It’s been six years since I last ventured into a Butlin’s holiday camp for one of their boutique music events, and vowing never to return after the last one, it was always going to take something very special indeed to get me hugging Billy Bear once again. So, the first thing that grabbed me about this 2020 Alternative Music weekend event in Minehead was the fact that we could now seemingly get a room for six cheaper than we could back in 2014, okay it’s an entry level chalet (kind of like what you expect when booking a Travelodge) but when that equates to £75 per person sharing (and when you have the likes of The Wildhearts, The Undertones and The Boomtown Rats all playing) you don’t have to be a maths genius to work out this is great VFM. So, just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in for another weekend of great music, chips and Flash anti-bacterial wipes.
Arriving on site early and then being allowed to check into our room at 2pm means that our bedrooms are allocated out and the cans and vodka are soon flowing warming things up rather nicely for Duncan Reid & The Big Heads who are opening the festival’s Introducing Stage in Jaks bar. The irony of this for such an already established musician is certainly not lost on the great man himself when he declares that in another 35 years he hopes he can make it to Centre Stage, however hearing the likes of ‘Terminal Love’, ‘Brickfield Nights’ and ‘First Time’ being sung en masse by the packed out audience simply reinforces the fact that Duncan Reid & The Big Heads are already way ahead of where the promotor must think they are in the punk rock nation’s hearts, something that must be a very rewarding feeling for the band themselves too.
Wandering around the Skyline trying the find something edible before the evening gets into full swing it’s interesting to observe that there a far less stag/hen weekenders here than during my previous visit. It really does feel much more like a mini Rebellion and of course just like Rebellion I quickly realise (thanks to the event’s very useful mobile app) that I have the obligatory stage clashes to contend with, and this is my only real criticism of how these weekends are run. I realise why it is done, but seriously with a few little tweaks (maybe have venues sub-themed by genre?) I think this could possibly be made a lot easier on the punters many of whom are having to make some tough choices. So tonight, we have to choose between Goldblade who clash with Plague UK and then we have The Wildhearts who clash with Angelic Upstarts. Thankfully having not seen Goldblade live in quite some time my first choice is an easy one and I’m in Centre Stage long before their 8pm start to witness the recently reunited “classic” line up with Johny Vincent returning on guitar. Kicking off with a riotous ‘Fighting In The Dancehall’ and along the way slotting in classics like ‘Black Elvis’ and ‘Strictly Hardcore’ Goldblade simply don’t put a brothel creepered foot wrong during their eleven song set and closing things out with ‘Hometurf’ the guys really look like all conquering homecoming heroes as they leave the stage.
With The Wildhearts up next the crowd in Centre Stage thins out slightly as people appear to opt for the Angelic Upstarts option down in Reds (something Ginger himself later professes to being gutted not to be able to watch), but having sacrificed going to the band’s recent co-headline shows with Backyard Babies safe in the knowledge that I would soon be seeing the band play in front of a largely neutral audience there is only one place I want to be, and that’s pressed up again the barrier ready to immerse myself in the aural delights of the self-styled ‘Renaissance Men’ of British rock. ‘Everlone’ leads us into a hour long masterclass in how to do this festival malarkey just right with the band mixing old classics (like the opener) with newer tunes (like the amazing ‘Diagnosis’) and in the process winning over a crowd who largely openly admit to having not heard anything by the lads before. It’s heart-warming to see the 7-legged hit machine smiling and enjoying themselves quite so much and when the final chords of ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ ring out I along with many “new” fans simply wish this could go on all night. Please excuse this opportunity to use a cliché but right now The Wildhearts really are on ‘Top Of The World’, and it was worth every penny of my admission money just to witness this performance. In fact, I could almost go home, albeit I quickly remember we have two more days to go yet and Big Country are hardly going to be able to follow what preceded them. So, after a couple of songs from a very polished sounding version of a band I once saw giving the headliner a run for his money when I saw them supporting Elton John in Wembley Stadium, tonight its all about reliving their 80s former glory, something I’ll leave to their legions of dad dancing fans as I head off for a quick night cap ahead of day two.
Given that a few of our gang had hit the vodka a little bit hard in the wee small hours it’s somewhat remarkable that two of us actually make it to Centre Stage in time for Knock Off to open up proceedings at half-past one. It’s also remarkable just how many others also achieve this feat as the place is packed out for such an ungodly hour on a Saturday afternoon. Knock Off guitarist and singer Andy Town might be unable to down his pint in one but he and the lads are soon ducking and diving their way through a truly memorable set littered with streetpunk/oi! anthems like the always amazing ‘This Ain’t No Love Song’ all spurred on by this early afternoon show of punk rock camaraderie.
As kick-off time comes and goes Centre Stage’s clientele changes from mohicans to mohair as Nine Below Zero play out a set of R&B standards with everyone seemingly waiting (myself included) just to hear ‘Eleven Plus Eleven’ just to see who can do the Rik from the Young Ones dance the best. In many ways watching Nine Below Zero here today was a lot like watching ZZ Top playing a mid-afternoon slot at some metal festival, they both exude coolness and charm that has everyone dancing, and that my friends is the secret to both band’s longevity in the music business.
In the search for something a little bit more frantic I head over to Jaks just in time to catch Nottingham’s Headstone Horrors who are barking out a mixture of hardcore and horror that in many ways has a lot in common with the likes Horrorpops and Dragster, and they go down an absolute storm with those sensible enough not to be watching a Clash tribute band over on Centre Stage. One of the guys in our gang picks up a CD and T Shirt for £15 so at least here in Jaks it’s great to see the bands keeping it real on the merch front. Please don’t get me started on the main stage prices.
After a few more cheeky ones watching the football results come in and then a quick bite to eat we are back in Centre Stage ready to greet Glen Matlock and band featuring the one and only Earl Slick on guitar. Playing a set of tunes mostly taken from his excellent 2019 album ‘Good To Go’ I have to admit I’m more than just a little star struck simply watching Slick do what he does best. The set highlight for me (just like on the album) is Matlock’s take on Scott Walker’s ‘Montague Terrace (In Blue)’ a song that just exudes class whilst finishing with a crowd pleasing ‘Pretty Vacant’ means this band are always going to be one of the most talked about following this weekend.
The clash of the stages is up again next with our gang splitting in half as some choose to stay in Centre Stage for all the fun of The Adicts whilst the rest of us cram ourselves into Reds early doors to catch The Undertones. At the top of this review I specifically mentioned The Undertones because they are a band who I initially didn’t get as a teenager. Now four decades on I absolutely love their back catalogue yet I’ve yet to see them live, until tonight that is. Granted Fergal Sharkey has long since retired from the microphone but I’d heard nothing but good things about his replacement Paul McLoone (he’s been fronting them for just over two decades now) and as the band hit the stage with ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ smack bang on their nine thirty stage time I can see exactly why people rave about him (and them). Gambolling around the stage like a cross between Brett Anderson and Father Damo, McLoone is the perfect anthesis to Sharkey’s jumper and parka image, and with him singing their canon of hits with just enough of a hint of his predecessor the band achieve what so many other fail to do, replace the almost irreplaceable.
As for those songs its fantastic to finally hear the likes of ‘The Love Parade’ and ‘Here Comes The Summer’ live and when they can play a song as influential as ‘Teenage Kicks’ half way into their set and still not lose a single audience member after that you know you are witnessing something very special indeed. Just like The Wildhearts had done the night before The Undertones deliver an absolute blinder of a set, wrapping it all up with the essential pop punk anthem ‘My Perfect Cousin’, and everything in our troubled world feels right again.
Now shall I go and watch some more live music in the shape of Hung Like Hanratty or The Members or shall I head off into the night and have a few late-night snifters with the lads instead? Wait for me guys…I’ll have a large brandy.
Waking early to sound of the local seagulls going ballistic over the first proper sunshine of the weekend, there’s only one thing to do to prepare us for our third and final day of live music, and a line up largely dominated by ‘80s UK Mod bands, and that’s to watch Jonas Åkerlund’s ‘Lords Of Chaos’, in fact I’m half toying with the idea of doing the final day corpse painted up I’m not entirely sure how well that would go down with the Ace Faces on camp as we head over to Centre Stage to catch From The Jam.
Breezing into our Sunday afternoon with ‘David Watts’ the sound levels are initially noticeably lower than for other bands and as a result Bruce Foxton and Co don’t so much hammer you to the wall with their energy as politely introduce themselves with a gentile handshake. How very British. It’s certainly great to hear the likes of ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Start!’ live but devoid of the adrenalin kick of the Weller years its all a bit too much like Big Country on Friday night for me and instead I head off to Jaks just in time to catch Pete Bentham & The Dinner Ladies.
Pete Bentham has been a regular feature at Rebellion for a good few years now but somehow I’ve never actually witnessed him live before today and whilst his band’s brand of artpunk might not be exactly my type of thing musically, what these guys have is set of songs (largely drawn from their ‘England’s Up For Sale’ and ‘This Is Kitchencore!’ albums) that you’d have to be a braindead moron not to enjoy. Easily the surprise band of the weekend for me, and I’ll be interested to see them live once again.
A band I’d been wanting to see live for quite some time now is The Blue Carpet Band so today is my chance to rectify that matter. Mixing pulsating rock ‘n’ roll beats with a garage punk attitude, in many ways The Blue Carpet Band are very much the band The Sick Livers always threatened to be. ‘Back In The Trash’ sounds absolutely irresistible and ‘I Love The City’ almost wins the award for the best song of the weekend. I’ll hold off on dubbing them the best thing since sliced bread just for now though as I get the feeling the five-piece has even more to offer us via their second album due later in 2020, and I for one can’t wait to hear it.
Returning to our chalet for the last couple of tins we have left ahead of the final night’s stack of bands, and we have the March of the Mods to look forward to split across Centre Stage where The Chords are set to play whilst in Reds I can hopefully finally get to see Secret Affair live. To be honest it’s no contest though as after arriving early doors for Secret Affair they seem content just to be noodling away caught up in some acid jazz odyssey, so I quickly make a b-line for Centre Stage to watch the rest of The Chords who appear to be having the times of their lives and even though I don’t know a single song by them, they are still hugely enjoyable.
With The Boomtown Rats celebrating the imminent release of their first new studio album in thirty six years you can perhaps forgive Geldof and Co for opening with a couple of songs from said album (‘Citizens Of Boomtown’), and whilst drawing perhaps the second biggest Centre Stage crowd of the weekend it takes until the oldies for the floor to really start bouncing. ‘Rat Trap’ still sounds like the best Springsteen song he never actually wrote (or played) and if ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ wasn’t already on everyone’s Spotify playlist before tonight then it most certainly would be come the morning.
It would be oh so easy to take a caustic swipe at Sir Bob especially after his toys out the pram “black t-shirt” episode with the crowd at Rebellion a few years ago, but really (the godawful 30 years too late ‘The Boomtown Rats’ rave tune aside) tonight is a great mix of old and new and the near perfect way to end the weekend. Yup I know The Stiffs and The Rezillos are still to play, but I’m absolutely knackered and need my pit, even if my roommate is already crashed out and is in the process of single handily gazumping all comers in the Butlin’s loudest snorer competition.
Thinking back to the last time I attended The Great British Alternative Music Festival I posed myself the simple question of “would I attend again?” and at that time I suggested that I might if some new bands be added so we could all take a break from the almost relentless emotional tourism of the nostalgia acts. Well, the Introducing stage proved to be the perfect answer to this call, so answering that same question six years on my answer would be a resounding “YES”. Now if only someone could sort out those stage clashes eh!
Author: Johnny Hayward