The Ritz, Manchester, England
4th June 2016
It seems appropriate that on the 40th anniversary of The Sex Pistols playing the Manchester Free Trade Hall, a concert that changed everything for Manchester’s music scene and inspired many of this town’s most beloved bands to form, the annual North West Calling festival is taking place. Now in it’s third year it showcases the diversity of the punk scene and always boasts a generation spanning line up. Sadly both The Ruts DC and The Anti Nowhere League had to pull out of this years event but there are always bands willing to step into the breach.
By noon a healthy queue has already formed outside The Ritz, on what is an unexpectedly warm sunny Saturday in Manchester, whilst other less dedicated souls have ensconced themselves in the bars opposite the venue and are enjoying some early alcoholic refreshment. As people are still filtering into the venue Criminal Mind take the stage, the opening slot is always a difficult one as you’re playing to a sparse and sober crowd, despite this they take the stage and play like they’re headlining, their gurning acrobatic guitarist provides a visual keypoint and they play an intense set of politically informed hardcore tinged punk rock that blows away the cobwebs and provides as good a start to the day as you could wish for.
Spunk Volcano And The Eruptions are a different kettle of fish, their singer is a vision in his Captain America briefs, army boots and fluffy mohican topped balaclava They play hard edged pop punk songs that reminisce about the obscure items from the past and unrequited love. Their sing-a-long choruses and banter with the burgeoning crowd builds on the fine work by opening act Criminal Mind and by now things are starting to warm up in The Ritz, both metaphorically and physically.
Crashed Out are next and play a brutal set of street punk, I’m unsure whether its the fact that it’s now approaching melting point or because the first two bands provided such an incredible start to proceedings but the crowd seems to thin out. However, the dedicated fans of this band seem to enjoy themselves and they end their set with rousing cover of punk legends The Clash which is, as you’d expect, well received.
The Restarts take the stage and this trio deliver what for me was the best set of the day, this is a return to hardcore influenced punk and they wake the crowd back up with a politically charged set, this is the first band of the day to get a frantic mosh pit going, amongst those in the pit is Criminal Mind‘s hyperactive guitarist. This is a band I am keen to hear a lot more of and a review of their last album will be forthcoming shortly.
The first of the old school bands, Vice Squad, are next to take the stage and have the unenviable task of following the incredible set by The Restarts. Beki Bondage has obvious stage presence and given she’s been a stalwart of the punk scene since the 1970’s I can only assume there is a truly awful picture of her in an attic somewhere as she doesn’t appear to have aged. They deliver a crowd pleasing set of highlights from their extensive back catalogue.
Belfast’s The Defects are next, they have been ploughing the punk furrow since 1978 and provide an uncompromising set of old school punk rock that warm the audience up nicely for Dirt Box Disco, who have become a fixture of North West Calling and have been rising steadily up the billing as word of mouth about their antics has spread. Unsurprisingly the crowd has swelled by the time they take the stage and they bring North West Calling to life and energise the sweaty crowd. They are a visual spectacle to behold and their anthemic hard edged pop punk has the audience respond and when My Life Is Shit is played they almost blow the roof off The Ritz. Their set was eagerly anticipated and they haven’t disappointed.
The UK82 legends GBH playa pummelling set but this doesn’t seem to hit the heights I’ve seem them reach in previous years and they are followed by The Angelic Upstarts. Along with Dirt Box Disco these have become a perennial feature of North West Calling. Lead singer Mensi prowls the stag with an aura of restrained fury, it’s clear they have lost none of their original anger at societies inequalites and they deliver a charged set. I’m glad to see that they have already been added to the bill for North West Calling 2017.
The Cockney Rejects and the Sham 69 close out what has been a memorable and sweaty day. The latter have reformed with three quarters of the original line up for today’s show. They play a greatest hits set to round out the day, it’s good to see Jimmy Pursey, Dave Parsons and Dave Tregunna back together. They play a well received set but but given the energy, creativity and commitment on display earlier their set seems to fall a bit flat.
I can’t help feeling that the up and coming bands have stolen the thunder from the old guard and I can’t think of a better indication of how the punk scene has remained fresh and vibrant, in particular Criminal Minds and The Restarts made a distinct and lasting impression on me. On the basis of this year’s North West Calling it seems to me that tomorrow belongs to the next generation of bands, the passion and commitment on display indicates the punk scene is alive, well and relevant after it all started in Manchester forty years ago to the day.
Photography by Dean Unsworth (left to right Vice Squad, GBH and The Restarts)
, Cockney Rejects
, Crashed Out
, Criminal Mind
, Dirt Box Disco
, North West Calling
, Sham 69
, Spunk Volcano And The Eruptions
, STP Records
, The Anti-Nowhere League
, The Defects
, The Restarts
, The Ruts DC
, Vice Squad