This is the second year me and Mrs Marcus have been to the Great British Alternative Festival in Skegness. It coincides with her birthday on the 7th October, so it makes a handy present we can share together. We also go to Rebellion in Blackpool for my Birthday in August, so it seems fair.
In a lot of ways I prefer the one at Skegness to the one at Blackpool – it’s not as frenetic, and it’s more suited to us old folk because there’s lots of seats to slump into after a quick ten second pogo. And as a bonus, it’s all held within the Butlins compound so there’s no gang of coppers or drunken trendies waiting outside to beat you up each night.
The day before we went to Skegness this year, Barney the dog caught us packing clothes into the bike’s saddlebags. He knows from seeing us come back from car boots or shopping trips that things come out of those bags, not go into them, so he knew something terrible was going to happen. He followed us around everywhere for the rest of the day, so to put his mind at ease and avoid that sulky look he always gives us when we go away somewhere we tried to make Friday morning as normal as possible.
So I got up, corrected the people on the internet who needed correcting while I drank my morning cup of tea, then did the day’s post, took the dog with me when I dropped it off at the shop, then went to the park so we could chase some squirrels together. That seemed to do the trick, and after we got back home he went to bed with my youngest son and gave me and Mrs Marcus time to pack the bike up and do all the pre-flight tests.
I’ve never been any good at navigating to places I haven’t already been to dozens of times, so instead of getting hopelessly lost on the way to Butlins I downloaded a map for my telephone and found some headphones small enough to fit inside my crash helmet so I could have a nice lady tell me which way to go. That worked pretty well, though I think she was trolling me a bit with some of the dirt tracks she sent me down. One of them was a single lane road full of potholes that were a nightmare to avoid, and there was a massive lorry coming the other way half way down it, so she was probably trolling the driver of that as well in the hope we would crash into each other. This is what happens when technology turns evil. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of films about the subject.
When we got to Butlins, one of the bouncers on the main gate asked to see our booking letter and told us to follow the green line. What he didn’t say was the green line faded away to nothing just before the turn off to get to the check-in barrier, and the sat-nav lady had shut up by then, so I managed to miss it completely and ended up in a car park by the side of it instead.
No worries, I thought, we’ll just get off and walk through instead. Then Ed Tudor Pole rolled into the car park in his old Morris Minor and we were blocking his route through so we had to shift the bike out of the way before Mrs Marcus went to get our wristbands. Can’t do that, they told her, you have to be in your vehicle while you check in. So I had to ride all the way around Butlins back to where I started and try again. I don’t know what people who travel by bus or train are supposed to do, but it was kind of annoying. Especially since it was quite warm, and I had my winter gloves on.
Got the wristbands and other bumf, then they directed to our designated flat. Which turned out to be right next to the car park we’d just been in, so we had to find our way back to that again. We were in a second story flat on the corner, so we unclipped the bags from the bike and carted them up a set of rusty metal stairs and through a shabby-looking door.
Then we found out the key card didn’t work so we thought we must be in the wrong place, and we had to go back down the stairs to check. We found a woman pushing a trolley full of dirty towels around and asked her where we were supposed to be. She looked at our booking slip and said it was the right place, but none of the key cards will work until 4pm so you have to wait outside until then.
Which was probably bad news for the first band on the talent show stage because 4pm is when they were due to start, so I doubt many people would have been able to see them. The dirty towel lady must have felt sorry for us, because she used her master key to let us into the flat at about 3.55.
We dumped all the bags and bike gear on the bed, and Mrs Marcus went shopping for cider and other essentials while I sat down and got my telephone out to check for emails. There’s always someone who buys something as soon as you walk out the front door, so they would need telling they won’t be getting whatever it is for a few more days otherwise they would moan about it. Whatever happened to waiting 28 days for delivery? Bloody eBay.
Anyway, I tried to get onto the Butlins wifi, which took ages to connect, but it said my email address was already in use and promptly chucked me off. Couldn’t connect again after that, the signal was too low, so I wandered over to the main complex to get a better one and tried again with the same result. Tried another email address, that was in use too. Well yeah, I probably used them both last year, one for me and one for Mrs Marcus.
Finally figured out I’m supposed to prod a tiny, hardly noticeable word saying ‘login’ instead of just putting my email address in the great big box saying ‘put your email address here’, but couldn’t remember what password I used last year. Tried all the obvious disposable ones I use, none of them worked.
Eventually gave up and decided to go and ask at the help desk next to the talent show stage instead. The bloke working there said I could request a password reset and it would be emailed to me. How would I get the email, I asked. He offered to let me use his computer to sign into my Google email account, but guess what? I mean, who carries random letters and digits around in their head? Sorry, can’t help you, then. Have a nice day.
Decided to sit and watch the last few minutes of the band on the talent show stage for a while, The Lengthmen I think they were called, then had an idea. Mrs Marcus has got one of them Apple phones all the poshos have, and it’s got a thing on it that turns it into a portable wifi router that does internet stuff over 4G. So if I turned that on and connected my telephone to it I’d be able to get the password email and sort it out from there. Phoned her up to see when she’d be back, but she’d gone into Skegness for the shopping because everything is a few pence cheaper there, and she’d be there for at least another hour. Grrr. How did we ever survive without internet?
Anyway, to cut a long, rambling story nobody is interested in short, the idea of getting wifi from her phone worked when I met her back at the flat, and I was able to get the password email as well as find out what everyone had bought as soon as we walked out the door. Yay. But then it wouldn’t connect to the Butlins wifi at all. Our flat was in a wifi not-spot and it was something we would just have to put up with.
We’d already checked out the bands on the talent show stage on Youtube before we left, and there wasn’t any that particularly appealed to either of us, so we gave them a miss and unpacked all the stuff we’d taken with us instead and waited until the evening before we went to watch Ed Tudor Pole on the Reds stage. Watched him for a while, then wandered over to the Centre stage to watch a bit of Hands Off Gretel before we had a look around the trader stalls for stuff to buy. Found a new Thatcher shirt I haven’t already got, the Crass one You’re Already Dead, but they didn’t have my size. Said they’d get one for tomorrow.
Went back in Reds to see Eddie and the Hotrods, which made me think about my brother who died a couple of years ago. I don’t think he ever saw them live, but they were his favourite band until the Sex Pistols and Motorhead came along. He played their first album that many times it wore out, so it was a shame he couldn’t be there with us.
After they finished we went over to the Centre stage for UK Subs, the last band of the night, and caught the end of The Blockheads’ set. They were okay, but it seemed a bit pointless without Ian Dury, despite the singer’s best attempt to imitate him. Everyone else seemed to appreciate them though, so maybe that’s just me. And I suppose it’s no different to Ruts DC, who we always go to see when we get the chance.
UK Subs did their usual mix of old and new songs, and Charlie Harper moaned about the massive gap between band and audience, saying he kept expecting a load of racehorses to go galloping past at any second. The guitarist, don’t know his name, invited a few women up onto the stage for Warhead and the bouncers by the stage had a fit about it, chasing them all over and chucking them off again. They seemed a bit unnecessarily rough with one of them, and Charlie didn’t look too happy about it.
After that it was back to the flat for cider and bed.
Saturday morning we got up early at 10am and did the usual morning stuff before heading off to the Reds stage for No Thrills at 1pm, followed by GBH at 2.45. No Thrills we’ve seen a few times before, and Mrs Marcus liked them enough to buy a T-shirt and CD at one of the previous shows of theirs we’d been to. Not many people turned up to see them, but there was a bit of a singalong in places.
GBH I hadn’t seen since the 1980s, I always seemed to miss them at Rebellion because they clashed with other bands I wanted to see more. Didn’t know many of the songs they did, but I only really liked Leather, Bristles, Studs & Acne and No Survivors anyway, so that’s no surprise. The crowd jumped around a lot more to songs from those two records as well, so I doubt I was the only one hoping for more of that. Yeah well, nobody wants new stuff at a nostalgia festival, do they? Defeats the whole purpose of going to one.
After that we went to the talent show stage to see Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, a band someone on the internet said were worth watching. I should probably explain at this point what the talent show is all about. There’s a small stage under a big dome-type thing where Butlins puts what it thinks are unknown bands, and the audience vote for the one they think was best each day by putting little tokens in a box. Except this year they had well known and long established bands like The Bus Station Loonies and Drongos for Europe on the talent show stage, which seems somewhat daft to me.
Anyway, back to Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies. The singer looks like Mark E Smith from The Fall when he was younger, and they had two women dressed up as dinner ladies dancing beside them. They were okay, not really my sort of thing, but amusing enough in a bizarre kind of way and I would definitely go to see them again if I had the chance.
The Bus Station Loonies were next, and were one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me. It’s good to see they still do the anti-Chumbawamba song after all these years. Great set, and I’m glad I had the forethought to film the whole thing so I can watch it again one day when I’m even older than I am now. After they finished we went to vote for them and see if they had any T-shirts or whatever for sale, but they didn’t bother bringing anything so we went back to the flat for tea.
The Rezillos were the first band of the evening on the Reds stage, and we got there in plenty of time. With it being the 40th anniversary of Can’t Stand the Rezillos, they pretty much played the entire album in order, plus a few of the singles and B sides (including, rather annoyingly, 20,000 Rezillos Under the Sea twice) before moving on to newer stuff from Zero.
Boomtown Rats were on next, so we had to get out of there sharpish to avoid hearing them. Unfortunately everyone else must have had the same idea, because it took at least half an hour to get down the stairs and out the door. Sham 69 were on in the Centre stage, so we followed the crowd down to that. It was already packed out by the time we got there, but we managed to find a table at the back to sit at.
The crowd were chanting UK Subs, UK Subs, UK Subs while they waited for Sham 69 to come on stage. I don’t know who started it, but it was a sublime bit of surrealism and probably wound Jimmy Pursey right up. Talking of which, when he did come on stage I could only see the top half of him and he looked like he was wearing one of those black evening dresses that hang off one shoulder. After seeing photos of him when we got back home, I was disappointed to find out it wasn’t a dress after all, it was just a baggy jumper and he was wearing denim jeans. Oh well, at least it wasn’t his famous figure-hugging white leotard. But he could’ve at least worn a pair of corduroys.
After a couple of songs nobody knew, Sham 69 settled into a singalong medley of their greatest hits, which I would guess is what most people wanted judging by the response they got. Even Mrs Marcus joined in with a few. Then they did that pop star thing where they pretend they’ve finished, only to come back on again about five minutes later to do a few more songs. I never saw the point of that, it would be better if they just carried on and fit in another song or two.
Dirt Box Disco were the headliner for the night in the Centre stage, despite being a relatively ‘new’ band formed no earlier than 2010. I’d seen them at Rebellion on my own a few times while Mrs Marcus went to see someone else, but this year she’d gone with me and really liked them. She’s since bought some of their records and learned their songs, so she was looking forward to seeing them again at Butlins on the night before her birthday and wasn’t disappointed. I found myself singing along to some of them as well, they’re quite catchy. The bouncers wouldn’t let anyone on stage at the end for Hooray Hooray it’s Dirt Box Day, so the singer didn’t get to bog off early like he usually does. The stage seemed a bit empty without a massive crowd up there for that song.
Sunday morning: Happy birthday Mrs Marcus. Gave her the card I’d got her, a witch riding a motorcycle. She liked it. Where’s me presents? At home, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.
Hung Like Hanratty were the first band of the day, playing at 1pm on the Reds stage, and we arrived early having enjoyed them at Butlins the previous year when they won their day’s talent show. The place was already packed out, but we managed to secure our favourite spot. There was a guy near the entrance dressed up as the ghost of Jimmy Savile holding a fake cigar and saying “Now then, now then” as everyone passed by. I don’t know if he was part of the band or just a fan, but he set the tone perfectly for what was to come.
If you’ve never seen Hung Like Hanratty before they’re best described as ‘political incorrectness gone mad’. A bit like The Macc Lads or 3CR, except not as crude and with a lot more humour. I first noticed them a few years ago when they did a song about Thatcher being dead, which was why I went to see them at Butlins the previous year, but they don’t seem to do that one anymore. So a quick note for any of the band reading this:
DEAD THATCHER IS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST THATCHER DAY!
I think Hung Like Hanratty were pretty surprised at the positive response they got while they played their set, helped along by the actual real ghost of Jimmy Savile and a fat dwarf on a mobility scooter who later turned into a transvestite. The whole room was bouncing during the dog shit dance, which isn’t easy to do with an audience in its 40s and 50s. They even got an encore, and got everyone doing it all over again. After that they seemed to be the main topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, so I’d be surprised if they’re not back again next year playing in one of the evening slots.
The Members were on next, a band I only really know from two songs. I think everyone else was in the same boat, because it was only during those two songs that anyone bothered dancing. You can probably guess which ones they were. Or at least one of them. And no, the other one wasn’t the B side.
After that there was a bit of a gap, so we went to get the new Thatcher shirt in the correct size, bought a few punk drinks coasters for our new coffee table (thus ruining my credibility as a member of the underclass and risking taunts of middle class toff from everyone who knows me), and went to play on the 2p fountains in the arcade. I somehow won 500 prize tickets, and went to the redeeming shop to see what I could get for them. Ended up with a wooden skipping rope for the dog to chew and tug on.
Drongos for Europe were another must-see band for me, and they were on the talent show stage so we found somewhere to sit for that. I don’t know why they were on the talent show, they’ve been around for decades, so they should have really been on one of the main stages instead. And they didn’t even win, despite me and Mrs Marcus having to queue up for ages to vote for them. We stayed there to see what the next band, Vomit, were like, and ended up watching their set as well.
There wasn’t anything on after that, just some goth type band and some bunch of mods, so we went to get something to eat instead while we waited for Anti Nowhere League later in the night. Yeah I know, we’re not supposed to like them anymore, they’re basically the new screwdriver because of that song they did ten years ago. Animal seemed really pissed off about the whole thing, and went off on a few rants about people getting their gigs cancelled over it. I don’t know why he doesn’t just apologise for all the offense that song caused and move on, that’s what I would have done. Not that I would write a song like that in the first place, and if anyone is offended by anything I write they can just fuck off for all I care. And if anyone wants to buy all my books and burn them, that’s fine by me.
The last band of the weekend were Angelic Upstarts, standing in for The Exploited who had to pull out because of Wattie’s crap heart. More sing-songs for the crowd ensued, but we were stuck behind two massive baldies so we couldn’t see much. While they were playing, a woman close to us kept grabbing all the dregs of beer from nearby tables, pouring them into one glass and chucking them at the baldies, then ducking down and hiding so they wouldn’t see who did it. Maybe she just wanted them to shift out of the way as well, but it didn’t work.
The curtains closed on the Upstarts within seconds of finishing one of their songs, which seemed to surprise Mensi. He’s probably not used to posh venues with curtains and stuff, or maybe he expected to be playing a bit longer.
We had to be out of the flat by 10am the next day, so after packing everything up in the saddle bags we went to bed. We didn’t quite make the deadline, the cleaning staff walked in while we were still getting dressed but they didn’t seem to mind going away and coming back later. When we were ready I put the sat-nav lady back in my ear and hoped she wouldn’t try to make us crash into a lorry on the way home.
(She didn’t, in case anyone is worried.)