Green Day Joan Jett live

June 17, 2010

Green Day remix


What is it about American bands and stadium gigs?
So many British bands get to this level and freeze just like the England team in the glare of the headlights, terrified to lose their cool in the haze of a million flashlights. A British band thinks that studied, sullen cool is the answer whilst an American band pulls out all the stops.
And Green Day certainly pull out all the stops. they don’ t miss a trick in a two hour set that starts off with a giant drunk dancing pink bunny and incorporates, knockabout humour, musical skits, a mental dancing drummer, endless energy and wild passion into an adventurous twisting and turning battlefield of great, melodic songs.
In a blur of powerful, anthemic songs, a stunning LED backdrop, hardcore rushes, massive ballads, serious commentary and daft stunts, Green Day arrive at the sold out 30 000 plus capacity Old Trafford cricket ground on a balmy Mancunian evening in a show of strength that seems to be beyond the mainstream media sense of belief. Whilst the band seemed to be ignored by most serious pundits and don’t seem to exist in the eyes of the heavy Sunday paper music press they have become the biggest group in the world. They happily enjoy the media sins of populist songs, a punk rock heritage and a fierce sense of humour. There is no fake studied cool, just a natural sense of entertainment that comes with a fierce liberal message that connects deep into the heart of suburban culture- just the perfect place to be delivered a genuine, heart left plea for some humanity delivered in a non bombastic and thrillingly exciting way.
   The band’s stunning, almost two hour show is 21st century rock n roll perfection. Somehow they have managed to scratch the fabric of their constituent sound and made it work in a variety of styles that would be way beyond most bands. Forging on from their roots in the San Francisco punk rock scene, they have the adventure of the Clash and the Beatles- two constituent influences but have very much moved in their own no barriers direction without the associated genre fear that hampers so many bands.
    Their song writing talent and ability to communicate with a huge section of the public has made them one of the biggest bands in the world today and they are using the space they have been given very well.

    There are moments in this spellbinding show that are simply beyond belief.

  Green Day have taken the emotional highs and lows of a rock n roll concert and turned them into something else. Somehow they manage to combine slapstick humour, goofy neo teen pranks, fierce pop punk, heart breaking ballads, blinding introspection and stadium bombast and sometimes all these in one song. They are at ease with massive anthems like ‘American Idiot’ that stick it to the right wing, pro war media jocks and was still a huge hit, they can deal out a massive ballad or a  hardcore thrash or on the neo marilyn manson glam stomp of ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ a rumbling stadium glam workout. They can also clear the stage and leave Armstrong on his own with an acoustic guitar and he still holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
That they can also thread these into some some sort of narrative is their true genius. Their current album, ’21st Century Breakdown’, which forms the backbone of their set is a triumph in modern american story telling. They can do the ‘Abbey Road’style bits of songs made into one huge, long, monster song thing with ease- they can also do this and make it a mosh pit friendly 13 minutes of musical nirvana really underlines their skill.

    The band can play tough, the rhythm section is superb and Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the best songwriters operating in modern rock n roll who, despite his mass success, still has the knack to communicate with the small town neurosis and paranoia that is at the heart of his huge constituency. Armstrong is a twitching presence with a low boredom threshold, disgusted at the world-  his songs are stuffed full of punk rock polemic but they also switch from style to style with a hyperactive ease. A green day song may start off punk rock but could switch anywhere within thirty seconds- it shouldn’t work but it does.

   All this is underlined with an incredible light show on LED screens that is easily the best I have ever seen. Stark, dark and comic book brilliant it subtly underlines the proto power of the songs and helps to fill the stadium with a sound and vision taking you onto a trip into the dark heart of America.   
Somehow Green Day manage to entertain and blow your mind…

    They are more than ably supported by Joan Jett who has been given some spotlight with the upcoming Runaways film. Joan Jett who still looks effortlessly sassy, sexy and cool at 51 has been touring her greatest hits set for years but still plays the songs with such a power and passion that they could have been written yesterday. Her supreme voice that sounds like it has been tarmacced by rock n roll cuts through the huge PA and the band’s glam rock n roll stomps makes her, oddly, the last survivor of that very British strain of glam rock that was the true sound of the early seventies. The youthful Jett would hang out in the glam clubs in LA in the mid seventies soaking up the British glamtastic rock n roll that was far different from the American glam that was to follow.

    Instead of the clumsy appropriation of glam from the likes of Kiss and the LA hair bands British glam was stompingly dark albeit good time music with tribal beats and big choruses. No-one does this music any more apart from Jett, who adds a rock n roll vim and fire to the mix and has created a music that perfectly suits her no bullshit personae. A personae that has seen her lauded as one of the key mentors of the riot Grrrl scene and a cool elder stateswoman of the movement that is still strong at a grass roots level. Joan Jett wanted to play rock n roll on her own terms and succeeded. Her cover of the Arrows ‘I Love Rock Roll ‘- a ‘b’ side from the last great mid seventies glam band is still a totemic moment and one of THE great rock n roll anthems, when she does that guttural scream thing in the middle it still affects your groin in a strange and beautiful way, a way that is the key to all great rock n roll.

    Joan Jett rules and its now time for us to acknowledge this.

   Green Day, also have some history. The band may still look like teen brats but they have been around for over two decades.

  It’s been a long time since I was compering a gig at the legendary and just shut TJs venue in Newport. They were the first band on- some awkward, scruffy kids from San Francisco playing a speedball punk pop set to 20 fanatics at the bottom of some long, lost punk rock bill.    

    Green Day that night were plying their trade in that curious gap that existed just after Nirvana. Cobains band had reawakened interest in punk rock and a generation of kids were looking for a Nirvana of their own having just missed out on the visceral, raw power of the Teen Spirit band.

    Green Day had emerged from the Gilman Street scene in San Francisco- the ultra idealistic punk rock venue that started in 1986 a year before the band were formed.They were virtually the house band in the venue and part of the scene of bands who were shackling melody to the fierce power of hardcore. Gilman street was created out of the maelstrom of idealogical excitement that was at the core of UK punk rock and then American hardcore. An all ages gig, and a no drinking, no smoking, no sexism, no racism space that stood up against the conservative tied of rock n roll culture it still exists. Green Day can’t play there any more because they are signed to a major label but that’s fair enough- they don’t need this space any more taking the initial message to the stadiums of the world.

Hardcore had rewritten the American underground rules and had already spawned its own legends and its own its hardcore crews. Ignored by the mainstream and the mainstream rock critics hardcore has been the backbone of American rock for decades. Green Day, were never hardcore but were part of it’s idealistic take on punk rock and were very much part of the next shift- the Californian twist that added sweet melodies added to the hardcore rush. The initial holy trinity of hardcore Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat changed the way people thought about music and how it was made and propagated, they were the true punk rock moment in the USA. Green Day took this blueprint and mashed it with a love of the Beatles and created something else.

    They signed to local label Lookout records and toured their way up the punk rock food chain, their 1994 major label release of ‘Dookie’ saw the band hit the mainstream powered by huge international hit single, ‘basketcase’ .The twitching urgency of the song and the their live performance was a perfect assimilation of nervy teenage neuroses, and the band have somehow managed to retain that youthful excitement with a rapidly developing musical template that is documented in tonight’s show.

Sure they still play their harder punkier tunes, songs played with such feral energy that the dumb claims that they are not punk are swiftly thrown out the window. This had became very much part of the debate about green day…are they or are they not punk.
It’s an odd debate and one that hounds anything remotely related to punk rock. A couple of years ago Mr. butter ad himself, Johnny Lydon, was sneering at green day for not being punk and whilst they are quite removed from the filth and the fury of the sex pistols both bands were straddling the great pop divide. Defining what is or isn’t punk is a treacherous game played by fools and people not sure of how to define the indefinable. Punk is so many different things to different people that to call it as one specific sound style or genre is quite foolish. The argument kinda runs that Green Days success and capability of writing super catchy songs rules them out of the punk lineage but surely it would be the ultimate in selling out if Billie Joe Armstrong suddenly pretended that he could not wrote a catchy song that transcended boundaries and deliberately kept his band underground to attempt to appeal to the ultra snobby purists who have filled the movement with their own petty rules.

   The fact is green day write thrillingly catchy pop songs and deliver them with a ferocity that many punk bands seem incapable of. They are also the most influential guitar band of the last two decades with a whole bizarre cross section of young groups picking up guitars in suburban garages to the sound of Green Day- far more than pet bands like the Strokes. They hardly fit into the accepted story of How Things Are and hideous indie snobs run from them, scared of their capability to talk to a whole raft of people.

   Old Trafford is a true triumph for a band that has it all. The scope in their song writing is breath taking, the switching of genres and styles astonishing and the way they manage it all within the parameters of the punk rock code is perfect. It’s the way that somehow they filter a whole gamut of pop culture and pop music through the sieve of punk rock and make music that relates to the fractured 21st century that is stunning.

And that they also do this with a great sense of humour and a willingness to engage with their audience that terrifies the snobs. it’s a way that is not only supremely effective but decidedly natural. The set is also full of pranks and moments of supreme silliness that are hilarious and engaging, Billie Joe is like a perpetual, hyperactive, five year old with mad staring kohled up eyes and a supreme warmth that defies boring stuff like rock n roll cool and its associated studied posing. The fact that his band rock so hard that it doesn’t really matter how goofy they become also helps.
Green Day also understand the value of acknowledging your audience’s existence and they also understand that fucking with very fabric of the history of pop, quoting classic songs at ease and dropping their own endless classics in there soundtracking the moment.
They are the ultimate small town band, for all the small towns in the world ganging up on fake city cool and winning. They are also thrillingly powerful rock n roll band the band who took punk rock to the mainstream and won and whose live show is the best stadium show in the world in 2010.





3 brilliant new bands from Go North festival

June 11, 2010

So here we are stood on an an island surrounded by the river Ness just a mile out from the Inverness city centre.
The island has been sculpted into a park, with an amphitheatre in the middle of it. It’s beautiful spot in the early evening haze of the late spring light and a perfect spot for some quiet hanging out…
But there’s some people here with a very different agenda.
I’m at the Go North music conference in Inverness. Having spent the afternoon on a panel about DIY music I’ve been led up the garden path so to speak and joined the merry throng on a magical mystery tour. We have been told to met at 5.30 outside a bar in town and our guide has walked us along the river through a thick woodland, past random joggers and dog walkers to this amphitheatre.
In the the middle of the space are two battered amps and two skinny dudes who are sat by a guitar and a stripped own drum kit and a mic attached to a broken branch of a tree- within seconds of us arriving they explode into noise.
It’s really wonderful.
Bronto Skylift an amazing group.
A duo from Inverness and the Orkney Islands- they make the same kind of self expression, free jazz-skronk- punk as the classic Glasgow/ Edinburgh, late eighties/early nighties death to trad rock noisenik scene of the Dog Face Hermans, Badgewearer, Dawson, Stretchheads. It’s the same kind of filthy, kinetic explosion of energy, the same sort of frantic drumming, the same kind of rat-a-tat frenetic cowbell action, the same sort of imagination and the same sort of wilful thrill of the electric power of the form. The same type of filthy imagination as the sort of bands I was documenting in my recent Death To Trad Rock book
The coolest thing is that they are totally unaware of this tradition of bands. Bronto Skylift have arrived here all by themselves.
That rules.
They got here via their rock routes and you can hear the filth of Black Flag, the explosive energy of hardcore and the detuned heaviness of grunge in their sound as well. It was like they are the only people in the world who understood that Curt Cobain was an experiMENTAL underground musician who was closer to the likes of the Ex than the mainstream.
They are also wilfully non conformist. They are part of an organisation called Detour Scotland who put gigs on in off the wall places.
This gig in the park is no one off event- they have played under the railway bridge in Edinburgh, a one way street in Glasgow and on the England/Scotland border, they have a website full of films of cool and weird underground gigs and they are utterly amazing.
Normally at these kind of conventions one off the wall band is all you’re going to get but at Go North a whole event is stuffed full of great bands.
Wandering back into town I end up in another venue which looks like a neon strip light strip joint- an atmosphere-less space that is swiftly turned into something special by Glasgow based band The Seventeenth Century who are described as folk rock which conjures images that are none too thrilling.
Fortunately the band, who are late teens in age, are coming from somewhere else entirely. They deal in folk melodies with their perfect harmonies and their frontman is steeped in the form with his parents playing him Incredible String Band albums from birth- a pretty col soundtrack to your youth! But they sieve the folk through a tough, dislocated bass and drums power that hints at post rock dislocation whilst their brass and violin also give a nod to the dark, brooding soundscapes of the recently reformed Godspeed You Black Emperor as well as the Dirty Three- whose story telling, violin plucking air of dissolution they also hint at.
They also ooze a cool and passionate intensity as they transport themselves and the audience to somewhere entirely different. Their sound is utterly original and the band is pure genius.
We will be hearing a lot more from them.
Just round the corner there is another fusion of styles going on from Mothercoat who have flown in from Tokyo to play Go North and then the neighbouring Rock Ness festival. The Japanese four piece are, like all the best Japanese bands, twitching with a bordello thrill at the possibilities of pop. Their songs zip from neo hardcore thrashes to intense, psychedelic workouts- one song sees their frontman pitch his voice to an alien high like pinky and perky squeaks that are oddly sad and affecting as the band bounce around him with krautrock rhymes and bubble bath melodies that really trip your head out.
They then lock into a monster grove that is stunningly hypnotic, the frontman twitches, grinning, oozing the charm of someone who is in love with the instinctive,shamanic power of music. They are so damn intense that you are hooked into their amazing, imaginative world. They sound like no other music on the planet and a glimpse Into the future world of a pop culture completely fractured with fragments of genius being bolted together by the children of the next revolution.

Mick Hucknall to join The Faces!

June 7, 2010

 So there you have it.
  You decide to reform one of the key swaggering rock ‘n’ roll bands of the seventies, a band whose very name is the bench mark in slovenly rock n roll excess. A band who was fronted by one of the great, gravel voiced singers and a band who oozed a louche charisma and a band who almost matched the Stones at their pomp and at their own game.
  The trouble is your ex singer is not keen so you have to draft in a new vocalist.
  Not easy.
  It’s a problem that faces many bands over the years.    
  It comes at that point of time when you just want to rock n roll for one last time but you can’t quite get the rest of old crew to agree- especially the singer whose by now and international superstar. Getting a different singer in is the hurdle most long-term rock bands have to surmount sometime and some get away with it.
   So you cast your eye around the scene. There’s plenty of charismatic, dishevelled, gravel voiced waifs out there so what do you do?
   You phone Mick Hucknall!
   Yup, the Faces reunion has hit a stumbling block.    
   Instead of Rod Stewart who, younger readers may not be aware, was one of the totemic rock n roll singers of his time, the band have somehow asked the flame haired Manchester white soul boy into the band.
   Now this is not an anti Mick Hucknall rant.    
  There’s a lot of really good things about him- apart from the fact that he is technically a great singer- taht he coolly doesn’t blab on about. He used to run a great dub and reggae label called Blood and Fire that made sure the penniless originators of the form were paid after years of neglect. He is an encyclopaedia of music and a proven stadium filling success.    And it’s not like he not an old rocker- he was one of the Faces on the original Manchester punk scene and a big Clash fan.
   Meanwhile musically, even if Simply Red are a touch to polished for a pair of underground ears then his former band, from back in the mists of Manchester punk- the Frantic Elevators cut some fine records.    
   Nope, this blog is not anti Mick, this blog is just a bit shocked at this most unlikely of couplings, Mick Hucknall and the Faces are many things to many very different people. The Faces were the prime example of hooligan blues in the superyob seventies whilst Simply Red soundtracked a more sedate suburban grown up audience. There is very little common ground between them and the pairing will have promoters feeling nervous.
  It isn’t the first time a band have tried to patch up the line up and try to catch some of the old magic. Maybe Faces were thinking along the lines of Queen and Paul Rogers or even the rumoured Aerosmith and Billy Idol partnership that didn’t eventually happen, maybe it was the Led Zeppelin crisis when Robert Plant decided against more shows after the O2 comeback- there was all manner of crazy names in  air for the Zep job but luckily Jimmy Page saw sense unlike the Faces who it could be said have maybe strayed a little too far from their hallowed hometurf with this decision.

Obsessive Compulsive…great new Manchester rock

June 5, 2010

Obsessive Compulsive

I don’t know if anyone saw that rant in the Guardian about Manchester living in the past by Fuc51 but day by day I’m hearing band after band that proves this rather elevated pub rant wrong.
The city is full of great new bands of all styles and if you actually bother to go out you get to see something quite special shaping up.
Obsessive Compulsive really break this perceived mould.
Manchester has an oddly lopsided history of rock.
When is say rock- I mean loud, feisty, high decibel, life affirming fierce music dressed in fuck you freak clothes- The high decibel, extrovertly dressed world of Kerrang and associated noisenik areas.
Everywhere you go in the city there are tribes of rock kids, emo kids, punk kids, noise freaks, long hairs and neo goths. There are countless bands and many rock nights across the city and the north off England. Rock is huge in Manchester, the arena will generally only sell out to rock bands whilst indie groups struggle to fill venues half the size. In the surrounding towns rock is the currency- the real folk music of these times.
So how come there is no big rock band from round here?
Arguably there has been a kinda rock core to the sea of indie that dominates the area. Joy Division are ostensibly a rock band, their influence is huge on major rock bands and key in the goth scene. Without Joy Division there would be a very different major league rock scene from the USA with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Marilyn Manson documenting an influence from the band. The Buzzcocks are one of the key punk bands and there have been a handful of other noisier groups breaking free from the jangling soundtrack.
And apart from that?
Maybe it's because the indie bands get the leg up from a indie friendly media and the rock bands get ignored, maybe its because the rock bands are generally fans trying to emulate their huge American cousins, maybe it's because no one is looking here for noisy action. Maybe the rock youth are in awe to the American band juggernauts…it could be a combination of these factors. There have been some really good rock/metal/punk bands from up here but they can only get so far when there ostracised by the media and left off the transatlantic gravy train.
Well that could be about to change.
Obsessive Compulsive have got everything that's required to buck this trend. Their tunes are tight, tough and anthemic. They are heavy but pack a punk rock energy to what they are doing. Their songs are catchy as fuck and connect directly with their fan base. You listen and you know that this sounds like a potentially massive band who easily transcend the local band syndrome. They have the emotional raw power and they have the songs and they have the smarts and the work ethic to make this work.
Oh and they also have a charismatic front woman in Keli who Mancunian gig hounds may know from working at the Academy venues in the city. Keli has an amazing voice, somewhere between a powerful guttural and yet soulfull shriek and a throat scraping scream that also caries the great tunes from the band. Her voice is the sound of exuberant lust for life and rainy day frustration and it cuts though the bullshit like a knife.
She is a star in the making, she looks great and she lives the high decibel life. Her band are rock solid noise droogs who spew out a thundering and perfect racket and they got the songs.


June 3, 2010

Fac 251
live in Manchester

There’s some bass instinct going on in the house.
Two of Manchester’s most iconic musicians are driving their new project to an atmospheric, powerful climax. The perpetually gruff yet good natured He-Viking of Lord Hook and the permo cheeky, loveable Mani are creating something quiet special here and on this their first mini tour are creating quite a stir with their latest project, Freebass.
The songs a mange to reference their pedigree whistle pushing forwards. There is that brooding northern dark psychedelia meshed in with the effortless guitar pop shakedowns.There is also that twist if the twin bass assault and a welcome celebration of the 4 string.

Anyone who grew up in punk will know that the bass guitar is the king of instruments. Infact nearly everyone I know who grew up in punk learned to play bass. Albeit a one string bass technique that Peter Hook has turned into an art form!
There was a surfeit of great bass players in the late seventies from the iconic Simonon and Sid vicious schools to the bass heavy rumble of Jah Wobble to the greatest bass player of all time JJ Burnell.
This is worth considering when you watch Freebass, the band formed by Peter Hook with Mani from the Stone Roses and Andy Rourke from the Smiths. That’s a lot of bass players to have in any band and you wonder how all that low frequency is going to fit.
We may never find out. Andy Rourke is not here tonight but there is more than enough bass action to make up for it. Hooky, of course, takes the lead with his distinctive bass sound copyrighted through years of New Order still sounding perfectly crisp- those laconic, melancholic lines still cut to the soul whilst Mani, as ever, the cool as fuck ragamuffin provides that sturdy funky bass end that he made his own since the prime days of the Stone Roses through Primal Scream.
The overall effect is kinda like early New Order dashed with a flavour of the moody better end of early Goth that Hooky has always, cooly, been so fond of. I can hear some of the magnificence of the very early Southern Death Cult in there and some pure Manc classic pop, the Haven boys who have been bolted onto the band, provide the youthful intent and glorious soaring ovals and the whole experiment is very successful.
It’s easy to rest on yer laurels in rock n roll and the prime participants are out playing their back catalogue at other shows so its cool to see them trying something new.
Both bass players have earned the reputation by re inventing the instrument, they both sound great in Freebass but there are also couched in great new songs.
That’s Freebass can still sound as invigorating, energetic and inventive as this is a testament to their hunger and imagination.

Reverend Sound System

May 31, 2010

Reverend Sound System

With massive beats and a booming bass, the Reverend Sound System are shaking the room, soundtracking the 21st century. The collective are on stage making music that is a cut up of all the great underground sounds that are everywhere in the modern, fractured British music scene.
Blowing the myth that music is not going forwards the Reverend Sound System are not only re-writing the script, they are re-wiring just what music is in the 21st century.
It’s a tough job but thank fuck someone is doing it and doing it brilliantly.
There is the shuddering bass end of bassline and dubstep, the fractured beats of cutting edge dance, a nod to the rap and MCing of hip hop and also a love of the song from the indie and guitar worlds.
This is a powerful and potent brew and whole new way of making music.
Frontman and the Reverend himself, Jon McClure, is one of the last great rock n roll renegades. Not in the sense of pretending to be a Rolling Stone from the late sixties but in the sense of standing up for all that is good about the remaining possibilities of the counter culture sieved through a Sheffield working class nous and being prepared to say it.
He is impassioned, smart and a rogue, loose canon who speaks it as he sees it. He talks his truth in a music scene where keeping schtum has become the career saving option of the cowardly and the banal.
Mclure is the key figure in the Sheffield scene that sparked the Artic Monkeys where he also fronted his own band, Reverend And The Makers, who had a top five album and took on the whole music biz single-handedly and are still winning.
Reverend And The Makers cut some great pop music- a mixture of styles that never settled into the simple formulae of indie pop and they remain hungry for new ways to communicate on the music frontline.
Revered Sound System is one further, big step into the unknown- into world where indie pop is just one fragment of modern culture along with bass driven dance music.
Of course this is not a discourse on the death of the guitar! I’m still in love with the fierce electric of the six string and with that visceral excitement of the instrument that still dominates the frontline.
But every now and then I personally need something else and the thunderous pulse and endless soundscapes provided by dark technology have always been attractive. Click into Mary Anne Hobbs brilliant show on Radio One or check out the cutting edge clubs and there is a whole new riot going on out there.
The digital that interests Mclure is pushing forwards- stalking the furthermost points of possibility and it’s no mistake that in 2010 some of the most groundbreaking music is coming from the sheer possibilities provided by the technological.
Along with MIA, Mclure represents the radical mainstream fringe getting to grips with the endless rush of new sound out there. The Reverend Sound System make a heavy, heavy sound but they are not pure noise, this is a party. The beats, which are crushed, are superbly kinetic and the gig is quickly pumped into dance action. The Basslines are huge and really pumping whilst the two techie droogs- the legendary Jagz Kooner (worked with Andrew Weatherall on Jah Wobble, New Order, Flowered Up, Future Sound Of London, Psychic TV and Bjork and then put together, with Weatherall, the genius Sabres Of Paradise and loads of other great stuff) and Laura Mclure build up a massive wall of sound that is like a sic fi James Brown in its dancefloor intent allied with a smoking, sound system bass beat rumbling the floor- pure kinetic.
There is something quite beautiful about two tiny bits of keyboard kit providing something as fleshy as this.
On top McClure and his charismatic rap partner, Maticmouth, deal out the lines in tough northern brogue, MCing the whole show and driving the audience to a frenzy.
Reverend Sound System is the sound of the real UK- the mash up of cultures and noise that makes up the Saturday nights just beyond the chain bar hell of the city centres. This is the result of the melting pot mixture of music on the streets that is a million miles away from the jangling indie world of the mainstream media.

Anyone who has ever been to a dubstep night will have been enthralled by the brilliant music and the killer MCS whose constant tough babble is the 21st century equivalent of a punk rock hardcore singer. They have the same clear-headed vision and euphoric relationship with the audience and the same inspirational off the cuff raw power.
The Reverend Sound System capture this but take it somewhere else.
Their journey is the real sound of the suburbs, the real soundtrack to modern UK the sound of a million car stereos, crackling iPods and mobiles, the heavy bass colliding with the trad indie love of the song is a powerful potion and this makes them a very powerful beast indeed.

Blackpool…punk rock and the premiership…

May 23, 2010

‘…With big Maloney boots on their hassling me,
Seaside’s lonely banter- a frightening scene
The sheer thrill of violence on a warm August night
Much rather run than get stuck with this fight,

Hey! When the sun goes down! I’m in a seaside town!

With a bunch of single tickets the trains pulling out,
Goodbye pier, tower and autumn lights,
The pungent smell of adrenalin,
Seaside mafia met in town tonight…’

(the Membranes ‘Tatty Seaside Town..’ 1988)

It’s a glorious sight.
Everywhere I look I see tangerine wizards, elves, tango men; Tangerine wigs and tangerine shirts, it’s an endless sea of tangerine going through the emotional ups and downs of a crazy afternoon in the sun as Blackpool are 3-2 up in the play off final against Cardiff City. Emotions are running high and there is an air of surrealism about this very Blackpool moment.
It’s about 40 degrees, stupid hot on one of those rare British days when the heat goes off.
I’ve never seen so many Blackpool fans in one place at one time. There’s four minutes of injury time left and the tension is unbearable. Everyone is looking at their watches and praying for the unbelievable.
It’s been an amazing game. Only the most confident, crazed, the blind faithful or genius manager Sir Ian Holloway had believed we could get anything out of this. Favourites to go down and the smallest club in the division Blackpool just shouldn’t be here. Instead they are winning. they won’t give up and they play expansive attacking football- is this for real!
The club comes to Wembley armed with a proud history and little else. The ghosts of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen flicker like the great black and white footage of the legendary 1953 cup final. There was the 30 odd years at the top flight from the thirties to the sixties- the glory days back in the days of black and white TV. There was a time when Blackpool was the team to watch- the best players, the flashest style.
Most of my adult life, though, has seen the club in the doldrums. By the time I started support the seasiders in 1971 we were on the last pinnacle- promotion to division one and winning the Anglo Italian cup. In the seventies we used to go to every match- our knuckles frozen white at Bloomfield Road, often outnumbered by the away fans who came in their thousands for the weekend out up the Pool.
In those days we were regular promotion contenders, often missing out by the closest of calls, a thousand of a goal on goal difference or a bad run at the end of the season. We had Mickey Walsh’s famous goal of the season against Sunderland in 1975- I was there and it was my first TV appearance running onto the pitch at the end of the match.
We had a good solid team and some great personality managers like Bob Stokoe and Alan Brown. Brown was sacked in the late seventies by the chairman for calling him a back stabbing rat and the club, who had been second at Christmas, managed to get relegated by a freak set of results at the end of the season- the next thirty odd years would be about decline and desperation.
Growing up in Blackpool was the same. It had been the golden town of the first half the century- a fantasy escape for millions of workers and the second showbiz town after London in the UK.
Frank Sinatra sang there several times, George Formby- the biggest star in the UK was based there and The Beatles played Blackpool 14 times. Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar on stage in Blackpool, Jethro Tull, Roy Harper and an endless list of great showbiz and pop figures came from the town until we arrived on the scene.
The town, like the football club, in the mid seventies was beginning its long decline, the package resorts stuffed Blackpool and the decay was slowly and almost unnoticeably taking hold. There was a brief revival in music with punk and post punk scene in the town, Section 25 were making waves and we followed on with the Membranes and there were punk legends the Fits and One Way System. A brief flurry of activity before the inevitable decay.
I grew up in seaside suburbia – dawn chorus, local shops, shuffling grannies, cafes with milky tea and too many sugars, strange gift shops with pointless plastic souvenirs, stray holiday makers, rusting trams, a beach full of sewage and lots of rain and a small resilient community of chemically fixated youth.
As the never ending salty wind whistled down the Lane, and the shops shut early- punk rock and John Peel were our lifelines- giving us a glimpse into another exotic world of like minded teenagers with high octane creative impulses dotted around the rest of small town England.
This was our backdrop- Blackpool in the early eighties was a town dedicated to everyone else apart from those who lived there who wanted to do something different. Despite all this we loved the town and its chintzy lights and amazing garish ballrooms. We understood the exotic beauty and the faded grandeur. It was our backdrop and part of our DNA- didn’t every town have a pleasure beach?
This faded grandeur was fading fast and the football club was following suit to disrepair and slumped to near bottom of the 4th division, the famous tangerines of Mathews final 1953 were sliding out of the league.
Many of us moved out of the town. I went to Manchester but I never gave up on Blackpool, people would often say your from Manchester but I always corrected them, I loved coming from the tatty seaside town and even if it was imposable to conduct this kind of life from their my veins would still bleed tangerine.
There were many of us ex pats there on Saturday afternoon at Wembley willing the Pool on. We had been brought up to be losers, the civil service for the best of us, the town offered us nothing but ghosts of a recent past. Somehow we were still in love with its very English weirdness and we loved the stark beauty of the Victoriana, the quaint eccentricity of the tower (they should have built it taller than the Eiffel tower though) I loved the confusion in peoples faces when I told them were I was from- ‘no one is from Blackpool’ they would say. People would run the town down all the time, the media would endlessly review it sneering at the place whist bigging up Brighton which somehow won city status whilst Blackpool was laughed at for daring to get city status at the same time, despite being a bigger place and a far more poplar resort. Blackpool was in danger of becoming a ghost town there was the casino farce, the endless recessions, the crumbling town centre…and then…
And then oddly the football team started to stir, there was the irregular and unlikely promotions- the grafting character managers came back- Billy Ayre became a Blackpool legend when with virtually nothing in the bank he started to turn the corner, Steve McMahon was solid and steady, Simon Grayson pointed us in the right direction before offing to Leeds a year ago. It looked like we had peaked and the Oystens made them inspired choice of bringing in Ian Holloway- the extrovert, hilarious man of the people with a madcap sense of humour a fistful of great quotes and an inspirational manner and fierce football brain. In one year he had turned the relegation favourites into a club that was here and now four minutes from the Premiership.
Holloway was the type of extrovert, colourful manager that suited the club and the town. This was the real Blackpool. The Blackpool of showmen and big ideas, the Blackpool whose motto was progress, the Blackpool of the world’s first electric street light and tramway, the Blackpool that invented itself in the 19th century as Europe’s number one resort, the Blackpool of free flowing, attacking football and the Blackpool of Matthews and Mortensen and seven English internationals in one match of the fifties. This was the Blackpool of the years before we had been born- the one that we lived in the shadow of.
Holloway embodied that spirit and infused the club with it. The team were suddenly non-stop attacking marauders who never gave up- this was the true spirit of the town…
The town was already looking better. Money had been spent on the prom- it now winds its way along like an art deco, concrete snake, there was loads of grass on the prom breaking up the concrete, there was talk of the council buying the Winter Gardens. Lots of great ideas and passion- a great comeback from the town that is still embedded deep in the northern psyche.
And here we were at Wembley. Minutes to go the premiership just there…as the minutes ticked away the sweat, the adrenalin and nerves were shredded till that glorious final whistle…
No-one really believed it- something had to go wrong. We had spent a long time growing up as losers and suddenly we were winners. The tangerine army went berserk. The town turned a corner and Blackpool were in the premiership.
The elation is hard to describe. Grown men were in tears.
Suddenly Blackpool was a town of winners.

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