REVIEW: North East Calling, Northumbria University, Newcastle

In Evil Hour were appearing at North East Calling for the first time.
In Evil Hour were appearing at North East Calling for the first time.

It's 40 years since punk rock emerged spitting and snarling from the London art school scene in the guise of the Sex Pistols.

They were a flame who burned bright for a brief period, but provided the spark for a movement which, despite what the critics will tell you, is far from dead.

Local band The Fiend powered through a 30-minute set of raging hardcore.

Local band The Fiend powered through a 30-minute set of raging hardcore.

Today's punk bands - whether they're 'heritage acts' reliving past glories or younger groups influenced by the heroes of their youth, play to the devoted most nights of the week.

You'll probably find a punk band most nights in a small pub or club in any decent-sized town, and the scene all comes together every year in Blackpool for the celebration that is Rebellion Festival.

It sees 4,000 punks from all over the world converge on the Winter Gardens for four days on the first weekend in August, and there's never a scrap of trouble.

This year's was the 20th consecutive festival, and it's showing no signs of stopping, with plenty of new bands coming through.

Most of Chelsea frontman Gene October's anger was saved for the soundman.

Most of Chelsea frontman Gene October's anger was saved for the soundman.

Some fans can't afford four days away, however, and that's where one-day festivals such as North East Calling come into their own.

It started out in 2005 as Durham Punk Festival, and, in recent years, has found a new home at Northumbria University in Newcastle, as well as a new name.

This year's line-up contained a good mix of 'heritage' acts and newer bands, and the place was fairly bouncing by the time the later bands on the bill took to the stage.

The undercard was as strong as ever, though, with Penrith band No Thrills opening proceedings in lively fashion in their lunchtime slot, despite a no-show from their bass player. I hadn;'t seen them before, but will be making a note of trying to do so again - hopefully as a four-piece next time.

Gimp Fist made a triumphant return to North East Calling after missing last year.

Gimp Fist made a triumphant return to North East Calling after missing last year.

Criminal Mind, who were next up, came all the way from Bristol to smash through a blistering half-hour of hardcore streetpunk, and they're another band I must find out more about.

A more familiar name was next, as In Evil Hour, the first of four North East bands on the bill, took to the stage.

They play frenzied hardcore at breakneck speed, and have built up a growing following well beyond their Darlington hometown with incessant touring, 2013 album The World Bleeds Out and 2015 EP Built On Our Backs.

If you've never heard them, don't underestimate frontwoman Alice; she might be stick insect-thin, but she has the roar of a lion and stage presence by the bucketload.

Dirt Box Disco had the crowd singing along with every word to their catchy anthems.

Dirt Box Disco had the crowd singing along with every word to their catchy anthems.

This was their first appearance at North East Calling, but I don't think it will be the last.

More local interest followed with The Fiend, a Tyneside-based hardcore band who were founded way back in 1982.

They reformed a few years ago, and are still going full-pelt, with new guitarist Bartek slotting in to the established line-up nicely as they shredded their way through classics like Bring Out Your Dead.

Many old punks bemoan the lack of new bands on the scene, saying there's no new talent coming through. They obviously haven't come across Dirt Box Disco.

Formed in the Midlands seven years ago, they are fast becoming one of the scene's best-loved bands. Strip away the daft names, the facepaint and stage costumes, and they have a collection of addictive tunes which put the fun into punk, in much the same way the Toy Dolls did 30-odd years ago.

Despite vocalist Weeb.I.Am suffering from man flu, they put on the kind of high-energy show which saw them fill the Empress Ballroom at Rebellion last year in a mid-afternoon slot.

Ruts DC played songs from their new album, alongside their classics.

Ruts DC played songs from their new album, alongside their classics.

Crowd favourites like Burning, Tragic Roundabout, My Girlfriend's Best Friend's Sister and My Life Is **** had the audience joining in with every word, and left huge smiles on the faces of band and fans alike.

Gimp Fist are another local band who have built a good reputation with steady gigging and a fistful of anthemic singalong songs, and they are North East Calling regulars.

The three-piece from Bishop Auckland broke up last summer, but returned this year, to a heroes' welcome, and are already working on new material.

They played one brand new song here, alongside such established fan favourites as Marching On, War On The Streets and their excellent cover of Perkele's Heart Full Of Pride, and, as usual, they went down a storm.

That was the newer bands out of the way. We had reached the midway point, and from here on it was pure nostalgia time, beginning with original 1976 punks Chelsea.

Singer Gene October has been a mainstay of the punk scene for 40 years, but seemed intent on labouring the point here that bands further down the bill deserve just as much volume from the soundman as the headliners.

It sounded fine from where I was as they trotted out songs like I'm On Fire and Right To Work, but maybe it's this sense of injustice which has kept the fire inside him burning bright for so long.

Next were one of the bands I'd looked forward to most: Ruts DC, who have been known by their current moniker since the tragic heroin death of vocalist Malcolm Owen in 1980. They had a lot of years away from the scene, but returned in 2007, and seem re-invigorated.

They've just released a fine new album, Music Must Destroy, and although they're known for their punky reggae, it's a rock album of the first order, and the title track, lead single Psychic attack and Kill The Pain were given a warm reception.

It was the old songs which the fans wanted to hear though, and Jah War, Staring At The Rude Boys, Babylon's Burning and In A Rut were greeted like the stone-cold classics they are.

GBH, leading lights of the UK82 scene, who have never split up, and still contain three of the original four members, were next to hit the stage, and if the ante had already been upped, they raised it considerably.

Songs like Sick Boy, City Baby Attacked By Rats, No Survivors and Big Women ("we can't play Newcastle without playing this") showed why they have retained such a faithful following for so many years.

If GBH have been around the block a few times, they must have been lapped several time by UK Subs, led by the evergreen Charlie Harper. Another band who have never split up or stopped touring, for many people they embody what punk is all about.

There's a local connection this time too, as they have Steve Straughan from North East band Loaded 44 as a recent recruit on guitar, and he has fitted in seamlessly, getting a thumbs-up and knowing nod from Charlie, who's still going strong at 72.

Ziezo, their latest album, completed their A-Z set of a record beginning with each letter of the alphabet, and they played a trio of songs from it here, as well as old favourites like Stranglehold, Tomorrow's Girls, Emotional Blackmail, Party In Paris and the anthemic Warhead.

Another band who have a new album out are the last local band on the bill, Angelic Upstarts, who have split and reformed more often than The Who. Singer Mensi is the only original member left, and he's hinted that 2017 might be their final fling, as they celebrate their 40th anniversary.

While his performance might be lacking the energy of old, none of the fire in his belly is gone, as he rages through punk gems like I'm An Upstart, Leave Me Alone, Never 'Ad Nothin', Liddle Towers and Last Night Another Soldier - the latter dedicated to a war veteran who died after having his benefits stopped.

The new songs burn with indignation too: Tories, Tories, Tories (Out, Out, Out) and Red Flag sit comfortably alongside the old stuff, and the addition of In Evil Hour singer Alice as guest vocalist gives the band another dimension.

In front of what's almost a hometown crowd, there was the danger of the Upstarts stealing the show from headliners Sham 69, but you knew within a couple of minutes of frontman Jimmy Pursey leaping onstage that that wasn't going to happen.

Pursey was never everyone's cup of tea, but he's a consumate showman, and with guitarist Dave Parsons and bassist Dave Tregunna from the classic '77 line-up, and powerhouse drummer Robin Guy, they showed what a good band they were before their career was derailed by the right-wing element of their following, with a set going all the way back to their roots.

What Have We Got, Rip Off, George Davis Is Innocent, Borstal Breakout, Angels With Dirty Faces and If The Kids Are United were dusted off and blazed through, before the night ended with a two-song encore of Hersham Boys and Hurry Up Harry.

Promoter Jon Connor deserves a lot of credit for bringing this 'mini-Rebellion' to the North East, and after such a strong line-up this year, his only problem is going to be how on earth he follows it in 2017.

GBH showed they have lost none of their power or speed with a fast-paced set.

GBH showed they have lost none of their power or speed with a fast-paced set.

The evergreen Charlie Harper at the helm of the UK Subs.

The evergreen Charlie Harper at the helm of the UK Subs.

Angelic Upstarts singer Mensi showed that his anger still burns bright.

Angelic Upstarts singer Mensi showed that his anger still burns bright.

Jimmy Pursey is such a showman that Sham 69 were never going to be upstaged as headliners.

Jimmy Pursey is such a showman that Sham 69 were never going to be upstaged as headliners.