Wakefield / Birmingham diary April 2019

Billyclub / Infa Riot / Subhumans — Warehouse 23, Wakefield 18 April 2019

I wanted to go to a folk festival this year, but Mrs Marcus said we’re not old enough for that yet, so we ended up going to the Holocaust In Your Head / Noise Not Music / Discharge festival (it had lots of different names on Facebook) in Birmingham instead, mainly because Civilised Society were playing. They were one of the bands we used for lullaby music when Sprog1 was a baby in the early 90s, she wouldn’t seem to go to sleep to anything else. She ended up being into Spice Girls and Aqua, so I don’t know what happened there. She later worked for Vivienne Westwood for a year though, so there’s that I suppose.

Anyway, the night before we headed off to Birmingham we went to see Billyclub, Infa Riot and Subhumans in Wakefield. We’d bought tickets for it months in advance, thinking it would sell out pretty quick, but when we got there the place was half empty and stayed that way for the rest of the night.

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We went in Bill’s car, so the bike stayed at home. He was about 40 minutes late picking us up, and we thought we were going to miss Billyclub, but in the end we got there with about 10 minutes to spare. When the bouncers saw Bill hobbling along the road on his walking stick they let him in through the side door so he wouldn’t have to climb the stairs. I was also on a walking stick, the one with a secret camera mount hidden under the handle, but I had to take the stairs instead.

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Bill had never seen Billyclub before, but he liked them enough to send me to get him a CD off them after they’d finished, and he later bought a T-shirt. I used my walking stick to film a couple of songs, but the floor was vibrating with the music and the video went all wobbly. I eventually fixed that by balancing the end of the walking stick on my foot instead of the floor, but I suppose holding the stick off the ground would have done just as well.

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Infa Riot were on next, who used to be Kids Of The 80s but are now Old And Angry. As an aside, I’ve got a feeling it might have been an Infa Riot gig at The Marples in Sheffield in 1981 that I based the first couple of chapters of Runaway on, but memories of drunken brawls with skinheads have become a bit hazy over time so it might have been someone else. Nothing like that happened this time, of course, because we’re all too old for that sort of nonsense. Which is probably just as well because with half the audience being bald it would be quite difficult to know who was on your side.

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A few more people wandered in for Subhumans, some even jumped around to them in front of the stage for a while before they got out of breath and gave up on it. The singer Dick Lucas seems to be still full of energy though, it must be that vegan diet of his or something. They played for about an hour, with him running around the stage the whole time. I have no idea how he manages to keep his glasses on while he’s doing all that, mine fall off every time I look down. Maybe they are glued on or something.

When we got back home at about midnight we found out the dog had gone on hunger strike and refused to eat his dinner in protest at us abandoning him for the night. Which didn’t bode well for the trip to Birmingham the next day, because we would be away for three days, not just the five hours we’d spent in Wakefield. We had visions of coming back to a skeleton dog, like the one that lives next door. I’m sure they never feed the thing, because they never take it for a walk either so it can’t be just running off the calories.

 

A Holocaust In Your Head / Discharge / Noise Not Music Festival — The Castle And Falcon, Birmingham 19 – 20 April 2019

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We went on the bike to Birmingham, it’s just under 100 miles away so we only had to stop once along the way, and the satnav lady took us straight to the door of the place we were staying at without any weird detours like she usually does. We’d booked it through Airbnb, and it turned out to be a lot posher than we expected. There was lots of weird posho food I’d never heard of in the fridge too, but we didn’t try any of that, we just stuck to the proper food we’d taken with us or bought at the Lidl down the road.

The venue was The Castle and Falcon, a pub about half a mile away, and we tried to use the satnav lady to help us walk there but I think she  must have got confused by how slow we were walking or something because she kept silent the whole way. We found it by ourselves, anyway. There was a sign on the door banning the wearing of hats, which is just HATTIST, but fortunately it wasn’t enforced and I was still allowed to enter.

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We handed over the tickets we’d printed out before we set off, along with the payment receipt, and, unknown to us at the time, the page with the keycodes for entry to the flat we were staying at. The bloke on the door ripped them all up and gave us black wristbands to wear. Had to put them on ourselves, which is a bit trickier than it sounds.

Just after 5.30 the door to the band room was unlocked and people wandered in. Mostly old duffers like us, but there was also a few youngsters too, which is a bit weird. They were dressed like 1980s punks, so maybe that’s what their grandparents were or something. Quite a big room, but a fairly small stage. The first thing I noticed is there wasn’t any seats so you had to stand up all the time. Fuck that, we thought, and got a couple of stools from the bar area. Everyone else seemed happy enough to stand up. Weirdos.

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The first band were called Mannequin Factory, and are probably best described as a sort of shouty industrial duo with a bit of performance art. A lot of people hated them so much they just walked out with their hands over their ears, but I really liked them. The bloke playing the gristleizer – if that’s the correct term for such things – was blind, and his guide dog wore special doggy ear protectors while it sat on the floor watching them. I was expecting the dog to be called Gristle, but it wasn’t. The other bloke ran around all over the place, jumping on and off the stage while he shouted stuff. Mrs Marcus didn’t like them, and when she saw me buy their CD later she said I could only play it when she is out.

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It was while Mannequin Factory were playing that I found a little alcove next to the bar (which wasn’t open, and I suppose that would explain why everyone rushed out between bands, with the youngsters even leaving their painted leather jackets on the floor). We moved the stools into that when the band room was empty, and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the night.

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I’m not sure who was on next, one of the bands had cancelled so it would have been either DSA or Salvo. I liked them, anyway, whoever they were. In fact there was only one band the whole weekend that I didn’t really care much for, but I won’t say who that was in case they track me down and beat me up over it – they did look quite scary, to be honest.

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Certified were next, unless they were the band who cancelled and it was actually Salvo or DSA playing in the wrong order. Then The Crippens, who used to have a Doctor as well but don’t seem to anymore. Maybe he got struck off or something? I used to play one of their albums a lot in the olden days, but had largely forgotten about them until I saw them at Rebellion last year. If you haven’t seen them, they’re one of the more theatrical thrash bands, they like to dress up on stage and make a mess everywhere with confetti and stuff like that. Nightmare on Sesame Street is probably their best known song.

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Tried to film a few songs with the camera in my hand, but ended up stuck behind a bunch of giants and gave up. After that I decided if I wanted to film something the only way to do it would be with the camera on the end of my walking stick, and the stick fully extended so it’s about 10 foot high. That solved the problem of the giants, but also meant I couldn’t reach the controls so there would be no zooming in and out, just a static shot. The alcove we were in hid the camera from view of the rest of the crowd, so we didn’t spoil it for anyone else before anyone writes in to complain. It did get a few weird looks from people who barged past to get closer to the stage, though.

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Anti System were a new band to me, but the internet says they’ve been around for decades so I’m not sure how I’ve  managed to miss them up to now, especially with them being from Yorkshire like me. The singer spent more time in the audience than on stage, but they were good, and they gave me a free badge for my hat.

Then it was Absolution, who seemed to just do songs about various serial killers, but not the Yorkshire Ripper which seems a bit racist against Yorkshire to me. He’s probably our most famous export, after cricket and Jimmy Savile, so he deserves a song of his own.

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Then it was Extreme Noise Terror, who closed the first evening. ENT were a band I used to play a lot in the late 80s to annoy the upstairs neighbours I had at the time. They always had noisy parties on Sunday nights where they would play crappy pop music for hours on end while I was trying to sleep, so as soon as they went quiet I would get up and blast the ENT side of Radioactive at them. Fun times.

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I can’t say I’ve listened to them much since then, but I did remember all the songs they played, especially Murder which seemed to be included on every single one of their records. Borstal Breakout was a nice addition at the end of the set, much better than the Sham 69 version.

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Back at the flat, we couldn’t find the printout with the keycode for the door, and that’s when we realised the bloke at the pub had ripped it up and chucked it away. This was about midnight, so major panic time. I couldn’t reach the flat’s wifi from outside, so no way to get it from the Airbnb website even if I did manage to remember what the password to get onto it was. Fortunately Sprog3 has a habit of staying up late on the computer, so we phoned him and got him to find the file I’d typed it on so he could read it out to us. Phew.

As is often the case with sleeping in the wrong bed, we woke up stupid early at 7am the next day so after breakfast we decided to get a bus into Birmingham town centre to see what was there. Basically just shops, and a big church type thing. And a massive bronze cow, for some reason. Quite boring really, but it passed a few hours.

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The festival was due to start again at 3pm, and Mannequin Factory were playing again so I wanted to get there early so I could film it. But we ended up getting back to the pub an hour too early, and there was nobody there so we sat on a wall for ages until we were let in.

The bar stools had been stolen during the night, so we had to get new ones and take them to the little alcove we had now claimed as our own. Spoke to the shouty bloke from Mannequin Factory for a while, he seemed surprised anyone would like them. I found out the blind guy with the dog was also deaf, and said I would send them a copy of the video later if they found me on the internet.

Next up were The Domestics, one of quite a few bands I hadn’t heard before, along with Active Slaughter who played before an Animal Liberation Front banner so I knew they would be good before they even started.

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After that it was Hagar the Womb (I still maintain it is pronounced Hay-gar, despite what the band have to say about it). I’ve seen them quite a few times, and have tried to film them at least 3 of those times but something has always gone wrong. If it wasn’t bouncers telling me to put my camera away, or forgetting to press record, it was getting stuck behind giants and not being able to see anything. This time I managed it okay with my 10 foot stick, but they weren’t allowed to play for long because everything was running late.

Intense Degree were another band I used to play a lot in the late 80s but had pretty much forgotten about. They also had to cut their set short, as did Civilised Society, which was quite annoying since they were one of the main bands I’d gone all that way for. Spoke to one of them earlier, they said they play a lot in Batley, which isn’t too far from me so maybe we’ll go and see them there one day instead.

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Everything seemed to be back on track for Anthrax and Burning Flag, who got to play their full sets. Anthrax I was already familiar with from their records, but Burning Flag were new to me. They had a shouty woman singer, so I was hooked straight from the start. Wish I’d filmed it now. Oh well, maybe next time I see them.

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Discharge took ages to set up, like they usually do, but it was worth the wait. A few people dived on stage and pranced around with them, singing along to mostly the old stuff with a couple of newer songs thrown in. Then it was all over, and back to the flat for the final night in the wrong bed before we headed for home.

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The dog’s food dish was full when we got home, so either he was still on his hunger strike or Sprog3 had filled it up again before he went to bed in the early hours of the morning. He gave us that ‘I see you have returned, you bastards’ look for a few minutes before giving in and slobbering all over us. The dog, that is, not Sprog3. He was still in bed, he didn’t get up until teatime.

 

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Why Thatcher invented punk rock

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When Thatcher seized control of the Conservative Party in 1975 she had one overwhelming ambition – to utterly destroy the county of Yorkshire in revenge for what Sir Arthur Scargill and his plucky band of miners had done to Ted Heath and the previous tory government.

She knew she couldn’t do this while in opposition, she had to become prime minister first, but with a strong working class turnout at elections she knew this would be impossible.

So she reached out to the Paedophile Information Exchange for ideas on how to put the working class off voting, promising them a £10,000 per year grant if they helped her get into power.

It was a shop owner called Malcolm McLaren who came up with the best idea – all she had to do was put as many young working class people off voting as possible, thus ensuring a Conservative victory forever more. And what’s more, he knew exactly how to do that. He would create a boy band who would storm the pop charts with songs about anarchy, having no future, and how pointless everything is.

But not even Thatcher realised how effective this ruse would be. The boy band McClaren created were copied by thousands of teenagers across the country within two years, expanding on the nihilist principles they preached. Vote Nobody, the message became. Nobody cares. Nobody will help you.

As a result the Labour vote collapsed in the 1979 election. Thatcher seized control of the country, and it was time for Yorkshire to suffer.

 

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Calling All Astronauts

Were you ever in the Welwyn Garden City band The Astronauts, fronted by Mark Wilkins / Mark Astronaut?

Were you in any of the bands they toured with?

Were you a fan with any particular memories you can share?

Did you organise any of their gigs?

Do you have any press cuttings, photographs, fliers, etc?

Has Mark Astronaut ever told you any anecdotes?

 

I am working with Mark on a book documenting The Astronauts’ 40+ year history, but we need help filling in the many gaps. If you have any information, please contact me.

marcus dot blakeston at gmail dot com

 

At the moment I am currently searching for the following people in particular:

Tim Nixon

Roy Falla

Ivan McTaggart

Terry Cain

Martin Meadows

Chris Bland

Jason Gray

And anyone who was in the band during the years 1990 to 2000.

 

 

 

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Adventures in Welwyn Garden City

Pog / The Metatrons / The Astronauts at The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City 22 February 2019.

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It was about a week before Valentines Day that someone on Facebook announced The Astronauts were playing in their home town of Welwyn Garden City later in the month, the first time they’d played anywhere for several months.

Ooh, I thought, that would make a good gift for Mrs Marcus. And I needed to talk to Mark Astronaut about the book we’re working on anyway, because the It’s All Done By Mirrors chapter is somewhat sparse due to my main source of information leaving the band shortly before recording started.

I also wanted to see what Welwyn Garden City was like, and visit some of the historical landmarks like the Campus Roundabout, Ludwick Hall, and Digswell House. And if we got time, maybe The Hedgehog Pub, outside which The Astronauts were first christened, The Corn Exchange in Hertford where they made their debut live appearance, and The Red Lion in Stevenage where the name Restricted Hours came from – maybe the sign that influenced it would still be there for me to photograph.

So I priced it all up to see how feasible it would be. £22 each to get there by train, £16 each to come back the next day, and £40 for a room for the night at the Premier Inn. So £128 in total once the admission charge was added. A lot less than we paid to see them at Rebellion in Blackpool, which is the only time we’ve ever seen them in the past three decades.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Mrs Marcus said. “But only if Mark agrees to see you, otherwise all you will get out of it is another video to add to the collection.”

So I phoned Mark, told him we’d be going down there, and asked if we could meet up somewhere either before or after the show. “Yeah,” he said, “but I don’t know if we will be playing or not, so you would be better off waiting until the last minute before you decide to come.”

Mark hasn’t been very well for the last year or so, you see, and had already cancelled several shows due to not being up to it. Which kind of put paid to the whole forward planning thing. To get those prices on the train we had to book in advance, and each day we waited it went up and up. But it made sense to wait, much as I like Pog there wouldn’t be any point travelling 150 miles to see them play for half an hour when they tend to play most of the big festivals anyway.

So we waited, and watched the price go up. Two days before, the train would cost £90 per ticket each way, and the day before it was £120. The room at Premier Inn went up to £80 as well, so I started looking for alternative places to stay. Found a room at The Travelodge for £30 instead. That wasn’t much to lose if it got cancelled, so I booked it. But the main cost now was the train, £128 for the trip had suddenly gone up to £300+. So we decided bollocks to it, we’ll go on our Triumph 900 motorcycle instead.

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A quick look on Google Maps said it would take two and a half hours to get to Welwyn Garden City, and we figured an extra half an hour for rest stops along the way, so if we left no later than 2pm we’d get there by 5pm, giving us a couple of hours to book into The Travelodge and get something to eat. Another thing about the gig, you couldn’t buy tickets in advance for it, you had to pay on the door, and we had visions of thousands of Astronauts fans turning up and we wouldn’t be able to get in, so we had to be there at opening time just to make sure.

So we set off at 1.30, after phoning Mark Astronaut to make sure it was still going ahead. The temperature that day was almost into double figures, what we call in Yorkshire T-shirt weather, so I got my summer gloves out of the drawer and we set off. I’d downloaded the relevant map on my telephone, but it was more or less straight down the A1 most of the way, so I knew I wouldn’t need the satnav lady until we were almost there and it got a bit more complicated.

About 50 miles down the A1 we came to the biggest traffic jam I’ve ever seen, it was at least 7 miles long and I had to slow down to 10 to 20 miles per hour to filter down the middle of it. Most of the cars, and even a few of the lorries, moved out of our way, but there’s always the odd nobhead who tries to block your route and there was quite a few of those as well so we had to stop a few times then give them a glare while we dabbed the bike past them. Turned out to be an accident, and one of the lanes was blocked off by cop cars. Everything speeded up again once we got past it.

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Stopped off at a services 80 miles into the journey, shared a coffee and stretched our legs for a bit while we waited for the bike to cool down. Had a look at the map on my telephone to see how much further it was and check which junction we needed to come off at, and decided we might as well start using the satnav lady instead of waiting until we left the motorway like I had originally planned. So the telephone went in the map pocket of the tank bag and a pair of headphones went inside my motorcycle helmet so I could hear what she had to say.

It was when we were about 3 miles away from Welwyn Garden City that it all started going wrong. What the hell does “veer left for a sharp right” even mean? Bloody confusing, that’s what it is. We seemed to be going round in circles and getting nowhere, so I decided to go old-school and follow the road signs instead. That got us closer, and the satnav lady adjusted to compensate after beeping at me a few times to say I’d gone wrong. Ended up driving straight past The Travelodge without noticing it because I was too busy concentrating on the traffic around me at the time, and after the satnav lady went silent on me I decided to stop and check the map. This was about 5.30, four hours after we’d set off. The map said we’d arrived, and asked us to rate our journey. Couldn’t see anything that looked even remotely like a flop house, so we decided to ask passers by for directions.

“Yeah, it’s back down that road,” a bloke said, pointing where we’d just come from. But we were on a one-way street by then, so we couldn’t just go back we’d have to ride all the way around town again. So we thought the best thing to do was leave the bike there and walk back, just so we would know where we were going this time. Passed The Doctors Tonic, the apostrophe abusing pub The Astronauts were playing at on the way, and made a note of its location. It turned out The Travelodge was just around the corner from it, which was handy. Once we found the place we were staying at we decided I would go and fetch the bike while Mrs Marcus booked us in.

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Then we saw Mark Astronaut walking past on the other side of the road, on his way to the pub for a sound check. “Oi Mark,” Mrs Marcus shouted, and he came over looking nervous at the sight of two bikers staring at him. I had to introduce myself, because he only really knows me from telephone calls, then we ended up talking about an old Astronauts tape recorded at Ludwick Hall that was supposed to have been their sixth album but never got released. Found out contrary to internet wisdom it wasn’t Lol Coxhill playing sax on that tape, it was some woman he couldn’t remember the name of. She was a friend of one of the band members at the time, and wanted to join in so they let her.

After Mark had gone I went to fetch the bike. I had to give Mrs Marcus my telephone because it had the booking reservation number on it, which she would need. Didn’t really fancy leaving it to chance that I would be able to find my way around the one way system without the satnav lady, so I decided to just push the bike back to where I wanted to be and parked it outside The Doctors Tonic.

Had a rest and a toasted sandwich and what they called “fries” but turned out to be just frozen chips, then set off for the apostrophe-hating pub at about 7pm. Lots of hairy people hanging around outside, so we knew we were in the right place, just didn’t know where The Green Room was. Upstairs, someone kindly informed us. So we went upstairs, but there was nobody there. Went back down again and sat outside while we waited. Then we got cold – I thought it was supposed to be warm down south? – and went back inside to share a pot of tea to get warmed up again.

Went back upstairs half an hour later when we heard Pog playing, but it was just a sound check and some bloke told us to go away until they were ready to open. Went back down again. Later on a bloke arrived at the bar who looked vaguely familiar, and someone said to him “Ey up Lee, ow’s tha goowin, lad?” (I have translated it into Yorkshire for clarity, he actually said something else in a southern accent). Lee was also the name of a Facebook friend I was hoping to bump into, so I asked if it was him. “Nay lad, but he’s up thi stayers wi a hat on.” (Again, I have translated what he said for clarity.)

So we went upstairs again. This time there was a couple of blokes outside the door collecting money, so we handed over our twelve quid. “Which band have you come to see?” one of the bloke asks. “All of them,” we reply, wondering what’s going on. Maybe it’s some sort of southern tradition, where you have to pay for each band separately? “Which is the main band you’ve come for?” he asks. “The Astronauts, of course,” I said. He grunted, and wrote it down, then rubber stamped the back of our hands. I’ve still got no idea what that was about, but we didn’t need to pay any extra for the other two bands.

There wasn’t as much of a crowd as I expected, but it was still considerably larger than the 15 to 20 people who turn up to see The Astronauts at Rebellion in Blackpool when they play there. Saw a couple of blokes wearing hats standing near the 3 inch high stage, and went over to see if any of them was called Lee. One of them was, so we talked for a bit while we waited for Pog to start playing.

Joe Davin, who used to be an Astronaut, usually plays with Pog but he’d broken his arm so they played as a trio instead. They did a song about car boots which made us smile, people asking if you’ve got any mobile phones or jewellery as soon as you open the boot must be a universal thing. I was hoping Mark Astronaut would join them for the song Lovers (Pog were the backing band on that single) but he didn’t arrive until after they had finished playing, and apparently that wasn’t planned anyway. Pog were supposed to join The Astronauts when they opened up with that song, but for whatever reason they didn’t bother.

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Got to talk to Mark Astronaut in the corridor by the stairs for a while and gave him my notes on the Mirrors LP chapter. They are pretty sparse, so hopefully he will find someone who knows what happened during that two year period.

Went back in to watch The Metatrons, who I’d never heard of before but had checked out on Spotify the night before so I knew they would be good. The guitarist was the bloke who had told us to go back downstairs earlier.

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Then various Astronauts started wandering around, and I figured out why the Lee from downstairs looked so familiar, he was their drummer. Got down to the front and screwed my camera onto the top of my walking stick and watched them plugging things in. Mark stood in his usual spot on the stage at the far left, in the shadows, illuminated every couple of seconds by a flashing green sign that said The Green Room. They did a quick sound check, then they all went backstage for a few minutes before coming back. It was kind of weird watching them with people who actually knew all the songs, and not being the only one singing to myself. There was even dancing, and people calling out requests.

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Like I already said, they opened up with Lovers (with no Pogs), then Listen from the Lutra Lutra EP. After that it was something I’d never heard before, then Time To Roam from You’re All Weird and another new one before they were back on familiar ground again with Rabbits from one of The Otters CDs I can’t remember the name of, Protest Song from Peter Pan, Marching from Lutra Lutra, and ending with One Wave from the split CD they did with The Destructors a few years ago. Probably about 50 minutes all together, before they disappeared backstage.

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Mark came back out a few minutes later and thanked me for going all that way to see his band, which was nice of him. He also asked if I’d managed to record it all okay, and said he’d get in touch in the near future with whatever he can find out about the Mirrors LP.

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Back at The Travelodge I had a quick flick through the footage on my video camera, and went to bed.

Next day I wanted to visit some of the historical landmarks before we went back home, but the only one I could find was the Campus Roundabout and we had to check out of the room by mid-day so there wasn’t really time to look them all up on the internet and I didn’t fancy doing it while carting a load of bike gear around with me. So after that we picked the bike up from the pub we’d left it at the day before and went home. Maybe I’ll find all those other places the next time I go.

 

A few photos of Campus Roundabout, presumably the bands played on the concrete bit in the middle?

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Butlins Diary 2018

This is the second year me and Mrs Marcus have been to the Great British Alternative Festival in Skegness. It coincides with her birthday on the 7th October, so it makes a handy present we can share together. We also go to Rebellion in Blackpool for my Birthday in August, so it seems fair.

In a lot of ways I prefer the one at Skegness to the one at Blackpool – it’s not as frenetic, and it’s more suited to us old folk because there’s lots of seats to slump into after a quick ten second pogo. And as a bonus, it’s all held within the Butlins compound so there’s no gang of coppers or drunken trendies waiting outside to beat you up each night.

The day before we went to Skegness this year, Barney the dog caught us packing clothes into the bike’s saddlebags. He knows from seeing us come back from car boots or shopping trips that things come out of those bags, not go into them, so he knew something terrible was going to happen. He followed us around everywhere for the rest of the day, so to put his mind at ease and avoid that sulky look he always gives us when we go away somewhere we tried to make Friday morning as normal as possible.

So I got up, corrected the people on the internet who needed correcting while I drank my morning cup of tea, then did the day’s post, took the dog with me when I dropped it off at the shop, then went to the park so we could chase some squirrels together. That seemed to do the trick, and after we got back home he went to bed with my youngest son and gave me and Mrs Marcus time to pack the bike up and do all the pre-flight tests.

I’ve never been any good at navigating to places I haven’t already been to dozens of times, so instead of getting hopelessly lost on the way to Butlins I downloaded a map for my telephone and found some headphones small enough to fit inside my crash  helmet so I could have a nice lady tell me which way to go. That worked pretty well, though I think she was trolling me a bit with some of the dirt tracks she sent me down. One of them was a single lane road full of potholes that were a nightmare to avoid, and there was a massive lorry coming the other way half way down it, so she was probably trolling the driver of that as well in the hope we would crash into each other. This is what happens when technology turns evil. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of films about the subject.

When we got to Butlins, one of the bouncers on the main gate asked to see our booking letter and told us to follow the green line. What he didn’t say was the green line faded away to nothing just before the turn off to get to the check-in barrier, and the sat-nav lady had shut up by then, so I managed to miss it completely and ended up in a car park by the side of it instead.

No worries, I thought, we’ll just get off and walk through instead. Then Ed Tudor Pole rolled into the car park in his old Morris Minor and we were blocking his route through so we had to shift the bike out of the way before Mrs Marcus went to get our wristbands. Can’t do that, they told her, you have to be in your vehicle while you check in. So I had to ride all the way around Butlins back to where I started and try again. I don’t know what people who travel by bus or train are supposed to do, but it was kind of annoying. Especially since it was quite warm, and I had my winter gloves on.

Got the wristbands and other bumf, then they directed to our designated flat. Which turned out to be right next to the car park we’d just been in, so we had to find our way back to that again. We were in a second story flat on the corner, so we unclipped the bags from the bike and carted them up a set of rusty metal stairs and through a shabby-looking door.

Then we found out the key card didn’t work so we thought we must be in the wrong place, and we had to go back down the stairs to check. We found a woman pushing a trolley full of dirty towels around and asked her where we were supposed to be. She looked at our booking slip and said it was the right place, but none of the key cards will work until 4pm so you have to wait outside until then.

Which was probably bad news for the first band on the talent show stage because 4pm is when they were due to start, so I doubt many people would have been able to see them. The dirty towel lady must have felt sorry for us, because she used her master key to let us into the flat at about 3.55.

We dumped all the bags and bike gear on the bed, and Mrs Marcus went shopping for cider and other essentials while I sat down and got my telephone out to check for emails. There’s always someone who buys something as soon as you walk out the front door, so they would need telling they won’t be getting whatever it is for a few more days otherwise they would moan about it. Whatever happened to waiting 28 days for delivery? Bloody eBay.

Anyway, I tried to get onto the Butlins wifi, which took ages to connect, but it said my email address was already in use and promptly chucked me off. Couldn’t connect again after that, the signal was too low, so I wandered over to the main complex to get a better one and tried again with the same result. Tried another email address, that was in use too. Well yeah, I probably used them both last year, one for me and one for Mrs Marcus.

Finally figured out I’m supposed to prod a tiny, hardly noticeable word saying ‘login’ instead of just putting my email address in the great big box saying ‘put your email address here’, but couldn’t remember what password I used last year. Tried all the obvious disposable ones I use, none of them worked.

Eventually gave up and decided to go and ask at the help desk next to the talent show stage instead. The bloke working there said I could request a password reset and it would be emailed to me. How would I get the email, I asked. He offered to let me use his computer to sign into my Google email account, but guess what? I mean, who carries random letters and digits around in their head? Sorry, can’t help you, then. Have a nice day.

Decided to sit and watch the last few minutes of the band on the talent show stage for a while, The Lengthmen I think they were called, then had an idea. Mrs Marcus has got one of them Apple phones all the poshos have, and it’s got a thing on it that turns it into a portable wifi router that does internet stuff over 4G. So if I turned that on and connected my telephone to it I’d be able to get the password email and sort it out from there. Phoned her up to see when she’d be back, but she’d gone into Skegness for the shopping because everything is a few pence cheaper there, and she’d be there for at least another hour. Grrr. How did we ever survive without internet?

Anyway, to cut a long, rambling story nobody is interested in short, the idea of getting wifi from her phone worked when I met her back at the flat, and I was able to get the password email as well as find out what everyone had bought as soon as we walked out the door. Yay. But then it wouldn’t connect to the Butlins wifi at all. Our flat was in a wifi not-spot and it was something we would just have to put up with.

We’d already checked out the bands on the talent show stage on Youtube before we left, and there wasn’t any that particularly appealed to either of us, so we gave them a miss and unpacked all the stuff we’d taken with us instead and waited until the evening before we went to watch Ed Tudor Pole on the Reds stage. Watched him for a while, then wandered over to the Centre stage to watch a bit of Hands Off Gretel before we had a look around the trader stalls for stuff to buy. Found a new Thatcher shirt I haven’t already got, the Crass one You’re Already Dead, but they didn’t have my size. Said they’d get one for tomorrow.

Went back in Reds to see Eddie and the Hotrods, which made me think about my brother who died a couple of years ago. I don’t think he ever saw them live, but they were his favourite band until the Sex Pistols and Motorhead came along. He played their first album that many times it wore out, so it was a shame he couldn’t be there with us.

After they finished we went over to the Centre stage for UK Subs, the last band of the night, and caught the end of The Blockheads’ set. They were okay, but it seemed a bit pointless without Ian Dury, despite the singer’s best attempt to imitate him. Everyone else seemed to appreciate them though, so maybe that’s just me. And I suppose it’s no different to Ruts DC, who we always go to see when we get the chance.

UK Subs did their usual mix of old and new songs, and Charlie Harper moaned about the massive gap between band and audience, saying he kept expecting a load of racehorses to go galloping past at any second. The guitarist, don’t know his name, invited a few women up onto the stage for Warhead and the bouncers by the stage had a fit about it, chasing them all over and chucking them off again. They seemed a bit unnecessarily rough with one of them, and  Charlie didn’t look too happy about it.

After that it was back to the flat for cider and bed.

Saturday morning we got up early at 10am and did the usual morning stuff before heading off to the Reds stage for No Thrills at 1pm, followed by GBH at 2.45. No Thrills we’ve seen a few times before, and Mrs Marcus liked them enough to buy a T-shirt and CD at one of the previous shows of theirs we’d been to. Not many people turned up to see them, but there was a bit of a singalong in places.

GBH I hadn’t seen since the 1980s, I always seemed to miss them at Rebellion because they clashed with other bands I wanted to see more. Didn’t know many of the songs they did, but I only really liked Leather, Bristles, Studs & Acne and No Survivors anyway, so that’s no surprise. The crowd jumped around a lot more to songs from those two records as well, so I doubt I was the only one hoping for more of that. Yeah well, nobody wants new stuff at a nostalgia festival, do they? Defeats the whole purpose of going to one.

After that we went to the talent show stage to see Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, a band someone on the internet said were worth watching. I should probably explain at this point what the talent show is all about. There’s a small stage under a big dome-type thing where Butlins puts what it thinks are unknown bands, and the audience vote for the one they think was best each day by putting little tokens in a box. Except this year they had well known and long established bands like The Bus Station Loonies and Drongos for Europe on the talent show stage, which seems somewhat daft to me.

Anyway, back to Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies. The singer looks like Mark E Smith from The Fall when he was younger, and they had two women dressed up as dinner ladies dancing beside them. They were okay, not really my sort of thing, but amusing enough in a bizarre kind of way and I would definitely go to see them again if I had the chance.

The Bus Station Loonies were next, and were one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me. It’s good to see they still do the anti-Chumbawamba song after all these years. Great set, and I’m glad I had the forethought to film the whole thing so I can watch it again one day when I’m even older than I am now. After they finished we went to vote for them and see if they had any T-shirts or whatever for sale, but they didn’t bother bringing anything so we went back to the flat for tea.

The Rezillos were the first band of the evening on the Reds stage, and we got there in plenty of time. With it being the 40th anniversary of Can’t Stand the Rezillos, they pretty much played the entire album in order, plus a few of the singles and B sides (including, rather annoyingly, 20,000 Rezillos Under the Sea twice) before moving on to newer stuff from Zero.

Boomtown Rats were on next, so we had to get out of there sharpish to avoid hearing them. Unfortunately everyone else must have had the same idea, because it took at least half an hour to get down the stairs and out the door. Sham 69 were on in the Centre stage, so we followed the crowd down to that. It was already packed out by the time we got there, but we managed to find a table at the back to sit at.

The crowd were chanting UK Subs, UK Subs, UK Subs while they waited for Sham 69 to come on stage. I don’t know who started it, but it was a sublime bit of surrealism and probably wound Jimmy Pursey right up. Talking of which, when he did come on stage I could only see the top half of him and he looked like he was wearing one of those black evening dresses that hang off one shoulder. After seeing photos of him when we got back home, I was disappointed to find out it wasn’t a dress after all, it was just a baggy jumper and he was wearing denim jeans. Oh well, at least it wasn’t his famous figure-hugging white leotard. But he could’ve at least worn a pair of corduroys.

After a couple of songs nobody knew, Sham 69 settled into a singalong medley of their greatest hits, which I would guess is what most people wanted judging by the response they got. Even Mrs Marcus joined in with a few. Then they did that pop star thing where they pretend they’ve finished, only to come back on again about five minutes later to do a few more songs. I never saw the point of that, it would be better if they just carried on and fit in another song or two.

Dirt Box Disco were the headliner for the night in the Centre stage, despite being a relatively ‘new’ band formed no earlier than 2010. I’d seen them at Rebellion on my own a few times while Mrs Marcus went to see someone else, but this year she’d gone with me and really liked them. She’s since bought some of their records and learned their songs, so she was looking forward to seeing them again at Butlins on the night before her birthday and wasn’t disappointed. I found myself singing along to some of them as well, they’re quite catchy. The bouncers wouldn’t let anyone on stage at the end for Hooray Hooray it’s Dirt Box Day, so the singer didn’t get to bog off early like he usually does. The stage seemed a bit empty without a massive crowd up there for that song.

Sunday morning: Happy birthday Mrs Marcus. Gave her the card I’d got her, a witch riding a motorcycle. She liked it. Where’s me presents? At home, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Hung Like Hanratty were the first band of the day, playing at 1pm on the Reds stage, and we arrived early having enjoyed them at Butlins the previous year when they won their day’s talent show. The place was already packed out, but we managed to secure our favourite spot. There was a guy near the entrance dressed up as the ghost of Jimmy Savile holding a fake cigar and saying “Now then, now then” as everyone passed by. I don’t know if he was part of the band or just a fan, but he set the tone perfectly for what was to come.

If you’ve never seen Hung Like Hanratty before they’re best described as ‘political incorrectness gone mad’. A bit like The Macc Lads or 3CR, except not as crude and with a lot more humour. I first noticed them a few years ago when they did a song about Thatcher being dead, which was why I went to see them at Butlins the previous year, but they don’t seem to do that one anymore. So a quick note for any of the band reading this:

DEAD THATCHER IS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST THATCHER DAY!

I think Hung Like Hanratty were pretty surprised at the positive response they got while they played their set, helped along by the actual real ghost of Jimmy Savile and a fat dwarf on a mobility scooter who later turned into a transvestite. The whole room was bouncing during the dog shit dance, which isn’t easy to do with an audience in its 40s and 50s. They even got an encore, and got everyone doing it all over again. After that they seemed to be the main topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, so I’d be surprised if they’re not back again next year playing in one of the evening slots.

The Members were on next, a band I only really know from two songs. I think everyone else was in the same boat, because it was only during those two songs that anyone bothered dancing. You can probably guess which ones they were. Or at least one of them. And no, the other one wasn’t the B side.

After that there was a bit of a gap, so we went to get the new Thatcher shirt in the correct size, bought a few punk drinks coasters for our new coffee table (thus ruining my credibility as a member of the underclass and risking taunts of middle class toff from everyone who knows me), and went to play on the 2p fountains in the arcade. I somehow won 500 prize tickets, and went to the redeeming shop to see what I could get for them. Ended up with a wooden skipping rope for the dog to chew and tug on.

Drongos for Europe were another must-see band for me, and they were on the talent show stage so we found somewhere to sit for that. I don’t know why they were on the talent show, they’ve been around for decades, so they should have really been on one of the main stages instead. And they didn’t even win, despite me and Mrs Marcus having to queue up for ages to vote for them. We stayed there to see what the next band, Vomit, were like, and ended up watching their set as well.

There wasn’t anything on after that, just some goth type band and some bunch of mods, so we went to get something to eat instead while we waited for Anti Nowhere League later in the night. Yeah I know, we’re not supposed to like them anymore, they’re basically the new screwdriver because of that song they did ten years ago. Animal seemed really pissed off about the whole thing, and went off on a few rants about people getting their gigs cancelled over it. I don’t know why he doesn’t just apologise for all the offense that song caused and move on, that’s what I would have done. Not that I would write a song like that in the first place, and if anyone is offended by anything I write they can just fuck off for all I care. And if anyone wants to buy all my books and burn them, that’s fine by me.

The last band of the weekend were Angelic Upstarts, standing in for The Exploited who had to pull out because of Wattie’s crap heart. More sing-songs for the crowd ensued, but we were stuck behind two massive baldies so we couldn’t see much. While they were playing, a woman close to us kept grabbing all the dregs of beer from nearby tables, pouring them into one glass and chucking them at the baldies, then ducking down and hiding so they wouldn’t see who did it. Maybe she just wanted them to shift out of the way as well, but it didn’t work.

The curtains closed on the Upstarts within seconds of finishing one of their songs, which seemed to surprise Mensi. He’s probably not used to posh venues with curtains and stuff, or maybe he expected to be playing a bit longer.

We had to be out of the flat by 10am the next day, so after packing everything up in the saddle bags we went to bed. We didn’t quite make the deadline, the cleaning staff walked in while we were still getting dressed but they didn’t seem to mind going away and coming back later. When we were ready I put the sat-nav lady back in my ear and hoped she wouldn’t  try to make us crash into a lorry on the way home.

(She didn’t, in case anyone is worried.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rebellion Festival diary August 2nd to 5th 2018

I haven’t been to Rebellion for a few years, mainly because of the relatively high cost of entry and associated lodgings for the weekend, but also because I prefer the similar punk nostalgia event at Butlins a couple of months later in October. That one caters more for my age bracket, with air conditioning and lots of seats to slump into after a quick ten second pogo. The sound quality tends to be better there too, with Rebellion it can be a bit hit and miss.

But this year Rebellion had booked The Astronauts to play, which made it a must-go event. I’ve been working on a book about Mark Astronaut’s various bands over his forty year career in the music biz, and it would be a good chance to meet up and discuss progress on it, show him the chapters I’ve got so far to make sure he’s happy with the direction I’m taking it, fill in a few blanks, etc.

At first I was going to go on my own, just for that day, and either come straight back afterwards or find somewhere to doss down for the night and go home in the morning. But then Mrs Marcus decided she wanted to go too, and we found out accommodation wasn’t much cheaper for one day than it was for a weekend, so we bought tickets for the whole four days.

Then a couple of days before we were due to set off for Blackpool, The Astronauts had to pull out because Mark wasn’t well enough to attend. I tried to phone him to make sure he was okay, but just got his answering message and naturally enough started to worry.

To compound all this, our dog-sitter (oldest son) then decided working in That London was more important, so it looked like we couldn’t go anyway. We probably would’ve been able to sell the Rebellion tickets for more or less what we paid for them, but the cost of the room we’d booked would be lost. Fortunately our youngest son stepped up to the breach instead.

We were originally going to go down to Blackpool on the train, but even if we booked the tickets in advance they were still cor blimey expensive so we decided to go on our Triumph Trident 900 instead. I’ve never been any good at finding places I haven’t been to by road before, but the route looked pretty easy on Google Maps, basically straight down the M6, with Preston looking like the only place I could go wrong when we had to veer off onto the M55.

As it turned out it was pretty well signposted, so we didn’t get lost and arrived in Blackpool at about half past two on Thursday afternoon. Too late to see The Scumbrians and System of Hate, two bands I wanted to catch, but in plenty of time for Pog later in the day. The room we’d booked was easy to find too, on one of the side-roads off the prom, the only real problem being where to park the bike. After a lot of delicate manoeuvring we managed to get it through the narrow gate and chained it to a wooden bench in the tiny front yard. It would have been too much faff getting it in and out of there, so we decided to take the twenty minute walk down to the Winter Gardens each day instead of biking there like I’d planned to do.

A few months earlier I’d bought an Olympus SLR camera from the local car boot for £3, and spent another £50 or so on a charger, spare batteries, and a new lens for it (the one it came with being a bit crap). I hadn’t had it long, but I’d been practicing on the dog under a variety of lighting conditions and become reasonably proficient with it in that for every fifty photos I took one of them would turn out quite well. I figured at the very least I should be able to get a few photos of the bands I wanted to see, and some crowd shots (which always seem more interesting to me).

After dropping all the bike gear off in the flat and doing a bit of food and cider shopping we traipsed down to the Winter Gardens and got our wristbands attached. Security seemed to have been ramped up a lot since the last time we went, probably because of the attack on the Manchester Arena last year, so it took a while to get through the door with the bouncers searching everyone. When it was our turn I had to open up my camera bag, but then I got waved through.

Pog weren’t on until half-six, so we wandered round the trader stalls and bought a few T-shirts, a couple of CDs, and had a look in the various rooms where bands were playing to see what they were like. Usually The Arena is the only one that is boiling  hot, so we tend to avoid it as much as possible, but this year they were all just as bad. Like they’d turned the heating up to full so they could sell more beer or something.

We went to see No Thrills in The Arena, someone we’d seen the year before at Butlins and liked enough to buy a CD off them, then went in search of the Opera House for Pog. For some reason I thought it was upstairs, I was pretty sure that was where we saw Slice of Life and The Dirty Folkers (Vice Squad) the last time we went. So we had a look round the punk art exhibition, then asked one of the bouncers where to go from there.

The Opera House turned out to be next to the Empress Ballroom, and even better, it was full of seats set out in rising rows like at a cinema. I half expected someone to wander up and down the aisles selling ice cream. We sat at the front, thinking we’d get the best view, and I played around with the settings on my new camera while Pog set up and did their sound check. Took a couple of shots, everything was blue. Changed the white balance setting and everything went yellow. None of the presets seemed to work, and I couldn’t find anything white to use as a template for manual control. Oh well, I could always fix that in Photoshop later.

Then Pog started playing and someone switched on a smoke machine and the stage was filled with the stuff, which made it very difficult to focus on anything. Grrr. Later in the set Andy T (the poet from Crass Records who wrote the introduction to Punk Rock Nursing Home) joined them on stage for the Zounds song Demystification. I’d never heard him sing before, so I grabbed my camcorder and filmed it through a small gap between the giants standing in front of the stage.

We stayed in the Opera House for Slice of Life, and as luck would have it Steve Ignorant told them to switch the smoke machine off and I was able to get some reasonable shots of him and the rest of the band. A couple of people close by seemed a bit annoyed they didn’t do any Crass songs, but they would’ve sounded weird if they did anyway. If you’ve never heard them, Slice of Life are more of a folk band than anything else.

There was a three hour gap before the next band we wanted to see, so we went out to get something to eat. That was a bit of a palaver, for some reason the bouncers had decided to set up a one-way system so you were only allowed out through a side door and you couldn’t get back in the same way even if you’d only nipped out for a fag.

Went back in later in the night, the bouncers didn’t bother checking our bags this time. By pure chance, being in the right place at the right time, we managed to catch Billyclub in the Pavillion, someone I’d never heard of before, and they were so good I bought a couple of CDs by them. Got some good photos too, because the lighting in there was pretty decent and there was none of that stupid smoke stuff. After that we saw Buzzcocks in the Empress Ballroom and went back to our new home for the weekend for some well-earned cider. The bike was where we’d left it, and it hadn’t been covered in chips and gravy like I feared. So all in all a good start to the weekend.

On Friday we set off early so we could get there in time for Russ Crimewave, one of my favourite folk singers at the moment. I’d promised him I’d film his set, so I needed to be there at least half an hour before he started so I could set it all up properly. I took my monopod disguised as a walking stick with me and limped up to the entrance door.

“You can’t bring that in here,” the bouncer says about my Olympus camera. “It’s a professional one, they’re not allowed, you’ll have to use a telephone instead.” Yeah well, that’s the first I’ve heard of it. Apart from the fact I only paid fifty quid in total for that camera, and new ones are only a couple of hundred quid anyway, I always assumed it was the person behind the camera that determined whether it was ‘professional’ or not.

To take the offending camera back to the boarding house and return without it would take forty minutes and I would miss Russ Crimewave, so Mrs Marcus volunteered to take it back for me. Got into the Almost Acoustic room in time to see someone called Boggy Formby, who seemed to be on every day, doing George Formby songs on a ukulele. Went to say hello to Russ Crimewave while he was setting up, then took the handle off my walking stick and screwed my camcorder onto it while I waited for him to start. He seemed to go down well as he blasted through his greatest hits, ending with Fuck This Shit, during which a young girl was escorted out of the room by her mother.

Mrs Marcus arrived back at the Winter Gardens in time for Spunk Volcano and the Eruptions in the Empress Ballroom, then we stayed in there for Sick On The Bus, yet another Newtown Neurotics ‘last ever gig’ and Subhumans.

“These are fucking brilliant, why have we never seen them before?” she yelled during Subhumans. Because they had always clashed with must-see bands in previous years, but I did agree with the sentiment and they have since joined the list of must-see bands. So unless Subhumans are on at the same time as The Astronauts, The Mob or Zounds (which would be a shitty thing for the organisers to do) we will almost certainly see them again. After that we returned to the Opera House and sat at the back for Hagar the Womb.

Then Mrs Marcus wanted to see Anti Nowhere League, so she could ogle the hairy biker men who make up most of the band these days. Which gave me a bit of a moral dilemma. This will sound corny, but I actually do have a few gay friends, I’m not just pretending to appear ‘right on’ or whatever, and I support their views on the Anti Nowhere League song they object to. I think it’s a horrible song that should have stayed on the cutting room floor where it belonged, and they deserve all the hostility they got when they re-released it as a single a couple of years ago. But I went along to see them anyway, expecting there to be some sort of protest I could join in with. I did see a young girl with a rainbow flag, but that was about it.

Then we had a choice to make, either stay in the Empress Ballroom for GBH or go to the Pavilion for Paranoid Visions. It was too hot where we were, so we went with the latter. The Pavilion has openings at either side of it, so at least you get a bit of air circulating inside. The sound seemed a bit off, though. Too bass-heavy, and the vocals were a bit muddy.

After that there was a bit of a gap so we went round the trader stalls in search of new stuff to buy. Mrs Marcus wanted a new Triumph Motorcycles shirt to replace the one she’d bought there a few years ago and worn constantly until it fell to bits. She ended up buying two of them, one as a spare.

Angelic Upstarts were on in Club Casbah, and we went early so we could see a bit of Neville Staple’s band. But you could feel the heat wafting out of there like you were about to walk into an oven, so we just sat on the steps opposite, beside the entrance door, and listened to him from there.

At half-eleven we had no choice but to enter the oven, so we filled ourselves up with water in anticipation of all the sweat we would lose during the next hour or so. But the bouncers, who had presumably been in there all day, were standing guard at the opened fire exits at the side of the stage, so we ended up standing near them and it wasn’t too bad.

As is common at nostalgia festivals like this, Angelic Upstarts mainly stuck to playing songs from Teenage Warning, with a few from Bullingdon Bastards thrown in here and there. They got a big cheer when Mensi expressed his support for Jeremy Corbyn just before Tories Tories Tories Out Out Out, and a few skinheads wandered away when they did Anti Nazi.

At one point Mensi took his top off and invited all the ladies to form an orderly queue. Then a young woman who he said was his daughter but probably wasn’t joined him on stage for a few songs. Her ‘harmonies’ added a lot to the overall sound, and it was pretty obvious Mensi was knackered by that point because he’d stopped pacing the stage completely.

The Exploited, who we had intended to see, had pulled out due to Wattie having another heart attack, and we’d already seen Peter and the Test Tube Babies who replaced them not so long ago so we decided on an early night at half-past midnight and I relaxed with more cider.

Saturday was another fairly late start, with Blyth Power in the Almost Acoustic room at three-twenty, so we wandered around Blackpool buying sticks of rock and fridge magnets and taking the obligatory photos of the Eye-Full Tower with a tram in front of it.

While Mrs Marcus took the forbidden camera back to the boarding house I had another wander around the trader stalls in the Winter Gardens and bought another CD. I bumped into Joseph Porter from Blyth Power and told him about the book I was writing about Mark Astronaut, and got his email address so I could pump him for any memories he has about the time he was in Zounds and The Mob while they were touring with The Astronauts in 1980/81.

Then I headed for the Almost Acoustic room in plenty of time for Blyth Power and watched a young woman called Jess Silk singing some folk songs. She was good, I need to look up some of her recordings on Bandcamp one day.

I was expecting the Blyth Power acoustic set to be just Joseph Porter with a guitarist, but instead the whole band somehow managed to cram themselves onto the small stage with their synthesiser taking up half of it. Joseph Porter had a little ‘soldier’ drum hanging round his neck. I took a few photos with my camcorder, they turned out quite well.

After that I bought a couple of books by Steve Lake from Zounds, then it was off to see Vice Squad  in Club Casbah before the main Blyth Power set in the Opera House. The drums were set up at the back of the stage instead of at the front like is usual at Blyth Power gigs, so you couldn’t really see Joseph Porter for all the swirls of smoke. (He drums as well as sings, in case you were wondering why that mattered.)

We stayed in the Opera House for Zounds, who were on straight after, then I decided to go all fan-boy and ask Steve Lake to sign the books I’d bought. While he did so I asked if he’d heard anything about  how Mark Astronaut is. He hadn’t but pointed out his bass player would probably know. It turned out to be Pablo Pastorius, someone I knew from Facebook who also plays with The Astronauts. We had a chat, and I was relieved to find out Mark is going to be okay. Then Steve Lake heard my name and recognised it from emails I’d sent him so we talked about the Astronauts cassette he released in 1981 but couldn’t sell anywhere. He said he had hundreds of them left a few years ago and decided to tape over them. I wish I’d made contact with him before that happened. I didn’t point out he could’ve retired on the proceeds if he’d sold them on ebay instead.

There was another big gap in entertainment after that, so we went out in search of food before going to see Cockney Rejects in the Empress Ballroom. It was packed out and boiling hot like we expected, but that didn’t seem to stop people leaping around everywhere. Some of the skinheads seemed to be a bit over-enthusiastic about shoving each other around, and I felt sorry for the young punk lad who got caught up in the middle of it all. The bouncers were too busy dealing with the people flying over the barrier to take much notice of them.

Then it was off to Club Casbah, where we stayed for the rest of the night. First for Discharge, whose new singer is a lot more energetic than the last one, then to wind down with Ruts DC before heading off home for cider.

Sunday was another late start, there wasn’t anyone I wanted to see until about four, so we went for a stroll along the prom prom prom and sat on the pier for a bit. Then we took the forbidden camera back to the flat and headed for the Winter Gardens at about half-three. On the way we found out there was some sort of car show opposite the tower, with old cars on display, so we ended up going back for the camera to take some photos of them.

This took preference over the band I wanted to see, so the new deadline for being in the Winter Gardens got pushed back to six. While the forbidden camera was being returned to the flat by Mrs Marcus I managed to catch a bit of B-Squadron before we both settled down in the Opera House for Crisis. After that it was into the Empress Ballroom for Dirtbox Disco, then The Arena for Mau Maus, a local Sheffield band I haven’t seen for about thirty-five years.

Fortunately the singer didn’t gargle with butter before going on stage, so even the songs from their later ‘poppy’ releases sounded good. They didn’t draw much of a crowd, though. Presumably they weren’t very well known outside Sheffield? Oh well, it’s your loss. Hopefully they will record some new stuff in the near future.

We stayed in The Arena for The Crippens, a band I used to like in the late eighties but can’t really think why anymore. One of them wore a skin-coloured leotard with a little willy sticking out of it that made him look like he was naked from a distance. The singer wore a stupid wig. I only recognised two songs, Nightmare on Sesame Street, and the Abba song Waterloo right at the end. I hope the singer’s story about also being in a hardcore thrash Abba tribute band called Abba-toir is true, but I can’t find any reference to it if it is.

After that we’d planned to go and see The Dickies in Club Casbah before returning to The Arena for the headline act later in the night, but in the end we didn’t bother so we watched The Defects instead.

Not many people turned up for The Varukers, probably because Public Image and The Addicts were on at the same time elsewhere, but at least it meant it wasn’t too hot so I was able to move around a bit without getting too drenched in sweat.

Then it was all over and the bouncers ushered everyone out into the street. They still made us go through the side door, which seemed a bit petty and pointless by this late stage, and caused a massive crowd of people standing on the pavement outside blocking the exit for everyone else.

The next morning we had to get up early because we had to be out of the flat by ten so I didn’t have anything to drink the night before because I knew I’d need all my wits about me to deal with all the car and lorry drivers weaving around on the motorway while they fiddle with their gadgets instead of looking where they are going.

I expected the route home to be just as easy as it was going, and it certainly looked straightforward enough on Google Maps. But I still somehow managed to get lost and ended up in Eckington, about twenty-five miles further away from where I was supposed to be and had to loop back around on the A roads. So we were both pretty saddle-sore by the time we made it home.

 

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What Runaway is really about …

Monsters aren’t real … but humans are. And true horror is what we do to each other.

I have decided to be more honest about what Runaway is really about, something I have  shied away from so far for a variety of reasons. Yes, it is still primarily an action/adventure yarn with a bit of social realism thrown in. There are punks and skinheads going at each other with fists and boots. There’s Hells Angels. And there’s more than enough graphic violence and gratuitous swearing for people who like such things to enjoy.

But there is also a much darker element to it, and that’s what I want to tell you about now. But first, a bit of history about how the book came about, and why it very nearly didn’t.

Runaway started life as a short story I wrote back in 2009 called Stiggy Unstuck. At the time, I was writing an ongoing punk/skinhead soap opera type thing called Punk Faction, with a new episode posted in various places online once a month, and Stiggy Unstuck was intended to be a part of that.

As an aside, the book Skinhead Away was also originally conceived as part of this ongoing soap opera, until a small publisher in Brighton asked for a 22,000 word story about skinheads, then promptly went bankrupt just before I finished it. Very basically, it tells what happens when the skinhead characters from Punk Faction go to a ska festival in Cleethorpes and get into a mass brawl with a bunch of bikers.

Anyway, back to Stiggy Unstuck. In a previous episode of Punk Faction, Stiggy was last seen escaping from the violence at a Cockney Upstarts gig with Sally, a young skinhead girl he met there, after they had both been smacked around by Joe, Sally’s older boyfriend. Up until that point, Stiggy had only ever been a ‘light relief’ character, always off his head on glue and the butt of other characters’ jokes, and I wanted to explore what he would be like without the glue. It also fleshed out the character of Sally, and explained why she was so timid around Joe – Stiggy learns she lives with him, and he beats her up on a regular basis.

But a question kept nagging away at me long after I’d written it – why would a young girl stay with an older man who does that to her? And the answer I kept coming back to was she wouldn’t. Not unless there was something else going on; either some hold he had over her to keep her there, or the alternative was so much worse that she had no real choice. And that’s what Runaway is really about, as Stiggy gradually learns the whole horrific story of how she ended up living with Joe, and the institutional cover-up behind it.

It’s probably the darkest thing I’ll ever write, and I abandoned it several times because it made me so uncomfortable to have all that stuff in my head. Especially when real life events started to mirror it to a certain extent, in a town not far away from where it was set. So I wrote the more humorous Punk Rock Nursing Home instead, which was also an off-shoot of Punk Faction set 30 years in the future, when two of the characters were in their 80s and living in separate care homes. Then I returned to Runaway, got upset and angry again, wrote something else to cheer myself up, returned to Runaway, abandoned it to write something else, then finally bit the bullet and finished the thing.

Then real life events started to mirror it again in towns up and down the country, and I didn’t want to be seen to be cashing in on all that suffering. I also felt the book would have more of an impact, and maybe even make people angry enough to do something about it on a local level, if they went into it blind. So I pretended it was about something else instead. Until now.

I’ll be changing the book’s description as soon as I figure out how to get all this across in 50 words or less without including any spoilers. Which is a lot harder than it sounds, so it might take a while.

 

 

 

 

 

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The right proper history of Crass part one

ignorant_crass_live_web

In 1973, bohemian aristocrat Penny Rambo experienced an opium-induced vision of the year 1984. In this nightmarish near future world, men dressed in orange overalls lay dead or dying in the streets while houses, shops and factories burned around them. Penny walked down the centre of the road in his tweed jacket and top hat, trying not to get blood on his Gucci shoes as he made his way to the Yorkshire Opera House, which was the only building left unaffected by all the chaos and destruction.

“Help me,” a voice pleaded.

Penny paused and looked down at a man lying on his back in the gutter, and noticed for the first time the huge torrent of blood flowing down the drain. The man’s bloody fingers twitched by his sides as he grimaced in agony. A white helmet with a broken lamp attached to it lay nearby, anchored with a thick black umbilical cord to a box strapped to the man’s waist.

“Who did this to you, old chap?” Penny asked.

The man’s cracked lips moved, but his voice was barely a whisper. Penny crouched down before him so he could hear what he had to say.

“… is coming. Save … the miners … from …”

Each laboured utterance was fainter than the last, and punctuated by a rasping breath. Penny had to strain to hear them clearly as the man’s life ebbed away from him.

“… save us … from … The … Thatcher.”

“What on earth is The Thatcher?” Penny asked.

But the man was already dead. Penny reached out to close his wide, staring eyes.

Then a brass band started to play. Penny startled and shot upright. He spun toward the sound, but there was nothing to see. It seemed to come from everywhere at once as a choir of Welsh and Yorkshire voices rang out:

“Save the miners and set them free, teach the world about anarchy.”

Penny woke from the vision with a start, the words of the miners’ lament still echoing around his opium-fuddled mind. He knew he had to do something to stop the prophesy coming true. But what?

Penny spent the next three years producing and distributing pamphlets extolling the virtues of anarchy, something he had learned meant living in a society free from government or law. He sold his ancestral home and built a house made entirely from clock dials so he would know precisely how long he would have left until the fateful year arrived, and invited all his chums from the polo club to live with him.

But nobody seemed to be interested in Penny Rambo’s pamphlets. He would find them scattered in the streets, unread, the message lost to an uncaring world. Even worse, The Thatcher, he soon discovered, was real and working her way up the ranks of the Conservative Party. If Penny didn’t do something drastic soon, the miners, and the whole country, were doomed.

And then along came the Sex Pistols, and everything became clear. The irony of singing about anarchy whilst signed to the pop music offshoot of global arms dealer Thorn EMI was not lost on Penny Rambo, but he saw enough potential in this new medium of punk rock to know it would be the perfect vehicle for his message. Using his military history as a drummer boy in the second world war as a starting point, Penny set about forming a band so he could spread the word about The Thatcher and her impending evil deeds.

They called themselves Cross, because they were all rather jolly cross about the whole affair, and to ensure there would be no ambiguity about what they stood for they inserted a letter A (for anarchy) inside the letter O of their name. With their marketing  strategy in place, the  fledgling punk band then set about converting Penny’s political pamphlets into rhyming couplets. Early attempts, such as Anarchy Would Be Rather Spiffing Old Chap, and Don’t Do What One’s Nanny Tells One To Do, failed to impress focus groups, however.

“Do what, you poshos?” Sounds journalist and amateur cage fighter Gary Bush is reported to have said at the time, before going on to write a scathing review in the Daily Mail.

Cross hit back by penning the song Gary is a Meanie, but Penny knew deep down that the band’s aristocratic upbringing was a major problem.  After all, if nobody took them seriously, how were they supposed to warn the world about what was coming in the year 1984?

In the end it was Cross’s marketing director Gee Whizz who came up with the obvious solution. The idea came to her while she and Penny were watching a stage production of Oliver Twist at the Royal Opera House in London.

“I say, Rambo old chap,” she said during the interval, “I’ve just had a jolly brilliant wheeze.”

“Pray tell, my dear,” Penny replied.

“What if Cross hired a street urchin to sing for them? Then that old meanie Gary Bush wouldn’t say such frightful things about you.”

“What a simply splendid idea, old girl. But where on earth could we find such a person?”

“Golly, I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps we could place an ad in Vogue?”

“Do street urchins read Vogue?”

“Of course. How else would they know what is in fashion?”

“Then that is what we shall do, my dear.”

But as luck would have it, Penny didn’t need to advertise for a street urchin in Vogue Magazine. As he and Gee were leaving the Royal Opera House after the play they bumped (quite literally) into a young chap by the name of Steve Ignoramus who was on his way home from a Clash concert.

“Oi, watch ahht you mug,” Steve grumbled as he glared at Penny’s top hat.

“Golly,” Gee said, “doesn’t he talk frightfully funny?”

“Do wot?” Steve replied. “You havin’ a fackin’ bubble, darlin’?”

“I say old chap,” Penny interjected before the situation became any more heated. “How would you like to earn some money?” He pulled out one of his Cross business cards with a flourish, and held it out to Steve.

“Fackin’ Crass? Wot’s that when it’s at ’ome’?”

“It’s pronounced Cross, dear boy. We’re a punk band, and we would like to hire you as our singer. How does a guinea a week sound?”

After careful consideration, Steve Ignoramus agreed to join the band and moved into Clock Dial House, where he worked as a butler while Penny Rambo set about composing Cross’s first concept album, The Feeding of the Five Thousand Miners.

To be jolly well continued …

 

 

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Christmas at the Punk Rock Nursing Home

 

 

The geriatric punks from  Punk Rock Nursing Home return in this new 50 page paperback for the festering season. Cheap as a bag of chips will be a few years from now, and available from all good amazons for a limited time.

Get it here:
http://amzn.to/2BQnnU9

 

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Anarchy in a Cold War

Anarchy in a Cold War is a novel by Kurtis Sunday set in the West Berlin alternative-squatter-Punk scene during the latter part of the Cold War. The city, a focal point in the conflict between East and West, was a capitalist enclave smack in the middle of Communist East Germany. It was entirely surrounded by the Berlin Wall, complete with razor wire and machine gun posts. There is much that is familiar and much that is not. The Cold War is raging and the missiles are armed and waiting in their silos. If nuclear war breaks out there will be a four minute warning. There is no internet and perhaps NO FUTURE. Reality? Sur-reality? Or hyper-reality?

Unglue.it:
https://unglue.it/work/191661
and/or
the Internet Archive:
https://archive.org/details/AnarchyInAColdWarKurtisSunday

Print copies available from:
https://www.cambriabooks.co.uk

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