Skegness in December; bracing or what!?
Louise organised this one, based on an experience last year, apparently. By train and by car E-folkers travelled north and east to that strange county of Lincolnshire.
It's a new one on me, really – apart from passing through (do you ever really need to pass through Lincolnshire – except maybe on a train?), and a few days in Boston once long ago. But never Skegness – and never, ever, Butlin's.
I was by car, kindly hosted by Ian and accompanied by Louise and Madeleine. We spent hours and hours and hours (well not really – but it felt like it) wishing there was a hill or slight rise anywhere to be seen. But just seemingly endless fens, black fens, fen fens, a few windswept wayside trees and a horizon that stretched so far out of sight that it wasn't really there. Boston was at least alive, though mainly stumpy, and our first views of Skeggy were mainly of mobility shops and traffic jams of the resultant scooters. Oh – and chalets, and caravans, and caravans, and caravans. Then, just as I felt we'd escaped and could go back to hilly Essex via the Lincolnshire Wolds or some way other than fens, we were manoeuvred into position and up to the border crossing and the security guards. My mind was thrown back to hitch-hiking days on the borders of Albania, and of crossing in – and luckily out – of Bulgaria, before those borders were moved over here. I tried to hunker down in the back of the car, but know this to be useless. When I peeked out Louise was discussing terms and security passes and I was surprised to see a rather attractive blond female guard with a smile on her face. Ok, I know - they can smile but you can't hide.
It's a strange place, Butlin's. The cells are all arranged in blocks just like real Stalags but given friendly names like Ocean Point and Lagoon Bay. Louise and Ian were in the former, and Madeleine and I in the latter. Apparently we were going to be allowed to associate at least with some of the other prisoners, so we crept into number 15 Ocean Point, to try to at least have a last cup of tea together. I was afraid I'd never see Louise or Ian again. Then, in a reflection from the window of a cell across the way, I saw Dave, and then others of the crew, followed up by Val. Things were looking up. At least we would all be incarcerated together. I realised that this wasn't quite a Stalag, more a Gulag. Further east, see.
Madeleine and I met Pam in our own cell down the road in Lagoon Bay. It's not a bay at all, but a group of cells below the sea wall, which is itself surmounted by a security fence, There was a guard-post just a way along, and we learnt later that we would be allowed out onto the miles of sand at certain times. You have to show a wrist-band to get in or out, though not so much on the out for some reason. I expect it's because there are security cameras everywhere, and that the wrist-bands are actually tracking devices, and even if you get out, there's nowhere to go except the sand or Skegness. I suspect that the sand is patrolled for escapees by great big balloon things that sort of roll and bounce and herd you back in. They'll have appropriate names like “Rover”.
Anyway, I diverge. Which isn't surprising after the trauma of the weekend. The event was the Great British Folk Festival. The venue – as you now know – was Butlin's. Weird, Eh? There is an 'introducing stage' where the lesser performers do their best to become next-years bigger performers – and two other venues called Centre Stage and Reds. There is a psychological plot in place whereby big-name folk artists or bands play in one of the two venues at the same time. For example the main artists of the Friday were evening Billy Bragg performing in Reds and Eliza Carthy at the same time in Centre Stage. I chose Eliza, as Billy is a bit too political for me. As it happened, the very first band of the evening was 'False Lights' featuring Jim Moray and Sam Carter. What a start! I don't know either of those people, but I was very soon glad I'd risked a prison camp to see them.
On Saturday morning we were allowed out of the camp, and herded onto a Number 1 bus to Skegness. I know we were nominally in Skegness, but there are thousand of caravans and herds of mobility scooters between the Gulag and the main town. It' s too far to walk, especially as we were experiencing gale-force winds heading up the coast from the south. And Skegness is south of the camp. Skegness is a bit sea-sidey, with shops and that. We met a lot more of our e-folks and had a hearty meal in a hapartment store. Well, I say hearty, but it was more the tea and buns sort of place. Nice, though. We – or at least a few of us – walked to the beach. I went for a paddle (shoes included, of course), and we visited the Lincolnshire Poacher, which is the local lifeboat. My suggestion of being blown back to the prison camp by a following wind along the sea-shore was hooted at. Outdoor Group my a….
Saturday evening was a no-other-choicer for me. I warned them. (Them being all those e-folk that went to see The Unthanks). I went to see Sharon Shannon and Alan Connor, and whereas the Unthankers were all made miserable I was uplifted. Most of you will know that is rare with me, so she must be good. Pam and I rolled home (home is where the cell is) at about 2am, and obviously woke Madeleine, who had retired early. I retired years ago. We didn't want to wake Madeleine, but you could not move in the cell-block for creaks. (Creaks are small creatures that live in desolate parts of the east coast of nowhere. They are particularly common around Butlin's in Skegness.)
I don't remember much of Sunday, because it was windy and I'd had to sleep two nights with a coat over my head because the Gulag's security lights were blinding me all night. (I had another flippin' double-bed to myself again, by the way). Also, I kept thinking “Tonight's the night when I shall see Maddy Prior”. The other reason, now my memory is coming back a bit, is that we started the folk sessions early in the afternoon, with a set of renditions from 'The Band from County Hell'. They were from Lincolnshire. Good, though - and followed by 'Blazin' Fiddles' - who are good good and from Scotland and Orkney and Shetland. A quick eat, then Pam and I went to start a queue for the Reds venue, so as to get a good position. There are no booked seats; you takes your chances or barge people out of the way. I'm no good at the latter, never having been a bargee and not liking an argy-bargy. At 6.15, the queue had already started, but we were near the front. Val joined us, Louise, Ian, Phil and Dave were close behind. Susan W. and Ian joined us nearer the front. We grabbed some stray chairs that had blown in for the wait. Luckily it wasn't quite as windy as the similar but not-so-long wait I'd had the evening before. 'Twas cold, though, standing in the darkness of a Lincolnshire Gulag in December. The doors opened, and after the security checks (sniffer dogs, and beeping things and searches and that – or am I imagining all that?) we were in. I'd given precise instructions as to what to do to get tables, but nevertheless I ended up seeing only two-thirds of the stage from behind Jacky. Sod! I'd wanted to video Maddy Prior! I couldn't lean the camera anywhere so my lifetime chance was ruined. Oh well, enjoy the music.
The first band was 'Clutching at Straws'. They were awful. If Billy had been bragging and the Unthanks had been closer to the undead, this must've been worse. I don't go to a Gulag or even to a Butlin's to deliberately immerse myself in starving children. Sorry about that, kids – but there's enough suffering in the world. Go on, read this and be all righteous, but I bet I'm not the only one that walked out. The really great thing was – and this sounds a bit like a paul-tale – as I walked back to our prison cell for a welcome break before Steeleye, in the all but deserted main pavilion a song was playing. Bert Jansch singing 'Needle of Death'. You wouldn't think you could be cheered up by something like that, but after that other lot...
After a relaxing half hour or so I, together with Madeleine – who very sensibly had not bothered with the queuing and had thus not endured the Phillipines – wandered back to see Steeleye Span. You'd think at this point I'd waffle on like the rest of this article and describe how good the band was and what a pleasure it was for me to see them, but I ain't gonna. But they were and it was.
I should like to have seen Fotheringay in the other venue, but in loife you has t' make a choice, and the final band of the weekend, where we were, was an unknown to me. The DJ – Sue Marchant of BBC Local Radio, and very good she was too – said they were going to be uplifting, and they were. 'FolkLaw', a bloody good band – and I told them so as we happened to see them packing as we were escaping the camp on Monday morning. It had been a great start on Friday to a great weekend of entertainment, and that was a great finish.
We were allowed to leave on Monday morning - after the now-familiar checks at the border - and Ian drove the four of us back from E-folk-land to Efog-land.
Thanks, Louise, thanks Ian, thanks Pam and Madeleine and the others, thanks Butlins, for another great efog-away.
(I have exaggerated the prison camp theme a bit; it was really quite OK and the guards were very nice – especially the blond one.)
Article by Paul Ferris (Steeleye Span and Maddy Prior fan, but I also like Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny. There are others I could mention, including Bert Jansch, and the Incredible String Band has a lot going for it if you like pigs and hedgehogs. I like both but tend to only eat the former, and then I feel guilty. I think we should all feel guilty about hedgepigs) 7th December 2015
The festival was The Great British Folk Festival, held annually at Butlin's, Skegness, since 2010.
(Skegness is a town in Lincolnshire, and Lincolnshire is a well-known poaching county in England. As England is still British, it is right and proper to hold a Great British Folk Festival there, or indeed anywhere. Still a bit odd, though.)