All the single ladies looking for a thick-necked, beer-swilling late forty-something male need look no further – Shiiine On Weekender is here for you. It is also here for those of us who spend the other fifty one wasteland weekends of the year willing it to be mid-November – our chance to escape the daily grind, indulge in a bit of hedonistic nostalgia and hang out with ‘our people’ once more.
From a fairly low-key start in 2015, this gathering of the tribes of Indie, Rock and Dance has gradually transformed; with this year bringing more acts, over more stages and for longer. If you fancy starting your day off with comedy or a film show; afternoon hip-hop Karaoke or a pop quiz; an evening of up-and-coming bands or stalwart festival favourites; club nights or sing-along cover bands, there really is something for everyone. Cleverly arranged to avoid clashes for headline acts, the whole event successfully manages to appear effortless; bands start on time, changeovers are smooth, the staff are wonderfully friendly and relaxed (this year, Levi is Shiiine personified – full of high-fives and contagious enthusiasm) – the festival goes from strength to strength.
Part of the joy of Shiiine On is the anticipation – making a playlist for the long journey down to Somerset (get caught behind a tractor on that final road to Minehead and you’re in for a slow, frustrating trek); getting the card to your chalet and your yellow and black festival wristband; tasting that first, tantalizing drink of the weekend; loving the obsessively organised Excel spreadsheets which help us work out who we are going to see and when and setting ourselves the challenge of staying up for Steve Lamacq. These are the moments we anticipate all year; grabbing a drink, heading into the Skyline Arena, the hazy blur of noise and excitement, music reverberating off the walls before the main acts have even begun: all our Friday nights lead to this moment and the promise of what is to come over the following few days. We have food, booze, tea and Berocca. Shiiine On Weekender…we are ready for you…
Having read so many positive comments about Ivory Wave, I was keen to see the Birmingham five-piece with their modern take on the acid-house dance music of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. First up on the Skyline Stage they attract a large Friday afternoon crowd and their contagious Happy Mondays vibe is perfect to warm things up. On next and following the up-beat dance theme comes Reverend and the Makers, a perfect, energizing Friday evening choice and my only regret is that being lower down on the list means a shorter set for The Reverend’s own form of catchy indie pop and electronica but with Cast and Lightning Seeds still to come, the night is only just beginning. Headliner Ian Broudie is blighted by sound problems and the set starts slowly, the band working hard to overcome technical issues but hitches are resolved and the crowd is fully engaged by the time alternative culture’s football anthem ‘Three Lions’ is belted out as the band’s closer.
I’m keen to catch Deja Vega after seeing their ferociously raw set last year on the Sunday afternoon and this time they are playing the much smaller, dive-like Jaks at the back of the arena, an interesting choice after last year’s Skyline slot. Their debut album has been on the turntable at home for weeks and hearing them in this dark, claustrophobic venue really emphasizes the searing, at times overwhelmingly powerful sound this three-piece creates. The atmosphere is unlike that of any other set I will see this weekend – wild and unpredictable, screeching guitars and frantic punk screams and as singer Jack Fearon leaps into the audience, leading us into a psychedelic trance as he spins amongst us, the sound from the stage fills the room in a frenzied crescendo. The mood is electric and this is what live music is all about.
As we head towards the early hours, King of the Slums are forced into a shorter than planned set due to a broken guitar amp and we head upstairs to dance venue Reds to catch Transglobal Underground, although frustratingly we must miss Apollo 440 as 1 AM beckons us next door to Centre Stage to catch The Wedding Present’s penultimate show of the year. David Gedge and his ever-revolving Fall-esque troupe of players are on excellent form tonight, with heavily pregnant Danielle Wadey playing her guitar slung low to the side; ripping through their set with the usual intense energy. The crowd love this band and tonight You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends is our Shiiine mantra: music, memories and friends, this is why we are all gathered here.
A rarely seen November blue sky, the sun hanging low, forces us off site and into the eccentrically English seaside resort of Minehead, sticks of rock and Crazy Golf momentarily beckon, but it’s not long before we are in the pub, lured by our Irish friends, one of whom has flown over from his adopted home of Seattle to join us and later, surrounded by fellow Weekenders we head back to the site, itineraries in hand.
Hearing great things about the sets by Steve Mason and Idlewild (you have to eat and sleep at some point, however…) I am keen to see Turin Brakes’ early evening slot. Having slid off my radar after the first few albums, I am surprised to hear that the London four-piece released their eighth studio album last year and I’m glad I manage to catch them tonight: the sound is tight, the band charm us with old favourites and the tempo rises with each song. The set’s standout track is definitely Black Rabbit from 2016’s Lost Property, the power of which gets me right in the solar plexus: it is just stunning – powerful, beautiful and intensely moving. I leave wanting more.
I remember seeing Embrace around the time they released The Good Will Out, playing a free outdoor gig near Leicester Square in London; I wandered down after work one bright summer evening, wanting to see what all the hype was about, enjoyed the gig and the album and that, I thought was that. Fast forward over twenty years and here I am, barrier-hugging and allowing myself to be pulled into the crowd’s enthusiasm on this Saturday night as they belt out the favourites, charming and funny, effortless performers, the tone just right for the sing-a-long crowd: ‘it’s been a long time coming and I can’t stop now’ and I allow myself to be caught up in the moment, as Saturday night on the Skyline Stage draws to a close.
Bob Mould plays an intense late night set on Centre Stage with a focus on solo material but with the welcome inclusion of some Sugar and Husker Du tracks and the room is packed out and ready for Jim Bob who is here with his usual self-deprecating charm, to play 1991 album 30 Something. I’m sure we would all have laughed at the time if we had been told that one day there would be moshers and stage-divers to one-man acoustic renditions of Carter classics and yet here we are and the crowd shouts back every word at their beloved suited and booted singer, whose witty puns and rapid fire one-liners are rejuvenated in their current stripped-back format.
We forget that we are now in the early hours of Sunday morning, eager for more music, more memories. These now follow with the appearance of Niall O’Flaherty and his Sultans of Ping. Bedecked in pink-leopard print trousers, O’Flaherty prowls and stretches across the stage, acerbic and wittily sexual whilst his audience beckon back as one ‘Sultans, Sultans, Sultans’: University Lecturer by day (whilst internet surfing I come across a link to Rate Your Lecturer, which provides me with the following amusing comment from one star-struck student ‘I think he’s too attractive to be a lecturer, so it’s sometimes distracting during the lectures’); charismatic, pouting pop minstrel by night. It’s Saturday and we are all in love.
After keeping to our word and managing to stay awake for (at least a) part of Steve Lamacq’s annual indie disco, we are up and ready for The Clone Roses’ appearance on Centre Stage at lunchtime. Cover bands are a welcome addition at Shiiine On and this Stone Roses tribute band, who I have somehow missed on previous years, go down remarkably well – the room is packed, we sing collectively and I have a tear in my eye during This Is The One: this after all, is a moment we have waited for all year.
I’m keen to see Jesus Jones on the Skyline Stage after their initial Shiiine On visit in 2016 which came just as they were emerging from a fifteen year hiatus. Having watched them in various venues since and marveling at the passion with which they perform, it’s wonderful to see the size of the crowd who have gathered here this afternoon and the band whip through their set with energy and enthusiasm, singer Mike Edwards lithe and virtually unchanged since the early ‘90s.
Early evening and the mood in the arena is electric, we know what’s coming. It is Stourbridge Sunday and the Holy Trinity of West Midland indie alternative bands are soon to take to the stage for a much anticipated event; the first time that the three giants of the era have appeared on the same line up: Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Shiiine On darlings, The Wonder Stuff.
I am biased and for any hyperbole I must apologize but these bands are my youth, icons of my formative years, the musical accompaniment to life’s ups and downs and this evening’s line-up is going to be hard to beat. Down at the front for PWEI as they storm through an electrifying performance of second album This is the Day, This is the Hour, This is This; I step back for Ned’s and watch the crowd around me, enjoying the atmosphere, the familiar refrain kicking in at the start of each track, as singer John Penney holds the stage: at last they are here and I doubt that this, their first Butlins visit, will be their last. I close my eyes for a few seconds; I can feel the energy and excitement around me and it is breath-taking.
Finally, it is time for The Wonder Stuff, who have appeared – in various guises, both as a band and in stripped back acoustic form with Miles Hunt alone – at every Shiiine On Weekender. Hunt reminds us that the band have just released their ninth studio album but sardonically assures us that we won’t be hearing any tracks from it tonight. He knows what his audience want to hear on this Sunday evening: drunk, tired and emotional, high on the adrenaline of three nights of musical memories, eager to shout and sing and dance away the evening while we can before real life creeps back in… and tonight we do all those things and the band are better than I think I have ever seen them. Mark ‘Gemini’ Twaite and Malc Treece are back and we again throw our arms in the air at the familiar refrain: ‘You know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times, and these should be the best days of my life’.
I feel as though the Skyline ceiling will lift right off, such is the reciprocal energy created between band and audience, the love we share for these performers, for the memories they have created over the years, for the mix-tapes and the club nights, the hotly-anticipated new albums, the tours and the lyrics we have sung along to in the car or shouted out, arms held high, at gigs and at festivals, stretching back through the years and bringing us to this point. All of these emotions, memories and connections are shared, by all of us, right here tonight by this band that we hold so dear and they can surely feel it too.
For of course, it is the audiences who help to make this night and the weekend so special; because after all, it is the people you meet along the way, fellow Indie music fans, arriving from all over, that are so key in making the Shiiine On experience unique. Looking back at my musings for Disarm after last year’s weekender, I am reminded of these moments and this year is no exception.
Shortly after wandering into the Skyline Arena on Friday we encounter a friendly gang wearing Shiiine On Weekender Appreciation Society t-shirts, one of whom is Laura, who I would bump into various times over the following few days. Shortly after this, I find myself standing behind a guy I had chatted to (and mentioned here) on the same night, last year. We had spoken about our favourite bands – I had told him I had not heard The Rifles before, he had assured me that I would enjoy them, we met each other’s friends and all danced together. Like homing pigeons, we all have our favoured vantage points at gigs and it seems that he and I share the same one, for here he is again and remembering one another, I thank him for last year’s recommendation.
Here is the guy I similarly recognize from previous years for his ‘Until Sally I was never happy’ t-shirt – I spot him before the Clone Roses set on Sunday and we have a chat; my name, his t-shirt, the band: it all makes me smile.
There is also my barrier companion during The Wonder Stuff who it turns out has never seen them before, brought along by his mates, now fully converted and vowing to acquire the back catalogue. We bond over the remarkable set we are witnessing, I laugh at his shock at how wonderful this band are, chastise him for never having seen them before, for having disparaged them and now, here he is, blown away and thanking me for sharing my joy with him – over thirty years on and these bands still have the power to garner new fans.
And there is first timer David from Amsterdam, via Brighton, attending with his Shiiine On veteran friends, who I get chatting to during Sultans of Ping. It turns out that we are both Wedding Present Fans and confess to one another that we have each seen this band more than any other; our murmured conversation about the Indie music we love and his kind words, make me smile when I need it.
These and so many others, are the people who help to make this weekend special, who we connect with due to shared passions. They create the feeling of unity which brings out the goose bumps when you’re standing together, watching the performers you love, the musicians of your formative years; when you feel a tightening in your throat at the immense power that music has to transport you, the impact that the opening bars of a song can have, forcing you back to when you first heard it, all those years ago.
Thank you to all those people: to the ones I spoke to, those I danced next to and the ones who turned to me during our favourite bands’ choruses and belted the words out together – all of you make Shiiine On unique and just maybe, I’ll bump into you, stand next to you and sing along with you, again next year.
With thanks to Sally Hamilton for the words, Sally’s partner for the photos. The Canadians WILL return for the 2020 installment. Mark my words.