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From the Thames to Thailand: The selling of 1980s pop

August 15, 2013

IMG_297The bucolic English riverside town of Henley-on-Thames, where I live,  fills up this time of year with thousands of people in strange clothes: but not, this time, the boater and blazer brigade that bedecks its world-famous rowing regatta.

These tourists are Cyndi Lauper and Rick Astley wannabes – fans of 1980s pop music heading for the annual Rewind Festival, an event fast becoming an international brand. On display at the latest showing are the likes of The B52s, The Pointer Sisters, Kim Wilde, Belinda Carlisle and Nik Kershaw, all stalwarts of the 1980s pop scene.

It come close to its full capacity of 40,000 weekend or single day tickets. Many wear wild hair-dos, ’80s sunglasses and maybe the odd fluorescent tutu.

“It’s real bubble-gum stuff. If you like that era of music you are going to love it. It does what it says on the tin.”

So says said Paul Cadle, a fan who attended last year’s festival with a group of friends.

Rewind, however, is not just a musical get-together on the banks of a river in the middle of “Wind in the Willows” country. It is turning into a global business. Since setting up in Henley five years ago, Rewind Festivals have been spreading.  A second edition was set up at Scone Palace, near Perth in Scotland, and there are now three in South Africa, one in Bangkok and another in Dubai. Coming up, according to David Heartfield, chief executive officer of organisers Impresario Festivals, is a Rewind in Kuala Lumpur.

The overseas festivals attract a lot of ex-pats, Heartfield told me  but the line-up is tailored to meet local demand, including some bands that may have been popular locally but not known elsewhere. “The Asian countries have a more American version of the ’80s,” he said. “We adapt to other countries.”

Heartfield, meanwhile,  puts the spreading success of his festivals – which also include things like hot tubs, theme bars, karaoke and “silent disco” – down to pure enjoyment.

While not automatically at the top of many peoples’ list of great musical eras – include mine I have to say –  1980s pop was, at the heart of it, fun. “It’s a massive chunk of escapism,” Heartfield said. “The music tends to be more feel-good music than some of what goes out now.”

Which feeds into another factor he has unearthed. The rise of Rewind has coincided with a global financial and economic downturn similar to that taking place when 1980s music originally kicked off. “It has always mirrored the recession,” he said, presumably hoping that signs of economic recovery do not send his clients scurrying off to listen to something else.

(This is a edited version of an article I wrote for my main employer, Reuters)

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From → Music

One Comment
  1. Seb permalink

    Washed up pop stars don’t fade away… They just play Asia.

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