Today it was back to Blackpool for the annual check-up on the medical condition of the venerable old institution that is punk. Punk nostalgia could not have found a more perfect temporary home than ‘the Paris of the North West’. There amongst the Ghost Trains, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, the sticks of rock, the tacky souvenir shops and every bit as colourful are the punks. The establishment’s dearest wish at the first sprouting of punk was that it would go away. It did go away. It went to Blackpool.
And every year, now as regular as a Christmas panto, or a back-to-school sale it enjoys a four-day celebration of community in the magnificent Wintergarden. The leather and studs are now as quaint as the outfits of the pearly kings and queens. Plus there was enough tattoo ink on display to paint a small country and the wrinkles were even more pronounced than ever before. Yet here they all were again. A clump of punks sitting by the entrance had not paced themselves very well. They were sitting beside a huge, and literally nauseating, pool of puke before the event has even begun. Pace yourselves punks! It is not a cider sprint it is a liquid marathon.
One of the reasons I felt excited about emigrating from Dublin in the late 80s was because I wanted to see every band I possibly could. London is an incredible city. It is even more incredible if you are young and music is your biggest passion. That was my case. I saw so many incredible bands when they passed through. At the same time two London bands quickly became ‘must sees’. I did everything I could to see them every time they played. They were Snuff and the Senseless Things. Both were infused with effervescent pop energy, rock power and a great sense of fun.
And tonight I get reacquainted with Snuff. They are every bit as irrepressible as ever. They’re as tight and muscular as Husker Du with the madcap wit of the Goons and the cheeky chappie personality of London barrow boys. I can’t help but smile and sing along with delight. It feels good to be here. It feels good to be alive. And even the floor of the ballroom, already as sticky as a gum tree forest in high summer, can’t prevent me from springing up and down, but gently.The Filaments have boundless energy with the most elastic trombonist of the night. He cavorted and sprang around the stage with his instrument in hand. They have good highly charged songs and they also helped the punks to get a bit of a work out. They are anti-fascist and fun. During their set they successfully urged the crowd at the front to form a circle and move around. The following scene resembled an earthquake in the toilet brush and paint factory. The fans seemed to enjoy their punk-ercize; later their magnificent plumage was rightly saluted by Snuff. A riot of colour under the Blackpool illuminations.
The Buzzcocks were one of the most bright and brilliant things about early punk/new wave. Their vibrant singles were sparky, spiky and melodic three minute bursts of energy. I didn’t get to see them when they visited Ireland and played at barely audible levels thanks to the intervention of the authorities at Trinity College. It must have been frustrating for the audience to witness such a great band at such a low volume.
I got to see them in London twenty years ago. To be honest I had reservation about going to see them because they were ‘not of the moment’. They were exceptional. The gig reminded me of how many quality pop songs they had. And here I was again, over twenty years on from that gig.
Diggle and Shelly still give the impression of men enjoying what they do. And I don’t mean in some fake showbiz way. They indulged in some guitar work-outs that I suspect wouldn’t have escaped the punk censors in 1977. And as much as I appreciate that punk needs to be more open and to break the formulas I didn’t enjoy the guitar histrionics as much as the band probably did.
A fantastic thing about the Rebellion Festival is getting to sample bands I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. The Heavy Metal Kids sounded like a band I have read about in passing yet have never heard. And there they were looking every bit like Heavy Metal but not in any way like Kids. Their singer looked like ‘rock singer’ selected by central casting. The handy official Rebellion programme has info on lots of the bands appearing this year. Turns out the Heavy Metal Kids were formed in 1972! I can only imagine how much pleasure the original members get from performing songs and being on stage after all those years. I don’t necessarily want to see these bands. And previously I would have been glad if they never performed. Now I kind of admire them and wish them well even if it is from a distance. I am genuinely glad that people who made art collectively now meet up with old friends, and even new ones, and play their music. God Bless The Heavy Metal Kids.
Tomorrow I get to see some of the Irish contestants on Blackpool Rebellion Festival 2012. I suspect they will give a decent account of themselves.
Maximum Rock N Roll # 350 is dedicated to a wonderful Photo Issue. It celebrates the photographers of the punk scenes. One of the most interesting to me is the feature on Don Pyle and his evocative shots of the early Toronto punk days. Capturing bands like the Diodes and the Viletones, Pyle who went on to be in Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, brings to light moments of inspiration for the great Canadian city. Pictures of Iggy Pop, Cheetah Chrome and the Ramones demonstrate how visiting bands were often the touch paper for young emerging acts. The article remined me of great people like Catherine McRae and her friend Joanne Keading, Elliot Lefkoe, Dave Bookman and Kim Cooke who took inspiration from that underground scene and then made their own artistic and entrepreneurial contribution to the music world.
The Wild Hearted Outsider