Philip Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley of The Human League
I’ve never cruised before and the idea of being surrounded by people determined to celebrate everything about the 80s on a big ship while sailing between the UK and Belgium was making me feel seasick before we’d even left the dock. However, I was wrong. This wasn’t some cheap booze cruise with a few pop acts thrown in, instead this was a full-on proper music festival at sea. And, by the way, yes it was very luxurious.
Forget those days where us 50-somethings felt the desire to traipse around a muddy field, queue up at the sodden portable loos and then watch our favourites on a stage with 20,000 other people.
Time was, when being sorted for E’s and Wizz may have been a requisite part of festival-going but frankly these days I’d much rather be sorted for a comfy double bed, hot shower and spit spot cabin. Lucky I was on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas then.
Ditto the food. Lukewarm vegan rissoles served on a recyclable piece of cardboard clearly have their place in the culinary canon – but not at this festival. From the delightful Sapphire Dining Room and fill-your-boots buffet-style Windjammer Café to the speciality restaurants (we tried out the mouth-watering Chops Grille and the fun American Diner Johnny Rockets – complete with dancing waiters), every taste is catered for and it was top notch every time.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD)
But let’s not forget, Throwback was essentially all about, er, throwing yourself back to the 80s and to do this the music had to be good.
I had been promised three nights of classic 80s memorabilia – and performances by big-name acts including The Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Erasure’s Andy Bell and Captain Sensible.
I’d always been wary of acts which need to put the name of the band before the artist – it seemed like something from my mum’s generation, and seriously if you didn’t clock who Andy Bell was in the 1980s then you really weren’t paying attention – but by any measure it was an impressive enough line up of names.
First let’s do the big boys and girls.
Enjoy three nights of music on the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas
The Human League were unexpectedly brilliant.
Phil Oakey can come across as a touch too self-regarding but let’s be fair before the HL became your sister’s band with the release of Don’t You Want Me and DARE this Sheffield pop combo were doing things with synthesisers no-one had ever done before.
And pop gems like Sound of the Crowd, Things That Dreams are Made Of, which were a bit overshadowed at the time sound fresh and contemporary as anything on Spotify.
Not far behind were OMD. Overlooking the dad-dancing (to be fair OMD never went out of their way to do cool) they were tight, funny, self-aware and at times, despite there only being two of them, huge. And again, the big crowd-pleasers Maid of Orleans and especially Enola Gay were big powerful slices of 80s bombast which seemed as relevant today as they did 30 years ago. Perhaps more so.
UB40: One of the headliners for 2019
And Andy Bell was a massive hit.
He may not move with quite the snake-hipped vigour he did back in the day with Erasure, but his voice was spot on and the packed theatre absolutely loved him.
But the music didn’t stop with the headline shows.
Elsewhere in venues such as Club Tropicana (the ship’s ice rink in what is usually called Studio B was transformed into an 80s themed nightclub complete with giant inflatables reminding us of the decade and enough neon to compete with the Northern Lights) and Star Lounge we were treated to a never-ending line-up of both 80s stars and tribute acts.
Chesney Hawkes, Sonia, Errol Kennedy (Imagination) and of course DJ Pat Sharp kept us entertained at venues throughout the ship.
Captain Sensible played some Damned classics and stole the weekend
Then there was Captain Sensible. Now, Sensible afloat had clearly been milking the “Captain” aspect of his stage persona (and indeed his Happy Talk No1) all day – but on stage after duly dispensing with the South Pacific oddity he got down to business with a few Damned classics and frankly stole the weekend.
And then there was fancy dress.
The effort these passengers put into the cruise was phenomenal.
For three days and nights I was surrounded by a whole mirage of 80-ness. Hi-di-Hi characters, an abundance of Mr T’s, Freddie Mercury, shell suits, neon everything and even Dusty Bin kept popping up.
And of course, Choose Life t-shirts and leg warmers were everywhere along with the obligatory mullet wig.
Sister Sledge will be performing in October
These passengers had left the kids at home and were very clearly out to party.
The atmosphere buzzed for the whole trip and the huge queues of passengers booking their place for the second Throwback later this year while onboard was proof that this Floating Festival idea seems to work.
Throwback 2019 runs 11-14 October
Join the three-night roundtrip from Southampton onboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas visiting Le Havre with headliners Tony Hadley, UB40 and Sister Sledge