Day 2 Create. Community.
One of the most interesting things about punk is its invitation to create. Sure, like any other popular music genre, it is associated with tonnes of consumption: how many Ramones t-shirts have sprung from cotton plants around the world? How many bottles of dye have been sold to embellish punk heads? How many patches, zips, studs, leather jackets have been snapped up by eager punk consumers?
The really compelling element of punk is the urge to produce. The Rebellion Festival hosts an exhibition of art by and of punk. The pieces I love most are the really cheery and funny punk cartoons that also capture perfectly their punk subjects. The artist has an incredible talent. Depicting moments like the Clash London Calling video or the changing styles of John Lydon on a tiny drawing require insight and skill.
Speaking of Mr Lydon, and his name should always be celebrated when discussing the punk consumers producers, one of the performances today provided a compelling human history lesson. Viv Albertine from the hugely influential girl group The Slits played solo at the Bizarre Bazaar stage. As one of the key figures in the early blossoming of punk she provided some key insights. She described how Mr Lydon named her band the Flowers of Romance and how she and fellow member Sid Vicious spend the hot summer of 1976 rehearsing in the Ladbroke Gove basement of Joe Strummer’s squat. All of these human details illustrate how densely networked that early London punk scene was.
Before performing a song about rows of needles and rows of lonely people she told us how Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers introduced heroin to that London scene. It had been relatively drug free she shared: “we couldn’t afford them”. Apart from a little speed. It is funny to think how that creative, vibrant, chaotic community were affected by this America import.
Albertine’s performance is confessional. Highly confessional. She is compelling not comforting. Far from it. She used the stage to make uncomfortable points. She warned the audience about naive beliefs in standard myths. She peeled back fairy tales to unpack the real dangers within. Seeing her there, using her battered electric guitar to accompany her personal statements, reminded me of the eclecticism of Bjork, Woodie Guthrie, the sonic insistence of Suicide and the gender politics of the Birmingham School. She doesn’t use her guitar liked a meek folkie. She manipulates it with distortion and rhythm to highlight her words.
She spoke of the demeaning invitation to be the ‘hook-up’ of an unnamed man. Harsh lessons were delivered from this everyday warrior in a sparkling spangly dress.
She left us with the haunting image of a happy house/unhappy home. Designer kitchen and architectural wonder containing a prison for the expectations of the housewife. The song cresendoed with a chant of the expected duties of the ‘home-maker’.
“I hope he is still talking to me” she said of Mr Lydon. On the evidence of the chat with John Robb, I hope so too.
Another really compelling use of the stage was by Esso from the Lurkers. His book about what it felt like to be in one of the first wave of bands is very melancholic. The tone is wistful, direct, raw and human. It is one of my favourite insider accounts of that early punk movement. Loneliness, confusion, isolation and a wish for things to be better fill the pages.
He read a passage today about being on tour and dealing with the inevitability of being gobbed at by hordes of young people who thought was what you were supposed to do. That’s what the media can do. He also described how the band recorded with Mick Glossop and a conversation he had with Uriah Heap’s singer who was in the studio. The well coifed Uriah Heap front-man extoled the virtues of America. To Esso he contrasted America with Britain based on how much money could be won on their respective quiz shows. He also urged Esso to get in shape, to enjoy his body, to develop a physique like his: tanned and toned from exercising and the Californian sun.
Esso was somewhat surprised to find him crawling on all fours in the studio a few hours later. Two bottles of brandy consumed and his positivity and focused approach to life seemingly temporarily lacking.
Another highlight was meeting Tom Hingley and getting his autobiography. His time with the Inspiral Carpets, who Noel Gallagher famously roadied for, appears to be filled with learning about the music industry. His infections personality combined with the bits I read briefly make me pretty sure it is going to be a great document of what the music industry is really like.
I had always, and incorrectly as it turns out, lumped The Mob in with the horde of bands that emerged after that initial flowering of punk. ‘The Class of 82’ as one magazine cover described them, went up a road that wasn’t appealing to me at the time. The Buzzcocks, and in particular that man, Mr Lydon, navigated a route that was more experimental and unexpected to me. So when I finally did see The Mob they were heavy and perfectly capable of delivering a powerful punch without stepping on the accelerator constantly. They had that interesting twist on dark music of the time that UK Decay and Killing Joke had. I did recognise ‘No Doves Fly Here’ and was really impressed by their songs of doom, disaster, drudgery and repetition. As Niall Hope says: “If you have something to complain about; you have something to change!” I must educate myself a bit more on their recordings.
Speaking of positivity, 7 Seconds delivered an impassioned stormer of a set to finish the night. It was great to hear the songs about community, combating racism, confronting macho attitudes in society and in the music scene. Seeing the band, as well as Kevin Seconds on the acoustic stage earlier, is very life-affirming. He talks about how happy he is to get to do something he loves. Playing music with people he admires and travelling to perform that music. Part of his buoyant honestly stems from being 51 and still doing something he loves. His enthusiasm is infectious.
Also infectious was Los Fastidios’ rousing sing-along which had a few hundred assorted punks and associated tribes singing in unison about being anti-fascist hooligans. The band have such spirit and enthusiasm. Always inspiring.
Up The Irish
The Irish contingent were out in force today. Paranoid Visions did an acoustic set! A sure sign of the Apocalypse! It actually demonstrated that their songs can really work in such a setting. An acoustic album might get some of their lyrics heard by a larger audience. It was great to hear Penetration’s Don’t Dictate and New Model Army’s Vengeance. In fact, there is never a bad time to hear either of those songs. Interesting to hear Sara Bellum’s female voice on Vengence. Unique. In was literally incredible to hear their most intense song (and they have more than a few) ‘Strange Girl’ about teenager Ann Lovett who perished giving birth in a Longford field alone. This was accompanied by one staggering punk attempting to adjust his Sid and Nancy bum flap in front of the stage! You can’t make this stuff up!
Neck did a very raucous take on ‘Spancil Hill’. And singer Leeson informed the gathered punks that it was the London Irish who kept Irish traditional music going. People couldn’t resist their Celtic punk sound.
The Wild Hearted Outsider