Mod & Ska Festival
Chester le Street
24th May 2015
May Bank Holidays have gone down in Mod Folklore since the mid 1960’s as the historians never tire of reminding us; so it was as good a time as any for local Promoters Stanley Ents. to present their first annual Mod and Ska Festival in the picturesque setting of Riverside Park near the Durham County cricket ground and in the shadow of Lumley Castle.
The sun was shining but there was a cool breeze blowing in off the River Wear as the gates opened but that was of little concern to the first few hundred keen music fans as local Ska-Punksters LoGOz took to the stage on the first chime of noon.
If my eyes didn’t deceive me I’m pretty sure that the trio were made up of a drummer and two lead guitars; but possibly one guy was playing a six string bass; but I don’t think so.
Looking and playing like the lost love children of the Damned LoGOz soon had the first dancers on their feet with the fast and furious Disgraceland and the three lovely lasses were still strutting their stuff during the finale Mexicola which was my favourite song during the frantic half hour.
Part-sponsored by Mod Radio the music in between bands was first class all afternoon and even had me shuffling my feet at one stage; when Joe Jackson followed Helen Shapiro out of the speakers.
The queue at the gates was still snaking around the back of the food stalls when the Style Selektors made their appearance on the hour. A five piece with a trumpeter and a singer playing a Vox Teardrop guitar is always going to be good in my books; and as a Party/Covers band they went down a treat opening with a couple of note perfect Specials songs followed by a 2-Tone medley that had about 20 Scooter Boys and Girls skanking in front of the stage until the set closed with a feisty version of Pressure Drop.
Next out of the proverbial traps was a band called The Lost Fakers; who announced very early that they only played ‘original songs’ apart from the last one, which would be a Small Faces track. A sort of Indie inspired R&B, Lost Fakers managed to lose a bit of musical momentum as their songs, while good in what it was, could have all been shorter and poppier to interest the dancers; but it wasn’t and allowed the Scooterists, Mods and Skinheads to promenade around the show-ground like peacocks in all their glory.
As promised they did end the set with Watcha Gonna Do About It? But by then it was too little too late; for pernickity crowd like this.
By the time the Whodlums were coming on stage another surge of fans were entering the field; many of who had been drinking beer and watching the football on the telly; so it’s fair to say they were all in pretty good spirits as the band kicked off with a blistering Can’t Explain; showcasing the singers voice to great effect. Just like the original band; the lead guitarist; resplendent in Union Flag jacket over a white boiler suit, had no intention of being upstaged by the singer; so we got more windmills than you would see in Norfolk alongside some very gymnastic leaps in the air while never missing a note on his Rickenbacker.
I was pleased to hear the inclusion of a personal favourite; Behind Blue Eyes which I think is a great lost classic; and it appeared a few people next to me thought the same.
A Quadrophenia medley went down well with a crowd of silver haired Mods who while not quite choreographed, had certainly danced together before. I chuckled when Who Are You was introduced as being the soundtrack to a new TV series – CSI Esh Winning! The song itself was a bit of a humdinger; ending in a loud crescendo of noise.
It wasn’t a surprise that the Whodlums ended their set with an adrenaline fuelled version of My Generation which was probably the surrogate theme tune for the Festival as the Mod-Skinhead hybrids leaped around like scalded cats.
The promoters had been quite lucky with the weather as it had been cloudy all afternoon but the sun came out in between the end of that set and the start of the next; but it was still bloody chilly!
For a singer to make a request for drugs after the first song, Listen, Listen, Listen wasn’t a first for me; but it’s a sure sign we are all getting older as Lambrettas singer Doug Sanders asked if anyone had a spare Ventolin inhaler …..and four were offered!
One of the forerunners in the second wave of Mod in 1979 the Lambrettas had some catchy songs in their arsenal and the likes of Beat Boys in the Jet Age and Face to Face have weathered really well over the years and with the addition of a few cannily selected covers they had the front of the stage bouncing as 50 or more parka wearing middle-aged men re-lived their youths with big grins on their faces.
A lot has happened in the intervening years and I’d forgotten how political their songs had been; especially Page 3 which had a few women in their Fred Perry’s singing along and punching the air.
Although Sanders looked like a good breeze would blow him over he never stopped smiling; and looked like a mischievous urchin when the ever growing crowd packed around the stage belted out the chorus to their biggest hit; Poison Ivy.
As the stage was being set for the next band; the queue for the beer tent was comical in length; and the catering vans were also doing a roaring trade as the temperature dramatically dropped as the sun went down past the yard arm.
It’s fair to say that I was a big fan of Secret Affair in their heyday; modelling my ‘look’ on guitarist Dave Cairns; and sadly we both look a lot more similar today than we did then; as we could both be cast as spare Mitchell brothers in Eastenders.
With no introduction; nor even a pleasant glance to the crowd The Affair shot into Dance Master as if their very lives depended on it; and not coming up for breath until it was finished three heart stopping minutes later.
The once waif like singer Paige and Cairns exchanged nods and ‘BOOM’ they were into Going to a Go-Go, and the crowd went wild, pogoing, shuffling and punching the air as they bellowed out the lyrics; somewhere near in tune.
Scowling as he prowled the stage, Cairns produced more power-chords than the average Heavy Rock band; as Paige totally forgot his age as he strutted and pouted like a younger, more handsome Mick Jagger during fan favourites Sound of Confusion, Make Your Heart Dance and Time for Action but by the time they ended with the anthemic My World he could have convinced the adoring crowd to invade Poland.
It was a joy to see the scores of men and women who were now parading around the dimly lit arena in their finery and, without going into too many details; I believe there were four generations of Mods and Skinheads in attendance with a handful of older chaps and chappesses, who were around in the 60’s still looking sharp alongside my age group from the 70’s; and more than a few Scooter Boys and girls in their 30’s as well as the youngsters in their best Fred Perry’s, Ben Sherman’s and DM’s. ‘Look Sharp’ indeed!
The other thing I noticed was the amount of women sporting parka’s more out of necessity than as a fashion statement and more than a few husbands had been sent back to the car for picnic blankets that were now being used as makeshift duvets.
For the first time today their were ‘technical’ problems that meant the Selector set was held back for 10 minutes, with the band becoming increasingly agitated as they waited on the stage; but with the benefit of hindsight it only went to fire up the immaculately dressed Pauline Black, even more than usual meaning the first few songs were spat out at 100mph and she took her anger out on the lyrics; making Fuck Art; Let’s Dance more ‘punk’ than I remembered and Three Minute Hero as fiery as the first time I heard it in the Mayfair back in the day.
Beer chuckers? What’s that about? At £4 per pint those idiots must earn a lot more than I do; as they flung it around with gay abandon drenching one novice photographer in the pit! Mercifully the packed nature of the area meant they couldn’t get out for refills.
During the punk infused Celebrate the Bullet; we even got our first crowd surfer; much to the amusement of the crowd; although the fans at the front eventually got tired of this merriment and gave the next few a couple of digs in the ribs as they went by.
Always prepared to give their classics an airing; On My Radio was superb tonight; The Selector still record albums today; and included two songs from the next and Boxfresh sounded; just that and comfortably stands shoulder to shoulder with the 30 year old hits.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the middle of the set apart from middle-aged legs aren’t what they used to be; so the dancing/bouncing in the crowd was kept for the last three songs – Missing Words, Last Train to Skaville and the ever amazing Too Much Pressure which; again had 500 people or more screaming the chorus.
I now had my second wind; fuelled by enough coffee to float a battleship, and alongside 3,000 fans squashed together in front of the stage I was genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing From The Jam, for the third time in my case.
Ever the professionals they ran onto a darkened stage to be greeted by the expectant crowd and when the opening salvo of Down in the Tube Station (at midnight) blasted out at the same time the lights came on the roar would have stopped the bingo at Chester le Street WMC a mile away!
The legendary Bass player Bruce Foxton glided around the stage with spider like movements as Russell Hastings* regaled the adoring masses with the tale of young David Watts; then they threw a bit of a curve ball by including When You’re Young before thrilling us with an extraordinarily good version of Strange Town!
It was one of those nights; in fact it had been one of those days; just when you thought you knew what to expect a cry of recognition went up from a dedicated handful as From the Jam cranked through the gears until they were in Sport Mode for Saturdays Kids which had the fans going crazy with excitement; which is some sight guessing the ages of many involved.
The hits just kept on coming – Start! Butterfly Collector, Smither-Jones, Eton Rifles……I was breathless and I wasn’t even dancing as each song was a perfect 3-4 minutes of timeless power-pop that sounds as good and exciting today as it did 35 years ago.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better; they did! There aren’t many bands who can finish an hour long set with Going Underground, Heatwave and ending with That’s Entertainment! And it was; entertainment that is from everyone concerned; the bands, the bar staff, the promoters and the poor sound engineers who suffered the wrath of Pauline Black; but lived to tell the tale.
# In the original draft I called Russell Hastings* Russell Watson hahaha apologies all around