DEPARTMENT S: THE BLACKPOOL AFFAIR, FRIDAY 6/8/2010

DEPARTMENT S: THE BLACKPOOL AFFAIR, FRIDAY 6/8/2010

And so, once again the tribes gather for their annual stick of Blackpool Punk Rock at the essential Rebellion Festival. But this year, amongst the rockers, skankers, moshers and voyeurs, something altogether different: Department S. (Queue massed cries of ‘Is Vic There?’ from hordes of those barely familiar or as yet unacquainted with anything but this band’s singular cross-over hit.) A History Lesson. In the late 1970’s Punk came and conquered, but by the early ‘80’s the media became bored and said it was dead. Admittedly it had lost some momentum (and an awful lot of temporary friends, half-assed followers and ‘poseurs’) as much of the youth did what was expected: That is, they grew up and ‘got a proper job’, married, had kids and joined the ranks of the subdued. In the wake of this, a new term was coined: Post-Punk. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. An all-encompassing term for those who had grown up on punk and its’ forbears and had more to say than ‘Destroy’ and more to play than 1-2-3-4 thrash (nice as those things may be). Out of Rusty Egan and Steve Harrington’s ‘Billy’s’ club in Soho and the burgeoning New Mod scene came a new breed not satisfied with simply adhering to any punk leather studded uniform. These scenes produced new bands influenced, not only by the spirit and power of punk, but by The Who, Small Faces, Bowie, Reed, Kraftwerk and Eurodisco. For them it was time to smarten up and get sharp. After a brief dalliance as ‘Guns For Hire’ the ‘Psychedelic Glam, Pop-Art, Post-Punk, Funk’ band that is Department S was born in 1980. By 1982 it was over (just as the UK82 2nd wave hit). They had released three singles, supported the likes of The Jam, The Members and Toots & The Maytals but the usual ‘musical differences’ and the ubiquitous ‘label problems’ took their toll. Their one full album didn’t see proper release until 1993 by which time original singer Vaughn Toulouse had already sadly succumbed to AIDS. That would seem to be, as they say, that. But…. In 2007 they got back together and with the original keyboard player now taking vocal duties there began a whirlwind of activity and recording with the likes of Glen Matlock, Marco Pirroni, Terry Edwards and Mark Bedford and a series of excellent, well received live shows. If you want the full skinny visit their website at http://www.dept-s.com/home.html In The Ballroom. The current line-up arrived at Blackpool having never attended let alone played the festival. There where some understandable pre-show apprehensions. Would they fit in amongst the punk, Oi!, thrash, hardcore noises that make up 90% of the Rebellion bands and attendees. But no worries; this festival always has that other 10% of interesting, esoteric and frankly weird stuff on offer for the more eclectic and open-minded tastes. The band took to the stage at 9pm (following a frankly stupendous set by Hazel O’Connor) in the main Empress Ballroom of Blackpool’s historic Winter Gardens. Their time slot put them up against the likes of  Deadline, Chelsea, Sick On The Bus and The Grit playing the other stages. Would they have an audience? Damn right they would. Dressed in smart, black and grey suits, jackets and ties (and a Fred Perry for the sticksman) they exploded into the first song, ‘Clap Now’, with a tightness and energy that put bands half their age to shame. This is the song they claim should have been a  single but had been rejected by the label. Stupid label. And quite cheeky to open with a song apparently cajoling the audience into appreciation. During the 2nd song. ‘Monte Carlo Or Bust’, singer Eddie drolly inserts ‘’A cheap holiday in other people’s misery’. This band looks like Joy Division but obviously has a better developed sense of humour. He neatly places his jacket by the drum riser. After ‘Age Concern’ the band launch into a rendition of an old Pink Floyd number, ‘Lucifer Sam’. They learnt this song for a recent Syd Barrett charity event and are easily making it their own. They prove there was music before punk. I’m no great Floyd fan but that tracks something I can’t disdain. So far Michael Herbage is earning his reputation as one of the great, unsung guitar heroes. Mark Taylor on bass is solid, note perfect and, with hypnotic circular motifs to the fore, forms a formidable rhythm section with Stuart Mizon’s powerhouse, sometimes dub-like drums. They have to work harder than usual as 2nd guitarist Sam Burnett was sadly unable to make this gig. How the ‘Mizon Machine’ doesn’t go into meltdown or cardiac arrest is a mystery. Sam is missed but not fatally so. ‘Going Left Right’ is up next and by now the audience has swelled to an estimated 5 or 600 bodies. One of the bands largest crowds and definitely their largest ever venue. There’s even a mosh-pit. Mohawk punks, spikes, quiffs and shaven heads are all down there. Jesus! They’re dancing! And Mark takes off his tie. Outrageous. Throughout proceedings, as the spot lights pick out the hidden psychedelic colours in Herbage’s deceivingly black necktie, there is an element in the crowd who keep crying out for THAT song. They are thankfully ignored as the band plunder the Glam graveyard and resurrect the old Alvin Stardust tune and first ‘reunion’ single ‘My Coo Ca Choo’. The words are familiar and the crowd sing along. But the presentation is a so much wilder cousin of the original and the applause is deafening and rapturous. So many old punks grew up on that stuff. Hell, the Glitter Band and T-Rex played last night and New York Dolls are tomorrow. This suits the occasion nicely. Throughout the entire set singer Edward Roxie, it seems impolite to call him Eddie, prowls the stage languorously like some kind of lazy leopard casting apparently, but deceivingly, indifferent eyes over the faces of the crowd. His impeccably smart clothes and the matter of fact delivery of inter-song information and anecdotes decry the animal delivery of the new song ‘Slave’. A totally un-PC, apparently misogynistic (but awfully funny) lyric screams forth like some throwback to the garage rock of The Seeds or The 13th Floor Elevators. Lovely. Then it’s latest single ‘Wonderful Day’. Fantastic. Easily the equal, if not the better of, any of the original ‘80’s material. Bodes well for the new album, which I believe, may be called ‘Mr. Nutley’s Strange Delussionarium’. Or then again it may not. ‘Ode To Koln (The Stench Of Death)’ has a title that sounds like some death-metal slipped into the set. It didn’t. More fantastic guitar, bass and drum. But this song is hardly done before THAT song is announced. Many know the words. Some know only the one simple refrain…’Is Vic There?’. Herbage produces the right stuff yet again. Obviously slightly different from the original studio production and now lacking keyboards and telephone but with the addition of a ‘Ziggy Stardust’ intro. The crowd go wild. They think it’s all over…It’s not. We’ve reached the last song. Eddie introduces ‘I Want’, the last of the original ‘80’s releases. It’s enormous. We don’t want it to end. But after a few minutes, with lyrics delivered in style, the singer picks up his jacket and put it on. With a vague gesture of farewell to the crowd he saunters off stage right and leaves the musical element of the band to riff and soar for another 5 minutes before the final ringing notes bring the ceremony to an end. There are calls for ‘encore’ but this is Rebellion. There’s a schedule and The Rezillos are waiting in the wings. With final bows the band leaves the stage. The cheers are universal. And they were worried they wouldn’t have an audience. It’ll be even bigger when they come back I guarantee it.

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