Nothing says Christmas quite like Geordie Punk Rock hitting the South. Ged Babey loosens his cravat and says ‘Jolly good show chaps’.
The Upstarts had never played Southampton before.
“Well, Its taken us 34 years to get here…” said Mensi as he took the stage. ” that’s a fookin’ long road !”
Mensi might well look a bit like Alexei Sayle doing his Benito Mussolini impression now but it was great to see him and his Upstarts in the flesh, live and loud, punk and proud, down South.
It was like the return of long-lost prodigal sons, albeit ones with unintelligible accents. When it comes to punk rock there never was and never will be a north/south divide. OK, generally speaking there may be more affluence down here, but the South has its share of people on the breadline, getting made redundant, getting shafted and getting angry. The South has its outsiders, class warriors, mother fuckers and natural born punks, just like any other part of the country, and we’re all ‘family’ and part of the generation that refuses to lay down and die.
The Upstarts meant as much back in 1979 to us Southern puffs as they did to punks & skins in there part of the country. With the Rejects, Subs and Ruts they were new punk, real punk, street punk and genuinely working class heroes. They had great stomping, shoutalong tunes like Teenage Warning, Never ‘Ad Nothing, Out of Control and of course I’m An Upstart c/w Leave Me Alone -possibly the greatest of the “Second Generation Punk” 45’s.
It was the hits and older songs which everyone wanted to hear, shout or dance along to if we’re honest.. Mensi was as funny as fuck taking the piss out of all and sundry, himself and band included. By the end of the set, the band having won over the crowd totally, football was the topic of loud discussion – Mensi having spotted Matt Le Tissier (well, a lookalike) in the crowd.
Back in the day it was football rivalries as well as bonehead Nazi’s that resulted in tension and violence at Oi! gigs, but nowadays these are the friendliest gigs you can go to -age and wisdom maybe means that the kids of 1979 finally are united against the real enemies. Mensi in 2013 can take the piss out of Saints and nobody reacts with undue aggression, it just banter from a Northern brother.
The support acts made for a brilliant night; in reverse order; Crashed Out – Tyneside Oi!, full of hard and fast and funny tunes like a drinking mans Slade meets the Rejects with a bit of AC/DC thrown in. I didn’t know the songs except for a righteous version of Paranoid which sounded like Rollins fronting the Dickies only far better than that sounds. Fat Punks don’t Pogo says one song, but the audience proved them wrong.
Southamptons own postmen-on-the-street punks The Reaktors played well, at last finding their true audience (late 40’s male ex-punks/skins into their SLF/Ruts/Upstarts) Their solid unpretentious old-school tunes were well received. Tories Out in particular and their football anthem Rickie Lambert ( ‘Ooo Are Ya?)
Brian kept his shades on through-out the set meaning that I managed to kid a mate who’d not seen them before that it was marvellous how a blind man could front a punk band. “Yeah it is” he said watching him intently…. “Sucker!
Opening the night, and nervous about playing a hardcore punk gig, were the keyboard-based Lo-Fi Poet Band, a band who make the prime Happy Mondays look like sober, disciplined church-goers by comparison. They maybe overdid the pre-gig herbal remedies and were as chaotic as they were magnificent. Inadvertently ignoring the audience they argued amongst themselves onstage about which song to do next. They were great though once they got going, Bubba ( local tattoo artist ) described them as ‘ like listening to the Mondays , the Orb and Dr Feelgood whilst tripping… with my head in a food blender’. Which is probably the most accurate description anyone has ever made of their sound. By the their finale, their mushed-up cover of Larry Wallis Police Car they had nailed it.
It was the Upstarts night though, Police Oppression and Who Killed Liddle? going down particularly well. Skinheads, a couple of mohicans, a young groover and assorted old folk dancing the night away (in the words of the Motors). It was a where-have-the-last-34-years-gone night. Nostalgia? Yeah, but a coming together of the tribes with the music sounding as fresh and vibrant and life-affirming as ever it did.
Pat (from the Joiners management team) a former Anti-Fascist Activist and fan of the Upstarts declared it the best Punk gig ever at the venue, which of course he would, but for atmosphere (without resorting to Santa hats and Christmas baubles) and crowd reaction it was one of the best for some time.
After a gig famine in the summer in Southampton, December was a feast of great gigs including this and Subhumans at the Joiners and a stupendous show by Goldblade and the usual annual showing by UK Subs at Talking Heads. Lets hope there are more gigs like this in 2014. Punk was never designed or intended to last this long, but it has and it seems to have as much meaning and intensity and rage now that the protaganists are ‘old’ as when they were young. Late middle-age is shit – your kids are teenagers and your parents are suffering from dementia or dying, there is plenty to rage about…. and there’s a need to escape and remember the good times. Punk is that perfect mixture of venting your anger and nostalgic escapism….
Happy New Year Punkfans everywhere.
All words by Ged Babey and photos by Gary Richards except the one of Lo-Fi Poet Band which is by Jo Hill.