Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Great British Alternative Music Festival

Two words that probably do not inspire great confidence are "Butlins" and "Skegness".
However, put them in the context of 3 days of Punk/New Wave/Rock/Alternative (or whatever you want to call the genre?), and add a liberal amount of beer and junk food, and those words no longer send a chill up the spine (or at least less of a chill, anyway).
The close season at Butlins (or indeed any Holiday Camp) can be a cold, desolate, depressing time ("... and how does that differ from a Holiday Camp in the summer months?" I hear you ask).
To fill up these cold, fallow times, and to ensure continued employment and a useful additional income strem, Butlins is throwing open its doors to a succession of Live Music Events, including Madness Weekenders, 70s/80s/90s Events, Giants of Rock, Northern Soul and the British Folk Festival.  The Bands on stage aren't low budget either, with Bellowhead at the Folk Festival, Focus and Mick Ralphs turning up for the Rock Event and Slade (or 50% of them) headlining the 70s Weekend.
The line up for the Great British Alternative Music Festival included headline sets from The Damned, The Boomtown Rats, The Rezillos, Big Country and From The Jam.  Spread over 3 days, the calibre of the bands on offer led to some tough decisions, limited sleep, and a hammering on the wallet at £3.50 a pint (however, you can buy the beer in Spar at less than half price, fill your plastic cup and wander freely between the venues).

I think Skegness can be officially titled "the arse end of nowhere" - there are only two roads leading to Skeggy, both of which mean you need to go through Boston.  On Friday, the traffic around Boston meant it took about as long to travel the last 30 miles as it did to travel the first 150.
I'm not alone in this difficulty.  Captain Sensible reported on his Facebook page that The Damned were also stuck in this traffic jam - and they arrived only an hour or so before they were due on stage.

So after the traffic difficulty, we rolled into the site, checked in and were told we had been upgraded to 'Gold Standard' Accommodation - a result of sorts, we now had a bigger TV and a choice of 3 bedrooms.  On the downside, the accommodation block meant a slightly longer walk to the Venues (only about 2 or 3 minutes, but in the cold wind and rain ...)

Friday evening started with the first of many choices: Anti-Pasti or Fukdust4?
I plumped for Fukdust4 on the basis that "No Government" is the only Anti-Pasti song I know, and I never really liked that much anyway.
The 10pm decision was even tougher - UK Subs of The Damned?
Sorry Charlie Harper -  Dave and The Captain won this round.  Their set showed them to be more than just 'an old punk band doing the rounds'.  Debut album 'Damned, Damned, Damned' is undoubtedly one of the prime punk albums (along with 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and The Clash's self-titled debut), but as their career progresses more colours are found in their music - you get the pop/punk/powerpop majesty of 'Machine Gun Etiquette', the dark, prog-tones of 'The Black Album' and the psychadelic/gothic collision of the later material ('Phatasmagoria' / 'Anything').  And all of these sounds burst forth from the stage in a storming set (even given the lateness of their arrival at the venue, and the equipment difficulties/failures they experienced).
Friday had been a long day, and I needed my beauty sleep.  This meant neither Bad Manners or the Anti-Nowhere League secured my patronage - I'm sure they we're both very upset about that.

Saturday was a slow start - bit of brekkie followed by a wander up the road to Skegness's premier attraction (Fantasy Island) and a walk on the beach.
Point 1: Fantasy Island is far from a Fantasy ("Nightmare" would be a more apt description)
Point 2: The Sea Front is a cold depressing place - which is a bit obvious when you realise it is the North Sea you are looking at
Point 3: The perimeter of the Butlins complex is surrounded by an 8ft fence with spikes on the top - a bit like a prison

Late Saturday afternoon was the first of two shows from The Boomtown Rats (they would also be playing at 10pm on the stage).   The band now consists of 4 original members (Bob Geldof, Garry Roberts, Simon Crowe & Pete Briquette).  The show was full of energy, R&B and the hits.  Bob Geldof is a supreme front man, and even though it was 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon, his charisma, chat/banter and energy rubbed off and built the crowd to a frenzy.  If I have one criticism it would be that original guitarist Gerry Cott and the keyboards of Johnnie Fingers were missed.  The piano introduction to "I Don't Like Mondays" and the organ break on "Someones Looking At You" just weren't the same when pounded out on a Yamaha keyboard (it may actually have been a Casio VL1).
Actually, there is a second criticism, but not about The Rats - the Gents toilet in REDS bar were starting to whiff a bit (this became much worse over the course of the remaining weekend).
The 8:30 slot saw a choice between Ed Tudor Pole and The Chords UK (featuring original Chord Chris Pope).
Again, choices?  what to do?
Well, two things swung it for The Chords. (1) I've spent the last month or so listening to a lot of Mod Revival stuff, and can confidently state the The Chords album "So Far Away" is an absolute corker. (2) I fancied a bit of a sit down and there was more free space in The Chords venue than next door.
For a band that aren't widely known, and in 3 years of recording managed 7 singles and one album to marginal success, the supreme confidence on stage and the power of the songs performed suggests the original band should rightly be feeling short changed.
The set included a number of post-Chords/Chris Pope songs.  It looks like he is onto album number 3 now, and somehow I've managed to miss out on them.  This oversight has now been rectified.
Next up was the second show from The Boomtown Rats or The Rezillos.
Out of pure interest/cynicism, I dropped in on the Rats first.  Firstly, the set was exactly the same (or at least the first two songs were, so I'm assuming the rest would be the same), and the toilets now stunk even more.
So, it was off to Center Stage for an evening with The Rezillos.  Despite the terrible sound, the show was fast paced, committed and had the audience bouncing around.
I am surprised though - I never really saw The Rezillos as a really "big" band and pitting them against The Boomtown Rats was perhaps a little unfair.  Indeed, the size of the crowd told it's own story (especially when compared the The Damned the previous night, or the audience size later on for Sham 69).
Late night Saturday show, and I'm staying awake for this one.  Whilst not being familiar with Goldblade, the small amount I have heard is perhaps best described (possibly only by me) as "a bit sh*t".  This belief was re-inforced by the first 5 minutes of their show - hey, some people like them, I didn't (so shoot me!).
Sham 69 it was - this is what Saturday night needs.  45 minutes of dumb, mindless, anthemic slogneering washed down with a couple of Pints of Guiness.  But hang on, this isn't Sham 69.  Leastways, there is no Jimmy Pursey.  I'll admit to feeling a bit let down (even though I did already know this in advance), but the sheer force of the performance (and possibly the numbing effects of beer) meant JP wasn't really missed.

Sunday's first performance was from Billy Liar who is officially described as a "romantic punk singer, travelling the world with a battered acoustic guitar and writing about everything he observes".
That may be the case, but he was let down by a truly atrocious sound mix meaning all you could hear was the ringing of the guitar strings and a muffled vocal.
Attendance was brief due to the above fact, and the increasing pong emanating from the back of the venue.
An hour and a half later, in the same venue, The Blockheads took to the stage and served up an hour of good time, tightly performed, funky pub rock.  Featuring original members Chaz Jankel, Norman Watt-Roy, John Turnbull and Micky Gallagher.  Vocal duties are handled by Ian Dury's former minder Derek Hussey ("Derek The Draw").
A perfect way to spend a Sunday Afternoon.
The early evening slot saw a clash between The Lambrettas and John Otway.  John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett emerged victorious, aided in no small part by the availability of a table and chair (my poor old legs needed a rest.  And did I tell you about my back ...?).
After Wild Willy's introduction ("Please welcome John Otwat"), he bounded on stage looking permanently confused with an acoustic guitar and a clown's hair-do, and so began nearly an hour of musically inspired mucking about, banter and chat with the audience (just about every song began with "... and the interesting thing about this song".
That statement probably does him a dis-service, because the songs themselves ("Cheryl's Going Home" and "Geneva" to name but two" are very good, and Wild Willy Barrett is a consummate musician.
After the self-created encore ("this is our last song, then we'll go off, come on again and do two more"), my first response was: "Follow that!").
However, I didn't hang on to see if Big Country could indeed follow the trail of hilarity, ripped shirts and mirth left by John Otway, because it was time to go next door for the appearance of one band in my 'Top 5 I Want To See Live' list.  I don't think I'll get the chance to see The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Cockney Rejects (?), but this was my chance to see The Jam (well, one of them at least).
And to complete this almost religious experience, I secured a prime spot by sneaking between the barrier and viewing the stage from the decking below the sound board.
From The Jam are in the middle of their Setting Sons 35th Anniversary Tour, and some of the tracks from that fine, fine album were included tonight alongside more expected tracks like "Going Underground", "When You're Young" and "Strange Town".
Interesting to note that what is effectively a tribute band is playing the cover versions from the albums ("Slow Down", "David Watts" and "Heatwave") - a sort of tribute to a tribute.  Still, I suppose it just adds to the suspension if reality.
The encore started with "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" and finished with "Town Called Malice" (personally, I'd have done these two round the other way, but then I'm not in the band am I?).
The end of a hot sweaty night (confirmed by the translucent nature of Bruce Foxton's shirt), and not dampened by the worsening odour from the lavs.

There were two later shows (Jeremiah Ferrari and Slagerij), but after John Otway and From The Jam, 11:45 on a Sunday was just beyond my energy levels.

Throughout the weekend, in the "slow time" afternoons, music was supplied by a 3 piece band (expanding at one point to about an 8 piece band), going by the names Panjenix, Electrojenix and Celtic Cross.
It was a sort of laid back acoustic, folky, punky, momentarily country, irish sound, with covers of The Stranglers, The Clash and The Pogues interspersed with their own material.
Laid back and relaxed - the perfect accompaniment to Chips & Curry Sauce, or whatever overpriced takeaway you cared to invest in.

For me, the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly From The Jam, with John Otway and The Damned sharing the sliver medal.
Special mention must go to Chords UK / Chris Pope, for an absolutely magnificent set which caused me to head straight to the merchandise stand and invest in what I had missed out on.
From his last album 'Peace Of Mind', this is the track that had me scurrying to the side of the stage and lightening my wallet.
"Mutiny On The Thames"

Would I go again?
Probably, yes.  Besides I missed out on Big Country.  However, they will be playing at the 80s version of these events.  It is taking place in Bognor Regis, which has similar connotations to Skegness, but I bet it is easier to get to.