Forget Joe Corre’s headline-grabbing protest claiming punk has ‘become a brand’. The evidence out there suggests there’s still plenty of life in new wave’s revolution.
The spirit of post-punk indie past, present and future was alive and thriving at The Conti on Saturday night for the Un-Peeled 2016 festive finale, this add-on celebration of late broadcasting legend John Peel starring three still-vital ‘80s survivors who broke through with the help of the much-loved BBC radio presenter.
First though, we had three-piece Vukovar, self-styled ‘idealists, voyeurs and totalitarians’ from the North’s ‘Brutalist wastelands’. An early start meant I missed part of their set, but they’d clearly warmed up by the time I arrived – lead singer Dan Shea stripped to the waist, Iggy Pop style, and guitarist Rick Clarke, back to the audience, Stu Sutcliffe style, swapping lines with Libertinesque energy by the time they reached a chaotic climax.
The Wolfhounds were booked as main support, but back woes for drummer Pete Wilkins led to him and bass player Richard Golding staying put in the capital, the band a duo for one night only. Yet I was more intrigued than disappointed by the prospects of a scaled-down version. I knew the song-craft would tell, and the power David Callahan (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Richard’s brother Andy Golding (electric guitar, backing vocals) generated was immense.
There was plenty of extraneous bar-room noise when David launched into a haunting lone rendition of Apparition, but soon there was a hush, attention well and truly grabbed long before Andy let loose and they launched into further Untied Kingdom stand-out Now I’m a Killer. How just two performers could make such an impact was startling, but the delightfully-morose Cheer Up had us singing along (‘It might never happen; In fact it already has”) while fellow post-reunion cut Slide kept us alert.
The two albums since their 21st century return provided much of the set, yet Happy Shopper and an ever-pertinent Rent Act from ’89 and their biggest indie hit, The Anti-Midas Touch from ’86 increased the fervour on the floor. In fact, that was the case from the first chord, the sight of the two fellas down the front giving it large on the shouty Middle-Aged Freak making it all the more special.
I’d waited 28 years to see this first-class return, and while I’d have loved at least another half-dozen extra songs in there, this’ll do me nicely until the full band revisit some day soon. Here’s hoping. And if this was The Wolfhounds at semi-strength, we’re clearly in for a treat.
The problem with these Tuff Life Boogie promotions is that organiser Rico La Rocca always packs in far too much, so when you’re socialising you miss out on something else. And there was so much to take in on this particular night that I missed a bit of the Folk Devils set, despite this being their first Lancashire show in more than 30 years and only their second gig back together by all accounts. But thankfully someone filmed it, so I could catch up later.
Founder Ian Lowery died in 2001 (gone far too soon), but originals Kris Jozajtis (guitar) and Mark Whiteley (bass) plus fellow long-servers Nick Clift (back from America especially for the occasion) and John Hamilton (drums) have taken the story on, with Dave Hodgson out front. And they make for a mighty punkabilly five-piece. Think Johnny Cash with the Bad Seeds and you’re not far off, the lead singer alternating between donning then removing his wraparound specs under the stage glare.
From an early Stranglers-like Evil Eye to Peel favourites like Where the Buffalo Roam, Wail and Beautiful Monster, and from stonking crowd-pleasers like English Disease and Brian Jones’ Bastard Son to high-octane closer Hank Turns Blue they were on top form. Come back soon fellas.
That led neatly to the return of almost-local heroes Nick Brown and John Robb at the heart of a frenetic yet majestic Membranes four-piece, the latter the natural focus of most attention and ‘mesmeric’ the key word from the moment the headliners broke into a mightily-intense The Universe Expands …
Between songs our mohawked main-man treated us to memories of an illustrious band past, not least amid Blackpool and Preston’s live music melting pot and their following from the metropolis of Much Hoole (home to a quarter of a million inhabitants, apparently).
Louder Than War’s head honcho dedicated songs to fans old and new, name-checked the rest of the bill’s input, and praised the night’s architect, Rico, even bigging up Action Records supremo Gordon Gibson for his influence on a scene that was always destined to be more than local.
Meanwhile, their bass colossus led from the front, enticing us towards him then letting fly, his band’s space-racing set centred around the dynamic Dark Matter/Dark Energy LP, while two new songs suggested their creative surge continues apace.
A rumbling bass-driven Do The Supernova saw us reach stellar heights from which we never came down, and while there was no choir, Hum of the Universe benefited from all those extra voices out front. Understandably, the joint was jumping for Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder and Myths and Legends, the former punctuated by showers of audience-propelled confetti, while for the latter favourite, drummer Rob Haynes was just the first bandmate to don his menacing raven mask.
And while Mr Robb (who told us we’d have to glue together all that confetti and clean up before we could leave) wore down the stage with his Wilko Johnson-like frenzied movement, Nick coolly got on with what he does best and Pete Byrchmore occasionally illuminated us with his torchlight slide guitar, in the most fitting of event finales.
For this site’s feature/interview with John Robb of The Membranes, and further links to the band, try here, and for an interview with The Wolfhounds’ David Callahan, plus more on his band, follow this link.
Meanwhile, for details of the Folk Devils and how to get hold of their Beautiful Monsters collected works anthology, try their Facebook page. And to see what Vukovar Vukovar are up to next, head here.
Special thanks to Joel Goodman for the use of the above photographs. You can see more of his fine work via his website at www.joelgoodman.net.