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W-Fest 2021

by François Zappa

To organize a festival in these Covid times is, without any doubt, a great achievement, and that’s the first thing that we must mention about the W-Fest, which really had to fight against all the adversities in the form of cancellation of bands due to the countries’ different restrictions. But they managed to put on an interesting festival we really enjoyed. Because our hotel was quite far from the venue, we missed some of the first concerts of the first days.

Thursday

Thursday was by far, the best day of the festival thanks to the great professionalism and art of the artists. Most of them hadn’t played in a very long time, but nobody really noticed as everybody performance was great. Still tired from Sinner’s Day Special, we arrived in time to see the last part of Katrina, who had to leave her waves at home. Her set included some covers and, obviously, her hit “Walking on Sunshine”.

DAAN

Our first concert of the festival was by DAAN, Daniël “Daan” Stuyven’s project whose first LP was released in 1999. The festival left a daily hour for Bepop bands, and DAAN was the first. Although most of them were quite far from the wave essence of the festival, all of them played quite good concerts and proved to have a lot of quality. DAAN appeared on stage as a three-piece with a violin player and Isolde Lasoen (who also played with Absynthe Minded) at the percussion. They do an elegant pop with a touch of soul that we could first taste with “Addicted”. Daan played the guitar and the piano and managed to sing in English but also in French during “La crise”. But the musician that really surprised us was Isolde that was really good with the xylophone, but also did great at the trumpet and with the chorus. However, her best moment was when she sang in duet the hit of the band, “Swedish Designer Drugs”. They came back for a deserved bis.

Marc Almond

A few drops of rain make the concert of Marc Almond, start a few minutes late, but he finally appeared on stage taking pictures of the public with his phone. His concert of 2018 did not convince me completely and I wanted to see if this was going to be better. He started with a rock sound in “Adored and Explored” to continue with Soft Cell’s classic “Bedsitter”, a fantastic “Tear Run Ring” and the dramatic “The Days of Pearly Spenser”. He maintained the high level of the concert with a couple of covers, first “Something’s Gotten Hold on my Heart” dedicated to the late Gene Pitney, and the trotting rhythm of Jacques Brel’s “Jackie”. The most awaited moment came with the interpretation of the classic “Tainted Love” in a medley with “Where did our love go” that did not lose its northern soul vibe thanks to the chorus singers. After “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, maybe Almond’s best track, the band interpreted “Children of the Revolution” to celebrate that Neal X was playing the guitar. A concert to remember.

Roachford

Andrew Roachford proved to have a lot of class and a great voice, but also to be a fantastic entertainer. His golden days were at the end of the eighties, when there was a small soul revival. One curiosity is that, for a time, he was part of Mike and the Mechanics. But coming back to the concert, he sang perfectly, always with a smile, songs like “The way I feel”, a rocker cover of the immortal “Ain’t no Sunshine”, his greatest hit “Cuddly Toy” and an emotive “Only to be with you”. Quite good.

Gipsy Kings

The following band was quite different: Gipsy King, appeared with ten musicians on stage, being only Diego Baliardo from the original band. The numerous guitar players were taking turns to sing classics as “Djobi djoba”, “Maria Dolores”, or “Bamboleo”. Being Spanish, I knew most of the songs and it was a concert full of fun. Maybe not one that I would pay for, but to see them as part of the festival was ok.

The Orchestra

The Orchestra is a band created with musicians from ELO and ELO 2, being violinist Mik Kaminski the member that began to be part of the act before, already in 73. The rest are people who were part of the story of the Electric Light Orchestra in any moment. They started with “Evil Woman” and continued with some classics such as “Sweet Talking Woman”, the popular “All over the world” (quite well played), “Can’t get it out of my mind”, the very famous “Living Thing” and “Shine a little love”. They finished with “Don’t bring me down”, leaving quite a good memory. It was a nice way of listening back to all these fabulous songs or even a great way of discovering them.

Nena

If I said before that I knew Gipsy King’s songs because I am Spanish, that can be the reason why I didn’t know the songs of Nena, an artist way more famous in Germany, as I could appreciate, here in Belgium. In Spain, only “99 Red Balloons” is well known and that’s all. But that night she demonstrated that she was a remarkable singer, had a great band and was able of playing a more than decent headliner show with the new wave vibe that characterize the festival. Her setlist, sang mainly in German, was quite applauded by the numerous public that seemed to know every chorus. Almost at the end, she played “99 Red Balloons”, while some “balloons” with the word “Love” appeared. The wind made them disappear quite fast. The song was followed with a piece of The Beatles, “Hey, Jude” and overall, it was another great concert.

 

Friday

Matt Bianco

It was the second concert of the day, and the beach of Ostend was already crowded to see jazz pop act Matt Bianco. For me, this British band represents perfectly W-Fest spirit as they manage to take us back to the eighties. The band played songs from all their career, from the first album (“Who’s side are you on?” or “Half a Mile”), but also modern ones as “Joyride” or their cover of “Summer in the City”. The moments most applauded were, of course, “Don’t blame on that girl” with a keyboard solo and “Get out of your lazy bed” in which Mark Reilly said that it was the first song that they released. Very professional, great live and overall quite fun.

Millionaire

It was the turn of another Belgian band that we did not know: Millionaire, who gave a concert of powerful rock. They are a five-piece band whose leader is Tim Vanhamel and have some influences from stoner, classic rock and industrial rock. And I would add punk as we could see in their second track: “Wake Up the Children”. Quite enjoyable.

Praga Khan/Buscemi

Next was the DJset of Praga Khan together with Belgian DJ Buscemi sharing the turntables and a MC to help create a party vibe. The set focused on dance tracks from the last ten years with some classics also included, but to be honest, I would have preferred to listen to more eighty’s material or even better, Praga Khan singing. They played Hot Natured’s “Benediction”, a track by Vitalic, Dax J’s “The Wonk” and even Prodigy’s “Smatch my bitch up”. The best moment was during Fad Gadget’s “Lady Shave” and obviously when Praga Khan sang one of his best songs: the magnificent “Breakfast in Vegas”. The public had, without any doubt, a very good time.

Ronan Keating/Batcave

We only saw the beginning of Ronan Keating, ex-Boyzone who achieved fame with a song that appeared in the Notting Hill soundtrack. It wasn’t really our thing, so we moved to the Batcave to check out how the rest of the public was experiencing the festival. When you are always in the front line of the concerts, you miss what the general public is doing. So, I noticed that a lot of people used to see the concerts from the tables found after the sound check, and thanks to the great sound it was quite good. Not far from there, there was a “dark Cave” where some famous DJs were playing some hits from the Batcave era. When we arrived, it was the turn of Maxalto who played some tracks by Front 242, and The Human League, among others. A bit before, the DJ had premiered the new video of DaGeist, a band that has always been linked to the festival.

Midge Ure

With Midge Ure happened the opposite that with Marc Almond: I enjoyed more his 2018 gig. It was one of the most crowded concerts, and after an instrumental track that suffered some technical problems, Midge Ure came back among numerous applauds of the public. Most of the set were Ultravox songs although he also played his hit “If I was”. From the creator of Lament, he played among others “Passing Strangers”, but at least from where I was, the voice was a bit low and the bass too loud. The concert got better with his cover of “Fade to Grey”, the classic “Vienna” and the best way of saying goodbye: with “Dancing with tears in my eyes” and “Hymn”.

Novastar

Novastar is the band of the composer, guitar and piano player Joost Zweegers. As the rest of the Belgian bands who joined the line-up after a series of cancellation, their concert was quite good. In their setlist, we would like to highlight “Light up my life”, the emotions-charged “Cruel Heart”, “Never Back Down” and the dramatic “Because”. Although we were not familiar with the songs, little by little they caught our interest and even admiration. The final with a great interpretation of “ Lost and Blown Away” and “The best is yet to come” was remarkable. A very nice surprise.

Paul Young

Although he became famous in the eighties, a large part of Paul Young’s setlist was based on 70s soul classics and even some songs from the sixties, everything with a more pop touch. So, the singer, who is already looking a bit old, played a couple of Ann Peebles’ tracks (“Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love” and “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”), and the classic “Love of the common People”. He also covered “Senza una Donna” popularized by Zucchero, and even a “Love will tear us apart”, that sincerely, doesn’t fit with his style. The final “Everytime you go away”, his biggest hit, was quite well received by the numerous public.

Human League

The band led by Philip Oakey had already convinced the public, even before being on stage. When “Mirror Man” started sounding, the crowd demonstrated that they were to see The Human League. The setlist was a tour through their career with songs as “Sound of the crowd”, “Heart like a Wheel”, “Love Action”, “Seconds”, “The Lebanon”, “Human”, “Open Your Heart”, “Tell me Why”, “Fascination”, and the eternal “Don’t you want me” (with the public singing the chorus during the introduction)”. Two of their best songs were left for the ending: the powerful “Being Boiled” and “Together in Electric Dreams” that Oakey wrote together with Giorgio Moroder for the Electric Dreams soundtrack. An amazing concert, but I would love to hear at least one, their “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of”.

Saturday

Kissing the Pink

On Saturday, we arrived just in time to see the concert of Kissing the Pink, an 80s synthpop band that recorded some works with the legendary Martin Hannett. In 1983, they published their first album, which was represented by “Big Man Restless”, “The Last Film” and “Frightened in France”. Their danceable music with funky touches even managed to make the sun comes out on the Ostend beach. At the end, they played a cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of love”. A good way of starting the day.

Meuris & Co

Meuris & Co is the band created by Stijn Meuris together with Gianni Marzo (guitar), Yves Meersschaert (piano) and Bart Van Lierde (bass) to play the songs of Noordkaap (90s Belgian band). Meuris was already a familiar face as he was introducing the bands on Sinner’s Day. He is what we could call a melodic singer with a solemn touch. They played, according to Setlist Fm (sorry, but I did not know any of their songs) tracks like “Als ik ‘s nachts door Veerle rijd”, “Programma ’96”, “Satelliet SUZY”, all of them quite well received by the public that never stopped applauding the band and laughing at Meuris’s jokes. For me, it was the Belgian band that appealed me the least, maybe because of their more intimate sound, but anyway it was interesting enough. They finished with the acclaimed “Een heel klein beetje oorlog”.

D:uel

Susanne Freytag and Claudia Brücken’s band was one of the acts, I wanted to see the most and luckily, they performed one of the best concerts of the festival. The two singers revisited the songs of Propaganda in quite an original way, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. “Dream inside a Dream” was a perfect start to get in the mood and to dive in their universe. The sound was quite good, and the song had a very good guitar solo. They continued with “The Murder of love”, “Duel”, the song that named this project and a cover of Josef K’s “Sorry for laughing’”(a favorite of mine) that they made their own. “The Chase” had a brilliant sound and made us dream of them opening for The Human League. D:uel showed their infinite class with “Frozen Faces”, and brought us some powerful takes of “p:Machinery” and “Dr. Mabuse”. For the end, they saved the pop of “Jewel” that was interpreted after confessing that they had been 18 months without playing. As I said, one of the best concerts of the festival.

Queen Symphonic

I am not precisely a Queen fan, so the idea of seeing a tribute band with orchestra was not really appealing. And although the band was called Queen Symphonic, the relevance of the interpretation was in the voices of the four singers who took turns to sing the songs of Brian May and Freddie Mercury’s band. One after the other, the hits of the English classic band were correctly interpreted: “Hammer to Fall”, “It’s a kind of magic,” “Under Pressure”, “Fat Bottom Girls”, “Radio Gaga”, “Show must go on”, “Crazy thing called love”, “Don’t stop me now,” “Another one bites the dust” or “Love of my life”. I guess fans enjoyed it.

Visage

It was a pity that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong during the beginning of the concert of Visage and the band was quite nervous and lost during the rest of their performance. They wanted to play the first two albums of the New Romantic band but that was quite an ambitious project. As Rusty Egan commented, everything was fine during rehearsal, but here nothing works. The band started with the instrumental “The Step” and “Visage” that were full of problems. Together with Rusty Egan on the stage, we could find Chris Payne one of the writers of “Fade to Grey”. They continued with “Blocks On Blocks”, “The Dancer” with a better sound but with the band really nervous. “Tar” was ok and “Malpaso Man” not bad at all. Next were “Moon Over Moscow”, “Vis-age” and a “Fade to Grey” in which it was quite evident that they were having a really bad time. And if that was not enough, it started to rain. It was now the tour of the second album, The Anvil so the band started with “The damned don’t cry”. The singer looked a bit more comfortable during “The Horseman”, and “Anvil” was also ok. The rest of the setlist included “Look What They’ve Done,” “Wild Fife”, “I am still searching”, “Move up” and “Night train”. The best thing I can say of the concert is that I started getting more interested in the music of Visage when I saw that they were going to play at the W-Fest. Hopefully, we will be able to see them again in the future playing a better gig.

OMD

OMD is a band that rarely plays a bad gig, or at least we have never seen or heard of any. And this was no exception. They started with “Enola Gay” and “Messages” with the same energy that they always manage to transmit. The concert continued with “Tesla Girls”, “Forever Live and die”. The best moment of the concert were the following three songs that were played one after the other: “Souvenir,” “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)” and “Joan of Arc”. Andy McCluskey amazed us with his fun way of dancing. The band made a stop in the 90s to play “Sailor of the Seven Seas”, which was followed by “Locomotion” from Junk Culture, my least favorite of their albums from the classic period. They ended up with the classic “Electricity”. Really good as usual.

Sunday

The last day we woke up quite early to see the first bands of the day, as we had our return flight late in the afternoon.

Doctor And the Medics

We started the day with Doctor And the Medics, the band that brought glam rock back to the eighties. They showed their intentions when they entered the stage with “Rock ’n’ roll (part 2)” sounding. They played mainly covers: from “Spin Me round (Like a Record)”, to B’52s’ “Love Shack” and “Kids in America”, sang by Maria Verhelst-Hopkins. Among the covers they included some originals such as their second hit “Burn”, and “Molecatcher” that reminded me a bit of Arthur Brown. Best part of the concert was their really good cover of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and their hit “Spirit in the Sky”, with that sound so T-Rex.

Snap!

In the 2020 line-up, there was already a homage to the 90s with the concerts of Snap!, Technotronic and A Split-Second. Although at the end, only the first one could play. Thirty minutes had Penny Ford, singer of German eurodance project Snap! to play all their hits and we think it was the right amount of time. She started on her own, with a DJ out of sight, singing, “Do You See The light (Looking For)”, which was followed by the famous “The Power” where AK Swift joined. Together they sang the rest of the band hits: “Cult of Snap!”, “Oooops Up” and an acclaimed “Mary had a little boy”. The last song as their biggest hit “Rhythm Is a Dancer”. It was quite fun to listen back to those sounds nowadays.

Haddaway

The second part of this “Back to the 90s” hour was going to be Technotronic, but they had some last-time problems and could not come to Belgium, so the logical replacement was Haddaway, another musician who became famous during the same period as Snap! He appeared on stage showing a lot of energy while playing his greatest hit “What is love”, that was followed by a cover of Freddie Mercury’s “Living on my own”, another hit of the early nineties. During the rest of the 30 minutes, he played some of his songs such as “Life” or “Rock My Heart” and a cover of Moby’s “Natural Blues”. To finish, he played a faster version of “What is love”.

Wegsfeer

We could not find too much information about Wegsfeer before the festival and finally we could see that they were a powerful post-punk cover band. They played a nice bunch of classics from the 80s: “Hong Kong Garden,” “Passion of Lovers”, The Sound’s “Winning”, Grauzone’s “Eisbär”, Joy Division’s “Transmission”, and a personal favorite: “Is Vic There?” by Department S (a band that we could also see in the festival a few years ago). They played all these songs with the required sharpness and roughness but also managed to move to a more punk vibe for “Holidays in Cambodia”, and the final “Human Fly”. Good guitar playing, good interpretation and a selection that it’s not far from what I could listen at home on a Saturday night.

Absynthe Minded

Playing with Absynthe Minded, we found again Isolde Lasoen, who was already on stage as part of DAAN. This time she was playing drums with this Belgian band of elegant pop from the nineties. They were our last lesson in Belgian Pop/rock culture, so far, of course. They played songs such as “Heaven Knows”, “Who’s on First”, “End of the line”, and a cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”. At the end, we had two of their most famous tracks: “Envoi” and “The Execution”. Very entertaining.

The House of Love

We were so eager to see The House of Love that we almost missed our return flight. Although the English band changed their style becoming more indie rock, their first album is still a post-punk masterpiece. There were some sound problems that worried us as last time that we tried to see Guy Chadwick’s band, they had to cancel the festival where they were playing because of a hurricane. And that’s not very common in the east of Spain. But the technicians managed to fix the issue in no time and after only two minutes, they were back on stage playing “The Road”. The band got warmed as they played “Christine”, “Hope”, “The Girl with the loveliest eyes”, classics as “Shine On”, “The Beatles and the Stones”, a powerful “Sweet Loser”, and the magnificent “Destroy the heart” and “I don’t know why I love you”. Finally, I managed to see off the bands from my “Must see” list. Then, we run to the airport.

We missed some concerts that we would have liked to see: Christians were next on stage, but at least we saw them at W-Fest a few years ago, performing quite a solid concert. But the band we are really sorry for not having seen is Blancmange, added to the line-up after we booked our return flight. Hopefully, we will see them at Sinner’s Day.

After this difficult year, in 2022 the festival will last five days with the best music from the 80s. Among the most interesting bands, we must name a cured Anne Clark, the forever young Alphaville, Holly Johnson (we hope he will focus his setlist on his time on Frankie Goes to Hollywood) and Level 42.

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