The last week in September might mark Freshers’ Week at universities throughout the land, but at Northumbria University on Saturday there was another, older clientele.
That’s because that was the day the Students’ Union hosted the annual gathering of assorted punks, waifs and strays that is North East Calling.
It started out as the nostalgic Durham Punk Festival in 2005, and is showing no signs of slowing up, even though many of the bands – let alone the audience – will see 50 again.
This time round there were a dozen bands on the bill to entertain the hundreds of fans which flocked along, with some newer faces joining thuse who have been around the block more than a few times.
First up were No Thrills, a four-piece from Penrith, who had the unenviable task of opening the show at 12.30pm, but their energetic half-hour set of ’77-style punk was well-received, with songs like Jimmy, 4 Days Of Chaos and Punk Rock ‘Til I Die proving to be the standouts as frontman Pez bounded around the stage.
Knock Off, a street-punk trio from London, were next, and they were keen to impress, as it was their NEC debut. Suitably attired in Fred Perry shirts and Dr Marten boots, they did just that with a tight set of singalong anthems such as Football, Beer & Punk Rock, and This Is Who We Are, as well as the title track of their new EP, Riot.
The next band up were Hung Like Hanratty, a six-piece from Sutton-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, who were also first-timers. I’ve seen them described as ‘punk rock panto’, and that’s an apt description as singer Al Sation uses a variety of props, including wigs and a pig mask, during their set.
They sing infectious and amusing songs about life’s irritants, including not cleaning up after your dog, and shutting gates behind you, as well as more serious subjects like Oscar Pistorius. This gig marked the launch of new album, What You See Is What You Get, with more than a few takers at their merch stall.
Fourth band on were Paisley’s Fire Exit, who although they’ve been going in various guises for 40 years, I’d not managed to see before. This was a fresh line-up, with a new singer and bass player, and they were missing a member of their usual five-strong line-up, as he was at a wedding!
After an uncertain first couple of songs they warmed to their task, and produced a solid set , and the crowd were firmly onside by the time frontman Gerry led them in the closing We’re Gonna Drink.
Crashed Out, from Jarrow, are a band anyone who follows the scene in the North East will have seen umpteen times, and their punked-up street rock ‘n’ roll always slips down a treat.
Today was no exception, and they revelled at being back in front of a home crowd, with singer Chris Wright leading them through familiar tunes like This Is Our Music, Fat Punks Don’t Pogo, The Jarrow Song, and Cushy Butterfield. Mint.
If any band could follow such local heroes, Dirt Box Disco were it. One of the scene’s fastest-rising stars, they might look a bit of a clip in their charity shop dressy-up outfits, but they were up there with the best acts of the day with their set of singalong anthems.
Frontman Weab.I.Am, wearing clown face paint and a giant camouflage onesie, led the packed venue through favourites like Burning, Slapdash And Haphazard and My Girlfriend’s Best Friend’s Sister, as well as the laugh-out-loud Joyce’s Voices, from their latest album, Immortals.
The room was noticeably emptier for the next band, Discharge, who even for the most hardened punks are a bit of a ‘Marmite’ band. Formed in Stoke in 1977, they’re credited with ‘inventing’ their own punk sub-genre, D-beat, and metal superstars such as Metallica, Anthrax and Sepultura have covered their songs.
Their crushing guitar onslaught is not for the faint-hearted, but those who stayed lapped up a set including the likes of Hell On Earth, Protest And Survive and Decontrol.
After that, Peacehaven’s Peter And The Test Tube Babies sounded positively melodic with their cheeky brand of not-entirely-serious punk-flavoured rock.
Frontman Peter Bywaters never stopped grinning through a 12-song set that included favourites like Banned From The Pubs and Jinx, as well as a couple of tracks from last year’s That’s Shallot album.
The night was getting on, and the beers were flowing, so what better band to ramp things up a bit than Anti-Nowhere League? Animal and co. have been treading the boards since 1980 with their brand of biker-punk.
In the best punk tradition, they have courted controversy with some of their lyrics over the years, and while they are again a band some people can’t stand, their set here was a good one, with classics such as I Hate People, Streets Of London, So What? and We Are … The League.
The high point of their set, however, was Uncle Charlie – not a song about something you put up your nose, surprisingly, but a tribute to punk legend Charlie Harper of the UK Subs.
Things were getting serious now, and next on was Steve Ignorant with Paranoid Visions. The former frontman of anarcho-punks Crass has played with the reformed Dublin band for five years now, after what was intended as a one-off collaboration became regular live gigs, two albums and a couple of singles.
This was billed as a set of Crass classics, and they were certainly present in the shape of Do They Owe Us A Living?, Banned From The Roxy, and Big A Little A, which was a contender for song of the night.
The Angelic Upstarts, formed in South Shields in 1977, are probably the North East’s best-known punk band, and they are regulars at this festival, with their second headliner slot making it their 10th appearance.
Singer Mensi might not be an angry young man any more, but he still puts his heart and soul into punk classics like Teenage Warning, Never Again, Leave Me Alone and the anti-fascist anthem Solidarity.
At the end of the set he showed he’s a big old softy really by bringing on his son ‘Little Mensi’, for I‘m An Upstart, which brought a tear and a huge smile to just about every face in the room.
How do you follow then that? With headliners Sham 69, that’s how. Jimmy Pursey’s Hersham Boys are another ‘heritage’ act who are enjoying a late-career renaissance, and the current band, featuring three of the classic line-up, showed exactly why they were top of the bill.
Starting with What Have We Got? they blazed their way through a 50-minute set of songs which were mostly classics before the word ‘oi!’ was even invented.
Borstal Breakout, If The Kids Are United, a cover of The Clash’s White Riot, and the closing Hurry Up Harry got the crowd moving – in some cases literally, as the security staff at the front were kept busy with crowd-surfers.
It was a lively end to another top-notch North East Calling. Well done to promoter Jon Connor for bringing such a good line-up – with new bands as well as old - to the region.
My only - very slight - gripe would the lack of female representation in the bands, with only two women taking to the stage all day in a scene which has plenty of talented lasses. Roll on next year.