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The Great British Alternative Festival
With the success of the popular Blues and Rock weekends and more recently the Folk weekends that take place under the 'Great British' banner, the Butlins Holiday resort in Minehead hosted its inaugural Great British Alternative Festival this weekend, featuring a host of artists and bands whose late 1970s early 1980s heyday saw the rise of what we now know as the New Wave and Punk periods. Artists appearing over this somewhat rainy weekend included The Boomtown Rats, Hazel O'Connor, Eddie and the Hot Rods, The Damned, The Beat, The John Otway Band and Ed Tudor Pole or Ed Tenpole Tudor depending on what mood he's in, to name just a few; diverse acts for a diverse weekend.
If the Blues weekends have encouraged music fans to dust off their black ties and pork pie hats and the folk weekends have welcomed an array of colourful tie-dyed t shirts and full length Pre-Raphaelite dresses, complete with flowers in their hair of course, then this weekend was awash with a whole variety of florescent mohicans, fishnet stockings, Ben Sherman and Fred Perry shirts, red braces and Doc Martens together with a whole variety of iconic black and white Two-Tone merchandise.
As always at these Great British Festivals, most of the action took place on two main stages located either within or very close by the structure that dominates the town's skyline, hence the name, the Skyline Pavilion. Opening the festival on the Centre Stage was the 1980s new wave outfit Department S, remembered for their debut single Is Vic There? and providing a repertoire that covered everything from early Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (Lucifer Sam) to Alvin Stardust's My Coo-ca-Choo (of all things!).
Almost simultaneously, the Anti Nowhere League were causing a stir beneath the Centre Stage on the Reds Stage with a blistering performance that at one point brought such unparalleled enthusiasm from the audience, who incidentally knew every single syllable of each song, that they managed to bring down part of the safety barrier, sending photographers scurrying for their own safety. A slight glitch, but immediately rectified by the speedy response team.
The flow of people scurrying between the two main stages halted momentarily as the Centre Stage saw an appearance by Coventry-born singer-songwriter/actress Hazel O'Connor, who delighted the audience with some of her most familiar songs from the Breaking Glass era, such as Eighth Day and Will You? With regular band mates, former Bellestars saxophonist Clare Hirst and former Eurythmics keyboard player Sarah Fisher, the band was extended for Friday night's appearance by a full rhythm section.
Over on the Reds Stage the punk era was re-lived with appearances by The UK Subs and Sham 69, all a little older if not apparently any wiser. The smoke-filled venue was literally overflowing with so many people wanting to see these iconic punk bands that the venue was forced to organise the usual one-out/one-in system at the door.
Saturday afternoon saw the first of the Pavilion Stage performances courtesy of the highly eccentric stage antics of Ed Tudor Pole, star of TV, film and one time Sex Pistols frontman who maintains in the strongest terms that he is nothing more than a guitar player. On Saturday afternoon his battered Fylde acoustic took more battering with an energetic and entertaining set, which included Who Killed Bambi, Blackjacks (a packet of which the singer received from the audience and to which he kindly re-distributed) and his former band Tenpole Tudor's classic hit Swords of a Thousand Men.
Saturday evening's concerts were pretty much divided between the Mods and the Rockers, with The Lambrettas performing on the Centre Stage some of their own material together with a great version of The Small Faces 1960s hit All Or Nothing, bringing back the essence of an entirely different era in music.
Meanwhile, with several busy bars already working to full capacity in both main stages as well as several real ale barrels providing a drop of the good stuff out in the Pavilion, the music continued with former Elements, Skeletal Family and Ghost Dance singer Annie Marie Hurst opening proceedings on the Reds Stage with a scorching leather-clad set, providing a perfect rock counterpoint to what was going on next door.
Probably the most anticipated performance of the night came in the form of Birmingham's The Beat who brought their own special brand of Two Tone Ska to the festival courtesy of frontman Ranking Roger, with some more contemporary rapping from son Ranking Junior. Highlights of their set were Mirror in the Bathroom, Tears of a Clown and the old Clash hit Rock The Casbah.
The Captain was on form as The Damned took to The Reds Stage by mid-evening, thrilling those who had waited for this highly anticipated performance. Dave Vanian sparred well with his sensible band mate as they ploughed through one hit after the other including an exhilarating performance of New Rose.
Rounding off Saturday night on the Reds Stage, whilst From The Jam featuring original Jam bassist Bruce Foxton worked the Centre Stage, was Eddie and the Hot Rods, once again featuring the charismatic founder member and frontman Barrie Masters. Concluding the Saturday night concert, which ran well into Sunday Morning, the band thrilled the audience with selections from their back catalogue including Do Anything You Want To Do and Teenage Depression, with a handful of well-chosen covers thrown in including Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh's Woolly Bully, The Who's The Kids Are Alright and Steppenwolf's anthemic Born To Be Wild.
The Minehead holiday resort was pretty quiet during Sunday morning with everyone presumably either still tucked up after a late night with Eddie and the Hot Rods or having breakfast in one of the resort's many fine eating establishments. Nevertheless, by early afternoon a few hundred people had congregated in front of the Skyline Pavilion stage to see Wilko Johnson perform some of his own brand of R&B accompanied by a rhythm section that included The Blockheads' Norman Watt-Roy.
With their familiar keyhole motif dominating the backdrop of the Skyline Pavilion stage on Sunday afternoon, Secret Affair brought some of their familiar Motown-drenched sound to Minehead, complete with a full brass section, including one or two trumpet solos by front man Ian Page.
The evening concerts started with an enthusiastic performance by The Vibrators, featuring current members Pete Honkamaki, Nigel Bennett and John 'Eddie' Edwards, which was preceded by some punk fun on the dance floor as several mohecans slid across the dance floor as they did in punk's heyday.
The Blockheads kicked off proceedings over on the Reds Stage, fronted by the charismatic Derek Hussey, effectively standing in for the late Ian Dury, if not completely filling his shoes. With a set list that included Sex & Drugs & Rock n Roll, What a Waste, Reasons To Be Cheerful and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, the band provided an entertaining opener to the concert, which in terms of musicianship raised the bar tenfold.
There's always something classy about a Nine Below Zero gig and their Sunday night performance on the Centre Stage was no exception as the band provided some of their trademark R&B, featuring some familiar guitar/harmonica sparring between Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham respectively.
For sheer eccentricity and bizarre showmanship we need look no further than John Otway, whose band were on form on Sunday night on the Reds Stage. With a crowd-pleasing set featuring the likes of The House of the Rising Sun, Crazy Horses and We Rock, Otway and his band had his loyal fans eating out of his hands in no time.
By midnight on Sunday night, there were just two remaining acts to choose between. On the Centre Stage Dr Feelgood provided a taste of their own tight R&B sound featuring the guitar of Steve Walwyn and the harmonica and vocals of Robert Kane, whilst on the Reds Stage, effectively closing the festival were The Boomtown Rats featuring original drummer Simon Crowe and guitarist Garry Roberts, getting back to basics whilst performing material from the band's first three albums THE BOOMTOWN RATS, A TONIC FOR THE TROOPS and THE FINE ART OF SURFACING, including Mary of the 4th Form, Looking After No 1 and Rat Trap.
Playing well into the morning and confirming that we really don't like Mondays, the Rats brought the Great British Alternative Festival to an end. With other appearances throughout the weekend by the likes of TV Smith, Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Cradock and a couple of ex-Simple Minds musicians, the first Great British Alternative Festival provided not only an alternative, but also a nostalgic and welcomed change to the usual music covered within these pages.