Ok, this got a bit out of control so you'll do well to get through the whole thing but just wanted to get my thoughts down to reflect. Hopefully it'll ring a few happy bells for some.
After a perfect journey down in ever increasing weather quality, we arrived in Minehead, ready for a weekend of music, beer and aching bodies. This was the same place that I’d visited on one of our first family holidays nearly 20 years ago. Hazy memories crept back but the place looked totally different to what I vaguely remember. The first thing to note is that the whole place looked new and clean and lacked that Hi-De-Hi factor of Camber Sands which is good and bad (more on that later).
We parked up (plenty of space, easy access, no queues) and I nipped to the reception to pick up our wristbands. It was brilliantly organised with booths setup by surname. I waited all of 2 minutes before I was next and was dealt with quickly, politely and easily in another 2.
We found our chalet and got to unpacking the beer and food. The chalet was great. 5 of us in a 6 berth with 3 bedrooms and none of that folding out settee malarkey of Camber Sands. They even had a shower and a microwave. If ATP goes back to Camber Sands, it’ll feel a bit like going back in time. Settled in, we did what every normal person should do when they arrive at the seaside – we ate fish and chips. We began to notice that nearly all of the staff at Butlins were one of 2 things (or possibly both in some instances) – very camp men or Polish people. Not a complaint as we found everyone that served us was friendly, just an observation.
Initial thoughts of the site were positive. It was clean and tidy and most noticeably absolutely massive. It almost felt a shame that the music was gonna get in the way of us sampling the full delights of the site but we did our best to mix it up. And so with bellies full and beer at the ready we watched the first act of the weekend in the impressively huge Pavilion stage: The Only Ones. This was their first live performance for 26 years and whilst they were a little rusty and the singer had a ridiculously squeaky punk voice, they were a classy act and got the weekend off in a positive vibe. We sneaked a bit of Conway Savage (just too sedate, dull even) in at the Central Stage before heading back to the Pavilion for the first Dirty Three performance and the first great show of the weekend. They absolutely rocked. A great show, great banter, good sound, good choice of songs. Warren Ellis is one of those ‘born for the stage’ types and is as charismatic as they come. Jim White’s loose drumming was mesmerising and I’m glad we got to see him in so many acts over the weekend.
With the beer kicking in, we ambled over to the Reds stage to catch Art of Fighting. This was the least used stage of the weekend, much smaller than the ‘oh so very Butlins’ Centre stage. Sound again was excellent if a little too quiet but the band came over a tad too slight after the Dirty Three performance. Not a bad show by any means, just a bit prosaic.
One thing we were happy with was how easy it was to move between stages. No nonsense about drinking up before you move on and the crowds moving between stages were negligible with queues non existent. This is where Minehead is many times better than Camber Sands. On the other hand, what you gain in size and ease of movement, you lose in the cosy vibe stakes. It’s a sacrifice that I was happy to make though.
Back to Centre to watch the Oz warblings of The Devastations. I’m sure they were pretty good but my tired, drunken mind kept them from being memorable. My fault, not theirs. We wanted so much to watch the whiskey drenched drawl of the ubiquitous Josh T Pearson (I think he was following us, we must have seen him 20 times over the weekend) but our failing bodies demanded sleep and we caved. A good first day though.
Sorry to bring football into this but as a Man Utd fan I don’t feel I can let the review pass without a reference to the day Utd very likely snatched the Premiership title back off Chelsea. At one point Utd were 2-0 down and Chelsea were 2-1 up. The games finished 2-4 and 2-2 and it put a huge grin on my face for the rest of the day. It helped that the rest of the day was also ace. The sun was out, the beach was looking good, Utd had just pretty much won the league and I had a day of beer and music ahead; it doesn’t get much better than that. We had hoped to try and catch some Magnolia Electric Company but was time was short and bellies were empty and so we only saw one song which just so happened to be amazing.
After grub it was Shannon Wright. Yes, she clearly wants to be PJ Harvey but she stayed the right side of being a rip off for me. She was very good and once more the sound was perfect. Her odd bum wiggling was one of the strangest stage moments of the weekend. We quickly nipped upstairs to see what was going on and caught the last ‘song’ of Alan Vega’s set. Wow, it was laughably bad. Maybe just seeing one song it was all out of context but I couldn’t help but think of ‘Vulva’ from the sit com Spaced, ‘It’s not finished….now it’s finished.’ Back down to the Pavilion to what was potentially one of the acts of the weekend, Low. Now, going against the flow of popular opinion, I think their new album Drums and Guns is a bit rubbish. The production is heavy and muddied and spoils for me the point of Low, ie lo-fi delicateness. Having said this, I suspected that the songs would work better live and thankfully I was right. Man can these guys sing. They sound smoother than a block of butter that’s been sanded down and buffed with a chammy leather. A very good performance though I would have liked a few more older tracks and I’m sorry but Hatchet is an atrocity.
It was around now that my good day got better as I met Guy Garvey from Elbow, whilst in my Elbow t shirt, which put a big grin on his face, which did the same for me. Newborn is my favourite song of all time and GG is one of, if not my favourite lyricist of the last 10 years, so that was nice!
We caught the wet, hymn style limp of Spiritualized (I really don’t get it) whilst on the way to Mick Harvey on the central stage. He wasn’t quite as good as I expected after checking out a couple of his albums, though ‘Hank Williams Said it Best’ was excellent. Next was a bit of an unknown, Yann Tiersen. He composed the music to one of my favourite films, Amelie but it was a bit of a fear that the French tweeness of accordion and strings wouldn’t adapt overly well to the live stage. Perhaps he thinks the same because he had a full band and has decided to rock it up. And rock it up they did! It would have to be my unexpected gem of the weekend. Big, varied, interesting rock soundscapes. I’d heard that he’d gone a bit U2 but I don’t remember U2 ever sounding this good even when they were making worthwhile music all those years ago.
Beer and chat overrode The Scientists but there were fine for a bit of background rock. My head was too tired for the onslaught of the Drones, good though they were. I dipped into the amusements and won £12 on a slot machine, hurray! Fair play to the Drones actually, they probably rocked harder than anyone else during the weekend. Last act of Saturday that we managed was Nina Nastasia with Jim White. A bit of an up and down performance for me. Nina (surprisingly plain looking!) sounded good and I think the songs sounded better than the slightly underwhelming On Leaving. When Jim played it quiet alongside her, it worked really well but at times when he went totally off kilter; it tended to jar with the simplicity of NN. I’m sure a lot of people will like it for that very same reason. A semi successful experiment for me but I’d be interested to hear the album. Bed time followed shortly.
Sunday started with a bit of cricket with my brother and some random fellows followed by one of the best acts of the weekend: Papa M. It sounded so damn good for a Sunday afternoon and would have been great outside in the sunshine. The little kicks on the bells were a nice touch but the strength of the songs really made him stand out from much of the weekend’s lineup. The only downside during the set was that some plum started playing on a gambler which was ridiculously loud considering how hushed the music was. It was also during this set that I first heard the genius bar promotion where if anyone ordered a double, that person had to signal the other staff and they all had to shout out ‘DOUBLE!’ Well done to the moron who thought that one up.
We decided to go for some more Dirty Three and surprisingly they were even better the second time round. We cut it short to catch the end of Ed Keupper which was worth seeing just for the accompaniment of the giant bass sax. The music itself was pretty good too, a sort of rock jazz that never got too ‘hmmm NICE!’. Next to one my personal disappointments of the weekend, a Silver Mount Zion. I dunno what happened here. Maybe I built them up to much in my head but I was expected epic post rock style orchestral noise, instead I got ponderous, achingly slow build rock with a few strings. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, cos it was, I just expected it to make my skin bristle. They became another band that played background music whilst we relaxed and beered. Not a bad thing.
We timed getting to the first Joanna Newsom set badly and saw our first queue of the weekend. I suppose this is what happens when you put the person who released one of the most liked albums of 2006 in a limited capacity venue. This is fine though, the Pavilion would have been wrong for her and we made sure we were in plenty of time for the second performance.
Oh no! Another disappointment: Cat Power. Where has it all gone wrong? The same person who recorded the absolutely lovely Moon Pix and You are Free performing covers of crap like New York New York and Satisfaction. I think she was generally most people’s disappointment of the weekend. I hope that she soon sees sense and fires the person that’s been telling her that this half assed bar room pop just isn’t very good but I can’t see it happening.
Hurray for Bill Callahan for ending that pesky run of disappointments. Although sadly due to some technical cock up, his set was cut short. He was excellent though, captivatingly good. I would have liked to have heard some of his legendary wit but perhaps time cut him short. Up next was the possibly future Mrs Callahan, Joanna Newsom and she was an absolute treat. Genuinely brilliant and one of the best festival acts I’ve ever seen. The new song ‘Colleen’ was easily the best song of the weekend with ‘Emily’ a very close second. The control she now has over that unique voice is genuinely riveting. The room could have been on fire and I wouldn’t have noticed. My eyes were laser beams on her. Her backing band were also extremely good with one bloke playing a mandolin style guitar with a name I’ve never even heard of. Act of ATP by a mile.
We caught a quick snippet of Mum Smokes on Reds stage (which was a mistake) and then it was back to Centre stage for my last act of the weekend, Tara Jane O’Neil. She was fine, pretty much what I expected from what I’d heard and a solid end to the weekend. I must admit she didn’t get my full attention due to a mix of extreme tiredness and booze.
So that’s it, my second ATP was finished. I’ve not had a chance to mention other non music highlights like the beach, my brother walking on his hands on said beach, my wife and brother going hell for leather on dancing stage, a round of crazy (sedate) golf in the sunshine, all of us playing team matches of air hockey and me taking back the crown from my wife as ATP air hockey champion. I’m a little sad not to be going to the ATP vs The Fans weekend as the lineup looks much more up my street and considering this lineup was just ok for me and I had a great time, it bodes well for the future and easily puts ATP top of my festival list.