LIVE REVIEW: Vice Squad + Zero Tolerance + Hot Rockets + Sin City Rockers, Black Bull, Gateshead, Sunday 2 February 2020

Beki Bondage and Paul Rooney of Vice Squad at the Black Bull. Pic: Gary Welford.

It would be easy for a band who have been around as long as Vice Squad to simply rely on reliving past glories to make a living.

Formed in Bristol back in 1979, they were fronted by probably the first genuine punk pin-up in the shape of Beki Bondage, and were one of the most successful of the second wave bands.

Their 1981 debut album No Cause For Concern spent five weeks in the charts, and 1982’s follow-up Stand Strong Stand Proud did the same, both making the top 50.

Vice Squad at the Black Bull in Gateshead. Pic: Gary Welford.

The lack of a big hit single saw Beki strike out on her own in 1983, and replaced by another vocalist, but both her new band and Vice Squad were over by 1985.

That seemed to be that, but Beki – still a teenager when she left the original band – agreed to form a new line-up in 1997, to perform the old material at the Holidays In The Sun festival (now Rebellion).

They’ve been a going concern ever since, releasing eight albums of new material, with Beki and guitarist Paul Rooney ever-present through a series of line-up changes.

Vice Squad guitarist Paul Rooney. Pic: Gary Welford.

And while it must be tempting to just play songs from those first two classic albums, Vice Squad are determined to prove they’re not just a heritage act.

That’s certainly what they did here, with old favourites like Out Of Reach and the B-side Latex Love mixed with the pick of their newer cuts, like Ordinary Girl (from their 2009 album London Underground) and Punk Police (from their most recent offering, 2014’s Cardboard Country).

Beki remains the centre of attention, of course, and commands the stage like the punk rock queen she is, but let’s not forget she plays a mean guitar too, and her voice has a real edge to it these days.

Vice Squad’s Beki Bondage encourages a bit of audience partipation. Pic: Sue Welford.

After overcoming a couple of early technical difficulties, they blazed through an hour-long set. They left the best ’til last, finishing with the classic one-two of Stand Strong Stand Proud and Last Rockers, which got the biggest cheers of the night.

All that remained was a lively cover of Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades as an encore, and then they were gone – until the next time.

A word too for the three bands who played before Vice Squad, starting with Tyneside’s Sin City Rockers, who I hadn’t seen before, though I recognised the singer from just about every gig I go to! I didn’t know any of their songs, and was pre-occupied with technical difficulties of my own (trying to get my camera’s bounce flash to work!), but their set went down nicely with the Sunday teatime early arrivals.

Sin City Rockers opened for Vice Squad at the Black Bull. Pic: Gary Welford.

Next up were Hot Rockets, a three-piece from Whitby who I’ve seen a few times, and like a lot. They’re not an out-and-out punk band, but play an infectious brand of sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, with songs like Lizard Queen, Breakdown and Head Full Of Cartoons all getting a great reception.

Whitby’s Hot Rockets were second up on the Vice Squad bill. Pic: Gary Welford.

Main support Zero Tolerance, from County Durham, were a band I hadn’t seen until relatively recently, but I like them more every time I see them.

They’ve been invited to make their Rebellion debut this year on the Introducing stage, and songs like Watching The TV, My God’s Bigger Than Yours and Too Young To Die make them a band you must see.

Zero Tolerance will make their Rebellion debut this year. Pic: Gary Welford.
Gary Welford owner