LIVE REVIEW: North East Calling, Northumbria University, Newcastle, 28 September 2019
The last Saturday in September means one thing to the North East’s punk rock community: their own one-day version of the wonderful Rebellion Festival.
North East Calling started life as Durham Punk Festival back in 2005, moved to Newcastle in 2013, and after a year at the O2 Academy, has now found a home from home at Northumbria University.
This year’s line-up featured the usual mix of old favourites and newer acts, and organiser Jon Connor of JS Promotions is to be commended for keeping the bill so diverse, as there’s something to suit just about every punk’s taste.
The honour of opening the mini-festival went this year to Uproar, a four-piece from Peterlee who had a good local following back in their 80s heyday. They reformed a couple of years ago, and recently released a new EP.
It’s a tough slot opening a gig of this size, as many of the crowd haven’t arrived yet, while others are checking out the merch tables, but Uproar pulled it off with aplomb, with their political punk slipping down as a nice appetiser.
Kicking off with No War No More from their debut EP, they also played its title track Rebel Youth and old favourites Better Off Dead and Have A Good Laugh, before rounding off their nine-song set with We The North from their latest record.
Next up were Cyanide Pills, a band who are new to North East Calling, but who have been around the punk scene for about 10 years now. With four of the five members wearing leather jackets of various colours, they look like a gang very much in the vein of 1977-era The Clash, but their melodic sound owes more to the likes of The Boys, The Vibrators and, at times, The Dickies.
I’d had a small taste of the Leeds band at Rebellion one year, but knew little about them, so was mightily impressed as they hammered through 14 songs in their allotted half an hour, with not a duff one among them.
They have a trio of studio albums to their name, and the set was drawn from all three, with the standout songs including the singles Up Against The Wall, Where Did It Go? and the closing Suicide Bomber. If you get the chance to see Cyanide Pills I’d strongly suggest you take it – they’re excellent.
Kid Klumsy are another band who are new to NEC, but their frontman will be familiar to many as the former singer of Dirt Box Disco. Hailing from Coalville in Leicestershire, they were actually Weab’s band before DBD took off, and they’re starting to get a following of their own.
This was the fourth time I’ve seen them, and I was a little unsure what to make of them at first – perhaps I was expecting Dirt Box Mk II? – but they’re a very different band, with a slightly nu-metal edge. After a couple of EPs, they’re starting to grow on me. Their opener Mr Right Man is infectiously catchy, but their best song remains Grow Up from their first release.
The DeRellas are another name who are new to NEC, and different again to those who went before them. The London four-piece play sleazy punk rock ‘n’ roll which will appeal to fans of bands like The Dictators and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.
Songs like Soho Hotel, Kids Wanna Slam and Stick It To The Man went down a treat with those who like their punk served with a Glitter Band-like glam stomp, while the band pulled every rock ‘n’ roll shape in the book.
This year’s offering for the anarcho/post-punk contingent were Zounds, a four-piece from Reading who were a big part of the cassette culture, free festival and squatting scene of the late 70s/early 80s. They played NEC a couple of years ago, and went down so well that they were invited back this year.
Vocalist Steve Lake is the only original member, and curiously shies away from centre stage, but their 40-minute set contained such crowd favourites as Dirty Squatters, Can’t Cheat Karma and Demystification, and ended with what for me is their best song, War/Subvert.
OK, things were about to step up a notch, and then some. Dirt Box Disco are one of the biggest success stories the British DIY punk scene has seen in years. Since 2012 the East Midlands outfit have released six studio albums on STP Records, and played hundreds of shows in this country and beyond. They are one of the most-anticipated bands every year at Rebellion in Blackpool, filling the Empress Ballroom, yet they still play small pub and club gigs to a couple of hundred people.
After the departure of vocalist Weab.I.Am in February this year they’re now a four-piece, consisting of Spunk Volcano on guitar and vocals, Deadbeatz Chris on bass, Danny Fingerz on guitar and drummer Maff Fazzo, and they still put on one hell of a show. In fact, if anything, they’re even tighter without the mischievous big guy in the onesie.
This was essentially a ‘greatest hits’ set, though frankly they could have played any of their songs and the crowd would have lapped it up. Burning, Tragic Roundabout, Joyce’s Voices and My Girlfriend’s Best Friend’s Sister sparked a wave of crowd surfers, and Let’s Get Wasted and My Life Is Shit prompted the biggest singalong of the day’s far. To paraphrase one of their songs, they are Dirt Box, they are bastards, and we love them!
Dirt Box Disco are always a hard act to follow, but whoever did the running order got it absolutely spot on when they put local heroes Gimp Fist on next. The three-piece from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, have been staples of the oi/street-punk scene for more than a decade, and were back at NEC after a year off.
They have a great new album, Blood (reviewed here), which was released last month at Rebellion, and four of its songs made the cut during their slot here as their fans gave Dirt Box Disco a run for their money in the crowd-surfing stakes.
They have plenty of big hitters in their own arsenal, and most of them were wheeled out here: First In Line, Skinhead Not Bonehead, A Country Divided, Heart Full Of Pride and the closing Here I Stand – but where was Dougie?
Watford Jon and guitarist Daryl Smith (who also plays in Cock Sparrer) are two of the best-known names in oi! music, and they showed why as Argy Bargy turned in a blistering set of hard-hitting street-punk.
This was their first North East appearance for a few years, and we were treated to some of their biggest songs: Out With The Old, Burning Skies, Homeward Bound, Looking For Glory and No Regrets paving the way for the superb closer One More Drink. Don’t leave it so long next time please guys – and a new record wouldn’t go amiss either…
Now Argy Bargy have been going since the early 90s, but now it was time to turn the clock back even further, to the days of UK82, with the return of NEC favourites GBH. They’ve played this all-dayer several times, and always gone down a storm with those who like their punk served loud and fast.
They are one of bands who kept the flame burning, formed in 1978 and never breaking up, but continuing to tour at home and abroad, and still releasing new music, most recently their 12th studio album Momentum in 2017. It contributed a handful of tracks, with I Never Asked For Any Of This the pick of the bunch, as well as dusting off classics like Knife Edge, No Survivors and Big Women.
Biker-punks Anti-Nowhere League are another band who have played this event umpteen times, and keep being asked back, so they must be doing something right. Not everyone’s a fan, however, and they nearly didn’t make it after frontman Animal was stabbed in the neck a few weeks ago.
You can’t keep a good punk down, however, and he seemed on good form, despite not being able to sing some of the usual set due to a limited vocal range after the attack. We still got We Are … The League, Woman, the obscene but wonderful So What, and I Hate People (dedicated to “the little shit that stabbed me”.). Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the League always deliver.
From regulars to a band who don’t visit the North East nearly often enough, probably because they’re from Ipswich. It was time for The Adicts, the band I was most looking forward to at this year’s NEC. I’d seen them, but never in a venue as relatively small as this. And what a show! If they were anything other than a punk band they’d be legends in the world of entertainment.
From the moment singer Keith ‘Monkey’ Warren comes onstage wrapped in a silver cloak which unfurls into a pair of giant wings, you know it’s going to be a remarkable 50 minutes. You can’t take your eyes off him as he dips into giant takeaway bags full of props to send playing cards, streamers and confetti into the audience.
This is a band who put the fun into punk, while playing catchy-as-hell songs like Joker In The Pack, Easy Way Out, Chinese Takeaway and Bad Boy, and their piece de resistance is the closing one-two of Viva La Revolution and You’ll Never Walk Alone, where giant inflatables and beach balls are added to the general craziness. Yes, it’s very silly, but it’s enormously enjoyable, and the huge smiles on the faces of the security staff as they joined in said all you needed to know.
How the hell do you follow that? Well, that was down to our headliners, the Cockney Rejects, who I’ve never seen give less than 100% when they’ve stepped onto a stage. Would that be enough tonight? Well, just about would be the answer, as the band put on their usual high-octane show, but the crowd seemed worn out by the sheer euphoria of The Adicts’ performance.
The East End boys drew most of their set from their first two albums, the modestly-named Greatest Hits Vol I and II, with a few thrown in from third album The Power And The Glory. Most of the songs you’d expect to hear were present and correct: Flares And Slippers, I’m Not A Fool, Join The Rejects (dedicated to Sunderland musician Tony Van Frater, who played bass for them for many years), Bad Man, and the closing Oi Oi Oi.
Most of the talk as the by-now tired and emotional crowd filtered out was not about how good the Rejects were – and they were – but about The Adicts. Their performance helped make this what more than a few punters were saying was the best North East Calling yet. The question is, how do the organisers top that?