State of the Union

“This is not a time to be dismayed. This is Punk Rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for. It is time to go!” – Henry Rollins
Friday 26th October 2018
KK: It’s our 28th wedding anniversary and we are in our new car driving from our home just outside Norwich to Birmingham. This car is an adventure vehicle: it has got room in it for bikes and tents and camping paraphernalia. When we climbed into it for the first time we tuned the radio into BBC 6 Music and Huey Morgan was playing Dre & Tupac’s California Love so it immediately felt bad ass. Unfortunately, since January, I had been working a job with horribly unsociable hours so our opportunities for adventure have been limited. Sick of the hours and increasingly bored of my managers behaving like idiot bell-ends I walked out (which felt great btw – I recommend it). I now have a much nicer job so we are going on an adventure. There are no bikes or tents or camping paraphernalia. We do, however, have LK’s iPod on shuffle which means we are moving to a playlist soundtrack that is part Peaky Blinders and part Fistful of Dollars. This trip is entirely her idea and I love her for it.
LK: This trip actually started in Mexico. So excited we were to be there for Day of the Dead celebrations in 2017, we completely overlooked a double booking at Norwich UEA for a Sleaford Mods gig. In a spirit of neighbourliness and recycling, we passed the tickets on to a friend. He forgot to go. This has irritated me ever since. To make up for this twice wasted opportunity, I thought it would be a great idea for me and KK to go to Glasgow Barrowlands to see Sleaford Mods the day after our anniversary. Some months later, I noticed an even better excuse to break up the journey in Birmingham on the actual day of our anniversary: IDLES were playing at the O2 Institute and it would be fierce and defiant and joyful. This is our idea of romance, not ‘look at the card I bought, it says I love you’.

Idles Birmingham 26th Oct 2018

KK: This new IDLES album, Joy As An Act Of Resistance, is brutal yet beautiful, heart-breaking yet hilarious, aggressive yet kind and most of all relevant and fabulously exciting. And Birmingham, like everywhere else in the country according to my Twitter feed, was right up for them. I can’t remember being in a pre-gig crowd that was so happy and chatty and good natured and then the band came on and the whole place went berserk. From stage front to fire exits there was no escape, no place for your fifty something couples to back off to. It was just a thrashing mass of limbs and smiles and exhilarated people trying to sing their own faces off. Gloriously insane. There is a guitarist in the crowd, half the crowd are on the stage, everybody is jumping and singing with the bass and the drums so tremendous that it makes us all inexhaustible. Singer Joe Talbot says, “We don’t do encores cos they’re weird”, so after a protracted ending we suddenly find ourselves outside where people are joyfully hugging each other. We went for a pint, were instantly exhausted so collapsed into our hotel bed, ears ringing and delighted.
Saturday 27th October 2018
LK: As usual we wake up early and road trip rules come into force: get ourselves up and out in 20 minutes, clear the city before any traffic builds up, and drive for about 90 minutes before a breakfast stop. After an unwelcome number of roadworks and speed restrictions, we arrived at Stafford Services. Where it snowed briefly, made everyone grin at each other which reminds you that it is possible to start to like humanity again. Back on the M6 (best UK motorway by far: enough lanes and impressive scenery to make the A1 look like the dreary road that it pretty much is) to aim for lunch in Kendal. We were both sure we had been to Kendal when we lived in the North East, and it turned out that we absolutely haven’t. What a nice surprise, it’s one of the upsides of having a failing memory that potentially every day is completely new. Our lovely new car ate up the miles towards Glasgow to a playlist that strangely went mariachi as soon as we crossed the border, under a brilliant blue sky, and through the craggy, dramatic surrounds that we do so miss currently living in the flatlands.
KK: We haven’t been to Glasgow for far too long, we could tell this because the guy who was offering LK his seat as he departed the pub initially sounded like he was threatening her. It took a while to re-tune to the accent but when we did we remembered it is magnificent. There were people dancing in the pub at half past seven in the evening, the drink was flowing and the city was revving up for Saturday night. On the massive screen a helicopter was taking off from the pitch at Leicester. The area around The Barrowlands has somehow become more rundown, which short of it being in a warzone you would have thought impossible. However, the venue and the people in it are majestic; tatty and damaged but full of life and passion.

Sleaford Mods Glasgow 27th Oct 2018

LK: One of our friends who did bother to go to see Sleaford Mods at the UEA last year said: “they have no business being that good”. Two scruffy arsed men, one pressing a laptop key at the start of each song and smiling with a can of lager in his hand, the other swearing constantly in a Nottingham Tourettes who should pull his pants up. But they are a compelling force of nature and provide a furious and funny articulation of what it’s like to live without privilege, directed at those who do (there was a special mention for Philip Green before a sublime ‘BHS’ was launched). One of the plusses of these miserable times being deceived by spineless and self-protecting “leaders” is an upsurge of angry creativity which is producing vital, visceral music, comedy, arts. And those of us of a certain age won’t find it difficult to draw comparisons to the spiteful, evil Thatcher years, when we again mobilised around music with a conscience and drew our warrior lines so we could survive. We thought we’d got through it, we thought things would get more enlightened for a benign progress for society. We’ve gone backwards, we’re living in the Eighties.
Saturday 10th November 2018
KK: “The Baby Tunnel” is a fictional place that exists only in our imagination and even the idea of it doesn’t stand up to serious investigation. But friends keep disappearing into it all the same. We give them ten years and meet them on the other side when the kids are interesting. We got in touch with Tom and Jane because we thought they were in Birmingham, they were always brilliant company: hilarious, clever, imaginative adventurers, we hadn’t seen them for 12 years. Turns out they were in York so we broke our journey home from Glasgow back to Norwich to meet them for lunch. They have two sons who are clearly hilarious, clever, imaginative adventurers in the making and it was an absolute joy to meet them all. Occasionally friends escape from “The Baby Tunnel” early and gigs are an excellent incentive for them to do so. “We really must meet for a pint?” can get booted down the road for years. Therapy? at the Waterfront in Norwich and the friends we met have young families but there is some stuff you can’t miss. We used to hate missing Therapy? gigs to the point that in 1992 we saw them 6 times on one tour which included 4 gigs in four days. Earlier this year we saw them supporting The Stranglers and they were tight and fierce and charming and they did Innocent X which has the most thrilling drum break in any song I have ever heard. This time around they didn’t do Innocent X and, while still charming, they were a baggy mess. Our friends loved it. Probably glad to get out.
Wednesday 14th November 2018 Killing Joke UEA 14th Nov 2018
LK: The company I work for generously put on a celebratory buffet lunch at their London headquarters for all those who had passed a management course in the previous year. Hilariously enough, I was amongst that number. Well done me. But I was distracted by the need to return to Norwich that afternoon in good time for our next gig, putting myself at the mercy of Greater Anglia’s dubious timekeeping. Gig attendance was essential: Killing Joke have been bringing us the Apocalypse for the last 40 years and it’s never felt more like the time to pay attention. We took our positions in the audience formation, full of solid stalwarts who’ve maintained enough self-discipline not to be completely addled wrecks (I refer you to Tuesday 20th November entry below). Don’t mess with any of these people. An other-worldly sound begins; Jaz starts the slow, deliberate movements of a marionette freed from his controlling strings; a chill goes down my spine and tears prick my eyes as they kick ass with the opening ‘Unspeakable’. I love this thing that is Killing Joke; I love that it has been a constant through mine and KK’s life together; I love they are so elemental, uncompromising, they make me remember who I am. I can’t recall the last gig I went to where I didn’t check the time on my watch at least once. Listen well, humans.
Thursday 15th November 2018 Slaves UEA 15th Nov 2018
KK: If I were young now I would hate old people. When I was young, no matter how bigoted and foolish old people were they had at least won a war. They had faced down Hitler who was actively trying to kill them and they were due some respect for the hardships they had suffered so we didn’t have to. Most old people in this country now didn’t fight or survive a war; all they did was retire early on a fat pension so they could wander around Marks and Spencer with a copy of The Daily Mail being hateful and privileged and looking for ladders to pull up. Why have we got this government winning the class war for the wrong side? Why have we got this Brexit madness? Old people. Cowards, terrified that young people are going to kill them and take their stupid bungalows off them in the name of fairness. And young people would and could do that if they weren’t so daft. Seriously you just need to go to a gig for young people (Slaves, UEA) to realise how daft they are. When dispensing drinks they are clueless, when buying drinks they all queue up and just buy their own which takes ages and as soon as the band comes on they throw it in the air. “If this lass doesn’t f*** off I’m going to break her f***ing arm”, LK said during the first song after being relentlessly bashed into by some malnourished halfwit who had worn herself out after three songs. Slaves were/are great by the way: all bashy crashy shouty shout. They didn’t do the song ‘Hey!’ though which has the line “Watch out for those kids, they’ll tear you apart!” presumably because they won’t.
Saturday 17th November 2018
LK: I’ve grown to “quite like” London, which hasn’t always been the case. When we used to travel from Newcastle to watch football matches in rough and ready parts of the capital for typically very little return from the team it provided a certain type of experience. We now have more trips to see bands, meet up with Ozzie mates when they’re over for family visits, go on pub crawls with amazing friends who weave magical stories telling the history of our meandering back street routes. Altogether less disappointing.
We visited the British Museum exhibition about dissent as we were in London by the early afternoon for the Killing Joke gig at the Roundhouse. There was a Zippo lighter of an American serviceman in the Vietnam War who summed up the conflict with this engraved message: “We are the unwilling led by the unqualified to do the impossible for the ungrateful.” There were so many opportunities to stop that war, but political pride, inability to admit to a monumental mistake and the inertia leading from that meant the tragedy continued for years. You might see where I’m going with this comparison…….Killing Joke Roundhouse 17th Nov 2018
KK: recently reminded us that it was the anniversary of Newcastle beating Cambridge 2—1 in 1983. Keegan (pen) and Beardsley scored in a game that would be unremarkable except it was officiated by the notorious ref Trelford Mills and the penalty he awarded for us was pretty soft. It was also the first time LK and I attended St James’ Park together so also the anniversary of our first dance. John Peel Roadshow Lancaster Uni that night: Mr Peel played Change by Killing Joke and I jumped up and grabbed LK’s hand. “I don’t dance” she sharply informed me. “You do to this,” I replied and in a very rare case of her being told what to do, dance we did. And 35 years later we are still dancing to Killing Joke. Pre-show we had met some spectacularly wonderful old friends and a spectacularly wonderful new friend so we had already had a brilliant night before a note was played. And then Killing Joke, all tribal drums, jagged guitars, raging fury and almost secretly funky made the Roundhouse dance with us. Some Newcastle fans can be prize pillocks, some old punks can be insufferable idiots but I never met a Killing Joke fan I didn’t like. Killing Joke don’t do gigs they do gatherings. The tribe gathered, we danced and it was great.
Tuesday 20th November 2018
LK: We’ve reached the last of 5 gigs in 10 days. I really do not feel like going out tonight, I’ve seen the Damned so many times, exactly how much would I be missing if I kept here on the sofa? KK tells me that Captain Sensible is promising us on Twitter that they’ll be on stage at 8:30. It’s 8.00 now. Cheered by the thought of a nice early finish and getting to bed before 11pm we grab our coats and drive off to the UEA.

The Damned UEA 20th Nov 2018

KK: The new Damned album Evil Spirits has got some really good tracks on it. Obviously whenever they did anything from it some fat knacker in a UK Subs T-shirt would shout for New Rose or Smash It Up but as I said; some old punks are insufferable idiots. For a start Wait For The Blackout or History of the World are superior songs. Singer Dave Vanian, weirdly ageless, glides and whirls like a phantom and his voice has somehow got richer and more powerful, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is mesmerising. Neat Neat Neat, given a new lease of life thanks to being used for a high-octane car chase in Baby Driver, is exhilarating.
Wednesday 28th November 2018 Theatre of Hate Norwich Waterfront 28th Nov 2018
KK: By this point a crow-bar that was actually on fire wasn’t going to get LK to another gig so I nearly let Theatre of Hate upstairs at The Waterfront slip but speculative texts to Bully and ADD got surprising replies. Despite the three of us having a history of making each other cry laughing, that goes back nearly 40 years, getting us in the same room at the same time proves absurdly difficult given that we live within 15 miles of each other. The audience was sparse but the band were really sharp and powerful and Kirk Brandon’s voice is still strikingly strong. So impressed was I that I bought a CD; Bully said “If we stick around, they’ll sign that for you”, I said “I’d rather you two signed it.” ADD, born awkward, said “I’m not signing anything,” so we left, still ripping the piss out of each other in that way that really good mates do that makes the world seem wonderful.

Sunday 2nd December 2018

The Bronx London 2nd Dec 2018

LK: Sunday gigs and me just don’t get on, yet here we were, in the car again, this time down to London with our friend Ian. The Fireball Tour’s first night at Shepherd’s Bush Empire beckoned: none of us particularly had any interest in any other bands on the line up, we were honed in for The Bronx. KK loves that I love The Bronx so much, and asked me why: I considered that it’s because they are so ferocious but without being the blunt instrument that a lot of thoughtless shouty punk bands were/are. Also, I’m very fond of their alter ego Mariachi el Bronx so they get some slack. Parking up on the east side of London for a handy M11 getaway, we discovered that the “severe delays” on the Central Line were worth the risk and only entailed standing around on a platform for 3 minutes. We checked with door staff when The Bronx were due on stage; 9:45 was the reply which was untypically late and at odds with our understanding that The Bronx weren’t the headliners. No matter, we went to find The White Horse, an old haunt near Shepherd’s Bush Market where we used to meet our QPR friend Joe. Haunting the place is exactly what Joe would be doing now, having died several years ago, but we didn’t find out as we peered through the window at the bare wood tables hosting hunched up old men under light yellowed by decades of smoke: the place and clientele haven’t been disturbed since the early Eighties and apparently, we could put up with shitty pubs when we were young. We were just grateful to get served, as the punk rock community was not welcome in every establishment. Not so much now, and we found somewhere else to sit down and reflect over a sub-five pound pint. We all felt it would be wise to go over to the venue at 8:30; as we walked up the stairs a familiar barrage of sound lurked beyond: Ian’s unforgettable moment of the night was my face when I realised the door staff had misinformed us of The Bronx’s start time. All three of us asked different strangers how much we’d missed of the set; only ten minutes but I was fuming. Until they launched into “Knifeman” – the fiercest of drums, the choppiest of guitars, Matt immersed headlong in the crowd not missing a screaming word – then I couldn’t remember anything else in the world except being here. As soon as their set finished we headed off, got the T-shirt, and drove off into the night traffic. Which all disappeared at midnight and we were drawn back into the reality of the state of the UK in late 2018, into the dark, into the land that time forgot.

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