The Jacksons: Haydock Park Racecourse, Liverpool

By Shaun Ponsonby
Sun 09 July, 2017

With numerous generations of his family missing out on various incarnations of The Jacksons for decades, Shaun Ponsonby finally dances, shouts and shakes his body down to the ground. 

It took around 40 years for my family to cross paths with The Jacksons.

Several generations tried to get tickets to various incarnations of the family’s performing dynasty. From the first Jackson 5 shows in the 70s, past Michael’s huge solo shows in the 80s and 90s right up to Janet’s cancelled UK tour last year. Something always got in the way. Frankly, it was hard not to take it personally.

Now finally – The Jacksons and The Ponsonbys on the same race course at the same time.

The Jacksons without Michael might seem pointless to some. Like The Beatles without John, Paul, George or Ringo. But the contributions of the other brothers are too often underplayed. The Jacksons were always a much greater live act than Michael ever was solo, and the talents and personalities of the sibs was the reason for this.

Look at Marlon – probably the most charismatic of The Jacksons today. He almost comes across like a cheerleader on stage. Constantly revving the crowd, joking around, and incredibly nimble at 60 years of age, he feels like the heart and soul of the group.

Tito is the cool one. He’s just chilled out, man. He’s laid back and looks happy to be anywhere, playing his guitar with a grin on his face. I kinda wanted to have a drink with him after the show.  Jackie on the other hand is the quiet one. He seems like the steady older brother.

Then there is Jermaine. The second most successful Jackson brother, with a couple of monster hits to his own name. Did you know his 1980 single Let’s Get Serious was the biggest soul hit of 1980, just ahead of Michael’s Rock With You? He’s also a pretty underrated bass player, having to replicate the bass parts of James JamersonMotown’s house bassist, widely considered to be one of the greatest of all time – when he was just 16 years old.

Although Michael’s lead vocals are divvied up between the four of them, it feels like Jermaine has most of them. It takes some time for your ears to adjust. Michael’s voice is one of the most memorable in pop history. His first line on the studio version of opener Can You Feel It? is dynamic and hard to forget. You still expect to hear his voice when Jermaine comes forward to sing the line.

But it should register more than it does. The atmosphere is effervescent, despite the British weather making a mockery of the concept of an open air gig. They don’t miss a beat after Can You Feel It? and launch straight into Blame It On The Boogie and Michael’s Rock With You.

In a way, Michael not being there gave the performance some added emotional gravitas. Their little brother’s shadow is impossible to ignore. It’s to their credit that they embrace this rather than try to brush it under the carpet. Images of Michael are shown on the screens throughout the show, and at one point, Jermaine paid a more intimate tribute by singing Gone Too Soon, a Dionne Warwick song that appeared on Michael’s Dangerous album. It was a touching moment, and there were a few superfans with tears in their eyes. The poignancy was only slightly ruined by chants of “Put your umbrella down” to some selfish woman near the front.

The big Motown hits came thick and fast halfway through the show – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, Dancing Machine, Never Can Say Goodbye, I’ll Be There. Most of them were in truncated versions, which was a little frustrating. No doubt most of the crowd would have rather heard a full I Want You Back rather than watch a small documentary video? But that is a only a small quibble.

After Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground), complete with an extended jam and a dance move they called Shovelling The Funk, The Jacksons exited the stage. Looking at previous set lists, it seemed like that would be it. But out of nowhere, the band’s guitarist returned to the stage and started playing a short solo, before starting up their 1984 collaboration with Mick Jagger, State of Shock. And finally, the rain stopped.

The humungous success of Michael Jackson as a solo artist has meant that too many overlook the brothers and The Jacksons’ back catalogue. This is criminal as they were one of the greatest R&B groups of the 70s and 80s, which is no small feat given the amount of great R&B groups of the era. They were as good as Earth Wind & Fire or Parliament. It was a thrill to see them cut loose and celebrate a legacy that is as much theirs as it is Michael’s, and the crowd ate out of their hand throughout.

Was it nostalgia? Yeah. But so what? Being a heritage act doesn’t make you washed up by definition, and The Jacksons brought the party. When an entire racecourse bounces up and down on your command, you still got it.

But next time – Jermaine best sing Let’s Get Serious.

Click here to read our list of The Jacksons’ best non-Michael songs. 

  • Image: artist’s Facebook