Thursday – WE R BACK.
Three years on from the last Rebellion Festival and we are finally back at our spiritual home, and there’s a few things that have changed. The Winter Gardens has opened a new Conference Centre main entrance, and the old backstage area where we’ve done so many great interviews with bands over the years is no more, so sadly bang goes any chance of doing any of those for you this weekend folks…. sorry! Then of course there’s the new outdoor stage going by the name of R Fest that you can attend on its own if you so wish, at £50 a day, or its free to those with Rebellion weekend wristbands and then finally there’s this sense of freedom in the Blackpool air, something that I certainly haven’t felt in quite some time.
What hasn’t changed though is the fact that Rebellion is still the number one punk and alternative festival here in the UK, returning with another knockout bill (that a few cancellations aside) has the RPM team arriving a day earlier than we have done previously, just so we can ensure we don’t miss any of the bands playing early on the first day of the festival. It wasn’t that long ago that I remember Thursday being the kind of “warm up” day for the event, now it’s the surrounding pubs and clubs that provide that, and we find ourselves crammed into an uber sweaty Tache watching Suzi Moon, when really we should have been getting an early night preparing for the weekend ahead, but fuck it, we really are back, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Arriving early doors at the Winter Gardens to catch Janus Stark opening the Empress Stage line up, the first thing that hits me is the size of the queue outside the conference centre waiting for the wristband exchange. We’d followed the festival’s advice online and got ours the night before, so we sailed through, but I can understand some of the anger vented within Facebook groups if you did get caught up in this and missed a band you wanted to see. As it is Gizz Butt and the Stark guys get to play to a smaller crowd than they might have given these circumstances but this doesn’t bother the quartet one iota as they deliver an outstanding performance that proves once again that every little thing does in fact count.
“Alright you English cunts, I bet you wish you’d been stuck in queues too rather than watch us,” is certainly a risky opening gambit from Pizzatramp frontman Jimbob Theodore Logan, but having risen from playing a slot at the festival’s Introducing stage just a few years back to now playing the flagship Empress Ballroom, he’s a man on a mission, and if he can make you laugh, or indeed cry (more of that in a moment) then what the hell? Jimbob’s other half Tia is in the line-up today on bass and backing vocals and that female voice does add a new dynamic to call response element of some of the band’s back catalogue, but then when you have songs as insanely catchy as ‘CCTV’ and ‘Ciggy Butt Brain’ within that canon of work how can the Chepstow pizza crew possibly go wrong? There’s even a touching moment when Jimbob calls his son mid-set just for the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to him, something that sees the frontman getting “sweat in his eyes” before the obligatory ‘Bono’s A Cunt’ closes a resoundingly successful set for the trio. You know, when people say you have to be “in the know” to get on the Rebellion bill, I always say “well Pizzatramp did it and they are fucking clueless.” There’s really no come back from that one is there….
I first saw Suzi Moon take to the Rebellion stage twelve years ago, playing one of the two stages they then had over in the Olympia, when she was a member of the Hellcat signed Civet. I have to admit I wasn’t that enamoured with the set I’d witnessed at the Tache the night before, largely due to a muddy sound, but Suzi seemed to love it, and for her set in the Pavilion this afternoon, it’s the almost absolute opposite. Here right from opener ‘Special Place In Hell’ the sound out front is stunning, thus ensuring that tracks like the strutting ‘Sonic Attraction’, the glamtastic ‘I’m Not A Man’ and the sultry set closer ‘Animal’ rip through flesh to get their hooks in you. It’s up on stage where Suzi is having guitar problems, that she doesn’t seem quite as in her special place as she did just twelve short hours earlier, and smashing the offending article into the Pavilion stage, you can feel the frustration she must have had boiling up inside. Rest assured though Suzi (If you are reading this) this was a great performance, and pretty much everyone around me seemed to think so too. I mean a bit of mid-set tension never hurt Texas T at Rebellion now did it?
Heading back to the Empress for some Wonk Unit, it’s now a decade since I first witnessed Alex Wonk live (that being at Slugfest 5 back in my hometown of Abertillery) and boy how things have moved on since those early(ish) part spoken word/part grunge/part punk rock days of the band. Only the main man and bassist Pwoison remain from that gig, but once again within this performance today the spirit of vaudeville is still there for everyone to delight in. I’ve often referred to Alex as the “Ian Dury of his generation” and here in the same hall that so many tortured geniuses have played over the years he seems in his element, conducting his glorious-sounding band through the likes of ’Pathetic Merry Go Round of Existence/Heroin’, ‘Day Job Wanker’ and a furious sounding ‘Nan Is Old’. It takes a pitch-perfect ‘Awful Jeans’ to get the sprung dancefloor bouncing for the first time this weekend, and just as ‘Go Easy’ tears out the PA we have our first band clash of the weekend, as we hop, skip, and jump over to Club Casbah in time for the arrival of Dirt Box Disco.
It’s also a decade since I first witnessed the mighty Dirt Box Disco deliver their slamdunk debut at Rebellion, and today they return to the Olympia, now retitled Club Casbah, playing perhaps their finest set since that jaw dropping debut. Some might argue that this is because the set list draws heavily from the ‘Tragic Roundabout’ EP and ‘Legends’ album, but when you have a song as strong as ‘Burning’ that can immediately get the whole of the packed-out Casbah singing as one, you just need to make sure you don’t lose the audience, and then when you can follow that anthem with the likes of ‘Peepshow’ ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Out With You’ and ‘My Girlfriend’s Best Friend’s Sister’ you really are ‘Unstoppable’ and even when Spunk calls his band “rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs” towards the end of their set, I’m sure he means it in a “Jurassic Park” Alan Partridge kind of way. “Back Of The Net!!!”
After a quick pitstop for some food (we do have to eat too you know) we move back to the Empress for Anti-Flag, or as they like to pronounce it An-tie-Flag, and I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan, thinking them to be a band consisting of more style than substance. Tonight, however even an old cynic like me can’t help but get caught up in the moment and singalong with the likes of ‘You’ve Gotta Die for the Government’ and ‘Fuck Police Brutality’ and whilst these tunes might now be over 26 years old they still sound as relevant today, maybe even more so. I do find it odd that in amongst their strongly politically driven setlist that they still have time to do a ‘Stars on 45’ kind of run through some cover tunes like ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘If the Kids Are United’, but the Empress faithful lap it up and send Anti-Flag off into the night like all conquering heroes. Me, I’m properly distracted by what’s about to follow.
Drawing the largest crowd of the day so far, it’s LA hardcore punk legends Circle Jerks who are up next in the Empress. Originally confirmed for the 2020 Rebellion Festival for what would have been the 40th-anniversary celebration of the band’s seminal debut record ‘Group Sex’, tonight, two years on it’s also the 40th-anniversary celebration of the band’s second album ‘Wild In The Streets’. Guiding us through tonight’s 32 (there may have been more) song battering of the senses that the band like to call a set list there’s the ever-convivial Keith Morris to relay the background story behind each of the blocks of songs the band, made up of bassist Zander Schloss, guitarist Greg Hetson along with guest drummer (the man who makes it all possible according to Morris) the monster that is Joey Castillo, deliver like men a third of their age. From ‘Deny Everything’ through to ‘When the Shit Hits the Fan’ via ‘Red Tape’ there’s even a point towards the end of their set where Castillo has to ask Morris to keep talking just so he can get his breath back, and if you remember that his day job is currently laying down the backbeat for The Bronx then that is surely some feat indeed. With the crowd thinning a little towards the end I do wonder how much of this is down to the relentlessly intense nature of the Circle Jerks set or if it’s just another one of the weekend’s many stage clashes, and as I’d actually forgone a long overdue chance to watch Hawkwind down on the R Fest stage for this Circle Jerks reunion set I for one was certainly glad I made this choice here tonight, as this was something I really would have hated to have missed.
Another potential stage clash was taken out of my hands literally a few days before Rebellion started when Bad Religion were forced to cancel all of their remaining European dates, including their headline slot in the Empress Ballroom, due to a family emergency back in the US. With The Skids stepping in to save the day and me having never been a fan of the band I instead headed over to Club Casbah to catch The Boys once again ploughing through a 19-song set that covered most of the hits from their back catalogue as well as a few deeper cuts to keep the diehards on their Cuban heeled toes. Singer/bassist Kent Norberg may lovingly refer to Boy’s songwriting machine of Matt Dangerfield and Casino Steel as the “Lennon And McCartney of punk rock” but through squinted eyes, Dangerfield would certainly pass more for Keith Richards these days, and not just in his looks either. There’s also the clang of his tight yet loose guitar proving to be the perfect counterpoint to Honest John Plain’s stand in Chips Kiesbye and with Steel closing down the set keyboard-less for ‘Sick On You’ he was giving us perhaps a rare glimpse of his inner Mick Jagger, albeit a slightly reluctant one. Oh, and here’s a footnote to the organisers of Rebellion too regarding this performance, because as The Boys have for some time featured two members of the fantastic Swedish punk rock band Sator. How about asking them over to play as well especially given they’ve just scored a number 1 album back home with their ‘Return Of The Barbie Q Killers’ record?
With just a couple of bands left on my must-see list it’s during the changeover between The Boys and The Bar Stool Preachers that I rechristen my RPM travelling compadres for the weekend, the Goldfish Brothers as everything I seem to tell them they immediately seem to forget. It’s no wind-up either, and never mind how many times I tell them I want to watch Bad Nerves at the ungodly hour of 1 am over in the Arena they instantly forget and ask me “who?” and “where?” time and again. In the end I have to put it down to the cider visors they have both been wearing for most of the day and the fact that one of them left home at 4 am this morning to get here, so instead I just settle in to watch the return of the mighty BSP as their career takes yet another stellar upwards turn.
Having recently announced that they have signed with Pure Noise Records on a two-album deal Brighton’s favourite ska-punk sons can seemingly do no wrong at the moment. Granted, a couple of band members do resemble extras from Nick Love’s The Business as they take to the Rebellion stage with a drum and bass intro tape booming out over the PA, but as soon as ‘Choose My Friends’ kicks in there’s no disputing this is the sound (and look) of The Bar Stool Preachers at the very top of their game. There’s also a smattering of new tunes given a spin around the Club Casbah block tonight and if this is the sound of what is to come then this is probably the last time we’ll be seeing TJ and the lads playing small venues here in the UK. This new stuff is essential listening, and I can’t wait to hear what the third album will sound like when it does finally get released. There’s only one downer tonight and that’s the fact that the band’s signature tune ‘Bar Stool Preacher’ doesn’t get to be played as the lads are on a strict curfew, but that tiny set list blip aside, this is the sound of the future of punk rock, bold, ballsy and most of all, absolutely brilliant. Look out for them across Europe and UK as the support for The Interrupters tour, things are about to go major league for these guys, you just mark my words.
So with that performance still ringing in my ears, it’s at this point I give up on ever getting the Goldfish Brothers to ever hang around to watch Bad Nerves, but as the weekend progresses I actually find myself not regretting missing them quite as much as I was fearing, but more of that to come.
Adios for now I’m off to bed for some much-needed shut eye. “Woking turn that fucking phone off!” Ha!
Author: Johnny Hayward