It’s a strange concept, this Big Reunion gig. Gathering together the bands that fell into the dumper quicker than an old copy of Smash Hits, trying to conjure up real-time excitement (and ticket sales) through a TV show which was like a montage of the worst X Factor sob stories. But unlike the transparently cynical ALL TEARS ALL THE TIME Steps reunion saga (which was only interesting when Lisa Scott Lee went on another demented rose-fuelled tirade against Claire) the reason the show was successful was because of pathos. The Big Reunion had pathos exploding through the screen. No-one wanted to see their old crush Scott from 5ive welling up thinking about lost opportunities or Spike the knuckle-faced dancer from 911 stare wistfully out of a window pondering about his agoraphobia. This is not how we wanted to remember them and this is not how we wanted to think of us, of our lives and lost opportunities as we reached for another nacho on the couch.
The Big Reunion tour is all about putting real life on pause. They failed to become ever-lasting gold encrusted pop icons just as we possibly failed to grow up to become whatever we wrote down in a Sugar personality quiz. This is life in aspic, a night were the audience lets B*Witched think they were hard done by and Duncan from Blue still think he’s a Calvin Klein model and they in turn let the audience rewind to a time where there were no frightening bills, no boring desk jobs, no expanding waistlines only the fizzy fun of dance routines, kissing posters and all those endless three minute pop explosions.
So for one night only the 02 is a den of denial, where it’s perfectly acceptable to scream at a 40 year old man writhing around with his top over his head and to indulge in pantomime banter so cheesy it could have been removed from a hobo’s foreskin and there are none more cheesy than our own dancing bobble-heads B*Witched. The hydra-headed beast of denim bound onstage at the staggeringly early time of 8.30 meaning no-one has drunk a sufficient amount to be able to ‘enjoy’ their certain brand of cruise-ship pop. In the dimming evening light ‘C’est La Vie’ sets a worrying tone, yes everyone screamed and cheered at show openers 5ive like it was 1999 but they swaggered around the stage like the moody bad boys we remembered but this time they were casting wry smiles clearly in on the joke, unlike the grindingly perky intro of their biggest hit and the pushy-mother stance of Edele Lynch who is desperately trying to have a Beyonce moment in a song that is reminiscent of the Tellytubbies theme tune. It has the opposite effect of what this night is about, instead of remembering a quicksilver forgotten moment of brilliance it makes you want to leave the past far behind and adding in the obligatory shouts of ‘Ah Heyor ! Leave it Out!’ only makes their performance that bit more cringeworthy. As they exit the stage Tricolour grasped in the Lynch twins palms like bronze winning gymnasts , it is time for a mass exodus to the bar for some medicinal drinks as poor 911 take the stage.
911, the back-flipping Chuckle Brothers and Lee the baby-faced singer, try their best to engage the crowd pulling out the Coldplay trick of requesting that everyone light up the room using their phones but when their first song is actually a medley of two cover versions and the crowd still don’t recognise them they shuffle off despondently with Jimmy mumbling something about Guinness and the threat of bringing out a new album. It looks like the promise of the Big Reunion live has amounted to an even more depressing version of those radio road shows from a windswept car park in Eastbourne. Thankfully the Honeyz remind us why dredging up the past is a good idea. With their insane inter-band scrapping and ever revolving members they were like the proto-type Sugababes and just like their scowly counterparts they had the giant tunes to go with it. ‘Finally Found’ prompts the first bout of mass bellowing and by the time they whip on their trademark blue coats for the swingbeat perfection ‘End Of The Line’ a blast of intoxicating nostalgia fills the air like the overpowering scent of Impulse on a summer night.
This is nothing compared to the arrival of Kerry Katona on the stage. With a montage of her best blubbing bits from the TV show preceding her arrival (including the classic I-was-going-to-be-dead-before-I-was-30) she gets the biggest reaction of the night. The crowd might have had Scott’s face plastered all over their school homework notebooks and Lee Ryan’s gimpy grimace on their walls but Kerry is something else. She is that nice friend you once had who went off the rails, that girl you went to school with that you never see anymore. Her breakdown was Britney-like in its levels of insanity but somehow more relatable in its commonplace sadness and therefore all the more poignant. As she joins up with Atomic Kitten colleagues Tash and Liz stumbling her way through the old dance routines with a massive smile on her face maybe all Kerry needed was an actual job rather than another reality show but before anyone gets too emotional it’s time for Liberty X to remind us all of Richard X’s cold steel production brilliance on ‘Being Nobody’ injecting some shimmering class to the evening that Blue manage to bulldoze their way through like an overcooked Christmas turkey.
Blue are the add on band no-one asked for but apparently everyone is pleased to see as the screaming for raisin-eyed Lee Ryan goes to almost Mark Owen-like levels of ear ringing. As the nonchalantly lean their way through the comical law infused lyrics of All Rise in their tracksuit bottoms and harem pants Blue feel too familiar to be here. There is no fuzzy-feeling of rebirth or remembrance this is a hollow, nasty bout of hijacking to promote their own greatest hits tour and new album.
It’s with this empty feeling that the show grinds to a halt for a ludicrous 30 minute interval (probably to get the Liberty X ladies into their catsuits) before everyone returns to supposedly bring out the heavy hitters, but with the Honeyz having dispersed with their greatest of hits at the beginning they only have the booming ‘Won’t Take It Lying Down’ left in their arsenal to offer before piddling away into insignificance on the forgettable ‘Never Let You Down’. The ballad heavy second half gives more toilet time with the likes of 911 and Blue ploughing through their yawnsome slow set faves and a truly disturbing version of ‘Body Shakin’’ it’s not until Liberty X and their peerless, Hearsay crushing ‘Just A Little’ and the re-emergence of 5ive that things start to get Top of the Pops thrilling again.
‘Keep On Movin’’ is an explosion of optimism, it is the bright Saturday morning, Smash Hits sticker swapping, ice-cream eating slice of fun that pop at its most joyous can bring. It is songs and moments like this that make The Big Reunion seems justified. As Abz throws his trucker hat into the squealing crowd and exits the stage there is a collective feeling of goodwill injected in the air that continues through to the grand finale of ‘Whole Again’ it is only fitting that The Big Reunion tour ends with the Atomic Kitten girls clutching each other and swaying on stage as this is a night not just about testosterone and beefcakes, it’s not a night to re-launch careers, it’s a night about nostalgia, about friendships forged and lost to be reunited, those faces may have changed but the songs remain the same.