Forty years after the release of God Save The Queen and seven days before a General Election, protest punk rock is alive and well in East Hull.
Or is it? I’ve still got that single. Asked my mum to pick it up while she was in town. Remember when Boots sold records? And I saw the Sex Pistols on the tour which followed.
Memories fade, but I’m sure I’d have remembered if Johnny Rotten had said: “Okay guys, let’s huddle round the microphone. I’ll croon. Sid – you do the ‘bom, bom’, Paul – you’re on the ‘oohs’ and Steve, can you manage the ‘ahs’? And we’ll all click our fingers!”
A capella? A ca-bleeding-pella? No, the punk of The King Blues is more polished, tuneful and melodic than the raw stuff that rocked the world in 1977. They bring out an electro acoustic guitar, a ukulele and even have a guy whistling at one point.
And that audience! There are teenagers, and couples nearly as old as me. They all know the words, and they don’t pull any punches. For some it would have been a tough choice between The King Blues, supported by Counting Coins, at the Freedom Centre or a not-quite-head-to-head debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn live on TV.
The abiding thought here was that if the Prime Minister really is too fragile to take on her main adversary face-to-face, these guys would chew her up and spit her out before the end of the sound check.
Some of the material was beautifully brutal – ferocious messages wrapped in a soft, snuggly blanket. A razor blade in the raspberry mousse. Trojan tunes, appropriately enough being played just down the road from Hull KR’s place on the eve of the appearances there by Paul Heaton and Billy Bragg, expert practitioners of this sort of thing from 30 years ago.
The King Blues combine punk played with power, tip-toeing and tub-thumping ska, spoken word with bark and bite, and a sense of humour to bring the house down. When the hair-trigger fire alarm forced the band to ditch the smoke machine, they pulled a young, volunteer vaper out of the crowd and gave him the job of sitting centre stage, exhaling at every chorus. Not an easy task when the human smoke machine was trying to sing along as well.
Counting Coins were Counting Coins. High energy from permanently pumped-up front man Harry, the tightest musicianship starring spectacular, soaring trumpet, and signs of greater accessibility in the band’s new material.
They’ll be back soon as the festival season gather pace, but what next for the Freedom Centre? It was a coup to get the Coins there, never mind a crew of the calibre of London-based King Blues, and it happened only because the Hull 2017 team pitched in with the Back To Ours programme.
Such initiatives are essential and, in the legacy sense, arguably worth more in the long term than a Radio One Big Weekend. One young fan said it was the first time he could remember being able to see established bands, with proper equipment and tech, playing within walking distance of his home just down the road. And all for a fiver.
The challenge is to do it again, but the couple of hundred people who formed this Freedom Centre audience would soon dwindle if the absence of subsidies pushed up the ticket price. There’s an opportunity here for Sesh or for Springboard to spread their wings. It all costs money, but the benefits of culture are innumerable and immense. Community groups and corporates can get together to make it happen.
Many thanks to @louiseaeardly for the pix.