Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
It’s a Dog Day Afternoon here south of the Thames, close to the border of Surrey and Kent. No cops, no robbers, no banks being held up mercifully. Instead, what is occurring here in the leafy environs of hilly Crystal Palace is a gathering of the clans. The Pied Piper of Punk, none other than the overlord himself, Iggy Pop, has issued a rallying call.
Old school punks gather alongside those who’ve taken the ethos in a modern-day context. Metalheads mingle with rockers, it’s all rather salubrious in a musical sense. Families with their offspring are here for the day, a passing of the baton to the next generation. Others of a more casual musical allegiance are drawn by the ‘sounds of the suburbs’; the hits beloved of so many and of those countless compilations that share the contextual triumphs of a defining moment.
The dog days of summer, associated with the helical rising of Sirius, are just around the corner and on this balmy July day we gather on the Italian terraces that once led up to The Crystal Palace, relocated from its original location in Hyde Park in 1854. In a state of neglection it was, tragically, destroyed in a blaze in late 1936.
History abounds across this park; the FA Cup final, for two decades, was held on the site of the nearby National Sports Centre whilst Bob Marley held his last ever, and largest, concert in the capital city in the CP Bowl. The likes of Noel Gallagher, Primal Scream and First Aid Kit will retrace their steps on the reconstructed stage in a few weeks’ time.
I digress, meantime there’s the sizeable proposition of a hand-selected bill of the finest punk on offer. From the present-day angst of the Lambrini Girls right through to the hit-machine that is Blondie we are about to embark upon a trip from the sneering curled-lipped Kings Road to the rites of passage of the legendary CBGB via the strife of Northern Ireland and the north-west. Punk defined an era, and this is about to be unleashed across the next few hours underneath the shadow of the CP transmitting station that stands tall in testament to John Logie Baird’s pioneering work on this very site. History abounds.
Under the enduringly watchful eyes of the sphinxes, that flank the steps to the higher terrace, Brighton detonative 21st century punkers Lambrini Girls batter down the door with the extremely relevant feminist statements. There’s an awful lot to like about this trio from their energies and beliefs to how they deliver and connect with their audience.
“Anger is an energy” sings Johnny Lydon, in PiL’s ‘Rise’ and so it rings so very true with Lambrini Girls. They’re angry and rightfully so, they project their indignations with a hi-paced kinetic throughout. “I’ve got fucking anger coming out of my arse!” quips guitarist / vocalist Phoebe Lunny when I caught up with her later in the afternoon.
From the very off they thoroughly justify their tag of ‘Iggy Pop’s new favourite band’ – punk’s granddaddy had after all invited them to open up – with the cataclysmic ‘Big Dick Energy’. There’s a vibrancy somewhat reminiscent of Veruca Salt’s Glastonbury ’95 set mixed in with the grunge of Hole and L7. Coupled with the punk scenery of Idles and Bikini Kill there’s no keeping this bunch on a short leash.
Both bassist Lily Maciera and Lunny are into the pit before the first track is barely a couple of minutes old. Taking their musical parlance, quite literally, into the crowd – in a glorious tangle of cables and photographers – the raucousness continues as they plough right into the entirety of their recently released debut EP ‘You’re Welcome’.
“Any gay legends in the crowd?” asks Lunny, still out amongst the early doors crowd “Come to the front with me!” A pride flag proudly aloft. The sonic punk assault of ‘Help Me I’m Gay’ – a track which Lunny recollects from their first headline show in an NME interview “I’d already ripped open my pants by kneeling down, and I’d covered myself in alcohol and I was all sticky, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she remembers. “I was a mess. I got onto the stage and shouted out, ‘Where is my mum? My mum’s here. Mum, I’m gay!’”
From sudden bursts of ‘Mr. Lovebomb’ to the speakout of the abuse culture in the music scene in ‘Boys In The Band’ it’s thoroughly evident of how passionately these musicians stand by the beliefs. For me it’s personally refreshing and revitalising, these are not easy subjects to broach. We’re taken through the direct retort to transphobia of ‘Terf Wars’ – trans-exclusionary radical feminists – via the anti-stance of abhorrent lad culture in the furiously paced ‘Lads Lads Lads’. The crowd are whipped up in to frenzied realms.
There’s an underlying kind of reggae rhythm to the outright punk-fuelled rage of ‘White Van’. Indulging in some crowd-surging Lunny enquires “Have we got 20 seconds left?” The reply is given, quietly, as the power is cut. Undeterred she delivers from the barrier as the anonymous – occasionally pink bucket-hatted – drummer continues to batter the kit afront as they conclude a frenetic, hard-hitting half hour with ‘Craig David’. I’m left wanting to hear more, for myself and a large number about me there’s a sense that this is going to explode for the Lambrini Girls.
From the conflagrant path of a group at the fledgling stage of their aspiring career to a cast of punk royalty. Treading the boards for nearly four decades since formed in the mid-70s in Bolton and regarded as a seminal influence upon the Manchester music scene Buzzcocks have retained a high profile alongside a special place in the beating heart of punk.
Jets bound for the airports which serve the capital circle above in blue-flecked skies as sole early-member Steve Diggle leads the quartet through a near 45-minute romp through what mostly amounts to the band’s stint with the United Artists label, an era which produced three top 30 albums through the latter part of the 70s.
It’s not all about this particular chapter, however. Following disbanding in 1981 the group reformed in 1989 going on to release a further seven albums including last year’s ‘Sonics in the Soul’ offering, their first studio album since the sad passing, in 2018, of the much-missed founding member Pete Shelley.
The album receives its first moment in the spotlight, just a couple of tracks in, with ‘Senses Out Of Control’ demonstrating that none of the intensity has diminished over the years. With a swift introductory “1-2-3-4”, afront a swelling crowd, it proves a rollickingly comfortable ride. “All my senses have hit the ground” evokes Diggle.
Also winched in from last year’s album the home city pride of ‘Manchester Rain’, despatched towards the end of a sparkling set, possesses an underpinning of what initially feels like primetime The Cult but shifts to an undeniably accelerated Quo riff taken into punk domains. There can be no finer tribute to Shelley’s legacy in my book.
In what proves to be an extremely well-constructed and balanced set, comprising of a dozen tracks, six of the band’s first eight UK single releases are lined up. Set opening behemoth ‘What Do I Get?’, delivered under grey skies, their first single to dent the Top 40 is every inch a bona fide punk anthem. This won’t be the last time this thought crosses our minds today.
Further charting singles in the tight as fook ‘I Don’t Mind’, the as-ever crowd-pleasing ‘Promises’ and the rumbling curtain call of ‘Harmony In My Head’ extended with psyched up guitars and hushed vocals. “C’mon sing for your fucking lives!” encourages Diggle ratcheting up things for one last time.
There are album tracks including the bullet from a gun ‘Fast Cars’ and the rattling ‘People Are Strange Machines’; the latter Diggle dedicates to his long-time bandmate “This one’s for Pete!” There’s time for a choice cut from the B-sides with the bluesy punk of ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’
The proverbial cherry upon the top of the Buzzcocks’ cake ensure smiling faces, pogoing aplenty and a high degree of reverence. Debut single ‘Orgasm Addict’ – with Diggle proclaiming, “you’re orgasm addicted everyone one of you!” The breaking wave crests with the triumphant ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’. Marrying the emotional urgency and pace of punk with infectious melodies the seething guitars and pumping beats are timeless in quality. A job done well.
Born of the challenging times of the late 70s in Belfast Stiff Little Fingers have endured across six different decades. Like Buzzcocks before them they sit most comfortably at punk’s top table. Northern Ireland’s finest? There’s no doubt of it in mind, I’d be willing to stake my very last pound on this.
Also like their counterparts who preceded them The Fingers evoke the spirit of Finsbury Park 1996 throughout their three quarters of an hour upon the massive Crystal Palace stage. That day, nearly three decades ago, these two bands along with tonight’s headliner kept the crowd bouncing until the Pistols strode forth in search of the ‘Filthy Lucre’.
Entering to a deafening welcome, reserved for such occasions, SLF gather upon stage for their opening salvo. There’s no standing upon ceremony just a quick “How you doing, alright? We’re Stiff Little Fingers!” from the effervescent founding member Jake Burns prior to the band ripping into the opening brace.
Alongside Burns the low-slung fervour of his co-founder Ali McMordie (bass) entwines with the six-stringing of long-time member Ian McCallum whilst all the while the percussive strongarm of the wrecking ball that is otherwise known as Steve Grantley lays waste to all within several miles.
Replacing ‘Straw Dogs’, the usual opener of choice for March’s UK tour, we’re treated to atomic punk energy of ‘Tin Soldiers’ instead, a choice cut largely overlooked on the aforementioned UK tour, which forms a hugely tasty coupling with ‘Nobody’s Hero’. Clenched fists, in timeless honouring, punch the air in a celebration of this pairing which we’re released as a double A-sided single (remember the day folks?) back in May 1980.
No time to grab a breather as The Fingers roll right on into the skanked-up alliteration of Bunny Wailer’s ‘Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae’. “So throw away the guns and the war all’s gone” rasps Burns in an enduring advisory capacity and later continuing the message from openers Lambrini Girls with the poignant words “For on discrimination does violence breed.”
Burns, clearly moved by the adoring reception, comments “Thank you very much!” adding “The last time I was here was to see Bob Marley!” Trademark SLF to its very nucleus ‘Just Fade Away’, a 1981 single, is followed by a heartfelt memorial to the recently departed Terry Hall with an emotional ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’.
Deeply personal to Burns ‘My Dark Places’ takes up the subject of mental health and the invisible struggles of depression. The frontman’s words of introduction are met with a unifying cheer of respect. Quite appropriately the sun chooses this moment to make a brief appearance.
For the second half of the set the focus is set to the formative years of 1979 and 1980. Four tracks from the incendiary debut album ‘Inflammable Material’ and a couple of most welcome ‘interlopers’ from the number 8 charting ‘Nobody’s Heroes’. Track on track the bar is reset higher each time as the set rachets right up.
From killer punk vibes of ‘Barbed Wire Love’ right through to the ever-explosive ‘Alternative Ulster’ penned from the perspective of a bored teenager growing up in Belfast the ardor grows. Further teenage angst is addressed in the stratospheric top 20 single ‘At The Edge’. Forever rousing rabbles ‘Wasted Life’ is a furious might that sneers regally at rules and regulations.
Fizzing like an on-fire Mexican bean ‘Gotta Getaway’ is brought in by a quickfire count of 4. Its strongarm brawn creating a storm out in the Palace gathering. Setting the scene for the set closing ‘Alternative Ulster’ SLF despatch the vicious buzzsawing of ‘Suspect Device’. It’s been another triumph that will be remembered for a long time to come, The Fingers have roared in mighty fashion.
After tearing up major festivals such as Belgium’s Graspop, France’s Hellfest and, just a week ago, at Glastonbury the mood at the Palace was of high expectancy for the arrival of punk supergroup Generation Sex. Fronted by the youthful Billy Idol G-Sex comprise of Idol’s fellow Generation X’r bassist Tony James (Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Sisters Of Mercy) dovetailing with the Sex Pistols pairing of guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.
Rapturously received the quadrumvirate set about Crystal Palace with a determined output normally reserved for chaps 40 years their junior. James observes “Well, well who’d have thought we’d make it?!?” before Jones lets fly with those unmistakable opening riffs of the Pistols’ classic ‘Pretty Vacant’. Idol, cutting a lean figure is ever punk royalty, out-sneers Rotten letting forth with a brutal roar. The crowd, clearly loving it as they bask in the tea-time sunshine, sing “We don’t care” in perfect time to the faithful rendition. The hype is rightfully justified.
All leather and chains with a broad smile wider than the Thames itself Idol is, of course, at ease with Generation X’s pounding ‘Ready Steady Go’ and the doc-stomping ‘Wild Youth’. The youthful spirit burns as brightly as it ever did evoking those bygone years. Glancing down at a setlist Idol applauds the crowd as James takes time to pay respect to the percussive forces “Paul Cook on drums! How great is he?”
Breaths collectively gathered Gen Sex rip through, tight as you like, the roughage of rasping anthem ‘Bodies’ and the punked up chuggage that is ‘Black Leather’. Amazingly the band made their live debut back in 2018 in what proved to be a one-off show at West Hollywood’s The Roxy but the wait has been well worth it. Track on track the patience is being repaid in droves with a gargantuan onslaught that doesn’t relent in the slightest.
Gently despatched initially ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, written about the challenging times punks faced on the streets back in 1977, begins to ascend verse on verse. James gives Jones an approving thumbs up before rolling, with minimal fuss, into a barnstorming ‘Dancing With Myself’. “So let’s sink another drink” Idol invites; there’s plenty of obliging individuals out in the crowd from where I’m stood. There’s dancing aplenty as Idol induces “My leathers are all wet, I’m gonna sweat!” into the lyrics. It’s punk party time at the Palace with the ensemble emitting the loudest cheer of the day thus far!
“One of yours then!” James points at Pistol Cook behind his kit before rocking through ‘Silly Thing’ and the fuzzed rockabilly ‘King Rocker’, the title, naturally, is worn with aplomb. The seismic waves resonate outwards as Idol busts every ounce of effort as Gen Sex belt through the instantly recognisable legend of ‘God Save The Queen’. “We mean it man!” Idol scornfully condemns as the CP terraces erupt.
A set packed to the gunnels builds up to a befitting crescendo. A finale that generously gift wraps all that has preceded with a rampaging, riotous stampede through Generation X’s 1977 debut single ‘Your Generation’ and typically rumbustious, accelerated version of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’.
Paul Anka, who also covered the track, famously once commented upon the Pistols’ interpretation observing that he had been “somewhat destabilized by the Sex Pistols’ version.” I have a feeling he may well have been at least a touch more complimentary had he witnessed this fine rendition. It’s been punk-fuelled fun in the sun, a singalong affair that has joyously trekked through Pistols and Gen X territory in a playful bouncing romp that has entertained and engaged the masses.
The Italian Terraces of Crystal Palace are heaving with a massed throng by the time that seminal pioneering Stateside rockers Blondie assemble out on stage. For me personally this is a much-desired tick upon my bucket list, one which I felt never destined to fulfil. A band whose music I’ve loved since first hearing such early singles such as ‘Denis’ and ‘Picture This’; neither of which make the grade for this evening’s set list.
However, given the expansiveness of Blondie’s back catalogue it’s no surprise when there’s about 75 minutes in which to define one’s career. A career which spans eleven studio albums and spawned a weighty 38 singles. Seven of those long players, including both which topped the UK charts, are represented herein amongst the 14 tasty slices presented to the adoring Palace crowd.
The iconic Queen of Punk Debbie Harry celebrates turning 78 years young with the crowd reverently singing Happy Birthday partway through the set. It’s glitzy and glam, it’s just what the gathering has assembled for. It’s banger after banger with each of an incredible six UK number one singles despatched into the early evening airs with expert execution.
It takes a couple of tracks to strike those chart-topping 7”’s but neither of the opening numbers are slouches. Far from it in fact! Opening with the punk serenity of ‘One Way Or Another’, written about Harry’s experience with a stalker in the early 70s, and number five single ‘Hanging On The Telephone’. “This is Blondie calling!” informs Harry. Timeless classics that are the catalyst for an enraptured reception.
The first of the chart-topping half dozen comes in the shapely form of a soulful, devotional ‘Sunday Girl’ which is followed by a divinely ratcheted up ‘Call Me’. A fellow number one 45rpm’r that featured on the soundtrack of American Gigolo.
Harry has a slick band about her including long-time drummer Clem Burke, who joined in 1975 shortly after the band formed, and former Pistol Glen Matlock upon bass. The third Pistol to grace the Crystal Palace stage today, further evoking memories 1996’s Finsbury Park shenanigans.
The four remaining number ones are scattered throughout with a breathless ‘Atomic’ tingling backbones and raising goosebumps all about. 1980’s ‘The Tide Is High’, a reggae punk fusion cover of The Paragons’ 1967 rocksteady single, melts hearts. The crowd sways and sings word for word, the ultimate karaoke en masse. Beating like a subway train ‘Maria’ is loudly cheered with Harry smiling as the crowd sing the chorus right back. Immediately pursued by the anthemic ‘Heart Of Glass’ we’ve been on the receiving end of a remarkable, seamless hour and there’s still more to come!
Whilst being jam-packed with chart toppers the initial sixty minutes contain much more with album tracks like the furiously trucking ‘Will Anything Happen?’ nestling alongside hit singles such as the ahead of its time ‘Rapture’. As fresh as the day of its 1981 release the fusion of new wave, disco, hip-hop with an extended coda of rap still possesses a wide-ranging appeal.
Harry’s angelic wistful vocals in ‘Long Time’, off 2017’s ‘Pollinator’, sit atop an impassioned despatch. As way of introduction to the freight train resonation of ‘Detroit 442’ Harry explains “The reason we got started on this whole thing is the man you are waiting to see.”
Harking back to 1976’s eponymous debut album foundational single ‘X Offender’ grabs the attention before the curtain falls with live mainstay ‘Dreaming’. Teasingly Harry encourages the Palace crowd “Yeah that’s the right price!” as the chorus gets pitched back wholeheartedly. Burke’s drums are as busy as they ever have been with the band producing a stunning delivery out front. “You’re in our dreams!” exclaims Harry. Blondie you are in mine too, along with the many thousands here on this historic site.
As the Buck Moon begins its nocturnal ascent Iggy Pop, proud wearer of the accolade of ‘The Godfather of Punk’, whirls onto the stage in trademark unfettered dervish fashion. In part inspired by the stage presence of The Doors’ Jim Morrison the nascent proto-punk rocker dove willingly into a kaleidoscopic whirlpool of anarchy.
Now aged 76 Pop has endured generations of musical waves creating a wild man of rock n’ roll persona, the musician who inadvertently pressed the start button upon the whole punk thing. Cut from the same DNA as Keith Richards Pop belies his age and his history, well and truly alive and high kicking his way across stages worldwide. He was punk before punk was even a twinkling in the eyes of Lydon et al; 1969’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ is a snarling demonstration loud and clear.
The dynamics are boundless and within a minute of entering stage he’s stripped to the waist. His torso bearing the scars of previous decades; don’t like what you see? Then look away and, in the words of the man himself “Fuck off!” No-one here is though; Pop is an engaging and unpredictable presence. That’s the beauty of the essence within.
The power is raw and oft bleeding. Pulsating and pulverising in equal measure but there’s a layering to proceedings. A pysch edge to things that tumbles into such territories where Pink Floyd dwells.
Noted US ‘soundscaping’ guitarist Noveller has been recruited to the ranks, first collaborating with Pop in 2019 on his album ‘Free’. Intro’ing with one of Noveller’s compositions ‘Rune’ the atmospherics tumble gracefully across the park in hints of things to come. Raging on to the stage Pop joins his compatriots furiously raging “C’mon motherfuckers!” The brass twinning of trombone and trumpet surge forwards with a flourish as Pop’s romp gets underway with ‘Five Foot One’.
Pop’s set is a near symmetry between solo releases and those with his brethren The Stooges. The chugging onslaught of ‘TV Eye’, in the latter encampment, rages with seismic energy. Demons wail and fly forcibly from the craggy roost. Boundaries are squarely tested and pushed to beyond the modulus point.
The kinetics are untamed in ‘Raw Power’ and the feral requests of ‘Gimme Danger’ receive weighty attention immediately. Beloved of tv adverts the familiar strains of live staple ‘The Passenger’ set afire the set. Pop sings ‘I stay under glass’, highly appropriate given the 60,000 panes of the material used in the construction of The Crystal Palace, whilst the brass section expands a spectacular sound even further.
The instantaneous fuse wire of ‘Lust For Life’, co-written by Pop and his close friend David Bowie, mushrooms thunderously as those halcyon mid 90s Trainspotting days come flooding back. All roads, today, seem to lead back to Finsbury Park somehow.
‘The Endless Sea’ is brooding and commodiously ambient leading into the turbulent ‘Death Trip’. The headlong juggernaut collision of ‘Search & Destroy’ taps in an intense powerage, up through the gearings to provide a storming end to the main body. Stage lights darked and a chant of “Iggy” erupts from the crowd in the hope that there is a return.
In what feels an eternity but is barely a couple of minutes the band return for a meandering encore. The granulating grind of ‘Mass Production’ continues right into a predatory ‘Nightclubbing’. Boundaries blur, in an almost free-form manner, as the upbeat blacktop-crawling ‘Down On The Street’ rages.
There’s no mercy given, none is requested, as ‘Loose’ storms the ramparts. An industrious ‘Frenzy’ whips up the fervour under the darkening London sky as Pop takes us along one last rampage before he bids a chaotic farewell. This is an individual so very awake to the moment and attentive of the detail whilst not brandishing a single care for trends of the present, past, or future. This is Iggy Pop, like Highlander there can only be one.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM