When you first arrive on site, you are not greeted with the overwhelming whiff of jazz cigarettes and sweat, but an adventure playground and a stupid-looking goose standing right in your way. It’s not a normal festival by any means.
Some things, to be fair, will always be the same; even given a chalet, the kids will still find a grassy spot to sit on, sun or no sun; there will always be a goth contingent, although in this case, they are all Robert Smith hair and skinny black suits. But there is also a festical TV channel showing weirdo animation and arthouse movies, a water park and the ability to make yourself a proper cuppa every morning. If it didn’t make me sound like an old fogey, I’d declare it The Future. Which seems ironic at Butlins.
Due to a combination of rogue sat-nav, West London traffic and – gasp – real lives, we don’t arrive until 10pm on the Friday night, just missing the headliners Broken Social Scene. But no fear! This is All Tomorrow’s Parties and things work differently here. There’s still four hours of bands and 3 more hours of indie disco fun to be had this night.
We stroll over to the second stage, housed in one of the resorts entertainment venues, to watch Quasi, who, it seems form their biog, have less been booked to play, and more tagged along with all their friends and decided to do a set. It’s rousing, catchy and clever college rock and ideal for a late Friday slot.
Following a few rounds of air hockey we return to the second stage to check out Wooden Ships, seemingly hyped by every independent record store in the country. There is much hair, some cracking riffs, helped massively by the bafflingly excellent sound system (does an ABBA tribute act really need such good sound mixing? The desk is as big as the stage), but ultimately it is just a little too proggy to be a festival hit.
Saturday starts with the best of intentions, catching second stage openers Horse Guards Parade. They have a good line in banter, but ultimately their sound is that of someone singing 90’s Britpop songs over a post-rock backing, which seems to result in something rather awkward if not entirely unpleasant.
The sun and a pub lunch distract us for the next few hours, before heading back to the vast Pavillion to see Camera Obscura play the main stage. This festival definitely has a high male-to-female ratio, and at this point a lot of them seem to be grudgingly tapping their feet. Camera Obscura have perfected their particular line of Scottish twee, being more consistent than future AATP curators Belle & Sebastian, and a bit less precious with it.
Pavement, I have always maintained, were a little bit before my time. When Slanted & Enchanted came out, I was still young enough to be taken to Butlins in a non-ironic way. But the crowd here has a good few years on me, and they are loving it. The band are enjoyably wonky, the lyrics pleasingly odd, and the members, rather thrillingly, still don’t seem to be entirely comfortable being Pavement again. There is banter, playful inter-band bickering, and an invitation to a Stonemasonry workshop Sunday lunchtime (to be held, joy of joys, in the Bob the Builder themed playground). Someone in the crowd was wearing a Rush T-shirt, and we all hoped the reference was deliberate.
Later still we watch Still Flyin’, a San Francisco band who according to the programme promise a mix of reggae and Krautrock, but all we hear is perky US indie with the faintest of ska beats. They’d almost certainly gee up a tentative midday festival crowd, but this is 1am and everyone here has just seen Pavement be awesome, so the band seem slightly out of place.
Sunday starts with a trip to the pool, a carvery and a round of pirate-themed mini-golf, before heading to the Pavillion to check out The Dodos. Any band with a line-up of guitar-xylophone-drums is one I will generally enjoy, and this certainly true here. It’s a big expansive sound which is still poppy and melodic. A great little discovery.
By this point curiosity gets the better of us, and we go and catch part of Boris’s set, in which they perform their 2003 album Feedbacker in it’s entirety (although this is – oh, how this makes me feel ill – one track). There are three cool-looking Japanese people with double-necked guitars, a lot of dry ice, a huge crowd, and about 2 notes held indefinitely. It is one of those areas of music in which I am sure something utterly brilliant is occurring, but I’ll be buggered if I could say what. We go and play air hockey instead.
Later on, a bloke in white suit wanders on stage. We identify him firstly as the guy who was off his nuts and overly keen to have a long chat with one of our party in the loos of the Irish bar the previous night, and secondly as singer-songwriter Terry Reid. He’s clearly a guy who’s been around, and has the voice and the barely coherent stories to match. The songs are folksy and simple, and provide a much-appreciated contrast to the amount of big noodly space-rock elsewhere at the festival.
The Fall surprise a lot of people by being tight, tuneful and generally very enjoyable. Mark E Smith is still largely incomprehensible, but he seems to be keen to put on a decent show.
The Raincoats are hugely likeable and draw a massive crowd to see their folk-punk set. I had been put off of them initially, mainly due to the presence of what appeared to hand-felted Raincoats bags on the merchandise stand, but the fact is they are very very good, albeit every bit as twee as the merch makes out. But then again, so am I, so it was the perfect way to round everything off.
The line-ups for ATP festivals of the past have always seemed slightly too serious and heavy-going for my tastes, and largely this was no different, as evidenced by the amount of the times the word ‘sonic’ appears in the programme, and the massive queues for the gents. Nonetheless, the novelty value of watching The Fall next to a Punch and Judy theatre doesn’t really wear off.