Thursday, July 16, 2009


Nottingham UK July 9th – 11th - A report by Lenny Helsing

This was the first British garage punk-style weekend blast, that I can think of anyway, to happen outside London and I can assure you that it really was a great deal of fun. To be repeated in future years if at all possible.

A few groups scheduled to appear couldn’t make it for a variety of reasons: The Cavestompers from Russia had already played at Rotterdam’s Primitive festival but were refused entry to the UK. The Others from Italy were absent due to their drummer seriously injuring a finger. Same kinda thing for Liverpool’s Doktor Combover. Their Carl –who was there to dee-jay had broken his wrist/arm during a prank that had gone awry whilst over in France enjoying The Mummies. All-girl Danish combo Cherry Overdrive also pulled out.

The opening night party was at the Brittania Boat Club, a crazy little venue right next to Nottingham Forest’s football ground that was decked out like a trashy cave. Back in the late ‘60s this tiny club hosted gigs by The Who, Black Sabbath and Led Zep.

Vinnie and the Curse warmed up the first 30 or 40 or people that had started to congregate before Le Chat Noir got things rockin’ just a little more… all preparation for when things got a bit wilder. Cue the arrival of The Brutes (from Glasgow), complete with furred-up ‘Eegah!’ styled costume spectacle and – aside from a surprising bout of ‘nerd breakdown’ communiqué – they had a good line in uunga buunga backchat.

They played some of their own bashing trogg-progg ditties too like ‘Bottom Line’ and ‘Real Gone Gasser’, plus a grinding rendition of ‘Strange Movies’, a late-in-the-day groover by, who else, The Troggs!


Resplendent in matching stripy stripes were Los Imbasils from Bristol. They were a fine opening party attraction too, playing kind of sloppy guitar and organ based happy, fratty covers that we all know and love.

Friday and Saturday’s events moved to the ever so slightly larger Marcus Garvey Ballroom further across town. I jest, this place was completely massive, and of course this created problems as most of the sounds were just being hurled round and round the room, getting lost in the process. So for the most part I’m gonna try to be positive about it, and place the importance of sound a little behind the excitement of pure live action thrills. But in the main the sound was, er…shite!

Because The Others were outta the game, a sound little two-piece (they used to be four only a few weeks ago?) from York called The Federals opened the Friday show. Blasting forth with drums and fierce guitar noise and vocals, these young guys made quite an impression. With a full group aboard The Federals could be a force to reckon with such was their intriguing presentation. Next up Armitage Shanks, an old school punk rock combo from the London/Medway environs. To begin with the sound was quite abominable, but thankfully over the course of their set it did get a little better and we were treated to a fine set, including a stripping down of Subway Sect’s wonderful ‘Ambition’ to its absolute basics. Their own formidable ‘Shirts Off’, a cracking bit of rucking punk rock genius, was the highlight for me, and many.

A highlight of the whole weekend were Spain’s Los Chicos. I had heard of them for many years, even played on one or two bills with them, but this was the first time I had actually caught their act. Wow, whatta amazing blast of crazy soulful rock’n’roll garage pop shenanigans they are. Long-haired singer Rafa is flanked by two guitar-toting brothers, Antonio and Gerardo. Then you get the crazy ball of blast off energy that is Pina on drums. Manu the flamboyant bassist makes up their ultra-swingin’ rhythm section.

Individually and collectively they are all over the place and their presentation is all the better for it. You really do need to witness these guys live I feel in order to gauge just what it is they are all about. ‘My Head Got Stolen’, ‘New Shoes’ and especially ‘Tomorrow’s Another Day’ all employ some lightning-fast tempos, crazy rhythm/time changes, alongside real sing-a-long choruses etc. During ‘Tomorrow’s…’ they must’ve had about 50 of their fans and friends up on stage helping them create that truly special Los Chicos rock’n’roll garage party gathering moment.

Next up were The Gories, the long-lost US garage-blues-punk three-piece with Mick Collins on lead guitar/vocals, before he went onto make a bigger name for himself fronting The Dirtbombs. Well initially I wasn’t as bowled over as I thought I might be by these cats, probably due to the sound that was masking the real great talents behind. The growling Freddy King blues-wail of the guitars – no bass of course - soon made itself felt tho, duff sound or no… and Dan’s chugging rhythmic moves and Peg’s Mo Tuckeresque pounding slotted in and out of the grooves just fine. The rock-a-billy and Suicide influences detected on the early records didn’t seem so prevalent. I hadn’t pulled my Gories LPs out for yonks so probably some things did pass me by unnoticed but they did do great versions of the likes of ‘Thunderbird ESQ’ and of course the unrelenting crash ‘n bang of ‘I Know You Fine…’ LP killer ‘Nitroglycerine’ which they ended their set with.

Another US bunch, The Oblivians, finished off the evening’s live spectacle. Well, it’s not really my cuppa tea to be frank with ye, being for me way too heavy on the rock side of late ‘90s garage-style punk, but that said I admit that one or two of their tunes were actually pretty damn good, and thankfully were also more garage inspired than the almost hardcore-infused punk rock which informs the major part of their sound.

At the Marcus Garvey Ballroom on Saturday morning/afternoon there was a record fair and retro clothes stalls, not to mention a fabulouso badge stall run by Jin ‘n Ananda that dealt in all manner of obscure ‘60s beat garage punk and psychedelic names, and a few more famous monickers too. As a little aside to the main Blast Off attractions, the Old Angel across town also hosted an afternoon of raucous pub rock, and some garage beat punk’n’roll with The Murdocks, The Hipshakes, Beast With A Gun and, best of all, Thee Vicars, the Dirty Water records recording group who peddle a great line in adrenaline-soaked star-club-a-rama garage beat as played by teenage Milkshakes with a serious case of St. Vitus Dance.

Superb sound too with clashing feedback guitars, motoring drum action and yelping vox.
Back at the MGB, Torpedo Monkeys were the first of Saturday’s groups, a fairly rockin’ garage’n’roll band too, from around the Schalke area of Germany I think. They all had hairy ape masks on and their songs stomped along with neat guitar breaks and lots of cool ‘ugh’ and ‘hee heee haaargghhhh’ type noises goin on.

Impeccably attired Les Bof! are the kings of franco-phonic garage beat twang. Despite the crap sound again – I tried in vain to make the sound man take lots of the rumbling bottom end off the drums vocals and bass, and make the guitar and vocals louder - vocalist Laurent is fast becoming one of the scene’s contenders, and with Angus, Ross and Colin on lead guitar, drums and bass respectively, their sound is assured; their debut long-player will be hotly anticipated. I think it may’ve been The Eviltones on next. If so they should’ve sounded cool with mean fuzztone assaults here n there but honestly I can’t remember, and I didn’t catch much of whoever’s set it was, going out for some much needed air. Tho by this time, the rain was hammering it down outside.

What I did hear was rendered a big jumble of fuzz n distant rumble, due to the cavernous room, not enough bodies and that dreaded ‘drm’n’bs’ mixdown. Ouch! It was The Cosmic Vampires up next judging by the make-up, top hats and other apparel the group were got up in. They were kind of garage, and fairly rock sleaze ‘n roll now and again…they had sax too.

Apparently this could be the last ever time that anyone will see The Coyote Men, envious pride and pain of Tyne And Wear’s Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. These be-masked titans tore up the stage and put on such a great show of outrageous rock’n’roll hoopla that anyone following them would have a hard time no matter who they beez. The ‘Men were helped out by a bunch of other masked marauders, be-fuddlers and in-crowd jokers including various members of Los Chicos, dragged up, and/or down to the ground at various points. At one point the stage hands/sound men came onstage, ostensibly to tell the group to stop abusing their microphones, but were dumbfounded by the carnage that was in front of their eyes, they just stood open-mouthed saying nothing. Hey, it was all good, fairly clean rock’n’roll umbarumbamba anyway, nothing to really get too uptight about…or was it!


Last on from USA were The Ghastly Ones. I wouldn’t thought they were anything like true headliners but they gave it their best shot I guess. They included in their set Screaming Lord Sutch’s ‘Jack The Ripper’ and they namechecked and played The Masonics’ brilliant ‘I’ve Only Got Myself To Blame’.

Aside from all this there was a fantastic array of swishing go-go dancers, both inside and outside of the Blast Off Go Go Cage situated by the side of the stage. There were also international dee-jays who spun a welter of groovy sounds, including such pearls as ‘Misfit’ by the Outsiders, and ‘Neat Neat Neat’ by The Damned…well, that was that, huge kudos to Liz DH and AJ, plus all the rest of their team(s) who really helped to make this debut Blast Off weekend in Nottingham a real gone gas! Heap big thanks to Jim ‘n the Brutes for taking me down and back up with them, twas a riot, n a great road trip to boot!!!

Thanks to Lenny for taking the time to compile this... and for the pictures.

I've had a number of messages asking "Why?" so I'll try to answer...

Go to see Springsteen that is. Well, there are a number of reasons and without getting messy, I consider the E-Street Band to be something of a force of nature. Nils Lofgren might not be an original E-streeter but he can make this guitar talk alright. (Little) Steven Van Zandt, in my opinion is of good standing on a number of levels, not least his championing of (mainly) great rock'n'roll. Anybody that makes Palmyra Delran and The Nomads "coolest songs" is doing fine by me. And when Clarence Clemons blows that saxophone, I genuinely feel like I was hit by a truck and the only real highpoints on Tuesday were when the big man played. He’s the closest thing to Lee Allen we have left.

There's also the question that the only person who could really fill Danny Federici's involvement would have been Joe Terry and they don't got him. The show itself was OK. A little heavy on the more recent stuff but I might have felt different if they played "Jungleland". Who knows. But the location did them no favours at all. Hampden is not designed for concerts, pure and simple.

But let's start a little earlier on the approach to Central Station to make the (usually) 20 minute journey out to the closest stop. You'd think that heading out at 5pm to get there for 5.30pm would be fine. After all the scheduled start time was allegedly 7.30pm. But no, Scotrail wisdom means that a mega-queue is formed that must snaked all the way down and back along Argyle Street. For anybody not familiar with the terrain, it was bloody long. It was 6.45pm when we got to the destination and had another 1o minute walk to the (feels hackles rise) "venue".

Picking up the tickets and passes was a skoosh. Great. That worked and it seemed like things were getting back on track. There was some dubiety with the security as to what was where but that was dealt with professionally. By the time we got there, it was way past any chance of getting to see SVZ so perhaps I should just have left then and headed back into town.

The Herald and The Scotsman were peculiarly positive given what I witnessed. Elements of both were true but didn't mention the fact that the sound was quite often abysmal. The drum sound in particular was dampened to the extent that it sounded like a whoosh instead of the crack Weinberg trademark american beat. I also miss the days in which The Boss seemed to care rather than deliver the same old sermon. Lofgren playing "Flower of Scotland" as an opener was inspired rabble rousing and let me tell you there was some sprawl of rabble present. A good number more interested in the drinks dispensers on legs that were selling piss lager for £3.75 a tumblerful. It would have meant so much more if he’d gotten together “Shout” or a BCR medley. This is the main problem, the man seems to be on a hopped up autopilot with the band backing him. He needs to take stock of the fact that these guys are the secret formula.

"We want to build a house of love..." said Bruce in that by now well-worn banter. "Aye but ye'll no get planning permission..." countered Captain Kruickshank. Evidently The Boss has never had a tussle with the local government in these parts. The sheer scale just overwhelmed me and I wonder if most of the folk present aren't just conditioned into this mass consumption trip. Of course, the argument is - what else can you do with an act this big - but really there must be more imaginative, more tasteful ways to make it more of an event. My mind drifted back to the infinite bliss of last week’s incident at Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline.

I've witnessed Bruce turn (the old) Wembley into the Stone Pony before but that didn't happen on Tuesday. Several staunch Springsteen fans will validate my reporting as not just another grumpy tirade too just incase you reckon that's what this is. Just as well I didn't manage to get my "Dream Baby Dream” banner done after all. I wouldn't have gotten close enough to hand it over anyway. As I understand it, this particular Jersey landmark will be going the way of the boardwalk to be boarded up for all eternity sometime around November time. At least in terms of trucking around the world.

Anyway, when more than 50,000 punters spill out of a stadium you can bet that it's not a cool experience. The evening came to a climax with having to walk 3.6 miles, missing the last train and having to take a taxi back to the car in order to make it home. So, in summary - your reporter will not be attending any events of this scale in the UK ever again. If Hello Saferide or Matt and Kim become as big as is deserving then I'll make a special clause for them but anything else, no way, no how.

Here's the setlist and a report from Backstreets, obviously written by a fan. Even if it had been the greatest show ever, the bookends of the hassle to and from would put the proverbial tits on a boiled egg. Still it was nothing if not an adventure and whatever doesn't kill you for damn sure teaches you a lesson. An expensive one but a lesson nonetheless.