2015 BlackpoolMark Ritchie takes a long hard look at Blackpool, examining the changes and improvements which are bringing people back to this hot-bed of live entertainment.
It’s been an age since the wakes weeks and the miner’s holiday breaks, which made Blackpool the most popular and innovative of all the early 20th century British seaside resorts. But after focussing on the downside and decline of the resort for many years, the media seem to be finding criticism and regional stereo-typing labels harder to hang on the resurgent Fylde coast. Here was my itinerary for almost a week spent in a resort with an impressive and brand new promenade and a renewed sense of optimism.
Saturday: Stage Hypnotist and mentalist Ken Webster has long been a true champion of entertainment in Blackpool. The affable Webster has appeared at the atmospheric Horseshoe Bar, on Blackpool’s famous Pleasure Beach for an age and his show provided a great Saturday spectacle.
Sunday: Cleveleys wmc is one of the few social clubs entertainment venues on the Fylde coast to have retained live musical backing. Mark and Roy are the resident musicians who accompany visiting cabaret acts and there is still much to enjoy on the social club scene, despite the demise of venues such as the Layton Institute and the big change at The Philharmonic club, which now operates as a cabaret bar.
Monday: A visit to the seafront home of agents Barrie and Vicki Lucas for Monday lunch was as informative as it was pleasant. Barrie is presenting the big national showcase in Blackpool in early November and business sounds brisk.
Tiffany’s Hotel is, in my view, one of the best appointed and most professionally run hotel cabaret rooms in the whole resort. There are of course many hotels presenting entertainment. The Britannia chain offer the Metropole and The Norbreck Castle and there are many other entertainment hotels, perhaps most notably The Lyndene and the smaller but hugely friendly Blenheim Mount However, Tiffany’s features the very wonderful agent and musician Mal Ford and the glamorous Commere June Martell, along with regular star guests. That great Scottish singer Catherine Kerr was on the bill on the evening of my visit.
Tuesday: Inside the magnificently restored Winter Gardens complex, former club and cruise ship star Jane McDonald is starring in a production of Cats. Looking beyond the theatrical, a couple of affable chaps armed with guitars and ready wit, entertain in the music saloon. Pineapple Jack hold court almost every day with a great results.
Wednesday: The Sands Venue is bang on the seafront and apparently extending, with a new restaurant venue opening. This is such a great show to see, with a backing band and dancers augmenting the Legends on view. On the evening of my visit the superb Matt Byrne was playing Robbie Williams. There were also appearances from top class Tina Turner, Meatloaf and Michael Jackson tribute artistes.
Thursday: There are no fewer than four Ma Kelly’s entertainment venues now operating on the Fylde coast. A whole host of acts skip from venue to venue throughout a schedule, during which anything up to nine acts could appear at each venue every daytime and evening. I took a look at Ma Kelly’s near The Central Pier during a daytime slot, where singer Lee Lambert was performing to an appreciative audience.
Viva Blackpool is a fantastic central seafront complex of venues, which has sprung up from nowhere under the skilful control and acumen of Martin Heywood and the venue regular host with the most Leye D Johns. While The Jerseys sang in the guise of Frankie Valli and Company in the main room, the catwalk in the function room next door was being utilised by the decorous contestants in the Miss Blackpool beauty pageant.
Friday: The Viking Hotel is part of the Choice Hotels Group and, along with sister hotels The Claremont and The Cliffs hotels further up the promenade, The Viking provides tip-top cabaret. The difference is that The Viking operates a magnificent and recently refurbished venue called The Talk of the Coast. Compere Buddy Lee is now a key part of the Fylde coast furniture. I speak from some experience when I say that sustaining a holiday entertainment venue Compere residency can be pretty tough. The role requires the co-operation of employers as entertainment savvy as the Compere himself is. On the evening of my visit the extremely funny, original and engaging comedian Terry Cotta was guesting along with the tiptop duo Oxygen and the resident Sensations Dancers.
On the piers, it has been reported that a well-known family business group has now acquired all three. The theatre on the South Pier was demolished and replaced with a fun-fair some years ago. However, the North Pier theatre remains, with The Merrie England cabaret bar at the other end of the pier housing anything and everything, from the outrageous comedian Joey Blower to Jason Manford’s brand new comedy club.
Even after the mega-millions investment in the resort, visitors are still discerning a work in progress. However the improvements will only continue if the visitor numbers to ‘Black-Vegas’ continue to grow. The families are returning and many people are taking a fresh look at what is on offer. Regarding live cabaret and entertainment, what you have read here is a mere taster.