An insider’s cultural guide to Blackpool: bovver boots and ballroom dancing

Art made on local bus routes, punk performed at the top of the tower and a promenade awash with mohawks – Blackpool’s cultural scene has plenty to offer

In five words

Gusty, never mind the ballroom.

Sound of the city

Like the cliche about Eskimos and their 50 different words for snow, Sandgrown’uns have 50 different grimaces for wind. Football matches can be won or lost in a zephyr’s blast and whole half-time team talks have been dedicated to the pros and cons of a swirling gale.

Everyone’s tuning into …

Beaming out a heady brew of indie, hip-hop, house and electro from the clubhouse of Blackpool Cricket Club, Cowbell Radio is a welcome digital alternative to the cheddar-choked airwaves of local commercial radio.

What’s the look on the street?

Blackpool’s punk street style.
Blackpool’s punk street style. Photograph: Dawn Mander

Substance, the thicker the better, tends to rule over style on a coastline that is relentlessly battered by winds – whether or not your ears are exposed can make the difference between a good day and a bad headache. Earmuffs aside, the look on the street is most often dictated by whichever weekend convention or festival is in town. The promenade is awash with mohawks and bovver boots throughout Rebellion Festival, while the flat cap is the undisputed king of Pigeon Weekend.

Best venue

Abingdon Studios are the first dedicated studios for the production and development of contemporary visual arts in Blackpool, offering self-contained studios as well as a project space for local and visiting artists. They recently held TestBed, an exhibition featuring 10 artists as part of the global art and ecology festival, ARTCOP. A pilot program of short-term residencies entitled WORK/LEISURE kicks off on 28 January.

Who’s top of the playlist?

Since 2007 Blackpool has been home to Rebellion Festival, an annual celebration of all things punk held in the historic Winter Gardens building every summer. This emergence of Blackpool as punk pilgrimage has coincided with the second coming of post-punk pioneers The Membranes. Formed by John Robb and Mark Tilton at Blackpool Sixth Form College in 1977, last year saw the band launch their highly acclaimed double album Dark Matter/Dark Energy with a gig from the top of Blackpool Tower.

Punk aside, electropop diva Little Boots, and singer-songwriter Rae Morris, are testament to a local gig scene that is the seaside refuge of many a gifted musician and occasionally proves fertile ground for the pop stars of the future.

Best cultural Instagram account

Dawn Mander’s photographs are poised between culture and community, a celebration of Blackpool’s heritage that simultaneously questions its legacy.

What’s the big talking point?

Fracking; Or How We Learned To Stop Worrying About The Quakes And Love The Gas. Blackpool was rocked by earthquakes in 2011 and 2013, inadvertently making shale gas extraction the topic of conversation for many after Cuadrilla Resources (aka Quadzilla) admitted that it was “highly probable” hydraulic fracturing “did trigger a number of minor seismic events”. The city is now fighting on the front line of the anti-fracking campaign with nine drilling sites at different stages of development in the Fylde coast area.

Best local artist

Funny, tragic, bleak and beautiful. Going somewhere, going nowhere, Janet Waters’ series of photographs taken on local bus routes capture the hope and despair of a seaside town facing the uncertainties of the economic crash. The deluge, the distant tower, the setting sun – rarely has the end of the road been depicted with such sincerity. A native of Essex and nurtured in Wales, Waters moved to Blackpool in 2006. Her prolific photography ranges from documenting the humdrum to abstract studies of liquid and gas.

Blackpool best artist, Janet Waters

What does Blackpool do better than anywhere else?

Strictly Come Dancing may have introduced Blackpool as a ballroom destination to a new era dabbling in dance, but quickstep beyond the tenderfoots, and anyone who knows their whisk from their fishtail will tell you the city is home to the most prestigious ballroom dance event in the world. Blackpool boasts two magnificent Victorian ballrooms, vestiges of the seaside resort’s heyday at the turn of the century. The Tower Ballroom, a Frank Matcham designed beauty familiar to fans of Strictly, was opened in 1899, commissioned by the Blackpool Tower Company in direct response to the construction of the Empress Ballroom in 1896 at the nearby Winter Gardens. The Empress has hosted the Blackpool Dance Festival under its barrel-vaulted ceiling since its inception in 1920.

Moment in history

Blackpool Mecca 1973-1978. The Mecca had been steadily earning a reputation as a respectable soul venue throughout the late 6os and early 70s even hosting live performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, but during the mid-70s with residents Colin Curtis and Ian Levine at the helm, the Mecca, specifically the Highland Room, would change the course of UK club culture. Although it’s now remembered as a cathedral of the northern soul scene, the club had gradually begun to move away from the up-tempo grooves associated with venues like Wigan Casino towards a modern, funkier sound typified by tracks like the one from this video, The Carstairs’ It Really Hurts Me Girl. It was a sonic shift that would split the northern soul scene in two, a controversy culminating in the Levine Must Go movement, yet the sound forged at the Mecca would leave a legacy that stretched into rave culture and beyond.

Best street art

Sand Sea and Spray is an urban art festival, the fruits of which can be viewed in several locations throughout the city including at the festival’s HQ at The Old Rock Factory, which has become something of a hub for local artists. The festival provides a canvas for leading UK and international street artists while also sprucing up neighborhoods in desperate need of a lick of paint. Two seagulls, one spray can.

Blackpool’s very own Seca was among the standout artists at the last edition, reaffirming the community ethos behind the event. His portrait of Samuel L. Jackson was created for the festival, inspired by the star’s recent stay in the city during the filming of Tim Burton’s upcoming Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

From me

Kyle Davies bio pic

Kyle Davies is a freelance writer from Blackpool. He produces videos and markets events in the UK and Spain. He very much likes to be beside the seaside, walking along the prom, prom, prom.

Five to follow

Noel Clueit

Alt Blackpool

Ian Levine


Other Worlds

Kyle Davies

The GuardianTramp

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