8 Things We’ll Miss About Southport Weekender
Southport Weekender, the UK’s longest running dance music weekender, has announced that its next edition will be its last. At over 28 years old, it is an event that has been visited by and is much loved by tens of thousands of clubbers. But in a statement released at the end of last week, that cited numerous factors including “rising costs and expectations” as the reason for the closure, organisers UpNorth Promotions revealed that its 52nd edition will be its last.
The event was started in 1987 in Berwick upon Tweed, before moving to Blackpool for three editions, then Morecambe for one, before finally finding its longest home at the Pontins site in Southport.
By the time it had moved there, its eclectic soundtrack began to be dominated by the more soulful side of house music. It is for this genre of music that the event became best known, going on to release over 10 compilation CDs mixed by the likes of Joey Negro, Miguel Migs, DJ Spinna and Mr Scruff.
Soulful house peaked in popularity over a decade beginning in the mid 1990s and Southport Weekender became known globally as the premier exponents of the sound, so much so that when the Pontins group was sold, forcing the event to move almost 250 miles south in 2009, to Butlins in Minehead, it retained the name Southport Weekender.
Gaining a reputation for impressive production values and jaw dropping live shows, the event was almost unique in the festival calendar as it frequently sold out all tickets prior to releasing its line up.
Gangstarr, Roxanne Shante, De La Soul, Teddy Riley, Soul II Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, India.Arie, Jazzy Jeff, The Pharcyde, Jill Scott, Alexander O’Neal, Mr Fingers, Reese Project, Terry Callier, Angie Stone, Ten City and Raphael Saadiq are just some of the names to have performed live at the event. Chaka Khan, Faith Evans and Brazilian legend Marcos Valle headlined the event’s 50th birthday edition in 2014.
Regular DJs included Masters At Work Mr Scruff, Gilles Peterson, Kerri Chandler, Theo Parrish, Derrick Carter, Benji B, Francois K, Frankie Knuckles and Ron Trent, joined in later years by the likes of Joy Orbison, Omar S, Floating Points and Kyle Hall.
The event proved so popular that during its mid 1990s peak it started running two editions yearly.
It introduced a summer event called Suncebeat, held on the coast in Croatia, in 2009, which will continue for at least one more event in summer 2015 with a line up including Roy Ayers, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Osunlade, Floating Points, Dimitri From Paris, Rich Medina and Kerri Chandler.
The final Southport Weekender takes place on May 8, 9 and 10 at Butlins in Minehead with guests to include Masters At Work, Kerri Chandler, Chez Damier, Marcellus Pittman, Ron Trent, Mad Mats, Joey Negro, Paul Trouble Anderson, Jocelyn Brown and Peven Everett.
For now, we look back on the 8 things from the event that we’ll perhaps miss the most.
The jawdropping production
After keeping your eyes fixed to the floor, in order to circumnavigate the sea of empty water bottles and plastic pint glasses that often carpeted the quieter, outer reaches of Southport Weekender’s main room’s dancefloor, The Powerhouse, once approaching the throng of dancers, you’d look up to be astounded. Vividly different, each and every time, the production values at the indoor event had a wow factor like no other. Huge mirrorballs, drapes that looked like parachutes for whales, video screens, stunning lighting and lazers lit a floor teeming with joyous, sweat covered dancers, some on podiums. Added to that, a faultless soundsystem that caressed your very innards. A unforgettable sight, an unforgettable sound.
The special live performances
Southport Weekender really seemed to bring out the best in each artist that performed there. It was undoubtedly the wild exuberance of its very vocal audience that spurred on the event’s visiting guests, from a wildly happy Chaka Khan at last year’s 50th anniversary to Peven Everett truly letting rip at one of his very first UK performances in the early 2000s.
Two particular highlights from recent years came from a rising Gregory Porter and also from Brazilian legend Marcos Valle, who was visibly moved by a braying audience who demanded his return to the stage for no less than 3 encores in 2014. Many of the crowd screamed in Valle’s native tongue, the event’s famously international audience having included several large groups from Portugal on that occasion.
Meeting new people in an international, all ages crowd
Many times the best part of a festival or rave is meeting new friends. That can be a very limited experience if everyone at the event is a white, middle class student from southern England who has a Radiohead fixation. Southport Weekender was never like that. It boasted the largest percentage of black British at any festival in the UK, scores of crews attending from London, Birmingham and also Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool. As it became synonymous with the soulful side of house, fans of that sound would travel huge distances to attend – USA, China, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, Belgium and Italy offering the best representation. That much of the music in its Beat Bar was of Brazilian or African inspiration just added to the whole international feel.
Making friends for life
Music lovers from all corners of the country and further afield would travel to Southport annually, or twice yearly in the 1990s, coming together to meet friends they’d met at previous events. In many instances it was the only occasions when they’d see such friends, which made the atmosphere even more joyous. In some cases though, these friendships became much tighter bonds. Not known as The UK’s Friendliest Party for nothing, since the news of the final installment broke, the event’s Facebook page has been overrun with accounts of beautiful memories and people documenting how Southport Weekender was the cause of their marriage or child’s birth. It may even have caused a couple of divorces!
That singular, spiritual vibe
Because the event had its founding in soul music and was the UK’s best large scale platform for soulful house, it really didn’t feel like just another dance music event. Walking into its Connoissuers Corner room for the first time was a welcome shock for any attending raver who had never visited a soul night before. Arms aloft, open hands reaching for the lights in response to the vocals being played, this was a place where emotions were displayed unabashed. The gospel element of the soul music, soulful house and of some performances heard there left a truly stirring wake, for example Sounds of Blackness singing “Optimistic” or Jasper Street Company taking the congregation to church on several instances. That most of the crowd were probably not religious and pretty high didn’t matter a bit, it was a spiritual experience to be swept up in
A three night party can sometimes take its toll on even the hardiest of ravers and though you’d sometimes see a few lost souls who were still up way past their bedtime, Southport Weekender was usually all smiles, no matter what state you got into. Running over 28 years, the event had many diehards who attended most of the weekenders and it was often an eyebrow raising experience for many young, first time attendees to see all these folk who could have been their parent’s age, getting just as trolleyed as they were. An unforgettable sight at last year’s anniversary event was a bald headed, middle aged regular called Michael, from North East England, who stormed the stage in an expensive suit, full of gusto and clearly somewhat the worse for wear. Not that any indication of this was offered by his incredibly enthusiastic dancing. At one point, during the extended breakdown of the late night track the DJ was playing, he feigned a full on heart attack, mid stage, much to the horror of several hundred dancers below him, who were greatly relieved to see him “come back to life” and resume his wild voguing once the track kicked back in.
The musical education
The music itself was undoubtedly the most integral ingredient of Southport Weekender, its four main dancefloors, its guest and resident DJs a constant source of inspiration and information. It’s long running internet forum was populated by professional and hobbyist DJs from all over the world, as was its audience. Deep diggers such as Theo Parrish, Rahaan, Kon & Amir and Mr Scruff used to love playing there, stretching into the furthest reaches of their collections and testing the audience. This was especially the case with the soul music that was aired by residents such as Gary Dennis, owner of the Crazy Beat record store in Upminster and a legend in dropping late night bombs. So knowledgeable was the crowd, you often didn’t need to bother asking the DJ about the track he played that astounded you, you could simply turn to the next person on the floor, who would gladly stop singing the lyrics in order to tell you.
The chalet parties
Nobody likes to be told when to go to bed at the rave, even when the last official DJ finishes at a not unreasonable 7am. The Southport Weekender audience were often the worst for this and it was inevitable that post parties would begin in the complex of chalets at Pontins. Year after year these would get bigger. First some enthusiasts started bring their own decks for such occasions, then they started to bring full on rigs and after dancers spilled into the sunshine after the official music was finished, hundreds would be drawn to illegal soundsystems pitched on the lawns between sleepless quarters. These got so big that, after a while, the venue security would be called to shut them down after several hours. Ever resourceful, soundsystem operators simply out manouvered them and just a couple of years back took a full rig onto the beach at Minehead, holding a full on rave on the sands, much to the bemusement of early morning locals and much to the distress of the event and Butlins who were hauled before the local council on account of the incident.