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There’s a perception that punk rock is all about the filth and the fury. Truth told, it’s as much about family, too.
With a line-up ranging from American imports The Lawrence Arms, The Menzingers and Lagwagon to old-school legends Stiff Little Fingers, GBH and UK Subs to hellraising mainstays Discharge and The Wildhearts to esteemed post-punks Peter Hook & The Light and Public Image Ltd., Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival – now in its sprawling 22nd year – is the time for the brood to come together.
When they do, amongst the seven stages of the stunning Winter Gardens, the spectrum of sights and sounds is simply staggering. From the crusty throng who seem to spend the entire weekend swigging Buckfast and soaking up the sun outside the front entrance to the creaky septuagenarians enjoying the quieter side of things in the all-seated Opera House; the sea of Mohawks blocking sight lines in the sprawling Club Casbah to the unhinged skinheads flinging themselves across the sprung dance floor of the Empress Ballroom, the sense of sheer, unhinged individualism means it’d be impossible to pigeonhole punters into any kind of limited range.
We thought we’d give it a go, regardless…
1. THE CLAN
Gladys, Barbara & Young Jack, Blackpool
Families like these guys are the ultimate testament that Rebellion is a festival that might look wild, but is safe as houses!
“People who think festivals like this mightn’t be safe for young kids are totally wrong,” Gladys tells us. “I’d rather take Jack around here than around the pleasure beach. There’s no trouble. It’s just a nice atmosphere. She’s safer in here than out there!”
The nurturing doesn’t just stop with the kids, though.
“Bands come from all over to be here,” Gladys continues. “We support them all – even the new ones we’ve never heard of before. It’s important to keep the up-and-coming bands coming up: the likes of The Exploited and The Damned aren’t going to be around forever, are they?”
2. THE CONNOISSEUR
You know this guy. He’s the punter who’s been around as long as the genre itself. He’s seen it all, he knows what he like and he’s got enough miles on the clock to tell it like it is.
“I’ve been into punk for 40 years,” Nick laughs. “I’ve been coming to this festival since ’96. But I don’t like this venue! When this one started, it was called something else [Holidays In The Sun] and it was much better – a bit of nostalgia that turned into a three [four!] day punk festival! I’ve been to Berlin Punk ‘n’ Disorderly. I’ve been to Vienna. I’ve been to Venice with Cock Sparrer!”
He’s not afraid to give credit, where it’s due, though.
“I just watched a band called F*cking Glorious,” he laughs. “They were really good, actually!”
3. THE FIRESTARTER
Watch out for punks like this – surging around between stages on an unstoppable wave of euphoric energy.
“I just got up with Pizzatramp,” he grins at us, still breathless with excitement at being able to bounce up for a pogo with South Wales’ crossover skate-punk favourites. “It was so much fun.”
So what makes Rebellion Festival stand apart from all the others?
“Having the festival indoors can be great if there’s bad weather. But mostly it’s about the community. You’ll see the headliners walking around. [The bands] just seem more connected with the fans. You get to see acts like Aerial Salad and the Subhumans, Wonk Unit, The Wildhearts and The Adicts, too!”
Punk’s not dead, and true enthusiasts like David are its future.
4. THE VETERAN
Picking out any one individual from Rebellion’s well-seasoned crowd as ‘The Veteran’ might seem a little redundant, but it’s hard to argue with the v-tag for guitarist Neil Newton of Angelic Upstarts.
“The festival is the same this year as every year. It’s like coming back into the arms of your family after working away. It’s like Christmas,” he tells us, finding it difficult to get a word in edgeways as every passer-by stops for a quick word and a handshake. “I come down on Wednesday and don’t go home until Wednesday. Who am I most excited about? UK Subs are like part of the staple diet. SLF are great. It’s fantastic to catch The Wildhearts. I also love to check out bands like The Svetlanas and Kid Clumsy on the Introducing stage. You know what you’re going to get when you watch the big bands, but you never really know what you’re going to get in there!”
5. THE ACOLYTE
If you can play three chords, you can start a punk band. But without the help of friends like these, you’ll be stuck playing dive bars on big weekends like these.
“Rebellion is about family,” Danielle explains. “It’s as much about that community as it is about the music. I’ve got a lot of punk friends from all over the world and Rebellion tends to be the one [weekend] of the year I get to see them. As much as I’m enjoying bands I’m jumping on merch stalls and helping out wherever I can. My husband plays in The Barstool Preachers but I do go out to support as many bands as I can. I have a lot of American friends that come over and they always remark on how friendly everyone from the security to the punters to the locals running the B&Bs nearby are. They always comment on how they’d rather have the punks over the stag and hen parties any day of the week. Everyone thinks that punks are angry and aggressive, but there’s so much love in this place!”
6. THE CLOSET PUNK
Tash, Whitford Essex
“Rebellion festival is my rebellion – against everyday life!”
It’s as good a summation as any of how weekends like Rebellion are an opportunity to let their hair down (or spike it up, depending on preference) for anyone with an outsider streak.
“I’m a teacher!” Tash laughs. “If my students could see me here, I think they’d be very, very surprised – they’re not very old! I absolutely loved Barstool Preachers and Anti-Nowhere League, but just watching this sea of people has been fantastic. I have many many memories from this year already. I even got lost in a lift going down into the underworld with my disabled friend. Apparently there are many floors beneath this building that nobody knows about!”
7. THE MOSHER
“I’m all about getting straight in the pit, having fun and making sure that the band knows that there’re people who are here to support them and their music!” says Alex.
Hell yeah! As this tornado of energy whips past it’s impossible to argue with the energy and good-natured aggression that makes use of the Winter Gardens’ many sprung dance-floors.
“I like the fast end of punk – the hardcore. I loved Pizzatramp: they were f*ckin’ sick! I like the diversity of Rebellion – so many different groups for different people of different ages. It’s cool to be here with the people who have been punk since the start. That’s what keeps me coming back every year: seeing the bands and making new friends!”
8. THE MOHAWK
“This was supposed to be red, not pink,” David winces when we ask about his choice of hair colour. “But oh well, I guess you can’t get the best of both worlds!”
The peacocks of the rock world, punk Mohawks are the brilliant extroverts who keep the scene brilliantly vibrant.
“I tell you what,” David agrees. “It’s the people that make the festival. You could just spend your time outside talking. At the same time, it is great to come in and watch a few bands and have a cracking time. This is the highlight of the year – you start patching up your clothes and picking out your hair dye long so long before you think about actually travelling down! You have great friends that you see at Rebellion, then you don’t see them again for the whole year!
9. THE SKINHEAD
“What separates being a skinhead from other types of punk?” Nathan laughs. “You’ve got less hair and take better care of your shoes!"
These are the ultra-recognisable working-class heroes of British punk. The Doc Martens. The straight-leg jeans held up by braces.
“I live in Blackpool and this is the only weekend of the year it’s not sh*t! There is a lot of punk here though – bars like The Waterloo. This is the next step for the people who are just into it.”
Skinheads occasionally get a bad name, but the anti-extremist attitudes of bands like Cockney Rejects and Resistance 77 this weekend put paid to that. And arguably the most famous of all the skins – Rancid guitarist Lars Frederiksen – even turned up to play the full set with London legends The Last Resort.
“It’s not a one-note festival,” Nathan continues. “The Filaments – a third-wave ska band – and Neville Staple from The Specials were here, then there are the Cockney Rejects who are an Oi! band from London and Litterbug, who are street-punks from Liverpool! I like Oi! and ska, but there’s something for everyone!”
Oi! Oi! Oi!, indeed!
10. THE ARTIST
Imagery and attitude are every bit as important as the sounds at a gathering like this. Gentlemen like Ricky are integral to that aesthetic sensibility. “I, uh, have art in the exhibition upstairs and I just love punk music,” he explains. “[As an artis, I’m known as] Schisms. I make punk art. What makes punk art punk? It’s just doing whatever you want, really.” And what of the other artists – performing onstage? “My highlight of this year has, somewhat randomly, been The Macc Lads,” he admits, nodding to the brilliantly shambolic, infamously offensive Macclesfield collective. “I thought it was gonna’ be a bit tragic, but they were actually really good! The whole festival has been, but I’m looking forward to getting back to Sheffield to be able to sleep…”
11. THE QUIET RIOT
Like the eye of the storm, this character is a point of calm amongst the chaos. She’s no soft-touch, though: Yuko’s piercing gaze goes right through us as if to say she’s got no time for posers or bullsh*t.
“I’m married to [legendary vocalist] Charlie Harper and working for [his band] UK Subs! I’m from just outside Tokyo, but have been living in the UK for over 18 years now. I’m kind of here every year! The festival is so friendly, with a really warm feeling. I love to be able to go and see bands like The Adicts, but it’s also an opportunity to see your friends from all over the world in one place. A lot of my Japanese friends come over. It’s chaotic – but it’s a good chaos! And it’s good music!”
12. THE BOSS
Respect your elders, they say. To the uninitiated observer, the gang of young guns heckling away while he sways on the spot, cordially chatting away to us could be seen as rude. Experienced punks, however, will recognise the sense of awe in their approach to this hardened expert – who, despite all his decades’ of seniority, remains one of the lads.
“Why am I here?” Mats muses. “The bass player in Zero Zero – who played yesterday – sent me the link to the festival website before we even knew that they were going to play. So, there I find myself, a little bit drunk in front of the computer looking at all these bands I grew up with – my favourites – and I just hit the buy button.”
“He’s our manager, too,” laughs ZZ’s drummer, incredulous, off to the side. “They’re a little bit annoying,” Mats deadpans, “but I can dig it. The kids are alright!”
13. THE HEADLINER HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
“We’ve come to Rebellion Festival to do a little show,” Monkey grins as we bump into him at the mashed potato stand. “I think it’ll be alright – we’ve played before and were received quite favourably.”
Styled, onstage, after Clockwork Orange’s ‘droogs’, The Adicts’ legendary singer will be practically unrecognisable when he closes the festival to a crowd of thousands over come Club Casbah on Sunday night. In the meantime, mind, he’s just as happy to be milling around as any other punk in attendance.
“The camaraderie, kinship and friendship here is just real nice. That’s what brings people back more than anything else. Maybe it’s a little nostalgic, maybe even a little sentimental, but it’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia. It’s a great venue, too: I love the juxtaposition of the punk rock and this Victorian, vaudeville venue which was built for [old-fashioned] entertainment. I just ran into [UK Subs bassist] Alvin Gibbs! It could’ve been [The Damned frontman] Captain Sensible or Charlie Harper or any of these people you’ve admired from afar who’ve come into this community of cool people. No-one’s angry any more,” he laughs, fondly, “we’re all just getting mellower and nicer to each other!”
Words: Sam Law
Photos: Dod Morrison
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