Jazz-Soul-Funk Weekender: Cala Gran Holiday Park, Fleetwood

BLACKPOOL HALLUCINATIONS

THE DIARY OF BARBARA ELLEN

THURSDAY, APRIL 6th

Dear Diary,
I have decided to keep a journal detailing my life and all the interesting, womanly changes that befall me along the way.

FRIDAY, APRIL 7th

Dear Diary,
Today I had my first period. I’m so excited. Now I really am a woman. To top it all, the NME gang decide to send me — along with Kev Cummins, photographer and chum — up to Blackpool for the Jazz-Soul-Funk Weekender (to be held in Cala Gran Holiday Park, Fleetwood) What a great day!!!

SATURDAY, APRIL 8th

Kev has hired a limo (“In Man City colours!!!…”) complete with sauna, mini-bar and car-phone. Racing along at 600 mph, grooving to sounds from James Brown, Franklin, Public Enemy, Chanelle and Burrell, I begin to feel really part of it all. Kev explains to me that this is the third Blackpool weekender of its kind and it sold out 10 weeks ago despite the tickets being £45 a throw.

“People think Soul is an anachronism,” rages Kev at one point, “but it isn’t… it’s MASSIVE…”

Arriving at our palatial mock Tudor hotel Kev immediately tells the servants to “Charge EVERYTHING to SOMEBODY ELSE… ANYBODY ELSE…” then we make our way to dinner which is populated by exciting celebrities from the dance music world. Supping champers, I bewail the fact that we too haven’t been booked into a draughty working class caravan like the ordinary dance fans. Kev explains the NME had actually “stitched us up” by doing just that but he’d decided that my artistic nature needed more “salubrious accommodation”, not to mention a better spread than the spam and chips currently being enjoyed by the ordinary weekenders.

To cheer me up Kev tells me that innumerable DJs will be hosting the action-packed event — including Gilles Peterson, Simon Dunmore, Jonathan Woodcliffe, Billy Davison and Martin Collins — not to mention the special live appearances by Soul Greats such as ex-Manhattans man Gerald Alston, Marlena Shaw, Mary Love Comer, Bobby Thurston and Leroy Hutson … I say “WHO???” and Kev apologises to the rest of the table, explaining that I used to be a Sisters Of Mercy fan, then ignores me for the rest of the meal.

At the bottom of our table sits Gerald Alston, a charming looking man who seems quiet and strangely troubled. It later transpires that Gerald is a teetotaller.

Arriving at the charmingly working class venue, we “beautiful people” (Kev’s phrase) are dismayed to learn that foxy Soul temptress Marlena has already performed. All around us people are still buzzing like a hornets, nest, reciting her lyrics to each other, dancing, smooching, screaming, fainting, and collapsing with their trainers still held in their mouths. Others were simply standing there looking ‘euphoric’. Danny Rich (26), a South London boy modelling a leopardskin hat, cheesy grin and purpley sludge attire told me:

“Last time I came here I wuz on acid… I wuz rolling about on the floor and I loved it… I just loved it… This time I’m straight and I still love it… I LOVE IT…”

He sidles closer, one eye horribly enlarged as if seen through a magnifying glass. “It’s a beautiful time with beautiful people and beautiful music… WE LOVE IT HERE, DON’T WE PEOPLE” (yelled to nobody in particular) “WE JUST LOVE IT”.

The biggest and best surprise to newcomers at these soul weekenders is the (blink once, blink twice) harmonious UNcorny mix of black and white kids, young and old enthusiasts. You find yourself necking in corners with wheelchair bound sexagenarians.

The diversity of music offered at such soul conventions is as devastating as it is astounding. Artistes merge into a blur, song titles become a puree of excellence. In the space of one hour I had squirmed to soul, hoofed to hip hop, freaked out to funk and howled to House, and that was just queueing for the toilet.

The intelligence, humour and nonchalance of the clientele is also eye-catching. By the time Gerald Alston appears onstage to perform I am sobbing on a DJ’s shoulder, overcome with emotion… “IT’S BRILLIANT ISN’T IT?…” grins Bob Masters, “black music is music with feeling, all things soulful… it brings people together from all different parts of the country… thousands and thousands from every different town and it’s STILL only underground…”

When Gerald Alston takes the stage it is to a buzz so massive he must have felt stung in the brain by a giant bee. Singing ‘Activated’ (his new single) and some old Manhattans numbers, Gerald is cheered at every turn. To my left, two guys in particular are screaming every word, prompting naughty Gerald when he falters over a particularly old lyric. Ecstatic at having found two superfans I march them backstage to ‘interview’ Gerald. It goes something like this:

(Boys) “Do you realise how much we appreciate seeing major black American artistes like yourself?”

(Gerald) “Yiss… Yiss… I do NOW…”

(Boys) “Do you realise that we just want your music…

(Gerald) “Yiss… Yiss… I’ll be back…”

(Boys) “Do you realise…”

I leave them to it, falling back into the dark, pulsing venue. Sweating, giggling faces bouncing up in front of me… Kev drives us back to the hotel, steering with his toes…

SUNDAY, APRIL 9th

Dear Diary,
The Nazis have found us… we will go to the camp now… maybe my diary will be read by millions in years to come!!! (Dribble, dribble, crunch of pen nib…)

Collapsed with nervous exhaustion. Some have the audacity to inform me that this was not one of the better Weekenders. Hearing this I book for next year and I suggest all discerning music, fun and excess lovers do likewise…

© Barbara EllenNew Musical Express, 22 April 1989

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