Niall McGuirk rounds up his weekend at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool earlier this month

Day 1

Time is mystifying. I try and live in the moment and have crystal clear memories of the finish of Rebellion Festival last year. The empty winter gardens strewn with litter where people filled that space over the previous four days. I vowed straight away to return, picked out a plastic glass and started saving for the next fest. Here we are 12 months later and I have returned. I wasnt expecting sterling to be so low against Euro as I went to change currencies, so that means less purchases this time round but first world problems and all that.

Unfortunately there were no flights directly to Blackpool from Dublin so my journey starts early with a trip to Manchester, which gives me time to do my homework, and I had a chance to make plans for the following 4 days of punk rock. Like an excited child waiting for Santa Claus I could barely sleep, I twisted and turned in my bed and thought of festivals gone by and anticipated this one. Rebellion is my world cup for punk, the best bands don’t always get on the bill but the event is some celebration of punk rock.

Todays initiation is the masked power of Evil Blizzard. It commences for me on Thursday afternoon. The mobility wheelchairs are in full flow on Backpool’s promenade down the road, and bingo callers are screaming at the top of their voice by the sea, but inside the Winter Gardens – home to ballroom dancing and the Darts Word Championship – there is a counter culture screaming to be counted. Evil Blizzard make some noise… it almost peels the skin off your face. Maybe thats why the band wear masks? Menacing, powerful and completely bizarre for Thursday afternoon at 4pm. Next up are Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man, with a speed to their songs that match any US hardcore band.

The real beauty of Rebellion is finding new acts, new artists and people documenting our movement that were unknown to me previously. Joe England is one such person. Editor of Push magazine and a West Ham Utd fan, his story is one worth hearing and he share some thoughts with us on the literary stage. A quick trip into the arena gives me a sight I’ve never seen before – a Japanese Oi band. Powerful sing along street punk from Anger Flares is followed by System Of Hate, a punk band from Barnsley with the enthusiasm of Dublin’s Paranoid Visions. They play fast basic punk tunes and want everyone to hear them.

Sick Of It All were never really on my radar, I always found the agression to be something I didn’t need to hear when listening to music. Aggression if aimed towards righting an injustice is alright, but when it’s trying to display just how hard people are I can leave it. However there’s no denying their power and my real surprise was that 1,000 people were ready to mosh along just after 6 in the evening.

Any aggression in Andy Higgins‘ set is aimed at pointing out injustice and Andy has ben doing his for many years. He is the person behind Just Say No To Government Music and has a new fanzine out for Rebellion. As a Blackpool FC fan he is always railing for the underdog and his acoustic set is a collection of covers tailored to discuss the plight of the Seasiders and the tragic take of how one person can profit from running a football club with seemingly no real repercussions.

TV Smith is similar; part of the furniture here at Rebellion and always ready to talk, to play and to share that enthusiasm. TV has been playing since the Adverts in 77 and before, but he still displays that youthful abandon nearly 4 decades later

Neville Staple was also playing 4 decades ago as part of the Specials, it’s not his first time here and he seems to have gotten over the fear from the stage of his daughter being surrounded by a gang of punks at the front of the crowd. We danced and sang and smiled as we remembered those old classic ska songs

Anti-Flag upped the tempo with some politically charged hardcore. We sang and screamed at the top of our voices. The world needs peace but that plea is being ignored. Anti Flag are doing their best with that rallying cry, a fitting end to an eclectic day. Remember this is a marathon so we have to pace ourselves over the 4 days and with that in mind I had to give The Misfits a wide berth and troop back to bed

 

Day 2

And so it continues. The streets around the Winter Gardens have been magically cleaned and the seagulls had some treats for breakfast. It all kicks off just after midday with Max Splodge the MC for a game of bingo. When in Rome, and all that…

First bit of music for me is the UK based but US influenced sound of The 4130’s. I’ve played them a few times on my radio show. Speedy and tuneful just like Bad Religion, only with less words. Jonny Wah Wah curates the new band stage which takes place on day 1, he also is one of the main interviewers on the literary stage as well as singing in On Trial UK. Distorted Buzzcocks tuneful songs.

I felt like I’d gatecrashed a secret party gathering when going into see In Evil Hour in a fairly packed Empress Ballroom with hundreds of people sing along to the power punk on offer. It was a good secret and a good surprise however I still can’t get into guitar solos. (Any chance Rebellion could ban them?)

The Crows are regular features at Rebellion but this was my first time to see them. Tuneful punk that started with an accapella version of Homophobia. What more could you ask for?

Every year I run a competition in my head for most popular band t-shirt. I will be amazed if Gimp Fist don’t win it for 2015. Biggest queue at a merch stall for over an hour before they even played. Don’t quite get it myself.

Paul Haslam on the Literary stage told us of his time getting into publishing books. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Friday aftrnoon than listening to tales of punk rock by people who were involved. Paul co-edits Street Sounds magazine with Gary Bushell and owns Countdown Books. His upbringing was soul and mod and he DJ’d at The 100 club. He has a big connection with the Oi scene, but his talk ended up being rushed through due to him arriving late. Rebellion runs on a very tight timescale and its timekeeping is usually immense.

Cathi Unsworth reminisced on her days and her 5 books. Her journalistic career started with articles for Sounds. And as I sat listening the lightbulb appeared above my head – I’ve read many reviews from Cathi down through the years. Sounds helped me discover some great bands in the 80s and Cathi (along with John Robb and Gary Bushell) helped with that soundtrack. Joolz then spoke of tattoos, writing, art, her background, New Model Army and pretty much everything in between. Some sad tales of the removal of artistic freedom for people in bands. Both Joolz and her interviewee Rhona Dakar asked that people of all ages  support DIY, and that is the way forward for all artists. Joolz had a tough upbringing and if she had of dropped a pin during her explanation of her youth it would have created a thunderclap noise. We sat motionless and stunned whilst we hear of the agony that men inflicted on her as an adolescent.

One thing that strikes me so far is that there are so few all male bands or events. Striking in that it shouldn’t matter but with so much male aggression in punk rock, it is heartening that women are involved and Rebellion is not behind in pushing that forward.

Seggs and Ruffy from Ruts DC go into more detail about their ‘new’ book – a book they introduced to us last year, but has been five years in the making. It is now published. The band that don’t want to complain any more they want to provide answers. The message they want to send out is “people unite” How refreshing is that?

Paranoid Visions are gathering huge momentum and respect. Another part of the furniture here, their accommodation becomes home to Irish Punk for the weekend. The flag literally flying in the front window of their (what Blackpool can only get away with calling a) hotel. The current line up is their tightest for years and songs new and old go down a treat. They are getting better with age and it was a dilemma when they clashed with the chat with The Ruts.

Cyanide Pills are on damaged goods who always seem to pick out good tuneful catchy pop punk rock bands straight from the garage. I got their album after seeing the last year, well worth a listen. We were treated to more stalwarts in the guise of Subhumans then. I’m never disappointed listening to their set even if Bruce doesn’t seem to be playing guitar.

TV Smith played his own songs tonight rather than the Adverts classics of last night. It’s positive that so many people don’t just attend Rebellion for nostalgia purposes. Sure, the majority of people are here because of their affinity to a genre they lived and loved in a different century, but they are still willing to open up to new songs, which is what Billy Liar and Louise Distras do in their seperate well attended acoustic sets

Ruts DC however are a different story. I think the best band I’ve seen here, the songs are incredible and the respect people have for them is immense. For many bands it can be a case of seeing a few songs and good and all as they may be you move on. There is always someone else to see. For the Ruts DC my feet while not firmly planted on the ground (how can you fail not to move and be moved by In A Rut?) weren’t going too far. They played 2 sets tonight, electric and acoustic, and they made the trip worthwhile regardless of what other wonders the weekend might bring. They even do something the Subhumans would never dare – they play a new song. The respect the crowd have for The Ruts is unequalled anywhere else. If Rebellion was a football team The Ruts DC would be its star player, the one that can do no wrong and kisses the crest with meaning.

Back to reality and some comedic relief from Captain Hotknives before another nostalgic trip with The Rezillos. I wrote before of that cassette I had in work, Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts and I Can’t Stand The Rezillos. Well the original pop punk band were bashing them out here.

More old school tunes from The Damned, but to be honest that was just keeping me awake for another highlight. However the packed out Empress Ballroom were on a different wavelength as they jumped and sang and very nearly did Smash It Up.

Gang Of Four… I don’t know how I did it, but I stayed awake – over 13 hours after Max kicked it all off with his bingo – and caught the entire set and smiled my whole way home. Not so much at Gang of Four and their incredible rhythmic angular songs – they could easily be Gang of one seeing as Andy is the only original member left – but I am marvelling at the excellence and humility of The Ruts DC.


Day 3

I said it was a marathon and whilst Wonk Unit may have just arived in Blackpool this is the start of my third day. It’s a great start for me though, as I get to see a band I’ve been hearing and reading about for a couple of years and have been following their own Wonk Fest for the past couple of years. They have a new member in Jess who adds a keyboards and screams to the ska tinged hardcore sound or joke core if there is such a term

Louise Distras’ acoustic set last night was a highlight and she has beefed out her sound now with a band. My introduction to Louise was at Rebellion and was always solo with her guitar. I delighted in the fact that an independent woman would get up on stage and rail against the world, rallying the troops. I wasn’t expecting such a powerful set on offer from the three piece. Almost as good as the acoustic. Almost. Still damn good.

AMI are from Brighton and the collective age of the four piece may not be equal to Charlie Harper from the UK subs who was standing in the from row for most of their set. Good power slightly rock sound. Singer had a Descendents t-shirt so the future is bright.

Goldblade early on a Saturday afternoon on the first day of the new football season… I could have made my excuses and watched the scores but how can you miss this? Complete with oyston out banner in support of the local football team, Gol blade are the underdogs band and they will scream at the top of their lungs for that underdog. We will rejoice with them.

Nic Austin on the Literary stage gave us a chance to sit down and take in the stories of his time in Chelsea and his spell with Generation X. Nic is still playing, not only in Chelsea but has a new record out too, Church of Eon.

The Boys played some acoustic versions of their early pop rock sound. Pop punk means so much more than Green Day or other sped up tuneful bands. The original wave saw bands wih basic tunes and an atitude play some great songs. The Boys had these and it is great to hear them stripped down.

999 were a punk band from my youth but I wanted to hear what Barry Cain had to say about his book Sulphate Street, his time as record mirror journalist and then publisher of flexipop magazine.

A-Heads were part of the anarco wave that showed that not only was diy possible, it was imperative. Say and sing what you like. MDC certainly said and sang what they wanted. Unfortunately after sitting and waiting 15 mins we were informed they hadn’t arrived. I was hoping for this to be my chance to see them as they are due on last tonight. It gave me a chance to listen to Monkey from The Addicts and his take on performance and punk and being happy to be part of a community. Hard to believe they have recorded and released over 200 songs, must make it hard to think up a set list, I had to leave when I heard they played in Israel, hugely disappointing.

Peter And The Test Tube Babies always seemed like a band with interesting tales and it was nice to hear some of them. The literary stage is a hugely imortant facet of Rebellion. We get to hear first hand accounts of what was going on with all these bands. It’s great for someone like me who was living in a different country and buying the records, but not really expecting to ever be in a position to see them live. It wasn’t Peter on stage but Del from the band had some stories to tell anyway.

Steve Drewett is one person I wrote to, and wondered if I’d ever get to see him live. I have now seen him or his band the Newtown Neurotics 6 times and love it every time. I had never seen him on stage with his daughter Rosa before as she accompanied him on 6 tracks. It’s such a privilege to be here listening to bands that played such a part in my formative years. It’s 30 years later and life keeps moving on. We realise that but at the same time it’s always good to take stock of where we come from. For many that is the community or area they grew up for me I grew up in the punk community and the neurotics were very much neighbours, along with Ruts DC and so many more this weekend.

Culture Shock I have seen nearly as much as the Neurotics and they would have lived around the corner in that community, newcomers though :). Upbeat punk, and Dick is in great form tonight.

The literary stage was buzzing today, Nina Antonia spoke of her book about Johnny Thunders and her musical upbringing listening to Marc Bolan. It then became time for the big guns. Hugh Cornwall from the Stranglers, Peter Perrett from the Only Ones and Steve Lake from Zounds set us up for The Boomtown Rats. I was amazed at the size of the crowd for the rats. Full to capacity but was it in anticipation of the music or was there an ‘intrigue’ factor? The crowd weren’t jumping around or celebrating each song in dance, and it was thinner by the end of the set, but I had to leave anyway for the Neurotics and The Mob that’s more my punk rock anyway. The amount of merch the Boomtown Rats brought in and out was phenomenal. Signed CDs and DVDs galore – I guess autographs are important to some punks. Me? I prefer memories.

Hard Skin are one of the few bands that get away with verbally abusing the audience. Like an Oi version of Captain Hotknives they don’t take themselves seriously but realise the world is a serious place. They play in the casbah, which is outdoors and a realisation for me that so many punks still smoke. We have become so accustomed to smoke free zones entering one for a gig is a real step back in time, not a better time though. Hard skin don’t care, they only care if there are fascists in the building, no room for them in our scene. A belter of a set from everyone’s favourite obnoxious wannabe skinheads

The Mob were one of the best sets a couple of years ago and tonight compete again for it. Steve Lake guested and tried to remove the menace but the casbah was rocking and this was another highlight.

Buzzcocks don’t need an introduction and the songs sound like they could have been written yesterday. Such good tunes but maybe it’d be better if Steve Diggle hadn’t turned out to be such a good guitarist. These songs are too easy for him to play so he ‘improves’ them with solos.

Steve Ignorant’s album with Paranoid Visions showed how these stalwarts can still be relevant with their new songs. Tonight’s set was a mixture of that album and some older songs that Steve had written. They also won the prize for biggest self publicists or band that wear the most of their own band tshirt

I was asleep for MDC as it is hard to sustain 14 hour punk rock days, has no-one heard of the working time directive? I did have a wry smile when I saw the line up of stalls in the casbah venue. U.S. Hardcore band with strong links to the UK anarchist punk scene competing with All The Madmen records – home of The Mob – competing with Steve Ignorant from Crass competing with Hard Skin whose musical roots are in that anarcho punk scene. All separate stalls, no chance of one big one in the main area next year????

Day 4

It ain’t over til it’s over

Maggie Byrne was in We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It and it was a nice start to the day to hear what she had to say of her time in the band and that they were talking about what was going on in Britain born out of the time and culture in The country back then. Equality was discussed and how punk didn’t care about people’s sex and sexuality. Punk rock facilitated allowing people to be different which helped Maggie form her band. This stage is refreshing as we get to hear real stories whether it’s Maggie letting us know of a cryptic set list or her witnessing a murder or the band reforming in 2010 and then the death of her sister Jo right up to the band reforming once more for a gig later this year. So many tales.

Deia Russell Smith took to the acoustic stage and sang strongly. Another plus for this festival.

I saw a few songs from The Crows on Friday and thought they would be well suited to the acoustic arena. The stripped down sound brings a folk element out in the vocals and is the closest to English folk I’ve heard in the acoustic room all weekend

Vice Squad have been on the go since that second wave of punk commonly known as UK82 and had a strong female presence in Beki Bondage as vocalist. Beki has long been an advocate of animal righrts and social justice and it came through today in the Empress Ballroom

Justin Sullivan and Joolz spoke of New Model Army and new documentary to be released in September. Joolz and Justin are very interesting people with honest and refreshing viewpoints. The spirit of being in a band should be more important than what you play. There are no rules, make music in any way you want. That’s the meaning of punk for Justin (a.k.a. Slade The Leveller)

Maid of Ace were new to me when I saw them last year and was very impressed by how good they were. Nice to see them still bashing away and a great crowd reaction to their loud punk rock and roll. Great stuff.

It really is to Rebellions credit that bands like The Avengers get to play. Many of us are punk historians (or dinosaurs) and The Avengers play an important part of that history so to be able to see them is an honour. They are from LA and started in the mid 70s, sound wise it’s Ramones style new wave but this is about more than what they sound like and as Dead Kennedys have freely admitted they paved the way for political bands like them

HDQ are still banging away with their UK take on US HARDCORE. Always great tunes and great spirit. The sound was poor enough though as HDQ songs stop start and aren’t your usual hardcore sound, closer to Scream than 7 Seconds this was a blistering set nonetheless, nearly as good as McGonagles in 1988.

There have been two books released on the Dead Kennedys in recent years and today we saw a battle of the two authors. The debut album, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables got dissected and the duel was friendly. I read Alex Oggs book last year and am now looking forward to Michael Foleys one.

The Pukes have a great stage presence, ukeleles, punk and lots of fun. Plenty of colour was on display, I wonder has Bob Geldof’s comment about black trousers and band tsarist sent a message to the coolest puke punks around

How to explain Snuff in a paragraph? Impossible. Pure magic that made me wish it was the original line up which it tragically can’t be. Am I wrong in thinking it’s refreshing that Snuff were the only bad to play in the empress hall (capacity 2800) not to have a merchandise stall and that had no roadie to organise their own sound. I was on my way to the front when a glass of beer was thrown up, moved back and more beer was being spilt than drank. I bet the winter gardens management are loving this. Increased bar sales for a mop of the floor. Anyway Snuff are immense, you should drink your beer to them. Wonder how many bands played their set without a set list too? Roughneck Riot clashed so I had to make do with buying a copy of their new record.

I still have my first postcard from Jon Langford, a prized posession in my house. His journey to country started in Newport but he is very much based in Leeds punk; he was and still is in The Mekons and Three Johns. His set was a collection of more Mekons style, as that is what his solo records are like. When he covered The Mescaleros’ X-Ray style I was close to tears, it’s nostalgia but those memories….

Dik Lucas has sung in three bands at Rebellion, all tight and great sets. I would love to hear some new stuff from him as he has kept playing all throughout the various governments he has been rallying against

TV Smith is a master at Rebellion. There is a lot of respect shown at the festival but TV commands so much of it. His acoustic sets are always massive and enthralling and standing ovation he receives at the end is testament to that.

Blackpool heroes and local agit popsters The Membranes were on in the Pavillion. Still making a racket and challenging your ears even if the line up looks very like Goldblade. We had them over to Dublin in 1986 and have been firm friends ever since. The sound is fuller now but Nick and John from the celebrated line up are still there and the new album is as good as ever.

Less Than Jake are the last band on in the Empress as the festival winds down, with some uptempo brass backed hardcore. Brasscore anyone? Zounds were finishing off the Casbah stage and The Warriors in the arena as the stalls that were a hive of activity over the previous 4 days are packed off for the next leg of their journey. Maybe back to mail order, maybe some shops, some small businesses and maybe to some other festival. But there still is the no small measure of the remarkable Three Johns in the Pavillion.

Rebellion is about memories and the Three Johns hold huge ones for me. I finish sad that it is over for another year, privileged to have been here and amazed at how good some of thw music was.

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