REVIEW: REBELLION FESTIVAL 2019, WINTER GARDENS, BLACKPOOL: DAY ONE
The wonderful Winter Gardens in Blackpool is the setting for the biggest annual gathering anywhere in the world of the punks, skins, and assorted outsiders who make up the crowd for Rebellion Festival.
Previously known as Wasted and Holidays In the Sun, it is now in its 23rd year, and attracts fans of the many disparate strands of punk music from across the world. The punks have even become something of a tourist attraction themselves , with the more outlandishly dressed happily posing for pictures with young and old admirers alike.
Cards on the table here: for many years I shunned Rebellion and its predecessors, convinced that it was no more than a nostalgia-fest for bands and fans who are now middle aged, rather than rebellious youths.
How foolish I was. Lured along for the first time in 2012 by a line-up which included Stiff Little Fingers, Public Image Limited and Social Distortion among its headliners, I’ve been back every year since, and this was my eighth Rebellion.
I quickly learned it doesn’t matter whether it’s your first festival or your 23rd, you’ll always find someone to watch. It might be a band you never got to see back in the day, or a new one you’ve never heard of. There’s more than 300 on the bill, spread over seven stages, so if you can’t find something you like, you’re probably at the wrong festival.
Thursday was billed by the organisers, headed as ever by Darren and Jennie Russell-Smith, as US Invasion Day, with first-time appearances from some big American names from the first wave of punk – Fear, Poison Idea, Flipper and D.I. , plus the returning The Descendents, who made their debut a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it so much they agreed to come back. There would have been more, but Dead Boys had to pull out due to illness.
But would they see off the old guard and the young pretenders from these shores, or would they be sent back home with their tails between their legs. All would be revealed…
My festival started at the Rebellion Introducing stage, which has been expanded from one day initially to all four, and a taste of LEAD SHOT HAZARD, a London-based horn-driven ska-punk six-piece whose bouncy tunes soon got the early arrivals skanking.
Next up, and a must-see for me, were KICKBACK GENERATION, who made their Rebellion debut in 2017 on the Introducing stage, and were asked back this year to open the Arena stage.
I’ve seen the North East trio a few times, and have become quite a fan of their thought-provoking working class political punk. Their set, which doubled as the launch gig for new album Stand By You, flew by in 30 minutes, and hopefully they’ll get a bit longer next time.
Next up on the Arena stage were TERMINAL HEADS, a four-piece originally formed in Gravesend, Kent, in the late ‘80s, and still boasting three of the original members, which is pretty good going. Their old-time punk slipped down nicely with my second pint of the day.
THE BABES, who went down a storm on Introducing last year with their bagpipe-inflected hardcore Celtic punk, were promoted to the Pavilion stage, and again impressed with a set based around their self-released debut album Greetings From London. Even bigger stages await, methinks.
They put me in the mood for more hardcore, so it was back to Introducing for INCISIONS, a four-piece from Manchester who were new to me, but not to the devotees down the front who were quickly moshing to their hard-hitting, energetic music. The blistering War In Your Head was their standout song, and I’ll certainly be checking out their self-titled 2018 debut album and three previous EPs.
VIBRATE TWO FINGERS, from Tokyo, Japan, were one of a handful of bands who made a huge step-up this year, opening the main Empress Ballroom stage, after appearing last year at Introducing. Their slick 77-style punk seemed to justify the decision, and they weren’t at all daunted by the huge stage.
Next was a first visit to Club Casbah, whose capacity of 2,200 effectively makes it the festival’s second stage, to see some familiar faces, THE CUNDEEZ. I first heard the unashamedly working class Dundee band at Rebellion a few years ago, so knew exactly what to expect – punk with bagpipes, and a classic singalong in Yir Talking Shite.
Back to the Empress next for another band who have missed out several stages in their Rebellion development, THE BABY SEALS. It was a bold move for the proudly feminist three-piece, who appeared on the Introducing stage last year, to open their set with a song called My Labia’s Lopsided, But I Don’t Mind, but they did, and the crowd loved it. The rest of the set was just as good, and the special edition of their EP was added to my listening pile.
MILLIE MANDERS AND THE SHUT UP are a band from Norwich who’ve been gathering lots of new fans over the last few years, but I’d never managed to catch before due to the sort of unfortunate set-time clashes which a festival of this size always throws up. I put that right as they played the Casbah, and immediately wished I’d seen them sooner. They play an infectious brand of music based around ska-punk but which crosses several genres, and singer Millie has a HUGE voice. Three EPs added to the growing pile later, and they’ve won another new fan.
The Pavilion stage, in the centre of the Winter Gardens, has lured me in many times, curious to the tunes emanating from the circular room, and DIABLO FURS, a five-piece from Nottingham who play self-proclaimed ‘noise pop ‘n’ roll’ did just that.
WOLF BITES BOY are a streetpunk/Oi! band from Sheffield/Stoke whose name I’ve seen around, but I’d never heard them. Their set on the Casbah stage impressed sufficiently for me to buy their latest album The Story So Far, and their merch guy threw in a free split album they made with Fibonattis, from Brasil. Cheers mate – and very good it is, too!
It’s 5.15pm in the afternoon and time for the first of my must-see bands at this year’s Rebellion, THE BAR STOOL PREACHERS, who play an infectious blend of ska and streetpunk. The six-piece were the main beneficiaries back in 2015 when Gobshite Geldof made his ill-judged remarks about ‘black T-shirts with shit band names on them’, as hordes of people left the Boomtown Rats’ set in the Empress and went next door to see this little-known Brighton band.
Since then they haven’t put a foot wrong, releasing two excellent albums in Blatant Propaganda and Grazie Governo, and this year they were promoted to the main stage. They absolutely smashed it, and their status as future headliners is surely confirmed.
Led by hugely charismatic frontman TJ McFaull (whose dad Colin is lead singer of Cock Sparrer – but more of them later), they over-ran their allocated 40 minutes, but they were so good that not even the bands who followed them could have minded.
IN EVIL HOUR, a political hardcore band from Darlington, had to pull out of Rebellion last year when their guitarist smashed his leg a few days before the festival, but made up for lost time with a set of raging punk rock drawn from their two excellent albums. It must be time for No 3 …?
More hardcore was on the menu in the Empress, where Louisiana quartet PEARS reprised their stunning debut of a couple of years ago, and then it was a quick visit to the Pavilion for a few overs … sorry, songs … from Yorkshire cricket oi! outfit GEOFFREY OICOTT, who have become another perennial favourite.
Over at Introducing, ska-punk seven-piece ABRASKADABRA, from Brazil, are raising some eyebrows with their high-energy set. They remarked that it’s taken them 16 years to get here – don’t be surprised to see them again a lot sooner than that.
Meanwhile in the Arena, NO THRILLS, from Penrith, just up the M6, are laying down their usual punk rock racket, though the muddy sound which hampered lots of bands on that stage all weekend did them no favours.
QUEEN ZEE were one of the bands on my sister’s must-see list, and after taking in their tremendous set on the Empress stage, I can see why. Described by the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, as “strange people from Liverpool” who “rock like crazy”, their explosive live show blends garage rock and glam, and was most enjoyable. They’re touring with Skunk Anansie soon if you want to see what the fuss is about.
After a few songs from excellent Japanese streetpunks ANGER FLARES in the Arena it’s time for the US invasion to begin, starting with D.I. in the Casbah. Formed in 1981 in Southern California by singer Casey Royer, who is the only surviving original member, and this is their first time in Blackpool. They are cited as an influence by many bands who formed in the 90s, which is maybe why they now sound a little generic.
Over in the Empress, a band of even greater vintage are making their Rebellion debut. FLIPPER were formed in San Francisco in 1979, and their slowed-down, bass-driven, heavily distorted style was an influence to grunge bands like Nirvana and the Melvins. This was their Rebellion debutStill featuring two original members, they laid down a wall of noise which wasn’t to everyone taste, evidenced by the fairly sparse crowd for their prime 9.45pm slot.
POISON IDEA, from Portland, Oregon, are another band cited as an influence by Nirvana, and were making their own Rebellion debut on the Casbah stage, but didn’t light a fire in me, I’m afraid, so I headed to the Pavilion, which was packed out for a special performance by GOLDBLADE.
John Robb is a festival regular with both this band and his punk-prog outfit The Membranes, but this set was a particularly poignant one, as it was dedicated to a member of the Rebellion family, Kathy Rocker, from the Last Rockers clothing brand, who sadly lost her fight against cancer a few weeks ago.
Goldblade put on a show she would have been proud of, filled with singalong favourites like Jukebox generation, and they really should have been on the main stage.
Speaking of which, tonight’s headliners in the Empress were DESCENDENTS, who seem to have come to show the other bands from across The Pond how it should be done. It’s a great set, mixing classics with more recent material from 2016’s excellent Hypercaffium Spazzinate album.
Headlining the Club Casbah stage are another of tonight’s big names, FEAR, playing their first and only UK show. Formed in 1977, they are another of the bands who helped shape the sound and style of Californian hardcore. It was one of the most-anticipated sets of the weekend after Lee Ving’s band had to pull out in 2016, and it was – OK, I guess.
Not wanting to end the night on an OK, I dipped into the Arena one last time, to catch THE DROWNS, a four-piece from Seattle/Los Angeles who play working class rock ‘n’ roll. This is much more like it, in your face, with lots of energy, and I’ll be checking out their 2018 album View From The Bottom.
So, day one, 26 bands (I know, it’s a ridiculous number, but I’m like a greedy kid in a sweetshop, wanting to hear as many bands as I can and find more new ones to love and old ones that I’ve somehow missed or misjudged). I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.
My 6 of the best: The Bar Stool Preachers, Millie Manders and The Shut Up, Queen Zee, Kickback Generation, The Baby Seals, Pears.