After a slow start to the year, gig-wise, in the space of a fortnight I’ve witnessed two fine acknowledgements to the songwriting of Pete Shelley.
First, a fitting rendition at Preston Guild Hall of the wondrous ‘What Do I Get’ by Dunfermline new wave legends Skids, then across town at The Continental there was Penetration opening with ‘Nostalgia’ and encoring with ‘I Don’t Mind’, a personal highlight on a night of many from these North East punk pioneers.
At one stage it was in doubt they’d even get there, Arctic conditions sweeping across the North Country, the tops between us and Tyneside treacherous. But thankfully there was just a slight delay, two locally-based opening acts holding the fort in their own inimitable styles.
It’s fair to say I’ve never seen the same Vukovar twice, and this is an outfit seemingly in a state of flux right now, between incarnations. Last time I caught them, there was a kind of Doors meets Family Cat and Jesus and Mary Chain vibe, while this time it was harder to get a handle on, bass player Rick joined by female guitar and keyboard players plus crouching, determined poet Simon Morris (Ceramic Hobs, Smell & Quim) reading aloud from his notebook.
But what with thrashing guitars, malfunctioning synths and dramatic stage exits … well, there’s always something to remember with this ensemble, in whatever format. I look forward to the next chapter in their somewhat outlandish art-house journey.
I’m not entirely convinced anyone else would consider putting these three bands on in the same room, but They Eat Culture’s Rob Talbot seemed to got it right, and – next up – The Mardigras Bombers were just what was needed to bridge the gap between acts.
They use the term ‘post-punk’ but I don’t see so much of that. I’m not sure how it was when it was just songwriter Damion Gillett up front, before co-vocalist (and WriteWyattUK favourite) Bianca Kinane joined, but to me it’s more an Ike and Tina Turner Revue, the pair trading lines on original songs with passion a-plenty on a set of songs they mischieviously tell us are all about ‘death and sex’.
I hesitate before mentioning Meatloaf, but I guess it’s that duet approach, and this is more like I’d hope he’d be if he was less about theatrics, the Steinman-like stage pomposity reined right in and the rock’n’roll seeping through instead.
Bianca’s clearly holding back, a team player unwilling to hog the limelight, but there’s no doubting that great voice, shining through on every song, this tight sextet a great vehicle for her vocal run-outs, although unable to give it too many moves on a busy stage – lest they knock keyboard wiz Tom Wilson off the edge.
There was just one cover, their twist on outlandish 1975 Tubes prog-rocker ‘White Punks on Dope’ providing a worthy climax, taking me back to being enthralled by that number in late ’77, barely 10 years old, unsure I’d ever heard such majesty on the transistor.
This was hardly Otis Redding’s 1967 love crowd, but there was an air of clear affection for Penetration from the very outset, and as it turned out a truly appreciative audience had good reason to be so enamoured.
The set was built around revered 1978 debut album Moving Targets and its 1979 follow-up, Coming up for Air, all those songs rapturously received. What’s more, the maturity of the 21st century Penetration further enhances the songs, vocalist Pauline Murray and bass player/co-writer/hubby Robert Blamire (towering over the missus – part-Robert Forster, part Keith Richards) at the heart of it all, the pair flanked by no-nonsense guitarists Steve Wallace and Paul Harvey.
Cult 45 ‘Don’t Dictate’ went down a storm, and I swear I could hear accompanying brass on later single ‘Come into the Open’, another track taking me back to my pre-teens, with Pauline perfect, her vocal style truly complementary, interweaving between the grooves with powerful sax-reedy qualities.
I’d like to have heard more of the band’s ‘second coming’ material, but this was night one of a series of 11 sporadic dates leading up to and beyond a Buzzcocks/ Skids/ Penetration Shelley tribute show at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May, so the onus was always going to be on recreating and reworking that seminal late-70s songbook.
Besides, I was more than happy with the Resolution tracks aired, the fantastic ‘Beat Goes On’ rightly closing the main set, while – after that awesome rendition of ‘I Don’t Mind’, one that left me feeling highly emotional – final encore ‘Calm Before the Storm’ was spell-binding, David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ given a County Durham twist in its ‘I don’t want to go out, I don’t want to stay at home’ intro, while the outro saw them away in style, the five-piece heading off one by one.
Pauline – her small talk with the audience all night a joy, and still possessing that uncompromising but sweet personable touch all these years on – was away first, after Andy Pandy-like ‘Good Night’ waves to us all. And her bandmates duly followed, the guitarists next, leaving that underpinning rhythm section, Robert’s chugging bass continuing a little longer before he too took his leave, Ken Goodinson’s John Maher-like hypnotic drumming bringing the set to a fitting conclusion.
You can head to this site’s feature/interview with Pauline Murray from January 2019 via this link, and with Bianca Kinane from December 2018 here. For details of Penetration’s 2019 dates head to their Facebook page. You can also check out The Mardigras Bombers’ latest moves via this link, and find out more about Vukovar here.
With thanks to Gary M Hough, who while only armed with his mobile phone camera on the night still managed to capture some great images. For more of his work head here.