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Rebellion: Amsterdam! Good Friends, Good Bands & Remembering Sharkey

The weekend of June 2nd & 3rd was a special weekend.  It brought good friends, good bands and remembering good times past. Even despite the best efforts of the damp and foggy weather to delay the masses descending on the Leidseplein. What always strikes you about a Rebellion festival is the sense of togetherness and this was especially relevant this time around, as we were celebrating someone fondly remembered for his part in the success of these events. The weekend was dedicated to Sharkey – one of the Rebellion crew members who has sadly passed away.  Now there’s even a mural of him on the wall of one of the pubs around the corner from The Melkweg.

We started by raising a few (too many) glasses…

…and then let the music help us forget our sore heads.

The Melkweg is a sprawling venue with various nooks and crannies.  Not quite to the scale of Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, but magnificent none the less. In amongst these spaces, we had three stages providing the weekend’s entertainment.  The Max, with the headlining bands; The Old Room, a smaller room; and the Almost Acoustic Stage, which was upstairs amongst the art and cinema complex. I should also add at this point that anyone heading backstage is faced with a spiral staircase of vertiginous proportions, not great for anyone in an alcohol-addled state.

Saturday sprung (or rather lurched) into action catching snatches of bands here and there.  It’s absolutely impossible to catch every band, but that makes it a unique experience for everyone.  You can watch a bit of what you like, then see a band you’ve not watched before. For me, it started at the Acoustic Stage (my own band, The Crows were playing early afternoon).  Watching the ever-enthusiastic Gerry lead Fire Exit through the opening set, I was loving their version of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”.  Our own set, with the Crows, shortly followed and I think we made a good account of ourselves. I hung around afterwards to catch Static Kill, a band from Nottingham with great songs, who are starting to make a bit of a name for themselves and have recently upped the ante by going electric (no cries of ‘sell out’ à la Bob Dylan though).

Moving across to the Max…

I watched FILF play a set of classic punk covers, which despite being enjoyable was, after all, covers. But then again this is effectively the Macc Ladds, albeit with a different singer, which gives the added anticipation we might get to hear some of Macclesfield’s finest tunes. And they duly obliged with a couple of numbers to finish their set.  After which I bid a hasty retreat back to the Acoustic Stage to watch Barry Cain interview, Charlie Harper.  As expected, this proved to be popular although it also turned out to be rather special.  Much of the interview focussed on Charlie’s early life, before the Subs. I mean, who knew that he was once Chairman of the Young Farmer’s Club?  Or is related to Cesar Romero (who played the Joker in the 60’s Batman series)?

The rest of my evening was spent in The Max, starting with Dutch hooligans Discipline, from Eindhoven. Most people didn’t notice they had a new singer, as he fitted in so effortlessly and helped whip the crowd up with their brand of early 80’s style street punk, Frontline Skins and Hooligan Heaven being greeted with fists in the air aplenty. What followed from here was simply Punk Rock at its best, with three acts that could have headlined in their own right. Up stepped Ruts DC and boy were they good. Old classics like Staring at the Rude Boys everyone yelling ‘we’ll never surrender’ at the top of their voices, fitting alongside new numbers Kill the Pain and This Music Must Destroy, a band finding a new lease of life.

Penultimately, the UK Subs graced us with a set spanning over 40 years and 26+ albums.  They played all the hits, Stranglehold, CID, Warhead and of course Teenage, from the man who is, after all, the Peter Pan of Punk. Finally, Cock Sparrer came on to the familiar sound of Overture by the Heavy Metal Kids, smashing straight into Riot Squad and the crowd went ballistic. I’ve seen 1000’s of gigs, but nothing quite beats the reaction that greets Sparrer.  The audience and band as one, singing all the words.  Even the songs from the new album have become crowd pleasers, ‘with mates like these we’ll take our enemies’ holding a certain resonance and meaning.

For another band spanning a 40-year career (bar the odd break), it can be difficult getting the set right.  A tweak here, a new song there, but the balance they strike is spot on.  The usual suspects get a runout… “Running Riot”, “Because You’re Young”, “I Got Your Number”, slipping in sublimely with newer numbers, like the previously quoted “One by One”. Ending with the obligatory “England Belongs to me” and “We’re Coming Back”, we pile out hot and sweaty, back to the warm embrace of the bars in the Leidseplein.

Day Two…

The Dutch lager can be a cruel mistress, so it was another slow start on Sunday, catching Berlin band The March on the acoustic stage, an interesting mix of styles. Over the next few hours, I dipped in and out of the various rooms.  The Cundeez brought their unique brand of Jock Rock in the Max.  Heavy Drapes were rocking out ’77 style in the Old Room, again adding to the diversity on show. Part of my pacing around was due to the nervousness anticipating our second set of the weekend.  This time, playing as Crows and Friends.  Despite the last minute rehearsals in the back room, we seemed to go down okay. A different set this time, a few covers were thrown in, and an honour to share the stage with guests Kent Nielsen and TV Smith.

With my nerves finally settled post-set, I took a seat to watch the Barry Cain interview with Ruts DC. Seggs and Ruffy are a bit like your favourite uncles.  Extremely amiable, lots of stories and lots of laughs… poor old Leigh Heggarty barely able to get a word in. It was a bit like a comedy duo with a straight man acting as the foil and buffer to the jokes, but all in the best possible taste. They followed this with an acoustic set to close the night on the Almost Acoustic stage. Another solid, sterling, performance, Seggs switching to second guitar and songs seamlessly transferring from their electric versions. We even got an impromptu refrain of Gloria during In a Rut.

That left just enough time to catch the last two bands on The Max, both stalwarts of the UK punk scene, but the similarities end there. Firstly the Angelic Upstarts played a politically-charged set, songs with emotion that strike a chord for struggling people across the world. Solidarity, for example, reminds us of the time when Communism had a grip across Eastern Europe and the brave protests of the Polish trade union formed in the shipyard. Stirring stuff indeed. We also get the usual plethora of early classics, I’m an Upstart, The Murder of Liddle Towers and their version of the Cliff Richard song The Young Ones, sung in Mensi’s inimitable South Shields twang.

Our evening ended on a lighter note with The Adicts venturing on stage. Following an intro of Clockwork Orange segued with Blitzkrieg Bop, the ever-colourful Monkey surrounded by his droogs, kicked into Let’s Go. These guys write happy songs, Chinese Takeaway and Viva Le Revolution particularly getting the crowd in a party mood, a powerful set that’s also very theatrical, large beach balls and streamers adding to a fun atmosphere during their cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone. And that was how the weekend was, great fun

As a footnote, it was very sad to hear of Heavy Drapes singer Garry Borland passing away not long following the weekend. As a dearly departed friend once said, we’re here for a good time, not for a long time.

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