Rebellion Festival, Blackpool Winter Gardens
August 9th and 10th 2014
Ruts DC put on three incredible performances in one weekend at last weekends Rebellion Festival. Philip Thompson was lucky enough to see them all. Read his review of this very special band below.
In common with many momentous occasions, it seems both the blink of an eye and an age since I found myself reviewing the return of Ruts DC at Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival two years ago. It’s fair to say that, despite having been a band in the wilderness for some 30 years, I hung my hat on them as one of punk rock’s great hopes for the future. Whatever else we learned this weekend, it’s clear that Ruts DC have not let me, their incredibly loyal fan-base or, crucially, themselves down.
Since that triumphant return they have not rested on their laurels. They have operated on a DIY, somewhat hit and run (no pun intended!) basis where gigs are concerned- playing wherever they have felt the vibe is righteous to ever more ecstatic, sometimes disbelieving audiences. This approach culminated in last year’s valedictory performances on The Damned’s UK winter tour. Much has been reported on that score already but it’s telling that a widely held opinion amongst seasoned Damned watchers is that the inclusion of Ruts DC on the bill caused the old chaos-mongers themselves to up their game.
So, it is with an even greater air of expectation that Ruts DC return to Rebellion for not one, not two, but three separate appearances over two days. Phew!
First up is the Saturday performance and it’s arguably the most mysterious and keenly anticipated of the three outings. Ladeez an gennelmun, boys and girls, I give you – Ruts DC acoustic!
The “Almost Acoustic” stage at Rebellion is not much bigger than that you might find at yer average open-mic night in a sizeable boozer. Small “stage”, compact PA (monitors? Pah!), a long bar and a lot of chairs. There’s a sign on the door of the bar saying that max capacity is 300. The room is clearly over that capacity before Ruts DC even enter. Every inch of sitting and standing room appears to be taken by a crowd not really sure what to expect.
“Let’s get one thing straight. We’re gonna be needing a drink!” is Segs’s opening gambit before leaving us under no illusions that, as they’re here for a couple of days this year, Ruts DC are throwing themselves into the Rebellion festival spirit with abandon; “Why is it whenever you’re coming back to a hotel when you’re here, the fuckin’ sun’s coming up? It’s the land of the midnight sun, Blackpool!”
The band are seated for the performance, Leigh Heggarty, Dave Ruffy and Segs left to right, Leigh and Segs with acoustic six-strings and Ruffy in the middle playing what I can only describe as what looks like a snare drum head with the snares but without the drum shell, and a pair of brushes.
After a split second of everyone wondering what happens next, Leigh launches into the intro of classic Ruts single “Something That I Said” and we’re away. It is immediately apparent that, whatever else you can say about Ruts DC acoustic- it works. Even stripped of the oomph of full drum kit and electric guitar and bass crunch, the power and fury shine unmistakably through. Segs’s vocal is as impassioned as ever, Ruffy seems to be able to play all the drumming using just one drum (held between his knees!) and brushes and, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he’s playing an acoustic guitar, Leigh rocks the solo with customary ease. The crowd are with ‘em from the off and it takes on a one-for-all singalong vibe, poignantly fitting for a band who are so intent on not selling their legacy short to the faithful.
“Mighty Soldier” from Rhythm Collision Vol 2 follows and they prove themselves to be as comfortable in acoustic dub as anything else.
Segs and Ruffy take the opportunity to tell stories about the songs and themselves as the set unfolds even more than they would at a normal gig- comparing tracks to Nirvana (Despondency), and sharing tales of grief during that album’s recording session (the image of Segs howling at the moon on a lonely beach is a powerful one).
Typically with Ruts DC, humour is never far from the despair; they play “Dangerous Minds” from Animal Now explaining that its subject matter is grim as the world was a mess 30 years ago but that “luckily, it all ironed out!”
Following an emotional “Love In Vain” Segs asks if Malcolm would be a) turning in his grave, b) dancing on his grave, or c) dancing on Segs’s grave. It really is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry with Ruts DC sometimes. And that’s kinda the point.
At this point they pull off something which I can’t remember ever seeing from an established band with such a back catalogue; they announce a new song and it is the undoubted highlight of the set. Secondhand Child is the title. Segs explains that it deals with child abuse (they’re not scared to deal with the big issues, these lads).
It’s the first new original non-dub track we’ve had from Ruts DC since their return and it is genuinely a cracker. An impassioned, hair-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck delivery with killer chorus and perhaps a trace element of Patti Smith. They’ve gone on record as saying that any new stuff they do will have to really mean something and with this song they truly deliver the goods. Segs goes into the final verse explaining that at this part the protagonist of the song confronts their abuser and the packed room is suddenly silent. It’s one of those moments that you hope for but only experience rarely at really on-the-money gigs. Astounding stuff.
After this the mood is brought back into the realm of the euphoric with the trio of “Staring At The Rude Boys”, “Babylon’s Burning” and “In A Rut” (riff written on acoustic guitar Segs got for his 21st, fact fans!) before time is up. I look around the room as they finish and there is a tumultuous standing ovation. Far from the 300 capacity, from where I am I can’t quite see where the crowd ends. I later discover that there were people outside twenty deep trying to get a view. You should’ve got here early…
The following afternoon we are given the opportunity to see Segs and Ruffy interviewed by Gary Bushell on the festival’s literary stage, ostensibly to talk about the forthcoming book chronicling the Ruts and Ruts DC, “Love In Vain” which will be released through Cadiz Music in October, as well as new live album Ruts DC- Live On Stage and the recent repress of the much sought after Rhythm Collision Volume 1.
This promises to be an interesting experience given Bushell’s affinity with the band back in the day and the fact that apparently their paths had not crossed in the intervening 30 odd years. An entertaining half hour ensues during which the band recount the history of the Ruts, through Malcom’s death and the rise and demise of the original Ruts DC. Again, the tragic is tempered with the comic with Segs particularly teasing Gary about an “unkind” review he had penned of “Animal Now” over thirty years previously (note to self, Ruts DC have long memories!) The pair explain how they “struck gold” with finding Leigh Heggarty to play guitar in Ruts DC. As Ruffy put succinctly, “He really knows what it is- but he isn’t trying to be Foxy.” Segs touchingly describes the reactivated Ruts DC as “not a tribute band” but “always in tribute to Paul Fox and Malcom Owen.”
Discussing the forthcoming book, Segs stresses that although written by Roland Link (the man responsible for the excellent Stiff Little Fingers tome ‘Kicking Up A Racket – The Story Of Stiff Little Fingers 1977-1983’), he and Ruffy have been closely involved in its editing, so they can be sure that it doesn’t miss out “any of the stories”. Segs tells the audience that it pays such attention to detail that it even lists gigs that got cancelled, “and what we would have worn had we have played ‘em!”
It’s good to hear that this band are finally getting the opportunity to have their story properly told and set the record straight. A must for your punk rock Christmas stocking I would venture!
And so the stage is set for that evening’s live (and electric) performance in the Pavilion. It is a fired-up Ruts DC that take to the stage following a reportedly underwhelming Glen Matlock and The Philistines set and a rousing introduction from Irvine Welsh who himself had been interviewed on the literary stage earlier in the day. Playing as a three piece of Segs, Ruffy and Leigh Heggarty the band are a somewhat different proposition to the four piece of 2013 (with Molara ex of Zion train sharing vocal duties with Segs) and the five piece of 2012 (as above plus Seamus Beaghan on keys). The stripped down approach suits perfectly the set they deliver. Whereas in previous years they have eased the audience in with the more dub oriented end of their canon before building to a punk crescendo, this year they are in the mood to aim square between the eyes from the off. They do not disappoint.
They open with a storming, manic version of “H-Eyes”, B-side of debut single “In A Rut” and the audience go bananas, the pit at the front of the stage a seething mass of bodies from the word go. It is such an energetic performance of an opening song that it feels like we’ve had the crescendo from the beginning. Segs acknowledges this by shouting “GOODNIGHT!” and making as if to leave the stage at the end of that first song.
From here on in it’s a heads, down, no-nonsense blitzkrieg of a set befitting a band who are planning their first “rock ‘n’ roll” album in thirty-odd years. This band can still rock and they’re intent on showing us how it’s done. After a righteously indignant skank through Rhythm Collision, vol 2 highlight “Mighty Soldier” they hit the hardened Ruts DC watcher with a definite curve-ball as they air “Demolition Dancing”, a Ruts track which was only ever released in Peel Session form and rarely aired since. It is manic in the extreme with Leigh hammering out the off kilter guitar riff with abandon. Great stuff.
A rare performance of “Dangerous Minds” from “Animal Now” is next up, ratcheting up the angst level. The band further doff a cap to their roots next by playing “SUS” as they originally recorded it as the Ruts rather than as part of Rhythm Collision Vol 2’s “Smiling Culture” as they have over the last couple of years. It makes perfect sense to do this, playing as a three piece, and the crowd go wild for it.
“It Was Cold” comes next followed by “No Time To Kill” which has become something of an “Animal Now” live favourite after thirty years on the shelf.
By now the band are properly in their stride and playing off one another and the crowd perfectly. This is already a special performance, particularly for die-hard fans who have seen some of their other gigs at Rebellion and elsewhere over the last couple of years. It’s about to get better. Almost like a poker player laying down a full house with a knowing grin, Ruts DC pick up the gig by the scruff of the neck, slap it around a bit and then knock it clean out of the park by driving the set home with THOSE six Ruts singles, augmented by the obligatory and always emotional airing of Love In Vain dedicated as ever to Malcolm and Paul. “Something That I Said”, “Love In Vain”, “Jah Wars”, “Staring At The Rude Boys”, “West One”, “Babylon’s Burning” and “In A Rut”, in that order.
It’s difficult to put into words the elation passing between audience and group but to this writer it feels like something which started victoriously in the Empress Ballroom two years ago has come full circle. Although Ruts DC played some of these songs then as well, it now finally feels as if the band and audience are truly comfortable with the legacy, the euphoria AND the grief and that the whole thing, far from being put to bed, is truly part of the present day. It’s a special moment and, curfew or no curfew, the audience are not going to let it go easily. They just don’t leave. After minutes of chanting and shouting, eventually the powers that be seem to realise that they are on a hiding to nothing and allow Ruts DC to return to the stage. It takes a while as the crew have already started to take the mikes off Ruffy’s kit and are scrabbling to reconnect them, but when we’re ready Segs steps up and starts rapping the words to “Society”. The band launch in at breakneck pace and we’re off again. Stage-diving, arms aloft, beaming faces shout-along. Caught up in the moment Segs ends the set by booting his bass around the stage and leaving it unceremoniously in a pile on the deck. A gloriously messy end to a gloriously triumphant set.
It’s my opinion that Rebellion is a special festival for a number of reasons. But I would suggest that it is special to Ruts DC because the Rebellion crowd has spectacularly taken them to their hearts from the off and have clearly relished the performances. The fact that they have appeared three times this weekend has perhaps afforded the band the opportunity to experience the vibe (man!) of the festival more completely.
To quote from “Society”, the last song of their last set of the weekend-
“You don’t know too much about me- I don’t know too much about you!”
After this particular weekend, nothing feels further from the truth.
Ruts DC- Live On Stage and Rhythm Collision 1 and 2 available at gigs and at theruts.tshirtmachine.com.
Love in Vain – the story of Ruts and Ruts DC will be available from October 2014,