Glorious Sunday headliner wraps up Bluedot in style… and rain

It’s a Radiophonic Workshop-heavy weekend at Bluedot. There are various Doctor Who-related activites going on in the Notes tent celebrating the imminent 60th anniversary of the show. The organisers of Delia Derbyshire Day are hosting talks with the Workshop’s Dick Mills and the current musical director and archivist Mark Ayres talking about the creation of the original theme tune, and some real scientists are discussing the actual physics of time lords and space travel.

The Radiophonic Workshop. Photo: Mark Roland

The 2023 Radiophonic Workshop itself, now in its 10th year of gigging, takes to the Orbit stage to premiere its new show, ‘Dawn Of The Doctors’. The band is Mark Ayres, resplendent in his limited edition Electronic Sound EMS VCS3 T-shirt, BBC alumni Paddy Kingsland, who wrote the music for ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’ as well as many episodes of ‘Doctor Who’, and Peter Howell, who also was at the musical coalface of the insatiable Who machine and many other BBC productions. Dick Mills, who was at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop from the beginning and worked extensively with Delia Derbyhire, makes a cameo appearance in his white lab coat and hat, and the whole production is underpinned by Kieron Pepper on drums and synthesist Bob Earland.

The Radiophonic Workshop. Photo: Mark Roland

The show leans heavily on the ‘Doctor Who’ legacy, of course, and goes some way to recreating the kind of sound design and musical idents in a live setting. Pepper has a spinning bicycle wheel which spins and allows a drum stick to batter the spokes, which he then manipulates (at one point he makes the schoolboy error of putting the stick too far in and nearly comes a cropper), while Earland uses a violin bow to tease eery atmospheres from his collection of noise-making detritus alongside is modular set up.

Like the TV show they’re celebrating, there’s plenty of broad humour and British silliness in the 90 minutes. At one point Paddy Kingsland, his voice going through the dalekising special effect says, “We have come hoping to blend in with the locals, tired, wet, soaked to the skin, pissed off, I can’t even find any dalek bread…” You could probably hear the groan in space.

On the screenbehind them clips from classic shows are synced to the music they’re playing, with particular use of the Tom Baker episode where he and The Master are clambering all over the Lovell Telescope itself. Eventually the Doctor falls off (cue a particularly loud thump on the kick drum), after which Tom Baker regenerates into Peter Davidson.

The Radiophonic WOrkshop. Photo: Mark Roland

Alongside these nostalgia-stirring visuals are audio snippets from the shipping forecast, idents from Radio Luxembourg and Radio 1, intensely familiar voices from the past. It all has a stirring cumulative effect. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop helped shape the nation, the cardboard sci-fi of ‘Doctor Who’ of the 1960s and 1970s was a crucial part of the mix which created generations of electronic music aficionados. But more than that, the BBC itself was a unifying cultural pillar of the second half of the 20th century. Its current woes look all the more desperately tragic. 

Grace Jones. Photo: Paul Whitely

It’s been a gruelling couple of days, weather-wise. Sunday day ticket holders have been told to stay away, because the car parks are impassable. The site has turned into a Glasto ’97 tribute act thanks to two nights of heavy rain, and as the crowd gathers to witness Sunday night headliner Grace Jones in action, down the rain comes again. She’s half an hour late, and people are getting antsy, gradually become sodden despite the waterproofs. Within 10 seconds of the curtain falling and the precise minimalist set opener ‘Nightclubbing’ all is forgiven. Grace Jones is high up on a podium behind her band, wearing thigh high leather boots, a shape-hugging corset, a billowing parachute of a cape and a silver mask.

She immediately bonds with the soggy crowd with various asides. As she gingerly descends from her elevated platform, she mutters, “You’ve got to watch out for all this danger shit on stage!” Later, she confesses that her nose is running.

The band is impossibly tight, and Jones is impossibly lithe. She’s 75, but you’d never guess that from watching lying on her back with legs in the air, or draping herself across the rail of the podium like it’s Club 54 in 1978. She seems to be having fine old time up there.

Grace Jones. Photo: Paul Whitely

She performs nearly every song you could hope for, in an array of dazzling costumes. The melancholic ’Private Life’, a furious version of ’Demolition Man’ wearing a steel corset affair, knocking seven shades out of a couple of cymbals that have been placed either side of her, ‘My Jamaican Guy’, ‘Love Is The Drug’ in a mirrorball bowler hat, ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ during which she bends over and slaps her arse at us, making it crystal clear that this isn’t a song about traffic in New York City.

The set wraps up with an 11-minute rendition of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, all through which Jones hula hoops. All that was missing was ‘Warm Leatherette’, possibly the most unlikely cover version of her career. It’s a magnificent climax to a Bluedot that, despite being dogged by truly terrible weather, remains perhaps the most unique and enjoyable festival in the UK.

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