In terms of constructing a Blackpool scene report I will approach it by looking at a variety of different facets of this veritable 'diamond of a location' such as the bands, zines, web resources, gigs/collectives, local venues, outlets, labels, the local media, the local council, cool initiatives (arts space) etc .. Hopefully this should give a bit of structure to what could otherwise easily become a rambling and incoherent diatribe.
In order to give things a sense of perspective I need to sort of ground this article by giving (to what is largely an Amerikkkan - an largely non-UK readership) some background information on three things … Firstly a bit of background on the town, homestead, principality or whatever you would choose to call this strange and unusual place known as BLACKPOOL …. Secondly who I am and what has been my on-off, love-hate relationship with the location, it's bands, it's vibe, its inhabitants, and its records in the fields of suicides and violent death rates throughout my tempestuous 25 year punk rock existence ……. And thirdly why I think this time (more than any other time - cue Ron Greenwood) during my short visit to this planet is arguably the best time ever (so far) to do a scene report on Blackpool.
OK for those who do not know the town BLACKPOOL is one hell of a strange place. Hanging on to the North West coast of that place we call England in the union known as Britain, BLACKPOOL is the UK's largest working class holiday destination / tourist resort. It came to be largely in the 19th century as the end of the train line invasion destination for workers from the Lancashire mill towns to let off steam, drink heavily and probably fight and fuck just like the visitors of today (although the official history would suggest that these sweet cloth capped, capstan smoking yokels just wanted to paddle in the sea and take in the sea air, whilst eating oysters and talking about Queen Victoria).
Today BLACKPOOL is home to major tourist attractions like the Pleasure Beach, Blackpool Tower, the Illuminations and it variously described as the 'Las Vegas of the North' 'Smackpool' or the 'Cess-pit of the universe'. Like any town it is a place of 'Blue Velvet', yet possibly more than most. Beneath its smiley, welcoming tourism literature it boasts (during the 'season' - June until October) the highest murder rates, suicide rates, daily visitor rates, drug addiction and public disturbance rates in the UK.
For a town of 150,000 (and declining - as for some reason people wanna escape) there is very little in the way of paid employment. All the medium / light industry (cars and engineering) packed up and went inland in the 1970's, the last car maker TVR is on the ropes and likely to closer soon so aside from local government jobs (civil service) and cyclical tourism work there is little in terms of a job infrastructure to the place.
Other things you should know about the town is that it has the biggest gay scene in the UK (along with Brighton on the S.W. coast), a once famous football team that has gone from riches to rags, a very dangerous and thriving organised criminal element (read what The Krays had to say about it), a very heavy handed local police force (possibly explained by the serious disorder the town 'enjoys' during the summer months) and for our purposes a fairly thriving underground PUNK scene.
WHO THE FUCK AM I?
So that's the town - Me ? Well I was born and grew up in BLACKPOOL although I went to University in Manchester and lived and worked there in the eighties and early nineties. Been running 'Just Say No To Government Music' records since 1990, edited 'Eat the Rich' fanzine in the early 80's and have been editing Blackpool Rox II fanzine since 2000. Have played (do play) in a bunch of bands (Index XI, The Puds, Erase Today, Litterbug, Higgins++ …. and from time to time SICK56 whenever required). Until recently I used to have what parents would call 'proper jobs', however decided to change that in 2003 - I have just finished my MA and now doing a Phd at Lancaster University in 'Music and Politics' and a spot of tutoring/lecturing on politics, philosophy and international relations.
Always being a believer in DIY and mining for gold in your own back-yard propelled me to build up a fine collection of local zines/tapes/rekkids/tapes/CD's n stuff. There is a veritable cornucopia of about 500 different items relating to the BLACKPOOL music scene in my 'punk rock bunker/studio', and this ever increasing pile of stuff has finally been of some use in the sense that it prompted the creation of a fairly significant local initiative 'The Ugly Truth about Blackpool CD' - volumes 1 and 2. These 2 CD's (which are gonna be part of a wider UK series) document the history of BLACKPOOL's underground from 1977 onwards … The Good, The Bad and The Ugly … it's all there. A lot of the information I am going to write in this article has been unearthed, re-invigorated and put back into the public domain as a result of the ongoing 'Ugly Truth about Blackpool' CD projects, which in under a year have seen over 4,000 copies get distributed. UTAB is out this summer.
WHY NOW IS MAYBE THE RIGHT TIME TO BE RIGHTING THIS SCENE REPORT
Thirdly BLACKPOOL, like many towns/cities in the UK (and the rest of the world for that matter) is undergoing a bit of a renaissance in terms of new bands, gig activity and its supporting network of venues, media and scenesters. The reasons for this are obviously complex, however people have a real sense that something positive is happening and there are actually more bands functioning in and around the town since the late 70's - fact. I have detailed all the BLACKPOOL related cassette tapes, rekkids and CD's that I have managed to amass over the years and as well as being a useful guide to 'what's in and what isn't in', the volume of local output has had two distinct high points (1979-1982) and now (2003 onwards) … so maybe this is the ideal time to scribe a scene report. OK, so that's the background all in place let's move on to the meat of the report. I have decided to divide this 'Scene Report' into seven sections in which I look at
- fanzinesand media
In terms of key bands that have played a role in shaping the past, present and future let's start in 1977. The first local 'punk band' to play and act up were Poulton school boys 'The Plastic Lizards' which then became Zyklon B, then Syntax then Vee VV. Active and 'in the spirit' of the times they were fronted by local starlet Mark Ormrod and are being featured in Alex Ogg's new book 'No More Heroes' on Cherry Red in October 2006. The band actually re-formed to play a one off gig at the Summer Daze 2 festival, a free open air all ages show we put on in the local park at the end of August.
If Zyklon B were under the radar then the next band that gets mentioned were the exact opposite. Hesitating slightly to throw them into the mixer, but not to do so would be wrong, the most overground band of that era was Skrewdriver (Mark 1) . Now most readers will be sussed (and hopefully considered in their approach) realising that we are distinguishing here between Skrewdriver which was 4 Blackpool lads (although there was really about 7 lads who played with the band during their tempestuous first two punk years) born out of a pub rock band called 'Tumbling Dice', signed to Ted Carroll's innovative Chiswick label, gigged during 1977 with bands such as The Roxy and Dingwalls with the likes of Johnny Moped, The Movies, Sham 69, The Models, The Cortinas, The Damned and Chelsea, released two singles (You're So Dumb and Anti-social) and one album (All Skrewed Up) - AND THEN SPLIT - from the neo-nazi clowns that blighted the punk scene in the early 80's. That was a different line up (bar 1 individual), so that was for all intents and purposes (and in everything but the name) a different band. If you need more persuasion check out original guitarists Phil Walmsley's interview on www.punk77.co.uk or the notes in Blackpool Rox issue8, or the section on the jsntgm.com website
Skrewdriver never actually gigged in Blackpool and were banned from playing by Blackpool Council (see the track too much confusion) as the nation was awash with hysteria and moral indignation at this outbreak of 'punk rock'. The importance of their existence was the fact that a band outside of the metropoles actually made a few ripples on what was very much a London based scene. As well as being one of the few Northern bands to be featured in Mark Perry / Danny Baker's Sniffin' Glue Fanzine they were one of the few northern oiks (be aware there is perceived to be a massive cultural and financial divide twixt Northerners and Southerners in the UK) to play gigs in London at the venues and with the bands mentioned above.
The full track listing and chronology of these bands is provided at the end of the article, however a few bands that should be noted as they provided a link between 'then and now' are as follows. SECTION 25 and TUNNEL VISION were two bands signed to factory records, and the former played a a key role in setting up local gigs in the late 70's as they has access to a PA. SECTION 25 released four albums and five singles on the Factory label, reformed and played Summer Daze 2 (2005) and have just completed a sold out mini European tour and returned to their Joy Division/Magazine sounding roots - as evidenced on their live track on UTAB2.
ONE WAY SYSTEM (still gigging and recording new material) are probably the best known of the early 80's (3rd wave) of bands, however other distinct notables that played a big role were THE FITS fronted by the charismatic Mick Crudge and sleazy local noise merchants THE GENOCIDES. Born in the early 1980's but coming to the fore in the mid/late 1980's were local heroes the MEMBRANES fronted by GOLDBLADE leader, journalist, author and UK day-time TV personality (heh heh) JOHN ROBB. The MEMBRANES, in addition to another really great band called SIGN LANGUAGE, got pretty extensive media and national airplay with cool songs such as 'TATTY SEASIDE TOWN' and 'MUSCLES', most of which feature on an Anagram compilation from 1999. JOHN has just authored a book 'Punk Rock : An Oral History' on Ebury Press and his band play BLACKPOOL regularly at both festivals (HITS and Summer Daze) and smaller shows (Royal Oak etc).
Moving in to the 1990's when 'punk rock' was catching its breath before its rather surprising re-emergence into modern culture the following decade, there was a relative dearth of bands on the local scene, and ironically I maintain this was one of the best times in a number of ways. A few of us working in and around my old band ERASE TODAY started putting on/ playing gigs with bands such as Leatherface, Green Day, Nation of Ulysees, Offspring, Guns n Wankers, Econochrist, NOFX when these bands were pulling crowds of 60 or 70 people, sometimes far less. The small, neat collective attitude surrounding those times was good and it is interesting to chart the rise of some of these bands - we all knew these bands were great … it was just the rest of the world that didn't. Aside from ERASE TODAY, TAKE LINDY SURFING, PINK TORPEDOES, FES PARKER and maybe KING MOB ECHO there were very few BLACKPOOL bands in that decade that would be filed under the heading 'PUNK ROCK' sure lots of great bands like the CONTAINER DRIVERS, SHRINK, CERAMIC HOBS, THE PHANTOM CREEPS, THEE TRANSMISSIONS but not (at that time anyway) what we would call 'PUNK'.
With the upload of 'punk rock' through the mechanisms of the internet, and some heavy top down investment from our corporate friends at holy places such Warners, EMI, BMG, SONY, UNIVERSAL et al, and largely uploaded courtesy of an MTV generation hungry fro something different, the local band scene in Blackpool (like most places) took a turn for the 'better'.
Since 2000 locally we have seen the rise and rise of SICK56 who will be touring the US next year and have their follow up album out in August / September on JSNTGM (UK) and SOS (USA), the re-emergence of ONE WAY SYSTEM gigging throughout Europe and most recently the return of SECTION 25. In addition to these more recognisable band/brand names there is a real rash of other bands that have either released good music or are active locally. HIGGINS++, UFX, RAZOR DOG, 180 DEGREES, LITTERBUG, SENTON BOMBS, and a couple of really cool female bands PINK HEARSE and SWALLOW.
The connectivity between these eras was witnessed recently at a SWALLOW/ SECTION 25 gig when we established that the bass guitar being used by Kez out of SWALLOW was actually one that had been stolen from my house in the mid 90's. Since then it has been pawned a few times, and been used by a variety of different bands - hilarious .. and also how very BLACKPOOL - the town has a reputation for the legitimacy of making a quick buck, and anything goes re stealing or killing … rather like the seedier side of glitzy Las Vegas … quite funny (and like all stereotypes largely devoid of truth) really.
In addition to these there are a whole bunch of really young bands and a few good day-time all ages shows have been stages in the past few months. We are hoping to get this a regular monthly thing under the name 'Avalanche of Sound' .. all ages during the day and then out of town bands at night on the same day. Of the rich young crop of bands the most well known are OUTLAW and DOWNFORCE both of which are veterans of the Summer Daze festival at such tender ages, and the former are on UTAB2 this summer. Downforce would have been save for some technical corruptions on their hastily put together CD that prevented it being written to CD (shame really as it was a good track).
Other names of newer local bands to watch out for are the amazing WHEN PEOPLE BECOME NUMBERS (think Slipknot - but GOOD!) who should have their debut album out very soon (if they ever agree on the artwork !), THE SENTON BOMBS, KRAUL, LIMOUSINE and the reclusively excellent WALTER AND THE KNOBHEADS.
Many of these bands are featured on the 'Ugly Truth about Blackpool' (UTAB) CD's. Volume 1 was given away free with Blackpool Rox II Fanzine (8) and fingers crossed Volume 2 will be out August 2006 with Blackpool Rox II Fanzine (9) … all supported and financed by the bands.
Before moving on to labels, fanzines, web resources, gigs etc it is worth reflecting briefly on how zines the world over have commented on UTAB1. In pretty much every case (after the usual disclaimer about why SKREWDRIVER are on it) it has received really positive reviews, and about 30 of these are posted on the label website www.jsntgm.com. I should point out that it was made possible by Arts Council money and has resulted in a couple of 'overground' shows with BBC radio - some of you might regard this as us 'getting chummy with the invaders' (Tim Yoho MRR 1988 - SOME OF YR FRIENDS ARE ALREADY THIS FUCKED IN RESPONSE TO ARTICLES IN issue 133) however I would disagree whole-heartedly and defend what we have done and what we are trying to roll out on a UK basis as a series of 'The Ugly Truth about your town'. Still as we know in this age of uncertainty - God is Dead and there are no right answers …. only opinions/perspectives !
I am only aware of a handful have operated / are operating from Blackpool. Is four a handful ? The first was LIGHTBEAT run by local entrepreneur (now taxi driver) Barry Lights. I met him a few times, once after a HIGGINS++ gig where he heartily congratulated us on a Cooper Clarke'esque black narrative we had just performed about having sex with Jamiroquiai, cannibalising him and then concealing his remains in a big pie, which was then sold and eaten by police men conducting the missing persons (murder) investigation. Dark I know, buy hey that's modernity for ya ! It creates the conditions that make us do (and write) strange things.
Barry's label released rekkids by THE FITS, ONE WAY SYSTEM, ANTI-SOCIAL and from further afield the likes of EXTERNAL MENACE. He also did what is now now a fairly rare compilation 12" called 'A Drop In the Ocean' featuring local bands PURE PINK PARRAFIN, THE ELITE, DIVERT OFF CENTRE, THE FRETS and ZOO BOUTIQUE.
Next up was John Robb' VINYL DRIP label which championed the local scene releasing a couple of great 7" compilations featuring THE MEMBRANES, KENNETH TURNER SET, SYNTAX, SECTION 25, SIGN LANGUAGE, love 30, CRACK HOUSE and FIFTH COLUMN and also some out of town releases by BOG SHED etc
Third is the longest running and most prolific local label in terms of volume of output has to be PUMF which is run by local luminary and all-round good egg STAN. STAN who had stints with THE MEMBRANES, DANDELION ADVENTURE and AVIOD amongst others, and now champions and plays with the wonderfully provocative CERAMIC HOBS runs this gem of a label from his HQ deep in the heart of the 'People's Republic of Marton'. He champions the quirky and eclectic side of punk music and has been active with his series of GODSPUNK compilations which have featured local and not so local acts. His website is well worth a visit, and very humorous to boot www.pumf.net.
Label number 4 is my sacrificial offering on the god of music Just Say No To Government Music. JSNTGM Records (doesn't it just slip off the tongue ?) started up in 1990 and has been running on empty ever since - and I must tell you that this label has been a real drain on me spiritually and financially, however 'it is what I do' for some strange reason - possibly there is agenetic explanation. So far we have 20 releases and key names that readers might recognise would be HOOTON 3 CAR, FOUR LETTER WORD, Z28, SICK56, DINA, TRAVIS CUT, ERASE TODAY and a few local compilations and split 7's plus the UTAB series. As the UTAB thing has been so comprehensive and so well received we are seriously thinking of rolling this out throughout the UK in conjunction with other zines focusing on their local scenes. I am currently talking with Andy Culture from Beat Motel about doing and 'Ugly Truth About Ipswich' for instance. Regarding JSNTGM I have three new releases lined up for August - so the label keeps me busy and out of pocket, as well as depressed.
FANZINES & MEDIA
Now I always believe fanzines are the most direct route into the soul of any town or city. If you look at Leeds for instance there are probably 10 (or more) cool fanzines spreading the good disease. Blackpool is by no means prolific in the zine world, however there are 2 well established zines which get a fairly wide readership FOUR MINUTE WARNING and BLACKPOOL ROX II, and a legacy of other zines that have graced the punk rock world.
MITCH who runs FOUR MINUTE WARNING is up to issue 10 and (apologies if I am a little out here as the last issue I can readily lay my hand on Issue 7) has been running for about 5 years. It is very much in the old school 'hand - paste / drawn' design and the music / bands / reviews featured are similarly of and 'old skool' vein. I'd better be careful what or I say or she'll kill me - heh heh. Bands interviewed recently include SICK56, THE EXPLOITED, VICE SQUAD, GBH, KILLING JOKE, so you get my drift.
BLACKPOOL ROX II on the other hand has had a somewhat more unusual history. The original BLACKPOOL ROX was started by John Robb back in the heady days of 1978 a classic hand scribbled affair, highlighting everything local. This ran for 17 issues before it became BLACKPOOL/PRESTON ROX and soon thereafter just ROX finally terminating in 1988. After its 12 year disappearance a conversation with John in the year 2000 resulted in me taking over the baton and re-starting ROX again. In order to delineate the generations of the zine we agreed that it should be called BLACKPOOL ROX II - the second coming if you will ?
BLACKPOOL ROX II started out very much as a crude mechanism to focus on promoting/ building a local scene as I felt Blackpool needed a jab of punk rock culture in its arm rather than smack. Any more high profile stuff such as touring bands I used to send over to DAVE and RUSSELL at FRACTURE. At first BLACKPOOL ROX II was little more than a glorified newsletter with gig/rekkid reviews and a resource for bands to communicate get wired up with each other. Back in 2000 I had access to a high speed copier (*at no expense) so the zines were copies out in runs of 500 and given away for free at gigs and in local indie record stores.
We marked issue 8 with a copy of UTAB1 and issue 9 is going to have UTAB2 volume 2 CD. The free photocopier 'stopped' being free, so I had to start charging from issue 6 onwards. Issue 9 is gonna have interviews with Steve Lake (ZOUNDZ), Frankie Stubbs (LEATHERFACE), Jenny Russell (HITS), Murphy from the Inoculators interviewing Bad Andy who runs 'Hollywood Anarchy', possibly Tim Fite (if his label can answer my e-mails) amongst others and loads of columns and articles, so it marks quite a significant upgrade in both style, content and volume and will be on sale at either £2 or £3 depending on what all the costs stack up to. Not bad considering it will have a 24 track DIY local compilation CD with it.
Other zines from the distant past that register with me are Stan's series of SEX HAT DANCE, the Halliday brothers' one-off FYLDE ENEMY and my EAT THE RICH zine which carried interview in the early 80's with the SUBHUMANS (UK) NEWTOWN NEURTICS, A-HEADS etc In the more recent past I chanced upon a local zine called GROOVESTEW which I think has bitten the dust.
It will be interesting to see if these few zines stay the course with all the on-line web resources around. The main local music web-site is www.blackpoolbands.co.uk run by SKELL which has all the usual chat, gig guide and band related information. This does prove really useful when it comes to keeping in touch with what to cover locally in Rox. A quick cursory surf on the site shows about 50 bands as being registered which is probably about right in terms of functioning / gigging bands in the town.
Other useful web resources are the www.prestone.co.uk site which is mainly focussed on the Preston scene - 15 miles inland from Blackpool - and Paul's growing site www.northwestbands.co.uk which stretches to include the regional centres of Manchester and Liverpool (both cities are about a 45 minute drive from Blackpool - traffic pending obviously - we have a big local car park called the M6!).
The main overground source of music / band information is the local evening newspaper (Blackpool Evening Gazette). ROBIN DUKE, despite all the grief he gets from various sources, runs features most evenings on bands, their releases, gigs etc For instance he ran cool features and reviews on a lot of the Royal Oak punk nights. Being a commercial venture the Gazette sells advertising space and as such I imagine the space available for coverage of bands and the local scene bears a direct relationship to the success of the tele-sales team. For instance if they sell space to 'seductive' offerings like 'The Rod Stewart Musical', 'Queen perform Ga Ga' or even 'A Special Night with Bernard Manning' then the print space for the latest release by Walter and the Knobheads diminishes somewhat, and as ever I guess this is out of the journalist's control. News or mammon ? Well as the main man Rupert Murdoch once opined (you should visit his blog on MySpace.com/rupert murdoch to get the inside track on this media mogul) 'we are not in the news industry . . . . .we are in the entertainments industry' !
Blackpool has had its fair share of gigs over the years and throughout the history of rock'n'roll more generally I guess, however it is currently probably best known for the annual Holidays in the Sun festival. The HITS festival this year has over 170 bands playing on 4 stages over 4 days. It started out in 1996 in Blackpool and since then has sort of alternated / jumped around between Morecambe and Blackpool. It is a big social gathering which takes place at the Winter Gardens which is the central location for entertainments in Blackpool. H.I.T.S. champions all sorts of punk although it is regarded widely focusing primarily on the old skool. Headliners this year are SHAM 69, COCK SPARRER, LEFTOVER CRACK, EXPLOITED, DAMNED, GBH etc but if you look through the listings you will find everything from PATRICK FITZGERALD to JERRY'S KIDS. Last time around I saw THE AVENGERS and THE SKULLS for the first time ever.
I will be dividing my time this year racing between the Leeds Out Of Spite Festival offering the likes of LEATHERFACE, SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS and MILLOY and the HITS fest in BLACKPOOL.
In the late 70's the main locations for gigs tended to be The Mecca (now a bowling alley, cart racing place), Jenks (an incarnation of which still exists) and The Norbreck Castle. Key gigs way back when were from touring bands such as THE SAINTS, JOY DIVISION. AC-DC. The later 70's saw the Mardi Gras hosting U2, THE FALL, THE HIGSONS to small crowds whilst bigger touring bands such as THE BOOMTOWN RATS, THE JAM, SPECIALS, MADNESS etc played circuit venues like the ABC and The Winter Gardens. To see most of the main touring bands like THE CLASH, RAMONES, THE CURE, ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN you had to get a lift or a bus up to LANCASTER UNIVERSITY, but they stopped the MAIN HALL gigs in the mid 80's. A good 3rd wave festival held in 1981 at the BIER-KELLER with ONE WAY SYSTEM, PTTB, ABRASIVE WHEELS and THE ADICTS (I think) laid the foundations for a lot of future gigs upstairs at this venue in the mid 80's. TOY DOLLS, ANGELIC UPSTARTS, NEWTOWN NEUROTICS, GBH, CHELSEA all paid a few visits. This was rather irksome as I was at college in Manchester at this time and believe me Manchester was crap for gigs (except for JILLIES which staged CONFLICT, BROKEN BONES, THE ENEMY, POISON GIRLS, GBH etc), so the Swapmeet Kid and I would need to catch the train/bus back home to watch these bands.
Into the mid/late 80's and early 90's and very little locally in terms of touring bands you would want to see. To see FUGAZI, POISON IDEA, SUGAR then Manchester was the place. Swapmeet and I managed to pull across the likes of THE BLAGGERS, LEATHERFACE, UK SUBS, SLOPPY SECONDS, SCUM PUPS, EXIT CONDITION and GUNS'n'WANKERS to ERASE TODAY shows at THE TACHE, but they were always a struggle to even cover the costs of the PA.
One key local band/gig focus was the local annual BLACKPOOL rock battle which ran for over 25 years thanks to local music journalist ROBIN DUKE. Robin persevered for years despite a welter of abuse, beer and curses from the partisan crowds. Over the years an estimated 500 bands played these events which consisted of a series of heats and a final. A local mixed platform for bands such as MALE MODELS, KENNETH TURNER SET, THE DEFAKATORS, THE MEMBRANES, IN2XS, THE FITS , ONE WAY SYSTEM, UPROAR (Newcastle) and latterly SHRINK, ERASE TODAY and BOXED was a welcomed chance for us to strut our punk rock feathers at a disapproving world.
This event has stalled from about 2003, however it would be an interesting experiment to run it again and gauge the response and type of band / style of music that would be played. I guesstimate it would be punkier now than at any stage since 79/80 - read in to this what you will.
The local gig watching scene throughout the year now is still split between the bigger bands BLONDIE, PAUL WELLER, EMBRACE, ARCTIC MONKEYS etc playing the 'bus in and bus us the hell outta here' big band venues like the Winter Gardens, and the local initiatives that have been happening at the likes of Jenks, The West Coast, The Blue Rooms, Beat, The Royal Oak and The Tache. There is certainly more going on locally than ever before with local gigs. Most weekends all year round Julian at Jenx and Andy at The West Coast have a mixture of local and regional bands from Manchester, Preston, Lancaster etc. Bands also play at the now well attended monthly theme nights at West Coast are run by DIGGER (Punk nite) and ANDY ODD-BOOTS (Goth nite) which have both been running for the last 6 months and are creating neat little communities of like minded people. Additionally there are the BLACKOUT and FELTCH NIGHT collectives which are run by and thus cater for a network of bands such as STORMY WEATHERS, CSOD, WHEN PEOPLE BECOME NUMBERS etc
Over the past 3 years a thriving little venue (The Royal Oak - Poulton) on the outskirts of Blackpool has become really popular owing very much to the hard work of Paul and Carl Swinnerton. This is a small venue which can hold about 150 and these well staged gigs have included, in addition to a raft of local bands, the likes of THE BUSINESS, PHINIUS GAGE, RED AS MONKEY, CRASHED OUT, THE EPOXIES, THE BRIEFS, TV SMITH, THE VIBRATORS, GOLDBLADE, THE DEAD PETS, DEADLINE, PISTOL GRIP, INSTANT AGONY etc Poulton is the possibly one of the most unlikeliest of places you would expect to see gigs like these and it just shows what can be achieved if a few people work hard and pit their minds to it.
Attempts by a few of us and particularly JULIAN and NIGEL at Millenium to try and bridge the gap by staging in-between size acts like JOE STRUMMER AND THE MESCALEROS and JELLO BIAFRA resulted in either barely covering costs or a whopping loss - as happened with me when I put JELLO BIAFRA on at Blackpool Football Club … we almost got the venue for free and still it cost me a grand ! The week earlier we saw him in Manchester in front of 500, we only had 150 at our show - ouch ! This costly gig combined with me pulling a crowd of 20 to a DINA album launch on the BLACKPOOL date of their Northern UK mini tour in 2004 resulted in the term being coined (whenever some promoter is having a disaster re numbers) 'I'm having a Higgins !' - quite funny isn't it … I don't mind. So although the town can support some good cool initiatives and reasonable sized bands anything getting above that type of radar and in the zone of chart celebrity fandom is either grabbed by the big concert promoters like SJM or left to hang for us gullible but kind hearted locals like us to take to take a gamble and lose - hey but at least those big friends of 'punk rock' the promoters always cover their costs - now that's a relief isn't it !One final annual event worth mentioning is the SUMMER DAZE festival which takes place on the last weekend in August. This August will be its third year and it is certainly gaining momentum each year. It is a free all day open air festival featuring 12-15 local bands doing short sets. Last year over 500 people turned up to see the likes of GOLDBLADE, SECTION 25, PERFECT RIOT, GARLAND GREEN, OUTLAW, SOUND OF SUPERSTRING, HIGGINS++, DOWNFORCE etc This year we hope to be setting up gigs in the West Coast, Blue Room etc all weekend so it can become a sort of 'SUMMER DAZE WEEKEND' for loads of underground bands rather than just the 8 hour festival in the local park.
'Venue size' has always been a bit of a block to staging certain bands. Aside from The Tache and Beat which are the biggest of the small clubs comfortably holding 250/300 people, if you want a mid sized 500-600 venue then you are struggling. You then enter the realm of venues such as the Winter Gardens who can sell out shows like RADIOHEAD, ARCTIC MONKETS, KINGS OF LEON, RICHARD ASHCROFT and FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND in a couple of days with minimal advertising, but obviously local initiatives cannot click their fingers and make the same thing happen. Well it's not that easy - see for the example of the really cool and creative Wah Wah festival which was to be a combination of underground cinema, local bands, arts and a couple of recently signed bands … it had to be pulled owing to poor ticket sales.
The local council set up a 'task force' in 2003 with the aim of finding a central location in Blackpool where artists, labels, photographers and anyone working in the 'creative industries' could locate their enterprise. Similar experiments in larger cities such as Manchester (Mount Street) and Birmingham (Custard Factory) have worked well but for a variety of reasons this has not progressed. A few people within the council have been pretty supportive of events such as Summer Daze, Wah Wah, UTAB1 providing assistance wherever possible The moving picture is playing an increasing role these days and the local higher education college does specialise in related areas so there is a growing community in this area. BOZ PHILIPS ex of AVOID, who has been a key figure on the local punk scene for many years, is a film-maker who sets up regular local showcases of short films at Blott studios - always keen to get more contributors involved she is available on firstname.lastname@example.org. Another really great focus for local bands is the TEN : 10 series run by film-maker and record sleeve designer JAMES WOLSTENHOLME. This project involves ten local bands get assigned ten local filmmakers, who then each shoot the bands video and the output gets incorporated into a video-production which gets showcased one evening at the local Odeon cinema. This is good experience for the film-maker, a free video for the band and a chance to showcase to a wider audience. So far James done two of these events, both have attracted good crowds and it is something that he will hopefully progress/develop to other undergrounds throughout the UK.
The demise of the local independent record store is something close to all our hearts. Blackpool now has 2 chains HMV and MUSIC ZONE and a few independents such as COBWEB in Poulton, SADDLE RECORDS in Layton, RECORDS and RELICS in the town centre (TWISTED CLOTHING also carries a few local titles), THE BEACH MARKET and MELODY HOUSE in South Shore. These deal variously in new and second hand vinyl, CD's and tapes, as well as books, DVD's etc. Our Price and Virgin both passed through in the Mc1990's but disinvested as fast as they had invested. The nearest strong independent that carries a good stock of 'our' music is ACTION in Preston , then further afield there's PICCADILLY and VINYL SOLUTION in Manchester and PROBE in Liverpool. In the late 70's Blackpool boasted a whole bunch of good independent stores SINFONIA, MUSIC MANIA 1 and 2, RAY'S MELODY INN/GRAFFITI, SUPERCARDS alas no more the only remaining one from those halcyon days is Dave at COBWEB.
The local gigs at the Royal Oak always have a few stands with records and clothes. The main local punk rock dealer is Paul Swinnerton's NORTH RECORDS and the heaviest user of this junk is personal long time friend and Blackpool Rox II contributor 'The Swapmeet Kid' who on recent estimates has OVER 25,000 punk rock records and CD's. We released Jello Biafra into the Swapmeet's bunker in October 2003 - he didn't emerge until January 2004, and that was after some coaxing … heh heh
OK, so that's about it I reckon. Apologies to any elements I have not included. Below is the track listing on the two 'Ugly Truth about Blackpool' CD's and links to some of the websites / resources I have mentioned. Right I am now off to get the formatting done for Blackpool Rox Issue 9 and chase up When People Become Numbers and Aston on that SICK56 album artwork - 'it's all go' being a punk rock loser.
XXX - Andy Higgins (late July 2006) - printed in MRR #281 October 2006