If you grew up in East Kent the word “Dreamland” will mean only one thing –Margate. And Margate means excitement!
You know how it is: when you look back on summer days as a kid every day was sunny. And so the whole family, Mum, step dad and three brothers would cram into the tiny family car and head off to the coast from Canterbury. There would always be traffic jams on the tiny country roads because everyone else had the same idea. The farmers had always just cut their crops so the whole journey smelled of cabbage!
But what a treat when you finally arrived. Three little boys digging holes in the sand, burying someone’s dog and anything else our parents didn’t keep a close eye on. Swimming in the sea or in the huge stone pool craftily constructed to capture a load of pea green sea water so bathers didn’t have to wade out miles to get up to their knees when the tide went out.
But it was in the evening the fun really started.
First up a local delicacy. A type of shellfish, usually so badly cleaned it was still full of tooth crunching sand, liberally dowsed in face scrunching malt vinegar, going by the name of -I kid you not – cockles! British cuisine is not what it was.
And then: Dreamland!
Roller Coasters, candy floss, bumper cars and penny cascades. You’d feed your pennies into the top of the latter, they’d drop down, bouncing off various pegs and, if you were lucky, land in a way that made a load of other pennies be pushed over a ledge and fall in a flash of lights and loud music to a place where you could pick them out. But we’d spent all our pennies on the rides. So one brother would keep a look out for the attendant while another gave the machine a good nudge with his shoulder in an attempt to dislodge the pennies without putting any in. It never worked. The machines were set like the Rock of Gibraltar into the floor of the penny arcade and all that happened was the alarm was set off which brought the attendants running to shoo us out with threats of the jails we would reside in should we show our faces round there again.
When I became a teenager the attraction of Dreamland changed. In London a world of David Bowie, Roxy Music, T Rex and Slade existed. No one ever came to Canterbury but they did appear at Dreamland. Only one problem though. I was banned from going.
Ever since the sixties Margate equalled danger in the eyes of parents for unaccompanied teenagers. It started with mass fights between Mods and Rockers and carried on with dark tales of the worst possible danger prowling the known universe at the time -DRUGS! Evil men lurked in Margate, luring the innocent into a lifetime of addiction in order to relieve them of all hope and pocket money.
But we sneaked off anyway. Especially when Hawkwind were playing. They had a young Lemmy on bass and vocals but, more importantly, a female dancer with huge knockers whose shirt and bra would go missing on a good night. For 13 year old boys nothing could possibly be better than that.
Dreamland closed not long after. Margate became a victim of the cheap beer and sunny weather on offer in Spain and fell into a state of deepening decay.
But largely through an influx of European money things are looking up. You’ll still see a fleet of teenage mothers pushing prams up the high street, dodging the shoplifters desperately running away from overworked store guards. But now Margate is also home to The Turner Gallery, named after the painter who admired the North Kent skies so much and who was the subject of Mike Leigh’s wonderful film. There’s a charming Covent Garden like centre of antique shops, boutique hotels and restaurants and, best of all, Dreamland reopened a few years ago as a vintage recreation park.
At 9pm on September 8 2017 the wheel will turn full circle and I will be there, not as an excited teenager slinking off for illicit pleasure, but as a fully fledged performer appearing at Mick Moriaty’s wonderful Undercover Festival. It’s one of a number of festivals we are playing in 2017. Since we blew people’s socks off at Riverside Rebellion they haven’t stopped coming in!
I’m told by regulars that Undercover is a seriously good time for all who attend. To say I can’t wait is an understatement.