I’m a huge music fan, so much so that I will happily journey across the country (or even to another country) to see a band I love. This week saw me journey to Blackpool, Lancashire to see The Reflektors (aka Arcade Fire) for a very special show at the historic Empress Ballroom. Within a few hours of clinching tickets, I’d booked return trains from Newcastle, seizing the opportunity to explore another British seaside resort under the premise of ‘music tourism’.
My memories of Blackpool were rather hazy, given that the last time I’d visited was 15 years ago when I went to the famous Blackpool Illuminations. All I remember was riding up and down the seafront on an old fashioned tram and eating fish and chips (not stereotypical at all then). Was Blackpool going to be different a decade and a half later??
Well, not especially. But then again maybe that’s why I actually quite liked Blackpool- it was free from pretension. After all, who flocks to Blackpool in search of gastro-pubs, fancy wine bars or haute couture boutiques? Visitors come for fish and chips, sticks of rock,the Pleasure Beach, amusement arcades and cabaret- snapshots of Britain from times gone by when foreign travel was unaffordable for most (my mum went to Blackpool every year whilst growing up). It is rough around the edges, yet this simply adds to its kitsch charm. Under a cloud of somnolence maybe a dreary day in late November didn’t quite do Blackpool justice as we used the slot machines in the eerily quiet North Pier opposite our hotel, yet still there was a quiet romanticism to the ‘jewel’ of the North-West.
This Comedy Carpet, a 2200 metre-squared work of art situated directly under the Blackpool Tower is one of Blackpool’s newest attractions, opening in 2011. It celebrates the work of more than 1000 comedians, featuring puns, jokes and anecdotes from a huge variety of comics, both classic and more contemporary. It was commissioned by the local council as part of the regeneration of Blackpool’s seafront and has proved a hit with locals and tourists alike (we spent a while trying to choose our favourite pun- see mine below). The Comedy Carpet is ‘a remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh, it’s also a stage for popular entertainment that celebrates entertainment itself’. Can’t say fairer than that.
Bearing all of this old school nostalgia in mind all credit has to go to Arcade Fire for their choice of venue. Blackpool was only one of three UK venues on their Reflektor’s tour (London and Glasgow being the other two) and the Empress Ballroom turned out to be the perfect setting. The unlikely location choice of Blackpool ensured gig goers came from far and wide (was highly amusing playing the ‘do you think they’re going to the Arcade Fire gig’ game waiting on Platform 14 at Manchester Piccadilly). The band had requested ticket holders come in formal attire or fancy dress and amazingly everyone seemed to have made the effort (lots of tuxedos, masks and feathers). We had masquerade style masks which was pretty fun (did keep getting IDed as bar staff couldn’t see our faces but hey, ho, I guess that was a small consolation). After riding the tram to the gig Arcade Fire burst into life, playing a mixture of current album tracks and fan favourites (Wake Up being a particular highlight). For one night only one of the world’s biggest bans re-injected the glitz and glamour back into Blackpool. Maybe it won’t be long before others follow suit.