The Rebellion Festival prides itself on being the largest independent Punk and Alternative music festival in the world. Over 4 days, every August, in Blackpool approximately 4000 people from all walks of life gather to listen to bands from every facet of the punk genre be it Oi, Hardcore, Anarcho, Crusty, Street Punk, Ska, Pathetic, Garage or Psychobilly, spread across 6 different stages, but all contained in the impressive Victorian monolith of the Winter Gardens.
Thursday 6 August
Having travelled up in the morning with my compatriots Geordie and Surfer Dave, I felt that an afternoon spent visiting the acoustic stage would be a good way of easing us gently into 3 days of punk related mayhem. We arrived in time to see MAURI CLASH CITY ROCKER take the stage, which unsurprisingly, turned out to be a native Kiwi covering standard tunes penned by Messrs Strummer & Jones, as well as several other punk standards. I have to admit that my knowledge of New Zealand punk is rather limited, but he was able to make quite an old racket on his beaten up acoustic guitar and in no time had a fairly sizable audience singing along to I fought the Law, Stay Free, Sheena is a Punk Rocker Olivers Army and Kill the Poor to name but a few.
To continue with the more amusing side of punk, we next made our way to the Arena, to see the only punk band that exclusively croons about the gentlemanly game of cricket - GEOFFREY OICOTT. Whilst I have a feeling that unless you are acquainted with the finer points of the game then some of their in-jokes may be lost, most people could laugh at a lead singer Freddy Skintoft fully dressed in cricket whites and manically swinging a bat around his head. They were loud and raucous and I cant deny that I didnt smile as such ditties as I was Montys Double (about Englands spinner Monty Panesar and not the bloke who fought at El Alemein) and Dawn of the Dickie Birds, all taken from their album The Good, the Bad and the Googly.
This band of Yorkshire reprobates was shortly followed by RADIO DEAD ONES who apparently hale from Berlin and take things much more seriously. They have supported such heavy weights as Backyard Babies, Dropkick Murphys, Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards and U.S. Bombs in the past and I can see the likeness as they have a heavy rock sound, but unusually sport a woman on lead guitar. Certainly they were a lot more like the sound I was expecting at a punk festival with big, shouty choruses fleshed out with repetitive riffs and machine gun drumming. One to definitely look out for in the future.
Just time to peruse the plethora of merchandising available and decide if I can live without a bootleg of Slaughter & the Dogs at Leicester De Montfort Hall in 1977, or perhaps purchase that DVD of the Lurkers in Berlin in 2006 that Ive always wanted. Every band that ever shook a stick at punk has a T-shirt available and I have to resist the temptation of trying to squeeze my fat gut into a pair of tartan bondage trousers.
Todays headliners were a band that comes from a section of punk that holds no interest to me, although given the number of people that had congregated in the Empress Ballroom I think that I am in the minority in this view. FLOGGING MOLLY are exponents of what I suppose can loosely be called Irish American Celtic Punk taking their influences from the likes of the Pogues and the Dubliners. Apparently their accordion player Matt Hensley was once a highly regarded skateboarder, but given that his instrument did not appear to be electrified and neither did he have his board with him, I am unable to vouch for his ability at either music or shredding. All their songs follow the same pattern, invariably starting with a penny whistle and then a fast paced jig around lyrics based on Ireland and its history, drinking, politics, love, death, and the Roman Catholic Church. The only redeeming feature for me was that lead singer Dave King bore an amusing resemberlance to shock jock Chris Evans. However it has to be said that most of the crowd went bonkers to numbers like Drunken Lullabies", Float and "Rebels of the Sacred Heart" and patiently listened while King preceeded each number with a ramberling explanation of the story behind each song, stereo-typically drinking Guiness as he related his thoughts. Still, if you are into this type of music Im sure you would have appreciated them, but I think this will be the first and last time I give Molly a good flogging!
For me this day always looked to have the strongest line up, but unfortunately the two major headliners The Exploited & The Damned were scheduled to be playing opposite each other. Which of them to see was a decision that was a long way off when in early afternoon I visited the Almost Acoustic stage to see KNOX. Some of you may be aware that he had played in the Vibrators, one of the original bands from the late 70s, although the punk credentials of the band has often been called into questions as they had predated punk and there is a line of argument that they just changed their look/sound to ride the crest of the new wave. Matters were not helped by seeing that Knox now wears a baseball cap and sports very long hair, but once he started playing I remembered that the Vibrators debut release Pure Mania had actually been a half decent record. He interepersed old tracks like Troops of Tomorrow, Whips and Furs and Automatic Lover with newer numbers and all were well received by the crowd packed into every nook and cranny of what effectively is a small pub. His encore called on the services of one CHARLIE HARPER who joined him in an acoustic version of Warhead, which gave everyone the chance to raise their glasses high whilst bellowing out an accapela coda. A great way to start the day.
After another attempt at reliving my youth, I rejoined my two comrades to take in Belgium band THE AGITATORS. Apparently they describe themselves as a non-political sing-along oi-streetpunk-band and in truth they pretty much do what they say on the tin.
I return to the acoustic stage to take in the delights of ARTURO LURKERS PUNKTRY AND WESTERN BONANZA. Given that this was Arturo Bassick, I thought that I might be in for an hour or so of Lurkers covers done in the style of the Grand Old Opry. But no, he performs self-written country & western songs along with a few Johnny Cash covers. Needless to say they are not entirely serious compositions and a highlight was getting the crowd to sing-along to an ode to death by electric chair. However given that C&W does have a morbid underbelly perhaps I should give him more credit for knowing his subject matter.
I was persuaded to then take in the 241ers who are made up of the remnants of two previous bands Brooklyn's Stockyard Stoics and London's Filaments. They are an overtly political band of the left wing persuasion and no song could go by without a diatribe on racism, sexism, the class system and homophobia. I hasten to add that these are all very worthy causes, but after a while the message is simply diluted by sheer repetition. Perhaps I am old and cynical but sixth form politics like this does nothing for me especially when ostensibly they are singing to the converted. Still Im sure they meant well.
Feeling rather deflated I made my way to the Olympia section of the Winter Gardens, which is in essence just a gigantic open air market with a tarpaulin roof to keep off the inclement weather. It actually has two stages at either extremity and no sooner has the dying notes of one bands encore diminished than another ensemble starts their set at the other end of the venue. I had come to see SPLODGENESSABOUNDS, more out of curiosity than hope, but just to prove that some of lifes most enjoyable moments are unplanned, they turned out to be excellent. After the earnest preaching of the 241ers it was a relief to see a band that didnt take itself too seriously and this was immediately apparent when lead singer Max Splodge took to the stage in a heavily inebriated state sporting a World War I German helmet. However the band was surprisingly tight and allowed Max to highlight his unique musical obsession with Genghis Khan on tracks such as These Are The Things That Make The Mongols So Great" and "Mongols On The Streets Of London". However the biggest receptions were reserved for their homage to Rolf Harris in Two Little Boys and their top ten hit (yes really) Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Certainly one of the highlights of the festival for me.
As if you show that matters were on an upward curve, no sooner had Max Splodge exited stage right than ARGY BARGY swung into action. The last time I saw them was supporting Rancid on their autumn tour last year and if you like your punk in the vain of anthemic footbal chants then this is the band for you. A long-time leader in the Oi! scene they have outlasted many of their peers, and whilst their music can sometimes be a full on aural attack they still retain a surprising good ear for melody. Their latest release The Likes of Us gets a good airing track-wise with numbers like "There's Gonna Be a Riot" and "No Regrets" concentrating on their usual song topics of football, fighting and drinking. They show why they remain their position at the forefront on Street Punk and the British Oi! movement.
If there was one band I wanted to see this weekend then it was THE BUSINESS, mainly because they recorded one of the truly great punk songs in Suburban Rebels. Having been formed in the late 70.s their career eventually petered out in the mid 80s. However, due to a charity gig in memory of the recently deceased Bobby Moore, lead singer Mickey Fitz put a new version of the band together in 1992 and tonight he is joined by Tosh, Trots and Bundie to make the current line up. What can I say? They were bloody fantastic and banged out quality slices of punk/Oi that had the crowd eating out of their hands. Most tracks were from the early years but that didnt make them any the less pleasing and in quick succession they rattled off their ode to the (hopeful) demise of dance music Smash the Discos, the story of a notorious east end villan in Harry May, a motto for everyone attending Rebellion Loud, Proud and Punk and the trials and tribulations of meeting your new girlfriends father Get Out of my House, plus many more quality tracks. Whilst the sight of four skinheads, all sporting Fred Perrys, sta-prest trousers, Doc Martens and multiple tattoos may put the fear of god into most people (including me) these boys were only out for a good time and after a brief restbite they returned for their encores of the afore mentioned Suburban Rebels and finished off with their tongue in cheek Drinking & Driving. If you consider yourself an afficionado of punk misic but havent got anything by this band in your collection then hang your head in shame!!
Finally I was left with the quandary of either seeing the Exploited for the first time since 1981 or watching THE DAMNED for the umpteenth time over the last 30 years (a bit of a head versus heart scenario). Without much hesitation I returned to the Olympia and readied myself for another evening in the company of my lifelong companions on the punk highway, Messrs Vanian and Sensible. Right then, I am about to have a mini rant so if you dont want to read the senile ramblings of a middle-aged man please give the next paragraph a miss.
Regarding the Damned, it was put to me by a young pup that they dont sound punk! Now I realise that most areas of music are pigeonholed and that ultimately punk is now seen as sounding like the Oi/Street Punk bands that emerged in the early 1980s. However when punk first reared its ugly head it had no discernable sound (or look) and was more about the attitude. Many bands that played a vital part in the growth and popularity of the scene have been conveniently air brushed out of history. Musically diverse bands such as Wire, XTC, Adam & the Antz, Alternative TV, The Slits, Subway Sect, Penetration, The Stranglers, hell, even Siouxsie and the Banshees are now all but overlooked, but had all shared a stage at the Roxy/Vortex/100 Club with the likes of the Pistols and Clash. So whilst they may not sound like Cocksparrer or the Cockney Rejects, if it wasnt for the likes of the Damned those later bands wouldnt exist. Oh, and just in case you are still unsure, the Damned are universally credited as being the first UK punk band to to release a single ("New Rose"), an album (Damned, Damned, Damned) and to tour the US. And just for good measure they were later one of the forerunners of the goth scene. So are the Damned punk? My friend, theyre as punk as fuck!! Rant over.
As for their actual set, the first half was bedeviled by techical problems that necessitated almost constant attention to Sensibles guitar. However this didnt stop them knocking out a setlist spanning their illustrious career and containing a few tracks that dont regularly get any airing. So we had Neat, Neat, Neat, Smash it Up, Wait for the Blackout, Eloise, New Rose, Love Song, Under the Wheels, Melody Lee, Noise, Noise, Noise but as interestingly Stretcher Case, 1 of 2 and History of the World. However for me the evening was made as they played Curtain Call in its entirety as the encore. The last time I heard this was at the long-gone Cardiff Top Rank in 1981, and understandably as it clocks in at over 17 minutes is not something they play normally. Im sure that young pup would have had something to say about it, but surely punk was about doing something unexpected and how more rebellious can you be than producing a punk mini opera?!
Saturday 8th August
Needless to say by Saturday I was starting to run out of steam, so I tried to take in quality not quantity on my final day. I kicked things off mid afternoon in the Empress Ballroom with 999, another band I hadnt seen in nearly 30 years. It is fair to say that lead singer Nick Cash had changed somewhat in the intervening period, being now totally bald and a little more portly than I remember. Pablo LaBritain remained from the original line up and Arturo Bassick of the Lurkers appears to be moonlighting on bass. However whilst they may not be spring chickens, songs like Nasty Nasty, Homicide and Me and My Desire still sound good after all this time. Whilst they took a few tracks off their more recent album Death in Soho, ultimately it was the old numbers that got the crowd going. Whilst I am sure they would agree that they never gained huge commericial success they have will always retain their place as one of Britain's best loved punk bands and a great live act.
Not many punk bands hail from Haverforwest so I thought it my duty as a fellow Taffy to check out PICTURE FRAME SEDUCTION. I am not sure what I was expecting but they turned out to be more of a hardcore band with certain similarities to GBH. I note on their website that in 1987 they tried to release "With a Little Help from My Friends" (by little known Liverpool band The Beatles) as a charity record. However Michael Jackson owned the rights to the song and refused permission for the release. Given the recent demise of Wacko Jacko obviously crossing this band can have lethal consequences!
I remained to see the next band THE TOWERBLOCKS for no other reason that I was too lazy to go anywhere else. They turned out to be from Berlin and were exponents of the shouty type of punk so loved by fans of Sham 69 & Blitz. They were pretty good and I had to admire their courage for singing a song called No Englishmen at the Bar about the regularity with which the German national football team beats their English counterparts at penalties. The song contained the lyrics The 3 Lions keep on snoring, maybe they dream of better days,for our greedy German Eagle, think theyll always be an easy prey, although they did at least apologise at the end
I was not looking forward to seeing BLOOD OR WHISKEY as I was fearing another Flogging Molly clone, however as it turned out their sound was so atrocious I was unable to decipher any of their songs. I was glad to leave mid way through their second number, and whilst they might have been a half decent band for all I know, it was like listening to 747s taking off at Heathrow. Shame.
Just time to stick my head round the door of the Bizarre Bizarre stage and catch FRANK SIDEBOTTOM performing something called Anarchy in the UK. I couldnt stop or else I would have asked him who did the original version.
THE LAST RESORT had been upgraded to the main stage and I walked in to see lead singer Roi Pearce in full flow, arms pumping, veins bulging and stripped to the waist to reveal his torso completely covered in tattoos. They are renowned as one of the leaders of Oi and showed why as they mingled songs from their new album with classics like King of The Jungle, Resort Boot Boys and Skinhead in Stapress. They closed the night out with new number String em Up which I am sure was well received by all readers of the Daily Mail newspaper present!
For me no punk festival is complete without the presence of Mr David Charles Perez aka Charlie Harper. The ever revolving door policy for UK SUBS band members saw recent stalwarts Jet and Jamie Oliver joined by original band member Paul Slack tonight. Quite how, at aged 65, Charlie has so much energy is beyond me. Given that at 15 years younger than him, and having done nothing more energetic than stand around and drink for 3 days, I was totally knackered. However hes up there on stage like a spring chicken belting out song after song and even ocasionally throwing in the occasional flailing arm jump. I think it is fairly safe to say that you pretty much know what to expect with the Subs and the setlist deviated little from songs spread over their first 3 albums. But no one can decry the sheer feel-good factor of hearing songs such as CID, I Live in a Car, For Dead, Tomorrows Girls, Young Criminals, New York State Police, Rockers and Stranglehold. But for an iconic punk moment nothing beats hearing the bass line intro to Warhead, especially as original bass player (and the songs composer) Paul Slack was on stage to play it. Quite how long Charlie can go on it open to question, but I know as long as they play I will be there!
And so my friends it came to the last band of the festival for me. The nights headliners were the Adicts, but I know little of their music and am not over enamoured with their look of a cross between a clown and Clockwork Orange Droogs. So with the possibility of getting a T shirt to keep my good wife sweet, I ambled off to see the BAY CITY ROLLERS. Yes, you read it right that early 70s, tartan clad, knicker wetting, boy band were on the Bizarre Bizarre stage. Well I say band, but actually only Eric Faulkner of the original member survives. Understandably he was somewhat greyer than when I last saw him on Top of the Pops in 1972, but with a well rehearsed band (and a bass player eerily like Brian Molko from Placebo) he gave the crowd what they wanted i.e. a trip down memory lane. Now before you have a go at me for selling out my punk roots I would hasten to add that also present in the crowd was Arturo Bassick of Lurkers/999 attempting to juggle his 3 pints of cider, and dancing round her handbag (literally) Becki Bondage of Vice Squad. I will defend myself that back when the BCR were pops biggest band I was more of a T Rex boy, and interestingly he encored with 20th Century Boy. But there is no decrying the fact that as a good singalong anthem you would be hard pressed to beat Shang-a-lang, although Eric did rather sarcastically say that he would be singing this song until his dying days.
So with a quick tip of his topper he was off stage right, and for me, Rebellion was over for another year. Whilst at time it can be a test of endurance, it still is a labour of love for me, and I thoroughly recommend that everyone should try it at least once. Whilst I have concentrated on the bands that I liked/saw, there are literally tens of other bands from diverse musical genres that should appeal to everybodys tastes. And whilst undoubtedly some of the attendees look pretty scary, I would add that I did not see one bit of trouble all weekend, just drunk, happy, like-minded people having a good time. Go on, you know you want to go!