Thetford Forest stepped back in time over the weekend as it celebrated some of the best chart music of the past 30 years with concerts on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday it was Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott who served up the goods. Heaton first came to prominence in the 80s with Hull’s self-proclaimed “fourth best band”, the Housemartins, before going on to making easy-listening pop with A-levels with the Beautiful South. This set included both music from recent Heaton and Abbott albums and from way back when.
Among tracks delighting those of us who loved the Housemartins’ bitter-sweet mix of bright pop songs and biting socially-aware lyrics, were Caravan of Love, I Can’t Quite Put My Finger On It, Five Get Over Excited, Happy Hour and the sublime Build (perhaps more relevant today than when it was penned).
Highlights from the Beautiful South’s catalogue included the opener, Old Red Eyes is Back and went on to include Rotterdam and You Keep It All In.
Although Heaton is the dominant presence on stage, this is very much a partnership. Abbott is a superb vocalist who really transforms such potentially coarse material as Don’t Marry Him ... into a rousing crie-de-coeur.
A fine evening, with Paul only marginally distracted by the TV showing the Italy v Germany match on the side of the stage and much enlivened by some giant balloons released into the mosh pit for the encore.
The following night saw a notably bigger audience was really up with it as Simply Red appeared. Mick Hucknall announced this as a celebration of 31 years of hits, and that was very much what it was, with little in the way of new material.
The Right Thing, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, It’s Only Love, Something Got Me Started, Stars, Fairground, Your Mirror, Night Nurse were among the highlights. The poignancy of Holding Back The Years (“a song I wrote in my bedroom when I was 17”, Mick told us) was well served by a stripped back acoustic start. The encore had to be Money To Tight To Mention.
The audience loved it (particularly Mick’s spot-on Barry White impersonation). The band were tight and Hucknall’s soaring voice remains a wonder. Transforming soul-lite into something magical.