The Great British Alternative Music Festival (Punk, Ska, New-Wave)
Butlins, Warren Road, Minehead
Friday 8th March – Sunday 10th March 2019

If you’re looking for in-depth review of the bands, you’d be best to head over to the rather excellent or one of the other reviews, but if you want to see some photos and find out more about Butlins weekenders then stick around (and head over to the punk site afterwards!) …

This was only my second trip to The Great British Alternative Music Festival (Punk, Ska and New-Wave), and it is already a highlight of the festival calendar.

Festivals are often as much hard work and endurance as they are fun – with long treks between gate/car park to campsite to arena, carrying heavy tents, sleeping bags and the kitchen sink, all at the mercy of the great British weather!

I’m not ready for the knackers yard yet, but some days I do feel my age, so it can’t be overstated how nice it is to be dropped off from the bus outside Butlins gate, a short walk to check-in, a short walk to chalet, and a short walk to the stages, bars and restaurants, ready to enjoy a weekend of music you love in like-minded company.

Can you think of a better way to spend a weekend than watching bands you love, chatting with friends and like-minded strangers, a comfy bed, and a wide choice of decent food?

But if I had a pound for everyone who points out the supposed irony of punk bands performing at Butlins…

Let’s face it – we knew most of these bands in the first place because they signed to a major label with a marketing budget, and probably saw them for the first time miming on Top of the Pops or telling a 9 year old what inspired them to form a band on Swap Shop or heard them on a state owned Radio station which is under royal charter!

So what?  Had these bands subscribed to some kind of naive purist ideology where they never released records and only played gig’s in their ma’s living room (perish the thought they play a free pub gig that helps the landlord flog corporate lager) they wouldn’t have had the cultural impact that they did, because most people wouldn’t have known who they were, and our childhoods would have been full of novelty songs and bland pop.  It’s not like the establishment made them wear nice suits, cut their hair and sing Perry Como covers!

Perhaps people labour under the delusion that the bands are part of the entertainment at Butlins holiday camp.  Ted Bovis and Spike come up to you cracking corny jokes when you’re trying to watch the band.  Bands run late due to the inevitable fracas caused by controversial judging decisions in the nobbly-knees competition.  Syliva constantly invites you down to the beach to see her ass (a donkey, stop tittering at the back, saucy!).  The chalet maid goes on and on about how one day she’s going to play bass for the Blockheads.  You get woken by Gladys Pugh and her xylophone “Tonight we have a real treat for you in the main ballroom, those nice cockney boys Sham 69 will be strutting their funky stuff for your pleasure, ooh lovely”.  Not to mention hundreds of feral kids, who keep nicking the knotted hanky off your head and pushing you off your deckchair and kicking sand in your face, causing mayhem whilst the children’s entertainer who hates kids but loves a drink sits tied up in the corner.

Actually that might make an interesting themed weekend, but back in the real world the holiday resort is closed for the winter – the music festival weekenders just use the facilities, oh and these festivals are for over 18s only.

The stages aren’t some rickety old postwar huts with PA systems out of Home Bargains either – the sound and lighting are excellent – they have to be otherwise people wouldn’t come back year after year.  The layout is also cleverly worked with different levels giving you a clear view of the stage even if you’re further back.

In brief, at a Butlins Music weekender you get all the benefits of a proper bed, hot shower, sit down hot meals, professional sound and light tech, and no worries about the weather.  The downside?  None that I can see!

It’s worth remembering that Hi-De-Hi was made in the early 80s and set 60 years ago in 1959-1960.  Although it was based on Jimmy Perry’s post war experiences at Butlins Filey and Pwllheli (the latter I suspect closed down because nobody could pronounce it, “I’d like to book a week in Phwl… ph… phlw..oh sod it, Skegness please!”) which he no-doubt exaggerated for comedic effect.  But it no more reflects today’s Butlins than Are You Being Served reflects today’s John Lewis.  The world has moved on, and Butlins has moved with it, if they hadn’t, do you really think they would still be in business?

Indeed, having now seen the facilities first hand I realised the holiday resort in the summer would be perfect for our 5 year old, but I soon discovered how quickly it gets booked up, they must be doing something right!

Anyway, suffice to say that this festival is every bit as credible as any other punk and alternative festival.

Getting there

This particular weekender now runs twice a year – October in Skegness and March in Minehead.  I was traveling from Liverpool and they both take about 6 hours by public transport, and the journey is relatively painless.  At both camps there are buses which will drop you off at the gate.  There is a car park if you prefer to drive.

To get to Minehead from Liverpool you take the train to Birmingham, change on to the train to Taunton, and then a bus takes you right to the gates.  Here’s a tip – the timetable given by the trainline isn’t necessarily correct, and you don’t need to walk all the way to the bus station (15-20 min walk) only to find that the bus actually stops outside the train station (don’t ask me how I know…)

The Site

Once through the gate, the check-in is a 2 minute walk, and when we arrived the queue was quite short, as lots of staff were on.  Within about 10 minutes we had our key, welcome pack and map to find out chalet.

The chalet we were allocated had 2 bedrooms, shower/toilet, kitchen with sink, microwave, fridge etc, a table with a high-low light, and at the front a sofa and TV, plus balcony with a table.

Everything was clean, and had all the comforts of home.

The main tent has shops, bars, the skyline stage (not used this time, more on that later), and a pub with stage called Jumping Jaks.  At the far end there is the door to Centre Stage – which is the main stage, and just outside is the door into Reds, the other stage.

Further down there is The Deck – the buffet if you are inclusive – which has a good choice of foods and all very tasty, too tasty as it goes considering I’m supposed to be on a diet at the moment!

People seem to be divided on Skegness vs Minehead – I think the crowd were different, with a lot more mohicans and punk outfits in Skegness, some of the external paintwork at Minehead looked a bit more tired, but the chalets and facilities I thought were equally excellent at both resorts.

The Butlins brand (along with Haven and Warner Leisure hotels) is owned by Bourne Leisure who employ over 6,000 people in the UK and are currently #5 in The Sunday Times 25 best companies to work for in 2019 – and it shows!  The staff we met all seem genuinely happy in their work and very friendly and helpful when you need them (but don’t worry, if you’re feeling a bit delicate on Sunday morning after overdoing it on Saturday night, they won’t be in your face telling you to turn that frown upside down! 🙂 )  It’s Butlins, not Maplins!

The Festival

As mentioned earlier, I’m not going to go too in-depth on the bands, other sites cater for that.  Lets be honest, nobody really cares which bands I liked, people are interested in whether it’s something they would enjoy!

I do have fairly eclectic tastes, with everything from folk to reggae, indie to hip-hop, and I even bought an Army of Lovers album once (but keep that one to yourself!)  When you’re running around photographing bands it’s a very different way to experience a festival (if only I could go back and tell my 12 year old self watching Toyah on Top of the Pops that * cough * years later I’d be crawling about on the floor photographing her, I’d have been impressed!) so I was keen to get my Brother-in-Law Simon along to see what he made of it.

He’s much more firmly in the punk scene than I am, and goes to Rebellion and other punk events, although he knows people who go to Skegness, he didn’t know anybody going to Minehead other than me, and I was busy in the photo-pit.  With something like 400 bands to choose from at Rebellion, would he be bored on his own with just 38 at Butlins?

Getting straight to the point – no, he had a great time!  It’s different to Rebellion, he will still go back to Rebellion and I may go with him next year, but he also enjoyed Butlins and is already looking at whether he can book time off for the next one!

It’s a friendly crowd and he soon got talking to people, some of the bands (which will remain nameless since I probably follow them on Facebook!) weren’t his thing so he vacated to the bar half way through the first song, but he still found enough highlights to make the trip worthwhile.

And that’s the great thing with a festival – you might not like all the bands, only if you’re mad, a photographer or as in my case, a mad photographer do you try and catch every single band (I think I managed 32 of the 38 this time around!) as long as you can find 3 or 4 bands a day that you really enjoy, relax, have nice food, chat to strangers, well life doesn’t get much better than that!

Although you have a smaller palette of bands to choose from at Butlins as compared to Rebellion, on the upside, only having 2 stages means that there are less potential clashes of bands you want to see, and as they are next to each other you can generally go and see a bit of each act if you wish.  Plus, a lot of the bands come back frequently, so if you miss one this time, you can probably see them next time or the time after.

Whilst many of us are still teenagers at heart, most of us are well into our 30s now (about 30-40 years into them in some cases!) so having the 2 stages so close to each other is much more manageable than a bigger festival, especially if you are watching bands for over 12hrs a day.  Importantly they are accessible for those with reduced mobility.

Talking to people around the site, I think it’s fair to say everyone was having a great time, with only minor niggles as you’d find at any event no matter how well organised and intentioned.

After From the Jam had to pull out at short notice, they were replaced by a Jam tribute act, which meant that Saturday night ended with tribute acts on both stages – The Jam vs The Clash.  For a lot of people I spoke to, tribute acts are a red line.  To be fair, when I saw The Complete Clash at Skegness, it was the only bands of the weekend I saw a queue for, so there is clearly demand for them, but staggering the 2 tribute acts to put them up against original bands would probably have worked better.

I don’t think it spoiled anybodies weekend – there were plenty bands on the Saturday to enjoy, and sometimes it’s nice to finish the night chatting about the bands you’ve enjoyed during the course of the day over a drink, but it was certainly a common talking point.

Another minor niggle for some was the Introducing stage.  At Skegness, the “Introducing stage” was a big stage in the main area called Skyline.  There is a space to dance at the front of the stage, and loads of tables and chairs, so even if you’re not bothered about seeing the lesser known bands, you can sit and have a drink.  The bands were so good that they drew people in.  This time around they were in a pub-type venue called Jumping Jaks.  For some, this meant a more intimate atmosphere, but for many, it was a backward step.

The point of the introducing stage is to introduce bands to an audience who might not have heard of them before.  At Skyline they are kind of under your nose (though easy to avoid if you really don’t want to see a particular band) but at Jumping Jaks I suspect only people who already knew the band went to see them, defeating the point of the stage somewhat, since people who are listening to bands they’ve been listening to for the past 40 years aren’t necessarily desperate to hear new bands, but if they hear something new that they like then they will sit and listen.

The Ramonas are relatively well known (and I believe have played the Introducing stage in the past), so people were queuing up, unable to get in because it was too busy, whilst The Papashangos who do a lot of audience interaction, and were therefore made for Skyline, were not only playing to a handful of people who already knew them, but were also up against Big Country and The Vapors, whilst most of the Introducing bands had no opposition from the main stages.

More an issue for the bands than for the audience, but I thought I’d best balance my enthusiasm for the event with any negatives I could find, otherwise it would read like an advertorial!

All in all, the festival is really well run, and they get all the important stuff right.

If you’re thinking of going to the next one, I can unreservedly recommend it – but if you’re still not 100% sure, then it’s well worth joining the Butlins Great British Alternative Festival Skegness (& Minehead) facebook group, it’s a friendly group and you can read about people’s experiences and find out why so many people come back year after year, and book the next one before they leave.  Of course you can ask questions if you have any, plus you will be able to keep up with lineup announcements etc as they happen.

For the record, my highlights this time were (in no particular order) The Skids, Neville Staple Band, Department-S, Sham 69, Toyah, Hazel O’ Connor, The Papashangos, Kid Klumsy, The Ramonas, Undertones, The Vapors, 999, Peter Hook and the Light (some say they didn’t do Bernard’s vocals as well as Ian’s, but I personally enjoyed both).

You can see more of my photos from Skegness 2018 and Minehead 2019 both in the group and on my Facebook page – a cheeky like is always appreciated!  Additionally if you are on Instagram, I try to post one of my photos daily, click here to follow me.

The next event takes place at Skegness on Friday 4th – Monday 8th October 2019, and the lineup is already looking pretty tasty, see you there?

For more about this festival and punk in general, be sure to check out the rather excellent


Photos: John W. King
Review: John W. King + additional research by Simon Peacock.