Rebellion Festival 2022: Review - Thursday/Friday
Blackpool Winter Gardens and Beyond
4th – 7th August 2022
Words: Dan Barnes
Rebellion is back for its first show of the decade and what a welcome return to four days of Punk rock by the sea. Last year’s HITS 25 celebration was a fine stopgap but couldn’t hope to match the anticipation and excitement of a full-blown Rebellion.
The Rebellion Punk Music Fest Group on Facebook is awash with fans from far afield, making their way to Blackpool for the weekend. There’re posts from all corners of the UK, across Europe and both North and South America, with pictures of people travelling from those distant lands. Whereas, myself, I’m about half an hour down the road, so feel somewhat emasculated when I see Isa on her way in from Berlin or John having a beer at Atlanta airport as he waits for his flight. Dave’s got himself a hell of a journey coming in from Washington State and Mayu must be a superfan, trekking from Tokyo.
It's seeing fans like these, and more, that make me appreciate having one of the world’s most prestigious Punk festivals almost on my doorstep. I’ve always wanted to go to Punk Rock Bowling in Nevada and find out if Blackpool is the Vegas of the north, whether Vegas is the Blackpool of the desert?
And, with the addition of the outdoor R-Rest stage, sandwiched between the famous Tower and the beach, and known as the Tower Headland, hosting headliners The Levellers, The Stranglers, Gary Numan and Squeeze, and featuring an undercard with the likes of Hawkwind, Peter Hook & The Light, The Undertones, Billy Bragg, Toyah and many more, Rebellion 2022 was shaping up to be its biggest and best incarnation yet.
However, with all this choice, the drawback is to work out how to navigate the options. When there’s such a plethora of possibilities on offer even the most experienced stick shaker would find themselves with a conundrum.
There have been major renovations to the Winter Gardens since I was last here, with the entrance to the Empress Ballroom being remodelled. There’s been a few other changes too: the Opera House is not hosting bands this year, the Arena is now the Introducing/ After Dark stage, while the old Introducing stage is now a vendor’s area. Otherwise, the Empress, Casbah, Pavilion and Acoustic stages are as you were.
As mentioned above the real change for 2022 – and moving the festival forward – is the outdoor stage; situated on the seafront with the Tower on one side and the Irish Sea on the other, the views become spectacular as the sun dips below the horizon and evening turns to night, although the temperature’s drop can be felt when you’ve a few years under your belt.
I have a plan of action which sees me using Thursday as a day of soaking up the atmosphere and getting used to the new configuration. Wandering into the Empress I’m greeted with a huge crowd for so early in the day, all seemingly hungry for their Punk Rock fix after three years away. On stage are South Wales’ ginger-step-children, PizzaTramp, who blast out a their own brand of thrashed-up punk rock with a huge helping of humour.
I have a stroll down to the R-Fest stage to check out what’s going on by the sea. It becomes a bit of a trek as you almost have to go to the North Pier and then wend your way through a rat run of barriers to get to the gate. But, worst of all is having to cross the tramlines and we all remember what happened to Alan Bradley on these very tracks back in 1989.
Sadly, I get there as Millie Manders & The Shut-Up are just finishing their set, but what I heard sounded like the kind of party-starting antics Ms Manders and co are renown.
Back in the Empress and It's a switch of gears for Riskee & The Ridicule who belie their boots and braces image by combining Oi! with metal and urban influences to create a new and fresh sound. Not that R&TR were giving Rebellion an easy ride for so early on a Thursday, it was still as abrasive as the image would suggest.
On the Pavilion stage, Suzi Moon is serving up a slice of classic Girl-Power punk rock to a highly appreciative crowd. Her positive anthems finding a receptive audience.
Following a Twilight Zone intro tape the arrival of Svetlanas is a frenzy of energy and insanity. It’s been a few years since I last saw the Russian thrashcore punks performing. The band are the first cohort of the afternoon to explore the low-end; choppy riffs and an unrelentingly abrasive performance from singer, Olga, mean Svetlana’s show is delivered at a constant 100mph.
Sao Paulo Street Punks, Subalternos, look pleased as punch to be back in Blackpool this year and the hearty crowd seem to be on the same page with that. Their South American take on the most British of Punk genres is refreshing to hear and the reception is confirmation – should it be needed – that Rebellion Festival is the host of a broad church where all are welcome.
My first proper venture into the cavernous Club Casbah stage sees me greeted with a horde of revellers all waiting patiently for the arrival of London geezers, Knock Off, whose new record, Side By Side, is well worth a punt. As the three-piece are ready early and don’t see any point in hanging around, they decide to give the mass what it’s come for. Are You Offended? is dedicated to the keyboard warriors who hide in cyberspace rather than having an actual fight, which fairly well sums up the ethos of the band: they’re all about the catchy riffs and a stand your ground message, which makes for an enjoyable time spent in their company.
Fluffy Machine in the Pavilion and Penelope Tree in the Introducing Stage are something of a shock after Knock Off, with their more modern interpretations of the music, they are, on reflection, exploring the avenues Punk needs to go down to continue remaining relevant.
The Casbah is rammed for Dirt Box Disco’s irreverence who are looking to break the record for number of people going over the barrier. The Disco get people moving all over the floor, with the likes of Burning, Tragic Roundabout and Peep Show as few even take to the air, accompanied by a huge, inflated phallus that seems to be bobbing about all day. Spunk is his usual self, delivering one liners and humorous observations in his introductions. Unstoppable and Wasted have their intent writ large in the titles, meaning Dirt Box imbue the very essence of what a good-time band is all about and, if I’m being honest, it took me a while to ‘get’ them; but once I did, I came to understand the devotion of their fan base.
Sick on the Bus and Drongos for Europe continue the aggression in the Pavilion to a crowd who are lapping it up.
In a packed Empress it’s the turn of Bouncing Souls to deliver their brand of upbeat punk; sitting somewhere between SoCal and Pop punk their set is full of infectious beats that raises many hands and voices.
In Evil Hour follow and are another band I haven’t seen in a few years. Seemed like they were everywhere back in 2018 but these pesky global pandemics really can derail momentum. Front-woman Al is as raw-throated as ever as the band run through their repertoire of choppy near-metallic riffs built on a huge drum sound.
The Warriors take to the Pavilion stage like they own it and it’s all Ben Sherman’s, Sta-press and braces for the next half-hour or so. Teasing the crowd with the lick of Rainbow’s Since You’ve Been Gone before hammering into simple but effective riffs stacked atop an unstoppable bassline. Skinhead Blues, Sick for You and Bowler Hats and Baseball Bats all see the light of day, along with Face Down from the newest record and a cover of The Last Resort’s Violence in Our Mind, it’s an early in the weekend masterclass of aggy Oi!
As ever, Anti-Flag are banging out a frantic set of unrelenting punk energy with a solid dose of their political stance which, while we still have freedom of speech, is their absolute right to do. Musically, the band and locked in and as tight as ever and are the kind of fearsome live outfit their many years on the road suggest they would be.
Hawkwind are admittedly not the first name on the team-sheet when plotting a Punk Festival, but their inclusion draws a healthy crowd to the R-Fest stage and is somehow fittingly a spiritual special guest for the headlining Levellers. The space-rocker’s punk credentials can never be in doubt, perhaps not musically, but there are few more demonstrative of the independent ethos of the genre. Dave Brock and co transform the Headland with Levitation, Born to Go and Brainstorm among their many flights of cerebral fantasy.
When the Circle Jerks were originally booked for the 2020 show it would have been for the fortieth anniversary of their Group Sex record; as it is, with delays and the like, we come to celebrate the same anniversary, but this time of the Wild in the Streets platter. Morris and co take to the stage with the promise to play thirty-two songs in their allotted hour, but only if all goes to plan. So it’s no messing and no nonsense as the four-piece get their collected heads down and rip through classics such as Deny Everything, Coup d’Etat and Junk Mail among the many tonight. Hewn from the same rock as Black Flag and the Bad Brains, Circle Jerks lay out a blueprint for how the first wave of DC hardcore should sound: rapid-fire instrumentation with engineering precision on every song, belies Keith Morris’ admitted sixty-seven years of age. And I feel for the drummer Joey Castillo who, after an hour of pummelling the kit looks as wasted as I feel after a gym session.
The late withdrawal of Bad Religion for family reasons means a replacement needed to be found with some haste, so up stepped Skids to play their first of three sets this weekend. Ever present frontman, Richard Jobson, admits only having arrived in Blackpool at five o’clock that afternoon and not really having much of a clue what to play. But, you couldn’t possibly consider a Skids show without The Saints are Coming, which Jobbo reclaims from U2 and Green Day, Working for the Yankee Dollar which is introduced with a tale of Top of the Pops, Masquerade and Charade. As the band lay down a series of bone fide punk classics, Jobbo dances about like a teenager. Before Of One Skin there’s time to remember Stuart Adamson who, although gone more than twenty-years now, still acts as a massive presence in the band.
With that, the first day of Rebellion 2022 is brought to a close; well for me anyway. Elsewhere, the Bar Stool Preachers would be delivering their sermon in the Casbah and both Talisman and Bad Nerves would be keeping revellers away from their boarding houses passed two-am.
I decided Friday would be the best time to discover the delights of the R-Fest stage and first up is Ms Toyah Wilcox who is showing scant signs of her age and has systematically and consistently been releasing music since the start of the eighties. Her set takes a bit of a nostalgia trip and the obvious inclusion of Thunder in the Mountains, It’s a Mystery and I Want to Be Free take the crowd back to a time when the only thing you had to worry about was getting blown up by a Russian nuke… hang on a mo!!! Covers of Rebel Yell, Slave to the Rhythm and Echo Beach punctuate the show as Toyah shows her YouTube presence with hubby, Robert Fripp, is a genuine reflection of her extroverted personality. She’ll always be Monkey from Quadrophenia to me, though.
Call it what you like, but Bruce Foxton’s From the Jam has all the class of the pioneering Mods and bring that to the sea front this afternoon. But, really how can one fail when blessed with such classics as That’s Entertainment, Eaton Rifles and Town Called Malice? Mrs B cannot resist getting up and bopping to the latter, whenever and wherever it’s played. A cover of the Kinks’ David Watts show respect to their influences and the place becomes one big dance floor for the climax of Going Underground.
The Skids second crack at Rebellion 2022 is, by the band’s own admission, going to be fairly close to last night’s set, and understandably so. But, whether it’s under Blackpool tower or Blackpool lights, Skids are a class act and it doesn’t rankle that Jobbo tells basically the same jokes, in fact it’s a bit like listening to a drunk uncle at a wedding. Hurry On Boys, A Woman in Winter and Circus Games fill the set, along with what gets referred to as the worst song in the history of rock & roll. Yet, TV Stars still gets one of the biggest audience singalongs of the weekend. Jobbo admits Masquerade is his favourite Skids song; mine is Into the Valley. A port manteau of the Pistol’s God Save the Queen and Pretty Vacant goes over as well as you expect at a Punk show.
Some of the best Punk bands ever have come from the streets of Northern Ireland and The Undertones sit happily alongside such bands as The Defects, The Outcasts and, of course, Stiff Little Fingers. And it’s not just historic, but Ulster is still churring out fresh new acts like Takers & Users and United Bottles. The Undertones’ take on the Punk genre is not one that rages like many of their contemporaries, but rather deal with the situation in a more measured and introspective manner. The musical component of the band is the same as split back in 1983, with only Paul McLoone not a member at that time; though having to fill Feargal Sharkey’s shoes is in no way easy. The faithful are packing the front of the stage as The Undertones serve up two dozen or so of their finest cuts, the bulk of which comes from the ’79 debut. Not that they ignore the post-reunion work with three: Enough, Oh Please and Thrill Me from 2003’s Get What You Need. You know and I know that, as the sun sinks off to the west, the casual listener is here for My Perfect Cousin and Teenage Kicks, both of which are stomping versions of genuine punk classics.
I’m not the only one here for Guildford’s finest, judging by the number of shirts and Friday wristbands, they’ve brought quite a following. I reviewed The Stranglers from Warrington back in February for these pages and their set by the sea was a pared-down version of the tour show. New track White Stallion stands comfortably among the genre classics of (Get a) Grip (on Yourself), Always the Sun and Nice n’ Sleazy. The stage is lit up magnificently during Golden Brown and JJ’s bass at the beginning of No More Heroes is enough to awaken Cthulhu himself.
The wind is starting to pick up as the arena empties, some in search of their beds, some of more frivolity by the Ramonas and Desperate Measure and, for the match ball, Skids are on the acoustic stage at quarter-past eleven.