We pack into a proper UK cab, 5 of us and gear, and I wait for the driver to kick us out as the TX4 bottoms out its suspension.
But he just nods at the jump seats in the back and smiles.
“Are ya in lads? Looks intimate but it ain’t too long , the ride.”
I get into the front seat and chat with the driver on the short ride to Blackpool North Station
My shoes make an audible smack as I move them on the cab floormats, still sticky from the Empress Ballroom floor. I ask him what he thinks about the punkers on their annual invasion of his town.
“Ah, lovely, you lot,” he says. He makes a right turn onto the left lane, and I grip at the dashboard instinctively, so ingrained my years of being stuck in the right hand lanes of So Ca traffic.
We’re leaving the festival early on Sunday for the show in Leeds. Wintergardens is just filling in now, the campers gearing up for the final day.
I look out the side mirror and watch the Blackpool Tower growing smaller behind us.
Friday August 3 London
“Good Lord, they grow them big back in California I reckon,” says the elder stagehand at The Underworld.
We’re crowding the backstage after an early show in Camden, and the happy Brit peers up at us and the TSOL guys surrounding him at load out. It’s true, not a guy back here looks under 6’3″.
It’s was a merciful 7:45 set time in London, and the whole gig is over by 10pm.
Now why can’t we keep these sensible business hours back home, I ask ya?
O no, it’s usually, say, we’d like to keep the bar hopping til last call, so why don’t you guys hold off til 1:15am, 25 minute set….. sound good?
But in bustling Camdentown, the crowd has better things to do. We bid TSOL and Infirmities crew good night and are out skipping around the sloppy streets before the sun is fully retired.
We set off for the greasy treats that wait as reward.
We’ve spent the day down in the Tube, up on the streets, broiling under the incongruous sunlight baking the town.
Being the tourists on tour.
You can’t quite believe you are seeing Tower Bridge even as you walk across it, so used to CGI and Disneyana are we.
I spit a furtive loogie into the muddy Thames, just to prove to myself I am here.
To play in London is to compete with this wild wicked city, the sparkle of modern LED playing against those monumental monuments.
We’ve played here quite a few times, but the thrill remains.
A gig in the middle of this place, so far removed from the abandoned roller rinks of our past.
Sunday August 5 Leeds
A couple of nights later it is a gritty Leeds industrial complex for Bloodstains Fest.
A different vibe now, the cab drops us on a deserted backstreet.
We wander up and down the block til a barred window opens and the Spider crew shouts insults from above.
Temple of Boom venue opens up into a maze of halls and stairways, clandestinely fitting for a torture porn movie or maybe an Iphone manufacturing sweatshop.
Here the walls sweat as the bands grind out their sets in the bunkers, and the Northern crowd is close.
This is a throwback to our very roots, a ghost re-purposed, a jewel of found art among the ungentrified blocks.
There are no yellow jacketed security guards in sight, the young lady taking tickets also shows us the trick to using the flat toilet above the club.
There is no reason to be here on this shadowy dead-end street unless you came for the show, and this crew rallies for day 3 of this fest, give the bands a proper audience.
We get off stage as wet as after a playful shove into a pool.
A rare treat to catch The Weirdos here, hell, anywhere really!
Hector limps by as we watch the brothers Denney killing it, and though I have scolded him a dozen times he’s gone and hurt himself with those wildman stage antics.
What I tell ya kid, huh?
Saturday August 4 Blackpool
Both shows great, the urbane and industrial , but it is the Rebellion Festival sandwiched in between that brought us back UK yet again.
We figure this was Rebellion fest #7 for us, though the first time up in Morecambe might’ve still been a Holiday in The Sun, and one Rebellion was in Amsterdam.
But it is hilarious Blackpool to which we return with bird-like instinct, genetically drawn to a place that offers a home.
Not much can be said that you don’t already know.
Perhaps you finally gave in and bought tickets over, unable to resist the tractor beam lure of those insane lineups.
Or maybe you’ve just been tortured through social media all week, the breathless updates from pals in England.
Your phone chirping away on your nightstand in the middle of the night, its screen illuminating the room as your friends post yet another photo of fish and chips or Punk God selfies while you try to get in another 20 minutes before work. Fuckers.
It has become the international punk festival all right, more like a convention or jamboree for these jolly scouts.
Held fittingly in a tacky seaside resort, the cobblestones awash in Hen Party vomit, the ever-present scent of frying grease and last night’s booze.
More Laughlin then Vegas, if you will. And fun-man!
You find yourself exhausted at the end of each day, that tradeshow-like weariness from smiling non stop and standing for hours.
You wander the halls with a schedule damp in your hand, highlighted and crosschecked, feeling like a freshman trying to complete Fall registration only to find Lit 101 already full.
Oh shit, UK Subs starting their Empress set 15 minutes after Nick Cash has started his acoustic set in the Spanish Suite!
Spider hits the Introducing Stage at 4,though Alfie hardly needs an introduction to these halls. They win over the crowd with their So Ca hardcore, and then we rush over to catch The Vapors next door.
I try to explain to people how this fest is all under one roof, and I can see by the blinking responses that it simply does not compute.
People picture a usual festival layout, a couple Mega outdoor stage separated by flimsy pop ups and tired food stalls.
Nah man, picture Buena Park Mall, I tell them, and Sears is one venue, Walmart another, Hot Dog on a Stick would be the art gallery, Buffalo Wild Wings the Acoustic salon…… kinda?
Nicky does double duty this year, playing drums with the mighty Lower Class Brats on the revamped Casbah stage 9pm.
Bones handles the crowd like a pro, and has the crowd on his skinny side from the downbeat.
We are assigned to the Arena this year, a nice layout just underneath The Empress where-lucky us-Stiff Little Fingers is playing at the same time.
But we are relieved to find a decent crowd waiting for our set, and we go up and play, finish our Rebellion all too fast.
Mid set, we stop the noise to call out to our lost brother Steve Soto.
Some lighters flame up, we get the biggest response of the set in his name.
Soto’s spirit is floating through these halls that he so enjoyed playing, though probably not as much as catching up with the countless fans and friends all in one place.
It’s damn late when we finally wrap it up and visit the corner chippy.
It is not quite 3:30m am when we finally put heads down to pillow, the greasy Cod conjured up once again by a sleepy burp.
I delay our Leeds train til 3pm so we can get more time in Blackpool.
John Lydon is holding court in the Opera House, slouching on a sofa and spewing out the type of stuff your drunk uncle likes to say at Thanksgiving, just to get a rise out of Mom.
“Ah that Trump, I like him, I do,” he says, then mugs to the booing crowd as if breaking the fourth wall in a tired sitcom. It has become charming and harmless, his act, like the toothless wino who is always on the morning bus but is ignored even as he threatens to slit your worthless throat yet again.
Glitter Trash kick things off in the Empress and gets the decent hangover crowd going. Jenna does her marching dance past Loren, who lays it down with that Detroit/LA Coolness learned by decades on the boards.
We have time to check in with Robbie Fields who rests up in the Subway patio, saving his physical and emotional strength for the Adolescents who are still out on the M6 heading North.
We regretfully leave as the crowd starts to file in for day four.
It is a big one, Michael Monroe and PIL, and we get reports of The Adolescents’ emotional set later on.
It takes a while to round up the fellas and grab the cab.
Everyone has another goodbye to deliver, one more T shirt to grab at the Bazaar.
We leave Blackpool not quite sure we’ll ever be back to play, yet sure we will return regardless.
Dancing in the aisles with Nick Cash
“Nah, it’s the stag and hens, that crowd is horrible!” the cabbie says, referring to the parade of Bachelor/Bachelorette parties that descend upon this Holiday town with Fireball induced fury.
It is not unusual to see gals in way too tight miniskirts fighting with the local cops around 2 am.
The Emergency room bulges like a war-time triage unit, not with punkers bleeding from pit wounds, but birds with twisted ankles, casualties of stripper platforms amongst the cobblestone.
“But you lot, the punkers, lovely,” he repeats. “I mean, yer an older crowd, ain’t ya?”
And I guess I never thought of that.
To be sure, it’s nice to not be the villains in town for once, but still, older?
The word stings with its inherent cargo of terminal dread.
But then, I have that common perspective forged of youth, assuming everyone else is older.
I just assume elected politicians and pro athletes are older than me, even as I shadow them by decades.
Still address the cop who pulls me over as Sir , though he was born after I found my first gray pubic hair.
We pull up to Blackpool North and spill out. The train from Preston has unloaded and a new crew heads to Rebellion.
Some bald patches ringed in purple hair, a few Crass shirts filled round as globes over beer bellies.
You might hear those people who say, Oh yeah, punk. I was really into that when I was in High School, before adding, Like Green Day, right? do they still play?
But to see the crowd that return year after year, the passion that plays across their faces as they report to the halls once again, the sincere hugs exchanged.
Old? Nah man.