28 February – 1 March 2020
Filthy weather battering Britain and the looming cloud of Coronavirus provide a good enough reason to escape for three days into an indoor music festival at Billy Butlin’s Holiday Camp.
Having made it through the storm and checked into barracks, there is barely time for a few ‘Hi-Di-Hi’s and the initial escape committee and tunnel digging chortle before the first bands are on.
This three day ‘alternative music’ festival is set in three venues within the 10,000 capacity holiday camp. For these events the limit must be around 3,000 given the main Centre Stage holds a maximum of 2000, the less comfortable Reds 1500 and the bar Jaks around 350.
Centre Stage is a smart well set out venue with a large exceptionally well-sprung dance floor – it gets bouncy. The room extends way back in small tiers on one floor to allow distant views, varied seats and tables, less ear blasting and easy bar access, if that’s your preference. Within this ‘alternative’ badged genre the variety is still substantial so dipping in and out of the fuller gig experience down the front is handy. Move in and out as you wish.
(I have my pocket zoom camera with me as usual. Took a bigger one in for a few hours on Sunday lunchtime but bit of a nuisance.)
The band selection for this three-day extravaganza focuses on punk, new wave and post-punk bands of the late 70s/ early 80s but it includes a bit of pub rock, mod and Oi!, with room for some new bands in that lot. The small Jaks venue is more like a pub and it’s used as an ‘introducing’ stage with gig goers being given a token to vote for bands with on exiting.
The qualification for playing this ‘introducing stage’ must be broad: as Duncan Reid commented, he’s been touring “for a million years” and it’s got him to the introducing stage. Rock’n’roll eh.
After a couple of pints in the Inn on the Green, t-shirt spotting, it’s off to Jaks for
Duncan Reid and the Big Heads. Duncan Reid played bass with The Boys – I saw them support The Stranglers around 1980/1 – and he has several albums in his current band, a four piece, in which he plays bass and fronts on vocals, with Heidi drafted in on guitar at the moment.
Since he popped up on stage at the Eddie and the Hot Rods last gig with Barrie Masters, I’ve been dipping in to his most recent albums ‘Bombs Away’ (2017) and ‘Little Big Head’ (2019) – the ones I’d pick from this afternoon opener are ‘Bombs Away’, ‘C’mon Josaphine’ and ‘Montevideo’. Good start.
Next up in Jaks still are Verbal Warning from Nottingham. Kept the interest up with original fast punky material and a plastic duck throwing song – some early throwers didn’t wait for the key line meant to induce the duck storm. Novel.
A short break for food – fellow inmates Andy (AMu), Big Gra (GGu) and Blademan Shef (SNi) realise that ‘eating isn’t cheating’ – it’s a marathon not a sprint. We sneak an Italian in ‘Ludo’s‘ while the guys from the Plymouth contingent, marshalled by our mate Dave (DPi), cruise into an early beer lead…not that it’s a race. Always drink responsibly.😎
Into Centre Stage for Goldblade. I’ve been listening but only in recent weeks, so when John Robb bounded out (Louder than War journalist and The Membranes – that I thought were still going – only saw a couple of years back) that was a surprise – clearly my revision was inadequate. I’d see them again.
Next on, and up the rockier end, are The Wildhearts.
I wanted to see them last year but a time clash meant I missed that opportunity and well worth catching up with. Heavy sound but easy listening heavy and good rock/ punk crossover.
We round off our Friday trip through this Butlin’s menu with our old faves Big Country – can’t get enough of them. They seem to get better and with their current tour commitments they are certainly getting some playing hours in.
‘A Thousand Stars’ was out early – love that one – but the anticipated crowd pleasers are all on show. This is no place for holding back on the hits. Big Country are a unique brand of guitar based pop rock and I don’t think many would slot them into a punk genre. They’re back here again after last year, this time as the Friday night headliners, and no Skids duties here for the Watsons this year.
To finish, a late linger round the bar with the DJ plucking corkers out to keep the evening going. Alas, the schoolboy error of ‘going too early’ was all too evident.
After a trip to Morrisons’ cafe for breakfast (bumped into Duncan Reid and the Big heads in there) – see they do let you out – via the main gate mind, as you can’t escape over the fences or extensive ‘moat’ – we return to Centre Stage for Knock Off.
To me one of the enjoyable surprises of the weekend. Three piece. Straightforward and I thought were best summed up by their penultimate number, an anthem ‘This is Who We Are. This is What We Do’:
If you don’t like it do one…. would be the message I guess. Straight talking, no nonsense. The swear-o-meter is tripping….the verse about the Fred Perrys and the Doctor Martens is the first ear worm of the day. The ‘Football, Beer and Punk Rock’ t-shirts I’ve seen now make sense. Available in claret’n’blue, and other colours if that’s not your flavour.
At the other end of the spectrum on offer here are Nine Below Zero – more blues than claret’n’blues. Long-term legends from the pub rock years and Dr Feelgood stable. This is the first time I’ve seen them which I’m almost feeling guilty about given their heritage. With some classic harmonica from original Mark Feltham, the atmosphere of the room is transformed to a giant late night bar during early afternoon.
Time for a tribute band – Complete Clash. They played here last year and once again hugely enjoyable – such a brilliant repertoire to work with.
‘Tommy Gun’ hit a nostalgic note for me but the variety in The Clash’s catalogue is fully exploited. I could watch this every week. I saw Strummer play in his post-Clash years but never The Clash. Now we can’t, this is a tribute band opportunity not to be sniffy at.
After that predictable high it was time for the Glen Matlock Band, featuring Earl Slick (the ‘featuring’ tag is clearly important so I Googled – extensive top drawer experience with Lennon, Bowie, New York Dolls….and more).
No crowd pleasers here. The ex-Pistol saved any nostalgic sop to his old life until long after I had fled, bewildered by his choice of material. The most inappropriate set of the weekend.
At this point I thought a no risk appointment with The Undertones was in order. I had planned to see The Adicts given as I’m seeing the ‘tones soon but the Derry boys were irresistible.
I first saw the Feargal fronted Undertones in October 1979, in Bracknell Sports Centre on the ‘You’ve Got My Number’ tour, and at a couple of the best Hammersmith Palais gigs not long after. I thought they were one of my favourite bands of that time that I should just leave there….but I couldn’t and in recent years discovered they are still a great night out with McLoone at the front. The rest of the band are originals – all are sporting Dr Martens. Their clothes are a bit better these days. I did like their old anorak look though.
I moved to the side of the stage as the sound at the front seemed loud and poor. This was the same for Sunday night in the Reds venue.
This didn’t ruin it though – dampening ear plugs in – a whole set of classic power pop including: ‘Get Over You’, ‘Male Model’, ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘When Saturday Comes’, and, the only song I’ve ever “performed” as karaoke in public, ‘My Perfect Cousin’. Beautifully straightforward pleasure…not my karaoke outing I hasten to add.
A short break now and I stay down in Reds to see the first half of The Members. The overflowing room clears. I would have stayed for it all but I couldn’t miss out on my chance to see Hung Like Hanratty upstairs…before they are banned from everywhere.
Another hard to leave alone schooldays band, The Members, are fronted by original guitarist and songwriter JC Carroll with original Chris Payne on bass and vocals.
They open with instrumental ‘Handling the Big Jets’ but I don’t stay for the A-side of that later: ‘Sound of the Suburbs’. ‘Solitary Confinement’ was on early which ensured I got one suburban anthem out of my system. ‘Chelsea Nightclub’ another old belter and I recall leaving at the end of ‘Working Girl’. If you could leave a set through gritted teeth then that’s what I did.
The Hung Like Hanratty gamble was worth it. Now this is ‘alternative’. I presume they are never heard on radio and TV stations would be investigated by the regulator if they appeared on the box. YouTube and Spotify to the rescue.
A punk rock version of Viz comic. A 21st Century Macc Lads. Offensive…if you are offended….someone must be offended for someone to be offensive I’m thinking? No treading on eggshells here…they are stamping all over whole eggs and the crowd are beaming as they enjoy this omelette of naughtiness.
While ‘Danny the Tranny’ and ‘The Ghost of Jimmy Savile’ may hit a nerve somewhere there can’t be anyone who wouldn’t agree with the heartfelt sentiment of ‘Clean Up Yer Dogsh*t’ or who wouldn’t get something out of this anthem’s associated dance!
After another Morrisons cafe breakfast and a morning in the chalet that was a cross between episodes of Last of the Summer Wine and Men Behaving Badly, we are ready for The Ramonas. They are kicking off the Centre Stage as another Jaks Introducing Stage winning performance last year.
As a Ramones obsessive in earlier years The Ramonas have offered some 21st Century support.
The all girl Ramones tribute band do their own material as well and that is what today’s showcase is all about. A new album has just been released, digitally only at this point – ‘I Wanna Live in Outer Space’ – and the title track they played was one of the best.
As with Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy /Marky (Ritchie and CJ) they have their Ramona aliases too: Cloey (Lisa – vocals); Pee Pee (Vicky – bass); Cammy (Camille, drums) and Rohnny (Maxine – guitar).
Their first album, ‘First World Problems’, includes the title track and ‘Daily Fail’ which both feature regularly in their Ramones tribute appearances. This is the fifth time I’ve seen them in a few years so I thought it was time I bought a copy of the first album on CD and I joined the mob at the stage-side merch desk for a signed one.
It’s still early afternoon but you’d never guess as From the Jam take the stage in front of packed enthusiastic audience. The best performance of the three days for me.
Seeing Bruce Foxton doing what he’s always done and playing Jam songs, in a band like this, is a special treat. Jam fan turned front man, Russell Hastings, looks, sounds and feels Weller.
I looked round at one point during ‘Going Underground’ and it was just a sea of similarly aged blokes singing every word – not the chorus – every word. ‘Eton Rifles’ another high and a finish with ‘In the City’ and and ‘Down in the Tubestation…’. Now that’s entertainment, which they did also.
I saw them a few years ago I’m the unlikely surroundings of The Barrington Centre, Ferndown in East Dorset. They were good then but this a great place to see them – don’t stop yet Bruce, I’ll be back for more. Perhaps it’s because I never saw The Jam.
Back down to Jaks Introducing Stage for Peter Bentham and the Dinner Ladies.
The monkey boots with yellow laces tell you that Bentham is from a certain era, but he’s still here on the Introducing Stage with recent albums and new material. ‘Goth Postman’ and ‘Hip Potato’ were memorable and also illustrate the quirky comedy value which I’d backed with punky riffs, saxophone (one dinner lady)…and of course two non-playing dinner ladies with the odd prop, dances and forays into the audience. Enjoyed it.
Bit of a rest of sorts now. There were other bands on in Jaks but we opted for watching the League Cup Final in a large sports bar. Half way through Ian Page appeared walking through the bowling alley reminding me it was time for action …. yes Secret Affair…down in Reds.
I like a bit of Mod, Mod Revival or Mod Revival revival even. I like the general Mod sound – not especially in tonight’s venue – but don’t know loads of their stuff. Third time of seeing them. All in the Mod Revival revival era…well revisited if not totally revived.
‘Time for Action’ and ‘My World’ still win out. “…this is my world today..and I wouldn’t have it any other way”.
There has been a bit of discussion over the weekend as to who (still) liked Bob Geldof or not and whether or not The Boomtown Rats were a credible part of punk and post-punk. I had that ‘Tonic for the Troops’ album and still have my copy of ‘She’s So Modern’ but hadn’t seen them play – Bob since, yes, but not as the Rats. Wide consensus seemed to be that given they are on and we are here then we’ll have a look.
I was totally surprised. A captivating stage performance from frontman Sir Bob, that was fully focused on the songs and entertainment, backed by a what I think is pretty much original Rats. Crowd pleasing entertainment.
‘Mary of the Fourth Form’ live is quite something and in the version of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ a lingering breathy pause near the final verse demonstrates how much Geldof is putting into this and giving it it energetic best.
The set included some new songs from a forthcoming (March 20th) ‘Citizens of Boomtown’ album – with some associated Gotham City type branding to this new world the Boomtown Rats are exploring. We shall see how that goes but overall this was a winning performance and I didn’t think I’d be saying that.
The party is nearly over and we opt for The Rezillos back down in Reds. I only recently saw the Rezillos and while this covered similar ground the sound was too loud for the speakers and room to deal with. We were flagging.
This is a long haul. The marathon is over. I enjoyed the range on offer within what at first thought may be seen as just a festival for old punks. Essentially nostalgic but still some surprises, mostly good ones. Then there’s the Introducing Stage, Jaks and last year’s Jaks winners on Centre Stage.
Bloody good value but maybe it can’t be sustained as no dates mentioned for next year. That would be a shame.