Day Three – Friday
Friday, the first “full” day of the festival, began in exactly the same way as the previous morning, with a fried breakfast followed by a couple of pints at Scruffy Murphys. Tellingly though, there were a couple of no-shows from our team and the odd one on soft drinks at this stage. However, after contemplating the first pint for quite some time, the second one slid down much easier and I was back into my stride again. We didn’t tarry as long in the pub today though. With no queue issues, we headed up for our first visit to the Olympia to catch the first band on today, Dun2Def.
The sound at the Olympia always gets moaned about more than the other rooms. However, as we wove our way through the crowd to a prime spot near the front, it was clear that there was a vast improvement this year. The band sounded really good, with each instrument clear and well mixed, and down the front it was loud but not overpowering. I’ve only come across Dun2Def over the last couple of festivals so it was a surprise to hear them announce it was their 10th anniversary, and that their new split album is actually called 10 Years. The set was a mix of tracks from it and older tracks like Drinking & Fighting. The songs are classic mid-paced, catchy punk rock in the same vein as maybe the UK Subs, big hooks and loads of woah-oh backing vocals. Just my thing really. They invite a young punk girl onstage to join in on the vocal on one song but, to be honest, she doesn’t add much to the sound but improves the look of the band no end. She comes back on again for the set closer, Bargain Booze, which gets the crowd singing along en-masse to the chorus. “We’re all fucked up covered in shit tattoos, Spending all our money on bargain booze”. A great start to the day.
Next up is Pink Hearse, an all-girl band from somewhere around the Blackpool area. They play fairly rudimentary punk thrashers on a horror theme. Having seen them a few times previously, and there seemingly not being much new on offer today, the fact the Olympia bar doesn’t serve spirits drove us back upstairs to the main bar to regroup over a drink. Sorry girls.
We end up in the Arena to see Bite Back, the new collaboration between Hocky from Instant Agony and Ritchie from MDM. With that sort of pedigree you’d expect something a little bit special but what we get is fairly run of the mill. The three piece play well enough but the songs are pretty standard punk-by-numbers fare and not even a cover of The Clash’s English Civil War can raise the enthusiasm levels. We see out their set but it’s more from a sense of duty than anything else.
Another band that get pretty short-shift from us today is Middle Finger Salute. A few years back, they were a great “new discovery” who blew me away on first watching. Since then, things have happened for them, from sharing a stage with Cock Sparrer to doing a stint on the Warped Tour across the USA. This must have rubbed off on the lads because their sound is heading very much towards the US mall-punk style of Fallout Boy or New Found Glory or something of that ilk. It’s not for me anyway although they do have a healthy crowd in attendance. I watch a few songs then head back to the bar.
Previously, I’ve always given a cursory grunt when the name 3CR comes up in conversation having written them off after seeing them bellow their way through a few songs with an appalling sound a few years back. However, today I was cajoled into coming along to see them again and, whaddaya know, the improved sound in the Olympia meant I could actually hear what they were talking and singing about. I enjoyed them immensely. The songs were funny and the delivery sarcastic. The “chicken” song and the call-and-response of “From Me, To You” are such off the wall ideas but 3CR shouldn’t be written off as merely a joke band. Although straightforward in structure, the songs are executed with speed and precision. Tight as fuck they were and a real high-point in the afternoon.
We stick around when they’re done with the idea of watching The Duel on the other Olympia stage but, when one of the band appears with a guitar-keyboard round his neck, we get a little worried. The first half song sees us scurrying upstairs to the bar again.
Over the years I’ve been attending the festival, I’ve seen The Restarts grow in popularity. From early afternoon slots with half-full rooms on the smaller stages, the slots have got better and the crowds have steadily got larger. This year they’re in the Empress Ballroom for a half past five slot and it’s packed. And no wonder, the band is in blistering form. The contrasting growls of Robin and Keiran give a light and shade to their twin-vocal attack that lifts their songs way above your standard shouty-punk fare. The tunes are catchy and almost poppy in construction but played with full-on punk fury and the classic abrasive Gibson SG sound. Typical of this is Pied Piper off their split album with MDC, a high-spot of their set for me. But to pick individual tracks out would be to miss the point, the whole set is excellent and the band thoroughly deserving of their increasing audience.
I’m a little early when I arrive back down in the Olympia for the Drongos set and end up catching the tail end of Resistance 77. They’re another decent band who have got a sizeable crowd in as well and appear to be going down a storm. Bored Forever and Chelsea Girl get the crowd jumping and singing along. Before long they’re announcing their last song and sadly it’s The Spirit Of St George. For a band that sings about True Punk & Oi and Always Being A Punk, this is middle of the road soft rock with crap lyrics. A marketing angle that sees more of their t-shirts (emblazoned with the St George’s cross) in evidence this weekend than any one else’s. Maybe it’s just me but it was a disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable half-set.
Drongos For Europe appear to be equally at ease on the big stage of the Olympia as in the close confines of the Beat Club. Tommy is a bit more sober this time but prowls the stage menacingly flashing dodgers at the crowd as he belts out the lyrics. As ever it’s a career-spanning set with songs from the eighties sitting seamlessly next to new arrivals from last year’s excellent Cage The Rage album. At one point someone lobs a huge inflatable Mohican onto the stage which Tommy then wears for a half-song or so before it ends up on the head of one of the security staff stage-front. This is another band that is deservedly growing in stature. By the time their set is done, the Olympia is pretty full and they leave the stage to a rousing reception.
After a quick pit stop for a beer, I head off down to the Empress Ballroom again to catch the Bouncing Souls, another band I’d been looking forward to seeing for some time. Once again, the Ballroom is full. The festival in general is now visibly a lot busier, with most of the stages pulling big crowds early in the day. Having pushed my way as far into the crowd as I can muster, it’s obvious to me that this band is extremely popular across various age bands, with a fairly even split of young and old around me all giving it their all to the infectious Souls tunes. And it’s no wonder. Whilst undeniably punk based, these are uplifting songs that make you feel good, as typified by True Believers, my favourite Souls song which gets blasted out amongst a whole bunch of other equally joyous tunes. In one of a few cases of unfortunate timings – let’s face it, at a festival with such a high percentage of acts you actually wanna see, you’re going to have the occasional clash – I have to sacrifice the end of the Bouncing Souls set in order to catch Rubella Ballet at the Bizarre Bazaar.
Although I’ve seen them previously, their back-catalogue has recently been issued across a couple of CDs which I’ve been playing a lot and that has reactivated my interest in them. The lights go down as the band take to the stage decked out in their trademark dayglo colours. The set is performed entirely under blacklight, giving an eerie feeling to the proceedings as various belts, bracelets, lips and body-painted symbols flash in and out of the gloom. Of course, taking centre stage amidst a riot of fluorescent colour is singer Zillah Minx. The music veers between hard and fast punk rockers through dark, swooping, gothic numbers to upbeat indie-pop as the band mine the gems from their history. Money Talks – more topical than ever – is a highlight as is the dreamy Arctic Flowers. They close the set with Emotional Blackmail and disappear offstage one by one leaving drummer Sid pounding out the rhythm on his toms, getting ever slower until the song concludes. He literally crawls from behind his kit as applause rings out. I’d initially thought he was just drained from the exertion but have subsequently discovered he had played the set with an infected ulcerated leg (as a result of cancer treatment) making it all the more remarkable. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for him.
I ducked out at this point to grab another drink at the Galleon Bar as there was nothing specific in the timetable I was that bothered about seeing. However, none of the crew were going about – in fact I spent the rest of the night flying solo – so I ducked into the Arena to grab a song or two by The Varukers. It was pretty packed though and the sound from the stairwell was pretty dire so I didn’t stay. Instead I wandered back to the Bazaar and caught the tail end of Arturo Bassick’s Punktry & Western Show. Art is a consummate showman and has a pretty decent voice to boot so takes to the country material surprisingly well. My memory is starting to fog at this point due to the alcohol intake over the day but I remember he finished with a sing song version of Cash classic Ring Of Fire. Enjoyable stuff.
Next up in the Bazaar was The Cravats with their unique sax-driven, jazzy take on punk rock. They’re another band I’ve seen here previously that I just had to revisit simply because there is no-one else like them. With their off kilter rhythms and Svoor Naan’s atonal sax breaks they have a sound all of their own that appeals to a small but very partisan crowd who cheer and dance and singalong to every tune. Huge singer The Shend cuts an imposing figure centre stage as the rest of the band (including a vicar and an RAF officer) flit about around him. As with many acts over the weekend, the shortened festival set sorta confines the band to the “hits” plus the odd other song thrown in, so tonight we get the likes of the singles Rub Me Out and Gordon, the ponderous, brooding I Am The Dreg and the manic, squalling Down The Precinct. At times oppressive, at times thrilling, it’s all straight out of the top drawer and my candidate for set of the day.
One of the acts being touted around before the start of the festival was Infa Riot making their first appearance since the 1980’s here in Blackpool. I’d only seen them once in their heyday, towards the bottom of the bill at an all-dayer in Glasgow called the Gathering Of The Clans, but couldn’t remember too much about their performance that day. However, like many others it seems, I decided to head along to the Empress Ballroom and see them. They were already onstage when I entered the hall and I recognised the strains of Five Minute Fashions coming from the stage. The sound was decent but the first thing that struck me was how slow and ponderous it sounded. The band themselves seemed up for the task, with singer Lee Wilson having a good banter with the crowd but, to me, there just seemed to be something lacking. Kids Of The 80’s came and went in the midst of a set of decidedly average material. Only Riot Riot seemed to pack any real punch and after about half an hour or so, I decided to bale out and look for something more interesting.
I headed down to the Olympia to catch Drunken Balordi but somehow didn’t. The Olympia was between sets when I looked in with a large crowd starting to build up in anticipation of tonight’s headliners, The Damned. I grabbed another drink and managed to push my way in to about half-way up the hall but by there, the crowd was too densely packed to go further with my drink intact. It’s become something of a ritual for me to check in on these guys whenever they play the festival. They can be a bit hit or miss on the night but they’re a long term favourite of mine who are still producing quality albums 35 years on so IMO always worth a look. Tonight would be my 16th time.
Anyway, after a short wait, a cheer went up as the band took to the stage. Dave Vanian has given up his rocker’s leather look from the last tour in favour of a smart suit and tie look. Captain Sensible is in his trademark stripes and red beret. They launch into a frantic Melody Lee and proceed to royally fuck it up, with Dave seemingly forgetting all the words beyond the first verse and losing the timing to boot. A car crash start to the set, but they pick it up again with faultless renditions of I Just Can’t Be Happy Today and Fan Club. Both New Rose and Neat Neat Neat are dispensed with early in the set as is their way with only the latter suffering a little from the Captain’s over-use of guitar histrionics. Yes Cap, we know you’re a guitaring genius but just play the fucking songs as they were written, you know. We got History Of The World and Blackout off the Black Album and Ignite off of Strawberries but there I don’t recall them playing anything off either of the last two albums. There wasn’t much craik with the crowd either, maybe due to the bad start, or maybe just because of the late hour. A quarter to one start when you’ve been in the pub for the previous fourteen hours is not ideal for anyone I don’t suppose. Anyway, after pushing my way to the back of the crowd in order to reach the loo, I couldn’t be bothered pushing my way back afterwards so watched another song or two from the back stairs before hitting the road. Not the worst Damned gig I’d seen but far from the best.
The (relatively) early departure ensured I beat the crowd at the kebab shop where I realised that the delicious Mexicana pizza I was tucking into was the first solid thing over my throat since breakfast. Not ideal, and probably a big factor in why I felt so pissed. It was something I vowed to sort out the next day.
Words and pics by New York Johnny.
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 1
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 2
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 4
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 5
More of New York Johnny’s photos from the weekend can be viewed here