I'm a bit lovestruck; if there were any lamp-posts lighting up my drunken stagger home from this Saturday night over-exuberance then I might fall into them. I've given it my utmost you know and pushed my body to the limit. I am a house of fun within this Butlin's funhouse. The fantastic Madness weekender at Minehead is once again delivering. I'll sleep well tonight. It must be love.
It's been quite a day. Only knowing for sure that we were heading to Somerset on the Friday lunchtime, we had earlier commitments to honour. After a fab Beans on Toast gig in Leicester, it was a drive through the night to eventually arrive just after 4AM. They seemed to be expecting us. With a minimum of fuss, we were directed towards our apartment for the weekend. Accommodation around here is named after fruit. We were simple strawberries.
Before dozing off into the land of nod, we check the programme for what we've missed on this Friday. It's ever so slightly disappointing to discover that we won't be seeing the high-jinx of The Cuban Brothers. I'm sure that their liveliness and acrobatics were lapped up by this party crowd. We'd also missed one of the two Madness gigs of the weekend. Once we stumbled into our beds, there was also little chance of us catching Saturday morning breakfast.
When we wake, we get to grip with our surrounds. It's brunch time and I want to mix up my bands and say that Butlin's Minehead is feeling a little like a ghost town. People have clearly yet to properly surface. There's some village games going on. We spend twenty minutes or so watching teams of friends playing football in inflated sumo suits. We spy some go-karts race around a track. We find a bar and have a pint or two. Dare I say it; we're twiddling our thumbs a bit and it's a bit of a grey day. But that's the point of this leisurely sojourn. It's a chance to get to know each other before the frantic evening action begins.
Just like the other weekender festivals that Butlin's put on in out of season months, this happens across three or four differently sized venues. We could have taken in some comedy but the names on the bill hardly inspire me. I'm still scarred from a Butlins experience here almost twenty years earlier when I saw Bernard Manning at his horribly racist worse. How times have changed.
We plump for a Saturday afternoon in the 'Inn On The Green' bar where Jon Hasler DJs. I have no idea who Jon is but my travelling companion puts me right. 'Jon was the original drummer and then lead singer of Madness you know", I'm told. "He couldn't drum or sing so they got rid of him." Real fans get their pics taken with Jon for he is the bed and breakfast man. This is a fine set to get the afternoon crowd going. Beers across the site are reasonably priced; in here you can get pints of Blue Moon craft lager for much less than they're typically sold in trendy bars in your hometown. As news comes through that Leicester City might well be top of the premier league (and Jamie Vardy has scored again) we dance away to old Motown classics, sixties pop hits and rarer slabs of Northern soul. "Something tells me I'm into something good", sings Peter Noone from Herman's Hermits and we find nothing within the sentiment to disagree with.
When Jon finishes, a band sets up behind his DJ booth on a slightly raised stage. The previous night at the Beans On Toast gig, Jay had recommended to me that I went to see his old mates, Gorgeous George, perform. They certainly had something about them. The eagle eyed amongst us spot band members from Madness in eager attendance. This is no surprise. You get a very real sense throughout the festival that this isn't simply something which Madness turn up to play at; this is a festival that's lovingly curated by the Nutty Boys. Gorgeous George could be a younger Madness; it's melodic, acerbic, lyrical and rhythmical, clearly rooted in London Town and a fine warm up to the evening proceedings.
All roads lead to Minehead and all pathways when you're on site lead to Madness' Saturday evening gig. Having attended other Butlin's weekenders, I found myself wondering how they might accommodate the crowd when the crowd all wanted to see one thing. The solution is simple. The Skydome is largely used as a congregation point and Introducing stage for other weekenders but here it is transformed into a stadium like arena. Armed with pints of Gladness, Madness' very own beer, we secure a spot not far from the stage but just out of reach of any potential mosh pit. I'm surrounded by people in obscure fancy dress; the challenge this evening has been to dress from a Madness video. There are evidently some true fans here amongst those on a night boat to Cairo. But what blows me away is the good natured, absolute friendliness of it all. This is all about people having fun. We smile and share jokes with strangers, united by a band that we've loved for decades.
Suggs and all let nobody down. It's a 'Greatest Hits' set immaculately performed. Anorak fans tell me later that they play some tunes they hardly ever play live. But for me it's singalong heaven. You can't help but marvel at the longevity and songwriting prowess of a band who are so integral to the very fabric of our pop culture. More recent hits such as 'Lovestruck' stand out as much as the classics. The whole band are revelling in the praise that's getting thrown upon them. For some bands, a convention such as this could be an embarrassment - but for Madness it's clearly something that they will enjoy for many years to come.
Once Madness are done, the crowd are split between the later night venues - Centre Stage and Reds. We plump for Gorgeous George, David Rodigan and his 'Ram Jam presents' night. We knew it would be a fine choice and as the beers flow (at one point we're clutching at four pint jugs as if our lives depended upon it) we enjoy the entertainment that Rodigan has put on for us.
Prince Fatty begins the thing but it's Gentleman's Dub Club who really get us skanking. Always impressive throughout the festival season but never quite capturing my full attention, tonight it's a different kettle of fish. Perhaps it's because the sound quality at Butlin's is so special; perhaps we're all exuberant after Madness or perhaps it's the fact that they're able to play for longer than a typical festival set but tonight they truly impress. A real highlight of the weekend. Rodigan follows on with his lesson of a DJ set before Shy FX take to the stage at 01.30 in the morning to finish us off. Many around us still seem to have the energy for this jungle (and it's undeniably entertaining) but for me, the four pint jugs have taken their toll and I stumble back to the strawberry.
The Madness House of Fun weekender isn't just about the music. We wake on Sunday, fragile from the night before, and realise that for the second morning in a row, we have missed breakfast. But it doesn't matter. We head to the Sun and the Moon inn where we consume a plate of cow and then, perhaps foolishly, decide to enjoy Splashworld. Gingerly, we climb the stairs so that we can throw ourselves down flumes, chutes and bowls. We prove to each other that we have constitutions to be proud of whilst secretly feeling sick.
It's a long drive back to Leicester and our house. We wander around the site again. The same uninspiring comedians are doing their thing whilst members of Madness present their pet projects in other venues. Tonight, we could be entertained by the Craig Charles' Funk and Soul club. It's tempting to hang around for Geno Washington and New Street Adventure. We agree that they'd be sure to put on quite a show. But, there's a definite sense of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' blowing through this Somerset wind and so we decide, as many others seem to do as well, to make tracks, drive my car and get home in good time for a Monday at work.
It's a statement of the obvious but for the diehard Madness fan, the Madness House Of Fun weekender is probably the one festival you'll never miss within the annual calendar. Butlins have the infrastructure, incredible staff (I managed to leave my phone in my apartment and with stunning efficiency that ranks up there with the best customer service I've ever had it was returned within a couple of days) and a marvellous set up. We might have only dipped our toes into the Minehead shingle but we did enough to know that this shindig is special.
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