STRUMMERCAMP – REVIEW

It’s hard to conceive of an individual who more perfectly incapsulates the spirit of a music festival, or who’s memory is best enshrined in one, than John Graham Mellor, better known as Joe Strummer. Since his death in 2002 there have been many tributes to his life and work but more than eight years ago, during a conversation in pub, a small group of people who run the event on a not-for-profit basis began one of the most fitting. Stummercamp #8 had everything that makes british music festivals great; changeable weather, great vibes, community spirit and incredible music. We at JAM had an absolute stonker and you can read all about it here…

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The opening night saw a smattering of bands entertaining the growing crowd as people arrived to pitch up. Although there were many memorable moments including a ten year old going totally sick to T. V. Smith’s (lead singer from The Adverts) acoustic set, a sight that resorted my faith in the future of the human race, it has to be said that Rasta 4 Eyes stole the show. A seven piece ensemble from Merseyside and Manchester, mixing all the best elements of Punk, Dub, Reggae and Ska, they destroyed the place. Huge sounds and one of the funkiest horn sections ever, combined with a lead singing who’s voice does soulful and on pitch as well as rough-as-fuck, they struck us as more of a stripped back orchestra than a band. A pleasure to skank to!

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Saturday saw the boys at TNS Records, surely one of the hardest working collectives of promoters in the North, hosting the indoor stage. A well chosen and eclectic line-up running the gammat of Punk music; one of the most engaging acts on the bill was most certainly Wonk Unit. Falling somewhere between Sleaze Rock, old school three-chords-and-a-snarl-punk and Hardcore, their vocalist has a stage manner seemingly comprised of Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama and David Byrne from the Talking Heads, circa his early eighties, doing his own body weight in amphetamines period. Tunes like ‘Estate Girl’ and ‘Poem For Saturday’ hint at their love of humour and the absurd, adding something just a little bit extra to their great musicianship. You will not be disappointed if you catch a set by this lot.

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Taking the award for the most high energy performance of the weekend, Beat The Red Light are like nothing you have ever seen… unless of course you’ve seen an eight piece Skacore juggernaut, wearing glamrock make-up, fronted by The Flash! So probably not, eh? Proving that white men can indeed jump, the fight was taken into the crowd, where Pook (the singer) spent 90% of the set, instigating some of the most frenetic audience participation of the whole Strummercamp; meeting the man on and off stage is like meeting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The band meanwhile laid down horn riff after slamming horn riff, with the assembled fans high-stepping with the best of them. Their guitarist is also, and I mean this when I say it, shit hot! Almost buried under the weight of the brass, it took a while to recognise but this guy can shred. All driven by a rythme section that can actually keep up with this pace, it was impossible not to put down the camera and the notepad to get involved towards the end… Capdown crossed with Anti Vigilante, basically way too much fun.

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Joe Strummer may have been one of the most important people in Punk but he was also famous for his championing of eclecticism and pluralism in music as well as his own experimentation; the man was into everything from Rockabilly to Techno. The inclusion of an acoustic stage with acts that differ wildly from the staple that you may expect pays great respect to this and one in particular that caught our eyes and ears was the sublime Bryony Marie Fry. A singer songwriter of outstanding beauty, her understated and parred down appearance included many tunes of her own composition, built around a soaring voice, twinkly guitar and personal experiences. Her encore Amy Winehouse cover, demanded by a small but insistant crowd, really topped things off and cemented Bryony as one of our favorite acts of Strummercamp, here at JAM.

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Sunday’s Spannered Stage, despite being on the last day of proceedings, definitely did not fail to impress, with Liberation UK blowing us away with their own brand of Dubbed up, Folky Rock. With apparent influencing ranging from early ‘Chilli Peppers, through The Levellers  to classic Reggae, and sporting members from Black Star Dub Collective, one of the best bands to come out of Manchester in some time, the tight rythme section, killer riffs, danceable grooves and timely use of a Melodica, kept the audience’s interest from start to finish.

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It’s not every day that you get to see the vocalist from arguably one of the greatest British bands ever perform all of his classic tunes, and to watch The Neville Staple Band was a huge treat. Although some muttered criticism was levelled at the performance in terms of it being ‘glorified karaoke’, in our opinion here at JAM, these sour naysayers can take a running jump, preferably face first into something very hard. Neville Staple is still THE original rudeboy, with a swagger and stage presence that brooks no disappointment, while still managing to come off as good natured and extremely humble. All of The Specials’ tunes that you would hope to hear were there, with no hint of arrogance they just played exactly what they knew would make the crowd happy; and boy did they dance. Saving ‘Ghost Town’ for the encore was a, perhaps slightly predictable, stroke of genius but everyone who got to watch saw a master class and went back out into the sun sporting massive grins.

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The Beat are one of the few bands of their era who are still attempting to do something new. Although they do play the classics and have a ball doing so, they don’t seem to rely on them and some of their more recent material, while lacking the nostalgic gravitas, is genuinely just as good. Rankin’ Roger still possesses the energy of a man decades younger than his years and with the addition of his son, Rankin’ Jnr., makes a charming and charismatic focal point for proceedings; their tandem, synchronised dance moves are simply a joy to watch. Songs like ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ nearly tore the roof off the main stage tent but more recent material, interspliced with Rankin’ Jnr.’s more than impressive freestyle skills gave the audience a taste of something different, proving that The Beat clearly have many more years in them yet.

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Manchester’s Punx Inna Jungle boys were the hosts of the after hours stage, running indoors from eleven until two each night and in there usual fashion managed to provide some of the weekend’s best entertainment; they also provided two of the most interesting and most bizarre performances that we at JAM have ever seen. Syd 31, featuring ex-members of Population simply defy any attempt to classify or pin down. Imagine if you will a cyber-looking chick rinsing a laptop set over the top of a constantly shredding guitarist, fronted by a boots-and-braces wearing, hench punk, sporting a silver glam-rock stripe across his face and you have just about grasped the aesthetics at play here. If Nine Inch Nails were way more kitsch and played punk, this might be what they would sound like but to be honest, I wont even try to describe their music any further, I’m not sure that I have the words and you should really have a listen. I will however tell you that they ended their set with an Industrial/Punk cover of Culture Beat’s ‘Mr. Vain’… that’s right, you heard, ‘Mr. Vain’. These guys could either clear a room or have it absolutely blowing up and the only real determiner of outcome is how much fun the crowd are willing to have.

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Wadeye… we talk about them a lot here at JAM. We’ve photographed and reviewed them numerous times and they never fail to delight but this, this was something different. Not only does their set take the gong for hands down, THE crackiest of the whole Strummercamp but also rates as the single greatest thing I have ever seen on stage. The promoter, who quite swiftly appeared to wash his hands of the situation, was overheard to describe the performance as “The Dwarves on viagra” which should give you a sense of how utterly alarming it was to be in the same room with these ‘people’. Although there was a serious lack of rythme section (due to it being the bassist’s birthday and the drummer having unspecified, illicit narcotics placed in his mouth while passed out drunk), in fact, I’m fairly possitive they were playing different tunes the entire way through, the two guitarist really held proceedings together. As always, their frontman didn’t fail to impress, putting his heart and soul into a performance, roaring, singing and rolling around on the floor; all in a pair of Hawaiian shades, sporting little palm trees. The real tour de force however, came as midway through their set, the drummer interrupted on the mic and stood up to reveal he was bollock naked… All in all, one of the funniest, seediest things ever to take place in front of an audience but, totally fun. Well done Wadeye, you bunch of glorious nutters!

Words & Images: Benjamin Paul

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