Great British Alternative Music Festival 2020

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Great British Alternative Music Festival 2020 - Butlins, Minehead (UK) - 28 February - 01 March 2020

Rock music comes in many shapes and sizes, and perhaps the most visceral of these is Punk Rock, where a few chords and an attitude can go a long way. Just one month after their 'Giants Of Rock' festival, Butlins celebrated all that's slightly left field with this interesting gathering, drawing from the worlds of Rock, Punk and Ska/Mod to form a most interesting and diverse line up.

The format is very much the same as last month, with the smaller 'Jaks' stage being used for new or smaller bands, with the one receiving the most votes being allowed to come back for a spot on a bigger stage next year. Well, that's the case normally, but as the festival isn't on next year, who knows? Regardless, the small venue was often packed, sometimes as it was the only venue with bands on at certain times, and people bounced along to the likes of The Bus Station Loonies and the wonderful Pete Bentham & The Dinner Ladies, who delivered songs like the entertaining 'Goth Postman' in a bright Ska/Punk fashion.

For me the main stage was where it's at, even if it's just because there's plenty of room and enough seating for old buggers. Friday night's line up certainly worked well, with the surprising finishing duo of The Wildhearts and Big Country, neither of whom really seemed to fit in with the rest of the line-up. First on, however, were Goldblade, a refreshingly old-school melodic Punk band who delivered a powerful set of powerful anthems like 'Riot Riot' and 'All We've Got Is Rebel Songs'. This was pure, attitude-filled entertainment and there was a healthy crowd enjoying every note.

The Wildhearts followed with a frenetic hour of their best stuff from 'Caffeine Bomb' to 'Let 'Em Go' from last years 'Renaissance Men' album. Despite them being pretty unknown to the majority of the big crowd, they won over most of them with great songs and the most impressive musicianship on show. Heck, we even all sang 'Happy Birthday' to Danny, and you don't get more Punk than THAT!

Big Country rounded off the first day with what is becoming a familiar set to me, so I found it hard to get too over excited. I mean, they were here twice in the last four weeks, and I suspect they might have permanent chalet reservations! Either way, they went down an unexpected storm with an audience who should know better. Fun, lively and with a back catalogue barely ransacked for their sixty minutes, Big Country did the job they always do. Which was nice.

Saturday brought a real treat in the shape of one of last year's Introducing Stage winners, Knock Off. I'd heard good things, but the sheer number of existing fans up in the early afternoon was impressive. Whilst they play more basic, melodic Punk in the vein of Goldblade, there's something about Knock Off that gives them the edge over the veterans, and I was jumping about singing 'Football Beer And Punk Rock' with the rest before heading back to the chalet as I'm not in the best of health.
Sensibly, I kept out of sight until the evening, sticking again to the main stage and the delights of Glen Matlock, The Adicts and Hung Like Hanratty, three very different bands indeed. Glen Matlock is the guy from the Sex Pistols, just in case you didn't know, and he's currently palling around with David Bowie (and more) guitar legend Earl Slick. Now I am partial to a bit of Pistols, and obviously there were plenty of people here who felt the same, so it was a bit of a surprise when Matlock and Co. delivered a set of what can only be described as Country Rock tunes. Oh, and one he wrote for that classic counter culture movie 'Fishermen's Friends'. So yeah... it was fun enough, with Matlock singing well and Slick really working well when required, but it certainly wasn't what we were expecting. As a begrudging nod to his dirty little past, they finished with 'Pretty Vacant', and devoid of any of the attitude only Johnny Rotten could deliver it was a bit of an anti-climax. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

It was a tough choice between The Adicts and The Undertones, who were on the second stage downstairs, but I knew damned well the Undertones would be so rammed I would hate it so I stayed for my first taste of a band I'd never even heard before. Straight away it was quite clear I'd in for quite a treat. The band have a Clockwork Orange motif about them, and singer Keith 'Monkey' Warren was bedecked in clownish make-up, ostentatious clothes, and had an umbrella that shoots streamers and much more. What the Adicts give you is a Show, capital S all the way. The music itself is fast, catchy and decidedly Punk, and it was elevated by the sheer entertainment of the show. Warren held it all together with a frenetic, wonderful performance, backed by a tight band and genuinely good songs. When big, clear beach balls cascaded over us at the end it was like we'd been run over by a musical steamroller and loved every minute. It's time to get Adicted, droogs!

Following The Adicts would be a hard job for anyone, but Hung Like Hanratty aren't afraid of anything and have a huge following to prove it. This is the sort of Punk rock that is purely for people who think Bernard Manning wasn't offensive enough, as HRH specialize in short, catchy songs that will make you laugh your ass off or complain to the management. 'Danny Is A Tranny', 'The Ghost of Jimmy Saville', 'Keep Your Cat Off My Garden'... each one was a joy to behold, easy to sing along to and catchy as hell. Easy to love and just as easy to hate, I definitely fall into the former category and had a great time singing along with vocalist Al Sation (yeah, I know). The biggest confusion was why the hell they need two guitars, but who cares as long as merriment is had, and by the time they finished we'd all been well hung and were quite happy with it.

Sunday rolled along and with it the chance to spend a bit of the afternoon with From The Jam, with Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings drawing a huge crowd as expected. Having only seen them briefly in the past some years ago I was well up for this and was not disappointed. From opener 'David Watts' onward I was genuinely mesmerized at the performance. Foxton is a superb bassist and you really get to see just how complex the Jam's bass lines are, and Hastings has a great voice and attitude to ensure a certain Mr Weller is not missed at all. They ran through a bunch of classics, sure enough, but then buggered off after thirty-five minutes and we had to do the old cheering and whooping for a bloody encore. Now excuse me for being thick, but every band gets an hour at the Butlins events, so why they wanted to waste some of it is beyond me. Add to that the fact they only played in total for fourty minutes when an hour was available and you can see why there was plenty of grumbling afterwards. I mean, it's not like the don't regularly play for an hour and a half on tour anyway, so this was a definite misstep, even if what we did get was brilliant.

By now the lurgy had taken hold and I decide to conserve myself for the weekend's headliners The Boomtown Rats later in the evening. Sure enough, the main stage was rammed, though it was still easy enough to get a good view, and Bob Geldof and friends came out on fine form. They started out with a few from their new album, after which Bob begrudgingly agreed to play the classics, calling us all cunts, naturally. Thin as a rake and with a Jagger-esque air, Bob was on fine form, like the uncle that doesn't get invited round any more in case he gives the kids bad habits. A highlight was in the middle of 'I Don't Like Mondays', a song I've always found to be very emotional, where a big, silent pause was inserted very pertinently, ruined only by some bell-end shouting out "We love you, Peaches!". I didn't know all the songs, but having never seen the band before they were a revelation, a force to be reckoned with on stage. With the new album certainly worth checking out (their first in over thirty years) and the old shit having power and resonance today, I allowed myself to stagger off and die in peace with a smile on my face.

Much like the Giants Of Rock, the Alternative Music Festival is well worth checking out if you can get to Skegness in October (with Stiff Little Fingers topping the bill). Do yourself a favour and get booking, because I'll most likely see you there. Clean beds, no fucking camping, decent beer, good food and great music, some day all festivals will be this way!

Alan Holloway

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