Bombfest 2011 – 26th March 2011 – Studio 24, Edinburgh.
Featuring Sham 69 / Runnin’ Riot / Drongos For Europe / Short Bus Window Lickers / Moral Dilemma / Happy Spastics / Critikill / Hateful / Spat / Pissed On, Pissed Off / Razorblade Smile
Oh-oh! Punk rock road trip alert. With my regular travelling party, that generally means a recipe for potential disaster that will test your endurance to the absolute limit, both mentally and physically. A supercharged alcohol bender soundtracked by appaling jokes, woeful patter, gutter-level filth and the loudest, fastest, hardest, punkiest sounds around. This weekend was no exception. The numbers? 12 hardy souls made it into Aberdeen station in time for the 9.05 a.m. train to Edinburgh, full of the joys and anticipation that always precedes this sort of “awayday”. The destination? Studio 24 on Calton Road, via a quick stop at our hostel on the High Street to drop off bags. The event? Bombfest 2011 – a 12 hour punk rock marathon featuring a stellar line-up of local and not so local talent headed up by everyone’s favourite exponents of the football terrace anthem, Sham 69.
Let’s skip quickly over the preliminaries. The train journey went without a hitch, the sun was cracking the pavements in Edinburgh, we got checked in swiftly and hassle free into our digs, found a nice pub and chippy where we fortified ourselves on the short walk round to the venue. Our tickets were waiting for us on the door when we got there so we went straight in and hit the bar. So far, so good.
However, I’ll take this opportunity to get the negatives out of the way. There are only two things I’ll grumble about for the whole weekend. The first became apparent about two inches into the first pint. The draught beer was rank. The Kronenburg Ice Cold burned your throat on the way down and sat heavy in your stomach. I forced my way through the first pint and had taken only a couple of sips out of the second before abandoning it and spent the rest of the day drinking cans of Red Stripe at £3 a pop. Not good – clean yer fucking pipes Studio 24!
The other negative about the day was the poor attendance. Early on, it felt like it was only ourselves down from the North East plus a couple of the early bands and their chums that were in attendance. I kept thinking it was bound to busy up come the evening, which it did a bit. However, I’d still estimate that, at its busiest, there would have been around 150 in the venue. At £20 for the ticket you were getting 11 bands. That’s less than 2 quid a band, regardless of what they were like. As it turned out, they were top quality and put in excellent performances despite the low numbers. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the day but it’s the bands and the promoter I feel sorry for. I hope they all got paid and the promoter didn’t have to take too much of a hit though I suspect someone will have ended up short changed. For our capital city with a population of half a million, that’s a poor show. Edinburgh punks – you should be ashamed of yourselves.
But onto the action. Grabbing an extra drink at the Worlds End boozer meant that we had missed the opening act, Razorblade Smile, so my apologies to them. This meant that the first band for us today would be Pissed On, Pissed Off. They’re a hardcore punk band, pretty full-on, with twin lead vocals. This approach – particularly with the contrasting styles of the singers – gives their straightforward songs an interesting twist and adds emphasis on the choruses when they join in together. They certainly blow any lingering cobwebs away with their powerful sound. High spot of their set for me was their cover of Leatherface’s How Lonely.
Next up is Spat. Local boys if the banter between stage and crowd is any indicator, although I could swear the mohicaned singer talked with an Australian accent between songs. They play a UK82 style of punk that reminds me of the likes of The Varukers, The Exploited, that kinda thing. They’re decent enough and certainly giving it all they’ve got today. They inspire the first dancefloor action of the day.
After a wee break for changeover (I have to say, the whole event was stage managed well with minimal delays between bands), comes the first band I’ve really travelled to see. Hateful are a four-piece from Clydebank who play tuneful, anthemic punk rock that lifts the spirit. Think SLF or the Ruts, think US Bombs or Social Distortion, something of that ilk and you’re in the ballpark. Today they blaze through a selection of the highpoints (and there are many) from their three studio albums to date. The frontline belt out the lyrics with passion, and all the while Kev the drummer spends half the set standing up but never drops the beat. They include their perennial Rory Gallagher cover of Dead And Gone in the set but, to be honest, I’d much rather they played another of their own songs, they’re that good. The set closes (IIRC) with an extended workout of Kilbowie Road, the title track from their last album. Some might argue that it’s more classic rock than punk rock but I say fuck ‘em. Punk to me was about breaking out of the routine and the formulaic. Anyway, it’s great stuff and they’re band of the weekend for me already.
The first surprise package of the weekend comes next. I’d seen the Critikill name appearing regularly on punk bills around Central Scotland for a few years now but never had the opportunity to catch them live. A serious oversight on my part as it turns out. They hit the stage running. The wee singer, topless with a mane of long green hair covering his face, never stops moving for a second throughout their high intensity set. The dual guitar interplay is clever, the lead vocal is powerful with hooky backing vocals that, despite it being my first exposure to them, somehow give the songs an instant familiarity that gets you mouthing words you don’t know, straining to see if you can pick up on the chorus lyrics. By the end of their set, I’m pretty much blown away by them and chase down the bass player to buy their CD. (I’m happy to say that after only a couple of listens, I reckon they’ve managed to capture what they do on stage pretty well.) Band of the weekend number two already.
By the time I’ve concluded my CD purchase outside, I return to the bar area to find my mates have buggered off to find a pub with decent beer and something to eat. I mooch around, having a wee natter and buying some bits and bobs off of Hateful, skulling a couple more Red Stripes while the Happy Spastics start their set. It’s another full-on, twin guitar, hardcore assault. Some days I’m in the mood for this kinda stuff, some days I’m not. Unfortunately, today it was the latter. Compared to the previous two bands, there is no light and shade to the Spastics’ music. Everything is 100mph, everything is turned up to 11. It’s all delivered with a passion and a ferocity that is unquestionable but ultimately today it largely passed me by. Even the usually explosive Fuck The Polis failed to light the blue touchpaper. Sorry guys, I just wasn’t in the mood. A reflection on me rather than you.
The chaps have returned from their wee sojourn so I have a wee catch up with them and show off my purchases. Some of the guys Drongos For Europe are milling around so we chew the fat with them for a bit until Moral Dilemma hit the stage. They’re a three piece up from London on the Scottish leg of their tour. Some of our lot had seen them at The Moorings in Aberdeen the previous night and said they were well worth a second look. They play fast and furious stuff with the boy / girl vocals interspersed with each other bringing a bit of diversity into the sound. They also drop-out the guitar and run with the bass and drums at various times which I found pretty effective too. Once again, I’m impressed enough to go and buy a copy of their latest CD when they come offstage.
More hardcore punk up next as the brilliantly named Short Bus Window Lickers set up ready to do their thing. Sporting Mohicans across the board, their wee bass player picks up the prize for best one of the weekend, a truly impressive specimen. Musically, the Window Lickers inhabit a similar territory to the Happy Spastics. Their take on punk rock is very fast and hard but executed with absolute precision as you might expect from a band whose members moonlight in The Restarts and the UK Subs in their spare time. Watching guitarist Robin’s fingers as they fly over the fretboard is breathtaking but he never misses a chord change. Tight as a gnat’s chuff is, I believe, the correct technical term for it. Singer Mark prowls the stage menacingly with a neat line in psychotic stares that would give Wattie from The Exploited a run for his money. He bellows out the lyrics a bit like Wattie too, but there’s enough melody in the songs for you to catch the tune and sing along with him by the second chorus. You can’t help but be sucked into the Lickers’ world. Once again, it’s a first-viewing that has impressed me greatly and I’m not alone. When their set is over and I return to the bar, a few of my team are rating it as set of the weekend.
I like Drongos For Europe on many levels. They’re punks through and through who actively promote and support their local scene in Brum, not just by putting on gigs but by being out there as fans at other people’s gigs too. Apart from that, they’re a bloody great band and the primary reason we made the trip south this weekend. Having seen them live many times before, I’ve yet to see them play a bad gig and tonight they are as good as ever. Their songs are played at a less frantic pace than most of the others on the bill today but that’s no bad thing. With Ohmsy’s muscular riffing overlaid with Tommy’s gravelly roar, the tunes have hooks big enough to land a whale with powerful 3-way vocals on the huge choruses that just demand you sing along. They look the part on stage too, exuding the same kind of “band-as-gang” kinda feeling that you used to get with The Clash or The Godfathers or more recently Goldblade. Tonight’s set is pulled from all periods of their 30 year existence. Kicking off with the incendiary Untamed from the Hotline To Hades album, they trawl through every corner of their back catalogue. Mid-set, the staccato guitar of Freedom from last year’s Cage The Rage album sits comfortably next to Peace off their debut Adverse Chorus EP released way back in 1980. A similar crossing of the years happens as they bang out a massive Contaminated before traditional set-closer Hope And Glory sees them out in fine style. It’s another fine set from the Brummies and I’d have gone home quite satisfied at that point.
However, there was the not so small matter of Belfast Oi boys Runnin’ Riot still to come. The third band on my list of must-sees for the day. Now the punk sub-genre of Oi generally gets a great deal of bad press with often sweeping generalisations being made about the bands who play it and the people who like it. Thankfully, Runnin’ Riot blow all of those preconceptions out of the water. Their songs are sharp, passionate, witty and very musical, surely the absolute antithesis of the lumpen, thick-headed dirges the genre has been described as producing over the years by its detractors. Like the Drongos before them, the Riot boys have been going for quite a few years now and their set tonight reflects this. As singer Colin paces back and forth across the front of the stage like a caged animal, he belts out their gritty tunes from across the years with a throaty gargle that makes Jake Burns sound like Aled Jones. When The Boots Fly In, Buckfast Tonic Wine, Alcoholic Heroes, Johnny Reggae are all dispensed with little fuss or pretension, they just let the songs speak for themselves. Judge, Jury, Executioner and Keep The Faith off the first album show where their roots lie while Lost Generation off 2009’s excellent Boots & Ballads LP show they’ve lost none of their early anger in the intervening years. Of course, the set wouldn’t be complete without them showing us where their name comes from, and so they fire through Cock Sparrer’s Running Riot with such zip it would give the originals a run for their money. I spent much of the set bellowing my lungs out and consequently didn’t take many shots of the band, hence the quality of these pix is not up to the standard of the other bands. I apologise for that to both Runnin’ Riot and to you the reader. I’m sure the band won’t mind too much. I met them afterwards for a quick chat and even got a wee photo with them for posterity.
Now I really would have gone happy at this point. I decided to stick around though for the headline act despite, by this time, being pretty pissed. What can I say about Sham 69 that you don’t already know? Jimmy has left and Tim is the new singer. Some people don’t like this, others (like myself) don’t mind. What you need to remember is that the writing credits on all those classic singles is Pursey/Parsons and if Dave wants to go out there and play the songs live, then he’s got every right to as far as I’m concerned. Tim is an affable front man and, whilst he may not quite match Pursey’s charisma, he can certainly belt out the songs with the best of them. And that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, those classic tunes that everyone knows, that cut through the dross on Top Of The Pops in the late 70’s like a hot knife through butter. The material is just so strong, it carries the band through. Bassist Alan Campbell is obviously having a ball as he gyrates around in front of his stack, flinging his Fender P around like it was made of balsa wood. Mr Parsons himself is his usual stony faced self, seemingly concentrating hard on chopping out the distinctive riffs that signal the start of another bout of action on the dancefloor. They play it safe with the setlist, concentrating mainly on the material from the first couple of albums with a couple of nuggets from later sneaking in. But that’s OK, that’s what most folk want to hear really I guess. It’s certainly true for me. When I hear that drumbeat intro and then the chunky riff kicking in at the start of What Have We Got? I’m instantly transported back to being a 15 year old listening to them in session on Peely on an old mono tranny in my bedroom at my folks house. To my disgust, they changed the words on the call and response that night, “John Peel” replacing the traditional “Fuck All” of the chorus. No such problem tonight though as I bellow the proper words back at Tim at the top of my voice. Simple stuff but so effective and, even after all these years, so, so true. I think maybe at one point Sham were the ultimate punk band. They took the adage that “anyone could do it” and made it real with three chords and a bagfull of attitude. Because of this, their success brought them as many detractors as supporters which is a shame really. However, surely no-one can argue with the “big finish” to the set as they blaze through their chart hits (from the days when you had to shift a heck of a lot of units to get a sniff of chart action). Hersham Boys, Angels With Dirty Faces and of course, the daddy of them all, If The Kids Are United which brings the night to a close. As it should do, with everyone singing along. It’s a fitting end to the evening.
As I stumble my way back to the bar, I come to realise that I’m pretty gassed and, thinking about it, it’s no wonder. I’ve been swigging back the Red Stripe like juice for the last few hours and it must be getting on for 11 or 12 hours since I ate. A quick glance at my watch shows that’s not quite the case. It’s just the back of 11pm but it feels much later. We’ve crammed a lot of good music in today, a lot of partying and good times with good people. It’s what it’s all about as far as I’m concerned. But for now, it’s time to make the short walk back to the digs via the chipper, with that familiar (and somehow satisfying) ringing in my ears, to relive the day’s events with my good mates and make plans for the next assault on the senses. Bring it on.
Words and pics by New York Johnny
Sham on the web
Runnin’ Riot on the web
Drongos For Europe Myspace
Short Bus Window Lickers Myspace
Moral Dilemma Myspace
Happy Spastics Myspace
Pissed On, Pissed Off Myspace