Echobelly: Anarchy & Alchemy at Shiiine On Weekender

Story by Jacqueline Howell, Photos by Dave MacIntyre

Shiiine On Weekender (landing in mid-November for its second great year, with year 3/ 2017 already booking acts) boasts many great bands on its roster from the top of the charts when the charts were ruled by interesting music (early 90s) and with an eye to up and coming bands as well.

Echobelly’s addition to this year’s line up was both seamless – they had nine charting singles between 1993 and 1997 – and very welcome, as across most festival bills today no matter how diverse, female led rock bands (both returning and emerging) are rather thin on the ground, though the return of Echobelly, Lush, and the U.S.’s Belly this year are encouraging. The early 90s was far different and better than today’s music industry: women were a big part of the scene and very much held their own with some very big talents, egos and personalities of the boys of Britpop and Indie that hogged a fair number of magazine covers. The girls of British music tended to be beautiful, strong and adventurous, and millions of crushes broke out across the world that remain true.

Echobelly’s been back out on the road for a little while now, long enough to put together a forthcoming new album, the deliciously titled Anarchy & Alchemy.  This will be their first release since 2004. Formed by members of PJ Harvey’s band and Curve, 1993 Echobelly came out of the gate with serious Indie bona fides. Heading up the band was vocalist Sonya Madan and co-songwriter & guitarist Glenn Johannson. Madan and Johansson have continued to work together as other original members have moved on to other projects, and they’ve also spun off Echobelly into the band Calm of Zero.

Echobelly’s new line up is greeted by the Shiiine On crowd with enthusiasm. Madan’s voice is still lovely, and the new line up sounds strong. There’s a best foot forward feeling when stepping out for a happy weekender, and a pretty good stab at unconditional love one hopes is reciprocal, as we all, sadly, must age whether onstage or in front of it, but it cannot go unremarked how unchanged Madan is. She looked 16 in 1993 and could pass for mid twenties today. It’s just another uncanny detail that helps the buzz of the crowd along on this Saturday, midway through a festival, the sweet spot. The 2 day hangovers of Sunday are far away, the decompression from the work week and travel are nicely marinating. And Echobelly is back, with new music and with sweet memories both. It’s a strong performance, one of those marvelous hours where the loved-up feeling between band, singer and crowd is actually visible, the energy palpable, the promise as real as it was back in the halcyon 90s. It’s a good time to have found your way to the barrier, to watch both stage and crowd, to be a natural people watcher. It’s a lovely time.

A fabulous crowd sing along breaks out the eternally catchy hit “Great Things”, giving the sweet light vocal a decidedly footballers’ thrust that is very entertaining. And so, the determined, easy, early 90s optimism so missing in the universe of music today is back again in a big way, echoing off the walls of the venue and the big top above. Don’t miss Echobelly on their next outings, and watch for 2017 announcements as they’ll no doubt be out on the road with the new album.

Shiiine On Weekender’s 2016 Line Up: Indie Music & Beyond

With a full slate of music festivals and events designed to maximize the fleeting prime weeks of summer, true music lovers should not miss out a chance to keep the party going well into fall thanks to the organisers of Shiiine On Weekender, back for its second year 11-14 November at Butlin’s Minehead Arena in picturesque Somerset, U.K. (near Bristol). With Early Bird Tickets still on offer, this is a prime time to get a group together and plan a memorable weekend away.

We make no secret of our excitement for this newer weekender that is sure to make you remember family caravaning trips ” with a twist-  now alive with great music around the clock, a crowd of like-minded people and a laid-back and drama-free environment with minimal fuss.

Step On Magazine was thrilled to attend and cover Shiiine year one (which was also our mag’s first year) after getting word from a savvy friend in Canada who shares our deep love for Happy Mondays, 2015’s first major headliner, then touring and celebrating the 25th anniversary (!!!) of their masterpiece, Pills n’ Thrills and Bellyaches.

The line up looked too good to be true. It was very different from many bigger festivals that try to be too many things to too many people, then missing the mark with bloated line ups that make less and less sense. Worse, big festivals (particularly in North America) fail to honour so many solid 80s and 90s U.K. artists that are the backbone of this very notion of togetherness and festival ethos, who are still active and still well worth the ticket price. There are legendary names that deserve the call and that would raise the level of North American festivals exponentially.

There’s an extra effort missing with some other festivals at present, a thoughtfulness required, that goes beyond just the viewpoint of the accountant and comes, instead, from the heart. From the music loving soul who can also write the cheques. And here in Hacienda black and yellow was something altogether new, from people who’d been around the festival scene as fans and clearly felt the need for something else, and then, found a way to create it.

U.K. music fans know their music and are spoiled for choice in the busy summer months. The most mobile even jump trains or flights to great, big European festivals. A new player on the scene needed to offer something different, something a little bit bespoke, that didn’t need masses but the right mix to create an excellent party. And so they did. Shiiine On is an all-in experience that manages to be relaxing and exciting at once, at a pace you can set yourself: the more intimate setting (where festival-goers stay on site but do not have to camp out and lug gear) means they can sleep in until they hear the first strains of the early afternoon sets beginning, or get up for daily pool parties (yes, if you weren’t there you missed Bez’s legendary pool party in year one) see cinema screenings featuring 80s and 90s classics that continue the vibe of Indie, Dance, Britpop, and other iconic images, stories and sounds of the day, and become night owls again at epic club nights that keep the party going until very very late (including the bar).

Club nights for 2016 include Keep it Social, Cool Britannia, Burn Down the Disco and Madchester. To top all of this off, in the place of where might be head-scratching place holders at other fests, come the best in relevant cover bands to round things out to the full (2015’s Clone Roses set was a major highlight, regularly noted as the surprise of the weekend, or the major regret of those who did not get in before the club reached capacity). Clone Roses return for 2016 along with Oasis UK, joined by the TRIFECTA that thrills the 80s kid heart: The Smyths, The Cure Heads, and True Order (the last following last year’s barnburner of a set by Peter Hook himself (with his band, The Light, accompanied by legendary Manchester singer and ambassador Rowetta Satchell).

All this and we haven’t even covered the full artist line up. Here it is:

As visitors from abroad we were well-versed in the music but new to the notion of Butlin’s and to the way things work there. So by way of a brief trip guide for those unfamiliar, Butlin’s site is very informative but essentially the weekend works as an all-in package (festival pass to all performances and other offerings + accommodations) best suited for groups (though single rooms are available) and comes with or without a meal plan (and with optional cooking facilities). We suggest you skip all but your morning tea & biscuit before setting out for there is a local Spar onsite (open 24/7) the home of nightly post-last orders funny moments and quick, life sustaining eats, as well as many affordable restaurants on site and the all-important pasty shop which is almost 24/7 (we miss u). For U.K. visitors within 3-4 hours drive, taking the car is probably most convenient but can also be easily organized by train and coach (see official sources for more information/recommendations).

Minehead proper is just a 5 minute walk along the coast with many great pubs and friendly shops as an offsite option for socializing & mealtimes during the day. Butlin’s, to an outsider who had just recently been to Las Vegas for the first time, is something akin to that otherworldly adult playground but much much more walkable, social, friendly, and happily, without one single cheesy magician full of desperate repressed anger (that Vegas staple who charges as much as a third of this weekend for the dubious privilege). In his place, we have, instead, a delightful array of claw games, a big tent which covers the large, roomy, main stage area as well as a number of appealing different clubs for smaller stages and DJ nights, and indoor/outdoor places to hang and celebrate the scene that deserves a full 72 hours to remind us all how right we were in our youthful exuberance; how right we still are to love it and to preach the gospel of this music. The fine tradition of the memorable road trip awaits you and the kids would love to have a weekend with granny, we promise.

Fans, organizers, a few Canadians and visitors from abroad, and essential, iconic bands all came together to create something rare and great last year. Corporate Pop music and the years of digital noise and declining music press were blasted away the old-fashioned way. Our Canadianness permits us to be earnest for a moment: it was a real marvel. And worth every penny and every jet-lagged mile, in fact, way beyond those things. Like all music festivals and all travel ought to be. For 72 hours, a real village was built that made plain and easy for all the vibe promised so easily elsewhere that falls short when their chosen site, focus, line-up and scale is just to large and scattershot to please anybody.

Don’t take it from us. A testament to this claim is the many players from last year returning in some form or another who’ve made it something of a priority (or….is that… a new tradition?) and the festival-goers who immediately rebooked for 2016 before leaving the site. Bez’s pool party has gone down as legend, but there are still pool parties ahead, as well as music from returning artists The Wonder Stuff, a significant percentage of returning Happy Mondays in the form of Black Grape,  Love & the Family Tree (Gaz Whelan & Rowetta) and a Happy Mondays DJ set on Friday. Also returning to great acclaim is The House of Love (Terry Bickers played with his duo, Fij & Bickers last year) The Farm, James Atkin (EMF) and Thousand Yard Stare (who we’ll be featuring in an upcoming interview). The unusually civil and positive social media exchanges around this weekender by past and prospective attendees are worth noting as well. See you there. (More coverage and band profiles to follow.)

Jacqueline Howell & Dave MacIntyre.

Shiiine On Weekender’s website

Link to Early Bird Tickets and Butlin’s Information

Shiiine On Weekender’s Facebook page

Minehead Tourism- general area information

Headliners: Echo and the Bunnymen; The Wonder Stuff;  The House of Love; Shed Seven;  The Bluetones; Echobelly; Cast; Black Grape; The Farm; Paul Hartnoll (Orbital); (and more)

Read more of our Shiiine On Weekender coverage / view our photo galleries

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