I picked up a flyer the other day for Rebellion Festivals which, I discover, take place in London and Amsterdam next year. Oh, and there’s a four-day event at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool – a venue I associate with much daintier and more decorous leisure pursuits like ballroom dancing. Here are poster images of the Empress and nearby Tower Ballrooms from their heyday in 1938:
I wonder what these audiences would have made of the pogo-inducing punk bands who will be playing at the Rebellion Festival 80 years later. But setting aside the culture chasm, those conventional 1938 crowds and their 2018 punk progeny do have one thing in common – both are a decade into austerity arising from a major financial crash.
We may or may not be talking about similar social stratas but it’s still worth considering how different generations respond to economic adversity: in 1938 by escaping into a conformist gentility originating in our aristocratic past and in 2018 by, er, escaping into an anti-bourgeois revolt with working-class roots. Two escapes: the first escapist and the second more akin to escapology.
It was the cheeky insouciance of the Beatles that first turned the tables on the cultural dominance of the upper crust’s Hooray Henrys and Henriettas. The Fab Four got their feet in the door and 15 years later the punks kicked it open. Deference had disappeared and with it – or so it seemed – the hypocrisy of sweeping stuff under the carpet and drawing a discreet veil over, ahem, unsavoury subjects.
You can hear the resounding echo of all that iconoclasm in the names of bands appearing at the Winter Gardens. Several I recognised but here are some I didn’t:
Lower Class Brats Peter & The Test Tube Babies Subhumans Dirtbox Disco Toxic Reasons Gimp Fist Culture Shock The Defects Newtown Neurotics Vice Squad Rubella Ballet The Stupids Los Fastidios Rude Pride Cheap Sex Paranoid Visions Barstool Preachers Filf Drongos For Europe The Crippens Hagar The Womb The Restarts Contempt Choking Susan Spunk Volcano & The Eruptions Hands Off Gretel Geoffrey Oicott Knock Off Warwound Wolf Bites Boy The Mis-Made Tiger Sex Pizzatramp Headstone Horrors Boots N All Surgery Without Research Flowers In The Dustbin Millie Manders & The Shut Up Fire Exit No Thrills The Droogettes Vomit Delinquents Litterbug
What teenager worthy of the seventy-year-old label hasn’t wasted an afternoon or three sitting around with a couple of mates inventing stupid names for bands? I remember being hugely impressed with one that Peter Sellers came up with, probably on one of his solo record albums produced in his pre-Beatle days by George Martin who also produced the Goons’ records such as the immortal Ying Tong Song:
What a treat for us kids to hear grown-ups coming up with such inspired nonsense! And the band name that impressed me so much? Snotty and the Nosepickers!
Hmm, guess you had to be there … wearing short trousers and still laughing like a drain when references to anything mildly rude arose. This was the stuffy 1950s, of course, when the scope for cultural rebellion was so much wider. Tiger Sex or Knock Off wouldn’t have got anywhere near the Winter Gardens at a time when TV would only show Elvis the Pelvis from the waist up.
The 1960s – much-maligned by sexual puritans and social conservatives – brought an end to paternalist censorship. Abortion and homosexuality became legal, capital punishment was abolished and measures were taken to improve the position of women. The 1970s brought further social reform, including the Race Relations Act.
The economic deregulations of the 1980s were, in my view, a backward step. The responsibility of Maynard Keynes was replaced by the anarchy of Milton Friedman, which culminated in the 2008 crash and consequent austerity – an austerity that bears down unfairly on the young.
If I was 18 now, with hair, I’d be dyeing it green … and dying to pogo up and down to a punk band called Screw The System or something! Better anyway than having to take part in dance marathons for peanuts, like youngsters 80 years ago, before they were marched off to fight in a war whose primary cause was the very same Depression that had forced them to dance for their dinner and a temporary roof over their heads in the first place.
Ah, what the hell, enough of this Black mood … I’m going to cheer myself up with another listen to the Ying Tong Song!