Review: Let’s Rock Wales, Bute Park, Cardiff

Andy Howells visits Cardiff’s Bute Park for a day of retro pop as Let’s Rock Wales plays host to Soft Cell, Wet Wet Wet, Tony Hadley, Nik Kershaw, Nathan Moore, Clare Grogan and many more!

A Sunkissed Bute Park on the last Saturday in May was the scene for all things 80s, as music fans near and far came together for the 2923 Let’s Rock Wales music event. Although this year’s Cardiff location was more central than the previous year’s Tredegar Park in Newport, it did seem smaller in comparison, but that didn’t seem to stop many visitors basking in the sunshine and enjoying the great music on offer.

The playlist performers kicked off just before midday as artists Heatwave and Livin’ Joy stormed through brief sets to get the arriving crowds going. We arrived as Junior’s Mama Used To Say echoed over the treetops. We had arrived just in time to catch sets from Blancmange and Altered Images’ Clare Grogan, both of which were on my “must-see” list. For the best part of an hour, I was in 1982, back in my teens, soaking up the synth sounds of Blancmange performing Living on the Ceiling followed by the pure pop of Clare Grogan singing I Could Be Happy, Don’t Talk To Me about Love and Happy Birthday.

We were delighted to spot a few friends during the day and make a few new ones too. I was particularly impressed by Lorna and Jo who had travelled from London and were doing their second Let’s Rock festival in as many weeks. There were also a variety of music fans adorning costumes in the style of Madonna to cartoon hero Bananaman.

Ducking into the shade of the VIP tent, the entertainment continued as we poured a glass of prosecco and enjoyed three sets from Nathan Moore of Brother Beyond. A true star, Nathan bubbles with both enthusiasm and energy, knowing how to get a crowd to enjoy themselves. As dwellers and security guards took to the platform to dance and sing with Nathan on The Harder I Try and He Ain’t No Competition, DJ Tim controlled the decks, making the fun contagious! This was similarly repeated for the wier stage later on as Nathan took to the Let’s Rock stage!

Meanwhile outside, the all-star line-up rattled through at the pace of a record deck auto-change as the audience lapped up a who’s who of 80s acts. Hue and Cry were performing with a Labour of Love, Leee John’ s Imagination reminded us that going back to the 80s was Just an Illusion, Sonia Never Stopped Loving You and Five Star’s Deniece had us dancing with The Slightest Touch.

By late afternoon, the longer sets kicked in. Nik Kershaw, wasn’t going to let the sun go down on him and probably got the strongest sun rays on the stage as his band took us through The Riddle, Wouldn’t It Be Good, a cover of Yazoo’s Only You and Nik’s No.1 composition The One and Only.

Then, Go West fired through a collection of hits including We Close Our Eyes and The King of Wishful Thinking before Tony Hadley delighted with a selection of Spandau Ballet tracks from Gold to True demonstrating he still had voice and strong stage presence.

As the sun began to dim, Wet Wet Wet ensured the festival atmosphere continued. Featuring founder members Graeme Clark and Graeme Duffin, plus vocalist Kevin Simm, the 7 strong band raised the bar further with a selection of electric and brass fused pop including Wishing I Was Lucky, Temptation, With a Little Help From My Friends, Goodnight Girl and Love Is All Around. Despite a few audience members questioning “Where’s Marti?”, the Wets demonstrated they (as Jo from London described) “are the business!”. I certainly loved both the energy and charisma of The Wets set (as well as Kevin Simm’s vocals) and would love to catch them live again when they tour along with Go West next year!

Let Rock Wales climaxed with Soft Cell arriving on the stage shortly after 9.30pm. The echoes of Torch, Bedsitter and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye accompanied many who made early departures from Bute Park to catch their last trains home or avoid traffic, while those who remained were treat to a medley of Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go.

A non-stop pop trip – Let’s Rock remains Simply the Best day out, Rain or Shine!

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