Rebellion Festival 2022: Review - Saturday/Sunday
Blackpool Winter Gardens and Beyond
4th – 7th August 2022
Words: Dan Barnes
It’s back to the Winter Gardens for Saturday – or should that be Sat-Oi!-day? For those of us with a love of something a bit more street are well served by the Empress Ballroom today. But, before the bovver, Dead 77 bring their LA hardcore to the Pavilion stage, creating an awesome racket for such an ungodly hour.
Peterborough’s The Destructors keep the spirit of ’77 alive and well down in the Casbah with some blistering Punk n’ Roll and The Lee Harveys attract a sizable crowd back in the Pavilion. Geordie trio Crashed Out play some pumping, bass-led aggro to a healthy-sized mob, prompting their latest album, Against All Odds with such tracks as Urban Zoo and The Chancer which has a certain early Dropkicks vibe about it.
Los Fastidios’ melodic Oi! is some good time tunes; plenty of singalong moments and a danceability that reflects the Ska-sans-horns sound that produce. The Italians are no strangers to Rebellion and not shy about combining those easy Ska rhythms with some beefy moments. Their version of Cock Sparrer’s We’re Coming Back gets the crowd moving almost as much as it would do about nine hours later.
Arch Rivals’ show is a bitter-sweet one as it marks the final gig of the band’s career, but they go out in a blaze of street punk bouncing rhythms and driving beats. Black and Blue, Politicians and the finale of We Stand Together reflects the Hardcore ethos of strength in numbers.
Although not yet half-past three, the Empress Ballroom is rammed to the high arches awaiting the arrival of 999. The expectant faithful are rewarded by a career-spanning set of oldies, Emergency, Hit Me, I’ Alive and Nasty Nasty from the self-titled record, all the way through to Don’t Wanna Know, My Daddy Trashed my Submarine and Shoot from the last full-length Bish! Bash! Bosh! The band acknowledge their collective advancing years but heart-issues be damned as they fire into opener Inside Out. 999 are another band who can give groups a quarter of their age a lesson in sustained intensity as the level doesn’t drop from the opening chord to the closing one.
Darlington’s finest, Gimp Fist, are one of the bands I always look forward to seeing and this is my third time this calendar year, having been in Wigan back in January and across town at the Waterloo in May. The trio never deliver anything less than a cracking set of bootboy stompers and surrounded by such Oi! royalty, weren’t about to start now. Opening with Place Where I Belong and mixing the older classics with material from this years Isolation album, the band are just heads down and going for it from the word go. In front of the Blood backdrop, Gimp Fist deliver working class anthem after working class anthem: First in Line, Better that Way and, of course, Working Class. The brothers Robson and Chris Wright setting the Skinhead bar high for the four acts to follow. The obligatory cover of Perkele’s Heart Full of Pride and closer, Here I Stand both perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the music.
This would not have been the consummate celebration of Oi! without Herne Bay’s The Last Resort. When three of your albums are subtitled Skinhead Anthems volume [x] then you know you’re watching the real deal. Old Firm Casual and Rancid man, Lars Frederickson is living out his dreams of playing with his favourite band and they waste no time smashing Rebellion to pieces – musically, of course. This is my England, Rebel with a Cause and Skinhead in Sta Press are stone-cold classics, as will be Boots on the Ground, No Man’s Land and Psychopath from last years Volume IV record. This deep into their career it’s unlikely Roi Pearce and co are going to be paying much attention to the politically correct, so tracks like Violence in Our Minds and String ‘em All Up thankfully won’t be leaving the live set any time soon. A cover of 4-Skins Chaos and King of the Jungle – covered on Borstal’s EP last year – end the show and it’s clearly a highlight of the weekend.
Just as 2019’s set by The Business in tribute to Micky Fitz was an emotional set for both fans and the remainder of the band, so this set from the remaining The Upstarts paying their own tribute to frontman and huge personality Thomas ‘Mensi’ Mensforth who lost his life due to Covid complications back in December 2021. To step into the big man’s shoes, the remaining Upstarts have recruited a cast as a varied as Jon Robb, Rum Lad, TV Smith and Alberto of the Subalternos, who bounces about the stage like a demented Scrappy Doo. Max Smudge voices You’re Nicked and Mind Control and left-leaning anthem after left-leaning anthem is rolled out for perhaps and sadly the last time. Jonny Robson of Gimp Fist leads the band through Solidarity, but it is the finale of I’m an Upstart which initially sees members of Mensi’s family join the band, only for the stage to be flooded by a cast of thousands to add backing vocals and pay tribute to a fallen comrade. Certainly, the most moving moment of the weekend.
Having seen both Gary Numan and Peter Hook & the Light recently in their own shows – in the case of Peter Hook it was but a week ago – I knew that the R-Fest stage was in for a back-to-back feast for the eyes and ears. Mr Hook was performing a celebration of the Joy Division catalogue at the Apollo last week and he brought that energy and reverence to Blackpool. Opening with No Love Lost, this was to be a sixteen-track salute to a revered band who would never be able to meet their potential – and that is a very strange set of words to write about the creators of Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Joy Division classics fill the set from Disorder, Isolation and Shadowplay to Ceremony, Transmission and the timeless Love Will Tear Us Apart. Mr Hook is always an engaging stage presence and R-Fest is no exception.
Gary Numan, on the other hand, plays a cool and somewhat detached persona, no less enthralling, but without the banter of Peter Hook. Mr Numan has seen something a resurgence in his capital over the past few years, no least in part due to the procession of strong records he’s issued in that time. Such is the strength of that new material that opener Intruder, Is this World Enough? The Chosen and The Gift are all aired from the latest release, alongside Pray for the Pain You Serve and the excellent My Name is Ruin from Savage: Songs from a Broken World. But there’s a reason Gary Numan is cited as a major influence by Trent Reznor and Fear Factory among others and that’s the depth of his early work. You can bet your bottom dollar, R-Fest wouldn’t be letting Mr Numan leave the stage without hearing Metal, Cars, Down in the Park and Are ‘Friends’ Electric, with which he duly obliges. Gary Numan takes first billing on the event shirt and the size of the crowd, along with the quality of the performance, then it’s difficult to argue against.
If, for whatever reason, you’re experiencing Oi! fatigue or having a reaction to Doc Martens and Fred Perrys, you could always head down to the Casbah stage where you’ll find the unholy trinity of UK82 bands lined up to cause you maximum pain and discomfort. GBH’s frontman, Colin Abrahall is the model of restrained violence as he grips his mike stand and barks out ferocious lines. Time Bomb, General, Gunned Down and Sick Boy are all presented in a terrifyingly manner, with the cover of Motorhead’s Bomber coming over as particularly appropriate. Discharge, on the other hand, are a mass of frenzied activity and JJ is a dervish about the stage. All the D-beat classics are rolled out: Fight Back, Hell on Earth, A look at Tomorrow, State Control and Ain’t No Feeble Bastard sees the frontman stripping to the waist and becoming the Punk Rock Berzerker he was born to be.
Topping this triptych of Hardcore Punk Royalty is Edinburgh’s The Exploited, arguably the scene’s most revered band and originators of the term UK82. Wattie’s continued health problems don’t stop him giving his all to the cause and the fire of those Eighties days still rages within the band. Let’s Start a War, Beat the Bastards, Chaos is my Life and, of course the song that named the genre, are all received with a rapturous welcome by the throng. The Casbah stage is invaded for the crushing version of Sex and Violence. When you consider the influence all three of these bands have had on the music scene we know and love, from Agnostic Front to Napalm Death and from Slayer to Anthrax, you know there is something primal about the sound.
The last three Saturdays of Rebellion/ HITS has seen the closing one-two of Cocks Sparrer and ‘ney Rejects; not that I’m complaining, as these bands could feature on every bill I go and see and I’d still be happy as a pig in poo! The Rejects are up first with a bouncing Jeff Turner, extolling his love of Rebellion Festival between barking out terrace anthems like We Are the Firm, East End, Police Car and Headbanger. Many people talk the talk, but Mr Turner walks the walk and I saw him spending huge amounts of time taking pictures with fans, chatting and signing autographs on Thursday, with no hint of hesitation. So, when he speaks about the fans being crucial to the Reject’s success and the reason they keep going, we all believe it whole heartedly. The Power and The Glory and On the Streets Again have folks involuntarily bopping away; we find out Jeff’s favourite Rejects song is Bad Man and that The Greatest Cockney Rip Off was written as a joke. Oi! Oi! Oi! and War on the Terraces close out the show and with the prospect of a new album next month the future looks rosy for these boys.
What can I say about Cock Sparrer that I haven’t already? Being one of my favourite bands may make me a little bias but the preponderance of Sparrer shirts in the Empress today suggests I’m not alone. Riot Squad, Working, Where Are they Now? from the classic Shock Troops album; more poignant as the years pass are Teenage Heart, What’s It Like to be Old? and Because You’re Young; and the Sparrer classics England Belongs to Me, Runnin’ Riot and Take ‘Em All. Argy Bargy is introduced with a lament to the band who took their name from that song and the second rendition of the day of We’re Coming Back ends the set.
A few changes in scheduling sees Death Trails performing a midnight mass before Bob Vylan hits the stage to, by all accounts, a stirred up and active crowd. But, I’m away to my bed, to recharge to the fourth and last day of the show.
Sunday is a day of intense mobility, flitting between stages to get maximum coverage, so here goes. Death Trails are surprisingly perky for a band who covered the late-night shift yesterday and their hard-edged brand of rocked up punk is always refreshing to hear. The Cundeez bring their brand of Scottish aggro to Blackpool, opening their set with bagpipes before clearing the over-night cobwebs away. MC16 extoll working class values, while Bad Ass’s dual vocal chicanery couldn’t be further removed. The Derellas saunter in looking like they’re more at home in the neon lit streets of New York or LA, rather than the sun-drenched Winter Gardens. Still, their take on the Dolls’ sleeze-punk goes down a storm and provides a welcome distraction from the crashing intensity heard elsewhere.
Acidez bring thrashing riffs and hardcore beats to their set as the Mexicans marauders have a good go at laying waste to the Casbah. Random Hand have the Ska-rhythms without the full brass section and vocalist/ tomboner Robin Leitch asks the crowd to pander to his ego and dance the whole set. “No one else is going to ask you to dance,” he says, “Squeeze are just going to be all “Cool for Cats” and all the other bands today are just going to tell you Thatcher was a cunt.” How can someone not dance after that argument is laid out?
US import, Ultra Sect visit all points in their career for today’s set, showing the development from aggy youths to more cultured, though no less aggy men. The Insane have no qualms about playing their banned Eighties single, El Salvador, and it’s good to see the band’s bassist is respecting the sabbath and wearing a collar and tie for the show. The Avengers admit that all their songs are about forty-five years old and come from the late Seventies. But, that was when punk hadn’t codified its sound and it was the attitude that mattered.
I went looking for Plizzken but found Black September, who played an oddly engrossing mixture of punk and prog. Spunge, one-time Peaceville Records signees, manage entirely without a brass section for their Ska-lead tunes and the Empress time-machine keeps us in the Seventies for Chelsea, who’re playing their Evacuate album from start to finish. Don’t try and buy any of their merchandise during this performance as the vendor is temporarily closed as she stands on the table and dances the set away.
More American Oi! in the shape of Patriot fill the Pavilion, all boots and braces and reggae rhythms, and songs called One Shot, One Kill and One More for the Road. The US version of Oi! feels less gritty and less dark than the UK version, but that doesn’t mean Patriot aren’t averse to smashing the place up when the occasion demands.
Doyle seems to have been holding his band meetings in the gym as there does not seem to be a literal ounce of fat on the band. The Misfits man, complete with trademark quiff, batters his guitar throughout the short but spikey set. Pretty much every song is introduced by the line: “This is a love song; you can dance if you want to.” I bet these boys don’t even skip leg day.
There’s a huge crowd in for the undeniably patriotic celebration of England and Englishness that is a Resistance 77 show. Oi! anthems abound, including the closer, The Spirit of St George, which I imagine will have the Woke choking on their kale before the end of the first chorus. Massive queue at the merchandise stand afterwards, though.
Evil Conduct bring the true voice of Oi! to the proceedings. The Drowns deliver some good time punk and roll, while Maid of Ace take a leaf out of Death Trails book and get all in the punter’s face from the get-go. Conflict attracts a massive crowd down in the Pavilion and we are rewarded by a devastating display of anarcho-punk energy, that saps even the hardiest of souls at this late stage on Sunday.
But there’s two bands still to go, so it’s a quick break before Harley Flanagan brings his real Cro-Mags to Blackpool. Since the rights to the band’s name was legally decided to be the property of Mr Flanagan he has been unstoppable in his promotion of the legends and their continuing legacy. I cited In the Beginning as 2020 finest album and the supplementary EP, 2020, was not too far behind in the quality stakes. But Cro-Mags haven’t really released anything of poor quality anyway, so it was hardly a surprise. It probably comes as no surprise that the seminal Age of Quarrel is the dominant source of the band’s set tonight, with Show No Mercy, We Gotta Know and Hard Times, alongside the distant dream of World Peace, played from the 1986 debut. Harley is somewhat surprised at the lack of volume of the crowd, calling us the quietest Punk crowd he’s ever heard. Four days of slowly being baked can do that to a person, especially when there’s a few miles on the clock. The old and the new mix together seamlessly and the Harley leads his charges through a short ten song set, bristling with rage and aggression. He tells the tale of drummer G-Man and his recent brush with five-minutes of death, and how this has changed his attitude about the fragility of life and how every day should be lived to the max. Harley is clearly moved and the balladic intro to Apocalypse Now carries with it that emotion.
Which just leaves Belfast’s finest, Stiff Little Fingers to bring the curtain down on Rebellion Festival 2022. The strains of Got For It gets the crowd pumped for one last go of the weekend, before tomorrow night’s pipe and slippers. Suspect Devise is an unusual opener and it’s good to hear My Dark Places back in the set. There’s no real surprises, with Nobody’s Hero, Barbed Wire Love and Gotta Getaway are a given, and it’s good to hear Bits of Kids live again. It’s standing room only in the Empress, which goes to show SLF’s popularity is still on the increase and with performances like this, it's easy to see why.
And that was Rebellion Festival 2022. A gathering of the Punk Rock family in Blackpool, attracting cousins from across the globe. I never take for granted how close this event is for me, being able to travel in and out every day and sleep in my own bed is a must nowadays. But the prestige of the event is legendary across the Punk world and for good reason. For it truly is a family friendly show, with literal generations of the same family attending and having a whale of a time together. There’s so much on offer at Rebellion that everyone can find something for them; even if it is just a cone of chips and a donkey ride on the beach. See you all next year.