Day Four – Saturday
There’s a few faces missing from the breakfast table come Saturday morning. The excesses of the previous few days are starting to take their toll on everyone. There’s a few late starters today and Michael and Joker don’t surface at all the whole day. I myself have to resort to crunching Rennies after breakfast – a habit that continues for the rest of the weekend and a couple of days after I’m home – and decide to give the pre-gig visit to Scruffys a miss today. So about midday, I head up to the Winter Gardens and meet up with Shaun & Davie in the Arena bar in time to catch the first band of the day, our fellow Scots Hateful from Clydebank. Pints secured we duly take our place on the barrier, centre stage.
Davie knows a couple of these guys quite well but, friends apart, these guys are a top notch band and worthy of a better slot than this. There’s a hundred or so dotted around the Arena as they kick off their set in fine style with Inside Out off the latest Kilbowie Road album. It’s followed up quick style with Green Thing off their debut and guitarist/vocalist Alex is already bug-eyed with the veins in his neck bulging out as he puts 100% into his delivery. Every song they play has an anthemic quality about it. They suck you in and get you fired up in the way early SLF used to do. At several points in their set, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and it’s easy to forget it’s only a quarter to one in the afternoon. Drummer Kevin is a showman, standing at his kit, on his kit, twirling sticks, throwing them in the air then failing to catch them. Five times he did this before he got lucky! He never misses the beat though and the band power through an excellent 30 minute set finishing as usual with their cover of Rory Gallagher’s Dead And Gone. Another great start to the day. It’s somewhat gratifying to find that, when we turn to head back to the bar, the Arena has pretty much filled up over the course of their set. Hopefully this will lead to a better slot for the guys next time.
We don’t hang about for too long, heading straight down to the Empress for one of Davie’s recommendations, Rat City Riot from the USA. Although they’ve released (I think) three albums to date, they’re completely new to me and blow me away with an energy packed set. They’re a five piece with a live-wire vocalist who never stops moving. He comes right into the crowd while singing one song then leaps onto the crash barrier and then straight onto the stage without a pause for breath. That’s something I make a mental note of several times across the weekend. The US bands put a whole lot more energy into their performance than their British counterparts. RCR carry this on and by the end of their set, every one of them is soaked in sweat from all the running and jumping. A top-notch version of Fugazi’s Waiting Room is dropped into the middle of the set and they finish up with a sorta theme song that features a “Rat City Riiii-ot” chant in the chorus that of course gets everyone singing along. Good stuff and a name to watch out for. I was so impressed, I went straight over to the merch stall and bought a shirt and CD.
After returning to the central bar for a seat, a drink and a catch up with the others, I had to go off for a rendezvous with some message-board acquaintances in the Acoustic room. However, after scoping the place for around 15 minutes, I decided they weren’t there and shot downstairs to the Olympia to catch Runnin’ Riot. They’re already onstage when I worm my way down towards the front and have a fair few of their followers in evidence by the looks of things. Gravel voiced singer Colin is sporting a t-shirt with a can of Evo Stick on the front bearing the legend “Drugs are shite. Bring back the glue.” Classic. Between songs he swigs from a bottle of Buckfast as the band powers through the highlights fom their four studio albums without any fuss, surviving the hail of rubber chickens launched stageward by the Belfast punks and skins. As ever, the set is closed with their signature tune, a cover of Cock Sparrer’s Runnin’ Riot. Every time I’ve seen these guys, I’m impressed by their no-nosense approach and today was no exception. Another top notch show.
Returning upstairs to the central bar, I think I spy my blind-dates from the Talk Punk message board. This proves to be the case and for the next hour or two, I chat happily away to Dave from Birmingham (who I’d met once before) and Min from Australia (who I hadn’t) as though we were old friends. They’re good people both of them, and the ease with which we got along typifies the feelgood vibe, the sense of community that pervades this festival and makes it unlike any other I’ve attended. It’s like some sort of family get together or school reunion, where you see faces or strike up conversations with people you recognise from previous festivals, all the time ties being established, spreading wider, snaring more people into one huge punk rock family.
After a while we decide that, as we’re at a festival, we should check out some bands and so head downstairs to The Empress Ballroom where 999 are already on stage. The last time I’d seen them, Arturo was on an (enforced) sabbatical and they played a rather lack-lustre set as a three piece. Art is back in the fold however and the band is really firing on all cylinders today. They seem to really thrive here at Blackpool on the big stage, with another massive crowd to play to. Guitarist Guy Days in particular, often sombre and static, is flinging his guitar about as he bounces around the stage. Their set is pretty much as you’d expect – all the hits plus a couple from the recent Death In Soho album that seem quite at home next to the classics. Last Breath especially gets the crowd bellowing along with its Na-Na-Na-Na refrain. Nick Cash milks the crowd for all he’s worth and squeezes an extra song over their time slot. Of course, it’s their debut 45 I’m Alive that brings to an end an excellent performance that really restored my faith in them. Maybe even the best I’ve seen them.
I catch up with Min again and we head back upstairs for a drink and another wee chat before she heads off for a smoke and I make my way to the Bizarre Bazaar for what is billed in the programme as a tribute to the late Poly Styrene. There’s quite a crowd gathered for it but early signs aren’t good with an empty stage and only random ’77 punk clips showing on the screens on the back wall. However, after a couple from X-Ray Spex, Goldblade frontman and TV rentapunk John Robb takes to the stage. He talks briefly about Poly, tells us there will be a couple more speakers, a couple of musical tributes and that he’ll hand over the mic to any audience members who wish to say something. First up is TV Smith who does a short, nervous Q&A session with John Robb before treating us to a heart wrenching version of Identity with only his battered acoustic for backing. It’s stunning in its potency in this stripped down format and draws much applause from the crowd. We get Zillah from Rubella Ballet who talks about her long term friendship with Poly and about her insecurities and struggles with her mental illness. Clearly nervous and emotional, she talks of Poly’s final months in the cancer hospice. When she gets heckled by some drunken idiot, partner and bandmate Sid jumps to her defence, as does a large portion of the crowd. She carries on telling her story. It’s very touching, very human and I don’t think I’m the only one with a lump in my throat and tear pricking my eyes when she finishes. We get a couple of people up from the crowd, some of whom say a short piece on how Poly inspired them, others just want to give her a send off. The Duel take to the stage. Singer Tara says a few words about her experiences with Poly before they play an excellent version of Germ Free Adolecents. Last up is Symond Lawes, a self-styled promoter, who became good friends with Poly and staged her triumphant X-Ray Spex reunion concert at the Roundhouse in London a few years back. He gives an interesting talk on the events leading up to the concert. It’s interesting stuff and a little insight to the woman behind the Poly Styrene name. As John Robb closes proceedings, I’m feeling quite subdued, not in the mood for music or people, so head off on my own for something to eat.
Suitably fortified, I head down to the Empress Ballroom and take in the second half of the Capdown set from the comfort of a balcony seat. I’m still reflecting on the Poly tribute and not much in the mood for skanking to their high energy ska-punk. Plenty are though, with The Empress pretty full once again. Their music is pretty infectious and before long my mood has lifted and I toddle downstairs and see out the set from there.
Next up in the Ballroom is another much anticipated set for me, The Boys. It’s rare enough that these guys play in the UK anyway but, given that this was to be singer/bassist Duncan “Kid” Reid’s last but one show with the band, it was a must-see as far as I was concerned. Well, judging by tonight’s performance, the man is going to be very sorely missed. He was a live-wire for their whole set, never stopping bouncing around the stage except to deliver his vocal lines on the button every time, with more energy than a man half his age. It truly was a 110% performance, as he seemed determined to wring every last ounce of enjoyment out of his remaining time with the band.
The band themselves was on fine form too, with a great sound showing off their poppiest of punk to its best advantage. The Boys songs are timeless. Unlike some of their peers they don’t sound rooted in 1977. Probably because they weren’t political, weren’t ever a message band. Even back then, their trashy lyrics of love, school, teenage angst and yeah, rock n roll, seemed evocative of a golden time gone by. So 35 years on, that hasn’t really changed, they still evoke. So for the next 40 minutes or so, I just set the autopilot to “light pogo”, tilted my head back and sang my heart out. The set-list was perfect, taking in everything from Weekend thru I Don’t Care, Terminal Love thru Cop Cars, Box Number to Kamikaze. Hell, even The Worm Song gets an airing, prompting a mass singalong as you might expect. Of course, First Time and Brickfield Nights get the biggest response of the night. The latter is maybe the ultimate Boys song, lyrically, musically, emotionally. I think they played everything I wanted to hear and yet, when it was time, I still didn’t want them to finish. Like I say, it was perfect and, for me, they were certainly the band of the day by quite a stretch. I’m so glad I got this opportunity to see them cos I’m not sure they’ll be this good again.
By the time they’d gone, I was physically drained so headed upstairs to the bar again to see who was going about. I ran into Davie and headed on down to The Arena to see the Have Nots, another of his picks for the weekend. They’re another US band, tuneful punk with the occasional outbreak of ska. The Arena isn’t particularly full – most folks being off watching The Filaments or more likely The Dickies I suppose – but the crowd that is there is very partisan and the band get an enthusiastic response. And no wonder, like all the other American bands I’ve seen this weekend, they’re throwing everything into their performance. The material is strong with and instant familiarity and yet I can’t pin down anyone else they sound like. Until of course, they announce a song for Joe Strummer, and launch into a note perfect rendition of White Man In Hammersmith Palais with even the moothie break executed to perfection. Spot on, and another good shout from Davie to be further investigated on my return home.
I can’t remember how we got split up but I ended up on my own again heading down to the Olympia for Paranoid Visions. I was feeling fairly pissed by this point, although clearly not as pissed as the band. Before I’d even muscled my way into the front of the crowd, I’d noticed that they were going out of time with each other on some of the songs. Never mind. It’s punk rock after all, and they’re always great entertainment anyway. An eight piece band is something of a rarity in punk circles and Paranoid Visions are certainly a one off. Featuring three vocalists and a “sampler” as well as twin guitars, bass and drums, their sound fluctuates between a hardcore punk assault, angular post-punk guitars and darker, gothic sounds more akin to the Sisters Of Mercy. Huge lead vocalist Decko cuts an imposing figure flanked by his female co-vocalists, as he tosses out pearls of wisdom to the crowd interspersed with taunts and expletives, all in his broad Irish brogue. He’s clearly the worst for wear tonight, regularly missing his cue as he lurches across the stage. It all gets too much for the guy next to me who launches his full pint at Decko, soaking him from head to toe, before turning on his heels and pushing his way out of the crowd. I panic momentarily in case Decko thinks it was me – like I say, he’s a biiiig guy – but he just stares blankly for a few seconds then cracks a crooked grin, mutters something like “Punk fucken rock!” and carries on with the song. It seems to act as a spur, because I don’t notice any issues with the timing for the remainder of the set. In fact they blaze through it with renewed vigour and, in the end, just about snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
It’s around midnight when they finish and there’s nothing on the timetable grabbing my attention at this point. I don’t fancy seeing Cock Sparrer again right now and I can’t be arsed waiting till 1am for The Subhumans or the Hot Rods. I’m pretty drunk, tired and emotional anyway so elect to have a relatively early night and head for home.
Words and pics by New York Johnny.
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 1
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 2
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 3
Rebellion Festival 2011 – Day 5
More of New York Johnny’s photos from the weekend can be viewed here