Oi Polloi

In Praise of… Blackpool

Published: Wed May 22 2019

There's a lot of under-appreciated (and occasionally misunderstood) people, places and inanimate objects out there. With these articles - we like to reset the balance a bit. For this one, originally published in the last issue of Pica-Post, Modernist man Eddy Rhead fights the corner of the misunderstood seaside town. 

People who live down south are deprived of many things Northerners have, like friendly shop keepers, chips and gravy, nice tap water and decent bands, but there’s one thing I feel most sorry for Southerners not having – Blackpool. 

If you grew up north of the River Trent it’s safe to assume you’ve been to Blackpool. It’s also safe to assume that, as an adult, you’ve only been for one of two reasons – for a stag do or because you have kids. 

Blackpool has the facilities and enthusiasm to cater for both of these things in spades (pun intended), but perhaps we’re growing, as a nation, too sophisticated to appreciate the charms of Blackpool. I'm sure many of you look upon Blackpool as being… well… a bit shit, but I’m here to argue for Blackpool as being one on the greatest places in Britain, if not the world. 

I like to think of myself as a pretty well-travelled, sophisticated, urbane, rounded and cultured kind of guy.  As I get older I have begun to appreciate the finer things in life – nice hotels, decent beer, quality clobber, expensive home furnishings and the like, but as I drift further and further away from my working class roots and turn into a poncey middle class twat, there’s still a part of me that still really, really loves Blackpool — and I don't really have to spend too long trying to examine the reasons why. 

First things first; it’s probably best not to overthink Blackpool – you just go with it. It’s the perfect place to forget all that pretentious crap I described myself as earlier. Nobody really cares how cool you are in Blackpool and as such you can cast off all you inhibitions and just have a good laugh. I’ve been there at least once a year almost every single year of my life and I’ve almost always had a brilliant time.

"It’s probably best not to overthink Blackpool – you just go with it."

As a little kid in the 1970s we would all pile into my dad’s Cortina and battle to be the first to spot Blackpool Tower as we were going down the M55, usually mistaking an electricity pylon in a field just outside Preston for it in instead. We would inch down the prom at night, taking in the illuminations, jealous of the poshos who had a sun roof they could stick their head out of. 

When we were a bit older we went on a school trip and some of us 'got lost' in the Pleasure Beach, shaking off the teachers, spending all our money in the first twenty minutes and getting back to the coach (and some angry teachers) hours later. 

Growing into acid house adulthood, a night out in Blackpool was always pure hedonism. In Manchester, going to The Haçienda was a serious business — the music, the 'scene', the drugs — it was a full time job. Blackpool rarely takes anything seriously, and the late 80s and early 90s club scene was no different. Sequins laid the foundation, and then Shaboo with a young whippersnapper called Sasha cutting his DJ teeth, all hands in the air and big piano drops. 

Into the 1990s and my mate Nipper was a resident at Hacketts, so a car load of us would go up every weekend — Blackpool providing a welcome relief from the moodiness of Manchester clubs at the time. My 21st birthday was spent in a club in Blackpool.

I’m an upstanding, law abiding member of the community now so cannot remember or reveal details of much of the evening, but the highlight was bowling back to some stranger’s house, God knows where, only to find Todd Terry (who had been DJing at the club earlier) sitting in the living room enjoying a big glass of Vimto – the only refreshment the host had to offer. Very Blackpool. 

Growing older and having children myself, I still love going now. As long as you are happy to provide the kids with an endless supply of money for the arcades and sugar-based treats they’re happy, and if the weather is nice and the tide is out, the beach is beautiful.

"The highlight was bowling back to some stranger’s house, only to find Todd Terry sitting in the living room enjoying a big glass of Vimto."

The promenade has had millions of pounds spent on it in recent years with good landscaping, improved sea defences, and public artworks. My personal favourite is They Shoot Horses Don’t They by Manchester based artist Michael Trainor, which is, at six metres in diameter, the world’s biggest mirror ball — referencing Blackpool’s long history of dance clubs. 

The glamorous Tower Ballroom is world famous and has provided a venue for dancing since 1894, in the 1970s Ian Levine at The Blackpool Mecca provided a more disco and progressive alternative to the largely derivative Wigan Pier Northern Soul scene and, as mentioned, clubs like Shaboo in the 90s offered up a uniquely Blackpool experience.  

Blackpool can be a cruel mistress at times and I shall admit that when the weather is crap (and the weather can be REALLY crap), Blackpool can be pretty grim. But when the sun is shining there is no greater place and, because of where it is situated on the West Coast and sitting in a very wide, open bay, the sunsets at Blackpool are some of the most magical you will ever see. 

I haven’t got time or space to go too deeply into some the great architecture in Blackpool but along with obvious highlights like the Tower and the Winter Gardens, there are some real hidden gems. The Casino at the Pleasure Beach is covered in tacky additions nowadays, but underneath it all is pure 1930's sleek modernism – designed by renowned architect Joseph Emberton (who also designed the Fun House, which mysteriously and conveniently burnt down a few years ago). 

Five of the rides in the Pleasure Beach are listed structures, with my favourite being The Flying Machines, the oldest operating amusement ride in Europe (designed by Hiram Maxim, the man behind of the first portable machine gun!) Other Blackpool architectural treats are the former Woolworths, just beneath the Tower, from 1936 and the former Odeon. Opened in 1939 this was the largest Odeon in the country able to seat 3000 people — it’s now Funny Girls, a huge 'burlesque, cabaret show bar'. 

Blackpool, I concede, may not to be to everyone’s taste — it has many social problems and you don't have to go too far from the bright lights of the promenade to see poverty and deprivation — but it has been serving holidaymakers for three centuries with unpretentious and unbridled fun. 

It’s a place that rarely disappoints, and anyway — anywhere that an old misery guts like me can have fun must be pretty special.