Walking through the beautiful grounds of Kew Gardens, a world UNESCO protected site in Richmond, it feels like a location too good for a British music festival. There were no discarded beer cans in sight, and I didn’t spot one person throwing up in the queue to get in. This isn’t just any music festival though. Upon entering the main stage, older couples, families and groups of friends were scattered spaciously across the grounds, politely enjoying a picnic in the rain, complete with camping chairs and umbrellas.
This quaint experience has become synonymous with a day out at Kew the Music, however when Phil Oakey and co took to the stage, it was clear this soft interior wasn’t going to stop this crowd from having a truly raucous evening. Cool boxes were swiftly packed away and people moved excitedly towards the front. The night was opened with ‘Sky’, a track from their 2011 album ‘Credo’, a song about heartbreak and loss, the darker themes juxtaposing with upbeat synths performed on two impressive keytars.
Classics from their whole discography were played, including 90s tracks ‘These are the Days’ and ‘Heart Like a Wheel’, but it was the 80s tracks from their prime, when ‘Fascination!’ and ‘Dare’ permeated the UK charts, which stole the show. A clear, and extremely predictable, highlight was ‘Don’t You Want Me’, the group’s most loved track and a party playlist essential to this day. Instrumentals teased the crowd, who were clapping and cheering in anticipation, before Philip entered in the fourth costume of the night and granted all our wishes. The atmosphere was almost as electric as the synthesizers, as Kew Gardens erupted with a football chant-esque singalong.
The stage presence of the group: Philip Oakey, Susan Sulley, and Joanne Catherall, was unfaltering, their energy levels skyhigh throughout despite their age. The two-level set design, joined by kitschy staircases and lit up like a retro dance floor, added to the allure. Philip Oakey made a point to make the most of the space, prancing up and down the stairs, and moving to the very edge to egg on the crowd. The night ended with a cathartic performance of ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ a track produced by Giorgio Moroder, a true pioneer of disco and techno music. The revered appreciation of The Human League and other new romantic groups today prove his enduring legacy.
Heading down the beautiful trail towards the exit, passing by the famous Prince of Wales Conservatory as people continued to sing The Human League in unison, the lasting impact of the evening was clear. Kew the Music had proved to me at least, to be more than just a picnic spot for posh people.