Like thousands of like-minded souls from around the world, I would normally be arriving in Blackpool today for Rebellion Punk Music Festival.
More would already be in Blackpool, having set up stages or merch stalls at the venue or simply making a head start on the weekend’s revelry. Because, make no mistake, it’s usually the biggest party most fans of alternative music will go to all year.
This year, sadly, the organisers had to make the ‘heartbreaking’ decision to cancel the festival due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting ban on mass gatherings.
I wondered when they made the call in May if they’d acted too hastily, and if we couldn’t have had some sort of scaled-down event once Covid-19 had cleared off. However, they’ve been doing this for so long that I never should have doubted them. They got it absolutely right.
Five months after the live music industry ground to a juddering halt, gigs are still banned, so, after hosting an online celebration this weekend, Darren and Jennie Russell-Smith and their team will return to pouring their energies into organising next year’s Rebellion, which just happens to be the 25th anniversary event.
More than 40 bands are already confirmed for 2021, including several big names who were meant to be appearing this year: Bad Religion, Stiff Little Fingers, Circle Jerks, Cockney Rejects and Sham 69, to name just a few.
Here’s a few good reasons why I – and thousands of others – will be suffering the Rebellion blues for the next few days.
It’s the best music festival around, with very few – ahem, how can I put this politely? – arseholes. You know, the sort who piss in a plastic glass and chuck it over their shoulder, or who talk right through bands. And it’s organised by people who are fans of the music they put on, not just chancers out to make a fast buck.
The venue, the wonderful Winter Gardens in Blackpool, is perfect, even if it does get a bit hot when the sun comes out. Seven stages all under one roof, from the magnificent 3,000-capacity Empress Ballroom to small acoustic stages, it’s got it all.
The sheer number of creative people has to be seen to be believed, from the 350+ acts who provide the entertainment over the weekend, to the artists who exhibit and sell original artwork in the Punk Art gallery upstairs. Where else can you buy one of Charlie Harper’s cat paintings?
You’ll find the biggest array of punk vinyl, CDs, T-shirts and other stuff that you’ll see anywhere. And many of the bands are happy to have a chat on their merch stall, sign your stuff and have a picture taken – none of this paying for a meet and greet nonsense.
The staff are friendly, and many are so obviously fans of the music themselves. They are absolutely run off their feet at times, especially the bar staff, and the security team sometimes have their hands full when the crowd surfing starts, but it’s all good natured.
The sheer number and variety of entertainment on offer is such that if you don’t fancy what’s on in one room, you’re only a minute away from another stage, where there’s probably something completely different. From hardcore punk to poetry and anarcho to author interviews, there’s something for every taste.
Anyone who’s never been to Rebellion probably thinks it’s simply a nostalgia-fest, full of aging bands looking for one last payday. Yes, you’ll find bands who have been doing the rounds since the ’70s, but sometimes they’ve never played Rebellion before – for example, The Undertones and the Tom Robinson Band, who were due to appear this year, and have re-booked for 2021.
It’s a chance to see bands you missed ‘back in the day’, whether it’s because you were too young, they split up before you had the chance to see them, you only just ‘discovered’ them, or maybe you weren’t even born when they were in their heyday. For me, Cock Sparrer, Social Distortion, Anti-Pasti and many others fall into this category.
It’s a real family-friendly event. I’ve seen old punks, young punks, babes in arms and kids in pushchairs at Rebellion. Occasionally bands get young fans up on stage, and the smiles on their faces say it all. The crack is tremendous, and you can’t help but enjoy yourself, as everyone around you is generally having a great time.
One of my favourite things about Rebellion is finding new bands. I’ve lost count of how many ‘new to me’ bands I’ve seen at Rebellion – it was here that I first saw the likes of Gimp Fist, Dirt Box Disco and The Bar Stool Preachers, who are all now firm favourites. The organisers know that without new talent coming through the festival won’t have a future, as the old bands aren’t getting any younger. There’s a huge array of young bands out there questioning the establishment and flying the flag for punk rock music in its many forms. The Introducing stage has been expanded from one to four days, giving dozens of bands a new audience.
Forget all you’ve heard about there not being enough female representation at big music events: Rebellion is probably THE most inclusive festival around, with lots of women on and off stage. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, gay, straight, queer, bi, trans, non-binary, black, white, hispanic, or sky blue and pink with yellow dots on, as long as you’re not a twat (or a Tory) you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
The best bit of all is being part of a big, drunken, noisy punk rock family for the weekend, whether it’s seeing old friends, or making new ones, enjoying bands you love or ones you’ve never heard of before, all in the company of like-minded individuals. I go with my sister every year, and couldn’t put it better than she did in a text to a friend the first time we went: “These are my people and I never want to go home.” Roll on Rebellion 2021 (advance tickets are available here).