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In pictures: Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Lionel Richie shine on day two of Cambridge Club Festival





The Cambridge Club Festival gets bigger each year (I saw it advertised prominently in the London Underground as soon as this year’s lineup was announced) and upon arrival in the mid-afternoon of Saturday, June 10, it did seem even busier than in 2022, when the likes of Diana Ross and The Jacksons were among the headliners.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

After having a bit of a walk around (more signposts to the various stages and the press area – and more people in high-vis jackets to ask – might be an idea for next year), we headed over to the Auditorium of Intrigue to see some stand-up comedy. Another sign of how the festival keeps growing and expanding, last year the stage was in the open air, whereas this year it was covered by what we learned from comedy MC Ninia Benjamin was called a ‘stretch tent’.

Comedian Kazeem Jamal at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Adrian Peel
Comedian Kazeem Jamal at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Adrian Peel

We caught the end of Paul Thorne’s set as unfortunately the order was changed from what had been written in the app. We then saw the aforementioned, and rather in-your-face, Ninia Benjamin come out to introduce West Country stand-up Cerys Nelmes (so-so), Kazeem Jamal (excellent), Glenn Wool (good) and Andrew Maxwell (good, but not quite as good as I had expected).

We walked around the orchard area a bit more – there are other stages, stands, food vans and stalls – before heading over to the main stage for the first big musical act of the day: Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

The daughter of former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis certainly knows how to put on a show, coming out to the disco strains of Take Me Home, the first track off her debut album, Read My Lips, and immediately succeeding in getting the revellers on board with her friendly between-song banter.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

She noted that she particularly enjoys performing at this time of day at festivals (her set started around 7.30pm) and got the crowd singing along – most memorably on the groovy Get Over You and the outstanding modern disco classic Murder on the Dancefloor – and dancing, most notably on the insanely catchy Hypnotised, where she taught us all the dance moves for the song beforehand.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

Sophie took us on a journey to Ibiza with a medley of club classics, Lady (Hear Me Tonight), Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) and Sing It Back and to the discoteque courtesy of the stonking Crying at the Discoteque. “I’ve taken you to Ibiza, I’ve taken you to the discoteque, now I’m going to take you to church,” she said by way of an introduction to a top-notch and very well-received cover of Madonna’s Like a Prayer.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Sophie Ellis-Bextor at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

Expertly backed by her impressive band, which includes keyboard player extraordinaire Ciaran Jeremiah, bass playing husband Richard Jones and brother Jackson Ellis-Leach on drums, the singer wrapped up her set with the aforementioned Murder on the Dancefloor, which still sounds as exciting and fresh today as it did 20 years ago. A wonderful performance all round.

A 10-second countdown on the big screen helped build up the anticipation for the great Lionel Richie, who came out to a thunderous reception. Wearing a sparkly red jacket with the words ‘All Night Long’ (what else?) emblazoned on the back, the man responsible for so many firmly established soul standards began his bid for Cambridge Club Festival immortality with 80s R&B tune, Running with the Night.

Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

More familiar to me was the second tune of the evening, Easy by Richie’s former band The Commodores – one of my favourite songs of all time, in fact. A delightful number, the crowd enthusiastically sang along, and did so again on Penny Lover. Another highlight early on was Se La, Lionel’s last single of the 80s, which has an irresistible reggae lilt to it.

I must admit, it had been a while since I’d heard a lot of these songs, but when Lionel recounted a story of meeting someone in the southern United States who described himself as being “stuck on” a specific woman, I knew we were about to be back on more familiar territory.

Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

Indeed, a huge cheer went up in anticipation that we were about to hear another bona-fide classic. Stuck on You certainly didn’t disappoint, and nor did Lionel’s vocals which had drawn some criticism following his performance at the coronation concert in May, with some people saying that it didn’t sound like him.

It certainly sounded like Lionel Richie to me tonight – but then there were that many people singing along each time that we occasionally drowned out the man on stage! As well as singing, members of the crowd also showed their appreciation by donning false moustaches, with Lionel – who was actually pretty funny when it came to talking between songs – using the camera operators to pick them out for all of us to see.

He also singled out a little girl called Evie, 11, who had been lifted over the barrier at the front, praising her for her breakdancing (“They say animals and kids will always upstage you, and I’ve just been upstaged. That was sneaky!”) and joking that she wouldn’t know what the Commodores song Brick House was about, but that she reacted positively to the fire shooting up at the back of the stage.

“I haven’t seen dancing like that since ’78!” the star also noted after the song had initially finished, commenting on audience participation as a whole.

Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Garry Jones Photography

For Endless Love, Lionel’s 1981 duet with Diana Ross, he revealed that he had been asking Ms Ross to join him on stage to sing it for about 35 years. He then said that she was here tonight and went over to the back of the stage as if he were about to bring her on.

It was a ruse, ot course – Ms Ross wasn’t in attendance – and members of the crowd booed. “First you love me, now you’re booing me?!” joked Lionel, adding: “If she’s said no for 35 years, what makes you think she’d have said yes tonight?!”

He said that we would do something better and invited all of the women in the audience to sing the Diana Ross part, which they happily did.

Throughout the evening, when talking about live performance, Lionel kept saying that it had been “five years” (“I still look the same, you all look older,” he joked), but I wasn’t quite sure if he meant it had been five years since he last sang live, or if it had been five years since he’d last been in the UK. Either way, Mr Richie remains a highly assured entertainer with a hugely impressive back catalogue.

Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Maria Escobedo
Lionel Richie on stage at Cambridge Club Festival 2023. Picture: Maria Escobedo

Three of his most enduring and crowd-pleasing hits – Dancing on the Ceiling, Hello, and Say You, Say Me – were held back until towards the end, before Lionel got serious for a moment, speaking of his sadness at what in the world are doing to each other. This speech was followed by We Are the World, the 1985 USA for Africa charity single he wrote with his friend the late Michael Jackson.

As expected, the encore consisted of timeless party anthem All Night Long (All Night), which had us all singing and dancing some more.

[Read more: 80 pictures from The Cambridge Club Festival 2022 with Mica Paris, The Jacksons, Sara Cox and more]

After a slightly ‘iffy’ start due to organisation issues – my pass for the shuttle bus also arrived via email on Sunday evening(!) – and a change in the advertised lineup for the comedy, I very much enjoyed my experience of the 2023 Cambridge Club Festival. I can also finally cross Lionel Richie off my ‘artists to see’ list, and no doubt anyone heading down today (Sunday) is in for a treat, with Kool & the Gang and Billy Ocean scheduled to perform.

For more information, visit thecambridgeclub.co/.



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