I missed the 2019 Rebellion Festival, then Rona killed 2020 and 2021, so I was beyond excited for this year’s super-sized festival at the Winter Gardens and new R-fest, a giant makeshift arena just under the historic Blackpool tower on the beach to accommodate an even bigger crowd. Some fans held on to their tickets for 3 years, and with punks on their way from all over the globe, the expected attendance numbers reached over 15,000. The city of Blackpool was ready and waiting for us, fully stocked with beer and Buckfast.
I hopped on a train full of punks from London to Blackpool, and five beers, three hours and some new friends later, I arrived buzzing in Blackpool along with 15,000 other punks who seemed to have taken over the town. It was Wednesday, the day before any actual official festivities, and you couldn’t go outside without seeing someone with a mohawk and a beer in one hand and a bottle of Buckfast in the other. Fathers and sons with matching mohawks and leather jackets, babies in tiny battle vests and moms with liberty spikes made this a true family affair. With kids under 12 being free and loads of family friendly activities in and out of Rebellion it does make for a great family vacation. Although I came to Rebellion to enjoy considerably less wholesome activities, perhaps next year I’ll bring the grandkids.
It seems everyone in Blackpool loves Rebellion. I spoke with a woman on the tram on my way to the Winter Gardens on Thursday who was well into her 70’s, who commented that Rebellion is always great for Blackpool and the punks are so nice. I arrived at the Blackpool tower and the R-fest grounds, which are huge and very impressive, and as I made my way to the Winter Gardens, the area was swarming with punks. You are allowed to drink on the street in the UK and it seemed everywhere you looked there was a punk picnic, everyone drinking and laughing. The Winter Gardens is a huge convention center and entertainment complex with 6 different theaters, plus countless bars, cafes and room for about 500 vendors. So you have to prioritize and catch what you can in between.
The first band I actually got to take in was The Warriors, an English Oi! band I’d never heard of before, but now, I consider myself a fan. Catchy, hard and fast that had that room moving. I then waited for Steve Ignorant’s incredible Slice of Life. Slice of Life is not derivative of CRASS—the only thing they have in common is that Steve is one of the singers. It’s kind of folky, kind of punky, kind of its own thing and definitely the perfect direction for Steve’s work. The performance felt very intimate and spectacular at the same time.
I made my way back to the Casbah for the last 3 songs from ANTI-FLAG. They had a huge crowd and no one was leaving because the Circle Jerks were next. Southern California’s own wasted no time and machine-gunned out 32 songs that just blew us all away. After the Circle Jerks, I ran down to R-fest for the LEVELLERS because how could I not? The R-Fest arena was completely packed. I couldn’t even get close enough for photos but I stayed until the end and it was fantastic. The LEVELLERS never disappoint, always putting on great show.
I was back bright and early on Friday at noon for Migraña Social, my favorite hardcore band from Mexico City and they were fucking awesome. You don’t need to speak Spanish to understand their music, it feels very universal. After that was Tiger Sex. Singer Kelly not only crowd surfed while drinking beer from her shoe and serving it to thirsty fans, she climbed to the very top of the stage scaffolding, scaring the crap out of event staff. It was great.
I then went to check out Booze and Glory, which was a rollicking, crowd-surfing, chaotic good time. Afterwards was Paul Cook’s The Professionals who alway put on an excellent show. Next up was the SUBHUMANS: Dick Lucas had the crowd in his hand at every second with an extremely high energy performance. The whole room seemed to move in unison. Next was the big one for me—Steve Ignorant Presents the Songs of CRASS with Carol Hodge on female vocals. It was definitely the most emotional set of the festival, with crying, cheering, and a lot of people almost hypnotized, just transfixed on the stage with mouths open. It felt historic.
At one point, Steve brought up Jona (his life partner) in front of the crowd and said that without her, none of this would be possible and the entire audience cheered. I’ll admit a tear came to my eye as well. I had a chance to talk with Steve and Jona, Charlie and Yuko of the Uk Subs, and a few other punk couples, and all the gentlemen echoed the same sentiment: the job could not be done without the women basically in charge of everything. So, I would just like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Your hard work does not go unnoticed.
During the CRASS set, I was able to run over to Empress Ballroom and catch a little of Sham 69. They sounded great and frontman Jimmy Pursey looked really good in his own crazy sort of way. He would often just hold the mic to the audience and let them sing the chorus: it was pretty incredible to hear a few thousand punks sing along to “Rip Off” and “Borstal Breakout”.
Saturday was a big day and I had a very long list of must-sees, starting with Los Fastidios, an Italian anti-fascist Oi! band fronted by a husband and wife team who always put on a great show. Then it was time for 999 who killed it at the Empress Ballroom. I also wasn’t going to miss the Last Resort who really had the Casbah jumping. Then I was able to catch a bit of Rumkicks, a 3 piece all-girl group from South Korea that performed in traditional Korean dress (called hanbok) and with their hair in liberty spikes as they rocked that stage. The crowd adored them.
Later, I was able to catch Ireland’s best hardcore act, Paranoid Visions, in the Pavilion then Lady Rage back at the Arena. After those acts, I was going to be hanging out in the Casbah for a while starting with hardcore pioneers MDC who were phenomenal. Then it was GBH and DISCHARGE, who both gave stellar performances, but I most wanted to see The Exploited. Wattie and the boys let us have it and the place was as hot as an oven by the time they finished. I stuck around for some of Motor Headache who are a alway a great time.
Then back to the Empress ballroom to catch the Cockney Rejects who I never miss at Rebellion. Singer Stinky Turner is a true showman with his boxing moves and non stop energy. I stayed for the mighty Cock Sparrer. People love Cock Sparrer – I mean, they really love them. There was a woman on the rail who could not help but cry with (I hope) tears of joy through the whole set while the room was literally an ocean of crowd surfing. There seemed to be as many punks on top of the crowd as there were in it. The feeling of love in that room was overwhelming. It would have been the perfect end to the evening but the night was far from over.’
High on my list of must-see artists was Bob Vylan; a two-piece group with drums, a singer and samples, bringing elements of hip-hop and punk together for their own style which has been called grime punk. Bobby and Bobbie got the attention of the old geezer punk community during the pandemic when they released the video “We Live Here,” a hard-hitting song about being born and growing up Black in England, with the frontman wearing a CRASS T-shirt. The shirt may have gotten our attention but the music kept it. They have since proven themselves a true force in the UK punk scene and have set their sights on the US with an upcoming showcase at the Echo in Los Angeles on October 10th, followed by a tour with Amyl and the Sniffers.
Their act was moved from the After Dark stage to the larger Empress Ballroom for good reason. The fun part was that the security staff seemed quite unaware of Bob Vylan’s popularity. When I asked the head of security “Are you guys ready for Bob Vylan?”, she replied “Oh, It’s at 1:15 am – probably going to be light attendance.” For a moment I thought she might be right, as myself and the other photographers would periodically check the ballroom which was empty until five minutes after 1 AM. At that time, so many swarmed into the space they actually had to stop letting people in.
Bob Vylan took to the stage and started the show with a little light stretching and meditation. But not a minute into the set, people went insane. It was like a broken dam of people flooding over the rail. Security seemed quite overwhelmed for a few moments, but eventually everything was brought back to a normal state of mayhem. Until Bob announced that he had permission for everyone to come on the stage. The look on the faces of the security staff was that of sheer terror. About a hundred or so rebellioneers made it onto the stage. It was all good fun of course…well, at least for everyone but security.
So, we made it to Sunday. You think things would slow down a bit as we are all a bit tired and hung over but nope! I started the day with Resistance 77 in the Pavilion. It was hot in there but that didn’t hinder the band at all and they belted out the sweaty old fashioned punk tunes the fans wanted. Then it was back to the Casbah for CONFLICT and the CRO-MAGS. I had never seen CONFLICT and it was really spectacular. The CRO-MAGS were great and Singer Harley Flanagan let us know that the band was a family affair, and that his son was working the merch stand and looking for weed–join the club! After that, I stuck to the Empress Ballroom like glue: first for punk legends the UK SUBS. The fans love Charlie and Charlie loves his fans. It was like a family reunion in there and The SUBS gave us a show I don’t think anyone will forget. Then I was able to catch the DC Ruts, Millions of Dead Cowboys, CITIZEN FISH and Closing Rebellion for me was everyone’s favorite Belfast boys, Stiff Little Fingers. They were as always, extraordinary. It was almost beyond belief how great they were. They ran through the classics like “Barbed Wire Love,” “Nobody’s hero,” “Wasted Life”. There’s just too many to mention. They seemed to get better with every song and it was the perfect end to an incredible festival. I made many new friends and am honestly already looking forward to next year. Hopefully I’ll see you In Blackpool in 2023! TO buy tickets to Rebellion festival 2023 visit this link!