North West Calling 2016 - Review
The North West was certainly calling… for all the punk rockers to come to the Manchester Ritz celebrating the punk music of old and new bands - Oi!
Words by Mick "the Mohawk" Birchall, photos by Cai "pogo'ing" Dixon.
This all day festival has been going for a good few years, each year getting bigger and better. The line-up was big with punk rock heavyweights Sham 69 and Cockney Rejects heading it up and popular punk acts like Dirt Box Disco and Vice Squad in attendance as well. I got to the venue and was greeted with an array of Mohawks, leather and patch jackets and I knew that the day was going to be carnage. The venue got packed quickly and it lead to a very sweaty day of punk rock.
Straight off the bat were the Bristol rockers Criminal Mind who went into overdrive with their brand of street punk and as the fans filtered through, they were greeted with a decent atmosphere. The young rockers stomped around the stage and got wild, well they're playing on a big stage so they might as well make the most of it. With some furious riffs and hard hitting bass-lines Criminal Mind had a genuine presence of aggression in their music. To the point where one of the guitarists strings broke and he just kept right on playing. Everything about their performance was energised and commanding, I was truly blown away.
Next up was the comedic punk rockers, Spunk Volcano. Doesn’t that name just get your mind racing a little. No joke, the first note I wrote when seeing them was “What the fuck am I looking at?” Anyway, I bloody loved this set from the straight to it punk to their more anthemic tunes, they really worked the crowd into a frenzy. They had a very down to earth approach and a lot of their songs were about modern life, so pretty relatable from a band like this. With the crowd getting worked into a complete frenzy the Ritz was just getting hotter and hotter and it going outside into the baking sun was not going to help matters.
Crashed Out, were on next and if you like that old school style then you were in luck. They definitely had a cocky swagger to them with a tonne of fun catchy tunes to boot. With an incredibly tight sound and some very consistent song writing Crashed Out ended up winning over the Manchester audience. However, there was not as much energy to this set, after the fuelled up over stimulation of the previous two bands they just felt a little flat. It wasn’t bad per say it was just not as energised and as in the moment as the previous two.
From there we went to the brash and in your face punks, The Restarts. All I can really about them is that this is the type of music that would come straight to your head if I said to you “a punk band is playing”. Everything about their set felt completely uncompromised, from their opinions to their songwriting they sure didn’t hold back for a single second. The music is sharp and clear and there really wasn’t a lot of room to catch your breath between songs they just blasted tune after tune and it was truly glorious. I didn’t have to think about what was being played as they were on the next song before I could. It was pure and heavy punk rock! So, how do you follow up something that tight.
Well, a decent stage show is nice and that’s exactly what Vice Squad provided. They seemed to have total and complete command of the stage and everyone in the crowd was bouncing and having fun. The Bristol punks have been around the block a few times and know how to work the crowd; singer Beki Bondage was clearly just having a lot of fun with the set. However, very much like Crashed Out, they were following a very high octane band in The Restarts, so their set felt like a little energy had been sucked out the room. Also I think I was starting to feel the toll of the day wearing on me by this point. Still Vice Squad put on a really entertaining set and the crowd was really enthusiastic throughout the performance so it kept me going and I did have a lot of fun with it.
The Defects followed up with a simplistic but powerful set and by this point the day was getting into a bit of a rhythm. They had a heavy sound with the grinding bass and wonderfully melodic tunes that will stay in you head for a while. This was a band the clearly a lot of people wanted to see as the room was packed for the set and it made the atmosphere for them excellent. There was a real bite to them and every tune was pulse pounding and made for a fun and exciting set to headbang a long to. I was really getting into it right from the get go, everything just got intense quick and you know what, that’s how you make the most of a short set at a festival.
From the powerful intensity to more goofy fun with Dirt Box Disco. I have to say I’ve not had this much stupid silly fun in a while, the band constantly had a smile on their faces too and their songs were punchy and catchy. There wasn’t a boring moment of the entire set, from the entertaining bouncy music to the crowd banter everything about Dirt Box Disco is there for the fun of it. The great was packed in tight for this one, the North West Calling regulars knew exactly what to give the crowd and the audience gave it right back to them, with the band having the time of their lives, even begging the crowd to hit them with better insults. Seriously I walked out with a new favourite band at the end of it all, I loved every second of this!
I will say that the day was wearing on me a little by this point all I wanted was to sit down for a bit so for the next few bands I retreated to the balcony and watched from the couch downing Red Bulls to keep me going. Also the heat, outside and in, was insane there didn’t seem to be a moment of respite, however with that being said up next was GBH. These guys were brilliant, the live production was absolutely outstanding every note was great and GBH delivered on some of the most heart pounding moments of the day. The mosh pit grew and that bass guitar was grinding away. The Ritz was truly alive with the sound of punk rock, with powerful riffs, some of the tightest and most consistent of the day, their set really highlighted all of the band's best features and showed them off for the whole of the Manchester crowd to witness. The roaring guitars and the commanding drum and bass combo just connected with my senses and I loved it.
Before I knew it Angelic Upstarts were on giving it full whammy. Overall they had the cleanest sound of the day coming across more anthemic. Almost immediately they hit their stride and the crowd was right there with them as the sing-a-long parts almost sounded like a punk rock choir. All the factors that I had mentioned through the day were coming out in this set. Quality music, check. Fun crowd banter, check. Ferocious punk rocking, double check. They also brought something up that resonated with me, they said that they were just happy playing with their “Punk Rock Family”. I doesn’t matter how many are there, it could be 9 or 900 as long as the audience is enjoying it, who cares! It was a nice moment of genuine solidarity and I think crowd agreed wholeheartedly.
The last two bands were about to start and the venue just became rammed to the brim with punk rockers ready for the finale of the day. A weird mix of punk rock, alcohol and exhaustion was creeping in as people waited. Now coming to the stage was pretty much one of my favourite punk bands ever, Cockney Rejects. Let me tell you they didn’t disappoint for a single moment of their set. Everything was pretty much bang on and the crowd was instantly worked into a frenzy and the pit went crazy as the old school punks hit the stage with a megaton of force. The Rejects were so blunt and coarse in their delivery and they were very direct when talking to the crowd. After all of these years it still feels like they have changed a bit, despite the various lineup changes. It all just felt so natural, almost a primal sense for punk rock.Armed with a series of bludgeoning bass lines, tight guitar playing and a fairly likeable attitude. They marched through their set list as the chant “Oi Oi Oi” echoed throughout the Ritz. It was here I felt the crowd was at it’s most riotous as it they hit the extreme mode button straight away. Definitely a memorable set and a band that I would love to see again. They just brought so much to the table and they clearly were having fun doing it.
After a pretty long wait, Sham 69 got to the stage. Ten minutes late I might add which was a little disappointing as in total they only played about forty minutes, regardless, their set was great. Finely polished and well performed. Nowhere near the intensity that the Rejects brought but that’s OK and I genuinely had fun watching a great band strut their stuff and do their thing. The crowd was singing along really nicely and their stage presence was uncanny. They looked like they owned that stage and could do anything they wanted. The whole set had a very commanding feel from the bombastic drumming to the melodic guitars to Jimmy Pursey’s weird dancing and vocals style. Everything about them was on point, at least from my point of view, I had a blast. It was a great end to a fantastic day.
For me this is the first year I’ve attended and I have to say this is one of the best organised all-dayer festivals I have ever been to. Efficient, quick change over times, brilliant live production and the management of all the people was well handled. All I can say is, next year can’t come quick enough!