Andy Robinson revisits his youth…but with pesto couscous and a blanket.

Last weekend my wife and I had the opportunity to attend one of this summer’s premier events in Cheshire – the Tatton Park Summer Picnic Concert featuring Toyah Wilcox, Howard Jones and the headliners for the evening The Human League.  This is the type of event that my wife had always wanted to attend but I was too stingy to pay for but even I couldn’t turn down the free tickets offered to me by my brother who was unable to attend. With a couple of garden chairs borrowed from a neighbour and an above average picnic which contained pesto couscous and sharon fruit as well as sausage rolls and ham barms we made the short eleven mile trip to Knutsford down the M6 and my first worry for the evening surfaced. Why was their no traffic? Well the reason was simple and let this be a lesson to all. When you get a ticket for something, don’t read the small print – try reading the big print! It was only the gates opening at 5pm and not the start of the show!
The second mistake of the day followed shortly after when I failed to display the disability badge and ended up in a car park miles away from the concert area. My wife very bravely made the walk but there would have been no way she could have got back in the dark after the show so off I went in search of the stewards to explain. Well, helpful doesn’t even begin to cover it. The car park manager drove me back to my car and then had me follow him to the disabled parking area which was no more than 150 yards from where we had established our base camp. This was to be a feature of the event. The stewarding and the organisation to me seemed to be of an exceptionally high standard and my only real complaint was that the toilets were so far away a taxi would have come in handy to make the journey.
Finally we settled down to enjoy the food and the glorious weather that we have all enjoyed these past weeks and we got chatting to some of the staff from the Francis House Children’s Hospice which was the designated charity for the evening. Pete and Mary had fetched along numerous volunteers for their fundraising efforts on their key event of the year (they were hoping to make over £10K on the night) and they provided me with a pen for my notes after mine had run out.
First up on stage was Toyah. Now it would be unkind to say that her voice hasn’t improved with age as it wasn’t really a great voice to start with. She treated the audience to both her hits; “It’s a Mystery” and “I Wanna Be Free” and then the multitude of forty and fifty somethings in the audience all joined in with the Toyah Karaoke show. We got “Echo Beach”, we got “I Love Rock N’Roll” and the little trouper even had a stab at a Guns and Roses song. She did look pretty fit though and is far more attractive now than when she was on every single music show every single week.
A brief interlude and it was time for Howard Jones. Now all the previous week I had been trying to remember his songs to no avail and I was determined not to cheat by going on “You Tube”. As he played his back catalogue though the melodies and the words floated back through the years to my consciousness and I realized that I probably didn’t give him a proper listen to back in the day. “Tears Roll On”, “Like To Get To Know You Well” and “What is Love?” are all catchy pop tunes. Also for someone who achieved the remarkable feat in actually looking older than his 58 years he did get an awful lot of middle class MILF’s strutting their funky stuff. I never remembered him as being that popular.
Last on were the stars of the show, The Human League. I had by now become a little concerned about how long their set would be. Toyah had only been on stage for half an hour and Howard Jones not much longer. We were though treated to a good seventy minutes plus encore from Sheffield’s finest export apart from Pulp. All the hits were in there – “Mirror Man”, “Get Around Town”, “Louise”, “Love Action”, “Lebanon”, “Tell Me When”, “I’m Only Human”, “Open Your Heart”, “Empire State Human” and “Fascination”. The mysterious and solemn look that Phil Oakey had cultivated in the Eighties isn’t annoying like it once was because it no longer works and probably the most serious looking band ever now have the time for a little smile on stage. The two waitresses who were working at the cocktail bar;  Susan Anne and Joanne still tingle and float on the stage as opposed to move and actually do any dancing but that was always part of the show and if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. The set ended with a full on synthesized instrumental take of “Don’t You Want Me” leading into the real fully fledged version and  further encores of “Being Boiled” and “Electric Dreams” closed a very enjoyable show.
The day finished with an all too brief firework display and it was time to go home at just after 10:40PM; the time when all the audience would have been going out if they were thirty years younger when they had seen these artists the first time around.
It was an enjoyable day but for an Event such as this and especially in this country when no month is safe from the weather it has to be a risk. The audience dripping in affluence and well past their sell by date including me all had a good time but it isn’t rock and roll. I mean come on why on earth would you take a candelabra to a gig?