The last time I was at Butlin’s, or so I’m told, was in 1966. Bench seating in the dining Hall, Red coats with spray painted smiles, and the dance halls echoing with the calls on the PA system of “Baby crying in chalet number 6”. Fast forward several decades and there have been massive changes at this holiday resort. The Shiiine On Weekender describes itself as a celebration of Indie and Dance from the late 80s, 90s and beyond, which pretty well sums it up. Taking place at Butlin’s in Minehead, over 3 days it provides a very well organised indoor event that is ideal for this time of year. We decided it did not feel like a festival and is better described as a multi stage event over 5 performance areas. You have to be over 18 to attend so I suppose there is no need for the Red coats and babysitters of the past.
The Skyline stage is the main area which sits under the large tent type roof; think John Peel tent with coffee shops and Burger King at the sides. Dave Gedge from the Wedding Present said he had never played a Shopping Centre before, but despite the slightly harsh jibe it was a large and effective space. This stage opens at lunchtime, with acts leading up to the day’s big headliner, around 9pm. The Inn on The Green is a bar with a small stage that runs from about lunchtime until tea time, and restarts at around 10 PM. The scheduling on Friday and Saturday lets you see the bands in the bar and move to the main stage for the next act. Sunday is a straight time clash, it is one or the other.
The other venues operate after the main stage closes just before 10 PM. Centre Stage is a very large upstairs nightclub (we are told it has a capacity of 3000) with seating and stage; Reds is another similar slightly smaller venue downstairs. Jaks is a small bar and stage at the other end of the complex. All three go on until 3 or 4 AM with bands and DJs and no stage is more than a couple of minutes stroll away. There are plenty of places to eat with a wide variety of cuisines available. The Spar shop is open until 4.30am for those wanting to grab a quick snack or food to cook in their chalets. There is also a pub, bowling alley with pool tables and large screens showing sporting events, and numerous penny arcades to stir up memories of seaside holidays from your childhood.
Being Butlin’s the facilities and general complex organisation is well oiled, as you would expect from a large and established company. Booking in is easy, accommodation is very good and staff well trained and polite. The food is great, bars plentiful with minimal queueing and generally the place makes it all very easy. This appears to be the sort of thing the demographic wants; no fields, mud or weather, just beer and bands. There is a pool party with DJ each day around 2 PM for those so inclined. As Digger had forgotten to bring his PE kit we didn’t get to go over to the pool, so we can’t add much about that bit. A couple of exhibitions were running over the weekend relevant to the 80’s and 90’s, and some film screening and talks also happened for those that fancied it. It gave a spread to events that broadened it from just bands. The production company put this together with consideration.
The punters are of an age that fits the 80’s and 90’s theme for the weekend; the promoters have seen the gap and made an offer that is well supported. Youth was being revisited by many with large numbers of box fresh Adidas Hamburg trainers, three stripe tracksuit tops and bucket hats protecting other members of the public from the glare of the now balding heads. The crowd were unfailingly good natured, well behaved and enthusiastic. There was a wide spread of localities represented with punters travelling from some distance. This is an event for anyone who likes live music but not the outdoor bit of festivals.
Technically the sound was excellent on the larger Skyline stage, Reds and Centre Stage. Screens at the Skyline were big and high quality so the more vertically challenged could see. The Inn on The Green solved the sound issue by bludgeoning the crowd with volume, it worked but there may have been some ringing in the ears for those without ear plugs. The sound in Jaks was pretty poor at times, the Woodentops set was marred by the vocals appearing to be coming from a toilet in the next room. The set up seemed a bit odd but maybe that was the only thing that worked.
Friday arrival is from 1 PM with the T&Cs saying that you can’t book into your accommodation until 3 PM. You can. We dropped our stuff and walked all of 50 yards to the entertainment complex although it may be slightly further if you have accommodation at the other end of site. There were a couple of bands to start in the Inn on the green with Knievel (Alt rock from Torquay) and the more interesting Broxton Hundred (who describe themselves as explosive guitar driven indie) waking everybody up. For me the drummer is the star in this band with his performance really lifted the quality set that was given. The main stage opened with Iridesce, winners of the Absolute Radio find a band contest, alt indie and a bit Coldplay/ 1975 in places, with good sound and technically very competent. It must be said that the main area was bloody cold for the most of the afternoon and all weekend coats and woolly hats were either worn or carried. Top tip, bring a jumper as sometimes it is warm, and sometimes not.
The assembled Carter USM t-shirts then gathered to worship at the altar of Jim Bob. There were a lot of them and they loved the set of acoustic numbers including Carter favourites such as "The Only Living Boy in New Cross". Back to the Inn on the Green for Scuttlers, who are guitar based and confident, giving a decent set but still a work in progress. One of the best sets of the weekend came next, Pop Will Eat Itself played a stormer, with a happy swagger and attitude that comes from doing something they love.
By this time it is just the Skyline stage working, ensuring the crowd support the bigger bands. The Wonder Stuff were great, pushing all the right buttons and working the large crowd well. It was the first time we’ve seen them and we were impressed. The headliners for the night were the Levellers, a band loved by many and there were a good collection of Lev’s merch in evidence. They went down very well, the crowd loved it and it was a typical Levellers set. We felt some empathy with the bloke walking away mid set that was heard to say “I can’t do this diddly-i b-----ks”. We have to admit that we don’t really get it either but recognise a well performed set when it happens.
When the main stage closed, the other three venues open with performances by the Space Monkeys, Orchids, The Train Set and the Woodentops. The last of which we were really looking forward to, but as mentioned, the sound was poor. By the time Dave Rowntree did his DJ set after Freak Power it was time to call it a night.
Saturday started after a fairly legendary breakfast, with Stella Martyr in the Inn on The Green venue. They are described as electronic pop music with guitars. The programme notes say that they don’t go far from Exeter, which is a shame as there was something really interesting about their sound. The set was well played, well written and high quality without being predictable. The main stage opened with Psyence, alt rock from Stoke; a good set that went down well with the smallish crowd. No doubt the excesses of the night before meant that many were still nursing their hangovers at this hour of the day. Back to the Inn for Alias Kid who to be honest need to wear a little less black and lighten up; musically sound but they are trying too hard to do the image. The band, Smaller, on the main stage were a great example of an experienced band with a typical Liverpool sense of humour. Noel Gallagher is said to be a fan, and you can see why with this performance. They may have been lower on the running order but they were a good booking. Sons of The Descent back in the Inn were interesting in a genuinely talented and individual way and that led nicely into Space and Starsailor on the main stage, both played sound sets with an appreciative, and now growing crowd. Fun Lovin’ Criminals arrived early evening and upped the energy levels in the arena. They were totally on form and by the end of the set appeared to be loved by all. Embrace closed out as the headliner and gave a quality set which was enjoyed by a large crowd who were up for a good night.
The after-hours venues opened with an absolute gem in the form of ex-Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flur who played an hour of some of the best judged hard edged techno and closely related electronica that we have heard. This was a real coup of a booking, something that we were really glad to have seen. A Certain Ratio, The Wendy’s and The Real People saw us safely to bed for the night.
Being an all indoor event the sight of a grey and damp morning did not evoke the usual despondent effect that it might have had we been camping. Sunday at Shiiine On is slightly differently structured. The Inn on the Green and Main stage are directly in opposition at 2 PM and 3 PM, with the Inn closing down after this. All attention is therefore focussed on the main stage, obviously deliberate but not necessarily making much sense. The afterhours are similarly less than previous nights, with a closing party in the Centre Stage as the main event.
The days music saw Ian Prowse and Amsterdam opening the main stage and performing a great set (that was slightly marred by the possibly the worst cover of "London Calling" ever seen). The Icicle Works warmed the crowd further and the Wedding Present then appeared and, for Digger, a Wedding Present fan, smashed it out of the park. They performed the album "George Best" at breakneck speed with a couple of extras to finish off. "The Farm" followed (and did another strange Clash cover of "Bank Robber") with a sing along set that was well known and well loved by the crowd. Peter Hook and the Light showed that New Order and Joy Division still live in the hearts of many, "Shadowplay" was epic, and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" the obligatory finale. During the set it appeared strange that Hooky dedicated a song to the Happy Mondays, then played "She’s Lost Control". It appears to have been a hint perhaps of what was to come.
The Happy Mondays appeared and Shaun was obviously not 100% focussed, looking a bit worse for wear. The set descended into confusion early doors, Shaun didn’t want to do bits of the set, declared a number of times that they should “Eff the set list off and get out of here” and failed to remember much of any song. Rowetta carried him though and the band were a bit stoney faced in places. Bez was similarly not “100%” but then that’s Bez isn’t it. At three points Shaun declared that “that’s it, goodnight” and had to be told that the set wasn’t finished. When they eventually ground to a halt it had got embarrassing. The reappearance for an encore started with Shaun winding up the bass player, who eventually handed him the bass, grabbed his coat and walked off. End of set. Rowetta had to eventually shepherd Shaun and Bez off stage after Shaun had told a particularly bad school boy joke. The crowd seemed to love it.
The after party was DJ Bobby Langley, the Dub Pistols (happy birthday Barry) and Dreadzone, each causing mass dancing, and A Guy called Gerald closed the party. Social media showed a video of Barry Ashworth from Dub Pistols and Greg Dread from Dreadzone chatting back stage and discussing a possible tour together. We really hope they decide to do this, what a cracker that would be. Both bands always give an excellent live show. Shiiine On presented a good line up to end the weekend, although the crowd was getting sparse toward the finish of the after party; a lot seemed to leave after the headliners. That may explain why there were less venues planned.
The weekend achieved exactly what was advertised; high quality organisation with a good variety of 80’s and 90’s bands. Apart from one minor niggle about sound in the smaller venue, everything else seemed to work. Cast aside your image of a sad seaside holiday park from years gone by. Butlin’s provides an ideal venue, everything needed is there and if it isn’t there are three supermarkets within walking distance in town. This was a well promoted, planned and organised event that has identified a demographic with disposable income and has provided exactly what they want. We spoke to a number of people that will come each year as a group outing with friends. We would recommend it, what they promise is exactly what you get.
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Great British Rock & Blues Weekender 2020 review