Shiiine On Weekender – Bez's pool party, Britpop bastions and middle-aged boozers

For one weekend in November, the Minehead Butlins turns into an idyll for forgotten indie tribes, with performances from the Bluetones, Ash, Dodgy, the Wonder Stuff, Black Grape, Shed 7, er, the Clone Roses, and more

“Anybody remember the 1990s?” asks Shed Seven’s Rick Witter, causing consternation among a crowd who largely believed we left him back there. “Can you remind me about it later? I can’t remember a thing.”

Luckily for Witter, and the five thousand attendant Spike Island veterans, balding Britpoppers and “ecstasy motherfuckers” – as EMF’s James Atkin affectionately calls us before Unbelievable – the people behind the Shiiine On Weekender are recreating the 90s virtually in real time. On the festival-sized main arena stage, hemmed in by Burger Kings, bowling alleys and soft play areas, entire line-ups from the Glastonbury NME stage (as was) are being re-run, featuring major and mid-level players of the era: The Bluetones, Ash, Dodgy, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Wonder Stuff, Black Grape, the mighty Sheds. Even though the shiiine in question now emanates less from our E-fuddled brains and more from our thinning scalps, our youths are still alive and well and playing Butlins Minehead.

Back from the Britpop brink: Shed Seven
Back from the Britpop brink: Shed Seven Photograph: Mick Hutson/MICK HUTSON / REDFERNS

Like any other generation, the members of the indie tribe have grown older, had kids, ditched the drugs and now flock to weekend nostalgia events at chilly out-of-season holiday parks to feel young, forget they have kids and get wasted on whatever doesn’t make their IBS flare up. The abundance of distended Senseless Things T-shirts and semi-ironic Reni hats reveal a unified but disenfranchised cultural group. The bars are filled with middle-aged boozers enthusing about the last time they saw Bentley Rhythm Ace. Chalets rock to the sounds of the New Fast Automatic Daffodils and Cud. You have to crane your neck to catch a glimpse of Salad’s acoustic set. Grown men punch the air whenever a late-night DJ plays These Animal Men, reliving their first Feet First indie disco. We are home.

The Shiiine generation, as defined by the compilation albums that gave the event its name, were too young to be swept up by acid house or the Smiths but adept at navigating the choppy genre waters of the early 90s, taking grebo, fraggle, shoegaze and whatever Kingmaker were in their stride, until Britpop came along to define the next generation. They will have taken to the 00s indie flotilla like hardened sea dogs but feel cut adrift today, as Bastille and their Grimshaw-appointed followers conflate chart pop and faux indie into a meaningless mush, and the modern alternative scene is so sonically disparate and swarming randomly through the mists of the blogosphere that to pick an act to devote yourself to feels like catching a gnat with chopsticks.

So we (and as much as this writer adores Perfume Genius, these are unashamedly my people) come here, to Shiiine, where indie means something again. To reconnect with like-minded shunners of the mainstream, regain our footing in the alternative culture of yore, and revisit carefree times when President Trump wasn’t even a Simpsons gag yet. And, while we’re at it, woo-hoo down a water flume to Song 2 at Bez’s pool party.

To help piece together our fractured memories, there’s a loose chronology to the weekend. Friday largely covers that awkward straddle between the 80s and 90s, when indie pop was finding whatever footholds it could in the mainstream. The House of Love represent roots indie with Shine On, Destroy the Heart, a somewhat saggy-at-the-jowls Christine and a gentle take on The Beatles and the Stones that sounds like a cosy fireside chat with granddad about the C86 wars.

The Wonder Stuff may rue the fact that, by botching 1993’s fourth album Construction for the Modern Idiot at the height of their success, they fluffed their shot at being the defining arena act of the early 90s, but they still hammer out Shiiine catnip like The Size of a Cow, Don’t Let Me Down, Gently, Golden Green and Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More with jovial carnival punk aplomb.

After the permanently big-coated Ian McCulloch and Echo & the Bunnymen close the main stage with the sweetly surly psych pop of The Killing Moon, The Cutter and Lips Like Sugar, the Shiiiners flock to the Centre Stage hall, where Club Manchester are recreating Spike Island, right down to the pissed-up crush to get in. The big draw are covers act the Clone Roses who, from the look of them, are missing a trick if they don’t moonlight as Codsabian, and who destroy the illusion in the first 20 seconds of I Wanna Be Adored. The singer can sing.

Saturday marks the arrival of Britpop. The day opens with an amateur musical called Girl From Mars, which involves a Saffron-alike alien crash landing in a pub band’s rehearsal and a ladrock singer called Leon beating up a crap cardboard robot with an inflatable Union Jack guitar.

The bands themselves are barely less bluecoat. Dodgy, their fundamental flower power harmonies keeping them surprisingly fresh and timeless, joke about playing a grime weekender next week. Sonya Madan from the reunited Echobelly is still the smiliest, bounciest person in any room, encouraging the front row fortysomethings to go as wild as the most rabid Beliebers to Great Things. “Don’t worry about the kids, they’re fine,” The Bluetones’ Mark Morriss reassures us between refined slices of A-grade indie pop like Slight Return, Cut Some Rug and After Hours, their boozy Mr Blue Sky. Between sets, Mike Flowers even pops out to do his easy listening Wonderwall. It’s a miracle Damien Hirst doesn’t chase a page three girl around the crazy golf course.

Rick Witter, meanwhile, should be here all week. He works the crowd like a seasoned end-of-pier pro, spinning lengthy anecdotes about being dropped by Polydor and how Going For Gold should’ve made them a packet during the Olympics “but oh no, Spandau Ballet”. The affection for the Sheds’ formidable Britpop canon is clear though; the likes of On Standby, Where Have You Been Tonight?, Dolphin and Chasing Rainbows encapsulate the euphoric pop of the era and send the crowd reeling off to the Star Shaped DJ set at Inn on the Green pub to hoist a cardboard Jarvis overhead to Common People and roar every word of Disco Down. We can safely assume they weren’t doing this to Autechre at All Tomorrow’s Parties.

On the festival’s fringes, more obscure 90s blasts from the past abound, which makes ducking into the smaller venues feel very much like stalking exes on Facebook. S*M*A*S*H, updating their only Top 40 hit (I Want To) Kill Somebody to add Boris Johnson and Theresa May to their hitlist, look like the one that got away. Saffron from Republica reels around doing Another Girl, Another Planet and Ready to Go like the party girl you ought to call more often. And Christ alone knows why we ever had that thing for Thousand Yard Stare.
Best of all, The Frank and Walters have had stylistic reconstructive surgery to turn themselves into a cross between Kraftwerk and Franz Ferdinand, while retaining the charming melodic sprightliness of After All and This Is Not a Song and their thick, Tom-from-Father-Ted, Cork accents.

By Sunday, we’re so far back in the 90s that the bands start to seem relevant. Jesus Jones, who claim they’ve been away for 23 years “tuning up”, could be contemporaries of Blossoms. The Farm sound like firebrand rebel activists for our times, thanks to anti-division anthems such as All Together Now and Viva Love, probably the first song ever dedicated to Lego. There’s nothing retro or apologetic about Ash, who blow Butlins a new Laser Quest with a solid hour of prom-punk brilliance.

Eventually, though, the decade starts to drag. Black Grape’s shambolic set of Pentecostal funk and colourful stories (“I wrote this one while smoking crack in LA,” Shaun Ryder quips before Yeah Yeah Brother) is cut short after Ryder wanders off claiming “I need a dentist”. And Cast’s hour of jaunty acoustic pop, while occasionally throwing out crackers like Fine Time and Alright, serves to remind us how ordinary the 90s got towards the end, as Britpop choked to death on major label cheques and sales reports for Be Here Now. After three days in our generational happy place, the Shiiiners yearn for the cultural maelstrom of 2016 again. Already drawing such respectable names as Ash, the Bunnymen and Black Grape, the Shiiine On Weekender only needs to pull in a Super Furries, a Manics or a Primal Scream to transcend the cult nostalgia stigma of its setting and create a world of its own. Or, failing that, at least someone might be able to pull together enough cash to get the Boo Radleys to reform.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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