Like all bank holiday weekends it seems, I open my eyes to slate grey skies and the threat of torrential rain. Thankfully though, we’re heading North from Manchester, which the met office assures us is the best hope of staying dry. Our destination is Morecambe on the North West coast before heading to Whitehaven Festival Sunday morning. To be honest, we pretty much stuck a pin in the map to choose a stop-over point between us and our Cumbrian port of call and Morecambe wins the prize.
A bit of research revealed the home of Eric Bartholomew Morecambe and potted shrimp was playing host to the 7th Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Punk, (how appropriate on Jubilee weekend) Ska and New Wave festival during our flying visit. So after a couple of calls to blag passes, our night-time entertainment is in the bag.
After checking in to the hotel we took a walk along the sea front to see what else Morecambe had to offer. In truth, like many a British seaside resort Morecambe has the feel of a town down on its luck. There are plenty of shutters where there should be shops and Frontierland, the western themed amusement park, is now a boarded up ghost town. As if to underline the fact, a selection of modern life’s detritus blows across our path like 21st century tumbleweed.
Before long we hear our first live music of the weekend. A young trio are stuttering through a cover of Duffy’s Mercy from the stage of fading beauty that was once the Morecambe Winter Gardens. It turns out they are just one of many acts helping to raise money to restore a building that once played host to George Formby, The Rolling Stones and Shirley Bassey among others. A few quid in the bucket then to ease my conscience, as my first review of the day would not have made for pretty reading had I bothered to write it. Just up the road we come across Kickback, a two stage festival opposite the famous art deco Midland hotel. Unfortunately, at this festival they only play two types of music, country AND western. And no, it’s not the cool of Cash before you ask, but more Stetsons, yahoos and line dancers, so it’s time to beat a hasty retreat. A few beers and 90 minutes of dull English football later and it was time for a bit of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy.
On arrival we grab a few minutes with organiser Ivan Harrison to talk a little about the roots of the festival. He explains how they used to supply the camping for the Rebellion festival until it out grew Morecambe and relocated down the coast to Blackpool. Rather than shut up shop, Harrison and Co decided to give it a go themselves. Initially with the support of Rebellion, putting them in touch with bands and the like, the festival grew from its humble beginnings to a regular fixture on the Punk calendar. Since its inception, the Nice ‘n’ Sleazy boys have added a smattering of New Wave and Ska to proceedings, although Punk still resides at the festival’s heart. Harrison did state however, that it was a long standing dream to put on The Specials as headliners should the chance ever arise.
We've been conducting this conversation to a backdrop of spitting guitars and relentless drums emanating from the main hall, so we decide it’s time to catch a couple of acts, one new and one that has been knocking about for over 30 years.
First up are The Minx, a Manchester five piece who possess all the energy and spiky guitar riffs of an early Buzzcocks whilst tipping their metaphorical hats to the edgier side of The Specials, think ‘Do the Dog’ or ‘Nite Klub’ rather than their more traditional Ska tilt. At times their set verges on the frantic, with front man Chris Haddon and bassist Chucky Stuttard bouncing off each other (both musically and literally) like sparring tops wound to breaking point. It’s when Haddon finds the balance between showman and musicality though, that the band is at its best, allowing the melody to punch through the fervour and giving us the chance to get to grips with the songs.
The Minx may not yet be the finished article but they certainly are infectious, and diamonds in the rough are meant to be polished after all. The release of their debut single ‘No Friends’ is certainly a step in the right direction and we shall continue to watch the hooks develop and the infection spread, with a cheeky smile and sporting a sharp Fred Perry of course.
Next up are tonight’s headliners the Anti Nowhere League. Now with more line-up changes than the NCIS franchise, the League have been around in one guise or another for over 30 years. I’m just about old enough to remember punk the first time round, and what a relief its arrival was. The trouble is, that 36 years on, the shock factor is no longer relevant (you only need to spend 5 minutes watching the news to see why), the internet has changed the music biz and the way we consume irrevocably, whilst Hip Hop, rave culture, Grunge and Grime, have all taken centre stage as the country’s ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics’ at one time or another. So when Nick ‘Animal’ Culmer and the boys take to the stage, we’re no longer witnessing the irresistible change of popular culture but merely a brief chapter in its history. The League (and Animal in particular) were always a little cartoon like, but now more so than ever.
As they fire through the back catalogue I can’t help seeing the funny side of a 56 year old from Tunbridge Wells singing ‘I Hate People’ and ‘Let’s Break the Law’. For 2012 Culmer this surely translates into ‘how are the kids, fancy a BBQ at the weekend? And, bloody traffic wardens, I only stopped to pick up a paper’. But does any of this matter? Well not really. The band is extremely tight (most un punk) and the loyal gathering of devotees are lapping up every chorus and well-rehearsed snarl.
The fact is, we need festivals like Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, and both the organisers and all the volunteers that make this and other festivals like it possible, should be applauded from the highest hilltops. As for every band that has never scaled the mainstream ladder it’s a chance to make a living. Whilst for the The Minx and others like them, the small festivals represent a chance to cut your musical teeth and hone your skills. Festivals run by music lovers, played by music lovers and watched by music lovers; we salute you all.
Leaving the festival I feel in positive mood. We pass pub after pub with either an Elvis impersonator or Karaoke in full swing, and I find myself thinking why not? It’s all music after all. I’d rather be out watching Karaoke than sitting at home and watching it, lining Cowell’s or similar pockets. Who did win The Voice anyway? Strangely this far from home I bump into my friend Ben Thompson, who is playing a late night covers set in a local bar. We join him for the end of the night and pretty good the lad is too. We would have kept drinking but Whitehaven festival beckoned so time to get some shuteye.