I was recently doing an interview for the Punk Rock Show on ‘Halton Community Radio’ when the interviewer Peter Ridealgh remarked how, as an outsider, he always looked upon the town of Blackpool as a really significant location for punk, both past and present. After the interview his comment got me thinking and when I was asked for a contribution to the Rebellion Festival Magazine 2015 it seemed like a good opportunity to scribe a few more words on the curious relationship of Blackpool and punk rock.
Punk rock means different things to different people and as such is always a subject of ongoing debate. For me it’s an attitude and outlook as much as a style of music and that’s why I think it has an enduring attraction for many people. To re-count a brief and balanced history of Blackpool punk, and not to get too idealistic or self-congratulatory about it all, is no easy feat. To do it justice I need to take into consideration what has always been going on in the small venues throughout the town from the mid 70’s and more recently to appreciate the international impact the Rebellion festival has in terms of such a massive influx of people and bands every August. So away from the bright lights of commercialism of the promenade and the pleasure beach, let’s see how Blackpool and punk’s culture of positive, progressive, community-friendly DIY have embraced one another.
By way of introduction for those that do not know me yet, I grew up in Blackpool and have been involved in the punk scene for more years than I care to mention. I have run a DIY punk label for over 20 years (justsaynotogovernmentmusic – www.jsntgm.com) staged many gigs, played in quite a few bands (I will be on the acoustic stage this year on Saturday so pop along and say hi), written my own fanzines (Eat The Rich, Blackpool Rox II) and contributed to many others (most recently Razorcake, Scanner and Maximum Rock’n’Roll) along the way. For me and the many kindred souls I have encountered and worked with over the years punk is an exciting, evolving culture that can thrive outside of corporate interests. I also stood in the 2015 General Election as an Independent Candidate in Blackpool South to bring to greater public attention the injustice at the local football club. One of the journalists who followed our campaign trail closely said one thing that really hit him was the DIY approach, the creativity, the humour and the local community focus – that was quite refreshing to hear as we didn’t want to become what we were protesting against.
My own personal relationship with Rebellion started when it was first billed as ‘Holidays in the Sun’ back in 1996 and my old band Erase Today was fortunate enough to be the opening band. Unfortunately it was also the last gig we ever played as a proper gigging band. As H.I.T.S. was an unknown commodity I wondered if such a big bill would work. I remember spending a lot of time in the run up to August 1996 flyering around the town and county (which got us into quite a bit of trouble) and setting up the stall over the weekend to sell the H.I.T.S. t-shirts. It’s amazing to think that after almost 20 years have passed from what was billed as one off festival, through its various incarnations as Wasted (when it moved up the coast to Morecambe) to its re-birth as Rebellion, the same event is still going strong. Having never missed one of these events I have often thought I should write my own unofficial history of the event (well that’s what us fanzine people do isn’t it) but it would be a weighty old tome based on the many different bands I have seen (often for the first time) and the many new people and lasting friendships I have made over these years. That said it’s great to see that the event is still thriving in terms of bands and attendees and that the organisers (‘the Rebellion family’) are working harder than ever to embrace new ideas and more creative ways of doing things.
In terms of excavating what has been referred to as Blackpool’s rich punk history, there are a lot of different routes to do this and all kinds of useful information which still nestles tantalisingly in hundreds of fanzines, local newspaper reports, magazine articles, web and gig reviews. Thankfully courtesy of the digital age a lot of this old information is now getting dusted down and circulated on social media, so piecing together a narrative of the Blackpool story is not quite as difficult as it once was.
To add a little background context it is probably worth bearing in mind that everything related to Blackpool’s cultural and musical past has been part of a big transition from being Europe’s number one tourist destination to a seaside resort with all its attendant problems. In the 60’s where the explosion of the UK rock story really began Blackpool was a booming resort and musically was a key fixture for touring bands, playing host on many occasions to luminaries such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Blackpool was also a hub for Northern Soul and closely linked to the emerging skinhead scene. Although the punk story doesn’t typically imagine itself starting until the explosion of the mid 70’s there were various garage and rock bands that would see it differently.
With the advent of cheap foreign travel and changing lifestyle habits, from the early 1970’s onwards the town faced a pretty severe downturn and has been working hard to try and regenerate itself ever since. In recent years Blackpool has received a lot of unfair press about a growing benefits culture, and the health and education problems that often accompany the movements of populations common to many seaside resorts. The declining fortunes of the town’s tourism industry have also been reflected the demise of its once great football club, the loss of many of its retail outlets and a lot of Blackpool’s current social and economic problems are the long term products of these economic and cultural shifts.
On the positive side Blackpool has always been a pretty innovative place with a lot of energy and I do think this one of the reasons why punk took root so quickly and has flourished ever since. One beacon of hope and creativity has been the town’s music scene and hopefully this is something that can be developed further. It might surprise a few of you to learn that members of bands from all kinds of genres such as The Cure, The Police, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, Soft Cell, Jethro Tull all have roots in the town.
Time and space constraints obviously only allow a small portion of the more interesting bands, personalities, fanzines, labels and events that have been part of our scene which is now approaching its 40th anniversary to be covered. I am sure some will be omitted and I apologise for that : please let me know if there are any glaring oversights. Most of the information has been collected from on-line chronicles such as the 2006 Maximum RnR Blackpool Scene Report, the research behind the two ‘Ugly Truth About Blackpool’ CD Punk Compilations, many snippets from Duke’s Diaries and an enormous pile of fanzines. From this morass I have constructed a brief decade by decade overview which you will hopefully find informative.
So it was against this halting backdrop of change, decline and recovery that Blackpool’s punk scene emerged in the mid 70’s. In terms of those that played a role in shaping the past, present and future perhaps the first local ‘punk band’ of significance were a bunch of Poulton school boys ‘The Plastic Lizards’ which then became Zyklon B, then Syntax then Vee VV. Outspoken and very much ‘in the spirit’ of the times they were fronted by local starlet Mark Ormrod and were featured in Alex Ogg’s book ‘No More Heroes’ on Cherry Red in October 2006. The band actually re-formed to play a one off gig at the Summer Daze 2 festival, a free open air all ages show we used to put on in our local Stanley Park every August until a local councillor objected and it was closed down.
SECTION 25 and TUNNEL VISION were two other important bands which signed to factory records, and the former played a key role in setting up local gigs in the late 70’s as they had access to a PA. Most local gigs took place at venues such as The Salvation Army, Lucy’s Bar, Man Fridays and quite a few touring bands dropped in to play The Norbreck Castle. SECTION 25 released four albums and five singles on the Factory label, reformed and played Summer Daze 2 (2005) and after the sad death of frontman Larry Cassidy have completed European tours returning to their Joy Division/Magazine sounding roots.
In these early days ‘Lightbeat Records and John Robb’s Vinyl Drip records and fanzine Blackpool Rox were very much the glue of the local scene and useful documents of what happened. Between them these labels released material by THE FITS, ONE WAY SYSTEM, ANTI-SOCIAL THE MEMBRANES, KENNETH TURNER SET, SYNTAX, SECTION 25, SIGN LANGUAGE, love 30, and CRACK HOUSE.
Of this batch of bands ONE WAY SYSTEM (still gigging and recording) are probably the best known of the early 80’s wave of local bands and have been a regular feature of the Rebellion festival. Other distinct notables from this era such as THE FITS fronted by the charismatic Mick Crudge have reformed and played Rebellion in recent years. This year I understand Mick is even branching out and doing some ‘healing’ at Rebellion – sounds interesting.
Born in the early 1980’s but coming to the fore in the mid/late 1980’s were also local heroes the MEMBRANES fronted by GOLDBLADE leader, journalist, academic and author JOHN ROBB. The MEMBRANES, in addition to another really great band called SIGN LANGUAGE, got pretty extensive media and national airplay at the time. Many of you will have read John ‘s ‘Punk Rock : An Oral History’ and some might even have witnessed his re-formed Membranes playing at the top of Blackpool Tower in 2014. John has many other music related books to his name and has been a regular performer, interviewer, interviewee and contributor to Rebellion for many years. Over the period many people have come and gone from the punk scene but John has been the closest thing we probably have to an ever-present.
Moving into the early / mid 90’s a small group of us working in and around ERASE TODAY put on / played gigs with bands such as Leatherface, Green Day, Nation of Ulysees, Offspring, Guns n Wankers, Econochrist, NOFX when these bands were pulling crowds of only 50 people, sometimes far less. The small, neat collective attitude surrounding those times was good and it is interesting to chart the rise of some of these bands – we all knew these bands were great … it was just the rest of the world that didn’t. With the sudden rise of US bands like Green Day, Offspring and Nirvana I think most of us punk devotees were a little surprised. Who would have thought we’d be watching NOFX headlining an event in 2014 exactly 20 after supporting them to an audience of about 60 at The Caribbean Club in Preston in 1994. Other local Blackpool bands worthy of note included TAKE LINDY SURFING, PINK TORPEDOES, FES PARKER, KING MOB ECHO, CONTAINER DRIVERS, SHRINK, CERAMIC HOBS, THE PHANTOM CREEPS and THEE TRANSMISSIONS. Thankfully we managed to capture a lot of these bands on the Ugly Truth compilations which are still available for any interested parties.
It was ironic that after ‘punk finally broke in the USA’ (please see the Thurston Moore / Sonic Youth documentary about ‘1991’ from where this quotation is pulled) UK punk seemed to go even more underground and it was then that we local folk had our first taste of H.I.T.S. (1996) and what was to ultimately become Rebellion. The only big punk festival we had seen in the town previously was the 1982 ‘Up Yer Tower’ event with the Abrasive Wheels, PTTB and GBH amongst others. Holidays in the Sun was altogether a bigger, more ambitious and pretty unique event bringing together so many punk bands under one roof. From what I remember it was a busy and an exciting weekend and one memory was lots of Japanese visitors collecting loads of rare vinyl from the record stands. On a personal level seeing the likes of ATV and Zounds play live for the first time were pretty memorable events.
Since 2000 Blackpool spawned many other bands of note such as SICK56 with their two great albums, who along with local outfit Outl4w played at both the Wasted and Rebellion festivals. The first decade of the new millennium also saw the likes of CSOD, HIGGINS++, UFX, RAZOR DOG, LITTERBUG, SENTON BOMBS, and a couple of really good all female bands PINK HEARSE and SWALLOW. Other local bands that spring to mind were the great WHEN PEOPLE BECOME NUMBERS (think Slipknot – but good !), KRAUL, LIMOUSINE and the reclusive yet excellent WALTER AND THE KNOBHEADS.
Many of these bands played at the two Blasted festivals when the main H.I.T.S. festival moved up to Morecambe for a few years. We chose the name Bla-sted as it was a combination of Blackpool and Wasted and was an opportunity for smaller local bands to get a bit of good exposure. The first Blasted festival actually achieved record beer and alcohol sales for the old Number 1 Club on Bloomfield Road where we staged the events – something that amazed the landlord Dave. Whenever I see him he still reminds me that the punk crowd is a thirsty crowd – to which I always respond by saying they are also ‘a generous and intelligent crowd’.
Moving further into the new millennium Blackpool saw the rise and fall of The Royal Oak as the main venue for gigs (courtesy of Paul, Carl and Ig at North Records) which welcomed many great bands to the town such as The Briefs, The Epoxies, Phinius Gage and The Dead Pets. These gigs were well run and well attended – just shows you what can be achieved on a week night when people put their minds to it. It was good to hear the bands say that the Blackpool gig was often the most enjoyable and the best attended on the whole tour.
In recent years there have been plenty of one off gigs by touring bands such as All Eyes West, Zounds, Vice Squad and most recently Peter and the Test Tube Babies who played to a good crowd The Layton in May 2015 – The Layton is a good upstairs venue, which is an old working mans’ club a mile and a half from the town centre. The town needs more people stepping up to the plate to do their bit and to keep the history and the gigs going.
The connectivity between all these eras was neatly evidenced one evening at a SWALLOW/ SECTION 25 gig when we established that the guitar being used by SWALLOW’s bassist was actually one that had been stolen from my house in Blackpool in the mid 90’s. Since then it has been pawned a few times, loaned out and been used by a variety of different bands. Our forensic investigation identified it on the strength of an old Erase Today sticker and far from being irked I was just pleased to see that it had gone to a good home to do useful things. It was all pretty funny and also very BLACKPOOL as the town has a reputation for the legitimacy of making a quick buck … I fully expect to see the same bass guitar appearing on the new band stage this year with the Poly-Esters.
Other local bands that have played Rebellion in more recent times include Barnyard Masturbator, Dysphonia, Dinosaurs are Shit Dragons and last year even saw the first gig from a re-formed Anti-Social (2014). This year Blackpool band The Poly-Esters are debuting on the New Bands stage. I am looking forward to seeing them and fully expect to see that old bass guitar of mine gracing the stage for the n’th time …. ! It sure has a backstory worth telling that old bass guitar …
Rebellion has become increasingly part of the annual calendar for local people and it is important that it continues to build strong links with the local community. It is a bit of an unknown quantity for some local people who are not really involved in the music scene but local folk do look upon it very fondly. Whenever I chat with local folk they are always keen to point out if they know somebody who has played there – a friend, a relative or a work colleague.
On Rebellion weekend the town centre of Blackpool comes alive, with the pubs and the clubs around the Winter Gardens attracting bands from all over the UK and an increasing number from the USA and Europe. This is one of the best things about the global punk ethos whereby bands just get involved, get down and do their own thing. For regular attendees you will know that any band that plays pretty much any bar or club will get a warm welcome anywhere in the town.
It is interesting to see how much of what happened in the early and formative years of the Blackpool punk scene has been rejuvenated and given a new lease of life through the vortex of Rebellion. There is also certainly more than just a casual synergy between Blackpool and Rebellion as both are always trying to keep the spirit alive and finding the balance between nostalgia and innovation.
It’s important for all of us to have a healthy relationship with the past, present and future so let’s hope we can all keep up the good work, do our own bit so both the town and the festival can keep going from strength to strength for many years to come ….
Hope you have enjoyed reading this and if anyone wants to get in touch with me please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org … Have a good weekend in Blackpool !!!
The Ugly Truth About Blackpool Project
Unim- Press Release
(Catalogue Number – JSNTGM 018)
The Ugly Truth About Blackpool CDVolume 1 of the Ugly Truth About Blackpool – released on Sunday, 28th August 2005 at a free all day launch event (Summer Daze 2) featuring 13 local bands at Stanley Park. An 80 minute historical odyssey of 27 bands from that most quirky of northern English towns.
|Zyklon B||Manic Depressive|
|Male Models||D.C. Overflow|
|Kenneth Turner Set||Overload|
|Section 25||Always Now|
|One Way System||Jerusalem|
|The Genocides||Honey this ain't no Romance|
|Sign Language||Love and Glory|
|The Membranes||Tatty Seaside Town|
|Take Lindy Surfing||Twilight Zone|
|Shrink||She's The One|
|The Phantom Creeps||Bad Place|
|Erase Today||Managing Director Earth plc|
|Container Drivers||Searching for the Skylon|
|King Mob Echo||Cock Suck Amerika|
|The Pink Torpedoes||Time to be Alone|
|Uncle Fester||Kill Someone|
|Ceramic Hobs||Pro-Ana Tips 'N' Tricks|
|SICK56||No Accident (Unreleased Attack Mix)|