For the last couple of decades, the northwest coast of Britain has looked forward to receiving a summer migration of punk rockers from all over the world – previously Wasted Festival and Holidays in The Sun, and for the last 22 years, REBELLION FESTIVAL.
Review by Jane Howkins and Gez Addictive. Photos by Dod Morrison.
Since the early days, punk has evolved and grown in many directions by its very nature, and Rebellion Festival has always tried to encompass as much of this ethos as possible. Original bands from the very early days (Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers) play alongside bands that would soon follow in their footsteps (Ruts DC, Members) and the Streetpunk and Oi bands that would follow them as punk started to evolve (Angelic Upstarts/Cockney Rejects), Anarcho bands (Zounds, Rubella Ballet) and onward through the whole spectrum of bands that have come along since and including those that are still springing up and taking that original energy and keeping the flag flying (Dirtbox Disco, The Deckchairs), or by continuing to bring new things into the mix (Newtown Kings, Faintest Idea). The festival also welcomes bands from every sub-genre of punk you can imagine, including ska, pop-punk, folk punk, and skate punk, meaning that there really is something for everyone here.
What makes the festival so great is that true to the original days of punk, there’s very little difference between the audience and the artists – many faces can be seen on stage one minute and then in the midst of a mosh pit the next (sometimes during the same set…) A lot of the bands (even the big names) could be seen setting their own gear up onstage, and it was an interesting diversion to see them go from mild mannered chaps to ferocious rock stars in a matter of minutes. Household names in the punk world can be found milling round catching up with old friends or signing a few things for fans or selling their latest DIY merchandise. It’s a firm fixture in the calendar for Charlie Harper, now in his 70s and continuing to tour relentlessly with UK Subs – if you didn’t get a picture with him, did you really get the full Rebellion experience?
The atmosphere at the festival is always buzzing – the venue itself is ideal, with plenty of arena sized spaces to ensure every stage looks and sounds great, and with lots of bars and seating areas dotted around for those times when you just have to have a minute. The indoor nature of the festival also makes it handy in times of bad weather, although we weren’t treated to that this time around. Seeing a bunch of punk bands perform in a ballroom is also an experience that many won’t have had before – for both the artists and the punters.
Another great aspect of the festival is the commitment to a healthy mix of acts that are long established with bands that have recently become well known, and plenty of space for up and coming talent too. The audiences fully support this, in fact demand it – there are plenty of people that want to relive their youth and see their favourite bands of yesteryear (or maybe bands they never got to see first time round), but there’s just as many that want to support their favourite new talent or even discover a new favourite.
There’s a lot of bands wanting that coveted spot on the line-up and there’s no bad slot to have, all stages are well attended from the very first band on the Thursday to the last band on the Sunday. The unitiated who would believe that punk is all about noise and shouting would be (hopefully pleasantly) surprised to find not only an acoustic stage, but that it is constantly thriving. From the humour of Paul Carter to the politics of Chris Butler – and even an appearance by festival organiser Jennie with her band The Crows and their finely crafted vocal harmonies – it shows that this really is the festival with something for everyone, and at exceptional value for money.
With so many to choose from, here’s are a few picks from the weekend:
The first act we saw were old favourites The Lillingtons in the Empress Ballroom. The crowd was fairly packed out for such an early showing to the festival, with the band ripping through a variety of old and new tracks. They recently released an album titled Stella Sapiente that went down a slightly different route to their older style of song, so it was good to see the audience responding well to those tracks as well as the more familiar ones.
Bad Cop/Bad Cop were next, and we have very high hopes for this group of girls. They’ve been making waves in recent years and definitely have what it takes to bridge the divide between the punk world and the more mainstream music world. Some of the onstage posteuring was a little cringey at times, but their own brand of pop-punk went down exceedingly well, and they certainly have a knack for writing a good hook.
The Lawrence Arms are one of those bands that everyone seems to have heard of, and yet they’ve still managed to stay fairly underground over their illustrious career. They put on fine set as ever, marking themselves out as one of the major fan favourites over the weekend. The Menzingers followed with a sound not that dissimilar to the band that came before them, and whilst their music is a little more rock than punk at times, that certainly didn’t dissaude anyone, with massive singalongs being the order of the day here.
Buzzcocks were great as ever, and it was a rather different setting seeing them play in a ballroom, considering that just a few days before we had seen them perform in a small tent in Derbyshire. Suprisingly, the setting somehow seemed just right, and people flocked to see them perform. There also seemed to be a lot more crowd interaction than at Y Not Festival – perhaps that’s a testament to the atmosphere rather than anything else.
Lagwagon were one of our favourite bands of the Thursday, playing over on the Club Casbah Stage at the ungodly hour of 1am. Technical issues hindered their set somewhat, but the band carried on with a mighty spirit, playing the whole of Let’s Talk About Feelings, as well as a range of other tracks from their huge back catalogue. A great band, and one that never seems to quite get the audience it deserves.
Los Fastidios were on the main stage (Empress Ballroom) on the Saturday afternoon – regular visitors to the UK from the continent, they play anthemic melodic Oi. They love the fans and the fans love them, and the turn out is impressive for them – they’re very clear about their views; love football, love music, hate racism. 1000 or so people were singing along in full agreement.
Zounds played the wonderful Opera House in the early evening – it’s not just a clever name, it’s a beautiful old all seater room with a grand stage. Steve Lake is such a non-assuming persona that it almost feels like he’s sorry to be interrupting everyone’s weekend and appreciates them coming to listen to his worries about the world. The fact of it is, the room was full of people who shared his concerns and were more than happy to sing along through songs that seem as relevant now as they were when some of them were first written nearly 4 decades ago. The band backed him up beautifully as they ran through classics like Demystification, War/Subvert, and Dirty Squatters as well as the more recent anti ode to a current world leader Donny Takes A Trip.
Stiff Little Fingers took the final slot on the main stage on Saturday – everyone knows what they’re going to get, a blistering run through the bands impressive back catalogue from the early (inflammable…) material such as Alternative Ulster and Wasted Life right up to the latest album with Jake opening up about mental health issues in My Dark Places. The room was of course packed from front to back, and the band played this gig as they do every other – full of energy and emotion, feeding off the support from a dedicated and passionate fan base.
John Lydon in person in the Opera House on Sunday afternoon prior to his headline slot with Public Image Limited that night – a no holds barred hour or so taking questions from Barry Cain, answering in his own inimitable style under the watchful eye of course of the ever present Rambo. Sometimes shocking, sometimes brutally honest, and always entertaining he talked about current affairs, pop music, his struggle through the music industry, and his upbringing. Rather than plug the recent documentary The Public Image is Rotten, he told people that it’s out there, if they wanna watch it, watch it – make their own minds up. With so much to talk about, the interview could easily have gone on all day, but Lydon made sure it didn’tand decided after an hour that he had said all he needed to say for the time being, leaving the stage to a rapturous audience and slightly bewildered journalist. Spring Park played the Rebellion Introducing Stage – a younger band from Northampton who are on top of their game and making their way up through the ranks. Their set was fine tuned and furious and they will surely be back next year on a bigger stage.
Public Image Limited closed the main stage for the weekend – true to form, Lydon took to the stage and instantly ruffled a few feathers by expressing his dislike for a certain politician that a lot of people are currently quite fond of. That aside, the production was incredible as they go through a greatest hits set list. Starting with Warrior and running through The Body, This is Not a Love Song and the like they played them in keeping with the original recordings with just enough of the typical PiL live overtone to give them that freeform feel. After an hour of pounding tribal rhythms with seismic bass and searing strings, the band depart, before returning for an encore of Public Image and Open Up. Ever get the feeling you’ve been treated?
We had a really great weekend at Rebellion Festival, and highly recommend it. We can’t wait to see who will be part of the immense line-up next year, and the festival seems to go from strength to strength each time we attend. See you next year then?!