Morecambe is a small, Victorian built coastal town in the North West situated next to Lancaster and bordering the sprawling Lake District. It’s a great place for setting up camp for adventures into the Lakes as well as being a decent little standalone town. It sprang to life after the creation of the harbour in Morecambe Bay by the Morcambe Harbour and Railway Company which was formed during the reign of Queen Victoria in 1846.
With the development of the railway line connecting to West Yorkshire and Ridings, the area prospered. By 1889 three fishing villages had merged to one town and the name “Morecambe” was adopted. The Victorian pursuit of holiday making meant that Morecambe became busier and busier with many Yorkshire residents visiting due to the connecting railway lines. In contrast, Blackpool was served more by Lancastrians.
Morecambe suffered greatly when the piers went. The first was damaged by fire in 1933 but wasn’t fully removed until 1992 whereas the second lasted until 1977 when it was largely destroyed by a storm. The rest was demolished a year later. Hope came to the town in the 1990s when the depressingly popular Mr Blobby was becoming a nation’s favourite character. A theme park was proposed and built but was closed just thirteen weeks later due to lack of interest. The sad decline continued and the closure of the water park and fairground followed.
However, all is not bleak on the North Western shores of Britain. A small group of reluctant heroes have formed a team of Splendidness to bring life to the area. The League of Splendid have been organising the ironically titled “A Splendid Day Out” (it lasts three days) for three years now and in that time they’ve seen the event go from strength to strength. This year, I decided to grace them with my presence so for two nights my partner and I were at the mercy of the Irish sea.
Thankfully, the weather was extremely clement and we didn’t need our coats, brollies or lifebuoys. We tried to reach the event on the Friday evening in time to watch Julia from Alice’s Night Circus, the lads from Metropolis and the ever superb Mr B, The Gentleman Rhymer. I’ve only ever seen Metropolis play at the Haworth Steampunk Festival back in 2013 and they were good then. I’ve had several close calls watching Mr B and this was to be my third. We didn’t get to reach Morecambe until nearly midnight by which time it was nearly closing. However, it meant that we were ready to go the next day.
Being the lazy lot that steampunks are, the entertainment didn’t start until 11am. The event is split into two parts; indoors and outdoors. The outdoors featured three main areas of a Big Top joined by the Time Travelling Tea Tent, the performance area and asuperb display of Owls from Corio Raptor Care. They’re a wonderful organisation that cares for sick and injured birds of prey before rehabilitating them to release them back into the wild.
It was a nice day so we decided to stay outdoors for a while after we’d collected our wristbands. We ventured into the Big Top to watch the mind-bending skills of Professor Matteo Borrini. He’s an Italian chap who uses the power of deduction to make very good conclusions. For example, a task that I participated in involved four people stood in a row. We all secretly placed an item of value to us in a felt pouch and returned them to the Professor. He then used deduction to work out which one belonged to each person. He got each one exactly right although I didn’t help matters by sniggering when he said the person with the pocket watch (me) had a sharp mind. If only he knew.
After watching the Professor we ventured into the market area which is situated in the Platform – a converted Victorian train station. We were impressed by all the stands that we looked at such as Raychel from Angels from Demons. She acquires old Barbie and Bratz dolls and repurposes them by removing the make up and applying it in a steampunk fashion and changing the clothing to suit a steampunk more. She had loads on display including a commemoration of Ziggy Stardust but she also works to commissions.
We met Andy, the owner of Decadent Preserves. The Whitby based company specialises in hand-made “Vampire Preserves” which have a hint of chilli in order to ensure plenty of “bite” quips. There are also a number of flavoured jams, such as Margarita, Manhattan and Bucks Fizz. They do actually contain alcohol which is great for mixing in drinks, using as conversation starters at parties or setting off for work in the morning half cut.
After a wander around inside, we went back outside. Given that we were staying there for the weekend, we decided not to look at absolutely everything straight away. Meandering back into the Big Top, we got there just at the right time to watch Eve Elle and her trusty assistant Baldini perform her carnival tricks. For this round they involved her eating a light bulb followed by Baldini having a breeze-block broken with a sledgehammer on his stomach while laying on a bed of nails. Future shows involved her jumping up and down on glass while barefoot. Straight after that we watched the Palace of Curiosities. They’re an impressive comical duo who bring the finest curios from the mists of time and present them in a glass box.
Freyja The Fairy is a fire dancer and put on a splendid show for the steampunks and other visitors that were milling around outside. When she wasn’t entertaining en-masse, she could be found with Amy from Aconite Creations wandering the event with a large clockwork key stuck in her back. It was a wonderful outfit that clearly had some creative flare and perseverance poured into it. I have to also take a moment to mention the outfit Elizabeth was wearing. It’s all completely hand-made and has exquisite detail.
By this time it was 4pm and many of the steampunks were making their way up to the Eric Morecambe statue. The legendary comedian has been immortalised in the town where he took his stage name and at 4.30 a procession of 200 or so steampunks marched their way back down to the Midland Hotel which is situated across the road from where the event was taking place. Now, a cynical mind may ask why we walked down from our hotels to walk back up halfway, to walk back down to the event, to walk back up to our hotels again? Why not start at the Midland Hotel and walk UP to the statue? Who knows, maybe we’re suckers for punishment. Either way it was damned good fun and seeing so many people there brought a tear to the eye of a few who watched. Not me though; mine was allergies. Probably.
After missing the Krak’n Night Out on Friday, we were really looking forward to Saturday’s evening entertainment. I’ve not seen Victor & The Bully live so I was looking forward to it as they supported The New Jacobin Club (I interviewed NJC which you can read by clicking this text) who are a superb band with some fantastic songs and a notorious stage act. Victor & The Bully were fantastic, they put on an amazing show. It can be easily seen in their faces and the way that they have fun, not just on stage, but with the crowd after they’ve done, that they really are doing this for the love of the music and playing out and making people happy. More mainstream acts can – or will – disappear into their dressing rooms after the show. A band that takes time to chat, have a drink, a dance and some fun is much more enjoyable and makes all the difference. The highlight of Victor & The Bully’s set for me was when The Horde, Poison Candi and Mistress Nagini joined them onstage. I’ve not been to a gig and seen members of a headline band join a supporting band before, so that was something else. You can see the video on the Steampunk Journal Facebook page by clicking on this text.
New Jacobin Club did some great stuff with the small stage that they were on. RatKing was blindfold for the first couple of tracks and then I think maybe the sweat forced him to remove it (the weekend of the event was extremely hot and it had been humid all day). As each band member did their thing it was notable that Mistress Nagini was missing. That is until she strode on stage with a huge sword that looked like a Scimitar or Falcata which she proceeded to balance on her head. From then on, the show got crazier such as fire eating and angle grinding but the best bit for me was when she hammered two nails into her nostrils. It wasn’t just Mistress Nagini who indulged in the circus acts, though. At one point towards the end, The Horde laid down and had a concrete block smashed on his chest with a sledgehammer.
It’s interesting how the band works with where they stand based on what they do. Out of the six members, it can be fair to say that The Horde and Poison Candi need to be at the front – being the singers. They’re also extremely animated in the show. Contrastingly, The Luminous, RatKing and The Ruin sit at the back and are much slower in their movements (aside from his arms thrashing the drums to bits, the RatKing generally stays in the same place). I also found it interesting that The Horde wasn’t in the centre of the stage, but actually to the (stage) left. Poison Candi and her Theremin were centre stage (to coin a phrase) with a keyboard to the right for Mistress Nagini when she used it.
After the show, the band joined us on the dancefloor and I had a great chat with The Horde about various aspects of steampunk as well as Canadian culture and he told me some fascinating stories about what they used to be able to get up to on stage because of a lack of Health & Safety measures that we see today. The shows now are like Blue Peter by comparison, it would seem. He gave me lots of goodies including three albums on CD, a vinyl copy of their fifth album, some stickers and a signed poster of their first UK tour which I’ll be giving away sometime in the future; probably to coincide with a review of the album.
By the early hours we retired in preparation for the final day of what was proving to be a superb weekend. The next morning after we’d broken our fast, packed and checked out, we meandered down to the town for about midday. The market and entertainment had already begun and I got some more shots. This day was used by us to see stuff that we missed on Saturday. I’m glad we did as well, because I missed a few splendid stalls. There were three that I particularly liked on that day. Andrew Davies is a newcomer to steampunk and this was his first time at the Morecambe event. He makes weaponry, such as ray guns from salvaged items and they’re very good. He had a set of goggles with a beak attached which were marvellous. I also had a chat with Dr Nicodemus Dandelion of Verne Industries. They have steampunk down to a tee (tea) by regular, everyday items and retrofitting them with steampunk gadgets and gizmos. There are amazing artefacts available and if you didn’t manage to see them on the day, you should go to the website and have a look.
There was a most curious stall at the far end of the market called Animal Curiosities run by Frau Totty Knochenspeil. I can’t find much information on the company as there doesn’t even seem to be a Facebook page, but it would be well worth having a look at her wares if you get the chance. From petrified Frogs to Pig skulls, the whole stall was a chaotic jumble of bizarre animal creations.
Considering A Splendid Day Out is only in its third year, it’s already gaining a reputation as a steampunk event to put on your calendar. The fact that they can acquire good, well known names to play at their evening entertainment speaks volumes for the weight that they have behind them in terms of influence. From the moment we arrived – well actually from when I was arranging the trip with Rob, one of the organisers, along with Rose and her husband Ian – we were made to feel welcome. You can tell from the openness of the organisers on their FB page that there’s a great deal of stress goes into making an event like this a smoothly run success but they managed it. It was like a well oiled machine even if they ran over on some of the stuff and got a bit delayed in areas, we were having such fun we didn’t even notice and I think that’s what is important. When your visitors are enjoying themselves, you’re doing something right and the amount of congratulatory messages after certainly proves that’s the case. It’s certainly a visit that we will make again in the future and I would recommend anyone else looking for an enjoyable steampunk weekend to do the same.