Last time I went to Wembley Arena it was back in the early 1970s for some 'Holiday on Ice' spectacular. Videos hadn't even been invented, let alone killed the radio star. On Thursday I went back to remember a man who's been a seminal figure in British pop music for the last 25 years - TrevorHorn. A cavalcade of top artistes had been conscripted in his honour, and for three hours they (and we) were transported back to an age when Pop Idols actually had talent. It was a fascinating and eclectic mix of performers, some still at the peak of their profession, others just happy to be given another five minutes in the spotlight. At times it was like being back at an 80s school disco organised by your balding teachers. At other times it was arm-wavingly air-thumpingly brilliant.
The audience was noticeably older than the Arena's usual crowd of screaming girls waving their knickers at the lead singer of Busted. There were a lot of grown-up introspective 80s teenagers, mostly male, plus a fair few middle-aged couples present only because this was a big charity night deserving of their support. And there, up on the comfy seats stage right, sat a particularly well known middle-aged couple who'd been let in for free. Prince Charles smiled professionally and watched the concert with some bemusement. Camilla Parker-Bowles sat three seats away, her blond hair under the dimmed stadium lighting somewhat reminiscent of Krystle Carrington. A memorable night was in prospect.
Buggles: First up was the band that started it all. Trevor Horn took centre stage for Video Killed The Radio Star (no 1, Sept 1979), staring out into the crowd through his trademark spectacles like a startled rabbit in oncoming headlights. He followed up with Plastic Age (no 16, Jan 1980) (ahh, I still have this on luminous pink cassette), again a slightly creaky performance but apparently this was the first time the group had ever played live so it wasn't half bad. I loved every second, although I suspect I was very much in the minority.
Dollar: Gasps of amazement (and secret pleasure) from the audience greeted the entrance of David and Therese. They'd lost none of their professional edge over the years, although David seemed to have put on as much weight as Therese had lost. They played Mirror Mirror (no 4, Nov 1981) and Give Me Back My Heart (no 4, Mar 1982), the latter with a well-polished grin. An end-of-the pier cabaret career beckons.
Grace Jones: Wow, heeeeeere's Grace. She strode on stage wearing a striking black spiky headpiece, and held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout, what else, Slave To The Rhythm (no 12, Oct 1985). She was magnificent, recreating studio perfection with aplomb. She kissed Trevor on the cheek on the way out (I feared she might spear him in several places) and bade the audience farewell with a string of obscenities. A real highlight.
Belle & Sebastian: The endearing Scottish shamblers were hamstrung by having to perform their Horn-produced work, and so mystified the audience with their more recent material - I'm A Cuckoo (no 14, Feb 2004) and Step Into My Office Baby (no 32, Nov 2003). Competent and charming, but alas completely out of place on a line-up such as this.
ABC: On ran Martin Fry, still the perfect showman after more than 20 years. We revelled in three tracks from the classic album Lexicon of Love, kicking off with the excellent Poison Arrow (no 6, Feb 1982). This woke up the audience who made their first attempt at a singalong. The orchestral break at the end of All Of My Heart (no 5, Sep 1982) was extended, allowing some freak guitarist in a black leather kilt to overact while Martin popped off for a costume change. And yes, here he was back for The Look Of Love (no 4, May 1982) in his trademark gold lamé suit, just a couple of waist sizes larger than I remembered. Fab.
Art of Noise: Who'd have thought that one of the 80s ultimate synth records, Close (To The Edit) (no 8, Nov 1984), could ever be recreated live on stage. But it was, and unexpectedly brilliantly. Full marks to keyboard mistress Anne Dudley (although there was no sign of co-conspirator Paul Morley).
Propaganda: Another shining jewel from the ZTT stable, and a personal favourite. The band had reformed for the evening, with Claudia Brücken (or was it Paula Radcliffe?) taking centre stage in a sensible black trouser suit. We were only permitted the full-on onslaught of Dr Mabuse (no 27, Mar 1984), which was a shame because Duel would have worked much better under the circumstances.
Yes: Trevor Horn came late to this legendary 70s band, which at least meant he was significantly younger than the ageing rock dinosaurs who shuffled onto the stage just before the interval. Guitarist Chris Squire reminded me of Dr Emmett Brown from Back To The Future (although this was more Back to The Extinct), while fellow strummer Steve Howe was straight out of Phoenix Nights. They belted out some deafening prog rock overture before ending the first half with the classic Owner Of A Lonely Heart (no 28, Nov 1983). Oh yes.