Back in Time Lite/Retrovision 2005, The Avenue, Failsworth, Oldham 10th and 11th September as reported by Warren Pilkington.

For the last two events before this, I’d decided to take a back seat and let other people enjoy the Back in Time vibe, primarily because I was on holiday both times, but also because I’d wanted to gradually become a more background person. After my many years of HVSC Administration and having to be a more public face to people (something in truth I’ve never been comfortable with) after I retired from HVSC and pretty much everything else C64 related, I felt it was best that I concentrate more on other things in my life and just see how things went.

This year, two major flukes happened which helped me attend this event. Firstly, the apartments where I was going for holiday was fully booked for the usual week I go, so I re-arranged it for the week before. I think it must have been a premonition on my part as I’d booked the holiday before BITLite was announced. Secondly, when it was announced, the event wasn’t that far away from me – around eight miles the other side of town. No having to stay in mega-expensive hotels in London, or to commute down there either, both of which I really dislike.

Nonetheless though when I returned from my lovely week in Cornwall, I started to think about the forthcoming weekend and felt really nervous. I can be pretty shy actually, and so much has moved on in the C64 remix scene I wondered whether I was going to enjoy it or feel like there was a clique which I wasn’t a member of, or anything like that. That might sound daft, but I suppose when you’ve been out of the picture for a while, you do wonder if you’ve lost contact with people forever. As Jan Lund Thomsen told me, I could always leave and head for home if I wasn’t finding it to my liking, and having thought about that, I had a get out clause just instead.

First things first was to get the spare bedroom ready as Jan was crashing at my place for the weekend – the very least I could do to save him some expense. I’d offered to put Makke up here too, but even with that it was still to expensive for him. Unfortunate, I know, as I’d have loved him to be there for the launch of his CD, but not to be. Nonetheless I was quite confident a fair few copies of his album would be sold. Off to the airport and to meet Jan, and although the flight was slightly delayed, the biggest worry myself and my other half had was actually spotting him through the hordes of holiday makers who were making their way home from the Canary Islands on their two weeks of packaged binging. Soon though, Jan’s familiar face headed through the arrivals hall, and it was really good to see him again, having spent some quality time in Copenhagen with him last year.

Second was food for the evening. And only one choice for us – a curry, and rather nice is the fact that the 43 bus from the airport goes right through Manchester’s Curry Mile in Rusholme on the journey into Manchester, so we sat back for a forty minute journey and soon we were at the bright neon lights of my favourite restaurant in the mile, Lal Haweli. Needless to say as per usual the food was absolutely top notch, not least the starters too, my mushroom pakora was superb. Over a pint of Tetley’s we discussed all sorts, and it just set everything on the right track, not least as we headed into the city centre later on for a well earned drink in Ra!n Bar, a very lovely hand pulled cask pint of Brooklyn Best, the current beer of the month there.

Saturday morning arrived, and it was time for a bit of a jaunt around Manchester to do a bit of shopping, mainly for music and DVDs, so it was a quick stroll in HMV before heading down the road to Fopp. I’m sure Jan and I could have easily spent around £100 each in there if we could, but in the end he picked up a couple of DVDs he was after for a fiver each, bargain. We went over to Waterstone’s as well where he managed to pick up the new Bill Drummond book, saved him a ton on postage if nothing else, and while he was here.. After that, we hit a few other places before nipping into Boots for one of their Meal Deals for lunch, and into only one place that had to be done – Vinyl Exchange! Jan managed to find the Beastie Boys CD he was after for only five pounds, but as we were looking at the vinyl on display in the window, we spotted the KLF’s very first album as the JAMs, 1987 – what the f*** is going on?. At first we thought it might have been a bootleg release, but once we got outside and looked at the front cover plus the info sheet by the side, it was proved to be an original. As you can imagine with Jan being such a KLF fan, that made him a very happy bunny that at least he’d seen an original copy, even if he wasn’t going to buy it – well, unless you buy a turntable!!

We walked up Oldham Street to the bus stop, and before long it was on the 82 bus and up towards Failsworth, getting off at the stop before Broadway. We could see Morrisons in the distance down Poplar Street, so we walked down there past this horrible disused church, then over the little canal bridge, a quick left right, down the end of the road, and there was The Avenue. From outside we could both hear the dulcet tones of many games being played and we knew this was the place to be. Headed in and handed the ticket to Markie (just how does he do that green make up so well?) and into the Retrovision room for plenty of gaming.

I spotted Kenz pretty much straight away. It was good to see him again and straight away we got chatting. His stall looked very nice with plenty of C64 related wares as well as a DVD of Emily Booth that no doubt would have many people drooling over the weekend – her in a bridal lingerie outfit for example (!) and there was also a C64 DTV on display. Due to the fact Kenz himself was waiting for the suppliers to still ship some to him, it was an Argos-purchased job. Still, it looked good, and the games seemed to play the same – apart from the footbag event in California Games. The stick was horrible trying to move it left on that one, yet it was okay for everything else. A bug, I wondered. He also whacked on Xmas Chortles 2 later in the day which no doubt had many people either wondering what the hell he was on, or just laughing at the very inane humour.

Throughout the gaming fest, there was plenty of people to talk to and spot – but I wanted to take a peek into the rehearsals. A bizarre sight greeted me – Rob Hubbard lay across three chairs, virtually having a nap. Hangover, maybe? In any case, I spotted Reyn Ouwehand, Marcel Donné, Jesper, Martin and Theo from Press Play on Tape, and Slaygon. So it was like old times all over again as I just took a seat and chilled out watching SID80s go through their paces, painstakingly doing Rasputin for umpteen times until they got it right.

I went back into the gaming room to leave them to work on things, and half of PPOT to try an acoustic thing, and by this time I spotted plenty more people I knew: Mat Allen (Mayhem), Andrew Fisher (Merman) and I even had a hello from Matrix after he showed all the kids how it was done on the dual Xbox Outrun 2 setup, thrashing Mrs Matrix at the same time. Even Subzero came and said hello, and at first I didn’t realise who it was (apologies for that!). It was good to talk to them and to discuss a few things, and it was actually nicest of all to see Chris quite relaxed, it takes it out of you I suppose all the organising, and the crap DVD duplicators hadn’t exactly helped matters for him Nonetheless I had a quick chat but didn’t want to get in the way of him making sure everyone was happy enough. How could we not be? Plenty of old games and consoles to play on, including the age-old Astro Wars from Grandstand. Jan used to have one, and had no problem showing his prowess and kicking ass on it. I also saw an Amstrad GX4000 and soon realised why they didn’t make many of them – the games on that, frankly, were rubbish.

There was a C64 on show and I got talking to a few people there who were trying out Daley Thompson’s Decathlon – the first side refused to load so it was the old turn the tape over trick. One of them actually only lived in Poynton, Cheshire (not that far from me) so he was well up for it, and soon it was manic joystick waggling for everyone, even if it looked like something else. I had a go myself but soon realised the stick’s fire button didn’t like being held down for the angle, so using CTRL and 2 for the run keys and space for jump helped immensely. Still didn’t get that far though. Arkanoid: Revenge of D’oh went on later and the folks had a four player session on it at one point, which didn’t last that long due to the use of a stick instead of the preferred control methods of Atari paddles or Neos mouse.

Throughout the afternoon Outrun 2 was the star attraction. Press Play on Tape played against each other and ultimately I took the winner on – and won. Mind you, didn’t get to the end of stage three, but Matrix very kindly gave me some hints which helped me to at least finish it next time around I played – albeit only just. Mind you, that was nothing compared to the rather superb two player game I had against Merman, where he won by a whisker after an epic five stages with both his brother and Mayhem watching on and cheering us both on, which was a nice touch. Just after that something else made my day: I’d found out the score in the Manchester derby and my beloved Manchester City had got a 1-1 draw against the Scum. Set my mood perfectly, I can tell you.

By this point Markie had conducted the raffle (which I forgot to enter) and Amy, one of the Retrovision people who’d seemingly been chatted up by Slaygon (or was it the other way around?) was itching to win one of the prizes, hence her seven raffle entries. Indeed, I’m sure a few people would have really liked the signed C64, but that wasn’t the only thing on offer. Other prizes included a Sega Saturn, some PC games, the perennial Blitz Basic, a couple of hand held games, and the like. What was nice was that Markie asked different people to draw the numbers out, and he just drew out the winning C64 ticket, and I’m hopeful that the winner will treasure it. Not every day you get C64 celebrities to sign one, you know.

Not long after it was time for people to move to the concert venue part of the building where food and drinks were obtainable as well as a seat for the evening’s entertainment. I’d had a chicken pastie earlier in the day, and a pie in the evening for a pound was excellent value. That with my only pint for the day, a Guinness, just was the right thing for an evening meal and just filled me up enough for the forthcoming extravaganza. By this time, those who were spending the day in the pub had pretty much turned up too so it was great to see the likes of Paul Chapman, Neil Carr, Dan Gillgrass, Trooper, Tomsk, and to my surprise even Glyn R Brown was also in tow with them. Of course I had to catch up with Dan about old times and he was telling me that the pressie I got him (the Nick Cave DVD) was excellent – turns out his girlfriend’s into him as well which as you can imagine made Dan quite a happy bunny regardless. A few shots of and with people later, and with the shop nicely set up by Ziphoid for Chris, everything looked pretty much there for a grand evening, even if most of the crowd weren’t sure if MJ Hibbett and the Validators were playing too early when in fact it was just rehearsals.

Just after eight, Ben came on stage and announced the start of the gig, and by this time we’d all sat down and were ready to rock the place and enjoy ourselves. First up were MJ Hibbett and the Validators, and despite a few mixing problems with the microphones (not helped by the fact that the stage and mixing setup were at the side of the stage, a complete no no in my eyes) they actually were to my liking. I have to say though that their brash guitar sound is very much English indie-pop, not least the C86 era indie, and it’s quite an acquired taste, so I can understand if not everyone liked it. And of course, they’re not always supposed to sing completely in tune. It was a nice set, and I loved Quality of Life Enhancement Device, but for the audience only one song was the winner, and that was Hey Hey 16K, which they played twice. At first only a few of us sang along, but second time around was much more enjoyable, not least as Bog joined Jan, Chris and Mayhem in really belting it out near the front, sat down and fists clenched in appreciation. That for me was a real highlight. One chick by the side of the stage was really into them – with pigtailed long hair. Who was she? If you know, speak up!

It got even better from here on in as half of Press Play on Tape went on stage to do a surprise acoustic set. What wasn’t surprising was that it was high quality stuff, even if it was only three songs. The professionalism stood out a mile, and their version of Thrust worked really nicely this way. I really thought that if all of them got together next time they played and did an acoustic set, that’d be really relaxed and enjoyable to be honest (hint dropped guys!) They also seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely too and dropped a promotional hint for the Copenhagen Retro Concert in November at the same time.

Rob Hubbard came on next with Mark Knight in tow, and apart from a lot of us being in awe of the man, it was inspiring to see him do a little set. The Human Race tune four was first, one I’ve always enjoyed, and the piano and violin combination worked superbly with the tune to generate the right amount of emotion and feel. The feel continued with a piece Rob had composed after doing a shed load of happy tunes for a Disney game, and it was nice to see he could still do a great original composition. So what if people expected him just to do SIDs? That’s not the point: it’s about him being a musician, and still a great one at that. The tune that later became the theme from Train Robbers was next, I even tried to sing along with the train noises to just enhance my feeling of the whole thing. International Karate at the end was also a perfect touch, just a wonderfully beautiful feel and it just showed how brilliant the combination was.

No rest for the mad fiddler though, as after a brief pause and change around, it was time for SID80s to hit the stage once again with a different line up, still Ben, Andreas Wallström, Mark, Jon Hare and Marcel Donné, but also this guy called Jeremy on bass, and even Reyn Ouwehand guesting for a track. Let’s just say this folks: the wait was worth it. Although seemingly going towards prog SID rock (something I’m sure Ben and Jon would have been well up for) their set list was great fun. Combining Paperboy with Arcade Classics might have sounded risky on paper, but it worked really well, segueing into each other flawlessly and with great flow and movement. Spellbound was rather neat as Jon and Ben decided to impersonate the vocals of Visa Röster for the start of it, which was a nice hilarious touch just to set things off on the right road for that one. The final track of Rasputin was brilliantly executed, the speed changes, the movement in flow from everyone, and Mark walking around the whole audience, running out of the room and back in again at one point, to much happiness and laughter. Overall they were great and a fifty minute set that oozed quality.

For all the acts it was a shame that the mixing desk and the speakers tried to let them down sonically – the performances were great despite that. I say this because every act didn’t sound mixed properly, them having to constantly ask for volumes to be adjusted. I discussed this with Theo and Mark on the Sunday and they had it exactly right: the mixing desk should have been in the middle in order to get an even sound: it was impossible to get it right from the sides really. And that for me almost put a dampener on it, but as ever the musicianship and the quality shone through.

After the gig, and meeting and greeting a few more people (even spotting the old mucka Stuart Scattergood with his missus at the bar and reuniting him with his twin brother Kenz – you know what I mean if you see them together) and chatting with Ben and Jon about one of our favourite musicians, Roy Harper, it was decision time. With last orders called at normal English pub hours, did we leave around 11-20pm to get the last bus back to Manchester, or wait till 1-10am for the night service? As things were wrapping up a bit, and with me having purchased Makke’s CD, two MJ Hibbett CDs and of course the Hey Hey 16K t-shirt (essential) it was time to say our goodbyes for the evening and head back to the bus stop, where Jan and I got the 82 into town, made a quick dash through Piccadilly and managed to get the last scheduled day service 192 back to my place at 11-59pm, meaning our £3 day ticket was still valid! That cut the costs a fair bit for us, and before long we were back at Zaw Towers, chilled out and relaxed.

We just winged it a bit on Sunday, heading around town for a while, sat in Piccadilly Gardens watching the world go by with another Boots Meal Deal (they’re just so handy) and then headed back on the 82 to the venue to see who’d be there. Surprisingly a lot of people turned up so it was good to see everyone again. Kenz had the C64DTV on, so I played California Games and excelled on the surfing getting a massive 9.8. Those who were watching appreciated the feat, Kenz even wanted a picture, but I insisted that I’d probably get 10 next go, and do you know what? I did! Once the formalities of the organiser and performer photos were done, I got Kenz to take a pic of me with the score – using the classic I have successfully wazzed this phrase that we coined back in the days of me doing tips and POKEs for Commodore Zone. After more chatting with people and keeping an eye on the cricket also, it was time to leave and head back on the 82 into Manchester, then mellow out in Caffe Nero with a latte and a blueberry muffin (very nice that was actually) before heading on the 105 bus to the airport and seeing Jan safely on the plane home.

Needless to say it was a great weekend all round and would have been if Jan was only coming over. The fact that yet again the combined talents of Back in Time and Retrovision put on a superbly brilliant weekend just enhanced that even more, and it’s with great sadness that it’ll most likely be the last one. However, I think at this point it’s important to say a massive thank you to Chris Abbott and everyone else involved, whether they be performers, organisers, or just attendees who came along and witnessed something very special during the last four years. Without them we wouldn’t feel as friendly with people whom we once considered our untouchable godlike heroes but now some of us have the pleasure and privilege of calling friends, and that’s most important, even if nothing else was ever achieved. However, great music, gaming and personalities and people combined to make this weekend just as good as all the others that I’d been to, but in a different, more relaxed way. Sit back and enjoy your rest Chris, you’ve bloody well earned it.

Report Written by Warren Pilkington.