“The kids don’t care about books or rules – all they wanna do is burn their schools” – Abrasive Wheels
Don’t you think it’s a little ironic that on the weekend when this generation’s disaffected youth is taking to the streets in wild abandon and creating perhaps the nearest thing this nation has seen to real anarchy, Thatcher’s children, the disaffected middle-aged men and women of those dark yesteryears of the late 70s and early 80s are ensconced in a tatty seaside town oop North, singing along to countless songs whose lyrics tell of fighting the state, being anti-police, rioting, standing up for your rights, smashing things up and burning things down. The occasion of course is an annual music festival called Rebellion – yes, Rebellion (Why, oh why did they have to change it from Holidays In The Sun?) – where the only thing rebelling is the myriad beerguts which are steadfastly refusing to be stuffed into the overly-tight Tiger Of London bondage strides that try to contain them. Punk rockers – playing three chords while London burns. Like I say, just a wee bit ironic.
Right now, I could embark on an analysis of the potential reasons for the current disorder. Do a comparison with the likes of Brixton, Toxteth and Bristol in the 1980’s, exploring any linkage between then and now, but I’m not going to. That would be a distraction from the point of the posting. FnS is, as you know, first and foremost a music blog so I’m going to simply stick to the point which is of course to tell you a little bit about the sights and sounds of the festival. Who played, who was good, who was indifferent and who sucked.
But first a bit of background info.
Since its inception 15 years ago, the festival has steadily grown in size from a three-day single stage affair drawing 2 – 3000 people to today’s 4-day, 6 stage monster with an alleged 8000+ tickets sold this year, about 20% up on last year. Not bad considering the current economic climate and the fact it’s, in the main, a pretty genre-specific event and run as close to independently as it can be, by the punks for the punks. (This year however saw Jagermeister sponsoring the event Programme so we’ll keep an eye and see how that develops for next year – Punk Police). Over the years, there have been assorted one-day offshoots and forays into Europe and the US with varying degrees of success. However, since it outgrew its previous home in Morecambe some years back, the summer bash in Blackpool is the daddy of them all.
What sets Rebellion apart from other festivals is it’s all under the one roof. It’s housed in the Winter Gardens right in the centre of Blackpool. The building is a collection of concert halls of varying sizes mainly accessed from an airy horse-shoe shaped corridor which also houses the dozens of merch stalls while the festival is ongoing. In the middle of the horse-shoe you find the Bizarre Bazaar stage plus the venues cafes and bars. Going downstairs off the horse-shoe, you can enter the Arena stage and the Empress Ballroom where the big acts play. Upstairs from the Galleon Bar, you enter the Spanish Hall (which this year houses the Punk Art exhibition) and the Baronial Hall (which houses the Cinema). The two Olympia stages are downstairs as you first enter the building. I thought initially it was the buildings car-park but it turns out to be a market site. So you never really have more than a couple of minutes walk between stages. As well as the two central bars, each concert venue has its own bar too so you never have to worry about where the next beer is coming from. Well, not generally until Sunday anyway when most things apart from lager ran out! Prices….slightly higher than the nearby pubs but about average for a festival I guess at £2.90 for a pint of Fosters. But anyway, once they trade ticket for wristband on their first arrival, the discerning punk rocker has everything they need to give them the choice of staying in the venue from doors open till doors close – some 14 or 15 hours most days – or because of its city-centre location, ducking out and in to visit shops, pubs, banks, Greggs or bed as they see fit.
While the stages are managed and staffed with Rebellion people, I believe the security and barstaff are provided by the Winter Gardens. This year, both sets are well drilled and quietly efficient. The stages all run pretty much bang on time, with any problems quickly sorted out and, despite the conflicting reports I’ve read around the ‘net, to my ears the sound was generally very good, even in the notoriously “difficult” Olympia. The bars are well staffed too. Despite being busy ALL the time, I never had to wait more than five minutes for service the whole weekend. How often can you say that about an Aberdeen venue? With the exception of an initial delay in getting the venue open on the first day, the security was efficient – inobtrusive and never heavy handed (that I saw anyway). All good stuff that can make a tremendous difference to your weekend.
On entry this year, everyone was given a very brief search then moved on to have their wristband fitted. Then finally, they received the Jager sponsored, glossy, 50 odd A4 page programme that contained assorted photos, bios, interviews with the artists appearing over the weekend. I’ve not got round to reading mine yet but it looks to be a decent souvenir. Enclosed in the programme was a smaller A5 pamphlet with the timetables for each day broken down by stage. This would be my one minor grumble that it’s difficult to see what’s on where when laid out in this way. However, most people – myself included – were wise to this from previous years and had devised their own spreadsheets in various user-friendly layouts to avoid the problem.
OK, I think that’s enough background info. Let’s get on with the review…
Day One – Wednesday
With the price of self-drives going through the roof, our party decided to try the train this year, grabbing early-bird tickets at £44 a head return. Not bad at all. More relaxed, more space, less responsibility and slightly quicker. Or it would have been had some poor soul not decided to jump in front of a train further down the line resulting in us being stuck in Carlisle for an hour plus before a gruelling, cross-legged couple of hours on a coach with no loo till we picked up our connecting train in Preston. Oh well, better luck next time. The net result of this was that, as opposed to arriving at our hotel around half four as planned, it was after seven so only time to quickly unpack, have a quick wash and head out for food.
As I mentioned before, the festival used to be only three days in length then developed a pre-show party at a local pub or club on the Thursday night. That meant the Wednesday was a casual affair. Travel day with our group generally heading out for a leisurely meal together and a quiet couple of pints to ease us gently into the madness. In recent years however, the Thursday has morphed pretty much into a fourth full day of the festival with the pre-show now happening on the Wednesday night. This year boasted a real decent line-up that I was determined to see so I’d done as planned and took it relatively easy with the lagers on the journey. On dumping our gear at the digs, I headed out with my son to get something to eat, which we did at a decent wee restaurant called Toast conveniently situated right next door to The Beat Club, the venue for the nights activities. I had a lovely chicken Caesar salad – the last bit of greenery I’d see all weekend – which set me up for the next few hours.
We’d missed the first couple of bands by the time we got into the club but arrived in time to catch the start of the set of band, unusual in that they were a duo of bass and drums. I guessed that this was Two Sick Monkeys, a name I’d seen punted around the Rebellion message boards for a couple of years now, but a band I’d not heard at all previously. Suprisingly enough, the drum and bass format worked really well compared to other duo combinations I’ve stumbled across in recent years with both the guys sharing vocal duties between them. The songs are punchy, mid-paced punk rock, played with enough energy and attitude to make you overlook the fact there’s no guitar there. The bass-chap came across as a likeable front man and, for my first hearing, I found myself tapping my feet to most of their stuff. I’ll certainly investigate further.
Next up was one of my favourite bands, Brummies Drongos For Europe, making the first of two appearances this weekend. Apparently, they were quite a few other people’s favourites too as the club was pretty rammed as they took to the stage. This combined with the steps right along the front of the stage made things a little treacherous as the Drongos ripped through a set of their classic, anthemic songs. They never disappoint, this mob, and tonight was no exception, despite singer Tommy being, ahem, a little tipsy. At one point, he started asking the crowd for requests but quickly retreated when DK proposed they play early single Death’s A Career. There was a rousing singalong of Happy Birthday for guitarist Ohmsy who was apparently celebrating his 50th and then traditional finisher Land Of Hope & Glory signalled the end of another excellent set.
When they’d finished, the crowd in the venue seemed to thin out a fair bit and I clocked that most of our party from the digs had made it there to see them and I spent the next wee while chewing the fat with them. This meant that the final gig (apparently) by ska-sters Smoke Like A Fish slipped by somewhat unnoticed. I can recall people dancing and that but the drinks and conversation were flowing freely by this point.
Chief were next on the bill with their melodic hardcore providing another contrasting sound on the evening’s eclectic bill. I’ve seen them a couple of times previously and I’m really enjoying their current album Apply Within but somehow, they just didn’t click with me tonight. I can’t pin it down to any one thing either but the synchronised bouncing certainly didn’t help. I love bands to move around on stage as they’re getting into the music but it should be spontaneous. That Americanised nonsense just seems so contrived. Anyhoo, I was just a wee bit disappointed with them and turned the focus of my attention back to the socialising.
Forgive my hazy memory but I think it was at this point I returned from a conversation at the bar to find the pints I’d newly bought for myself and DK missing from the table. As I was exclaiming loudly about them being “mineswept”, I could see DK’s eyes frantically giving me dodgers that clearly signalled to “shut the fuck up”! It turns out that while I’d been chatting, he’d leaned back on the table cowping the entire contents (including our beers) into the laps of the foreign couple sitting opposite, who were now dabbing with a hanky in vain at their soaking trousers. Oops!
The last band of the night was another one I was looking forward to. The Inner Terrestrials were taking their militant punky-reggae sound on a rare trip up North. The three-piece were on fire as they switched with ease between chilled reggae vibes to hardcore punk guitar blasts to infectiously poppy ska breaks that had the club absolutely jumping down the front. Don’t ask me what they played cos I was too busy skanking with a beer-fuzzed head on to take note. Suffice to say though, that it was the perfect end to the first day and set us up well for the start of the festival proper a few hours later.
Words and pics by New York Johnny.
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 2
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 3
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 4
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 5
More of New York Johnny’s photos from the weekend can be viewed here