To have the title of best Punk Festival on the planet bestowed on you not only by fans but also by the bands who play each year, it must be a challenge to live up to expectations in 2017, even more so after last year’s exceptional 20th anniversary sell-out success. This Year’s line up once again blends the old with the new, the ever present with the rarely seen, coming together over 4 days in Blackpool’s winter Gardens, where adrenaline, stamina, endurance, and insomnia are fuelled by a well lubricated liver.
Thursday being the opening day is usually a less busy affair as more people attend the Friday/Saturday events, but this is by no means a quiet day with all stages being well attended and anticipation high from the crowds awaiting entry. The first band I saw who bared the stage were the Soap Girls, in fact the first band bare on stage were the Soap Girls. Dressed in their usual attire of a few threads a thong and thigh high boots the 2 French Sisters braved the Blackpool outdoor Casbah stage with their tunes, they delivered a set that was clearly rocking the large crowd who had gathered despite other attractions indoors. The new album Society’s Rejects has some heavy fiery tracks on it and gave the festival a fitting opening, making the music as popular as the stage costumes were.
An unfortunate clash with another band meant missing Hospital Food’s set last time I was here , so made sure I caught them this time, their loud aggressive melody was good and very well delivered although the sound at the Arena stage was not as impressive as it’s larger stages it would still be better than the usual venues they play. They are a little known band but have some well-crafted jumping tunes such as, “Small Man in a Big World” an example of some harmonies that often echo throughout their set.
My first venture into the Empress Ballroom was to see the Pears a band who have been tantalising a lot of taste buds recently, so let’s see if they are ripe for picking or rotten to the core. The lead singer Zach Quinn is not your laid back crooner wearing the latest cardigan, he is the reincarnation of Jello Biafra and Henry Rollin before the aging process. Every inch of stage is covered not only by foot but also body fluids as he is stripped to the waist and sweating, while the rest of the band assault their instruments until they wail and cry at a volume so high your teeth rattle. The Pears maybe an acquired taste but if you like you Punk fast and angry you will no doubt have them in your ears already. From the new to the old school we caught The Zips and London both coming up with the goods in the Opera House (Unfortunately the only seated stage area), a throwback to the melodic tunes and attitude of 77, something that’s sadly often lost in modern Punk bands today. There is a lot of nostalgia around these older bands and justifiably so, capturing aggression and melody with lyrics of substance is a thing of beauty when they all come together in a song.
The Barstool Preachers once again bring their Ska/Punk sound to Rebellion, the outdoor stage has been allocated to them this year no doubt after blowing the roof of the Arena stage last year. The crowd is large and knowledgeable of what’s coming up, either from touring the country tirelessly or from the previous years’ experience. As per usual the band have the audience jumping from the first chords, TJ owns the stage for their set and brings an infectious energy backed up by the band flowing over the crowd that could lift any mouth to smile. Although only around for a short time the songs leave a mark that is branded on the memory, instantly recalling the lyrics to sing along to and enjoy the crowd merging as one to dance and sway. The outdoor stage took away the intimacy of last year show, but non the less they were cheered off having stepped another rung up the Punk ladder of success. This is where the endurance is required at Rebellion, because as the day goes on aging legs may need to rest and vocal chords need to be soothed but there is no rest for the wicked as next up are Teenage Bottlerocket. If you have not seen “Teenage Bottlerocket” then, WHY THE HELL NOT? The live show oozes class in the vain of early Ramones, they have it all and make it look so easy with attitude, power, melody and a bit of comedy thrown in. The songs set a blistering pace with very little conversation between them; catchy hooked choruses get you singing along before blasting you with a dramatic power chord. This was a set to remember from a band that is definitely underrated, the fact they never played “Rebound” is the only blot on an otherwise exceptional set or is that just me? A visit to see Toyah was as expected more pop than Punk but an option for those with a little lighter taste in tunes, a far cry from her usual audience she was still given a warm reception on arrival . Her bubbly personality endeared her to the crowd from her first foot on the stage, she looked as though she was having fun and this connected with the singing crowd below her which was not a mystery at all. Before I know it the first day ends with non-other than the legendary TV Smith playing The Adverts, who better to bring to life a tiring body and failing mind but a one man musical machine. Like a boxer getting up from a count we muster up one last push to songs that are etched on every brain in the room, Gary Gilmore’s Eyes, Bored Teenagers, No time to be 21 and One Chord Wonders are delivered with the energy they were first played. TV Smith has built up a reputation around the world as a one man explosion on stage, this is no exception and as with Charlie Harper he is held in the highest esteem by the Rebellion audiences and he repays that with another blinding set his first of 3 over the weekend (What age is he!).
Day 2 started slowly for me until that is I stepped into the Empress ballroom awaiting a band from Scotland that’s making a big noise, Heavy Drapes are on a runaway train at the moment hitting all the right stops around the country. They take the stage with the presence of a well-established rabble, strutting and sneering in the form of a young Lydon, at times over playing the part to the annoyance of some of the crowd who are waiting for the first chords to start up. When “Heavy Drapes” play the posing and posturing becomes secondary to what comes out those amps, they have the tunes to win over the audience combining old and new with Punk and Rock. What’s more astonishing is Should I Suck or Should I Blow a 4 track EP is the only release to date, but those songs have created quite a stir and live they sound just as good. I Wanna be Maladjusted or Hanging Like a Suicide just grip a crowd and won’t let them go, A little more Heavy Drapes and a little less Lydon poses would be welcomed but these guys have the tunes to not only entice a large crowd like they have today but to fill this venue in the future as a headliner, watch this space. After some Heavy Drapes CPR I was ready for the rest of Fridays menu, new to the pallet was a band called Chinese Burn where only a quick YouTube view prepared me for their set. The beauty of Rebellion is the undiscovered gems you can find while waiting on more established bands, this was one such occasion I did not regret. Taking to the stage was the lead singer, dressed in a red military jacket resembling a cross between Ray Davis and Mick Jagger. His conversation was at times funny, camp and entertaining, but we are not here for just the banter and Chinese Burn have a great sound to go with the front man’s charisma. He twists turns and cavorts around the stage at times looking like he is having a stroke or epileptic fit, but fear not he is well and tuned to the performance required for the music behind him. Some good 77 style punk song in this bands armoury, another Rebellion slot next year will hopefully be better attended if they shout loud enough.
The last thing you would expect at a Punk festival is a choir, well the outside stage has just the very thing supporting The Membrains where John Robb has competition for the mic tonight. Make no mistake these guys can sing and can hold a note until I go to the bar and return with a refilled glass, but does it work with two sides of the musical spectrum on the same stage. Well for me it was interesting to listen to what was created, again something new and experimental, and I could see how it can fit in as an adventurous collaboration. A more relaxed affair was had at the Rat Scabies Interview where he wasn’t so much grilled as cajoled in to giving answers in front of the Arena audience, all were there looking for Damned Gossip of any kind or a juicy bit of unheard controversy. A stroll down memory lane started, with Rat giving some accounts of the beginnings of what was to become one of the most exciting bands in Punk history. The conversation was mentioning a who’s who of the early punk scene, nothing much new or controversial but so good to hear it coming from a man who was there and done it and held in such high esteem for his music. Questions from the audience were batted away with the experience of someone who knows the ropes, and his disagreement with the Captain treated a little diplomatically with a return to the band even temporarily not out the question completely. The highlight was short and very very sweet, when he climbed aboard the Drum kit and banged out the intro to New Rose like an 18 year old again, either someone opened the back door or the hairs on my neck stood up.
A band I have never seen but have a big Celtic reputation took to the stage kilted and ready to go, The Real McKenzies are this Canadian bunch that have been around since 1992 and it shows. They have a tight sound that’s full of fun and enjoyment backed by a piper and the charismatic Paul McKenzie leading the singalongs, he has a lot to say and say’s it well, keeping the crowd amused and their feet moving throughout a lively set. They have created a style of their own amongst the growing number of Celtic Punk bands around today, bringing traditional music to meet the punks with a bit of humour running through their raucous sounds. How better to end the night than to see a Sex Pistol can’t be bad now can it, Paul Cook is again hitting the skins with The Professionals a very under rated band even when Steve Jones was up front. Preparing for a new album release they graced the stage of the Opera House (Remember, the Seated one), with some seasoned musicians they were tight in delivering the back catalogue with tracks like Just Another Dream, Join The Professionals, and 1-2-3 and a few of their new tracks, also Silly Thing seemed to gain a few volunteer backing vocalists without asking, thus ending the night two.
Reaching the halfway mark of the festival when Saturday comes we get an influx of bodies, easily noticeable in the walkways between the stages and the increased queues at the bars/toilets/food courts. But far from this being a problem it only adds to the atmosphere of the occasion, this is a music lead festival where the crowd value and want to preserve what they have and behaviour does not step over the line. Another little known band on my list to see is The DeRellas blending Punk Rock with 70s Glam beats, sounds like a combination that would work to me. Unfortunately they take to the seated stage with a small standing section at the front, this doesn’t stop a set full of exciting tunes dragging dirty guitar riffs through songs like “Stick It to the Man” and “Go GoDeRellas”. With a new 6 track album “Freakshow” coming out they kindly let us hear it, I will want to be catching their next tour at some point. A completely different direction musically is back in the Empress Ballroom, The Los Fastidios have succeeded in being a non-English speaking favourite which many have tried and many have failed. Forming in Italy in 1991they now bring to the Rebellion stage a mix of Oi, Ska and Skinhead sounds, which very quickly filled the largest hall at the festival. These guys have adjusted to UK and USA audiences with the quality of songs they have, it’s not quiet your loud aggressive Oi sound but neither is it your bouncy ska tunes either; it sits between the two very nicely. A crowed empire chanted choruses and threw fists in the air to the bands delight. Now as if the Jack Daniels wasn’t spinning my head enough every time I visited the bar, the next band have it emblazed over there double bass. In the Introducing there are some Rockabilly Punks from 13 Bats, a Spanish band who whip up a room with the double bass echoing deep in your soul. This is hammer and tongs Punk Rock N Roll with machine gun snare and death defying double bass climbing with a low ceiling, they get a great response from the hall and picked up a fair few inquisitive listeners. Moving swiftly on is another must see for me as a former Boys member is on tonight, Duncan Reid and the Big Heads play classic Punk tunes and melodies that capture the essence of those early Boys songs. The bands own tracks are very much melodic danceable tracks that get an audience off their arse, but the cherry on this cake is you also get those classics such as Brickfield Nights, Soda Pressing and the very excellent First Time oh oh oh.
Sex Pistol number 2 is up next has now arrived, Glen Matlock may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he is responsible for some of the greatest music my ears have ever heard. Tonight he is on his own with just an acoustic guitar and what looks like a very dodgy gold denim jacket that may have fell out of Del Boys 3 wheeler, but non the less its Glen Matlock he can wear what the hell he likes really. We are introduced with a very short Interview where Glen goes over the early Pistols days giving a very low key account of the bands beginnings, which is also covered in the book he is selling after the show. Then an acoustic set was performed that showed his energy and quality as a live performer , he did give us one pistols number “God Save The Queen” which is incomparable to the original and no more than a sing a long for the crowd. Now at the festival filling the Empress every year are The Anti Nowhere League a band that still creates controversy and conversation, even in the Punk scene they have created a divide with the lyrical content of their songs, love them or loath them they are still here stirring it up. Animal states that every subject should be there to take the piss out of in equal amounts, and to be fair to him I think they have covered every subject more than once. The bands early album We Are the League takes up most of the set, with Animal grunting and groaning in his unique style to songs we all know and some love. Although never getting near those early songs, there are a few later tracks that come up to scratch as well. The sight of old punks blaring out the lyrics to “So What, with fists clenched and eyes popping still confirms that the band whatever you think of them don’t take themselves too seriously and may even have mellowed in old age.
A disappointing start to Sunday as it’s the last day of Rebellion, but also the first band that I wanted to see had very few in the audience. Unfortunately for whatever reason this killed the atmosphere in the hall for the Black Pitts an Irish band with some killer tunes, after hearing there new album “B Movie Extra” they were on my list to get a listen to. Massive credit must go out to the band for performing to those who made it, as they went through the set as if it were packed. They played like a modern day Heartbreakers, with riffs and hooks all over the songs and catchy choruses that no doubt make a room spin back in Ireland. Tracks from the album were rattled through covering Hey Johnny, Curveball and the excellent BDO Brigade unfortunately without the sound of the cocking of the gun which is a great addition. I eased my way into the day by listening to an Interview with the Bass playing UK Sub Alvin Gibb, giving a very interesting and honest account of his experience on the Iggy Pop tour. A fascinating insight into the people around him and the situations he found himself in while touring the world, giving those listening a small window of the dangers and excesses back stage and on the road with further accounts found in his book on the subject. Alvin then appeared on stage with the one and only Charlie Harper this time with his Urban Dogs, as he is only 73 years of age I suppose he still has the energy to sing for 2 bands at the festival. They serve up songs such as “Limo Life and “New Barbarians” as well as covers of “Warhead and I Wanna Be Your Dog”, the world will be a sadder place when Charlie finally hangs up his padlock as his enthusiasm and exuberance spreads throughout the Winter Gardens putting bands to shame who go through the motions nightly on stage. Another band who have been around forever are The Vibrators original member John “Eddie” Edwards still hitting the skins with precision, again a band who’s early recordings wind a crowd up like those chattering teeth in a joke shop, singing “Automatic Lover”, “Amphetamine Blue”, Troops of Tomorrow” in fact for these bands the difficulty is what songs to leave out of the set with a huge back catalogue to choose from. Always entertaining with a big following and now with another guitarist since Darrell Bath’s departure, Incidentally also playing Rebellion this year on the acoustic stage solo. A different sound was coming out of the Opera House doors as I passed, a rambling screeching sound reminiscing of a Russian night on the Vodka, it was in fact Lene Lovich who’s lucky number’s one for those old enough to remember. An acquired taste but non the less shows the wide and varied reach the festival is with regards to music. Dressed as I imagined her to be with her long pigtails and her individual look, she still has the same shreek in her voice after all these years. Her repertoire consisted of “Sleeping Beauties”, “Maria” and “Say When” all sounding like menacing fairy stories or a chant from a book of spells. Her number 3 hit single “Lucky Number” being the highlight of her Individual set.
As the Ramones are no longer with us and the impact the band created still lives on more now than when they were alive, we cling to whatever crumb of comfort we have left, last year CJ Ramone was anything but sedated and this year Richie Ramone came out from behind the kit an grabbed the mic. As a big fan of the Ramones you would think this would be the highlight of my night, but on the contrary it’s a feeling of confusion rather than pleasure. Although CJ was excellent last year and Richie was good to watch this year even while playing Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” I would feel more comfortable if they were playing under their own bands names and covering a few Ramones songs along the way as former band members, it feels like the Ramone name is being used to capture an audience, when these guys have songs good enough to get noticed on their own. I would not want to diminish their contribution to the band, but they are not The Ramones who changed music forever with those first 3 albums. I then contradicting myself completely when hearing “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Richie yelled Hey Ho Lets Go, but then again what a song that is!
The final closing act on Sunday is usually a big name, a crowd puller that gets everyone on their feet for a farewell till next year. Taking the stage are a band from Scotland who are hardly up there with the Sex Pistols, Clash or Damned, The Skids have only just reformed for a short tour and only now decided on creating a new album. When the band take the stage they come on to a huge welcome roar which looked as though it caught them by surprise, I wasn’t the only one who notices a glow come over their faces as if to say “fuck we didn’t expect that!”. This was the start of a great set from the band from Dunfermline, Richard Jobson was as always very articulate and created an excellent repour with the crowd informing us of the bands history between songs and their pleasure in playing for us at Rebellion (Bob Geldof lesson 1, how not to be an arsehole). The Skids have a number of early songs that even if you find difficulty with the lyrics, you still love the tune. Just to clarify to the less experienced “ The Saints are Coming” is a Skids song and was only covered by the MTV brigade, they show how it’s done properly with a Scottish accent and the backing of a Rebellion army. We had “Working for the Yankee Dollar” and “Masquerade” both had everyone in the hall dancing better than Jobson, but as he admitted himself dancing it the Empress Ballroom is a pleasure enough without needing to be good at it. The intro from “Off One Skin” is a great bit of Punk music riffs, before it catches the crowd out each time when it instantly slows number of times throughout the song, but non the less a great live track. The succinct guitar and consistent bass continue with “Charles” and “Charade”, there was also an updated version of TV Starts incorporating the very popular (Don’t know why) new lyrics of “Simon Cowell he’s a Wanker” which went down reasonably well. All that is very well and good but to me the Skids have one song that propels them up there with the best of them, with an intro to ignite a crowds fatigued limbs as if on fire “Into The Valley” is in a league of its own tonight. The bass lines are exceptional before the guitar lets loose on that familiar tune, few can survive the urge within to dance and chant. Singing along like you have had a jag at the dentist doesn’t matter, because of the difficulty in figuring out the lyrical content everyone apart from Jobson sounds the same. The crowd gave everything they had vocally as the chorus blasted back to the band like a jet engine starting up, one of the highlights of any closing Rebellion. On paper the Skids shouldn’t work as being the last band on the bill at Rebellion, but whoever had the balls to push it through should be applauded as the band were when they left the stage after an excellent set and some shit dancing.
After the 20th anniversary last year Rebellion was never going to reach that level of success this year, but they came close again with something for everyone by feeding the habit of hearing those classics once again and finding something new to jump about to and everything in between. My only real complaint would be the line up for the all seated Opera stage, maybe bands that are less animated could play there next year as sitting watching the Vibrators or Urban Dogs should be discouraged and is not good for the mind or body. Rebellion did pull a rabbit out a hat with The Skids a surprising success, also a few other countries represented over the weekend again made it interesting. Rebellion is an experience that is enjoyed every year by thousands; watching hundreds of bands from all over the world perform under one roof. If you have not been to the best Punk festival in the world yet, Why Not!
Rebellion festival: http://www.rebellionfestivals.com/
Photos courtesy of Dod Morrison.