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Exclusive: 450,000+ music fans set up camp at Butlins

The holiday resorts' redcoats will welcome close to half a million visitors to 58 festivals in 2016, including Rockaway Beach, Bloc and Giants of Rock

By Jon Chapple on 12 Feb 2016

Butlins Minehead, Nilfanion

Butlins Minehead

image © Nilfanion/Wikimedia Commons

Butlins will this year host 58 music festivals attended by over 450,000 people at its resorts in seaside towns Bognor Regis, Minehead and Skegness.

Founded in 1936 by Sir Billy Butlin to offer cheap and cheerful seaside holidays to cash-strapped Britons, Butlins and its famous redcoats were for many years synonymous with bingo, donkey rides, wheelbarrow races and knobbly knees competitions, and satirised as ‘Maplins’ in the BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi!.

However, live music events now make up “35 per cent of [Butlins’] overall business”, Mike Godolphin, head of entertainment at Butlins’ corporate parent, Bourne Leisure, tells IQ. (Other Bourne Leisure businesses include caravan park operator Haven and the Warner Leisure chain of hotels.)

The three Butlins resorts – now unrecognisable compared to the austere ‘holiday camps’ of old following a £120m makeover – between them host a total of 58 ‘Big Weekends’, a mixture of Butlins-programmed events and externally promoted partner festivals.

Butlins has “a rich history of delivering music events stretching back to the early 1980s”, says Godolphin, but “undertook an escalation in quantity and quality around 2002”. Two festivals largely contributed to putting the brand on the live music map: indie darling All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP), which was held in Minehead from 2007 to 2011, and the Bloc dance weekend, which will take place for the fifth and final time in March, also in Minehead. “ATP was good and helped us on our journey,” says Godolphin.

Butlins’ biggest music weekenders take place in Minehead, where an indoor pavilion can be converted into a 6,500-capacity arena (5,500 seated). Events taking advantage of the arena in 2016 include Madness’s House of Fun Weekender, the Shiiine On Weekender, with Shed Seven and The Bluetones, the UK darts championships and – a big one, this – the WWE Live wrestling world tour.

“Our calendar of live music events has grown from 20 ten years ago to 58 today. What’s really inspiring is the price growth: those attending are prepared to spend a lot more on the events than 10 years ago”

“Our calendar of events has grown from 20 ten years ago to 58 today,” says Godolphin, “and what’s really inspiring is the price growth: those attending are prepared to spend a lot more on the events than 10 years ago.”

What is it about Butlins that’s so irresistible to festival promoters, artists and guests? Is it as simple as having warm beds and hot showers, as opposed to tents in a cold field? “Many of our festivals are targeted over-25s, so one of the attractive features is definitely the warm beds and showers,” Godolphin comments. “It’s also the ‘weather-doesn’t-stop-play’ factor, which allows us to deliver music festivals in the winter months.”

Is he getting promoters coming to him pitching events? “We do, and this has grown as promoters and event organisers are getting wise to the opportunity. However, we’re happy to have more!”

New for Butlins for 2016 are Guilty Pleasures’ The Mighty Hoop-La, “a celebration of pop in all its forms” at Butlins Bognor Regis from 26 to 29 February; On the Decks, a three-day Butlins-programmed event, part of its 90s Reloaded brand, which will see “some of the world’s best DJs” – including Trevor Mills, Freemasons, Trevor Rampling and DJ Luck and MC Neat – “doing what they do best” at Butlins Minehead in March; and “celebration of synth and guitar music” Electric Dreams, in partnership with Vintage TV.

What does the next 10 years hold for Butlins? Another 38 events by 2026, perhaps? Not exactly: “We see a calibrated move to more credible events, a journey which started some years ago, with [the Great British] Folk Festival, [the Great British] Rock & Blues Festival, Giants of Rock, the Great British Alternative [Music Festival] and more. We don’t see any dramatic increase in volume of events, just a change in their nature.”