The Great British Alternative Music Festival
Butlins Skegness Resort, Ingoldmells, Skegness PE25 1NJ
Friday 4th October – Monday 7th October 2019
The initial attraction to any festival is always the lineup. Whether or not you return the following year comes down to the vibe, the people and when it boils down to it, whether or not you had a bloody good time.
I had a brilliant time in 2018 and couldn’t wait to get back for more of the same in 2019.
It’s a real oasis away from the outside world. The people in the chalet above/below/next to you like similar music to you. When you go to one of the bars or eateries, the people at the next table and stood at the bar like the same music as you (and a tune you all like is no doubt playing in the background). Indeed, wander anywhere around the site and there is practically zero chance of any of these real world conversations happening:
Me: “What music do you like?”
Interesting looking stranger: “Mumford & Sons, and a bit of Take That”.
Me: “Erm, interesting weather, but I erm need to wash my hair” as I edge away.
Me: “Are you going to see Sham tonight?”
Interesting looking stranger: “Who?”
Me: * speechless *
Well, you get the picture!
A chance to make new friends, and catch up with old friends from around the country in a friendly, sociable environment, whilst watching your choice of the 38 bands on offer. Does life get much better than that?
Even boarding the train at Liverpool, I met a couple who were asking about the connections to Skegness, so I asked if they were going to Butlins, and we hit it off right away. Music brings people together in a relaxing, sociable setting, where you can stay up until 1am watching bands, or go for something to eat, or something to drink, or even chill at your chalet and watch telly or have a snooze, it’s all up to you! We spend the rest of the year doing what life dictates, this is your weekend!
As I was photographing the bands and reviewing, I tried to catch as many as possible, though sadly when you are photographing up to 12-13 hrs a day, things like eating mean that some are unfortunately missed.
Lets start with the bands I didn’t like.
Ok, well that’s the negativity out of the way, glad I got that out my system, hope i didn’t offend anyone 😉 (I didn’t see anybody I didn’t like, in case you thought it was a technical issue!)
Now for the bands who stood out!
Hung Like Hanratty
It’s fair to say that Hung Like Hanratty were the most talked about band of the festival, both before and after their Saturday night set.
I didn’t go and see them, not because I’m easily offended, but because I’m easily tired 😉 Having been photographing since midday, I’d run out of steam, and I thought if I have to miss a band, it’s best to be one everyone is talking about as I’ll definitely hear what they were like.
They went down a storm by all accounts, with many people calling them the band of the festival and nobody with a bad word to say about them.
I must say they brought a smile to my face when I saw them last year.
If you aren’t familiar with them, they are very much a festival institution. Kind of saucy seaside postcard humour in punk form to let your mohican down to 🙂
The White Ribbons
The introducing stage is one of my favourite parts of the festival.
Often “Introducing” or “New Band” stages at festivals are poorly attended – most people are there to see bands that they know, and there’s often an assumption that if you haven’t heard of a band they probably aren’t that good.
Butlins had the genius idea of having the introducing stage at the heart of the festival, with no competition from the main stages whilst it’s running. It means that there are always people sitting having a pint, or milling around, and so if a band are good – and the standard on that stage is very high – then they can soon build a large audience, as people stop to listen and come down the front to dance.
Hung Like Hanratty started on that stage, and now they are a main stage staple. With some of the older acts not getting any younger, this stage is literally the future of the festival!
The White Ribbons grabbed a lot of people’s attention, not just because they were musically superb, but because they support important issues such as The White Ribbon campaign to end domestic violence, and a song dedicated to Sophie Lancaster.
I was fortunate enough to interview the lead singer Brian Mitchell to find out more.
So far they’ve only released a 3 track e.p. (available on Spotify etc) which is excellent, everyone I spoke to can’t wait for more material from them.
If Hung Like Hanratty are the band to let your hair down to, forget about your troubles and the screwed up state of the world whilst chanting “clean up yer dog shit!” in a room full of fun loving punks, The White Ribbons are the band to remind us that we can all play a part in making the better place. IMHO we need both bands in our lives.
Tokyo Taboo are a fairly typical band, Drums, Bass, Vocalist / Pole Dancer… eh?
I can’t say I’ve ever encountered a band before where the lead singer also pole dances. But don’t make the mistake of suggesting it’s a gimmick, or Dolly Daggerz will probably stick her 12 inch heels somewhere rather uncomfortable!
It’s clear that Pole Dancing is something she takes very seriously, and she’s incredibly good at it.
She combines great rowsing rock anthems with bags of attitude – definitely worth checking out!
Desensitised are a female trio Rock band from Nottingham influenced musically by the likes of Hole, Nirvana, Green Day, Paramore, Sum 41, Blink 182, My Chemical Romance, Joan Jett/The Runaways, Biffy Clyro, and Oasis.
Their stage presence is something to behold, putting on a superb high energy show.
A lot of bands on the main stage come from an era where male fronted bands dominated the scene, and sadly the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees are no longer performing (though we can live in hope).
So whilst I’ve never been swung by the gender of a band (or indeed their race, sexual preferences or any other musically irrelevant attribute) I can understand how women often get frustrated by the lack of female bands on festival lineups particularly when there are so many good ones about!
With Christmas / end of year / end of decade (gulp!) just around the corner I’ve started preparing my inevitable end-of-year lists. In my top 10 live performances (so far) it currently stands at 7 female fronted, 3 male fronted. Ok, that’s my personal taste, but I don’t see many festivals with those kind of ratios.
So it’s good to see female-fronted and all-female bands like this not only on the bill, but tearing up the place! I believe they won their day’s vote, so will be on the main stage next year.
Tom Robinson Band
Though I’ve met the wonderful Tom Robinson at the Glastonbury BBC Introducing stage before now, I’ve never seen him with his band performing live.
A cheeky clip I took of Too Good to be True which I posted on my personal Facebook profile was one of the most watched clips of the weekend.
I’d forgotten just how great songs he’s had, this is one of 2 bands of the weekend where tearing myself away to catch a band on the other stage was a real wrench!
I missed this song, but thankfully the legendary Punk Rock Sal caught it!
(In the unlikely case that Tom Robinson himself is reading this review – check out Skating Polly – I bet people never ask you to check out bands 🙂 But seriously, they are fantastic!)
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies
Liverpool legend Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies won the daily introducing stage vote last year to open the main stage this year.
Although he only had 1 dinner lady on hand due to illness, the remaining dinner lady managed admirably!
An entertaining set of Pete’s best songs that was a great way to start the day.
Blue Carpet Band
The Blue Carpet Band was my pick of the introducing stage last year (I’d seen Pete Bentham previously).
The band allegedly (if the internet is to be believed!) took their name from the floor covering at their North London recording studio. If lead singer Djamel Albina is John Travolta in Grease, then Beth Pegler (the smiliest bassist ever, and just as smiley off-stage!) must be Olivia Newton-John. Their set is made up of garage punk and rockabilly, with songs about Cadillacs and who’s got the best tour jacket – great stuff!
Sometimes when a band is a little out of the ordinary and you catch them by chance, you get over-enthusastic about them, and then when you see them again, the combination of high expectations and novelty running thin makes the experience a bit flat, but I’m happy to report that Blue Carpet Band taking their rightful place on the main stage was every bit as fresh and exciting as the first time I saw them.
I suspect (and indeed hope) this band will be a fixture of the festival for some time to come.
The Adicts are a band who seem to have slid under my radar. I was aware of the name, but didn’t know any of their songs or anything about them.
Their set on Friday night was an early festival highlight – with their Clockwork Orange’esque makeup and look, they put on a hugely theatrical show which was a delight to watch (and indeed to photograph).
If you get a chance to go and see them, do it! Highly entertaining.
Spare a thought for us photographers on a Sunday afternoon! We’ve been photographing all weekend, we’re knackered and we need something to eat! Ok, you can put your tiny violins away now, sarky gits!
Seriously though, on the Friday and Saturday we usually manage to miss the end of one set and the start of another set to allow us to get our evening meal without missing any bands. But for the second time, on the Sunday we’ve been so tired that we missed one of the bands, this year it was Rage D.C. who must have been good as they won the Sunday vote!
I did manage to run back and get a few photos of the band, with Beth Pegler from Blue Carpet Band dancing on stage with them (I believe her dad is in the band).
The song I heard sounded great, and listening to them on spotify I think we missed a good set there, but I have to eat (though the bathroom scales would disagree!)
I must say the buffet at Butlins is brilliant, loads of choice, good quality food, and the desserts??? Just a bit too tempting!
The Stranglers were perhaps the biggest name on this year’s bill. To some people they aren’t really The Stranglers without Hugh Cornwell. For me they were hugely enjoyable – you can’t argue with their back catalogue, and the band delivered them well.
Theatre of Hate
One of the most difficult clashes of the festival for me was Stranglers vs Theatre of Hate – I wanted to see both, but knowing how busy it was going to be for The Stranglers and needing to get through the crowd to the photo-pit, I had to drag myself away after 20 mins. But what I heard was electrifying. I’ll definitely try and catch them again soon.
The last night of any festival is always difficult. You’ve got into the routine of getting up, going with your mates for breakfast, watching bands, eating, drinking, laughing et all, and now it’s nearly all over! Of course it’s nice to get back to family, but the long trek home and return to work are daunting (though in the end I really enjoyed my trip back with my new festival buddies, chatting about gigs, festivals, music, and pubs in Edinburgh in the 90s!)
What you need is to finish off the festival with a bang, a proper party, an artist who’s so good that even the most miserable buggar in the room (possibly me, my neck was killing me from carrying camera about all weekend!) can’t help but have a massive smile on their face!
There’s only one man for the job! The one. The Only. Mr Spizz Energi!
From the moment he came out on to the stage like a futuristic spaceman to the 1am curfew, he was pure class, pure entertainment, and absolute delight who had the whole room buzzing.
Predictably “Captain Kirk” got a massive reaction, but their amazing cover of “I fought the Law” by The Clash is still ringing in my ears weeks later! Superb stuff! If you get a chance to catch him, just do it!
So sadly, that’s it for another year (though there is another outing at Minehead in March!)
To date only The Exploited have been announced for next October at Skegness, but it’s already in my diary! I’m that confident that the lineup will have plenty of delights, and I’ll discover some great new(er) bands on the Introducing Stage. More importantly, I’ll meet up with a great bunch of people, having a laugh and enjoying great bands, making it one of my favorite weekends of the year!
Just time for a couple of final points!
Going through my all-time blog stats, #1 is my review of Propaganda’s London “A Secret Wish” show, #2 was a preview of Hipsway’s tour (who knew they were so popular? And yet, the tour was curtailed due to lack of interest, funny old world!) and the rest of my Top 10 is largely made up of my Butlins reviews and previews, with people reading them on a daily basis.
So if you’re reading this then a) Thank you! and b) after photographing 30 bands, I had nearly 1,000 “keepers” – far too many for this page, so check out my band by band photosets on my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LiveMusicPix a cheeky like/follow is always appreciated too!
Also, if you are in interested in the festival and have questions you want to ask then don’t be shy, join the festival’s facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PunkRockSalButlinsAltFest/
The legendary Sally admins the group, and quite rightly doesn’t stand for any nonsense, so play nicely!
And one final point, I’m used to the post-festival blues rollercoaster, where you’ve enjoyed yourself so much you feel rubbish for a couple of days, but I’ve never been to a gig that was so good that it had that effect on me – until Monday!
Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday – high as a kite (on nothing stronger than lem-sips for my cold I might add), suicidal Thursday, normal today!
The gig was a band called Skating Polly who I’ve loved since I saw this video:
back in April. They have a superb back catalogue, and I’ve been listening to them every day since. Their music is varied but excellent, with influences from the likes of Nirvana, Pixies, Babes in Toyland etc. Grunge, but with a lot of punk attitude live.
Live they just blew me away. Easily the best gig I’ve been to in my life, and I’ve been to a few corkers! I’ve even seen Craig David live (actually, that might not help my case!)
I reckon they would smash the place apart and set the introducing stage on fire (not literally, they are amazingly nice people too!)
I know it’s the “British” alt festival, and they are from Oklahoma, which even with my poor grasp of geography I realise is a long way from Basingstoke 🙂 But just think, we could have a cultural exchange where we tell them what Trump means in northern English slang, and they could tell us what Johnson means in American slang (has global politics turned into a Carry On film? It would certainly explain a lot, though to be honest I preferred Syd James and Kenneth Williams, indeed Columbus isn’t looking so bad at the moment!) Joking apart, they really are exceptional, and I believe are in the country next October.
If anybody from the introducing stage team is reading this, I really recommend checking them out, thank me later 🙂
Anyway, look out for our reviews of Shiiine On and Electric Dreams in the coming weeks, sadly I can’t do Minehead next year, but see you all at Skeggy next year?
Words + Pictures by John W. King