Live Review: Rebellion Festival – Friday, Blackpool Winter Gardens, UK, 3rd August 2018

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2018 Rebellion Festival (Friday)

Blackpool Winter Gardens, UK - 3rd August 2018

It’s the second day of the 2018 Rebellion Festival, there’s a slightly delayed arrival to the Winter Gardens as we bump into Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks as we amble across Blackpool’s grey and damp seafront, this gives us the chance to catch up with one of Manchester’s finest musical sons before he makes his way home. As ever the social aspect of the four day festival means that familiar faces are encountered wherever you go and it’s a swift visit to one of the bars for a hair of the dog that savaged us yesterday before we’re back into gear and nothing quite clears away the cobwebs like the first act we encounter, Spunk Volcano And The Eruptions.

Spunk Volcano And The Eruptions are giving no quarter from the outset and there’s a warm reception from the almost full Empress Ballroom, not a bad crowd for an early afternoon show. They deliver heavy duty street punk with an unashamed and not unintentional streak of comedy and they are awarded bonus points for rhyming ’10 Regal and illegal’ and writing autobiographical songs about underage smoking and drinking. There’s nothing funny about the sound though. Tight, fast and heavy, it’s an odd fit for a lyrical emphasis on the minutiae of modern living. Yet perfect. If punk is about anything, it’s about rejecting the ordinary, and there’s nothing ordinary about Spunk Volcano And The Eruptions.

In contrast we next encounter blistering pop punk from Dayton, OH, in the shape of The Raging Nathans who have one setting – full on. After two scorching songs to a packed and appreciative crowd on the Introducing Stage, things get even more frantic. It’s fast, melodic and relentless, to the delight of the crazy dancing fools, which includes Manchester’s Aerial Salad, in front of the band. Confident and polished, The Raging Nathans rollercoaster just keeps accelerating. And they make it look effortless. Whatever they’re on, I want some. Exhilarating stuff. Cat And The Underdogs follow The Raging Nathans with, much to my surprise, a set of full tilt punk ‘n roll as their name led me expect something quite different, before I head over to catch Maid Of Ace on their return to the Casbah Stage. It would be too easy to compare them to The Distillers as there’s so much more to them, they deliver hard edged raw punk that is the perfect antidote to the mid afternoon lethargy that is in danger of creeping in after two days of excess. 

Turbulent is certainly the right description for today and there’s a bit of a disconnect between Turbulent Hearts and the Rebellion Festival crowd, something that isn’t helped by a protracted guitar-tuning crisis early in the set. Tuned-up and good to go, the band deliver a raunchy helping of American punk pop. There’s more than a nod to Joan Jett and The Runaways but hey, that’s not a bad thing. On a better day, five stars. Subhumans kick off some serious moshing from the first note but let’s be clear – this is not designed as musical entertainment. This is a serious and heavy duty communion between a band with a message and their devoted audience. The Empress Ballroom is full and you get the feeling that there’s no room for the simply curious: This is a band with strong ideals preaching to the converted. Anarcho-punk has struck a hammer blow here in Blackpool today and it’s fucking ace. Over on the Pavilion Stage we see the welcome return of The Lee Harveys, a band whose reported demise appears to have been greatly exaggerated, as they picked up exactly where they left off with a set of infectious old school punk rock.

In stark contrast we have Evil Blizzard on the Casbah Stage, a band that have become a fixture at the Rebellion Festival, and with good reason. Their mix of heavy psych, punk and other worldly strangeness ,coupled with their sense of twisted theatre makes them an unmissable act. Their set leans heavily on their recently released The Worst Show On Earth album, that for me is the finest full length to date, and if Evil Blizzard relied solely on their bizarre theatricality then the novelty would quickly wear off, but they back this up with a heavyweight soundtrack that is like is nothing else on Earth, and as my co-writer observed, Evil Blizzard are the most unsettling and satisfying live act I’ve seen, and for me that sums them up perfectly.

There’s another Rebellion regular in the shape of The Ramonas, if you’re going to do a particular set that leans very heavily on Ramones songs (all but one tonight), you gotta do it right because there’s a huge hall full of critics who will let you know quick smart if you don’t. The Ramonas do it very right and the sea of waving arms are all the evidence you need if you’re having any doubts. Attitude – check, energy – check, presence – check. The material is quality assured. No respite, no cheesy tribute. And as Charlie Harper is standing in the wings you can assume spectral approval. Sassy fun. Ay, oh, let’s go!

There was a glorious moment in the early 80s when  the gulf between metal and punk closed and it was no crime to like GBH and Motörhead at the same time. GBH thrived in that space and while they addressed society’s ills and Motörhead didn’t really, the energy they shared was a symbol of the brotherhood of hard British rock. To the delight of a frantic pit, GBH are straight into the seminal Leather, Bristles, Studs And Acne album today. It’s as if the intervening years haven’t happened at all. What happens next is pure punk magic. If you were there then, you are there now. An object lesson in how to do second wave punk rock. Britain needs you, GBH. Age shall not wither …

In complete contrast, whilst Peter Hough is watching GBH I catch Millie Manders, minus her band The Shutup, playing to a capacity crowd on the Almost Acoustic Stage. Only accompanied by ukulele the strength and soul of her voice shines through, her set is simply stunning, from songs about drinking, which obviously the crowd wholeheartedly endorse, to sociopolitical themes and mental health awareness, all of which are rapturously received in the overheated and overcrowded venue. Millie Manders looked somewhat startled at the size of the crowd that had turned up for her solo acoustic set, she shouldn’t have and if she returns to the Rebellion Festival in 2019 I’d recommend staking your place early as this really was something special.

One of the defining joys of the Rebellion Festival is its eclecticism and the idea that just around the corner from a very heavy duty street punk musical battering you can bathe in the pure joy of Neville Staple‘s bouncy ska. An aristocrat of the Two Tone stable and the consummate performer, Neville delights an absolutely melting Club Casbah with his upbeat stylings. Kicking off with Gangsters (not the only nod to The Specials back catalogue), he has this crowd in the palm of his hand from the off. It’s a joyous singalong from the start – a communion and a celebration. The original rude boy indeed. Don’t call me scarface!

The Men They Couldn’t Hang are appearing in the Opera House, which after a full on two days is thankfully is a seated venue and affords some respite to our feet, they immediately launch into a defiant Ghosts Of Cable Street, a track that is a personal favourite and a timely reminder of the importance of defying the far right. From here on in The Men They Couldn’t Hang deliver a crowd pleasing set from their almost four decade long career. I last saw them almost thirty years ago, and after such a long gap it’s heartening that they remain as politically focused and I loved tonight’s set every bit as much as their set at Reading Festival almost three decades ago, and when I close my eyes I could almost be back there.

We close the day with hopping between stages for a duo of acts, the ska infused punk of Bar Stool Preachers who have rightfully pulled an enthusiastic and hyperactive crowd for their rabble rousing headline set to an overcrowded Casbah Stage, whilst over in the Pavilion Stage Scotland’s Esperanza are delivering a set with the same ingredients but in different proportions, their feel good ska punk makes a perfect end to the day and we head off into the night to see what Blackpool has to offer in the early hours of Saturday morning, inevitably this involves more beer and thankfully a slightly less regrettable takeaway than the previous night.

The Rebellion Festival will return between the 1st and 4th August 2019 and early bird tickets can be purchased here

Photography by Dod MorrisonGary Hough

co-written by Peter Hough