“Don’t you need days like these?”
A few months ago, Steve from EIO40 sent me a message saying he had an idea. He had booked in for this year’s Shiiine On Festival at Butlins Minehead and would I like to come along and we would act as roving reporters for the weekend?
It didn’t take me long to make the decision. I had attended for one day last year, thanks to the generosity and kindness of The Orchids who were performing there. They were brilliant of course, but what struck me was the atmosphere in Butlins, a kind of communal happiness, a chance to relive some happy memories and catch some old and new bands the attendee may have missed before, but not in a muddy field in Berkshire but in a clean and rain free environment of multiple venues usually frequented by kids and families. So after receiving approval from my nearest and dearest, I agreed. Of course I had one condition – we had to have food provided. I’ve been to Butlins so many times that I know the food options are great, and it would work out better value than taking our own food.
Soon tickets were booked and details sorted and transport arranged. A month or so after this, Steve contacted me again to let me know we would be hosting a quiz in one of the venues on the Sunday, and soon we were exchanging ideas of theme rounds, questions and songs to include. Would we make it too difficult or would we make it an easy start into the third day of the festival?
Finally the day arrived and after quite a journey – bus to train to bus to train to bus – I arrived around lunch time at Butlins Minehead to find Steve and Mark sorting out the chalet. I’ve conversed online with Steve and had met him in person so there was no problem there, but it turned out Mark and I had many things in common and we became fast friends.
Dropping my suitcase in my room, we headed out to catch the some early bands. First we caught Columbia at The Inn On The Green, a young five piece from Liverpool with plenty of attitude. We met up with them after their set for a chat to talk about the new Liverpool scene, their influences and future plans – look forward to hearing their debut single next year. We also saw The Keepers at the same venue, lots of energy and a speedy cover of “Paperback Writer” to close their set.
After that we moved to the Skyline Pavilion stage for Chris Helme, former lead singer in The Seahorses. A lovely set, just him and an acoustic guitar and the old Seahorses songs worked well in that format without too much guitar wankery, and Helme’s tales were warm, witty and self-deprecating. The small crowd at the start of his set had swelled by the end, as he led the audience through a singalong version of “Love Is The Law”. And my God I’d forgotten what a terrible line opens verse two of that song. At least Helme admitted the lyric was absolute nonsense.
After a little time exploring the site and working out where all the venues were, Steve and Mark and I went our separate ways to catch other acts. I walked in on Salad in the Skyline just as they started their set and they were marvellous. I’ve got a few old Salad singles in my collection but admit I’ve not played them in a long time, so it was nice to be reminded of how many great songs they had in their catalogue – “Drink The Elixir”, “Granite Statue” and my particular favourite “Motorbike to Heaven” all had an airing and were well received. Even the puzzle of where I knew the drummer from was solved during the band introductions – it was Donald Ross Skinner who I had seen many time playing in Julian Cope’s band decades ago. A great set, I’ll definitely dig those singles out again.
It was now nearly 6pm and Salad alone would not sustain us for the long night ahead. We had a meal and trucked up for what was to come, returning to the Skyline in time to see the second half of My Life Story’s set. Jake Shillingford was throwing himself around the stage like his life depended on it, and there were plenty of other items thrown around too, not least the numbers 1 to 12 dispensed by two ladies either side of the stage during the climatic “12 Reasons Why I Love You” (I managed to catch 6 and 12)
The main hall was now pretty full for Sleeper, and we chatted to a few people while we waited for the band. It was a fair mix too, not just middle aged indie blokes but women too, and it was these women who went the most mental for both Sleeper and the main headliners Shed Seven. This kind of made sense – both bands aren’t really anthemic, but were telling stories of humdrum lives with gently aspirational hopes for a better future. The songs connect with people, I suppose, the song are sympathetic, not looking down on the characters but offering moments of happiness in the mundane lives and loves of normal people. Oddly I don’t think the songs of either act have aged too badly at all.
This was quite a revelation for me, to be honest. I’ve been saying unkind words about Sleeper since my brother insisted I listen to their first two albums years ago. I just didn’t get it then. But seeing the energy the band put into the performance, and how the audience responded to the songs, totally changed my mind. I’ll happily admit here that I had a non-fan’s knowledge of most of the headliners at Shiiine On, but not for the last time I was surprised how many Sleeper songs I knew. The new song they played (no idea what it was called) was very good too, seemed to be cutting and caustic and witty too. The highlight of Sleeper’s set was their note perfect cover of Blondie’s “Atomic” which brought the house down, especially when they managed to include a few choruses of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in there too. Mind definitely changed on Sleeper, then.
Shed Seven gave everything on Friday night, and the audience gave it back in return. The love and respect between both was plain to see. I have no idea what song they played at the start of the set but it rocked like hell and blew away cobwebs and sounded fantastic. And from there the songs kept coming, a relentless stream of melody, with me recognising them and realising that yes I know the words to the chorus on this one. And that one. And the next one. Chris Helme popped back onstage for a duet (was this “High Hopes”?), which made sense as he was rooming with Shed Seven’s drummer. Their set closed with two singalong numbers and everyone in the crowd did sing too – “Getting Better” and “Chasing Rainbows”, while I headed from the front of the stage to the back of the pavilion to catch some atmosphere, and it was quite emotional hearing a thousand voices singing back the chorus of the latter song.
That was the end of the acts in the Skyline Pavilion but there were plenty more in other venues around Butlins. Steve, Mark and I had decided to split up and cover as many as we could according to our differing tastes – giving an indication of the spread of music available on site. Mark headed off to Reds (the home of the Redcoats) to see Collapsed Lung, Back To The Planet and Bentley Rhythm Ace, Steve headed towards Centre Stage for Helen Love while I headed into Jaks to see The Blue Orchids, who I had missed when they played in my hometown a few months previously.
The Blue Orchids didn’t disappoint, angular, peculiar, in their own world, a swirl of dissonant Mancunian psychedelia. I recognised a few older songs like “Bad Education” from their classic “The Greatest Hit” album, and the new songs from their recent album seemed of a piece with the older material. Must check out the new album. I then met up with Steve at Centre Stage for the Darling Buds, a band who I’ve always managed to miss despite living in the same town as them. They were great too, three minutes blasts of pop greatness one after another. And yes I suppose one of the guitarists did look like me.
Finally Steve and I headed back to Jaks for The Train Set. It was close to 1am when they began but I was determined to see them, having missed them the year before (they were on at the same venue in the same slot, two hours after the Orchids). In all honesty I can’t remember that much, it was only the steady stream of Coca Colas keeping me awake by this point. I know I enjoyed the music, but I was most fascinated by the lead guitarist. He showed such intense concentration on his playing, looking downwards, eyes half closed, swaying in the music while he fired off volleys of perfect guitar licks. From time to time a tiny smile would cross his lips, at the end of another perfectly played phrase, then back to the intense concentration. An amazing player. I know I thoroughly enjoyed The Train Set’s music but by the end of the set it was all a bit hazy. Mark, Steve and I stumbled back to our chalet, slightly deafened, and fell asleep around 3am.
Saturday morning brought sunlight and breakfast and hazy recollections of the night before. After breakfast we wandered around the Skyline listening to someone soundcheck by playing a note perfect version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”. We then had a realisation that we would be hosting a quiz the next day and we really should check it was ok. Would anyone recognise the Mock Turtles intro? Should we dump Pixies for Chapterhouse? Were some questions a bit … obscure? After an hour of fact checking and song adjusting we decided to move to the Beachcomber Inn to see how Alan Leach of Shed Seven would run his quiz. We were lucky to find a table, it was jam packed in there, and not just because the bar was open and food was served. Everyone wanted to be in the quiz. Alan explained how it worked – through a phone app and connected to a quiz hotspot, clever stuff – and we were invited to pick team names and a song to play if we won a question. I picked “Surfin’ Bird”, and Steve in a moment of madness picked the team name “There’s a better quiz tomorrow”, a name which would come to haunt us.
Not least because once the quiz started, we began to get questions right and accumulated quite a few points. Of course when we won a question, Alan was forced to read our team name out, alongside little digs at us. We even won the first round so I went up and got a prize, as he read out our team name again, adding “You’ve got a nerve”. Fair play we did ask him to promote the quiz and he did, but as the rounds progressed and he kept reading our name out his comments became ruder. “I think I’ll come along to your quiz tomorrow and see how good it is”, he added at one point. I shan’t repeat his final comment. All’s fair in love and quizzes. When all the scores were totalled up we came sixth, out of sixty teams. The winners were a team called Jeff Leppard.
We moved towards the Skyline for the first band there – Time For Action, a band led by Dermo from Northside. They’re a rockier proposition than expected, but there was plenty of passion and energy on stage. The directness and honesty in both the band’s approach and Dermo’s lyrics which was quite refreshing. Certainly “Never Alone” caught the ear of both myself and Steve, and we were both impressed by Time For Action.
Next on the Skyline stage were Twisted Wheel, who had brought along some fans with them, judging by the singing from the audience and interactions. I can’t say I’d heard of them before but I will be checking them out in the future. Mark and I moved to the Inn On The Green, catching the last few songs by Kingmaker For A Day, where we found Steve looking very happy amongst a packed crowd. Once they had finished Steve watched Cud in the Skyline and Mark and I saw Diesel Park West.
DPW are one of those bands I always thought I should have listened to at the time but never got around to, and that’s my own tragedy really. It’s not like nobody pointed me in their direction (sorry Paul). Turns out they were absolutely right up my street, jangling guitars, Beatlesque melodies and sung in a Lennon-ish tone which made me think of Cotton Mather, only Diesel Park West got there years before Cotton Mather. I did recognise a few songs such as “Like Princes Do” but I definitely need to investigate their back catalogue in more depth. I didn’t even ask about “Psychedelic Filberts”.
We moved back to the Skyline for the two main acts of the evening. Black Grape were a band with a member already on another planet. The musicians were fantastic and Kermit did his best to keep the songs in track but Shaun Ryder looked disinterested, immobile and barely capable of speech, let alone singing*. Still, this didn’t distract from the party vibe pumped out by the rest of the band and the audience still sang along to the hits such as “In The Name Of The father”, “Kelly’s Heroes” and more. Did Shaun notice? It was hard to tell.
(*sadly Shaun’s father Derek passed away a week after Shiiine On and publication of this article and so understandably he may have had other things on his mind that affected his performance. Our hearts go out to Shaun, Paul and family)
Main headliners for the second night were Ocean Colour Scene and the audience suddenly transformed into a group of mods – middle aged men with Weller haircuts, parkas with targets and union flags…. It was like Quadrophenia all over again. I thought OCS had shot their bolt by kicking off the set with “The Riverboat Song”, but it set the scene for a meticulously played set of songs which kept the rabid fans at the front and the casual audience at the back (ie me) interested. It turns out again I knew more OCS songs than I expected. The fans would cheer each song’s introduction and a minute later I’d go “Oh yeah, I know this one too”. They played my favourite OCS song “100 Mile High City” with all the vim of a band half their age. Another Beatles song was played – “Day tripper” – and they closed their encores with “The Day We Caught The Train”, and the Skyline echoed to the audience singing the “oh oh la la la” chorus line long after the band had left the stage.
Again the EIO40 team went their separate ways – EMF, Altern 8 and more beckoned, while I wanted to catch Candy Opera, a band I’d read a lot about this year as “the great lost 80s Liverpool group”, recently reformed and recording again. Were they any good? They were fantastic, an absolute joy to hear and watch. They seemed humbled by the attention, pleased to be transmitting their songs at last to people, and amazed by the reception they received. There were hints of other 80s Liverpool bands in their sound – the jazzy 7th chords of the Pale Fountains, the melodic charm of Care – but they had something of their own too, enthusiasm and charm as only Liverpudlians can provide. And as for their keyboard player / percussionist – I couldn’t take my eyes off him, bouncing around like a jack in the box, singing harmonies, blasting out keyboard lines on original 80s synths… He was having ten times more fun than anyone else. Candy Opera were one of the highlights of the weekend for me and are definitely worth catching either live or on record.
By this point it was well past midnight. I could have stayed up to see Secret Shine but I knew I’d need to be up early and ready for the quiz the next day so headed back to the chalet and bed. God knows what time Mark and Steve got to the chalet but I didn’t hear them.
Sunday morning arrived and so did the EIO40 quiz. Lots of last minute frantic checks for questions and getting prizes ready. We shifted our boxes of equipment, answer sheet packs and pens and pencils over to the Beachcomber Inn to find… We had been bumped by half an hour, it would be 11:30 not 11am. Oh well. More time to get everything sorted. Once we were ready and volume levels tested (“Can you hear us at the back?” – “Eh? Did you say something?” etc) the pub had filled up and there was an air of expectancy, we’d billed ourselves as better than Saturday’s quiz. How would we fare?
To be honest it was all a bit of a blur. Steve was on the mic presenting the questions, Mark was out there reading the room, collecting forms and keeping an eye on the time, and then there was me. I was marking all the answer sheets and adding up the scores. It was the most intense maths work I’ve carried out since my Maths O level in 1985. From my marking i could see what was happening clearly. Answer sheets filled with joke answers, or “too hard” or – an ultimate irony – “Yesterday’s quiz was better”. But there were a lot of teams who were trying and succeeding too – it was quite a close battle between five or six teams for overall winners. Only one team answered the Mock Turtles correctly so we gave them a shout out and a prize. The Beachcomber Inn staff also took part and would have done quite well if they’d carried on, but they did have to work. After four rounds it was all over and the quiz was won by a team named Brian Maiden, which turned out to be the same people as Jeff Leppard the previous day. Well done to them, because frankly the quiz was rather hard in retrospect. Would we do it again ? If asked, yes of course. Would we learn and make it a bit easier? Absolutely. Ok Alan, your quiz was better, we’re sorry.
After a debrief in the aftermath of the quiz and a few conversations with the managers (they had enjoyed it) and competitors (it seemed some teams disappeared before the end to see Mark Morriss from the Bluetones) we moved our boxes back to the chalet and I sadly said my farewells to Mark and Steve – I had buses and trains to catch back home. I knew reporting on Shiiine On would be in good hands – all three of us had placed many tweets on the EIO40 account during the three days as we explored the range of music on offer across the site.
On the journey home I had plenty of time to reflect on my weekend. I’d had a fantastic time, opened my ears to bands old and new who had impressed me, and met some great people along the way. I now had a lot of new bands who I wanted to hear again, and my opinions on other bands had been reassessed. A splendid time was had, basically. No trouble, no worries, no distractions from the real world.
A line from the end of “The Day We Caught The Train” kept echoing in my mind…
“When you find that things are getting wild
Don’t you need days like these?”
Huge thanks to both Steve and Mark for inviting me to be part of the team, thanks to all the bands for being brilliant, and to the organisers for making it happen so smoothly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob writes about music and other less important subjects at his blog A Goldfish Called Regret (https://agoldfishcalledregret.wordpress.com) and also creates podcasts for Goldfish Radio (https://m.mixcloud.com/robmorgan589) and hosts the Everything Indie Over 40 album listening parties over at @eio40LPParty
He never achieved his ambition of making a Sarah Record.