Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
After getting notification that I’m good to shoot the amalgam of godfathers from the halcyon days of English Punk, I find myself sat on the dread M6 watching the time pass by all to quickly. It’s been a while since I’ve been on this road with never ending roadworks and closures yet nothing seems to be improving.
I eventually get to the venue, the newly re-opened ‘Halls’ once named the Civic Hall. Its new décor, a second balcony and super helpful staff, other venues should take note. I’m ushered inside, given my pass and then briefed on how tonight is going to run. Black and White instructions fab no confusions there then.
Sadly, I’ve missed the opening band ‘GRADE2’ as their set concludes as I’m being spoken to. There is still a large queue of fans waiting to get in as they are individually searched. The automated system is pinging its head off, it’s a Punk gig and there’s meatal, safety pins galore.
‘BOB VYLAN’ is second on the undercard and, honestly, he is new to me so I don’t know what to expect. This London based duo hit the stage calm as you like after we’ve had a little shouting from the warm up guy. Starting off with a bit of ‘yoga’ and stretching, much to the crowd’s amusement, the beats blasting away in the back ground as he does so.
The band consist of Bobbie Vylan on drums and Bobby Vylan on vocals and have supported the likes of ‘The Offspring’ and ‘Billy Clyro’ to name two. They have gotten great praise from the pundits so this is going to be interesting.
They kick off it to a concussive set of hip-hop/grime laden Punk tunes from their debut and sophomore albums, both are full of anarchic digs at ripping the into the UK’s very heart and backbone, Issues that are there but not talked about. At times there was a very ‘Rage Against the Machine’ beat crashing out as Bobby paraded around the stage, his two thick, heavy hair plaits swinging like a Bloodhounds ears. ‘Northern Line’ gets the crowd moving and the heat rising as Bobby informs Bobbie that it’s getting hot, it avoids confusion.
The tracksuit top comes off as we continue with ‘I Heard You Want Your Country Back’ another explosive song full of the uglier social issues. ‘CSGB’ has a fuzzed back beat as Bobby sings about violence, He’s got the cricket bat out and is swinging it better than any of the current Ashes team.
‘We Live Here’, ’Pulled Pork’ and ‘England’s Ending’ continue with the barrage against the establishment and the way he and the ethnic minorities are treated, institutional racism and police brutality, there’s references to George Floyd in amongst the narrative.
These finish the run of 6songs from the debut album ‘We Live Here’ released on 2020. It’s a thought-provoking album if these songs are anything to go by.
The set continues its fusillade of barotrauma inducing vocals full of pent-up fury and hatred towards the establishment with ‘Take That’ with its fuzzed fueled guitar overtones. Vylan expresses his hatred to Elvis ( how very dare he, I was a huge Elvis fan in my youth ), as the song blasts out. This is from the new album ‘Bob Vylan Presents: The Price of Life’ released in 2022. This Punk-Grime mash up works well. The anger slams into you like a sledgehammer.
Interestingly between songs both Vylan’s are all smiles and look anything but full of angst and hatred. The Single ‘The Delicate Nature’ is up next. This was a collaboration with Laurie Vincent. Its thunderous in its apocalyptic delivery which is segued with melodic passages before dropping into stomach wrenching hatred. ‘Pretty Songs’ takes us back to the latest album, nothing safe with this one as it rips into the heart of the British psyche.
The set finishes with ‘Dream Big’, a set much applauded by the crowd. Loud Brash and throwing the realities of real life in your face. Solid performance and another band to watch out for.
It’s not often that you go to a big venue to see a band that plays covers, tonight there’s approximately 3000 crammed into the Halls in Wolverhampton to see the latest supergroup to play the circuit, albeit only a couple of nights in the UK.
Under blue neon lights, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Tony James, and Billy Idol make their way onto the stage in front of a baying crowd of lifelong anarchists, an evening off from their day jobs of office working, policing, bus driving etc., they have dressed for the occasion, fueled with reasonably priced beer its now being flung at the stage. We are less than 30seconds into the Pistols ‘Pretty Vacant’ and I’ve been hit by several plastic pints, their contents covering me and splashing several around me. At least its not spit or a warm liquid, gulp.
What we have is a supergroup fronted by the man himself, Generation X’s Billy Idol who postulates around the stage belting out his ‘Ready Steady Go’ from 1978. Steve Jones looks as intimidating as ever as he plays on his graffitied Gibson guitar, he glaringly catches your eye as he riffs out to ‘Wild Youth’. Idol spends most of his time is upfront and posing hard, his rubber lips are in fine form as he gurns along pulling faces to the crowd, he’s on fire and enjoying life after his brush with death just recently.
‘Bodies’, ‘Untouchables’ and ‘Black Leather’ keep the crowd happy; they’re bouncing hard as the lights flash around the set, Idol reminds us he’s not an Animal as he sings it repeatedly. Paul Cook is slamming out the beats hard and fast, there is nothing safe about his drumming, he is committed 110% as he bounces around the kit like a runaway steam train. ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ has the crowd singing again and sees Idol smiling his trademark pout as he patrols around the stage, he is grinning at Steve Jones who is glaring at the crowd, his guitar tone is sweet as he riffs along to this classic Generation X banger.
Jones looks more at home as he rips into the Pistols ‘Silly Thing’. Its fast and furious as are the lights which are now strobing around the stage as Idol does his best to bring Jonnie Rotten to the crowd. OK his voice isn’t full of the angst of Rotten but the crowd don’t mind as they singalong during the chorus. Cook is having a great work out as be continues to bounce in his seat as he thunders out the intro to ‘King Rocker’. Idol is lamenting to the crowd as they count back into the melody.
No Punk supergroup is ever going to capture the sheer rawness of ‘God Save The Queen’, Oh wait a minute Idol is giving it his best shot, his voice is frayed as he reads the word for this Pistols classic. The crowd are bouncing along to this Punk Anthem, Fists, beer and God knows what else is flying around. Jones guitar is more mature, the filthy edge of the original is more polished as Idol sings about there being no future, I guess, 40 plus years on his and the bands future has been anything but. The crowd love it and the cheers are equally loud back.
The classic ‘Your Generation’ follows on, the crowd are at a high as James and Cook are locked in as Jones riffs along like a fine chainsaw. Idol is once again prowling around the stage like a caged animal before he pouts into the crowd, his face full of smiles. This is followed up with one of two covers played tonight, ‘My Way’ by Claude François, always a strange choice for Idol but connects with ‘God Save The Queen’ and there being no future.
The crowd of aged punks are bouncing along to this banger made famous by the likes of Presley and Sinatra, but without the naughty words. Cook, looking like he could play the whole set over again is a powerhouse as he and Jones drive this unorthodox version of this classic to finish the set, the crowd are punching the air as they cheer this one out.
Fear not, ‘Problems’ by the Pistols starts the encore before ripping into ‘(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone’ the second cover, this one by Paul Revere and the Raiders from their 1966 album Midnight Ride, it went on to be a big hit for The Monkees in the same year. The night finally comes to a crashing end with another Sex Pistols classic. ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’ has the crowd fired up again as Idol thanks everyone for coming and adds that even though they don’t look it they’ve enjoyed the show, Jones just glares although there looks to be a twinkle in his eye.
The crowd help out once more as Idol gives it large for the final time as they belt out “Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” repeatedly to the end.
With a salute and a thanks the night is over. 3000 sweaty but happy aging Punks have re-lived their youth with a band that might never have been but thankfully has. Folk will no doubt criticise Idol’s rendition of the Pistols classics as his voice lacks Lydon’s raw delivery, anger, and arrogance, but to be fair it was none the worse for it. 40plus years on the players have grown into very accomplished muso’s and that showed. It was a polished set for an aging fan base. Bravo a cracking night at the Halls once more.