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Let’s Rock the North East Festival  2021Herrington Park, Sunderland, UK
21st August 2021
Let’s Rock the North East Festival 2021 with Howard Jones, The Human League, OMD, ABC, Midge Ure’s Electronica, Heaven 17, Toyah and more…

Let’s Rock is a festival held during the summer months throughout the UK in various cities. It is a very popular festival, with many thousands of people in the crowd - attracting many of the big names to play. I attended the full day at Herrington Park, Sunderland, but will only cover the bands that will appeal to followers of Reflections of Darkness (or that I personally like, ha ha!).


TOYAH - actor, musician and singer - a multi-talented lady of striking appearance. Eight Top-40 UK hits include ‘It’s a Mystery’, ‘Thunder in the Mountains’ and ‘I Want to be Free’. A very short set just after lunch. The day had started with rain and various acts of dubious quality (excepting GO WEST, not my cup of tea, but a good band who deserved to be higher on the bill). It was not a good start for me listening to BLACK LACE doing their ‘Agadoo’ and ‘Congo’ songs, so I was looking forward to TOYAH. The rain was lighter, but TOYAH was sharing the same band as the previous poor band RETROBATES and BLACK LACE, I felt like the clouds would never lift. However my worries didn’t last long - with TOYAH at the front it turns out the band was pretty good. As always TOYAH comes out with her normal explosion of energy. How is a lady of this age so full of dynamism? I’m a decade younger and wish I had half of what she bundles together for her gigs! Looking amazing, she still has everything that made her appealing in the 1980s. As per usual for the this type of crowd, and a short set-list, all the hits were played - ‘She’s a Mystery’, ‘I Want To Be Free’, ‘Good Morning Universe’, ‘Echo Beach’ and ‘Thunder in the Mountains’.

Music: 9
Performance: 9
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9 / 10

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Heaven 17

After half of the HUMAN LEAGUE departed company, HEAVEN 17 were born. Taking a very different route to the early HUMAN LEAGUE they weren’t afraid to be political and had a musical direction that mixed very different elements into the electronic mix. Their biggest hit in the UK was ‘Temptation’ - others include ‘Come Live with me’, ‘(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ and ‘Crushed by the Wheels of Industry’. I was lucky enough to be backstage and meet up with Glenn and Martyn before their set. As they left hospitality, walking toward the stage, I noticed they had bright blue shoe protectors on their feet. The field was quite muddy. They had a laugh and joke about their appearance, and then two minutes later I was photographing them on stage - minus the blue protectors! These guys are such good fun, and like TOYAH they are amazing to see play live. The rain had more or less stopped, the crowd was huge and the festival was stepping up a gear! Loud cheers and roars from the crowd erupted as they cheerfully blasted through their hits - they had the crowd in their hands! As usual, a fantastic set from two legends.

Music: 9
Performance: 9
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9 / 10

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Midge Ure’s Electronica

Midge was the lead man in UTRAVOX and involved in THIN LIZZY, VISAGE, RICH KIDS and SLIK. He also co-wrote and produced the charity single ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas?’. With his band Electronica he concentrates on his synthesiser eras - primarily ULTRAVOX, but also VISAGE. Hits include ‘Vienna’, ‘Fade to Grey’, ‘Yellow Pearl’ (theme to TOTP’s), ‘If I was’ and ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’. The last time I saw Midge with this band I wasn’t too happy with their performance, nor the sound. Perhaps in many ways I may be a little hard to please when listening to ULTRAVOX, it’s a band that is much more than Midge Ure. The likes of the genius of Billy Curry plant a special seed in a band lucky enough to include such a special musician. Well, either this band has got it together better, or I’m settling to the idea - either way I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed this set. I felt energy and connection once more. As always Midge is on fine form, vocally he still can set the hairs on the back of your neck stand when singing the likes of ‘Vienna’. Other tracks played this afternoon included ‘Yellow Pearl’, ‘Dancing With Tears in my Eyes’ and ‘Fade to Grey’.

Music: 9
Performance: 9
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9 / 10

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Formed in Sheffield in 1980. Martin Fry, lead singer, has been the only consistent member of the band. They achieved ten top 40 hits in the UK, and their famous album ‘The Lexicon of Love’ made number one. Hmmm, another act from the era I grew up in. However, even though ABC are often quoted as been part of the synth-pop movement of the 1980s, I’ve never ever got into them. Just too poppy. Too brassy. Too cheesy. Just not me. So, I’m not the best for you to take notice of when reviewing this band. Martin Fry came on, still looking like the aging crooner he did all those years ago. Except he is now that aging crooner. Hey, he still has that voice. He still knows how to work the crowd. He has songs that the crowd went wild for. I went for a tea-break after half the set. Even from there I could hear how pleased the crowd were, just not for me - sorry guys.

Music: 5
Performance: 7
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 7.5 / 10

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The initials have generally become the better-known name for the band, the full name is ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK. Formed in 1978, and influenced (much like THE HUMAN LEAGUE) by German band KRAFTWERK. Again similarly to the festival headliner, they were pioneers in the electronic music movement in the UK, but did not have commercial success until GARY NUMAN came along with his band TUBEWAY ARMY and gave the UK its first big electronic hit single in the form of ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ In fact on Numan’s first large tour OMD were his support, giving them the commercial exposure they required to gain their first hit. Their most popular songs include ‘Enola Gay’, ‘If You Leave’, ‘Joan of Arc’, ‘Maid of Orleans’, ‘Tesla Girls’, ‘Locomotion’ and ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’. Andy McCluskey, lead singer, is the driving force behind chart smashers ATOMIC KITTEN.

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Well, unlike ABC - I love OMD! High up there in my top ten of favourite bands and was I left wondering why they weren’t headlining? Ah well, at least the HUMAN LEAGUE are a similarly important band to my ears. Andy as usual came onto stage, arms and spindly long legs swirling around like a windmill. Paul, completely the opposite, quietly takes his place, behind his keyboards! The current line-up gels so well, and tonight as usual they are enjoying themselves. By far the loudest and most enthusiastic reaction from the crowd - it’s now around 9pm and dark - the atmosphere is truly electric (not just the music). Paul of course swapped duties with Andy and to sing ‘Souvenir’ and ‘(Forever) Live and Die’ I’ve never left an OMD gig, no matter how large or small, or whatever era, feeling anything other than elevated to a high level of happiness. Another highly entertaining live show - I doubt there is anybody out there that hasn’t seen them and doesn’t think the same.

Setlist (I managed to get one)
01. Enola Gay
02. Messages
03. History of Modern (Part 1)
04. (Forever) Live and Die
05. Souvenir
06. Maid of Orleans
07. Joan of Arc
08. Talking Loud and Clear
09. Locomotion
10. Pandora’s Box
11. Sailing on the Seven Seas
12. Electricity

Music: 9.5
Performance: 9.5
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9.3 / 10

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The Human League

Formed in 1977 and eventually achieving the bands best commercial success in 1981 after half of the band left. That half of the band became HEAVEN 17, also on the bill of the festival. Their most famous hits include ‘Don’t You Want Me’, ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’, ‘Mirror Man’, ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ (although this was actually a solo track from lead singer PHIL OAKEY). It’s been a long day, but this crowd have endless energy. As the final headlining band take to the stage they are greeted by a field full of loud noise. Phil looks as cool as usual, starting off with a long black cloak, but soon warming up and stripped to a black shirt and jeans.

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The two girls stand at each side of the stage, this trio have seen it all. We have all grown up together - all old friends. These tracks have become a Soundtrack to a Generation (did you see what I did there?). This gig brings back memories, feelings and distinct nostalgia as Phil dashes from side to side of the stage. On stage he walks from side to side. A lot. It’s a bit like keeping up with an overwound clockwork toy. Anyway, the onlookers, adore him, they don’t take their eyes off him - looking into the front row it’s a bit like the crowd at a tennis match. Anyways, a brilliant end to the night, all the favourites - lapped up by everybody in the crowd. But OMD should still have had the headline!

Music: 9
Performance: 9
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 9 / 10

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Gallery: Howard Jones

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All pictures by Kevin Stevens

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