A seaside “Foxbase Alpha” frolic with Saint Etienne!
It was October 2016, and something pretty incredibly had happened in the previous month: I had finally submitted my PhD thesis! After five very difficult years, the relief was huge, even though I wasn’t completely out of the woods yet, with my viva ahead of me in December. But it felt so good to be back to a regular job in the NHS, going to the office every day, chatting to colleagues, and just generally being a normal human being again after being trapped in the PhD netherworld.
And what better way to celebrate this new positive change in my life but with a gig or two at the seaside? Not having grown up in the UK, the world of Butlins resorts was a strange and alien one to me, but when I noticed that they were holding weekend music festivals, it all seemed very appealing to this middle-aged gig-goer: a nice hotel room instead of a leaky tent, a tiny commute to the stage each night and a beach to frolic at during the day. So when Suede and Saint Etienne were announced for this Rockaway Beach extravaganza in Bognor Regis, how could I resist?
Having arrived in good time to roam the seaside a little and settle into my room, on Friday night it was time to witness Saint Etienne. I’d been a fan of theirs since 1994’s mysterious and majestic “Tiger Bay” album, but had only ever managed to see half a set from them live, at V2000. This show was a 25th anniversary run through of their debut “Foxbase Alpha”, and despite that album not being one of my absolute faves of theirs, I was still excited to see what they’d be like live.
However, the evening leading up to the moment they came on stage was full of small annoyances. From my diary:
‘A bit before nine pm I thought I’d wander to Centre Stage and see what it was like. It was kind of odd – a big oval shaped room with the stage in the middle of one of the long sides, and gleaming neon bars at the pointy ends. Not the most atmospheric of venues, but dead exciting to imagine Suede on the small stage the next day! The band on were We Are Scientists, an American trio brimming with pop-punk boppers. They were surprisingly good, with tinges of a 90s indie sensibility about them, and I was enjoying a mild bop’n’sway to their tunes when an inebriated dude came up and commented on my Bowie t-shirt. We had a friendly exchange on how we were both not over Bowie’s death, which was fine, but then he would not shut up, even when it was clear that I wasn’t interested in chatting. I am going to have to get much more blunt with this kind of thing. Eventually the message got through and he buggered off and I was free to enjoy the end of We Are Scientists.’
Thank god for that. Time to get ready for the main event! Oh, here’s another bloke.
‘Then I went to the loo, and pondered whether to get some water from the bar – the minutes of shouting conversation had made my throat very dry. But I decided I’d be okay, and didn’t want to have to sprint back to the loo during the Et. Walking back towards the stage I as approached by another bloke about my t-shirt but happily he was a much higher life form than the first and only wanted to know where I got it from, and express astonishment that it was Primark.’
Hooray for fun gig conversations! Alas, my Being Bothered By Blokes adventures didn’t end there. (I swear, I’m not usually some kind of dude magnet but there must have been something in the seaside air).
‘And then, well, the barrier was so empty, what could I do? I found a spot to the centre right and waited happily. Here came my third encounter of the bloke kind for the evening, when a young guy appeared next to me at the barrier, expressing concern that I was on my own and saying I could join him and his mate. I mean, a sweet gesture, but seriously? I’ve been going to gigs on my own since he was in primary school. He didn’t bother me for too long, thankfully, but I was not that thrilled to find myself with unrequested bodyguards, tho’ happily they’d disappeared by the end of the evening. Must somehow cultivate an expression that says: Leave Me The Fuck Alone.’
Anyway. Saint Etienne! They seemed to be having issues with one of the strobe lights on stage, so it was well after 10.30 by the time the band appeared.
‘They launched into “Foxbase Alpha”. It was great to be up close, tho’ the barrier floor was pretty sticky by this point and I might have done better to be further back if I wanted to have a proper dance. But they sailed through the album and it was great, with Sarah Cracknell is surprisingly strong vocal form, creating some lovely harmonies with her gothesque co-singer Debsey. The two of them retreated to sit at the back of the stage with whiskey and poker during the instrumental tracks, which was amusing. Highlights were the plaintive “Carnt Sleep” and the epic album finale “Like The Swallow”, taking the portentous refrain of the album version and pounding it over and over into and over into ever more thrilling shapes.’
Even better was the hits set that followed. ‘There was “Join Our Club”, “You’re In A Bad Way”, “Kiss And Make Up”, all joyous and fun. When they launched into “Who Do You Think You Are” I thought, this must be my fave St Et song as I warbled along, until of course the closing “He’s On The Phone”. Yes! We all sang and some of us even threw our arms in the air to its ecstatically mournful refrain. It was glorious and the word “POGELS” definitely swirled through my brain.’
(POGELS, as mentioned in my Alison Moyet gig post, stands for Pantheon Of Greatest Ever Live Songs)
So, a wonderful start to a wonderful weekend. Sadly I haven’t managed another trip out to see Saint Etienne since then. I was ecstatic in 2019 to discover they were playing “Tiger Bay” in full, only to have my hopes dashed when it turned out the London show was on a night I had to travel for work. But even as I type this the band are teasing Something New on social media, and so I hope very much to have the chance to see them again very soon.
Categories: All the gigs of my life