Before we get to the festival, first a word on Shipley, the Bradford town within which Saltaire sits.ÃÂ
At first glance, it’s an unremarkable Northern market town full of pigeons, budget shops and shuffling be-flatcapped boozers.
But a closer look reveals that Shipley is a deeply stupid place.
This is a town which, when offered a replacement for its hideous, looming clock tower (probably the concrete pinnacle of fashion during the week it took to build in the 1960s), objected so furiously that – instead of knocking it down – the Council decked it in LEDs, so that its ugliness would be visible even at night, and from miles around.ÃÂ This isn’t an issue of taste, everyone knows it’s disgusting, but now it changes colour 24 hours a day, and still doesn’t show the right time.
This is a town in which the exhibition at the local gallery is a series of photos depicting actors from Coronation Street wearing Alf Roberts’ hat; the permanent sculpture in the town centre is a sheep, sat on a bench, with a parasol and a handbag. This is a town responsible for Keith Wildman.
On the ten-minute walk from Shipley town centre to Saltaire, one passes a row of independent shops which goes like this: arts and crafts; prosthetic limbs; cake decorations; video games, tools and air rifles; predators; dress adjustments. The local community centre is advertising a reggae night, a meditation session, a bread group and an open bar on a Sunday afternoon.
Is it any wonder, then, that the tenth annual festival celebrating Saltaire village should have strayed from the highbrow cultural event the Welcome to Yorkshire tourist board wanted to sell to its middle-aged, middle-class visitors – an event befitting of a UNESCO World Heritage village and its famous Hockney gallery – and become something far sillier, and more befitting of the population of such a bizarre locale, who are used to making their own fun and want their own part in the festival.
It crept up gradually.ÃÂ In the beginning, the festival was all open houses, art trails, historical tours and a strip of international food stalls.ÃÂ Since then, it’s grown from an afternoon of exploration to a full weekend at least.
The Aagrah are now the main sponsor, as a Shipley-based business that has grown into a curry giant in the time the festival has been running, and they have a tent the size of their restaurant in the park.
Previously, there was only one stage in the car park playing dad rock, now there are musicians all over the village, including one band playing under the name of the Electric Picture Shop as a tribute to a local TV store so out of date it has automatically become a museum.
The program this year includes daleks, curry, Stuart Maconie, a dog show, how to write a novel, and – for the first time ever – a rave at the sports club. The steampunks gathering on street corners aren’t part of the festival though, they’re a year-round infestation.
I find myself sitting in the rammed Caroline Street Social Club on the finale weekend, watching six greying men in uniform clumsily becoming six greying men out of uniform, to the delight of a mixed gender and thoroughly Bradfordian audience.
Looking on, and confiscating cameras, is promoter and compere Squinty McGinty – also known as Shipley actor Steve Huison, better known as Eddie Windass from Coronation Street, and even better known as Lomper ”Ëthe ginger one’ from The Fully Monty. Tonight he is in a flatcap, thick-rimmed glasses and a bowtie, and could be Count Arthur Strong’s eldest son, following in his father’s footsteps but not yet as senile as his old man. The raffle, halfway through the night, is all the better for his input, pulling tickets out of a carrier bag: “Well done love, you’ve won some DVDs; ”ËKiller Clowns from Outer Space’ and, er, ”ËHector’s House’, just to offset the terror”Â
He has curated a bill which is the perfect combination of acts who are deliberately hilarious, and those which are obliviously so. The former includes stand-up Justin Moorhouse, who tells us how you can spot a Yorkshireman on holiday. Despite the cross-Pennine sniping his observations are loudly and warmly welcomed.
Also causing uproar are the Everly Pregnant Brothers, a five-piece ukulele band who bastardise, among other classics, No Woman No Cry (“no oven, no pie… yer oven’s fucked luv”Â) and Rehab (“they tried to make me go to London, and I said ”Ënar, nar, nar’”Â). Their brilliant cover of Cee-lo Green sees pensioners therapeutically shouting “FUCK YOU”Â at the tops of their voices, and there isn’t a single performance that can’t be improved that way.
As professional acts, they’re at odds with some of the turns they’re flanked by. ”ËThe Bard of Saltaire’, Maggie Chilvers, for example, with verses about designer vaginas and PMT, is treading the line between genius and batshit. Madame Zucchini has brought her own vegetable theatre with her, and re-enacts Romeo and Juliet with a cabbage and an aubergine. Although this is less funny than the ”Ëvegetable alphabet’ ice-breaker, which is undertaken in earnest until someone in the audience follows “new potatoes”Â with “old potatoes”Â.
The audience – a strange mix of young, old, dressed down slurping pints and dressed up sloshing champagne – are on brilliant form. When Squinty’s silent assistant plays a slow and terrible accordion solo which we’re meant to identify, contributions from the floor come thick and fast: “is it Firestarter?”Â / “is it Beethoven’s 5th?”Â / “is it an ambulance?”Â
One highlight comes in the unlikely form of a dance trio called Ambition Academy, three blonde twenty-somethings whose wide frozen smiles, matching baggy t-shirts and slightly out of sync but enthusiastic high kicks are so totally misplaced here that it can’t fail to be touchingly funny.
On the other hand, the passive-aggressive diva, whose speciality is euthanising all your favourite pop hits for the elderly crowd (dead giveaway: when she covers Cee-lo Green she sings ”Ëforget you’) causes hysterics with her barely concealed disdain for the soundman, organisers and audience alike. Chiefly when she finishes by doing a duet with Squinty, who mucks about and holds his clipboard in front of her unimpressed and murderous face. If he’s found in a ditch at any point, that’s who did it.
And finally, introduced by Mark ”Ëthe fat one’ Addy, it’s time for the headline performance of Cabaret Saltaire, The Full Monty. By now it’s dawned on us that this is actually happening, and as we face the terrifying wall of button mushrooms onstage we can’t tear our eyes away.
My visitors from Sheffield and London were expecting a quaint weekend of relaxation, maybe bordering on boredom compared with their usual Saturday nights, and instead I give them elderly strippers, a curry overdose and a rave by a cricket pitch. Welcome to Yorkshire.