Review of Southport Weekender held at Butlin's Holiday Resort, Minehead on 11th/12th/13th May 2012

Southport Weekender celebrated their 25th anniversary as a soul music, dance weekender at Butlin's in Minehead, Somerset, UK. This a phenomenal achievement for a group of like minded soul music lovers, who caught the spirit of soul and unity consciousness, to create a premier event that still cuts it in our modern day. The organisers should really be proud of themselves for this great achievement and credit to all of the people connected with this leading event. Obviously Southport Weekender wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the music and the quality was evident as soon as the line-up was announced. With amazing acts such as Jill Scott, Patrice Rushen, Soul II Soul to name but a few and a host of outstanding DJ's, there was no way the 25th anniversary wasn't going to improve the quality standard. It must be incredibly hard to continue raise the bar each year but SPW48 certainly did!

Southport Weekender

The switch of locations to Minehead was definitely a good move. It's the second year at the Butlin's site and it seemed really familiar. The accommodation is a huge improvement too! The hype of the 25th anniversary, record selling ticket sales and a truly impressive line up, set the scene for much excitement and everyone was happy to be there. It's one of the greatest crowds on Earth!

The move to a new location was always going to be testing, but the differences from 2011 to 2012 made for a 100% improvement and shows the potential for future events. New additions this year included the new Skyline Pavilion that hosted the Jill Scott gig on Saturday afternoon and the Suncébeat Dome that brought the feel and flavours of Croatia (for many festival goers was one of the best places to be). The sound systems, lighting and feel, definitely seemed to be getting back to that standard enjoyed at Pontin's. What SPW48 proved is that with the benefits to the new site, like the accommodation and space, as well as the obvious improvements that the promoters have learnt from last year, it proves that Southport Weekender is here to stay and could continue for a long time into the future.

So how about the 25th anniversary? It truly says something about an event that sells out in record time despite the line up not even being announced! There's an attraction about Southport Weekender that always seems to bring the regulars back. It was great to see people like Bob Jefferies who's played at every Southport Weekender since the start. It's the one time in the year where anyone (who's attended a couple of consecutive years) is guaranteed to see friends and likeminded folk that you may not see for the rest of year. There's always an influx of young ones coming to join the family who may or may not return, but I can definitely see myself there again next year and once again bumping into familiar faces.

Southport Weekender's 25th anniversary was a great event! The standard set up at Southport Weekender include The Powerhouse (mainly house music), The Connoisseurs Corner (classics and the rest), The Beat Bar (eclectic sounds) and the Funkbase (hip hop, soul, rnb flavours) that make up the core dancing areas which played host to some outstanding moments. Friday saw Kenny Bobien live PA, Robert Glasper Experiment, Frank McComb and Soul II Soul, bringing the live performances! With a glittering array of house music in The Powerhouse with Steve Butler, Luis Radio, Karizma, Mark Farina, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales to finish it all off, Friday was certainly setting the standard BIG TIME! It was great to see Fabio & Grooverider making their debut in The Funkbase and resident Ronnie Herel's 'Classic 90's Special' showed exactly what goes off at Southport!

The Connoisseurs Corner continued to witness the brilliant Norman Jay's Good Time set, as well as residents Andy Davies, Bob Jefferies, Terry Jones, Colin Curtis, Mike Stephens and also the legendary John Morales performing - if all that wasn't enough there was also a special set from the one and only Derrick Carter 'plays Disco'! HEAVY! However, The Beat Bar was really the place to be on the Friday night, with residents Gavin Kendrick and Kev Beadle warming up the room for Mr Scruff who stole the show! Bringing in a master class performance with Floating Points, Julio Bashmore and André Londemann finishing a historic Friday night. Many of the Southport family continued on through the night to witness a beautiful sunrise and catch the sun the following day. The chalet parties associated to the old Southport site were intense and had to be put to an end due to sound restrictions, however there was some really good chalet action going on through the weekend. The Sun and Moon Pub also had a great feel to it too, probably due to the sunshine, but the quality of music and good vibrations were very much in line with 'The Sands' of old.

Saturday was always going to be the big day for me. One of the main reasons for attending this year was to see Jill Scott, as I'd never seen her before and was very much looking forward to seeing her. In the lead up to the main event there was a fantastic selection of aural treats on offer including the legendary Connoisseurs Soul Session, with Terry Jones and Andy Davies featuring Gregory Porter live, who performed brilliantly. Residents Steve Bulter, Sean McCabe and Phil Asher all cooked up some deep tunes in the Beat Bar. Steve Wren, Bigger and Ronnie Herel all set the tone for a huge crowd in The Skyline Pavilion to witness an amazing performance from Jill Scott, quite a show for the 25th anniversary. It's was clear she was having a great time and really enjoying the occasion. With a plethora of fantastic tunes, mixed in new ways from her back catalogue, the show came across as personal and creative.

The unexpected treat of SPW48 came from Patrice Rushen. There's no denying her musical ability and she just so happened to bring a list of amazing musicians with her, Ndugu Chancler, Everette Harp, Doc Powell and Ready Freddie Washington. It was one of those chance gigs that you only get to see at Southport Weekender. With some of the best solo's and orchestration I've ever seen from a funk band, Patrice and her band certainly made a point of showing us how it's done!

Saturday night also saw quality performances from the likes of Kenny Dope rocking The Powerhouse, Joey Negro's 'Vintage House and Garage Special' really brought the rave back to the millennium. Tony Humphries and regular Kerri Chandler really showed how it goes off in The Powerhouse! I really enjoyed legend Danny Krivit's set and great to see David Rodigan back to blast the Funkbase! Standard! With other great acts such as IG Culture, Rainer Truby, Joe Claussell, Shortee Blitz, the brilliant Greg Wilson, Gary Dennis and the return of DJ Jazzy Jeff & Skills, it is crystal clear why Southport Weekender sells out every year.

I thought it was totally apt and great to see that The Brand New Heavies were playing at the 25th anniversary. For any newcomer what better way to gain an understanding of what the Weekender represents than seeing a quality performance form this outfit. The whole vibe for Sunday afternoon is about bringing soul to the mix and The Brand New Heavies certainly did this, as well as Josh Milan, Dawn Tallman and Natasha Watts bringing some serious vocal energy and creative live performances which left most audience members satisfied. Officially the festival was over for another year but not everyone left the site as there was an array of after parties to enjoy. A Chicago House Special, a Beat Bar & Suncébeat Special and a Classic Soul, Rnb, Rare Groove and Boogie Special, featuring the one and only Trevor Nelson left the lucky attendees brimming with joy! This was certainly a step up from last year and a real treat for everyone to enjoy the last moments of Southport Weekender's 25th anniversary. Thank you!

25 years on Southport Weekender is still on point and offering some of the best music on the planet. I don't envy the job of Alex & Dave (the organisers) to try and to top the line each year, but with the enthusiasm of the punters, it must be inspiring for them.

So what is the future of Southport Weekender? It seems clear to me there's a lot more left to experience, with young acts debuting there, heavyweights returning and legends playing live, it says it all really. It's interesting to think that the Funkbase didn't even exist throughout the 25 years of the Weekender's history and now appears to easily be the most popular room, with queues that seemed never ending at times. I'm not sure how that problem can be dealt with but maybe there's another room in the making? There's no doubt the Suncébeat Dome was a success, I'd love the idea of a pool party, although I suppose there's Croatia for that. Who knows?

The future is bright for Southport Weekender and a big thank you for all that were involved for creating a great party for the 25th anniversary. One should bear in mind that as a second attempt at Minehead it was a big improvement and seeing such quality in one location over one weekend is a definite credit to the Southport Weekender. Big love to the Southport FAM!

Tareck Ghoneim

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