THE BOATY WEEKENDER – cruising to Sardinia with BELLE AND SEBASTIAN, TEENAGE FANCLUB, MOGWAI, BUZZCOCKS, DJANGO DJANGO and more

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It’s an absurd idea, of course.

(And an idea, we acknowledge, only achievable to a privileged few who can afford it.)

We’re going to fly to Barcelona in August when half of Spain is on holiday, and the temperature is 10 degrees hotter than the sun’s arse. We’re going to get on a cruise ship – the Norwegian Pearl – bound for Cagliari, Sardinia and we’re going to spend four days on board drinking, eating and going to countless gigs by many 90s indie bands, 70s punk legends, and today’s rising stars.

Sounds unbelievable, right? It’s not. Unlike most of the people who attended Belle and Sebastian’s floaty Boaty Weekender festival in early August, I’ve been here before. Well, ish.

In 2012 I set sail on the marvellously insane Weezer Cruise to Mexico (read my Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 diaries), with a cast of friends and miscreants handpicked by Weezer. including Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh (a band I was working with at the time), The Antlers, Yuck, WAVVES and a literal boatload others. These were bands you’d never expect to see in the same room, let alone on a cruise ship and yet we met and made fast friends from all over the world, and spent our days loping around a giant village in our bathing suits and summer-gothwear going to shows, stuffing our faces at the buffet, drinking the alcohols and collapsing into very comfortable beds. It was…utterly brilliant.

The company that chartered that cruise, Sixthman – a remarkably organized, friendly and customer-focused company who know how to do this shit – typically sets sail with more mainstream ocean adventures (read: KISS Kruise, Bon Jovi etc), so you can be forgiven for wondering how the hell that a Glaswegian twee-pop band ended up headlining this kind of jaunt across the Balearic Sea.

Apparently Belle and Sebastian have been working on the cruise festival idea for ages – and when that original plan sunk in 1999, they created the Bowlie Weekender festival on land instead.  Zip forward two decades and their dream is realized – B&S paired with Sixthman and birthed The Boaty Weekender. We’d be about 1800 indie nerds on board a boat, heading out towards a tiny island just north of Africa. Alrighty then! Take my money!

Boaty Weekender Photo by Will Byington

Boaty Weekender Photo by Will Byington

The lineup included almost all Belle buddies, like Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai, Django Django, Yo La Tengo, Camera Obscura (and Tracyanne & Danny), The Vaselines, Buzzcocks (persevering after the sad loss this year of Pete Shelley under direction of Steve Diggle). Fresher faces Alvvays, Honeyblood, Madrid locals HINDS, plus the awesome Nilüfer Yanya, Whyte Horses, Wojtek the Bear, Campfire Social, Kelly Lee Owens, Wet Look and Elisabeth Elektra rounded out the list.

And the fans? A motley, and happily international crüe of mostly 30-, 40- and 50-somethings, their kids, randoms from Florida who’d bid on the the cruise through their Delta airmiles (no, really), some Sixthman devotees, friends of the bands (Hi! It me!) and hard-core indie nerds. “I’m not the only pale one!” my partner exclaimed delightedly as he stepped on board and looked ’round. “Compared to everyone else, I actually have a colour!”

So let’s gather round for a whale of a tale about the mighty Boaty Weekender to see what’s what, shall we?

DAY 1: THE PORT OF BARCELONA 

We were bursting with excitement. Boaty participant and Leeds local Mick Rhodes had gamely set up a pre-sail party, so most of us headed over to the Barcelona outpout of Scottish craft beer chain Brewdog to meet up the night before. Boaty folk took over the bar and we all traded tales of who we were most excited to see. Of course, despite the fact that we were in the middle of Europe, we end up sitting next to Laura and Marcus from Seattle, who live just a three-hour drive from us. The world is small, my friends. (And sorry, Laura and Marcus, we never did get to do the bowling we promised!)

By Thursday morning, we were ready to rock. Outside, it was the summer-in-Spain kind of heat where within seconds your pores are bawling and we’re all experiencing an early menopause’s worth of hot flashes.

Belle and Sebastian TwitterWe get to the port around noon and are greeted with a high-five on the gangway from Sixthman group leader Jess. She’s all smiles, and the high-fives are a Sixthman tradition, but lurking behind her unflappable demeanour, there’s problems. The day before the cruise, British Airways had a massive IT malfunction, delaying and cancelling dozens of flights out of the UK, including the ones that members of Belle and Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Camera Obscura and countless fans were on. Um…fuck?

We’ve all been watching our socials nervously to see how they’re getting on, as Camera Obscura’s Gavin Dunbar and Belles’ Stuart Murdoch had been urgently tweeting BA, begging to get their flights, instruments and, errr, pants, on time. I messaged Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai and Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub to make sure they’re here. “We flew with KLM. We’re now in Barcelona 🙂👌” replies Norman. “I’m here! The others are (hopefully) on their way 😬,” messages Stuart. I exhale. Well, at the very least we have enough in port to make a pretty good supergroup? Yikes.

Everyone eventually makes it on the boat, but Gavin Dunbar’s pants do not. In fact, he tells us later that night, looking exhausted and wholly narked off,  there was no way he and his wife could be reunited with their luggage, so they had it sent back to Glasgow. Gavin eventually buys a new pair of too-tight jeans in Sardinia and ends up wearing a lot of band merch for the rest of the trip, good sport that he is. But he made it, and that’s what matters.

To account for the flight cock-ups, we’re leaving port at 7:30pm now instead of 5:30pm, so we’ve now got hours to kill. Let’s explore!

BSR and Steve Diggle1pm (all times are approximate, because I have already forgotten even what day it is): Oh look! It’s Steve Diggle from the Buzzcocks lying quietly on a sunbed in the shade on Deck 12! This will, in fact, be the only time Steve Diggle lies quietly anywhere. In just a few hours the Buzzcocks’ alcoholiday, four-day rock n’ roll party bender will begin and Diggle and I will become immediate buddies. So I take a moment to introduce myself, and gush at how one of the reasons I’m on board is because of them. The Buzzcocks hold a special place in my heart. I was lucky enough to have met singer Pete Shelley in Barcelona in 2013 when I covered the Primavera Festival, so I’m feeling like I have a weirdly Spanish connection to the Bolton band.

Steve Diggle is an absolute gent. We chat for a while, take a snap. He’s actually looking forward to performing, and rightly so. It’s not his first time playing on a boat, but he’s happy to be here. By the end of the trip, the Boaty Weekender will belong the Buzzcocks as much as it does the Belles.

2pm: Like absolutely everyone else on board waiting for their rooms, we scope out the buffet.  Ensuring we don’t have a dysentery outbreak, a smiling woman (there are 1800 people on board and 1300 staff members) insists we “WASHY WASHY!” with antibacterial lotion before we go touching the lettuce. This will echo in our ears for weeks to come.

2:15pm: Is there a guy singing Beatles song at the entrance to the buffet? Wait. Is there a guy singing “I wanna wash your hands!” to the tune of “I wanna hold your hand” at the entrance of the buffet? IS THERE A GUY SINGING “WONDERWALL”? Oh my dear lord.

3pm: Our room is amazing. We have a balcony, and a bathtub and a complimentary bottle of Cava. I am never camping in a field ever again. (Who am I kidding, I gave up camping at festivals like 10 years ago.) PARTY!

3:30pm: We run into Teenage Fanclub’s Raymond McGinley. General conversation for the next six hours seems to run parallel to some version of “holy shit, how weird is this? AHHH YAY!”

4:00pm: Late lunch at the “Irish pub” O’Sheehan’s. WHAT THE FUCK AM I EATING AND WHY CAN’T I GET THE RED DYE OFF MY FINGERS? Pro tip: don’t ever order the “Buffalo” wings at an O’Sheehans pub on a Norwegian Cruise ship. Or eat there. But Belles’ Stuart Murdoch arrives and shakes hand with the booth behind us. The Captain has arrived!

4:30pm: Mandatory safety briefing. Well, at least if this ship goes down we’ll be in a lifeboat with Stuart from Mogwai and his wife Elisabeth Elektra. We have a good laugh over this with musician (and Stuart’s friend) Tanya Melotte of 90s band Tunic, who’s on board with friends and family. She’s aces, and after four days we all somehow feel our paths will cross again. That’s the thing about these kinds of shared experiences.

The Vaselines, photo Mikala Folb

The Vaselines, photo Mikala Folb

5pm: YAY! It’s the Vaselines! A deadpan (a vibe he will maintain all weekend) Eugenius/Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee are the first live music we’ll hear in the Atrium (basically the cruise ship lobby) and it’s grand. “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam”, “Molly’s Lips”, “One Lost Year” and “Oliver Twisted” all figure.

6pm:  Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub is relaxing on a sunbed, too, and hops up when he sees us. Norman’s a dear friend and has graciously arranged an AAA pass for us, so we coordinate how to pick it up. It’s then I learn that most of TFC will be leaving the ship in two days time in Sardinia and won’t be on board for the whole thing. Wait? What? Bastards! I make a mental note to see both TFC shows before they leave.

Boaty Weekender Artist Past, photo Mikala Folb7pm: Okay we’re already hammered. Our AAA pass gets us access to the Welcome! open bar, and I’m convinced that a triple gin after our first bottle of Cava is a GREAT idea. From the band lounge we lurch towards the Spinnaker Lounge, briefly befriending Honeyblood’s bassist Anna Donigan and her girlfriend en route. That’s what’s cool about all being stuck on a boat together – you can lurch into musicky folks easily. For folks who idolize them and see them as celebs, it’s a dream come true. For those of us who have spent a lifetime around ’em and see ’em as people who happen to do something different from what I do – it’s nice to catch up with humans and meet new ones. For all of us, it’s an awesome adventure.

Nilüfer Yanya, photo Mikala FolbWe settle in to see the incredible Londoner, Nilüfer Yanya. Her album Miss Universe is a 2019 fave of mine, and I’m in love with her bendable, bluesy voice, and indie, trip-hoppy, acid-jazz sound. I even forgive her for having saxophone, because it sounds more like an oboe or clarinet, which is the only way a saxophone should sound. Her set is tentative and restrained,  and  you can’t fault that, it’s her first of three on the boat, but sounds tremendous. “Paradise” and “In Your Head” stand out, alongside a rad cover of my good freinds The Pixies‘ “Hey”. Nice!

8pm: The whole boat gathers on Deck 12’s Pool Deck for what most of the group onboard have came for, Belle and Sebastian are going to kick us off as the boat pushes from dock. They join the stage, we’re all given “Paper Boat” cocktail shooters (someone on board created and named it) and we raise a glass. Everyone is jubilant.They launch with “Dog on Wheels”, new track “Sister Buddha” makes an appearance, my faves “Piazza, New York Catcher” “The Stars of Track and Field” is in there, as is a Love Boat-ian cover of the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat.” “Lazy Line Painter Jane” finishes, with help from Stina from Honeyblood. Everyone’s happy, and we’re well on our way!

Belle and Sebastian, Boaty Weekender, photo by Mikala Folb

10-11:00pm: We raid the band bar for wine. Cava, gin and wine – it’ll be fine, right?

Teenage Fanclub, Boaty Weekender, photo by Mikala Folb11:15pm: It’s more than fine, it’s like the Lego Movie and EVERYTHING IS AWESOME, because my friends Teenage Fanclubare on the Pool Deck! There’s finally a breeze and great songs are wafting over us. “About You”, “Alcoholiday”, “A Catholic Education” and “The Concept” have us in utter joy mode. There’s a cover of Neil Young in there too, and we “Don’t Cry No Tears” before “Everything Flows”. HAPPINESS. And wine.

12:45am: I weeble my way over to the Spinnaker Lounge again to see my other buddies, Django Django. They’re about to launch into the percussive”Waveforms” and the room’s about to pop off. I’m at the front, and I and the crowd are on the same level. The level is “drunk” and “ridiculously happy.” “Sundials” is a hazy flow and “WOR” is chugging. By the time the killer single “Default” gets in there, the whole room is bouncing. Backstage, I hug Vinny Neff, meet his wife Clare and celebrate the first of a few gigs with the boys. Then I drag my sorry arse to bed and feel the room sway. Booze or the water? Both? Excellent!\m/

 FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS ON DAY 2!

Boaty Header and B&S photos by Will Byington. All other photos by Mikala Folb.

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