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Review: Blackpool Music Festival 2013 – An Overwhelming Success!

Sunday - Party Atmosphere
Sunday – Party Atmosphere

I’m not going to mince any words with this review, because it was evident from the reaction around me as I stood in various venues over the weekend, and taking in the whole atmosphere and vibe of the festival, that it was a great success. Okay, it didn’t pass without some hitches and I don’t think realistically it could. Organising a debut festival on this scale and getting it to run without minor hiccups over four days is a huge, no, near impossible task in itself. But to deliver the unbelievable quality of live music that this inaugural festival delivered throughout its duration, is quite a remarkable achievement and will be fondly remembered and appreciated by many.

Logistically, it was an organiser’s nightmare. You have to be a truly dedicated and passionate soul to take on the huge workload and to mastermind a huge mass of musical equipment to be strategically placed and set up in each participating venue. Add to that long and painstaking negotiations with venues and bands, endless hours of promotion, team meetings and paperwork. The list goes on. You also have to have a dedicated, hard-working and trustworthy team by your side, freely giving their time and considerable effort to make it happen. Jon Bamborough has written himself into Blackpool history as the first man to deliver a music festival of this kind in our beloved town and there is not one single doubt that this festival will grow in both strength and quality in the future. Jon and his team should rightly be sporting a smile from ear to ear today knowing full well that they pulled it off and they should be very proud of that.

After the recent and very unfortunate demise of the legendary Blue Room as probably Blackpool’s number one live venue for local bands, there wasn’t time to let the grass grow in finding a suitable venue to do justice to the festival. Jon had pulled off  yet another masterstroke in negotiating with Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a very apt base and main stage venue. It helps if the general manager is a huge supporter of local live music and in the wonderful Jo Jacklin (who is an important member of the BMF team) there was no question of the main stage going anywhere else!  So, that is where the Blackpool Music Festival 2013 began last Thursday and ended with an almighty bang on Sunday evening.  It began in fabulous and ferocious fashion and ended as a celebratory party. Fitting indeed.

With so many venues giving their time over to live music, people were always going to be spoiled for choice. With such a varied cast, the festival had just about something to suit everyone’s taste, either in an intimate setting or somewhere a little more expansive such as Uncle Tom’s, where the backline and sound desk resembled something from the O2, manned expertly by the very best sound techies in the area.  That’s where I visited first on the opening night and to be truthful, you really couldnt have asked for a better opening salvo. We experienced a little bit of everything throughout the evening and it didn’t disappoint. In securing the services  of Salford’s AAAK (As Able As Kane) totally free of of charge as headliners for the night, we witnessed a quite breathtaking show from the masters of Neo Industrial dance which left the crowd open mouthed and totally converted. These guys are impressive live to say the least, so much so that they are about to embark on a European tour supporting The Pixies (last year they supported the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  They left their mark on a very impressed and enthusiastic Blackpool crowd.  A coup indeed for Uncle Tom’s and for the festival.  Not long after their magical set, they promised to return in the not too distant future. I recommend highly that you keep your eyes peeled for news of a return visit.

A huge mention has to go to local bands Last Breath, Zebra X, Veasey and Savage Jaw who rocked the enthusiastic crowd and all performed brilliantly. Zebra X vocalist, Colette Nelson, has only just returned to the stage after a long absence and it was great to see her back and on form.  Last Breath are certainly on the rise and have had a whirlwind month following their appearance at the Illuminations switch on event. Doors have opened and offers are coming in for the very hard working Blackpool band and they completed the night with a rip roaring set to a standing ovation. Great stuff.

Friday night continued in the same vein and from first reports the venues were busy with folk supporting the quality music emanating from within their doors. There was certainly a buzz around the town and beyond into Poulton, at the Old Town Hall, where local upcoming young bands Jekyll and The People were putting on their usual excellent shows. The very aim and whole idea of the festival was to get bands into these venues, get them seen and then present them the opportunity to secure more gigs and bookings, not to mention – and equally as important – to get more people out watching live music in and around the area in venues that need the business. It was a winner for everyone. I decided to opt for a more relaxed and intimate setting on Friday at Scrooges after Thursday’s blast on my ears and took in the amazingly talented 16 year old Blackpool singer/songwriter April Keen, along with the brilliant punk/folk songstress Laura Catlow and the fabulous Flossie, completing the line up of three individually fantastic acoustic artists.

There was a good receptive crowd and they appreciated the different styles of each act.  Due to the footy being live on TV earlier it took a little while to fill up the place, but it was very busy later. It was a total contrast in musical genre to the previous evening, but equally as good and highlighted the different array of musical styles featured right through the whole festival. And the other participating venues around town on the night were just as fortunate in hosting some fabulous musicians of all varieties. So, yet another brilliant night of first class entertainment and a huge endorsement for these nights on a regular basis.

Saturday was as busy as I’ve seen it in town for a while and there’s  absolutely no doubt that the Blackpool Music Festival was a huge contributing factor. It was strange and quite amusing seeing various musicians rushing through the streets in town with guitars and other various bits of musical equipment tucked under their arms, as they were booked to play in more than one venue on the same evening! But it didn’t seem to phase too many people and the musicians certainly relished the chance to air their tunes to a different crowd. I started out at Toast and checked out the second stint of the festival by April Keen, who had to endure the clattering of plates, glasses and cutlery yet performed an impeccable set of her own songs and a few covers. She is indeed a unique talent and I am sure has a very bright future ahead. Following April was Salford acoustic duo Blue Zen, not phased by the sounds of a working restaurant, they delivered a beautifully executed set of their own material. Both artists, in a tricky environment, won over the folk enjoying their food and drinks and were given appreciative applause. The setting was a little different, but all the same very enjoyable and yet another example of the flexibility and diversity off the festival. I skirted in and out of a couple of other venues in the vicinity later on and the vibe was constant. There was a feel good factor in the air generally, amidst the usual shenanigans of a typical Saturday night in Blackpool town centre!

The festival couldn’t have had a better finale if it was scripted. Sunday’s entertainment was quite simply off the scale! I arrived back to where I started at Uncle Tom’s Cabin at around 3.30pm in the afternoon. Already the atmosphere was building, but probably no one quite expected what was to come. There had already been great performances earlier in the afternoon, as some acts had to be transferred to Uncle Tom’s from the Winter Gardens and the show went on regardless.  There was no stopping it!  As I arrived, the stage had been set up for Jonny’s Lunchbox, with 13 year old Lucas Fletcher at the helm, a shining example to any young aspiring musician. This young fella can play, and play very well. Not only that, his vocals are equally as good. Confidently strutting his way through a set of songs that were obviously a lot older than his tender years and probably selected by his dad, Ian on bass, this was as competent and skillful as it gets from any young musician currently in the area. Lucas is a real star in the making and a fabulous talent.

The packed Sunday afternoon house had been treated to a taste of what was to come and was getting in the mood for a party. They wouldn’t be let down, as the brilliant and ultimate party band Ska Face took to the stage. They had brought an army of fans along, which added to the great atmosphere as the party continued with a packed dancefloor and crowd involvement, singing every song enthusiastically. It was energetic stuff and non stop. A word here for the sound guys, who did a thoroughly professional job in helping the bands on stage sound their very best. A great set from Ska Face was followed by an equally great set from Birmingham band The Equators, who continued the Ska theme and again had the large crowd dancing and singing along.  After completing a frenetic set, they were proceeded by Punk/Ska band Addictive Philosophy, who again had their own followers among the packed Uncle Tom’s crowd. It was thrilling stuff  and worthy of any music festival anywhere in the country. This particular afternoon and evening session was as good as it gets both entertainment wise and in terms of quality music. The venue itself will be delighted with the whole festival and their own contribution to it, but more so the way it came to a fitting and brilliant climax, culminating quite aptly by a set from local guitar man Neal Orin, who majestically worked his way through some terrific numbers to end the festival on a high. And all this for free!

In this review, I’ve not mentioned every act or venue involved in a super weekend, but you know who you are and what a fine contribution you have made in making the first Blackpool Music Festival one to remember. To the many various volunteers, bar staff, technicians and all those involved in and around the bands and venues, I doff my humble cap to you all.  A job expertly done, with much heart and determination to succeed. This all done for free, for the good of local live music and for the public of our town. Not forgetting the charities that will benefit from the money raised through  kind donations over the weekend. The last word has to go to festival organiser Jon Bamborough, who has instantly become a local hero along with his daughter Victoria. A special mention too for the ever inspirational Ed Blaney from the Salford Music Festival, adding his heart and know how to help the music scene around here, the hard working  Grayso and the many others who have made this festival very special indeed.  You are all shining stars.

 

Bigger and better next year? You bet!

 

A selection of  images courtesy of BMF volunteers

 

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    Blackpool based self-confessed music fanatic involved in the local music scene around the Fylde and particularly passionate about promoting and assisting new upcoming bands and artists breaking through.

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