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.