It’s pure chance that last night’s anniversary tribute to the 1980s pop-production powerhouse Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) is happening just before Christmas – it was originally scheduled for Hyde Park in July, but mud stopped play and ruined a long-awaited Kylie & Jason reunion.
The new timing couldn’t be better, though – the mushy lovesickness, spangly keys and rum-pum-pumming Linn drums of the SAW sound are a perfect fit for the festive season. Before we get to the really tinselly bits, though, we’re reminded of last night’s host Pete Waterman’s club roots as a Hi-NRG producer by Dutch technopop cyber warriors 2 Unlimited, whose era-defining “Get Ready for This” and “No Limits” still sound gloriously, perfectly brainless and demented. Clad in silver lamé, abetted by shiny muscled dancers, it is camp as Christmas.
And that’s before Sinitta gets paraded around the stage on the shoulders of a horde of generic hunks while belting out “So Macho”.
There are some lulls – ex-Capital Radio DJs Pat Sharp and Mick Brown reprising their PWL charity cover of “Use It Up and Wear It Out” brings the magic level down to critical – and the pace at which the acts are rattled through can make things feel a bit cheap: you have to feel a bit sorry for the likes of Brother Beyond’s Nathan Moore, wheeled out for just one song. But at its musical best, tonight hits the peaks with Pete Burns of Dead or Alive, who brings a powerful hit of much-needed charisma in contrast to the later and lesser PWL acts. Commonly thought of as a one-hit wonder, the likes of the romping “My Heart Goes Bang” and the Sisters-of-Mercy-sing-New-Order vibes of “Something in My House” prove a much greater strength.
Then there’s Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin of Bananarama, who may look Desperate Housewives-sleek, but they’re the cheekiest of the bunch, commenting archly: “As you’ve noticed, we haven’t varied the routines too much… we’ve just dropped a few bits out because we can’t be bothered.” “Love in the First Degree” is pure innocent, fizzy pleasure; Girls Aloud wish they were that cool.
Cool isn’t really what it’s about tonight, though – the biggest reactions are reserved for Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Jason Donovan’s “Too Many Broken Hearts” and Steps, who bring a different, Pontinsy sort of camp. By this point, things are properly bubbling, the atmosphere initially having been a little stilted by an all-seated-arena set-up.
When the evening closes with that long, long-awaited Kylie & Jason duet, the presence of the one genuine SAW megastar, rather than overshadowing the rest, crowns the night (though we’re disappointed there’s none of her own SAW hits). The mass sing-/swayalong for “Especially for You”, undeniably very sweet, is followed by a full-cast cover of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody”, Kylie happily bobbing about with Waterman himself before the Hit Factory clocks off for Christmas. Job mostly well done.
Hit Factory Live, O2, London