The Boys in the Band
It’s been a long time coming, 40 years to be exact! Hitting what most would describe as middle age was quite a shock, especially as in many ways I haven’t developed beyond the mental age of 16. It’s a milestone of life and a pat on the back to say, “Well done you’re still alive!”
Questions were being asked of me as to how I was going to celebrate, so I took it upon myself to look into what was going on in September, somewhere local(ish), on and around my ‘special’ day. I’m quite an unfussy guy so I wanted to keep it simple; I definitely wanted my closest friends to be with me, music was a must and of course plenty of alcohol, what more did I need to help me regress to my hedonistic teen years? As luck would have it, it didn’t take me long to stumble on the perfect event. It turned out that The Libertines were playing at a festival in Margate known as Wheels and Fins. Pete, Carl and the boys are one of my favourite bands whom I had missed going to see on numerous occasions. They are now residents in Margate and had chosen the Wheels and Fins festival as their final gig of a very long two years spent on tour. To cap it off they were being joined by Reverend and the Makers, Echo and the Bunnymen and none other than Chas and Dave. Unfortunately, Chas had fallen ill and had to cancel and sadly passed away shortly after, this is heart-breaking news for anyone who grew up listening to their lively, boisterous, witty pub singalong music. Their boogie woogie/rock ‘n’ roll sound was even given its own name, Rockney due to their east end routes.
Anyway, I put it out to my mates that this is what I wanted to do, tickets were bought and an Airbnb was booked in the lovely old Victorian seaside town of Ramsgate. Four mates (two of which traveled all the way from Devon) and me, made the trip east arriving on Saturday afternoon ready for the revelry. Saturday night was spent taking in the pubs and bars of Ramsgate, even managing to find a good live band playing in The Mariners, a pub situated on the harbour front with a sort of fisherman’s watering hole type of feel. Eventually, after many a beer and ill-advised shot (or four), we hit the hay hoping to be ready for a day of epic music on Sunday.
Sunday morning came and after the perfect hangover cure of a bacon and egg sarnie and a gin and tonic (yes, I know! But I was turning 40) we headed into town to grab a cab to Joss Bay. The festival gods were clearly happy as the early September sun was blazing and we knew it was to be a good day. Once inside we headed straight for a rum and coke to further assist recovery from the night before and then took in some pretty gnarly skating on the half-pipe while simultaneously rocking out to some great punk in the small tent, good start. The music was of a continuously heavy tempo all day, keeping our spirits high. The crowd helped create a great atmosphere around what was turning out to be a fantastic festival, especially for a small indie gig. There were a variety of different types of punter milling around, the old, the young, some with their kids; I have to admit thinking that Phanyard would go down a storm here but hey, next year maybe.
The time quickly came around for the main stage to come alive and come alive it did. Reverend and the Makers walked onto the stage with the swaggering confidence of band ready to keeps your hands in the air until you thought your arms might fall out of their sockets. If there was a party atmosphere beforehand, the guys (and gal) from Sheffield took it up a level, pumping out hits like ‘Shine the Light’, ‘He Said He Loved Me’ and of course, ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’. This bunch knows how to get a crowd going and there wasn’t a person around without a huge 90’s style rave smile on their face.
Echo and the Bunnymen were next with their tight 80’s Liverpudlian rock. This was quite a difference to Reverend and not everyone’s cup of tea at the fest but there was a good hardcore attendance, myself included. I’ve always loved Ian McCulloch and company. There set was reasonably brief in the end but my disappointment was short lived as The Libertines were imminent.
And finally, what we had all been waiting for… on skipped Carl, Pete, John and Gary all wearing Margate FC shirts with ‘The Libertines’ on the front as shirt sponsors. They arrived on stage to a noise that could probably be heard all the way down to the white cliffs of Dover and beyond. The next two hours were to be one of the best demonstrations of how to hold an audience in the palm of your hand you’ll ever see. From start to finish without letting up for a second, they were relentlessly on the money. An effervescent array of classics such as “What Katie Did’, ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’ and ‘Time for Heroes’ sprinkled with a cheeky irreverent banter which showed their unity and togetherness. My associate festy goer and good friend James expressed his surprise at how good musicians they were. And how right he was! Pete and Carl played with a fervor and solidity that enabled them to alter certain riffs to give the songs a uniqueness of which makes the crowd feel like they’re witnessing something really special. Another memory that will stay with me is the band’s choice to throw in some Chas and Dave covers, most notably the extremely apt ‘Margate’ which went down a storm obviously; and even more touching considering Chas Hodges’ untimely death days later. Inevitably, the set had to come to an eventual end but not without a roaring encore where Pete threw his guitar into the melee and caught by some seriously fortuitous individual.
What an extraordinary night! The walk back to Ramsgate after the gig had finished was just what the doctor ordered and we even had time for a pint in the pub before we returned to the Airbnb. Oh yeah! To top it off, my mates all chipped in and bought me a Margate FC shirt to help me remember it all, not sure I’ll be forgetting this one in a hurry though.
Every aspect of the weekend was more than I could’ve imagined for what I can only describe as the best birthday ever. I wonder if I’ll be able to top it for my 50th.