SciFi Weekender 7 had some ground to make up from the previous year’s event. Last year, the inclusion of a nearby Prog Rock Festival and a clash with other, larger geek events meant that it didn't quite have the Big Geek Party vibe that it's famous for. Luckily, this time around the organisers had decided to do everything in their power to deliver the best event they could.
This includes a slight-but-subtle shift in tone, the party vibe being turned down a notch in favour of more panels, more talks, more previews and, all in all, a bit more of everything that sci-fi and fantasy fans love. This year’s theme was apparently “Sci-Fi Warrior”, though it was much more broad and inclusive than that, covering science fiction, fantasy and anything weird, really.
As is traditional, the weekend began on a late Thursday, with sleepy yet excited travellers arriving to catch up with people they’ve not seen since the last one. Some entertainment was available for the intrepid; a small sci-fi quiz, an enthusiastic (but slightly rubbish) stage magician who specialised in a thing called ‘bubble magic’. Weary travellers also had the chance to take in the delights of singer/songwriter Linzi Gold. For most though, Thursday was about catching up with friends, having a drink or three, booking into their caravan-based accommodation and getting ready for the next day.
The Friday began gently, starting off with author interviews and chats before heading into the fannish world of Cosplay (Tabitha Lyons, as always, a delight and expert in the field). By midday, we’d gotten into the meat of the panels, with Game of Thrones and Star Wars both getting discussed on the mainstage. Highlights included a fantastic reading from Hugo nominated author Emma Newman, and a splendid interview with Garret Wang, known to Trekkies as Ensign Kim. Wang was clever, witty and insightful, and STARBURST’s Robin Pierce was on hand to perform the on-stage interview.
The evening’s entertainment was the weakest elemental of the event. Though the good Professor Elemental tried jolly hard to keep the pace going, some of the acts where just a bit too slow for the audience. The backdrop of cabaret provided a good atmosphere for this gathering of geeks, however, and the crowd stayed on to dance into the small hours.
Saturday kicked off in fine fashion with an exclusive showing of low-budget sci-fi adventure, Pandorica. The crowd ate it up, and again Robin Pierce was on hand to interview the cast and crew after the showing. Director/producer Tom Paton was inspirational on the subject of movie making, and anyone who wants to make their own films should hear what the man has to say.
Other highlights included the indomitable Brian Blessed. This is the third time Brian has been to SciFi Weekender, and it was good to hear an update on his ongoing adventures. It’s Brian’s third trip to the weekender, and this time the person doing the interview was Professor Elemental, who did very well at being Brian’s prop for a series of gags, and actually got a few questions in amidst all the shaggy dog stories Mr Blessed told. Brian is an inspirational figure and had the crowd roaring with laughter throughout.
The rest of the panels and shows where similarly powerful. Eve Myles and Kai Owen were very amusing on the stage with their Torchwood reminiscences and the Just a Minute panel game was as funny as always. The ‘Doctor Who Ladies Panel’ featured both Eve Myles and Ellis George. The latter star is pretty new to the scene and did very well with it all, especially as the panel enjoyed the last minute addition of Kai Owen, claiming to be Billy Piper in disguise.
The evening was rounded off with the Cosplay finals. SciFi Weekender’s atmosphere and inclusive vibe has always meant that people feel they can really show off at the event, and this year’s selection of winners was very strong, with both a Baymax and a Necron costume winning top prizes.
This was followed up by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a staggering display of sci-fi music produced by the world’s experts in such things. It was a mesmerising performance. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop is mostly composed of gentlemen at retirement age, and their act involves using some very old-school audio gear. The result was incredible and unforgettable.
The true star of the show, as always, was Hafan y Môr Holiday Park in Pwllheli, North Wales. The former Butlins is a fantastic venue for a sci-fi convention. Wide open spaces, yet plenty of places for both traders and panels, plus the additional fun of things like crazy golf and a leisure centre. This gave the place a 'village full of fans' feel that added to the sense of fun in a ‘60s telefantasy sort of way. SciFi Weekender 7 shared the venue again with a Prog Rock Festival, which meant that convention goers could pop over to an ongoing selection of Prog tunes should you want something different. Though both crowds of fans got on well with each other, the two events aren't a great fit, and this will be the last year the two co-habit the site. Which means all the more space for geeky fun in 2017. We can’t wait.
Photo credit: Anne Davies.