesque rolls into 1995 single Vegas (my personal favourite) and the crowd are visibly more engaged, be that due to the music or the copious amounts of beer consumed – which has already taken its toll on a few, one particularly legless fifty-something being carried out of a side door.
“Are you drunk enough for A tonic yet?” the 51-year-old frontwoman asks, teasing the group’s cover of Blondie hit Atomic before diving into disco tune Nice Guy Eddie, Wener making her signature shapes on stage as though she’d never been away, let alone taking a break of almost two decades.
One of the few bands to make it onto the cult soundtrack of the even more cult 1996 film Trainspotting, their cover of Blondie classic Atomic from the film airs next ahead of Smart single Inbetweener and the first of only two cuts from third studio album Pleased To Meet You, She’s A Good Girl. A three-song encore concluding with biggest hit Sale Of The Century sees Sleeper depart the stage.
“Hello people of London, we are The Bluetones band and we’d like to play you some pop songs” says ever-dry The Bluetones frontman Mark Morriss as the group kick off 2000’s Science & Nature opener Zorro, indicating to all that The Bluetones are no reformed nostalgia band but have, in fact, been going non-stop (aside from a brief spilt in 2011) since 1993.
“Well here we are, almost at the end of the live indie disco and we’re gonna kick into a proper indie disco, are you ready?” the Hounslow native chuckles. “Babysitters on high alert? Ten minutes over and they charge you for the full hour” he continues to laughs from the largely middle-aged crowd before kicking off 1995 single Bluetonic.
Touching on all but their last studio album, The Bluetones bang out a crowd-pleasing set of indie-pop tunes including hit singles Cut Some Rug and, mid-set, their biggest hit Slight Return. But somehow, the crowd aren’t quite as bouncy as they had been for Sleeper.
Does Star Shaped Festival work in this format? I’m not convinced. While fun was surely had, being limited to a dark, smallish venue for an entire August day while the sun blasts outside feels as though we’re missing out on a true festival as we watch a bunch of bands play in relative darkness – while these photos show the acts, I cranked my camera up to an ISO setting of up to a very noisy 5000 alongside slow shutter speeds reaching a blurry 1/60s (if that means anything to you).
I think this event would work far better in an outdoor space with food vendors and other activities on offer, allowing revellers to roam a little more freely while reliving their youth. Another option would be a larger venue with multiple spaces, such as Alexandra Palace or the newly opened Printworks space in East London.
Sleeper return to London for a one-off date this winter, hitting up the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 2nd December.
Live review and photos of Star Shaped Festival @ The Forum, Kentish Town by Kalpesh Patel on 5th August 2017.