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Review: Soft Cell headline Heritage Live concert at Audley End

Fans of 80s electronica were treated to a triple bill of top 80s acts as Heaven 17, OMD and Soft Cell all took the stage at Audley End House and Gardens, as part of the Heritage Live series of concerts, on Friday, August 11.

OMD. Picture: Gerred Gilronan
OMD. Picture: Gerred Gilronan

Opening the show, Heaven 17, featuring founding members Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware (Ware was also an original member of The Human League), succeeded in creating a party atmosphere right from the off, singer Gregory sounding in excellent voice, ably assisted by keyboard player Ware, who also contributed vocals.

Ahead of the third song, Play to Win, Glenn recalled appearing on Top of the Pops, commenting that some of the DJs who used to introduce them on the programme would now no longer be permitted to.

While most of the crowd – me included – were probably waiting to hear Temptation, Heaven 17’s best-known hit, there were quite a few very good songs to enjoy before that moment came, such as Geisha Boys and Temple Girls, a solid cover of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance (which was dedicated to the late singer) and Let Me Go, which Glenn declared was his favourite Heaven 17 song.

Heaven 17's Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory. Picture: Gerred Gilronan
Heaven 17's Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory. Picture: Gerred Gilronan

Typically saving the best for last, the band performed the outstanding extended Brothers in Rhythm remix of Temptation from 1992 which, from what I could see, had the majority of the crowd passionately singing along.

Next up it was OMD’s turn to get the audience on their feet. The hardworking quartet – Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw – always deliver a high-energy show and tonight was no exception.

After their third song, the euphoric History of Modern (Part 1), singer McCluskey said it “always amazes me to see 10,000 people at an English Heritage concert jumping up and down to a song that’s basically about the end of the world.”

Paul Humphreys expertly sang (Forever) Live and Die and Souvenir, and further dancing and jumping ensured when the band performed such classics as Joan of Arc (Maid of New Orleans), So in Love and Locomotion.

“Here’s a new one… from 1991,” said Andy, introducing the wonderful Pandora’s Box. They also played a storming rendition of Sailing on the Seven Seas, another classic from that same year and my absolute favourite OMD song.

OMD’s Andy McCluskey. Picture: Gerred Gilronan
OMD’s Andy McCluskey. Picture: Gerred Gilronan

Like Heaven 17, the final tune of the set was arguably their most well known – Enola Guy. This synth-pop staple has taken on a new topical relevance thanks to the recent release of the Oppenheimer film.

Making their name in the early 80s, at around the same time as OMD, Soft Cell are undoubtedly best known for their 1981 smash, Tainted Love – indeed many people would be hard-pressed to name any of their other hits.

It was therefore great to hear some really satisfying tunes from the long-standing duo, which consists of singer Marc Almond and keyboard player David Ball (the pair were ably backed tonight by other musicians and four backing vocalists).

Almond, a charismatic frontman, immediately got the crowd on side and it was some of the newer songs that really stood out early on – particularly Vapourise, Happy Happy Happy and Purple Zone, the stunning 2022 duet with the Pet Shop Boys.

I was hoping Neil Tennant might have been brought out as a surprise guest, but sadly we had to make do with a recording of his voice.

Seedy Films was an enjoyable number, showing images of the way Soho used to be on the giant screen, and Nostalgia Machine – another new song – was an absolute belter.

When Tainted Love finally came, it was met with the kind of ecstatic reaction one would expect, and it was followed by a cover of The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go and then the nostalgic Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.

Marc Almond. Picture: Gerred Gilronan
Marc Almond. Picture: Gerred Gilronan
Marc Almond. Picture: Gerred Gilronan
Marc Almond. Picture: Gerred Gilronan

To be honest I didn’t know what to expect from Soft Cell ahead of the show, only having a limited knowledge of their back catalogue, but I was suitably impressed.

They seem to be one of those acts that just gets better with age, with many of their new songs definitely outshining the old – with the exception of Tainted Love, of course.

Audley End House and Gardens. Picture: Adrian Peel
Audley End House and Gardens. Picture: Adrian Peel

[Read more: Andy Burrows of Razorlight: ‘Bands are complicated beasts’]

Razorlight will be headlining at Audley End tomorrow (Sunday, August 13). For more on Heritage Live, visit heritagelive.net.

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