Reload Festival Throws Nostalgia Party in Norwich
Reload Festival has been running for a few years, but this was our first experience of the nostalgia party. This time-tripping event was a blast, with 70s, 80s, and 90s tunes pumping across the entire site and old school acts performing their big classics, what’s not to love? The line-up this year boasted some big disco, funk, and soul names, some of which you would’ve paid good money to see in their heyday; for just shy of £100 to see loads of them on one line-up makes it completely worth your dollar.
We were extremely excited to see Odyssey, having obsessed over their tunes for so long, and boy did they deliver. They all have phenomenal voices and were fun on stage, making the whole show a real crowd pleaser, with hits like ‘Native New Yorker’ and ‘Going Back To My Roots’. The Real Thing and Heatwave produced some of our favourite records back in the day too, such as ‘Can You Feel The Force’ or ‘Boogie Nights’, so seeing them all take to the stage was surreal. All of these guys have still got it, they looked like a they were really having a laugh and clearly enjoying themselves. The gents from both bands were an absolute pleasure to watch, with The Real Thing dedicating their song ‘Children of the Ghetto’ to the Grenfell Tower victims and Heatwave remembering the late Rod Temperton who wrote most of their big tunes, alongside tracks for artists like Michael Jackson.
We also got to see the legend that is Jocelyn Brown, an artist we have had on our bucket list for years, she is a powerhouse vocalist in various genres with hits through every decade since the 70s, and she was an absolute treat. Despite being restricted to a seat with only backing tracks, she commanded the stage and comedically engaged with the audience, despite having consistent sounds problems (which she was clearly unimpressed about). Many of the artists across the weekend vocalised their frustration with the sound, there was obviously an issue with the equipment, or the techies...however it did not notice from an audience perspective.
Soul II Soul headlined the Saturday night and, as headliners, they had a full band (as opposed to only Jazzie B DJing and Caron Wheeler singing) so their bigger sound hugely elevated the set and showed off their refined 90s style. They were not the only band flying the flag for 90s music, the Brand New Heavies had some of the best sound throughout the weekend, a talented bunch who seriously impressed with their post-disco style and upbeat charm. Level 42 also performed, with bass god Mark King who had a light up bass guitar and looked fucking badass on stage; these guys are always a delight, and have such a tight performance that it barely sounds different to the original recordings.
Representing the new millennia were Blue, despite being a cheesy pop band from the early 00s these guys were on top form (although Duncan only made it to the stage for the last three songs), they still had all the dance routines and their voices may have actually improved. Another act we were excited to see were the ELO Experience, but we missed the first few songs as the scheduling had all changed (Mungo Jerry sadly pulled out); what we did manage to see was clearly loved by the audience - who doesn’t enjoy Mr. Blue Sky?!
The Discotheque Stage was popping its cherry, with this year marking its first appearance at Reload Festival, which seemed like a great addition to the event. The stage was a cool looking structure based at the back of the site, but still only a 5 minute walk from the main stage area. The minimal effort required to travel anywhere on site was a huge thumbs up, it's not often you get to float through to the campsite and skip around the corner to other stages - it makes a huge difference to your energy and gives you more options of artists to see. Trevor Nelson was one of my highlights across the whole weekend, what a DJ! Nelson got the crowd on board, playing a variety of different genres and bangers, which made it a set that every single person (regardless of age) could truly get involved with.
Our only gripe over the weekend was the security rushing us off site on the Monday, the website states that you must be out by midday but we were being pressured to leave at 10am! I have to say though that the staff for this festival were all really friendly, and the security were helpful whenever they could be, which was pleasantly surprising. At bigger festivals you often get a much colder reception but everyone was good-humoured despite the angry weather. Norfolk Showground was a great location with nice facilities, it was simple to get to and camping was a very short walk from the car door to our tent pitch, a rarity at festivals. There were proper built-up toilets that always exist on the site, which were a bloody luxury. The campsite was very small which we really liked, as people all started to recognise each other across the weekend and it felt quite sociable and friendly. Although we did hear middle aged couples arguing like children through our thin tent walls, it’s good to know that no one really grows up…
The folks at the the other 80s festival Rewind South, which we attended last year, were more lairy and getting involved, whereas the attendees at 2017s Reload Festival were largely reserved boppers. However, when the legendary Billy Ocean closed the festival the crowd finally seemed at the top of their game. I have been saying for years that Billy Ocean should get a headline slot at Rewind (as opposed to his usual sub-headliner spot), and Reload gave him that well-deserved longer set to play around with, so he went to town. The 80s singer has so much energy in his show, and is an incredible performer (he’s 67 and has smoother moves than most of the twee pretty boys in today’s boy bands); with so many great singalong tunes that highlight how powerful and unchanged his vocals are.
Outside of the main acts there was another stage called Club Tropicana which looked awesome, the silent disco there was surprisingly not that busy but it was sooooo much fun. However, we predominantly stayed on one DJs channel – he played loads of bangers through an app while dancing with the crowd, but the other two did not read their audience (one played heavy techno rave shite that felt so out of place at a nostalgic 80s/90s themed festival). We also never had problems at bars which was great, however that could be down to having a smaller festival (similar in size to Love Supreme Jazz Festival). We had a fantastic weekend at Reload, and would definitely go again, especially if the line-up is as high calibre as this year’s festival.