Waking up in Morecambe we find the rain we had left behind us the day before had finally caught us up. As we head further north to the Whitehaven Festival I couldn’t help feeling just a little for the locals we were leaving behind, as they attempt to break the record for the longest street party on a sea front now sodden by the fickle joys of an English Summer.
We arrive in Whitehaven as guests of Leigh-based four piece The Lottery Winners, who join Simon Townsend (brother of The Who’s Pete), The Enemy and headliners The Charlatans for what should be a great way to spend a Sunday.
As it turns out, the day starts with a case of mistaken identity, as members of the crew believe me to be the aforementioned Simon Townsend. I briefly suggest where they should stick the drum kit before coming clean, well; it doesn’t do to start off on the wrong foot does it. Little was I to know however, but this was but a minor blip in comparison to what was to come.
Regular festival goers will know all too well that there is more than just music on offer at such events, but for those who are not familiar with Whitehaven Festival, let me paint you the picture,
The festival is set in the not unattractive marina area of the town. The main arena (fenced off for paying gig-goers only) is at one end of the harbour, whilst outside, a series of stalls, fairground rides and smaller performance spaces stretch the length of the marina. These attractions are open to all, and with the rain holding off the turnout is what you’d expect on a long bank holiday weekend.
I’m at the far end of the site when my phone goes. It seems festival organisers had made a late booking of Dynamo ‘Magician Impossible’ to the stars, to walk among the festival crowds doing his thing. Now it strikes me that someone had not quite thought this through. With stalls on one side, a sheer drop into the sea on the other, and a world famous magician performing in-between, it took about five minutes before someone cried health and safety, and the answer??? Let hundreds of non-gig paying punters into the main arena during sound checks to watch a close up magician where there are no cameras and no big screens on offer.
The result was sound checks grinding to a halt and The Lottery Winners, our hosts for the day, being bumped from the bill due to time restraints that hadn’t existed a mere 30 seconds prior . Having turned down the main support to Razorlight at Osfest to do the show, not to mention travelling near on 200 miles to play, the band I’m sure you’ll understand were not best pleased. In the blink of an eye chaos had ensued, two members of the band had been escorted from the site by the Police and the organisers had gone into hiding.
In the midst of all this, staff from food stalls in the marina were screaming that they’d put their entire days stock of meat on the grill only to see the crowds disappear, crew and engineers are pulling their hair out, The Enemy arrive, oh, and there’s a small man doing some magic who is none the wiser.
Now I’ve been to some badly run gigs in my time but this one is right up there with the worst of them; piss-up and brewery naturally spring to mind. It’s at this point, in an effort to calm the band that someone announces that they’ve only sold 400 advance tickets to the show, and those from The Lottery Winners Cumbrian fan base who’d got wind of events were already making a beeline to the box office to get a refund on some of those. 400 hundred tickets!!! They might as well have put the gig on in a pub. The Whitehaven PR machine must really be in need of some oiling. Put a gig on in a pub, now there’s an idea. With all hands to the pumps and with the assistance of local heroes Mighty Boof Promotions , TLW cut their losses, blag a PA, and put on their own late show in a local boozer. As it turns out, the pub is rammed, the gig’s a blinder, and apart from having to get a policeman to put the window through on the splitter van after locking the keys inside, the day is not a total loss. But we’d come to review the band at a festival and we’d failed, so we’ll leave it there for now and try again at Kendal Calling in July. .
|photo by DJM Photography|
Right, it’s time to rewind a few hours and review the three acts that actually got to play Whitehaven Festival.
We start with Simon Townsend; remember him from 800 words ago? Like his more illustrious brother Simon plays rock music, but that’s where the comparisons end. If there had been a local B&Q I would have purchased a brush and some paint just so I could watch it dry. They say talent can often skip a generation and all I could say was bring back the magician. A selection of more pedestrian middle of the road AOR it would be hard to imagine. Someone tells me that he’s well received in America, and I ponder forgoing this year’s summer holiday just to by him the flight. Time to move on then…
|photo by DJM Photography|
When The Enemy take to the stage the numbers have swelled slightly but are still painfully low. Let’s remember, this is a band who a little over a month ago adorned the roof of Wembley stadium on cup final day, playing to 90 thousand in the ground and a television audience of some 80 million, so this must have felt like a rehearsal. Well if it did, it certainly didn’t sound like one. The band tear into their set with a speed and passion not seen since rosier days.
With few exceptions they largely gloss over the poorly received ‘Music for the People’ album, choosing to concentrate on singles and material from the recently released ‘Streets in the Sky’ and platinum selling ‘We’ll Live and Die in These Towns’. Singer Tom Clarke certainly seems to have his mojo back (had he ever lost it), and is a front man who without exception is utterly believable when on this form. He’s ably assisted by bassist Andy Hopkins, who delivers a definite swagger (and whose football skills are none too shabby as we witness later), whilst drummer Liam as always, is attempting to beat his kit within an inch of its life.
|photo by DJM Photography|
Current single ‘Saturday’ fires on all cylinders, and you wonder as Clarke spits “There’s a train tonight we’ll leave when you want”, if the song could have been written especially for days like today. Recent release ‘Gimme the Sign’ also sparkles as do crowd favourites ‘Live and Die in These Towns’ and ‘Be Somebody’. If The Enemy’s comeback is under any pressure it’s certainly not in evidence based on this performance. In fact tonight’s show should serve as a lesson to all up and coming bands. Regardless of the audience size there’s never an excuse for half measures. In this case the Coventry boys serve up a set that’s slick, ballsy, and right on the money.
|photo by DJM Photography|
Like The Enemy, and with a 9 o’clock curfew looming, tonight’s headliners The Charlatans waste no time in navigating a greatest hits set like the seasoned professionals they are. Tim Burgess seems in good spirits and is convivial as always, resplendent in trench coat and beret as he cajoles the meagre congregation into giving him more.
I’ve seen The Charlatans several times over the years and on occasion they’ve been prone to the odd wobble. Tonight however, they actually sound great, with Burgess’s voice being in particularly fine fettle. Now I’m not sure if it’s the fact that recent live outings have been quite sparse, but despite the disappointing turn out they really look to be enjoying the experience of being on stage together. The hits come thick and fast, as ‘North Country Boy’, ‘One To Another’ and ‘Weirdo’ are all dispatched with ease, but predictably perhaps, it’s early single ‘The Only One I know’ that receives the biggest reception. All too early this jog down memory lane comes to an abrupt end, no encores; in fact the crew are striking the gear before anyone’s got a chance to shout for more. I suspect (like The Enemy) that getting the first train out of Dodge may be quite high on the bands agenda, it’s a shame.
So there you have. I think it’s fair to say, that with the possible exception of Mr Townsend, none of the bands playing in Whitehaven on Jubilee weekend got quite what they deserved. Should the festival organisers want any help in booking a circus to perform in a matchbox for next year our fee is non-negotiable.