Live Review: PunkFest 7 – The Boulevard, Wigan
21st January 2023
Words: Dan Barnes
Nestling in the shadow of the dreaming spires of All Saints’ church – well, it’s a tower, but you get the picture – Wigan Boulevard is fast becoming one of the region’s go-to places for top quality Punk shows. Having previously hosted Subhumans, 999 and Cro-Mags – and with Discharge arriving in March, along with a return Dick Lucas and co. - the venue and promoter, Keith of KDS, has seemingly been working overtime to deliver Punk of the highest quality.
It's not just the touring bands who draw people to WN1, but the many multi-band festivals that pepper the venue’s roster. The Punk Xmas Party in December saw a sold out crowd entertained by The Sentence, Zero Tolerance, Tokyo Raiders and headliners Hung Like Hanratty; Easter will see the second Anarchy show, topped by Resistance ’77 and featuring The Sentence and Cryo-Genics among others.
Yet, for mid-January, with the Christmas period merely an amount-owed on a credit card bill, the Boulevard paid host to six bands who demonstrate the broad church that is the UK’s Punk scene, circa 2023.
Clocking on at the unfeasibly early hour of 2:30pm is The Sewer Cats, who were busy fine-tuning their setlist out in the bar when I arrived. Having made the short hop from their native Manchester, the duo took to the stage with a respectable number of people in attendance and laid down the marker for the day while demonstrating the breadth of the genre.
The atypical set up of having just a drummer and a guitarist is immediately unsettling, especially when the vocals come from the back of the stage. Drummer, Cass, and guitarist, Josh, whip up an early storm of dissonance, with Cass’ vocals taking on a Japanese Hardcore vibe at times.
Obvious points of reference here would be a Slaves or White Stripes, as the thin early sounds fattens up. Drawing heavily from last year’s debut album, Cute Aggression, we get English Spaghetti’s groovy beat, My Dark One’s heavily fuzzed doomy-plod and a response to Johnny Cash’s Delia’s Gone, told from Delia’s point of view.
The shout for a circle pit is more in hope than expectation, but the call for a singalong is met with enthusiasm by the growing crowd. The Sewer Cats aren’t afraid to wear their political affiliations on their sleeves and have songs that are political in nature and even a newbie on the under-utilised topic of the trickle-down economic model.
Combining a multitude of styles, from garage rock to emo-post hardcore, with a sprinkling of riot grrrl for good measure, The Sewer Cats are proving themselves to be a growing player in the scene.
Straight out of Birkenhead from the ashes of local bands, Instant Agony and Iconoclasts, Bite Back’s Wigan show features a last-minute switch, as original bassist, Mandy steps into to lend her not-inconsiderable talent to the low end.
An acapella soundcheck singalong of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep sets the tone for the show with the irreverent three-piece demonstrating that Old School abrasive Punk attitude. 25 Minutes, Taking the Pain Away and Open Your Eyes all come from the band’s last studio release, Retro Hate as they move from punishing beats and a bassline that feels like it’s disturbing major organs, to the folk-inspired and even a dabble with the Ruts-style reggae sound. It genuinely was a pleasure to spend time in Bite Back’s company this afternoon.
All the way from Dundee, The Eddies are very open about their love of playing the Boulevard, and the long trip south does not appear to have damped their enthusiasm or fatigued them in any way.
They deliver a sharp set of raging Punk rockers, sometimes echoing a Stiff Little Fingers vibe, other times channelling UK82 D-beats, but always playing with a rapid-fire gallop. The twin guitars fattens up the sound, even allowing the lead guitar to supplement the sound with a bit of noodling.
The first band from the second city on today’s bill is The Liarbilitys, who arrive to mention the Villa had won that afternoon. Possibly it’s to rub in the fact that, in the sporting cathedral across town, the usually unconquerable ‘Latics had experience an uncharacteristic defeat at the hands of Luton - who knows?
Still, the goodwill aimed at The Liarbilitys is such that their shirt and hoods seem to be the order of the day for about half the assembled crowd. In return, the band immediately break into some pummelling Street Punk, setting an energy bar even higher than we’d already experienced this afternoon.
No quarter is asked and none is given as the Brummie boys batter through a series of bruising bangers, blending fat riffs with Oi! and even some So-Cal influences. By the time the finale of Two Against One is aired, the thronged mass at the front of the stage had started to undulate, like a great beast awakening.
Without wanting to give any disrespect to the other bands on today’s bill but it was Knock Off who I was most looking forward to seeing again. I was blown away by their performance on the Casbah Stage back in August and their Side By Side album only very narrowly missed out for a place on my Top Ten records of 2022.
I’ve an eye on the claret logo T-shirt when the band crank up One Life, reinforcing my view that they are exactly the act you need to make any show go with a bang. Are You Offended? is the kind of abrasive, aggy Oi! that is designed to repel those of a sensitive nature, introduced with a story of Andy being banned from social media for suggesting horses trample road protesters.
I’m looking after his Drongos shirt while one of the lads joins the melee at the front of the stage. I don’t know the chap, but we’re all punks together, so there’s an innate level of trust between us all. This Ain’t No Love Song has an added poignance when you discover its genesis, Working Class Boy draws us back to the origins of the scene, while Take His Eyes (“with a razor’s edge”) shows the pit to be wholly inclusive as there’s a set of crutches being held aloft and a young lad in there, learning pit etiquette.
1918 goes out to anyone whose fought for the country; Tear It Down is a call to keep venues like the Boulevard as thriving centres for live music; and We Are Proud is dedicated to Micky Fitz and The Business.
There’s a good-natured call for some Northern abuse from the Watford crew, but it’s done with the best of humour. Fingers to the Bone goes out to Keith and KDS, and the anthemic This is Who We Are can be seen as the Punk statement of intent. And, regardless of what Mrs B says, I don’t have enough T-shirts so the logo shirt in XXL was an essential purchase.
Drongos for Europe have a seemingly impossible task ahead of them after Knock Off, but the Birmingham veterans haven’t been around this long without knowing a thing or two about putting on a show. It’s a good job that my dear old mother is from Brum so there was no language issues either, and I did catch another early mention of the Villa result before the lads kicked off how they meant to go on with a powerhouse rocker and plenty of singalong opportunities.
Freedom, Revolution Time and Backing Down are unveiled early, pumping the already fizzing crowd up another notch. Fist are punched into the air and bodies slam into each other and, no doubt, there’ll be some fragile frames come the morning.
Contaminated is delayed due to technical issues which Tommy Drongo blamed squarely on drummer Danny. To be honest, I think it was more a minor PA problem but, if there’s ever any doubt, it’s most likely the drummer’s fault.
Tommy refers to the Boulevard as one of the country’s best Punk venues and the assembled mass agrees. The pit starts to get a big aggy, but it’s just youthful exuberance and nothing more than handbags, though the band admonish those involved after Don’t Wanna Be Like You, saying how difficult it is to see scuffles from the stage.
It’s something and nothing and not likely to mar what has been another fantastic show. All six bands played their parts in dispelling the January blues for a few of hours at least and, hopefully, made a host of new friends in the process.