For more than a decade an out-of-season trip to Butlins has been a fixture in my diary at least once each year: numerous trips to Minehead for the Giants Of Rock weekends, several trips to Skegness for the Great British Folk Festival and a handful of additional trips to the same resort for the Rock & Blues weekends. Over the years I’ve rented chalets with large groups, with smaller groups, with family, with friends and with friends I’ve made along the way. Thanks to Butlins I’ve enjoyed tons of live music, met various bona fide music legends in the flesh and connected with likeminded fans from across the country. But now it was finally all coming to an end. Butlins had pulled the plug on Giants Of Rock last year and now this year both the folk weekends and the rock & blues weekends were going the same way.
In response to customer complaints about the demise of the Great British Rock & Blues Festival, the Butlins team have been at pains to stress that the event had been in decline commercially for a number of years. Certainly, the various tribute band weekends that the company stage these days seem to be a far more lucrative option, attracting higher visitor numbers and the stag and hen weekenders who are there primarily for tongue-in-cheek fun and spending vast amounts at the bar rather than the quality of the music per se. And no fat fees for big-name acts to worry about either. If I were running Butlins I’d probably go down the same route myself, particularly as it was becoming increasingly clear that the crowds at the rock, folk and blues weekends weren’t getting any younger and simple demographics dictate that the existing punters weren’t going to be going along forever.
Of course, as an actual punter it did feel rather sad that it was all coming to end. I had vainly hoped that the Rock & Blues weekends in Skegness might continue once Giants of Rock had bitten the dust. But it was not to be. Although my tastes generally lie more at the rock end than the blues end of the spectrum, there was plenty of both to enjoy over this final weekend, however.
Highlights this year included the tremendous Ten Years After (a band I only properly rediscovered live at Minehead last year after seeing them once at Reading Festival back in the early 80s); the irrepressible Steve Gibbons (who announced at the end of his set that he’d had a clear out of all the old merch in his garage and that all the money raised from it was going to the relief effort in Ukraine – of course I bought some); sixties girl singer turned seasoned blues legend, Dana Gillespie (who delivered perhaps the filthiest set of the weekend, with some gloriously innuendo-laden blues lyrics); the Chicago Blues Legends (Billy Branch and John Primer with upcoming legend, Jamiah Rogers); and finally the Verity Bronham Band (I’d seen both John Verity and Del Bronham on numerous occasions at similar weekends over the years and it was lovely seeing them join forces for a stupendous sing-along set of rock classics.)
So farewell then Skegness Butlins. I really can’t see myself trekking across the country for a bunch of tribute bands in future. However, there’s still a decent bunch of off-season festival weekends out there offered by other holiday firms so it could well be time to explore some of those in future.
[Images Steve Gibbons on stage, Steve Gibbons and Darren at the merch desk, Dana Gillespie on stage]