In anarcho punk circles, Friday 8th April 2011 was an auspicious date in the diary. One of the most well respected bands of the genre harking back to the early 1980s, the almost legendary Mob, were playing their first gig since they hung up their boots way back in 1983. Singer/guitarist Marc Wilson had celebrated his 50th birthday 2 days earlier, and after several months of intense practicing the band, in its original incarnation, was in Bristol to play a gig in front of a massively sold out Fleece. It was so vibrant in fact that at times it seemed like there were more people outside than in and it was almost impossible to get through to the Seven Stars Pub next door.
The air of anticipation hung heavy in the air but before the main event there were a few old friends who also don’t play gigs very often lined up to entertain the faithful.
First up was Guernsey based band Insurrection; these guys didn’t form until a few years after the Mob had split, emerging from the latter period of the anarcho punk scene. In existence for around 3 years they split after gaining a reputation in the scene, and got back together again 20 years later in 2009. Now they just play sporadically so this was a rare chance to see them. If I’m honest I’d say they didn’t quite fit the bill: they have a harder edge to them than the rest of the bands, with a more metallic in your face sound but they were entertaining enough and towards the end of the set they even blasted out a respectable cover of the old Flux classic “Progress”.
Rubella Ballet, the band credited for creating the Day-glow Death rock punk scene took the stage next. Dunno quite what that is but it basically meant wearing retina burning ultraviolet colours rather than the more conventional drab black uniform of their peers, while wailing over the top of a primitive, slightly psychedelic beat. Tonight they stormed through a 30-odd minute set of their greatest hits set, with vocalist Zillah and drummer Sid looking as gaudy as ever in front of the UV backdrop. I’d not seen them since a squat gig in Bristol in around 1990 and their performance then was a little shambolic, but tonight they were on top form, putting on a mesmerising performance that included Emotional Blackmail, Ballet Dance and Belfast until one-by-one the band members left the stage leaving Sid alone to hammer on his kit.
Next up was Steve Lake’s latest incarnation of Zounds; a band whose folky-anarcho-hippy mix made them one of the more tuneful poppier bands of their ilk. Although they played in Bristol just a few months ago for the first time since 1981 (when they shared a bill with the Mob and the Astronauts at the Trinity Hall), it’s good to see them return a little more promptly this time. Tonight they were admittedly a bit patchy in places, mainly courtesy of Steve’s cock-ups, but they’ve always been that way live. Despite this their numbers are so without exception so damn catchy that they really help you forget the technical imperfections. The songs are all classics, and I remember when their album was released many years ago it even received a rave review in the Guardian. Tonight, they belt out inspiring versions of This Land, Did He Jump, This Land, they even dragged along Mark Wilkins (vocalist of the aforementioned Astronauts) to sing a few choruses of Dirty Squatters (even if he wasn’t quite sure when to come in). Not a faultless performance by any means yet I didn’t hear anyone complaining.
And finally to the Mob, the band that brought this evening together. Their original anarcho-peace sentiments were melancholy and mournful rather than aggressive and confrontational, and as Mark walks on stage with an enormous shit-eating grin on his face it is clear to see that he is amazed at the reception. Joined by the original bassist and drummer Curtis Youe and Graham Fallows the band trawled through pretty much the whole of their back catalogue (the Josef Porter penned Roger being one notable exception). A slightly shaky start with “What’s going on” made me fear the worst (What’s going wrong? – I thought), but by the start of second number “Shuffling Souls” they’d hit their stride. Mark’s vocals were never the most tuneful and like Dick of the Subhumans are in places a little flat, yet tonight they were sounding better than ever as he delivered them with pride and passion (and as a mate of mine commented elsewhere, was that sweat or tears during No Doves Fly Here?). With the aid of a decent PA, a full complement of guitar strings and an exuberant crowd theirs was a set to remember. Steve Corr and Andy T played after the main event, but as there was nothing much occurring in the venue for the next 40 minutes (and as I no longer have the stamina for late nights) I left before they did so – by then I suspect they were just playing to a few drunks and a dog on a string!
For me and many others this was an evening of nostalgia and the chance to meet up with a few old faces from the past from all over the country. While most of us have a few more wrinkles, a bit more weight and much less hair, it was heartening to see that many of the oldies haven’t totally sold out and still retain the beliefs that were so important to them in their youth. To a casual outsider, a few old codgers banging out their punk rock tunes to a few hundred scruffs may seem quite sad, yet even sadder is that many of the messages contained within the lyrics are just as relevant in Cameron/Clegg’s Con-Dem-Nation as they were all those years ago under Thatcher’s rule: War in the East, rioting on the streets, nuclear disaster etc. A gig like this is a useful reminder of how shit the world was back then, and how it’s is just as shit now.