Countdown Spectacular 2, Newcastle: Medleys, momentum and missed opportunities

The show started pretty promptly at 1935 — and given that Gavin Wood had to announce that Plastic Bertrand wouldn’t be appearing (not sure if that’s just Newcastle or the whole tour), I guess they could spare the time. So here’s the rundown:


Katrina, ‘Walking On Sunshine’: A good upbeat opening, and Katrina was in fine voice. Also nice to start the show with a 1980s classic. And obviously this is the only song she’d be doing. The band (largely the same lineup as last year) are kitted out in matching grey suits.

Graham Bonnet, ‘Warm Ride’, ‘Baby Blue’. Bonnet’s retained his voice, though he looks like a leathery and aged jockey and he seemed to have to keep reading the lyrics for ‘Warm Ride’. A tad surprising that he got two tracks, though it set what turned out to be a pleasing precedent of rather fewer acts only getting one number.

Radiators, ‘No Tragedy’, ‘Don’t Worry’: Solid, dependable rock, entirely performed by the Rads themselves.

Samantha Fox, ‘Do Ya Do Ya (Wanna Please Me)’, ‘Touch Me (I Want Your Body)’. Obviously this was an early highlight for me. Sam’s voice is undoubtedly better now than it was then — which is not to say she’s going to give Alison Moyet a run for her money, but she suits her material perfectly. Two bimbo dancers added to the generally trashy air, and much of the original choreography from the videos was used.

I was a bit surprised at the inclusion of ‘Do Ya Do Ya’ — I’d always had the impression ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now’ was a bigger hit. And I was annoyed that in both songs, the second verse was cut out entirely — a pattern that would repeat several times during the evening.

Ignatius Jones, ‘They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me’, ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ For the first track, Jones was in a tuxedo; for the second, he stripped down to a leather corset more typical of the Jimmy & The Boys era. He’s gained a little weight, but his voice was great — much better than I’d have assumed from the performances on Countdown at the time.

David Paton (Pilot), ‘Magic’, ‘January’: I’m indifferent to Pilot, being a bit too young, but everyone knows the songs and Paton performed them well, even if he did dress like an accountant.

Countdown Dancers Medley, ‘Eye Of The Tiger/I Love Rock & Roll/Livin’ On A Prayer/’I Was Made For Loving You/Time Warp’: I’m not denying their talent or the opportunity this gives to local dancers, but this (and the intro by Molly and co-host John Paul Young) still feel to me like moments wasted when someone else could do another song. The ‘I Love Rock And Roll’ routine owed more to Britney than Joan Jett, and Molly appeared to do some vocals for ‘Time Warp’.

Redgum, ‘I Was Only 19’ A quarter century on, this still stopped everyone in their tracks — and I was struck by the thought that a song about the horrors of war with a violin solo almost certainly wouldn’t top the charts now. Astonishingly, Redgum never actually performed the song on the show, having staged a Midnight Oil-style boycott — the video I recall from when it topped the chart was assembled specially by Countdown, since they weren’t even allowed to use the official one.

Richard Gower (Racey), ‘Lay Your Love On Me’, ‘Some Girls’ Both catchy dancefloor classics which got the crowd moving, and reminded me that I was, with almost no exceptions, the youngest person in the audience.

Sharon O’Neill, ‘Maxine’ Sharon is as petite and as vocally talented as I remember. ‘Maxine’ was rendered beautifully in its entirety, with a fab acapella ending, but I was bitterly disappointed she didn’t get a second song. Surely there should have been rooming for ‘Losing You’ or ‘Words’?

M, ‘Pop Music’ A great pop classic, and one of just two tracks in this show that reminded us that Countdown very much straddled the New Wave/New Romantic era. Robin Scott, complete with red sell-out T-shirt, was having a whale of a time, though in truth the song’s probably more work for the backing vocalists.

Paul Gray (Wa Wa Nee), ‘Stimulation’, ‘Sugar Free’: Paul Gray is actually on stage the entire time — he’s the musical director — so Molly and JPY had to come in to introduce him. Again, the central verse of ‘Stimulation’ was cut, and it seems odd to me to perform in this order; holding ‘Stimulation’, the band’s signature hit, for the finish would make more sense. The man’s falsetto is astounding, and he sported an envy-inducing red guitar keyboard for ‘Sugar Free’.

Doc Neeson’s Angels, ‘Take A Long Line’, ‘No Secrets’, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ If you’re going to close with a rock band, much better the Angels than Hush (last year’s option). Neeson was in good voice, though it has to be said he’s gained weight (perhaps an inevitable consequence of his car accident). This is a perfect Angels Countdown song selection, though the Newcastle crowd didn’t get into the ‘no way, get fucked, fuck off’ chorus as much as I’d have suspected. Only the second performance not utilising the full band.

Twenty minutes intermission passed pretty quickly, though one enthused Bay City Rollers fan was handing out pieces of tartan fabric for people to wave.

Act 2

Doug Fieger (The Knack), ‘My Sharona’: Another international act who obviously was only going to get one song, but at least we got the whole thing, including the entire end-of-song guitar solo. Again, a good choice to kick off act two.

Dave Mason (The Reels), ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’: I love this song, but it’s in many ways a brave choice, though it does at least put a proper emphasis on songwriting skills (the Reels had much bigger hits with two covers, ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising’). Mason didn’t look entirely happy to be there — perhaps Molly’s long introduction embarrassed him — but he sang superbly.

Supernaut, ‘Too Hot To Touch’, ‘I Like It Both Ways’: Supernaut seem to have aged well, but fall into the ‘don’t care’ category for me. They suffered the embarrassment (inflicted on Sherbet last year) on having a classic clip played in synch with their current stuff; they look better now.

At this stage, we got a bizarre skit where classic video of Martha Davis was played, then she came on stage (looking, it has to be said, a tad larger than in the original footage) and Molly made a mock-proposal to her, which she turned down by claiming: “I’m gay.” Not sure if this is worth repeating.

Wolfgramm Sisters, ‘Sweet Dreams/Mamma Mia/Knock On Wood/Vogue/Lady Marmalade’: Rather than just bring the dancers back on, this time around the Wolfgramm Sisters, who act as backing vocalists for pretty much everyone else, got their own segment, with the dancers cavorting in the background. They’re extremely good, and I liked this selection. ‘Vogue’ was an interesting inclusion — obviously, it has nice dance possibilities, but there are plenty of much bigger Madonna hits from the Countdown era that could have been used. Not a complaint, just an observation.

Les McKeown (Bay City Rollers), ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, ‘Give A Little Love/Bye Bye Baby’: More seventies nostalgia I can’t quite engage in, though competently done and with tartan everywhere. I kept thinking Sam Fox could have duetted with McKeown on ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, as she also had a hit with the song.

Kate Ceberano (I’m Talking), ‘Trust Me’, ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’: Kate’s a fabulous vocalist, and while I’ve seen her live at countless corporate gigs, she virtually never does I’m Talking-era material, so this was super welcome. Having her do ‘Do You Wanna Be’ would have been even more welcome, and yet again both songs lost their middle verse. Her black padded shoulder dress was a mistake, but nothing could detract from the quality of the singing.

Richard Clapton, ‘Deep Water/Girls On The Avenue’, ‘I Am An Island’: Adding his own guitarist, Clapton sang well and rocked out. Of all the acts who effectively predate me, he’s easily the one I warmed to the most.

John Paul Young, ‘Where The Action Is’, ‘Love Is In The Air’: As the only returning act from last year, JPY obviously needed different songs. ‘Love Is In The Air’ was the obvious add-in (complete with the seemingly inevitable ballroom dancers), despite a brief charade pretending Molly had to force him into it. ‘Where The Action Is’ was also fine, though I would have preferred ‘Soldier Of Fortune’.

Martha Davis (The Motels), ‘Total Control/Only The Lonely/Take The L’: Total Control was performed alone on the stage (save the saxophonist), and then the band spun into view. Martha’s voice remains utterly compelling; I’d have liked to hear ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me The Time’, but this was a good selection nonetheless. And they could always invite her back next year.

Birtles, Shorrock and Goble (LRB), ‘Long Way Back/Reminiscing/Lady/Curiosity Killed The Cat/Night Owl/Cool Change/Lonesome Loser/Help Is On Its Way: By using a medley format, these guys managed to cram in more hits than anyone else, and demonstrated some fine vocal prowess. Despite the 70s leanings of the crowd, though, they didn’t jump up until the last number. (As I’m now LRB expert, I may have misidentified ‘Lady’ in this list; corrections welcome!)

Rick Springfield, ‘Affair Of The Heart’, ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’, ‘Speak To The Sky’, ‘Jessie’s Girl’: With his own drummer but otherwise using the house band, Springfield was an energetic and consummate performer, and as an exiled Aussie, neatly brought together the two conceptual halves of the show. Even he seemed a bit surprised at doing ‘Speak To The Sky’ (a song so old it predates Countdown), and I’d like to see it ditched for ‘I’ve Done Everything For You’. During ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’, Springfield jumped into the crowd and got several women to sing into the microphone. ‘Jessie’s Girl’ is an unbeatably good climax, and as a headliner Springfield craps all over Sherbet.

Last year, as an ending we got a medley with all the acts on stage doing Aussie rock classics, but this time around it was just an instrumental version of ‘Walking On Sunshine’, which was something of an anti-climax.

On the whole, a pleasing show, with less of an unpleasant 70s bias than last year. I really wish they wouldn’t cut so many verses in non-medley songs, and I suspect there’ll be a little tweaking of the order before I next see the show in Brisbane. More Sharon is unlikely, alas, but I really do think a finale is needed.

Random points:

  • Even the acts I’m not personally fussed on sang well — there’s obviously some sort of quality control system in place to cut out nostalgically desirable names who can’t sing for shit.
  • The Newcastle Entertainment Centre used a completely insane seating system for the first four rows, which meant that I was in row AB seat 20, but the seat to my left was row AA seat 21 (the middle section of row AA, the actual front, having been cut out). Whilst mad, this did place me effectively front row and centre, which is easily the best seat I’ll have for this tour.
  • More merchandise on offer this time than last, though nothing but the $25 program actually appealed. As pre-show music and in the interval, last year’s concert DVD was played (though without the pictures).
  • Quite a lot of the in-between songs video footage was also used in last year’s show. By far the best bits not previously used before featured Rik Mayall and Ben Elton; oddly, I have no memory of these, even though I watched pretty much every Countdown from 1980 until it finished and was a total Young Ones fanatic.
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