Gold Blade Tour Diary
Dec 16th Blackpool:
It’s always great to go back and play the home town.
This is a great gig as well.
The venue is right out in the sticks in Poulton - a well-to-do suburb of Blackpool with its very own mediaeval stocks - probably used for anyone who doesn't vote Tory in this nicely-clipped-lawn/ Daily-Mail-reading locale. In fact, the venue is not even in Poulton - but on the it’s edge - in the middle of overflowing gardens and red brick Victoriana - the last place you'd expect a punk rock gig - but then it’s the sort of backdrop we grew up with in the late seventies. Blackpool suburbs that came to light with punk rock by the seaside.
Its twenty years since I moved away from Blackpool but my ties with the town are as strong as ever. The guys from North Records who are putting the gig on are great. They love the punk rock thing, selling a great selection of punk rock CDs and putting on a great bunch of punk rock bands in this out of the way pub.
Before the gig I always take detour round the old town. Checking out the battered Blackpool bus station where the punks would meet on a Saturday afternoon - it really was safety in numbers to avoid getting a kicking. Blackpool was always a bit more hairy than anywhere else because the squares had the numbers. They had the grockles - the holidaymakers - swelling their pug nosed ranks - and they were always handy with their fists picking off the stragglers - as anyone who has been to Holidays in the Sun punk festival in Blackpool can testify.
Blackpool is looking a bit battered these days but I will always love the place. ‘Seasiders’ - as we shout at each other in a mystifying manner.
The gig is great. It’s absolutely packed. Perhaps their busiest night ever. The crowd is falling all over the stage and the encores last longer that the set. Classic.
The bands that play with us are great as well. Outlaw are a bunch of 12-year-olds from nearby St Annes who cover our ‘Strictly Hardcore’ single and play a tight punk rock set. They are a great band already. Sick 56 are a local punk rock crew who kick out a tight hard set of punk rock tunes. Blackpool has a good punk rock tradition with the likes of The Fits and One Way System and in the hands of these newer bands and North Records it looks set to maintain that.
Jan 25th 2005 Berlin
It’s fucking freezing.
The snow has turned to ice and its perma-cold.
Berlin is a great city. I've been coming here for years. I remember the bad old days of the Berlin wall. If there was ever a city where history is now - its Berlin. You go to Rome and check out the 2000-year-old ruins, in Berlin you can check out the ruins from a decade ago. Evil hangs in the frozen air, ignored by a powerful vibrant modern city that has swiftly outstripped it past.
We are staying in Kreuzberg, the former squat central that was tucked just behind the Berlin wall. It’s a bit more upmarket these days - but you can still spot the odd squatter and plenty of punks on the high street. It still has that bohemian vibe, that risqué feeling of living back to back with the wall. Harking back to the day of endless squats and all night bars.
The wall itself is long gone. I go out for a long run and along its old course there is still a watchtower left in the middle of a park as a reminder of the wall’s fierce slash through the city. The rest of the old wall is a park full of kids throwing snowballs. In the old days we would stand on the observation towers looking over the vast ideological gulf between the east and the west. Looking at the biggest open prison in the world. The day the wall came down I was there with a pickaxe and took myself some lumps of Berlin wall concrete home.
The gig itself is on the edge of the city - a big punk festival. The punk scene is huge here. It’s part of the currency. Upstairs The Boys and Eddie and the Hot Rods are sounding surprisingly kick ass after all these years - whilst The Business deal out great street anthems. The audience is raw - plenty of skinheads bounce about amiably mixing with the three generations of punks. We hang out with the North records mob from Blackpool who have their own record stall here and have thoughtfully commandeered a sofa. I spend the afternoon with Mickie Fitz who is as fascinated by my non-drinking lifestyle as I am by his odd looking pint of mixed shorts that stinks like a psychedelic distillery. He’s a diamond geezer and can’t keep still - sloshing his drink everywhere.
We play in the downstairs bar and it’s packed. It feels like someone has sucked the air out of the room and replaced it with fag smoke. I’m sweating before I hit the stage and three songs in my kecks are soaked with the sweaty stuff. Mickie Fitz bounds onstage for ‘Strictly Hardcore’ and dances around grinning like a crazed loon. There is a fierce little mosh pit and the gig is a success for out first appearance in Germany for five years
The next day we strike out early.
There’s some history to be chewed on in the dark Berlin afternoons. We end up at Hitler's bunker - which is still there - a derelict plot of fenced off land that contains the bombed remnants of the HQ of hate. It’s lumps of concrete and grass surrounded by mega corporate towers. It’s the last plot of land in a hugely expanding city - a plot of land that no one wants to build on - those damn memories are still too close the surface and you get a whiff of the near past.
The Checkpoint Charlie museum is amazing. A ramshackle run of houses that used to overlook the notorious checkpoint. I've been here before. The cold war days when you could look into east Berlin from the museum window and check out the brick shit house Mongolian guards who would stop you going through the checkpoint on account of your appearance. The museum is a moving collection of cold war memorabilia, a list of escape attempts and great snippets of wall history. There is talk of knocking the museum down and replacing it with a corporate bank headquarters.
March 18th 2005 Derby
Gawd, the sun has actually come out.
We’re in Derby supporting The Undertones.
It’s the first gig of the year where you can sit outside the venue. Checking out the architecture. Derby is looking a bit knackered these days - maybe Nottingham is robbing all the money. The sheriff of Sherwood is back. Where’s Robin Hood now, brothers & sisters?
Hit the stage to ‘Do You Believe In The Power Of rock n Roll?’ It’s our general opener and it sets the stall. Rock n roll is a much-maligned term - but still a far better name for music than ‘indie’. That's got to be the worst ever name for a musical style. Try saying it, ‘indie’ - yeah, it sounds so weak and insipid - and it’s a term that has totally lost its meaning. What's independent about an indie band? Independent of what exactly? Nope - gimme rock n roll any time - and rock n roll in its purest form: punk rock. This is the kind of stuff that's going through my head as I stretch out before hitting the stage - as we trade off banter with The Undertones who are the most congenial hosts on the circuit - they even ask if it’s OK to use their own dressing room that we are lounging about in.
Been playing gigs for so many years now that it feels right. I like the whole thing: the journey, the build up, the hanging out round the merch stall, meeting up with old faces and new believers. We are trying to make some headway the hard way. We are out on the road trying to build it up. Get through to people. It’s a slow process - but it’s effective.
Back onstage and I can feel the crowd twitch - support slots are always odd - everyone is saving themselves for the headliner - but when you are as full on as we are you are going to get some sort of result. And we get the result.
Leaping on and off the stage I manage to bruise both legs. I don t even remember doing that. Stage wounds are weird. You get them without even noticing. Bruises, twisted knees, bad ankles - the adrenaline covers it all up. It’s the next morning that you notice. There is a rather ostentatious stage barrier at the front but it’s great for leaping onto and I spend most of the set there. These girls at the front dig their nails into my back as they scratch me. Rock n roll!
It’s first day of the new album, ‘Rebel Songs’. I can’t wait to get it out on the stall. I keep listening to it and it sounds fucking great. Normally there is the dull thud of disappointment when you make a record - the feeling that you didn't quite get the record that you wanted - but this time it sounds great. Rebel Songs? Fucking great! We stick it out on the stall and sell loads of them. Great start!
We meet load of cool people afterwards. Lots of new faces and there are some great snatched conversations about punk rock and Derby. Touring is great. Playing your music is good enough - but hanging with all these people is brilliant. People are still as thrilled by punk rock they were 25 years ago. It’s that sense of community that keeps the music alive in the face of general media indifference. And its survival is down to the true believers who are now infused by a whole new generation. Gigs are half and half - between the old guard and teenagers who have flooded the scene since the American stadium bands broke though in the mid nineties. It’s easy to see why they are interested in punk rock it’s the last rebel music left. A secret society with a network of bands who work together. There are very few egos going on here.
And The Undertones?
They fucking rock. People are whispering it nervously - but that new singer is damn good. Many reckon he could be better than Feargal - and those old songs sound awesome.
March 21st and March 25th 2005 Liverpool
We are playing Liverpool twice in a week. That's cool. It’s nearby. The first gig is with Stiff Little Fingers again at The Academy. I remember when we were kids we used to go down to Liverpool from Blackpool and buy our records in Probe Records. It was a scary shop. Staffed by the freakiest oldest punks on the scene. Real hardcore. And that in a city where the reaction to punk rockers was at its most violent. Liverpool was - and still is - a tough place to walk round with an ‘alternative’ look. The amount of flak you get is unbelievable - and not always aimed in good humour. The punks in the old days seemed to exaggerate their appearance even further to counter this - and they gave a good as they got. It’s another good night and we totally sell out of ‘Rebel Songs’ on our little stall.
Five days later we are back at the masque for our second gig. This one is brilliant. There are stage invasions and mosh pits. Liverpool has come alive!
March 18th 2005 Cambridge
Tonight we are paying with Stiff Little Fingers in Cambridge. This is the third time we have played Cambridge in a year and it always worth the really long drive.
I sit in the back of the van of then - hammering away at my Apple Mac. Got a big fat book on punk rock to write - and I’m battling to keep up with the deadline. The book companies always set really tight deadlines. Impossible deadlines. I've been interviewing heaps of people from the punk rock days and transcribing the tapes - which sounds really easy - but is really a pain in the arse - slowing the tape down and trying to write down the whole conversation. Its really fucking boring to do but its great when its finished. Then I try to entwine the quotes to tell the story of the music that changed all our lives.
Tonight’s gig really rocks. We are supporting Stiff Little Fingers who pack them in. We get a really good mosh pit going and even a crazy stage diver who looks like he has really hurt himself but somehow gets up and walks away.
March 19th 2005 London and Leicester
We stay overnight in Kidderminster and I’ m up early, getting out for a run round the town. I’m bored of the rock n roll lifestyle. Been bored of it for years. I’m here for the music, the hanging out and the adrenaline rush. I'm not the slightest bit interested in getting pissed up. It makes you waffle on about shite and feel terrible the next day. I’m into clarity and getting things done. The great thing about going for a run is that you get to see the town in fast-forward. So today I get to see Kettering in fast-forward! I've seen New York, Reykjavik, Tokyo, Venice and every where else in fast forward but there is still something great about an English market town early in the morning on a fine spring day. All thatched brick in the misty haze and budding trees. It’s a bank holiday Monday so even the buildings look a bit hung-over. There's no one around and I get the town to myself.
An hour later I get a lift down to London as the day is busy! busy! busy! First I’m interviewing Ari Up for the punk book and then I have to marry two people. Nope I’m not getting married to two people. I’m the Vicar type! I’m the one doing the marrying. Two Gold Blade fans are getting hitched and they want a rock n roll wedding and I’m getting called in for the honours.
Ari Up is a brilliant woman. The interview goes swimmingly. She is as cool and wild as you would ever hope for and she plays me some new Slits stuff - which is a great combination of dub, ragga and punk.
The wedding is in Battersea Park and it’s a blast. The mums and dads are there in their best clothes and the bride and bridegroom’s mate look like extras from a Marilyn Manson video. I read the vows - do the whole lot, actually. And then I’m off to rush up to Leicester to play a gig.
April 1st 2005...Aberdeen
It’s a six-hour drive to Aberdeen. At least it’s not the fucking M6, though. After all these years the M6 seems to have become more and more boring - a strip of grey through the middle of England. The M-way to Aberdeen goes through mountains, rain covered mountains and the Tebay services which has a duck pond.
Tonight's gig is sold out - which is starting to happen more and more. There is a good scene in Aberdeen. It’s like the last outpost of rock n roll. There is a great rock n roll accessory shop run by local band, Karloff, who also play the gig. They do a great line in Demented Are Go style rock n roll gore - all lurid face paint and spitting fake blood all over the crowd whilst they kick out their psychobilly punk rock rushes. The gig is a blinder. We get the stage crammed with every girl in the crowd - one of the better-looking stage invasions in the history of rock n roll.
The next morning I run along the beach. Aberdeen has a great beach. It’s one of the few cities in the UK that's built alongside a beach. Fresh air! The football ground is just by the beach as well. The stadium is much bigger than I thought it was. The granite city is a great city.
April 2nd 2005 Edinburgh
We drive down the coast to Edinburgh. It’s a great drive. Through tiny Scottish towns with tea-rooms and shops that look like they come straight from the fifties. On the way we stop off at Dunotter castle, a spectacular castle built onto a craggy peninsula. Its bleakness adds to its fierce charm. They once kept the Scottish crown jewels here during one of the interminable wars with England.
The gig in Edinburgh is just outside the city centre - which is cool - as picture postcard Edinburgh is a great city but it makes a change to see the real town. The gig is a punk festival and the venue is packed to overflowing with Scottish punks from all the country.
The pub is sweaty as fuck and the atmosphere is good. Instant Agony from Birkenhead are on and they show their roots in the second wave with a crunching set of apocalyptic punk rushes. We get up and the atmosphere is great - a mosh pit kicks off and everyone seems to know the words. It’s one of those great nights in one of the venues where air has been banished since the Middle Ages. It’s damn hot - my kecks are wringing in fact my whole body is oozing sweat - thank God for the girl who gets on stage to lick the sweat off my chest.
Also on the bill are Demob, whose anthemic take on the second wave still sounds as good as when the band started a couple of decades ago. Argy Bargy, who do a great take on Ruts-y fused street punk - and the UK Subs who always sound great no matter what line up Charlie brings along with him. Seriously underrated band, the Subs are one of our great rock roll bands - a national treasure and represent so much about punk rock culture. There no schlepping back and hiding in the hotel for Charlie - he hangs out at the venue all day watches all the bands and drinks with the punters, a living legend.
The drive back from Edinburgh is tuff. 4 non-stop-hours of empty motorway. We overtake two lorries and one car and see nothing else on the endless tarmac. When I go to sleep that night all I see is empty motorway unfolding in my head.
John Robb tMx 19 04/05