Shiiine On is the festival of a generation – such is the narcissism of youth that we all believe our movement to be ‘the best’, but given the popularity of 90s based music festivals such as Gigantic and Indie Daze, the reformation of so many much loved indie stalwart bands and the resurgence of the era’s fashions (not that I ever moved on much in that respect); those of us who came of age in the late 80s and early 90s could well be right in assuming that our time, really was the best time.
Shiiine on, a name which of course references the House of Love (who played this festival in 2016), taps successfully into that sense of passionate nostalgia we all feel; it unites us for a weekend every year (and more, if you include recent additions of the Hull-Amsterdam cruise and this year’s one day event in Birmingham). It gives us a chance to escape the daily grind, to feel at home among our people and to indulge in a bit of fairly (depending on the strength of your liver) harmless hedonism and indulgent reminiscence. The venues are a great size, offering a perfect selection of spaces to watch and dance to your favourite bands and now in its fourth year, Shiiine is still going strong.
It is 5:45 PM with people still arriving and the beer not yet fully flowing, when orchestral pop group My Life Story take to the stage – a slimmed-down version of the band, with five members rather than Jake Shillingford’s grand thirteen piece collective of old. This is a great choice for the Skyline Stage, although I do feel they could easily warrant a later slot further into the weekend. As ever, Jake is energetically flamboyant, snappy in checked suit and white boots, with high leg kicks and ostentatious mic stand acrobatics; rattling through the hits from 1993’s debut single “Girl A, Girl B, Boy C” through “King of Kissingdom”, “Sparkle” and the wonderfully acerbic “If You Can’t Live Without Me Then Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?” and culminating in live show favourite “12 Reasons Why I Love Her”, playing cards flung high into the crowd, our enthusiasm ignited for the weekend to come.
Next up, Sleeper (I shy away from the Britpop tag) – back on tour and in the studio after a nineteen year hiatus and with promise of a new album. Prolific in the mid-90s with eight top 40 singles, this witty band’s return feels apposite in a time of industry dominated generic female singers, for despite the famous t-shirt’s quip, this is not simply ‘another female fronted band’. Louise Wener, once so loved by teenage and 20-something men clearly (given some of the comments around me in the predominantly male audience) still lights a spark. Unencumbered by industry pressure, Wener appears less stylized these days, relaxed and feisty, full of smiles and moves, the band tight and enthusiastic. The spark lit by My Life Story has exploded and the Skyline arena is alive as we sing back at Wener our generation’s theme tunes: “Vegas’” “Inbetweener”, “What do I do now?” and “Sale of the Century’”
Tonight’s headline are Shiiine returners Shed Seven, amazingly twenty four years down the line but – with a new album out in 2017 – still very much on the scene. They always attract a large crowd here, with Rick Wittter’s sinewy snake-hipped dancing and a back catalogue of anthemic crowd pleasers. They may not be this reviewer’s first choice but they’re a great live band and perfect for tonight’s crowd.
This weekend however, is all about pacing and plenty of music takes place after the Skyline’s 10 PM curfew if you venture out to the other venues: Centre Stage, Jaks, Reds and Inn on the Green. Tonight Reds see Shiiine’s first outing for 1990s festival favourites anarcho-punk Back to the Planet, more Ska than I remember and great fun for those of us who like a bit of grunge with our dance. A quick peek at Mozza’s favourites, Bradford and it is off to bed, in preparation for day two.
It’s easy to forget that the Shiiine experience isn’t solely about live music and that daylight hours bring plenty of things to do other than sleeping off hangovers: there are the exhibitions (this year a fascinating selection of black and white prints by engaging NME photographer Pete Walsh) and a retrospective featuring grainy gig shots of iconic Baggy dance band Flowered Up, along with press cuttings and original posters. Then there are pub quizzes and an interview with Steve Harrison, manager of The Charlatans and founder of Dead Dead Good Records; not to mention the Pool Parties and Crazy Golf.
Whilst previous years have relegated Cud to the 1 AM slot upstairs at Centre Stage, this year they are promoted to the Skyline, playing the much more reasonable – and less inebriated – afternoon slot. As ever, their performance is one of perfect pop, “Purple Love Balloon” an explosion of fun to start off Saturday afternoon; Carl Puttnam’s jerky hip thrusts and wildly eccentric stage presence charming his crowd. Cud are a fantastic live band and their current tour of set lists chosen by their fans – Just The Good Ones – is testament to the value they place on their audience; here inviting one of their stalwart fans to join them on stage, with only the logistical issue of getting up there, precluding a full fan invasion.
I hadn’t been aware of The Rifles before the announcement of their Shiiine performance and had been slightly surprised at their inclusion on a bill advertised on the basis of being a predominantly 1990s based music festival. A large crowd had gathered and I am assured by the bunch of lads I get talking to at the front, that I wouldn’t be disappointed. They are right and I’m not. The Rifles are a good twenty five years younger as a band than the majority of performers here, having formed in 2006, but their fast-paced Indie rock style fits well with their cohorts and they’re one of those bands you suddenly realize that you do know after all.. “Local Boy”… ahh yes, that song, that’s a great track!
Next up are Black Grape: Shaun Ryder has played at every Shiiine in one form or another and this year he and Kermit are back, although sadly no Bez this time. Black Grape’s 2016 performance was slightly shambolic but tonight’s set is tight and perfect for the Saturday evening crowd. Ryder prowls the stage, Kermit ever-smiling and exuberant and the crowd sing ecstatically along to “In The Name of the Father” as well as tracks from 2017’s Pop Voodoo. Ryder and co are loved by the Shiiine audience: we grew up on Happy Mondays and the Hacienda; on the excesses and the colour; there is something incredibly heartening and joyful about seeing Ryder now, free from the demons of the 90s and his unique stage presence and remarkable back catalogue unite us once more. We are the generation who only need to hear the opening notes to “Wrote for Luck” and “Step On” and we are doing crazy dancing, transported back to student discos and smoky clubs.
There are always plenty of bands to choose from at Shiiine and whilst this reviewer didn’t catch Skyline headliners Ocean Colour Scene, reports are of course, excellent. Reds sees dancing into the small hours with the a Post-Punk line-up of Brix and the Extricated, The Godfathers and Chameleons Vox, culminating of course with Steve Lamacq’s annual indie disco. The beer is flowing, the floors are sticky.
Rise and shine campers! Finding the 11 AM pub quiz has been put back half an hour and all tables are full with eager competitors, we head over to Inn on the Green to see Uke2 play their usual late morning slot. They have become a bit of a Shiiine institution and after all, what’s not to love about three men playing versions of indie hits on ukuleles. The crowd sing along to Stone Roses and Oasis classics; yet again we are united by a love of great music and happy memories.
Lunchtime brings an early slot for Mark Morriss at Centre Stage, a solo slot this year after 2016’s Bluetones performance. Morriss is tired and hungover, asking the audience for Vitamin C tablets, dressed like a geography teacher and utterly charming. His deadpan, self-deprecating quips delight his crowd – a large gathering for the time of day, a fact which clearly astounds and pleases him – and the mixture of Bluetones classics and Morriss’ solo material provides the perfect antidote to a late night, easing us gently in to Sunday afternoon. Morriss’ set is one of the highlights of my weekend, his words and music both tender and invigorating and it would take a hard heart indeed not to laugh with a man who mocks his own moustache and references Absolute 90s whilst sending up his own band’s hits.
Heading over to Skyline, Deja Vega are playing their first set of the day. This band (another I had missed on previous years and was keen to discover) are a revelation, raw and loud, psychedelic and fiery, this three-piece make an incredible sound. I spot Miles Hunt watching from the back and he later name checks them during his set, noting that he needs to finish so that he can catch their second performance of the day – this is an exciting new act and I too am keen to hear more.
Next stop brings us a trip down rap-rock memory lane with Senser, a band redolent of festivals and squat parties, fueled by politically charged lyrics and heavy dance beats; “Age of Panic” and “Eject” going straight for the jugular with their still powerful lyrics: ‘propaganda written out on the pages daily, I see the system as it crumbles before me, I see the system as it dies’.
A quick return to the chalet (this weekend is brought to you fuelled by a lot of strong tea) and it’s out to catch Stereo MCs, a band highly anticipated by this reviewer after I re-fell in love with their high energy electro dance pop during their 2015 Shiiine appearance. Rob Birch is as lithe as ever in trademark baggy jeans and baseball cap and marvellous singer/dancers Cath Coffey and Aina Roxx bring the band bang up-to-date with their incredible style and irrepressible energy. This is a band you can’t help but dance to, the pace doesn’t let up and the hits flow – it could be easy to underestimate the impact this band has had, with their blend of hip-hop dance and electronica and my only regret is that they aren’t given a longer set.
However, the energy created by Birch is about to be harvested by Shiiine stalwarts Peter Hook and the Light, back for their third appearance and for whom an impressive crowd has gathered. Hooky seems to be on a constant tour and arrives in Butlins after a European jaunt culminating in Poland; but his band’s energy never seems to wane. We are treated to a crowd-pleasing selection of both Joy Division and New Order tracks with the former’s “Transmission”, “She’s Lost Control” and “Shadowplay” sounding as visceral and raw today as on those original recordings, now unbelievably almost forty years old. For this tour, Hooky’s son Jack Bates has been replaced by Yves Altana from Oscar’s Drum (Altana’s recent collaboration with Kitchens of Distinction’s Patrick Fitzgerald – a band who had originally been due to play at Shiiine – hopefully next time please). New Order fans of course get “True Faith” and “Blue Monday” as well as “Temptation” and “Ceremony’” Hooky in trademarked loose-limbed crouching pose, stalking from stage right to stage left, singing directly to his front row, the crowd bouncing high on the adrenaline created by the electrical charge of live music.
As final headliners, Orbital may have appeared to be an unusual choice for a weekend of guitar-based Indie dance and whilst the light show is undoubtedly top class, standing at the back, the vibe appears to be lacking. However, this is the kind of musical experience you need to throw yourself into and doing just that and heading down to the front, the atmosphere is electric, heavy bass beats, each track looping and morphing into the next; urging you to close your eyes, feel the music, lose yourself on this Sunday night.
And so to the weekend’s closing party, with Miles Hunt an inspired choice, this time bringing a solo acoustic set to those of us happy to stay up and sing along to a well-loved selection of Wonder Stuff classics. Hunt knows his crowd – acknowledging that this gang want to hear ‘the old ones’ and his Centre Stage crowd adoringly sing back every word, as we are taken back to the start with first Wonder Stuff singles “It’s not True” and “Unbearable” and so through thirty years of music by one of the most loved and iconic bands of the Indie scene. ‘Give give give, me more more more’ we yell back at our front man, smiles dimpling his face as he gives us exactly what we are here for, giving us hope when he urges us to ‘have a word’ with the organizers for next year.
This festival is one which, maybe more than any other, truly unites bands and their music with their fans and is one where you just need to look around you, at the smiling faces and the happy crowds, to feel that connection. There are the lads I chat to before The Rifles, one laughing as he tells me ‘we’d never get on!’ when discovering that all the bands he loves, are ones I don’t, and so introduces me to his mate who shares my love of New Order and who has never seen Hooky play before. I am pleased when I later spot the same guy, catch Hooky’s t-shirt when hurled into the crowd and give it to his beaming, New Order loving mate. Then there is the guy who comes up to express jovial envy at my The The t-shirt on Friday night and the girls who tell me they are tired just watching me dance, at some point on Sunday evening, offering me their Fit Bit for a laugh. And there are all the smiling faces I notice when I glance around during a set, to see a crowd of like-minded individuals all singing the same line, to the same song, with the same joy.
This is the wondrous feeling of unity you get, the goose bumps emerging, when hundreds of people sing along with their musical hero as he utters those unforgettable words, the anthem of a generation: ‘you know that I’ve been drunk a thousand times, but these should be the best days of my life’.
‘Life, it’s not what I thought it was’, but every year, for a weekend in November, it feels pretty much perfect.
Words by Sally Hamilton. Videos by our friend and Shiiine family member, The Cobbie