Join me as I take you through 72 hours of Britain’s longest running indoor dance event Southport Weekender, celebrating its 50th anniversary. Take a step into my world, as you view the weekend through the eyes of a Southport Weekender devotee.
Where to start? There are so many beginnings to chose from; the night before where butterflies do the conga in my stomach and sleep is evasive due to the anticipation of the following days adventure. Or the journey from Bath to Minehead, where one lone Southporter makes her way on the train, only to be met by a whole train full of excited, enthusiastic revellers, all heading in the same direction. Or maybe the moment when you reach the site, waiting outside for your party leader to collect the wrist bands and lanyards. I love that part, the cries of recognition as you bump into all your friends from across the country and indeed the globe: Dubai, Aylesbury, New York, Sunderland, Ireland, Manchester, Amsterdam the list is endless.
For we are all apart of something unique, and very special. We are all members of a world wide music family. From this moment on, we the collective conscious know that for the next 72 hours, we are going to experience the time of our lives, together as one.
Southport Weekender is like being immersed in your own bubble; to a certain extent the outside world doesn’t exist, mainly due to the poor mobile phone reception, but that’s a godsend.
There is an unspoken rule when coming to Southport for the first time, ‘remember it is a marathon not a sprint’. Being able to balance your weekend; between spending time with your friends, cross referencing the time table, to ensure you get to see your chosen acts, finding time to eat, sleep and swim (yes I said swim) is an art form in itself, most people fall at the first hurdle.
The line up is breath taking, there are very few places where you would get to see a plethora of world class artists and DJs such as; the living legend Chaka Khan, the world renowned Archie Bell and The Drells, veteran of the Acid House and Hardcore scene Carl Cox, one of Britain’s leading pioneers and champions of Reggae David Rodigan, Hip Hop royalty DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jazz Songbird Zara McFarlane, game changing and rule breaker Derrick Carter, The Black Messiah himself, Osunlade, Soulful Songstress Faith Evans, bringers of the fresh and funky beats Brand New heavies, I could go and on and on…..
Friday is like an enormous energy conductor, we promise to take it easy, pace ourselves; however the sheer magnetism and force behind the weekender takes over, until we left powerless against it’s charms.
The new home of the resident pub the Inn on the Green, swelled with the masses of feverishly excited party goers. Southport resident DJs: Paul Stuart, Bob Jefferies, Terry Jones, Martin Lodge, Luis Radio, Mark Stone and Souldynamic provide the perfect backdrop. Picture the scene; open arms and continental kisses, greeting friends, while pints and glasses were raised in unison; ‘we are here, we made it, the fun starts now.
My night begins in the Suncebeat Dome, where I am received with open arms by the Southport stalwart Steve Butler and rising star Ben Brophy. Both Steve and Ben brought their unique brand of delightful cheer to the proceeding, that kicked off the party in style. The energy behind those decks was electric. I stand transfixed and overwhelmed by whole ambiance, the greetings and embraces. One person in particular I must mention, Southport resident DJ Gavin Kendrick, who for me has given this years event a whole new meaning, Gavin I salute you.
One of the most poignant moments that I recall, was being by the entrance of the Dome, just watching the people dancing, laughing and being happy. Martin Iveson aka Atjazz and Ross Hillard from the Magic Number bop through the dome; earlier that week I had emailed Ross to show him love for a track he had recently made called ”Song for Sophia’. A stunning piece of Jazz, complimented by heart warming vocals; a track I had played several times during my week long DJ residency in Ibiza the previous week. As I stood chatting with a woman, who told me it was her first time at Southport Weekender. I beam with enthusiasm keen to initiate a new member into our ever expanding family. All of sudden Ross leans over and tells me that the woman I am talking to is Angela Armstrong, none other than the vocalist on the ‘Song for Sophia’. It one of those goosebump moments, such a humble and lovely woman.
My spiritual home always has been and will always be the Beat Bar, however something switched this year, perhaps it was the change of location of my beloved Beat Bar. I managed to drag myself away from the Suncebeat Dome to the Beat Bar. I was on a mission to see Tall Black Guy, a much respected Producer/ DJ from Detroit; who had been delighting my eardrums, courtesy of the oracle that is Kev Beadle. I’m pleased that I made the switch Tall Black Guy’s set is as creative and innovative as I imagined it would be. The experience is sweetened by having the opportunity to chat to him and is manager / wife after his performance. Such is the way at Southport than you can easily walk amongst your music heroes, there’s no attitude of diva like behaviour, we are all on the same level.
This time the lure of the Suncebeat Dome enticed me back and holds me firm to it’s bosom.
Friday night was full of the most floor stomping celebratory DJs. The likes of Neil Pierce brought the Dome down as we danced and cheered; congratulating Neil on his well deserved place at Southport. Neil was followed by a man that needs very little introduction Kenny Dope. Kenny’s house set literally set the dance floor a blaze. His historic take on well loved classic House tunes, led to on mass singing and shows of jubilation.
Next up were two of my favourites; the boundary pushers, the UN-conventionalists otherwise known as Exist, who consist of Atjazz & Karizma, with Ross Hillard on bass guitar. These guys are technical wizards, whose creative synergy is a wonder to behold. Not forgetting the sheering sexual magnetism of Ross and his bass guitar, I must say there were one or two blushes as Ross rode that bass guitar into the audience, like a proper super star.
May I remind you that I am still on Friday night or should I say morning, about 6am to be exact in the Beat Bar. There are few that could hold my attention until that time of the morning. However this time I make an exception. Some call him the ‘Black Messiah’, other’s the spiritual leader of the dance floor, to all his name is Osunlade. This is the point where music get’s spiritual. Osunlade offers up an holistic approach in his delivery. Only the true believers would remain on the dance floor at 6am to watch the holy man deliver his sermon. The scene could be described like something out a tribal gathering, the air is heavy, hot and sticky; the congregation eagerly awaits for the first tune and away we go. Two hours of the deepest, soul nourishing, hypnotic and mesmerising music. I was fortunate enough to be back stage for this set, as the temperatures soared we handed out bottles of water to the crowds. Committed to the cause, we danced, we cheered and we adored Osunlade, right until the very last song.
And so to bed, exhausted, body aching, elated and satisfied.
Earlier I mentioned that Southport is a marathon not a sprint, no where is this more evident than on Saturday day time. The atmosphere is thick with palpable tension. The anticipation is building, something magnificent is about to go down.
In the mean time; so many people I wanted to see, but I like so many others I am a mere mortal, sleep prevails I miss; Archie Dell and the Drells, Andrew Ashong, Gavin Kendrick. However all is not lost, for the bold & brave and for the ones in the know, swimming is an absolute godsend. There is nothing better then after 12 hours of bouncing, moving and grooving than a nice relaxing swim in the whirlpool; followed by launching myself down the death defying waterslides.
As I walk around the site, I can only liken it being in an glorious alternative universe; the giant Southport deckchair, which revellers clamber onto exposing their knickers or builders bums in order to have their pictures taken in it. The smiles and nods, the ‘good morning campers’ shared between to passer’s by. We experience the sense of togetherness. The feeling that we are all in this together and at this moment in time life does not get much better than this.
Back to the matter at hand, there was only one act on most people’s mind that Saturday afternoon; one reason to drag your weary head away from the comfort of your pillow. Since the release of the live line up earlier in the year, my mind had been focused on seeing the performance of one woman. I could have only dreamt of seeing this legendary artist in my life time. Today was a day for making dreams come true, not just for me but for thousands of members, this is the moment we had been all waiting for.
With a body that betrayed what my mind was actually feeling, overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of whom I was about to see.
I stood in the main pavilion, with my dear friend Nick and a glass of prosecco in hand, to steady the nerves. The hustling, buzzing throngs of people, listening to Southport Soul man Ronnie Herel. We gently swayed to the music, still a little tender from the night before. We speculated amongst ourselves, would she be a Diva? Would she turn up late? Has she still got it? How old is she anyway? Have you heard the rumour, which British Funk Soul legendary band would be supporting her, no other than Incognito!
The music stops, out comes Ronnie Herel, there is hush amidst the crowd. With an introduction of gratitude, out come Incognito to kick off the proceedings in style. Next an announcement that is only befitting for a woman of her magnitude and heroism, out comes the tiniest woman, a shock of wild hair and a outfit that screams, you came to me and me alone – Chaka Khan! My heart literally skips a beat, as I write this the hair on the back of my neck stands up at the mere thought of that moment. Chaka opens up with the anthem ‘I feel for you’, the love and adoration of nearly six thousand people singing back at her is unbelievable. From that moment on, I am lost in the magic. Chaka Khan delivered a performance that was unrivalled, her vocal gymnastics were breathtaking if not ear splitting at times.
Incognito offered up the perfect accompaniment to her style, never missing a beat.
As I looked around me I saw the smiles; the I can not believe this is actually happening expressions. This is a dream come true, when you come face to face with a long term music hero. Every song meant something valuable to each and other person. Songs like ‘Ain’t nobody’, ‘I know you, I live you’, ‘Sweet thing’, invoked an emotional response. Those songs may have signified a particular time in their lives; or provoked a specific emotion. For me it was like Chaka was singing the soundtrack of my life. I’ve only ever felt like this once before when I fortunate to see Jocelyn Brown. It was not until the final encore of ‘I’m every woman’, that I finally broken down into tears. The out pouring of complete and utter joy of witnessing a woman I both admire and respect, give a stellar performance. My dreams had come true, this would be a moment I would cherish for the rest of my life.
I needed a lie down after that, to let the magic settle and soak into my being. This kind of wonder doesn’t happen every day.
Saturday night draws in, once more into the breach I go armed with my dancing shoes, fans and most importantly my crew from Sunderland. One of the best attributes of Southport is belonging to a world wide family. Most of us only get to see each other once or twice a year, which makes meeting up all the more special. The Mackems are feeling at home tonight. The gale force winds whipping around the site makes me scream, it’s freezing. ” Ah nae bother”, comes the reply from my mate Craig just wait until we get inside the Beat Bar, soon get warmed up. What lies in wait for us is an evening of pure unadulterated pleasure. Tonight is all about getting low down and funky; Gilles Peterson laying it down in the Beat Bar. Finding a suitable space to dance is a challenge sticky dance floors and carpets don’t mix, pass me the talcum powder, I feel a gliiiide coming on. Gilles Peterson is was of the only DJs I know who could throw down a melting pot of genres and get away with it. Music to my ears.
We enter the newly decorated Connoisseurs room, glistening tassels suspended from the ceiling. The Connoisseurs room as the name implies, plays the best in Soulful music over the past several decades. Kenny Dope is playing an eclectic set, I live for moments like these. A selection of rarities and well known tracks blended together with the sole intention of making you move. Time moves swiftly, we can’t decide between Moody Man, Kerri Chandler & Friends and Joey Negro, decisions, decisions, decisions.
After the conversation I had with the gorgeous Angela Armstrong from Magic Number and the lovely Ben Brophy; I make a be line to uncharted territories to the Power House room. The Power House is known for being the home of the crème de la crème of House music, drawing it’s influences from the major players in the House scene origins of; New York, Chicago, Detroit. I tend not too much spend there, it is a vast air hanger of a room beautifully decorated, but a little too big for me. Now at 4am I am faltering slightly but my resolve to stay is strong, if I can I will watch performance to the sweet end. Kerri Chandler is the pied piper of the generations; his contribution to music is outstanding. He is also considered responsible for helping to change the course of dance music history.
Another welcome blessing, Kerri and Friends is a unique take on dance music brought to life via live instruments and upfront vocals.
The inspiration behind the idea came from, Kerri and Ben watching Gregory Porters mesmerising set in the Connoisseurs room at Southport 48. Having worked closely with Ross Hillard and his band Magic Number, and making transatlantic Skype calls to Kerri Chandler. The project was carefully orchestrated by Ross Hillard and welcomed with open arms by Kerri. The dream had finally came to fruition. To follow the progress of an idea, as it developed and evolved, in to what I saw before me was truly awe inspiring.
The experience felt like being gathered up, embraced and being taken on a wonderful adventure. Listening to the unmistakable voices of Arnold Jarvis and Robert Owens; voices that I have been listening to for years, sing the likes of ‘Inspiration’, and I’ll be your friend’, ‘Tears’ a moving tribute to Frankie Knuckles performed live were pretty special. One of my proudest moments, was to see a new shining light in the form of Ben Brophy, up on stage playing the keyboard on the track inspiration . A track Ben tells me that helped to cement a life long friendship with Kerri. My one regret was not being able to stay until the end, by 5.30am my energy had left the building and I had to leave with it.
Now for the chosen few who are lucky enough to have the golden ticket for the third night, this means an extravaganza. The closing and after parties, the beat doesn’t stop. For the rest of the revellers, Sunday is normally experience with a heavy heart and aching feet, it is time to go home.
When most people were asleep or still up chatting, I went swimming. Not surprisingly I was the only one in the pool. As I eased myself along doing a gentle breast stroke. I noticed the waves in the pool getting choppier, after three days of excess I began to wonder if swimming had been such a good idea. In no time at all, the pool went from being calm to a frenzied wave machine, it was all I could do to fight against the increasingly large waves. I managed to cling on to the steps and drag myself out. I had no desire to be the first Southport death due to drowning. I had a few choice words for the pool staff I can tell you!
There is one DJ in particular who is very close to my heart and has been instrumental in helping to educate my music tastes for nearly my whole adult life. That man is Kev Beadle . Kev is an important and vital part of the Southport foundation. His contribution, knowledge, passion and diverse understanding of music is paramount. He is the King of the Beat Bar kids, and responsible for bringing such musical delights at Motor City Drum Ensemble, Lay-Far, Zara McFarlane, Floating Points and not forgetting the legendary Brazilian artist Marcos Vale.
The organisers of Southport Weekender have always paid close attention to the suggestions of their supporters. Last year I asked if Sunday afternoon in the Beat Bar, could play homage with a classic Jazz set; for all the old skool Jazz dancers I had heard so much about. Turns out I wasn’t the only one to make that suggestion, our prays had been answered.
Along with my swimming kit, I made my way down to the Beat Bar for the afternoon’s Jazz & Brazilian session with Kev Beadle and Marcos Vale. Let me tell you something, being able to really get down to Jazz, requires you to let the music take over your body. Let the music doing the talking as they say. What we needed was some talcum powder for this sticky floor, I use water. I am amazed by what I put my body through over the weekend, yet here I am dancing twirling, shuffling in time to the beat. I am not the only one, the hardcore and the dedicated come out to play, donning their leather soled shoes and flat caps. To me they look like they have been waiting all weekend for this moment, their time to shine. Definitely one of my highlights from the weekend, this is music that lifts the spirit. Such a perfect set, I walk over to Kev and give him a massive hug, and utter two simple but heartfelt words thank you.
Through out the weekend there are clashes, it is inevitable unless I am super human I can not in two places at once. As the Beat Bar swells with anticipation of Marcos Vale I make the difficult decision to slip away and leave. I head off in the direction of the Inn on The Green pub to support two chaps who have been brightening up my life for quite some time. I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Kenny Ascott and Ket Shah at the Southport’s sister festival Suncebeat in Croatia two years ago. Since then there radio show, Mucho Soul had become a regular fixture in my life and a keen favourite to many others. Mucho Soul have an impeccable taste in music; showcasing the best in soulful sounds, defining deepness, interspersed with classic Jazz, a real melting pot. The Ket and Alan have worked tirelessly in recent years and were now being rewarded by being given the opportunity to play at the 50th anniversary.
Sunday afternoon is not an easy slot to fill, however today was auspicious. All the elements had convened to ensure that the Mucho Soul set would be one to remember. For the first time all weekend the sun shone brightly, people had made there way to the Inn on the Green pub, basking in the unexpected glow. Alan and Ket were poised ready, this was there time to shine and by god they did. Performing at Southport is an opportunity to play your heart out, DJs spend hours carefully selecting the right combination of music. Their playlist grabbed your attention by delighting, and exciting the senses. Mucho did not play it safe, they played their set to win. That afternoon the Mucho Soul boys grabbed us by aching feet and forced to us dance. Flagging energy levels were revived, the atmosphere was electric as we all danced under the sun. Sunday afternoon was shaping up to be another memorable day, absolutely brilliant.
The party isn’t over until it’s over, as I make my way to the Suncebeat Dome, for the Beat Bar closing party. Tonight all my favourite DJs will be together in one place; Kev Beadle, Lay-Far hailing from Russia, German based master of his class Rainer Truby and the Ukrainian man of the hour Vakula.
The after parties are considered to be the best part of the whole weekend, a majority of the people have gone home, just the faithful or foolhardy remain. Everything accumulates to this one point. I can’t believe it’s nearly over how did Sunday night come around so quickly? Like many others I have been awake more than I have been asleep. 72 hours have been filled with unending laughter, non stop chatter, (I am losing my voice), dancing until I was utterly exhausted, showered with so much love from old friends and new I am humbled. Tonight it ends here, this will be the party to end all parties. Kev Beadle is already working his magic on the decks when I arrive, setting the tone and raising our spirits in preparation for the Russian Boy Wonder Alexander Lay-Far. How to describe Lay-Far? A man with a encyclopaedic knowledge of music; who despite his young years will throw down beat after beat, each better than the last until the crowd are begging for more. How do you follow an act like that? By putting on a man who will undoubtedly blow your mind, that man is Rainer Truby. True to form Rainer did not disappoint, he works the audience like a conductor works an orchestra; he leads, we follow. The intensity of how he delivers each record is genius. Vakula was unable to attend the closing party, however help was at hand in the shape of Nacho Velasco, whom played back to back with Rainer. Nacho brought his own unique perspective, which perfectly complimented Rainer’s style. As the hour due to a close, Rainer dropped a track so beautiful, so orgasmic that I was almost lost for words. A ten minute symphony by Martin Pantino named ‘Hommage A La Sodomie’, there was no better way to end a set.
And just like that it was over. After the anticipation over the last couple of months; the carefully thought out preparations, the near delirious interactions on all the social media sites, butterflies doing the electric slide in my stomach. All would have to wait until next year, when the process is repeated again.
When you have in excess of 6500 people together in one space, there are bound to a few mishaps and crazy stories over the weekend. Here are a few of my favourite anecdotes that have been shared with me from the weekend.
For all the people that got lost looking your chalets, spare a thought for the chaps that were unable to find their chalet, and asked for directions from the kind Spar staff on site, who pointed them in the right direction. Having searched for 20minutes unsuccessfully, they wandered back to the Spar and one of members of staff chaperoned them back to their chalet.
My room mate who will remain nameless, who was found wandering around outside the chalet at 4.30am talk to bunny rabbits. My soul sista Janikins impression of Columbo was hilarious, just what I needed on a Sunday morning. My lost glasses which disappeared at some point during the Saturday night, my fears of spending the next 24hrs in a hazy fog almost became a reality. Imagine my relief as I found my glasses in an empty pint glass in the Connoisseurs room, I have no idea how they got there. One of my favourites stories is another friend of mine; in his excitement to unpack his car and get into the venue on Friday, had left his car running the entire weekend. He was greeted on Monday morning, by a note left on his windscreen informing him of the fact and a very flat battery; I can only imagine the look on his face.
A mountain of mobile phones were lost and found due to the honest nature of the Southport family, something which is a rarity in everyday life. But my favourite story has to be one of the gorgeous Scottish lasses, made a bet with one of the restaurant staff on site. The bet was if she dressed up like a chicken could she get a free bottle of wine, this is the gospel truth. For reasons known only to her she had packed a full size chicken costume in her suitcase, needless to say her the bottle of wine where her prize.
The world of Southport weekender is a weird and wonderful place, it can described at sheer excessive hedonism or a holy land where the faithful make the pilgrimage every year. With my hand firmly on heart, I can declare my undying love and gratitude to an event that has brought me untold joy and happiness over the years. I have gained lifelong friendships, incredible memories and a new leash of life beyond my wildest dreams.
My life would not be anywhere near as bright and beautiful, if it were for the dedication and vision of the organisers. Alex, Dave, Nick, Gavin and Kev, to all the members past and present, who have shaped and moulded Southport over the years; I think I can speak for us all when I say, you have given us a gift more precious than words can say.
When I reflect on historical outstanding contributions to the music scene, from establishments such at Paradise Garage, The Loft and The Warehouse and the like. Southport Weekender has been instrumental in keeping those original dreams and ideals alive, which has undoubtedly touched the lives of many people across the globe.
Thank you for the music.
Photography – Courtesy of Muriel.Guennou.Photograpy, James Mortner, Colin Williams