King Prawn, Random Hand, Imperial Leisure
Salisbury Arts Centre
November 16th 2013
Ged Babey visits King Prawn in his old stomping ground to find Ska-Punk is still big in Wiltshire.
Salisbury in Wiltshire is a sleepy old market town with a famous cathedral, and a discreet music scene documented in this great book. With apologies to the bands, because this isn’t exactly going to be the most informative review packed with details about their music…
I felt like a ghost walking the streets of Salisbury in 2013. It was an emotional trip back in time.
I went to school in the city in the 1970’s at one of the much talked about Grammar Schools. I passed an Exam at the age of ten, the 11 Plus, and ended up rubbing shoulders with tory boys, rugger types and future leaders of men. It fucked up my life in some ways, giving me a superiority complex I’ve never lived up to, and I only survived it thanks to friendships made through punk rock.
The hospital where my mum died is now flats. The Art college where I saw Adam And The Ants in 1979 and got a bottle smashed over my skull is still there, as is the lump on my head.
Woolworths, and its legendary Bargain Bin is gone, most of the pubs have changed their names and coffee chains and burger restaurants replace any old independent shops. The charity shops are the most expensive I’ve come across anywhere in the UK.
The City Hall where I saw XTC in 1978 still looks like a hideous carbuncle but the river still flows through the city giving it a rural feel and as my mate Andi observed Salisbury does have a unique smell to it. A smell of old stone and mustiness.
The Sarum 76 centre is long gone – the big yellow room where I saw The Mental – who became The Subhumans – my road to Damascus.
Biggles is gone – the shop where you could buy punk gear – staffed by the lovely Jill who hopefully is still alive and enjoying her twilight years surrounded by cats.
Many of my old friends have moved away to all ends of the country but a few remain and it was great to see them and show my wife and son the old place, but for me the city will always be full of ghosts from a time which seems like it was a hundred years ago and in black and white.
The only place that remains the same is the wonderful Salisbury Arts Centre; formerly St Edmunds Church which dates back to the 12th Century! Really. Its surrounded by ancient gravestones and monuments and has always been hallowed ground and always will be, metaphorically & rock’n’roll-wise, as far as I am concerned.
It was a happy accident that my visit and this gig coincided but I have to be honest, Ska-Punk is not generally my thing (I avoid the round on Song-Pop TM). In the words of a good friend: Its not really Ska and it’s not really Punk, is it? Its a mongrel, its musical marmite and it’s the big shorts, keychain & facial outcroppings of the big (fat) American bands that put me off it.
That said I love Citizen Fish (and thoroughly enjoyed Cultureshock this year – saw them at the Arts Centre way back and didn’t as I was mid-Goth phase) and I can actually remember who invented Ska-Punk ( and no, it wasn’t Operation Ivy) – it was Clive Pig & The Hopeful Chinamen in 1979.
Anyway enough preamble already. Ideosyncratic style my arse.
All three bands I saw were magnificent, full of vibrancy and big bouncy, brassy tunes and their energy and commitment to putting on a show got practically everyone dancing.
Imperial Leisure were the brassiest and funkiest. A bit of old school rap and Chilli-Pepper funk amongst the ska-punk. A nice positivist message and upbeat songs. My wife liked them enough to urge me to spend valuable beer money on their albums.
Random Hand were a bit more hardcore meets ska-punk; all shaved head and seriousness, Specials meets Rage Against The Machine via Operation Ivy. My son liked them, digging the earnestness and tuneage combination.
King Prawn – sadly now without the inimitable, bog eyed, bushy bearded madman/genius Babar Luck – were astounding. Fresh, danceable, funky, manic, loud, proud, fun and kickin.
The place was packed full of young and old dreads & rockers & skaters and assorted yoot who loved every second. No exaggeration. This was a magical, upbeat gig. One of the best venues in the country and a breed of music best enjoyed live and loud. Ska-punk and proud.
Going to the after show was a mistake, I’m too old, was too drunk and ended up dancing to Glenn Miller and You Never Can Tell with a strange Cornish man who dances worse than me.
King Prawn and Random Hand play
Nottingham Rescue Rooms on Friday 22nd November
Waterfront Norwich on Saturday 23rd November
Koko in London on Sunday 24th November
The New King Prawn single is out! both tracks up for download here
Robb Blake’s next big Ska-Punk gig at Salisbury Arts Centre is NEW YEARS EVE!
All words by Ged Babey. More work by Ged can be found in his Louder Than War archive. Picture by Jooles Babey.