Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Suggs makes a scheduled return to Festival

MADNESS frontman Suggs returned to the Henley Festival this year — but this time he didn’t need to be dragged

MADNESS frontman Suggs returned to the Henley Festival this year — but this time he didn’t need to be dragged off stage by security.

The 52-year-old singer, who merrily gate-crashed the floating stage last year during Sting’s opening night performance, was this time an invited guest as his band headlined on Friday evening.

On Friday, Suggs — real name Graham McPherson — made light of his stunt when he remarked to a sold-out crowd: “What a beautiful sight — so many handsome men and beautiful women.

“It’s a sight I shared with some of you last year but I’m seeing it in the singular this time.

“Unfortunately, Gordon Sumner couldn’t join us this evening. For those of you who were hoping to see him, unfortunately you are in the presence of Madness.”

Madness were one of five bands to headline between Wednesday and Sunday during a summer heatwave.

Unlike last year when there were persistent showers, black tie guests basked in the balmy summer heat as they watched artists including The Beach Boys, Jamie Cullum, Paloma Faith and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing at a James Bond-themed gala night.

The overall attendance topped 20,000 and famous visitors included British number one female tennis player Laura Robson, Chris Tarrant, Gabby Logan and her Scotland international rugby player husband Kenny (pictured) and PR guru Max Clifford.

Local celebrities included Antony Worrall Thompson, from Playhatch and Uri Geller, from Sonning, while regular guest Sir John Madejski was once again joined by his friend Cilla Black.

The festival, now in its 31st year, was being held at the Henley Royal Regatta site for the final time before it moves two miles out of town to Henley Business School at Greenlands.

Artistic director Stewart Collins was booed when he reminded the audience of the move on Wednesday.

He said: “It’s the most exciting thing that will have happened to this festival so we really want you to join us up there.

“It affords us a fantastic opportunity to do more, including for the Henley Festival Trust. Please remember that’s a key thing.”

Californian surf rockers The Beach Boys, including only one founding member in lead singer Mike Love, got the festival rolling on Wednesday night.

Images of the original band were displayed behind the seven-piece as they played their biggest hits from the Sixties and Seventies, including Surfin’ USA, God Only Knows, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, I Get Around and Good Vibrations.

Beach Boy fans Carl Hughes and Tim Richardson brought along home-made cardboard surfing boards, which they waved in the air throughout the set.

Mr Hughes, of Reading Road, said this was the “Henley way of crowd surfing” as he took his board right to the front of the crowd.

He added: “The Beach Boys in Henley is fantastic — they were absolutely brilliant, better than I expected, and for all ages.”

Mr Richardson, of Marmion Road, Henley, said: “It was a really good night with great music. What’s not to like?”

Worrall Thompson, who was in the crowd that night, tweeted: “It’s amazing the dead can dance, but they have to be back in coffins by midnight.”

The following night, Jamie Cullum really did crowd surf as he twice jumped into a mosh pit and his saxophone player was required to come to his rescue.

Women screamed as he played a mixture of jazz and rock songs, while at one point he stood on top of his piano.

Cullum ended with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary before declaring his wish to return next year.

He later tweeted: “Had a great night at Henley Festival last night. Sunshine, dancing and beautiful vibes from a sharp-dressed crowd.”

Madness took over the floating stage with a line-up of 10 members dressed in bowler hats, sunglasses and suits on Friday night. Opening with One Step Beyond, the pop-ska group had members of the crowd in the grandstand on their feet and bouncing to hits including Our House, Baggy Trousers, House Of Fun and Wings Of A Dove.

Crowds also swayed to It Must Be Love and a cover of Frank Sinatra’s theme song from the film New York, New York.

A number of people could be seen playing inflatable saxophones while dressed in similar clothing to the stars on stage.

Stuntman Gary Connery, 44, of Station Road, was a surprise guest before the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performance on Saturday night.

He dropped onto the lawn with a Union flag parachute in a scene reminiscent of the prologue to The Spy Who Loved Me.

Mr Collins joked: “You have managed to find somewhere to land on the lawn at the Henley Festival.”

Mr Connery replied: “I am so sorry for gate-crashing in that way but I’m aware of what the traffic is like on Remenham Hill.

“I thought I would make a lovely journey for myself. We have been blessed with wonderful weather and I certainly took the scenic route.”

Collins asked if he had a ticket and Connery replied “no” so he was given one by the artistic director.

The Bond extravaganza performance was compered by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley.

She said: “What can be a more quintessentially English place than here in Henley for the most quintessential of English heroes.”

Lumley asked the audience if there was anyone who had not read a James Bond book or seen a Bond film. A woman shouted from the audience “Me!” and Lumley replied “oh, please”.

Lumley, a Bond girl herself in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, said: “Even though I’m a pensioner, I can say that I’m forever a Bond Girl, and you can’t take that away.”

Kristina Rhianoff and Robin Windsor, of Strictly Come Dancing, performed along with three tracks.

Violinists Duo Fuse played their “million dollar” electric violins to a couple of tracks.

Stand-out tracks were Skyfall at the end with audience participation. Other hits played were Licence To Kill and Live And Let Die.

Comedians Rich Hall and Barry Cryer were among the other performers at the festival, while DJ Ben Zaven Crane hosted a set in the Indigo tent at the end of each night.

“Boat jams” were created on the River Thames as a number of boat owners and their friends gathered to watch acts from aboard their vessels.

Throughout Madness’ set, Suggs attempted to grab their attention by asking them to cheer.

Roaming artists in the form of the festival’s Company of Roving Eccentrica entertained guests before headline acts. Three men in horse and jockey costumes “galloped” around the festival site.

They interrupted an opera singer at the beginning of her performance by running towards her and standing beside her, forcing her to stop singing as she laughed at the stunt.

It took her several minutes to collect herself again before she could continue.

Two elderly backpackers speaking with Yorkshire accents, called The Flying Buttresses, toured the entrance to the site and commented on guests and artwork. Meanwhile, three men dressed as elderly women, called Granny Turismo, performed a humorous shopping trolley dance display to contemporary music.

Other roaming artists included a man playing a piano while cycling, an acrobatic-mime display and the “smallest taxi-van ever”.

A firework display on the opposite bank of the Thames followed headline performances each night.

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