Review: North East Calling, Northumbria University, Newcastle

Punk's heyday may have been in the late 1970s, but for a whole generation of music fans it's still the only music that matters.

That's why hundreds of them from around the North East made the annual pilgrimage on Saturday to the latest edition of the all-day event which started life back in 2005 as Durham Punk Festival.

Cockney Rejects.

Cockney Rejects.

Yes, it's mainly a heritage festival celebrating the bands which the audience loved when they were teenagers.

But the healthy smattering of younger fans present, and the fact promoter Jon Connor is savvy enough to put on some of today's leading bands, as well as the old-timers, suggests there's plenty of life left in the festival yet.

The openers this year were Guitar Gangsters, a three-piece from London who, by their own admission "have done lots of stuff with lots of different people and still aren't famous".

They have been making punchy pop-punk for night on 30 years, and you couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for them, having come such a long way to play in front of a sparsely-attended room, as most of the crowd hadn't arrived yet.

Guitar Gangsters

Guitar Gangsters

Guitarist and lead vocalist Pete Ley commented on how odd their 12.30pm opening slot felt, but it didn't stop them turning in an enjoyable half-hour set of songs like That's When The Razor Cuts, Going To London and Turn The Tables, and the good news for the converted is that they have a new album coming out soon.

They were followed by ***** Volcano and the Eruptions, a side project from the rudely-named guitarist of Dirt Box Disco (more of them later).

The frontman ditches the guitar and concentrates on vocals which are a bit more hardcore (but just as silly) as those he writes for his main band, and they're gaining quite a following in their own right with songs like XR3, Sellotape, Hanging Round The Shops and DNA Failure.

It was guitarist Chris's last gig with the band, and he played throughout with a huge grin on his face, so it's hopefully one he'll have fond memories of.

Slaughter II

Slaughter II

Slaughter II features drummer Brian Grantham, from original 1976 Manchester punks Slaughter & The Dogs, and he's joined by a guitarist and bassist to make up a three-piece who churn out a catchy brand of glam-punk.

They played a couple of new songs, but it was their versions of SATD tunes Boston Babies and Where Have All The Bootboys Gone? which went down best, though a timing mix-up meant they didn't have time for another crowd favourite, Cranked Up Really High.

Zounds, from Reading, formed in 1977, and were involved in the squatting and free festival scene spearheaded by Crass. They split in 1982, but reformed 10 years ago, and have been a going concern ever since.

It was a surprise to hear singer Steve Lake say they had never played in Newcastle before (though they did play the festival when it was in Durham), and their set of oldies like Subvert went down well with the anarcho-punks among the crowd.

Dirt Box Disco

Dirt Box Disco

From the old to the (relatively) new; next up were one of the fastest rising stars of the UK punk scene, Dirt Box Disco, a five-piece who hail from the Midlands, and their appearance brought a noticeable increase in the size of the crowd.

Yes, they dress in daft costumes, but look beyond that and they're a band who have an arsenal of huge singalong anthems that will bring a smile to your face on even the dreariest of days.

Scary clown-faced singer Weab.I.Am even wore a new onesie for the occasion as they raced through a mini-set full of classics such as Burning, My Life Is ****, My Girlfriend's Best Friend's Sister and I Don't Wanna Go Out With You.

If you've never seen them - and there were one or two here who hadn't - make the effort next time they're in these parts (at the O2 Academy next July); they're excellent.

Gimp Fist, from Bishop Auckland, are no strangers to this festival, having played just about every one in the last 10 years, and they turned in a rousing set of fists-in-the-air street-punk.

Their 40-minute set passed all too quickly, with new songs like Top Dog from recent album Never Give Up On You sitting happily alongside old favourites such as Heart Full Of Pride, (Marching) On And On and traditional closer Here I Stand.

Gimp Fist

Gimp Fist

They even played a brand new song, Never Let Go, which is due to be released as a single soon, and I'm glad to say it's up their usual high standard.

Subhumans were the biggest surprise of the day. I remember hearing the anarcho-punk outfit from Wiltshire years ago, and deciding that they weren't for me.

It looks like I've got some catching up to do with their back catalogue because here, led by original vocalist Dick Lucas, they were on blistering form.

Next up were a band who are the punk equivalent of Marmite; most people either love or hate Brighton's Peter and The Test Tube Babies.

Lead singer Peter Bywaters was in mischievous mood from the start, calling the crowd "northern monkeys", and mocking Newcastle United's recent defeat at Brighton.

They started well with a couple of oldies, Moped Lads and Run Like Hell, and threw in a couple of songs from new album That Shallot. The fans in the audience lapped it up, others, like myself, took the opportunity to visit the bar or merch stands.

West London punky-reggae masters Ruts DC, who released one of my favourite albums of last year in Music Must Destroy, were next, and they are a band who continue to go from strength to strength.

Bassist 'Segs' Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy are joined by guitarist Leigh Heggarty, who brings his own distinctive style to old Ruts songs like Staring At the Rude Boys and Babylon's Burning, as well as firing through new songs like Kill The Pain. Another great performance.

Things were starting to liven up now, and biker punks Anti-Nowhere League turned the anticipation up a few notches with a set which rolled back the years.

They became notorious back in 1981 when their debut single, a cover of Ralph McTell's Streets Of London, was banned due to its expletive-filled B side So What.

Their first album We Are ... The League, is a classic, as long as you don't take them or their lyrics too seriously. They're a good live band, with songs like Woman, I Hate People and Snowman prompting big singalongs.

South Shields' Angelic Upstarts celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, and singer Mensi delivers his songs with just as much passion as he did in their chart-bothering years when they even appeared on Top Of The Pops.

Oldies like Never 'Ad Nothin', Last Night Another Soldier and Police Oppression still pack a powerful punch, as did the rarely-played England, and a stunning Solidarity.

Today was also about remembering those who are no longer with us too, and Anti Nazi was dedicated to the man who wrote it, ex-Upstart Tony van Frater, who died two years ago.

The guitarist also played bass for headliners Cockney Rejects, and they, too, dedicated a song to him, playing The Power And The Glory after bringing members of his family onstage, which was a nice touch.

Van Frater and former Leatherface drummer Andrew Laing gave the Rejects a North East connection for many years, and it's a part of the country they're clearly fond of.

The East End boys stepped in as headliners after original choice The Exploited were forced to pull out due to singer Wattie's health issues, and they showed why they were top of the bill.

Singer Jeff Geggus is a bundle of energy, leaping about the stage shadowboxing when he's not belting out Oi! classics like Fighting In The Streets, Bad Man and Join The Rejects.

He said the band's attitude is "play each show like it's your last," and they did just that, absolutely tearing through 16 songs in their allotted 45 minutes..

His brother Mickey on guitar, Lainey on drums and returning bassist Vince Riordan played like their lives depended on it, and it was an exhausted but happy crowd who left the room at the end, looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Subhumans

Subhumans

Peter and The Test Tube Babies

Peter and The Test Tube Babies

Ruts DC

Ruts DC

Anti-Nowhere League

Anti-Nowhere League

Angelic Upstarts

Angelic Upstarts