Backstage Stories as The Park Rocked 80s Style

Me and Ken with a crowd and Kim Mitchell on stage in the background. We are wearing green plastic glasses with blinking green lights on them

The music of the 1980s withstood a lot of mocking. Hair bands and synthesizers, all pushed in our faces by cheesy music videos. But as last Thursday night proved, there were some really great songs that have passed the test of time.

How does a News/Talk radio station get to become part of one of the city’s biggest music festivals? It’s all who you know. I mean really, which station in London hasĀ 80s babies as its listeners? News/Talk 1290 of course! That gave Ken and I a chance to see and be seen and do loads of fun on-air ticket giveaways – pretty unusual for an AM talk station.

backstage view of mics, gear and a guy doing a soundcheck

This was the calmest moment we saw when we were backstage last Thursday for Mixtape Rewind, night two of the four-night festival at Harris Park. A Flock of Seagulls, the opening band, hadn’t yet played. As we lingered, waiting for our cue, we heard a huge CRACK, like thunder. A massive tree behind the stage came down and we feared someone in one of the many huge trailers might have been hurt. Fortunately, it landed between two vehicles and missed everyone and everything. Someone was sent to find snow-fence to put around it for safety.

The show’s timing would get thrown off and so much unseen chaos was still to come. After someone set a couple of cold beers beside the lead singer’s amp and the rest of the band arrived, Ken and I got to do the first introduction.

Quick selfie with Mike, lead singer of A Flock of Seagulls, who no longer has his unusual 80s hair

The band sounded amazing. Mike’s voice is still the same. As far as I remember, they had two big hits – I Ran and Space Age Love Song, the second of which they played at the beginning and near the end of the set. Play the hits. It’s what the crowd came for.

Next came Platinum Blonde and they, too, sounded wonderful. They’re rockier now. Ken and I were backstage waiting to intro the next act when Blonde’s set ended. Drenched in sweat, lead singer Mark Holmes stomped off the stage, obviously unhappy. We later learned that two of their songs were cut for time – they were told mid-set. And apparently an important piece of video didn’t play. I wanted to tell him how he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. No one knew anything more than what they saw, and they loved it. But I thought it better to keep my minion mouth shut. I had met him a few times back in the day, when those songs were new.

Mark Holmes with his trademark platinum blonde hair giving a curly-haired me a big kiss on the lips in the hallway of CKSL

Don’t worry that it might have been a #metoo moment. Twenty-three year old me was completely willing!

While all of the instrument and personnel changes were going on and Ken and I were keeping track of our stage times, leaving extra time to fight the crowds toward the backstage entryway, there were meet-and-greets with the artists. We couldn’t make them all, and they were constantly changing. We’d get a text: Hey everyone! The M & G for Kim Mitchell has been delayed until 5:45!

Ken and I flanking Richard Page, who looks like a wealthy lawyer dressed down for the day in a T-shirt and leather jacket

How can we get back to get a photo with Kim Mitchell at the same time we’re introducing Richard Page of Mr. Mister, above? We can’t! Oh but wait, Platinum Blonde’s M & G is being pushed back a half hour. At least we weren’t also doing a live radio show at the same time. I’ve been there before.

Ken and I sandwiching Nick Papparella in a selfie

And then there’s CTV London’s Mr. Emcee, Nick Papparella, with whom we were trading off emcee duties (along with Virgin’s Jay Stevens). Nick has the rare distinction of covering some of the most gruesome and disturbing court cases as a reporter, while trading off as the guy on stage who can get a crowd to cheer with a word or two! London loves him. He was trapped backstage for the entire show because he didn’t have the proper backstage pass and protocol dictated that he needed to be escorted by someone who did. He made the best of it. He’s never in a bad mood.

As an emcee, you get a sheet that includes everything you’re supposed to say before you introduce the band that includes a laundry-list of sponsors. So you try to make it fun. But you also live in the moment if something changes. In previous years, I’ve been waiting in the wings only to be told that the band doesn’t want a live introduction. So you slink away, unwanted. Before we introduced Richard Page, the stage manager said we had ten seconds. Ken and I turned to each other to work out how to handle it and the stage manager puts up his hand firmly, but politely. “No”, he says. “You are going to say these five words: ‘From Mr. Mister, Richard Page’!” So we bounded out in front of the crowd, Ken said the five words into a mic as I jumped around and clapped like a Muppet and the crowd roared in anticipation. “Great job!” said the stage manager, whom I called Chocolate, because that’s what was written on his T-shirt and I didn’t hear his name.

Ken in the far left corner, wearing lit-up green plastic glasses, as Howard Jones in the background talks to a member of his off-stage crew

The Howard Jones intro wasn’t much longer but the last things we want to be are the idiots keeping the band from getting on stage. That’s why people were there by the thousands! I actually shouted to the crowd, and I quote: “Where my News/Talk 1290 homies at?” And people shouted and applauded back! Howard Jones looked tiny and a little frail backstage, but he was his 25-year-old energetic self as soon as he walked onstage. Weren’t we all. Richard Page bounded up the stairs past us to the wings to watch Howard perform up close. The energy kicked up a few notches, even though Howard played four or five songs before launching into one of his big hits.

Ken and I didn’t stay for the rest of the show. Our 3 am wake-ups were calling. But by all accounts, Bret Michaels killed it and Cyndi Lauper was great, too. We missed Cyndi’s sound check but apparently it was something to behold; peppered with f-bombs and complaints. They all strive for perfection. They don’t want to let anyone down. From what we saw and heard, they had nothing to worry about.

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