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The DuelSham 69
The Vibrators
The Duel
Bush Hall , London
Sunday November 23 2008



The elegantly styled surroundings of Bush Hall - all Victorian flounces, lit by extravagant chandeliers - might seem an odd venue for this none-more-punk gig. It's just so elegantly respectable around here. It must've been a brave move on someone's part to let the punks in.

But if anyone was worried that tonight's bands might pull in a rampaging crowd of nihilistic anarchists, keen to smash the system - or, failing that, anything else that's handy - well, fear not. The audience is suitably boisterous, but always well behaved. Nobody's here to break stuff. Tonight, we just want to drink beer and get a good rock on.

Getting a good rock on is certanly what The Duel do. They're purveyors of stripped-down rock 'n' roll, the gritty, frill-free sound of the street. (Look, this is a Sham 69 gig. You're more or less obliged to use phrases like 'the sound of the street', right?) But somewhere in The Duel's racket is also the sound of glammy garage punk. You can hear the old-skool influences at work (The Clash, a touch of Johnny Thunders), but there's a certain swagger and dash to their sound which lifts them above the back-to-basics punk norm.

In Tara Rez the band have an engaging frontwoman, coming on like Debbie Harry's punkier cousin in clashing stripes and a blonde mop-top. She sings with a sardonic, street-romantic rasp (look, this is a Sham 69 gig. You're more or less obliged to use phrases like 'street-romantic', right?) that lends a certain, swashbuckling, wrong-side-of-the-tracks-but-we-don't-care feel to the performance. It's all rather cool, and definitely a notch or two above most of the usual punk shouters I've seen of late.

I reckon The Duel could go a lot further than the punk zone, if they cared to put themselves out there. After all, Pete Docherty built a whole career on a contrived image of flimsy, false, street-romanticism - even though we all know he's a nice, well-off boy with an indulgent record label that bankrolls his every move. Given the option, maybe the kids could be induced to give the real thing a go.

The VibratorsHistory sits rather unsteadily on the shoulders of The Vibrators. This is a band that dates back to 1976, an almost talismanic date in the annals of punk rock. The band's career over the subsequent three dacades has been somewhat chequered, it must be said: a myriad of line-up changes, umpteen record labels, and mixed fortunes a-go-go.

Vocalist Knox is missing from the line-up tonight - he's unwell, and is out of commission until further notice - but The Vibrators are nothing if not well-versed in weathering ups and downs. Tonight they pile in to the set as if they're a new band playing their first-ever gig.

Bassist Pete from Finnish-punks-in-London No Direction and drummer Eddie (the only original Vibrator) share out the vocals, and everyone shares out the whack-and-blatter punker racket. A cynic would say that this isn't the real Vibrators, although given the band's ever-shifting line-up I don't think you could nail down any version of the band as definitive. After all, one of the Vibrators' best songs, 'Disco in Moscow', was recorded in '78 at a time when Knox had temporarily left the band - and the song sounds spikily fresh when it's hauled out of the vaults tonight, perforce for another Knox-free rendition. Grizzled old survivors of the punk wars they may be, but against the odds The Vibrators still know how to shake it with the best of 'em.

And, talking of bands who now lack their usual frontman, here come Sham 69. Call me Mister Out Of Touch if you will, but I had no idea that Jimmy Pursey, for years the geezerish face and almost-cockney voice of Sham 69, had left the band. Thus it is that I'm a little nonplussed when current vocalist Tim V - a kind of barrow-boy version of Johnny Rotten - unceremoniously grabs the microphone and starts barking out Sham anthems like he's drumming up business in Petticoat Lane.

In a sense Sham 69 have become another of those one-original-member bands that seem to populate the punk zone these days. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief before you can accept the bunch of blokes onstage as something akin to the real thing. In the absence of Jimmy Pursey, guitarist Dave Parsons is the only survivor from the band's original incarnation as late-seventies hoolies from the south-west London hinterland. But the band's shouty-bashy sound is intact, and their winning way with an all-the-kids-together singalong has not diminished.

Sham 69Sham 69 are often credited as the band that invented Oi, but their songs have none of the grimly threatening undercurrent of gormless violence that came to typify the Oi experience. Sham 69 songs are music hall knees-ups, or even pub singalongs, as much as anything.

Let's face it, in 'Hurry Up Harry' the chorus, a piece of reductionist genius if ever I heard one, goes 'We're going down the pub!' - and tonight the entire crowd, a motley assortment of skins, punks, footy fans, and urchins of all ages, sings along like those are the only words that say anything about their lives.

Maybe that's Sham 69's secret superpower right there. Their songs celebrate the ordinary, and give normal life a romantic glow.

By the end, a large chunk of the crowd has invaded the stage - Tim V looks endearingly nonplussed as he's virtually crowded out of his own band by a surge of boisterous, boozed-up humanity - and the show becomes an obstreperously merry party, a bout of disorderly vaudeville that somehow fits the florid Victoriana of Bush Hall after all.

This probably wasn't quite what the youthful tyros of the seventies punk scene envisaged they'd be doing in the twenty-first century, but, what the hell, it works and it's fun. And nobody even smashes up a chandelier.


Essential links:

Sham 69: Website | MySpace
The Vibrators: Website | MySpace
The Duel: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

Sham 69
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