Get Wise to Morcambe
It was feared around the turn of this century that Morecambe would never recover from a series of unfortunate incidents that saw it fall, in the eyes of the outside world, from a thriving holiday destination to just another, tatty, run-down and almost forgotten British seaside town.
Whereas once the holidaymakers of Yorkshire took advantage of the railway links between Morecambe and Bradford, pouring into a town that boasted an epic expanse of bay, enjoying top-notch entertainment at the Winter Gardens and testing their nerves on one of two fairgrounds, as the 20th century wore on things went eerily quiet.
Two piers were destroyed, the Winter Gardens fell into disrepair and the fairgrounds closed and were abandoned, their metal skeletons publicly rotting away. As if it wasn’t bad enough, Noel Edmonds tried to force The World of Crinkly Bottom on the area in 1994, an experiment that lasted just 13 weeks and ended in a bitter legal dispute with the council.
However, in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, a serious amount of cash was spent to revive the town, with the renovation of the gleaming art deco masterpiece that is the Midland Hotel at its heart.
Arts venues and independent shops have sprung up, as have a number of festivals throughout the year, including Vintage by the Sea.
If ever you needed proof that Morecambe was back with a bang, it’s Vintage by the Sea. Beginning in 2013 to mark the 80th anniversary of the Midland’s original opening, seven thousand visitors turned up for the initial festival to revel in the fashions, music, films and trappings of the 20th century. It was such a success that it was named Tourism Event of the Year by the Lancashire tourist board and invited back in 2014.
This time round a whopping 40,000 fans of all things retro descended on the seaside town, something that makes fashion and design guru and co-creator of the event, Wayne Hemingway MBE, very proud.
“They tell me that it was the most amount of people to visit Morecambe for a single event since the early 1980s and the first time that every single bed space in the town had gone,” he enthuses.
“And it went further than that – it was all over to Grange-over-Sands, past Lancaster – there wasn’t a single hotel room free anywhere!”
Hemingway was born in Morecambe in 1961 and began his fashion business with now-wife Gerardine (also an MBE) after clearing out a wardrobe and selling their cast-offs at Camden Market in London. They made such a profit on day one that they soon started importing second-hand clothes to feed their customers’ insatiable appetite for vintage. The pair began designing their own lines and the Red or Dead collection was born, a business that they would later sell for millions.
Since then they have taken to creating affordable social homes and curating vintage festivals on the South Bank in London, in Glasgow and, finally, in Morecambe. The event is returning on the weekend of 5th and 6th September and promises to be even bigger than before – if that is possible – and what a way it is to show off his hometown!
“The people who come are, to a man, pleasantly surprised by what they find” says Wayne. “The views across the bay are hard to beat; there’s nowhere else you can think of where you can stand on a promenade, looking across the sea and sand and see the mountains of the Lake District. Unless it’s raining of course.
“There’s a lovely promenade that stretches all the way from Heysham to Hest Bank – perfect for dog walking, cycling and running. The Environment Agency have done a great job maintaining the sandy beaches so it doesn’t all wash away and then there’s the Midland Hotel, which is pretty stunning by anyone’s standards.”
Lancaster City Council has backed 2015’s event and made it a focal point of the cultural calendar for Morecambe, sharing organisational duties with local firm Deco Publique and the Hemingways – Wayne, Gerardine and their son Jack.
This year’s festival promises to celebrate “the music, fashion, film, art, design and dance from the 1920s to the 1990s that has made Britain the world’s creative and cultural hotbed.”
There will be DJs on RouteMaster buses, a Pooch Parade, which was introduced last year, and the Vintage Bike Ride by the Sea among many other attractions.
In the evenings, venues across the town will be packed with revellers throwing some shapes to a variety of different musical styles, including Northern Soul, Rock n Roll and 80s and 90s House music within the stunning environs of the majestic Winter Gardens.
One of the best things about Vintage by the Sea is that there is so much on offer that is absolutely free of charge.
“You can go and not spend a penny… well you can, there are toilets” jokes Wayne. “But seriously you can look at all of these dogs who are dressed up in vintage style, you can see people dressed brilliantly, see the dancing in the streets plus walkabout entertainment and a free stage too. Or you can see all of that as well as buying tickets for the various music, dance and dining events.”
So what is behind the vintage boom? “Well, it goes back to the late 60s when the hippies were wearing old 1920s clothes” he explains.
“We started selling it 35 years ago and it’s never stopped. It’s all about celebrating brilliant design for a new generation of people to enjoy or for people to keep enjoying.”
“Just look at Northern Soul, which plays a big part in our events. The reason it’s still successful and the original records sell for so much money is that it still moves young people to dance and gets them involved with those emotions. It’s the same reason that Pharrell Williams or Daft Punk have decided to redo disco – it makes you want to get on the dance floor.
“It seems that every twenty years or so, young people look back and try to reevaluate things. It’s been twenty years since Nirvana and that is now vintage and a classic which people are coming to fresh and getting excited about it. Then people will revive the fashions and seek out the original vinyl too.”
Does that mean that we’re on a carousel with everything coming back round again?
“Well, technology doesn’t” says Hemingway. “We’re not about to go back to mobile phones from 1982.”
They did go very small and have recently started getting bigger haven’t they? “Yeah” he replies drily. “They haven’t got wires attached and a big battery though, have they?”
Vintage by the Sea returns on 5th and 6th September, taking over the whole town of Morecambe for an entire, (hopefully) sunny weekend.