Cheers and groans as Kylie and Jason put in a shift at reopened Hit Factory

Hit Factory Live Christmas Cracker at 02 Arena, London

After having been postponed this summer due to bad weather, the Hyde Park extravaganza that never was became a huge indoor celebration of British pop's cheesiest manufacturers – the hit factory that was Stock Aitken and Waterman's PWL enterprise.

In the 80s and early 90s PWL was a sort of Primark version of Motown, churning out production-line pop of variable quality, and on Friday night many of the stars behind PWL's 100 or so hits converged on Docklands to perform their best-known songs.

It was like one giant Christmas office party, and it also served as a knees-up for the Mayan apocalypse that never was. This was three and a half hours of music that for the tinsel-sporting hordes here offered heavenly hands-in-the-air entertainment, even if it would have been a muso's idea of hell.

It began with the Dutch Eurodance duo 2 Unlimited, whose 1993 worldwide No 1 smash No Limit set the repetitive, compulsively moronic tone for the evening. But then, Pete Waterman, the only SAW member present, was always more of a huckster than an aesthete, as he would be the first to admit.

Still, there was no arguing with the relentlessness with which the hits kept coming, with each act only performing their biggest numbers – no B-sides or album tracks for this show.

2 Unlimited, followed by Lonnie Gordon, seemed to exult in PWL's mechanised soullessness and synthetic tinniness. Hazell Dean's mumsy appearance was at odds with the cyber thunder of Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), that blast of proto-Hi-NRG disco from 1984.

PWL might have dubbed itself "the sound of a bright young Britain" but these were middle-aged men and women with stories to tell, not all of them featuring happy endings, notwithstanding the polite jollity of the concert.

Nathan Moore, arrested in the mid-noughties for soliciting a female police officer in London, was the sole representative from original boy band Brother Beyond. His falsetto may have faltered but his sole contribution, the neo-northern soul of the Harder I Try, was terrific and proved SAW didn't just do bionic boogie.

Sonia was no longer the Scouse teen but she got a massive cheer, the audience revelling in her very ordinariness. These were X-Factor prototypes to a man and woman.

Just about the only acts with any discernible charisma were Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive who resembled Joan Collins dressed for a funeral on Mars, and Bananarama, a pair of ex-punk rockers who despite their self-styled "gimpy dancing" had self-deprecating wit to spare, coming across like a thinned-out French and Saunders.

Pepsi and Shirlie appeared to have wandered in from a hen party while Sinitta stripped to a bikini to reveal a bizarrely youthful body that sent out the message that if you devote your every waking hour to not looking old at 44 you can achieve it, then proceeded to cavort creepily with a group of formation-dancing hunks wearing "Sinitta thinks I'm so macho" T-shirts.

Rick Astley didn't appear to have changed much either – he was still the perennial cheeky chappy down the local disco chatting up your girlfriend, and he even slipped in a bit of oleaginous lechery for all the ladies in the house.

It wasn't all tinny fodder – mid-'80s electro-soul girl Princess performed the magnificent Say I'm Your Number 1. And if Steps were as unappetising as ever then at least there was the surreal thrill of seeing portly middle-aged audience members – male and female – doing ridiculous hand jives to their songs.

When Kylie Minogue did the unexpected and came on for a duet, with Jason Donovan, of Especially For You, she exuded genuine star power – it was like seeing the Queen turn up at your child's end of term school play. To her credit, she didn't look sheepish at all, but radiant and in her element. Donovan even picked her up and twirled her round, something he probably never imagined he'd ever be able to do at his narcotic nadir.

For the finale, everyone came back on for a version of Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody, but the party didn't end there, with many of the crowd still singing well after the show ended as they spilled into the streets outside.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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