Brighton has been extremely fortunate this year when it comes to festivals.
We kicked the season off with the tremendous Great Escape and last weekend it was time for the Undercover Festival.
This was the first time Undercover has been held in Brighton, having moved from its previous home in Surrey. And I have to say, when I heard it was taking place at the racecourse, I was a bit dubious as to whether the venue would be able to conjure up the right atmosphere.
But it turns out it was a perfect choice.
There were three stages (all inside) and the whole event had a feeling of happy, friendly and relaxed harmony. More specifically, it felt like a little punk/ska/reggae hamlet, like Camden Lock in London. There were people of all ages, from seven to 70, milling around and taking in the vibe.
There were four of us covering the festival, trying to see as many bands as possible. We planned as best we could, creating a ‘must see’ list, a ‘wouldn’t mind seeing’ list and a ‘let’s take a punt’ list. This covered half of the acts.
So who were the acts we managed to see? Well, in stage time order they were:
Day One: No Lip, Charred Hearts, Menace, Tree House Fire, RadioRental, The Tuts, Department S, Peter and The Test Tube Babies, Pig City Angels, Chelsea, The Selecter, 999, Criminal Mind and The Sex Pistols Experience.
Day Two: Vikki Vortex, Piranhas Four, Rage DC, 1919, Dragster, Emergency Bitter, Witchdoktors, Church of Eon, Pussy Cat and Dirty Johnsons, Spizzenergi, XSLF, Sonic Boom Six, Spear Of Destiny, Dreadzone, AMI and Eddie and The Hot Rods.
It was quite a line-up of the old and the new of punk, ska and reggae bands. The mix worked really well and, on a personal front, it allowed me to tick off a few acts that I’d always wanted to see but never did, so a big thumbs up for Mick the organiser.
I heard certain songs I thought I had no chance of ever hearing live – songs like ‘Is Vic There?’ by British post-punks Department S, ‘Tom Hark’ by the ska-influenced Piranhas Four and ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ by Eddie & The Hot Rods. I mean, these songs are legendary and can usually be found on the latest indie music compilation CDs.
But there were many other acts I took a shine to.
All-female indie punk band The Tuts, for example, epitomise multi-cultural Britain. They have so much energy on and off stage and you can see them for yourself at the Green Door Store on October 7. Their best tracks were ‘Worry Warrior’ and signature tune ‘Tut Tut Tut’.
Department S, the post-punk heroes who are thankfully gigging again, were the surprise hit band of the weekend. Their best songs were ‘I Want’ and ‘Is Vic There?’
Peter and the Test Tube Babies are the ever-present Sussex stalwarts Mr Bywater and Mr Greening (et al). They play comical, fast ‘Oi! Oi!’ punk in between supporting The Albion and drinking cider. Their best tunes were the rowdy ‘Banned From The Pubs’ and ‘Moped Lads’.
Chelsea (Gene October and his pals) offered enjoyable Mick Jagger/Iggy Pop style posing and pouting mixed with old-school punk.
1919 are a goth-tinged post-punk group from Bradford that I had forgotten about despite owning their debut album. Their best tracks were the pounding ‘Control’ and the strangely droning ‘Repulsion’.
Spizzenergi (an eccentric but nice bloke called Spizz and his gang) play self-indulgent, fun rock music with plenty of charm and a few shiny gadgets.
Spear Of Destiny, one of Kirk Brandon’s alter egos (along with Theatre Of Hate), performed a mix of classics and newer songs. The catchy, thumping ‘Liberator’ and the haunting ‘Grapes of Wrath’ were their best numbers.
Dreadzone are a British multi-cultural team who are best known for their fusion of dub, reggae, electronic dance and rock. Their best tracks were the euphoric ‘Little Britain’ and anthemic ‘Captain Dread’.
The weekend was full of great moments, but maybe the most amazing part was The Selecter’s Pauline Black. She’s 63 next month but looks and performs like she’s 36. You go girl!
Fingers crossed Undercover will be back next year.
Festival report by Nick Linazasoro, Dave Towse, Martin Fuller and Guy Robinson.
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