On the Irish Sea coast in northern England sits Blackpool, a seaside resort town best known for its seven-mile stretch of sandy beaches, the amusement park Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and a slew of other family-friendly things to do. Cinderella-style carriages ferry hundreds of families up and down the beachfront. It’s definitely not the typical setting for a major punk rock festival, but for most of its 23-year history, the Rebellion Festival has called Blackpool’s sprawling convention center (in the whimsically-named Winter Garden) its home. And for one long weekend a year, over 13,000 mohawked-and-boot-adorned punks from around the world turn Blackpool into their turf—surprisingly to the delight of the town’s council and residents.
Every Blackpoolian I talked to only had good things to say about Rebellion. “I love the punks. Never had any problems with them-much better than the stag parties,” my cab driver Mark commented as we drove from the train station to my hotel. “I look forward to it every year,” says Al, who is the owner, desk clerk, bartender, and cook at the New Promenade Hotel. “They are always nice and they buy a lot of beer at my bar.” With close to 300 bands, hundreds of vendors, and a punk art gallery catering to thousands of fans, he’s probably going to sell a lot of beer this year as well.
The headliners for Rebellion included old-school UK punk heavyweights Public Image Limited and the Buzzcocks as well as Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers, and Scotland’s pride the Exploited, who had to cancel their set due to Illness. PIL, with frontman extraordinaire and ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon, gave us a stellar performance that seemed almost operatic, what with Lydon’s incredible vocal range and dramatically flailing arms. Earlier in the day he also gave a two-hour lecture on the evils of record companies and the English Government, and then defended his decision to appear in a UK butter commercial.
SLF sent the at-capacity crowd in the Empress Ballroom into a frenzy as they belted out punk classics from the ‘70s and ‘80s– “Nobody’s Hero”, “Wasted Life”, and “Barbed Wire Love”. A large number of Rebellion attendees hail from Ireland, and they clearly love their boys from Belfast.
And lets not forget the Buzzcocks’s prolific set on Thursday night. Their hits came in rapid-fire succession: “Fast Cars”, “Orgasm Addict”, “Ever Fallen in Love”, etc., etc. The crowd could not get enough. It got so hot in there I thought someone was going to pass out, but everyone just kept dancing.
So, great. But so what? Why the hell would our beloved OC Weekly give a shit about a punk festival in Blackpool, England? And how the hell did I convince my editor, Old Man Jackson, to let me cover it?
It was actually easy. Just look at a partial list of bands at Rebellion that hail from SoCal:. TSOL, the Adolescents, Bad Cop Bad Cop, the Vandals, the Weirdos, Modern Enemy, Channel 3, DRI, the Voodoo Glow Skulls, MDC, the Queers, Lagwagon and the Dickies.
The highlight for me was the impromptu semi-reunion of the legendary Crass that happened backstage as founding vocalist Steve Ignorant and drummer Penny Rimbaud were set to perform at the Opera House, Ignorant with his band Slice of Life and Rimbaud reading the poems of Wilfred Owen. It was simply incredible to see them casually hanging out together, just talking and laughing. And Steve’s new direction with Slice of Life, a sort of punk-folk that was both melodic and passionate, suited him perfectly.
Penny’s powerful recitation of Owen’s war poetry, accompanied by cellist Kate Shortt and pianist Liam Noble, was made all the more haunting with a backdrop of imagery by ex-Crass member and virtuosic artist Gee Vaucher. It was both bizarre and impressive to see a packed theater of punks sit quietly as Penny read for close to two hours. It was so quiet that at one point a cell phone went off and the whole room gave the offending party a stare I don’t think she will forget.
That moment embodied the underlying values of the entire festival—respect and love, not just for the bands but for the attendees, the venue, and the town. Everyone from the fans, the security, and even the press and photographers were so friendly and respectful. I did not see one fight at the Festival, though I can’t say the same for the non-punk visitors to Blackpool. Yelling, fighting, and throwing up seemed very much the norm according to the view from my hotel room window. No wonder the residents like the punks better.
But back to chronicling our local-band heroes. The first US band i got to see was Bad Cop Bad Cop, though I arrived about halfway through the set. The place was packed, and the crowd loved the loud, hard, and fast delivery from the LA quartet.
Then I made my way to Club Cazbah for the hometown legends TSOL, through the numerous vendors selling all things punk from records, art, spiked bracelets,baby clothing and even coffee cups—if you could slap an anarchy symbol or band name on it, it was for sale.
Jack Grisham and the boys definitely let Blackpool know they weren’t fucking around, playing songs from their extensive catalog of punk classics such as “Sounds of Laughter”, “I Want to See You” and everyone’s favorite love song, “Code Blue”. Jack wore a snazzy red suit that when he turned his back to the crowd displayed the devil, and let them know in no uncertain terms that TSOL RULES.
After TSOL’s set, I waited for the best band I ever saw at the Meadowlark Golf Club in Huntington Beach: The Vandals. The HB boys proved they were no strangers to British fans as the crowd sang along to “Oi to the world,” i thought “shit, they know the Vandals better than I do.” They loved them and there was definitely no shortage of slam dancing going on.
Closing the club casbah on Thursday was Fat Wreck Chords Lagwagon, a band credited for helping to bring punk into mainstream—and They definitely had the audience to back that up. As they played “Red Alert”, the whole place seemed to vibrate with fans jumping up and down to the music.
Saturday for me on the American side of things was all about LA’s Bomp Records punk innovators the Weirdos, and my favorite OC hardcore band Modern Enemy. The Weirdos played the Opera House and rocked the shit out of it—they had a pretty large crowd who started off in their chairs, but when John Denney launched into “Life of Crime,” no one remained sitting.
Modern Enemy, our pals from Huntington Beach, may not be as well known as some of the big names yet. That didn’t stop them from filling the arena stage and giving the Rebellioners everything they needed to make a room that usually looks like a fancy hotel lobby into a packed, sweaty,hardcore show that rivals any dive back home.
The last day was jam-packed with incredible bands split between the main stages with PIL, Slaughter and the Dogs, DRI and the Voodoo Glow skulls in the Ballroom, and the Adicts, the Dickies, the Professionals, the Adolescents and MDC in Club Cazbah, so I had to prioritise. On the Top of the list were the Adolescents, not just because they are OC legends, but with the recent death of founding member Steve Soto I thought it was important. Also Old Man Jackson told me to get photos of TSOL and the Adolescents or don’t come home. So with my job and maybe citizenship on the line I showed up for the end of MDC’s set and waited for the Adolescents.
As the room filled, the mood was a bit somber. You could hear people talking about Soto and their concerns about Wattie of the Exploited being rushed to the Hospital. A stagehand came out and hung a banner that simply read SOTO, and you could feel a collective lump form in everyone’s throat. As the band took the stage for sound check, someone in the front row handed singer Tony Reflex a bag. When Tony sat down on the drum riser and looked into the bag, he looked over at the person who handed it to him and said “What the fuck, man- you want be to babysit the shit you bought?”—and the mood lightened a little. Then the OC-born and bred boys (including Leftover Crack’s Brad Logan filling in on bass) rocked themselves out of their shoes (literally!) with a raucous set full of classics and closing with “Amoeba”. It was just as good as I hoped for and I think the fans felt the same way.
I stayed to check out the Professionals, ex-Sex Pistol Paul Cook’s group from the movie of the same name. They lived up to their name with a tight rock and roll show.
Next up was the Dickies, because you can’t have a punk festival without the Dickies is what we say in America (unless it’s the Warped tour) and it seems they think the same way here. The room was packed and hot but the Dickies didn’t slow down for a second. They spoiled us with all the hits: “Doggie Do”, “I Got it at the Store”, “Waterslide” and even “Paranoid”. This might have been like the 50th time I have seen the Dickies and they never ever disappoint. As the Festival broke up, I worked my way through thousands of punks hugging and saying goodbye as I made my way to the taxi line, every staff member and security guard said, “thank you for coming, hope to see you next year” and it really felt like they meant it. I think they will.
Who is Dick Slaughter?
Dick Slaughter is one of the many alter-egos of Richard Johnson; international photographer and preeminent provocateur on the West Coast. For the last 40 years, Johnson’s work as a visual artist, writer and performer in the Southern California art scene has been an indispensable contribution to California counter-culture. He is the Founder of the legendary AAA Electra 99 Art Museum and performance space in Orange County, which he ran from 1997 to 2013, hosting countless artists, musical acts and poets while staying true to the motto, “Any Art Accepted.” Aside from Johnson’s dedication as a gallery owner and resident artist, he’s also helped foster the musical and artistic endeavors of many whose contributions are still being enjoyed.
Since closing AAA, Johnson is now exploring his passion for photography and journalism. With a keen artists’ eye, his photos and unique and humorous writing style, he’s contributed articles and slideshows to OC Weekly’s concert and festivals coverage around the world.
– NATE JACKSON, MUSIC EDITOR FOR THE OC WEEKLY