Billy Bragg brings out the crowds at Strummercamp

Strummercamp 2009 review

published: Tue 26th May 2009

Billy Bragg

Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th May 2009
Manchester Rugby Club, Grove Lane, Cheadle Hulme, Cheadle, Cheshire, SK8 7NB, England MAP
£59.50 per person weekend pass, £35 a day and £15 for kids
last updated: Sun 17th May 2009

Another May bank holiday, another Strummercamp. We are now onto our fourth festival for this great small festival in the North, and as soon as we arrive it is clear that not only is the sun finally shining but the place is rather packed out. Compared to last year, when the festival was close to finishing and everyone pulled together to make the festival break even in a wartime show of solidity, this year we are back to the original venue, and with the largest attendance I have seen.

around the festival site
Finally people are picking up the notion that these smaller, non commercial festivals have your best interests at heart. The cans of beer are £1.50, the food is no more than £3.50 (for a meal) and the car parking and showers are free. Especially this year, when pockets are not as full as they used to be, this three day festival for under £60 is an absolute bargain. The price has not been hiked up over the years either. The bands are a mixture of the well known and the new, featuring punk, ska, reggae, rock and roll and the odd poet and solo artist doing something unusual.

A new addition this year is the veggie stall (last time here we had to eat mainly burgers, chips and other junk), but this year we have a whole selection, with Joe’s Diner offering fajitas, curry and beer for a third of the usual festival prices. There’s a real ale tent, a couple of bars and the rugby club is open for beer and showers (though there are no late club nights on like last time).

around the festival site
The festival layout is back to the original too. The dub tent has gone and we have the main stage and smaller second stage (both undercover, Manchester isn't called 'The Rainy City' for nothing). There is some comedy also happening in a corner of Joe's Diner, though I only catch a bit of it on my way for some grub, and unfortunately the microphone keeps dying on one man (he was just insulting the crowd anyway, not very funny at all).

This year regrettably I can only stay for the Saturday, as I am rushing over to see The Specials in Leeds on Sunday, but the music and sunshine makes me want to stop until Monday. Vincent And The Onepotts start up the music for the day on the main stage, while Rebel Yell kick off the smaller stage to a very warm welcome with their energetic rockabilly in the same vain as The Clash. I miss the sounds of indie bands The Carletons, Spencer and Syd Bozko but am on form to catch strangely intriguing Jealous and their glam punk, makeup and soul, then it's a rush over to the main stage to watch Tony Auton Band and their extremely talented guitarist and main man, specialising in country, folk and rock.

Roughneck Riot
Next up there is a whole host of bands with The Clash on their minds; all having Riot in their names! The Paris Riot show that Strummercamp isn't all about the punk, these guys play French Pop! Though saying that, Roughneck Riot on the second stage have it well and truly packed out, as they are Strummercamp regulars and play what the crowd like (versions of The Dubliner's 'Dirty Old Town' and The Clash's 'Train In Vain' go down a storm. Even though the sun is beating down the tent is rammed. Stand Out Riot, a very young Ska punk band, are up after them, staring their set with a ska version of the A Team's theme tune.

Take the 5th, an excellent Clash cover band and Strummercamp regular, have taken to the main stage though so many people are dancing to them or out in the rare sunshine. Tracks like 'London Calling' bring in the clash city rockers (here at every festival) for a dance. Back on the second stage are the original band The Autonomads, who have more punk ska for us. The second stage appears to be brought to us by TNS Records, a local label who's motto is "Mainstream music is shit!". I like it. Many of the bands on this stage are on their label, and the John Player Specials, who take to main stage now. They could have been a Specials cover band with a witty name, but they are not (though no doubt they are influences). They do enjoy a good skank though, and we are treated to many an original ska tune like 'Identification'.

Mik Artistiks Ego Trip
The headliners for the second stage are about to take to the stage (it finishes early at 7pm). Again from the TNS label we have Harijan, with more ska punk. They sound good, with harsh vocals and a steady beat, but I have been urged to check out the main stage for Mik Artistik's Ego Trip. I am glad I ventured the 200 metres stage to stage (not far to travel to catch both stages really!), as he is a true highlight of the festival for me.

The Leeds man is absolutely bonkers, singing comically about leaves on windscreens in 'Sweet Leaf Of The North' and possible burglers in 'Window Cleaner'. Think Spitting Image with a Yorkshire accent and a bad taste in shirts, and you're a step closer. The way he told a lady to shut up whilst playing the casio keyboard (sounding a little bit like The Righteous Brothers for a while) was really amusing, even to her! He's at a few festivals this year, Glasto, Latitude and Beatherder, so check him out.

Earlier on I wondered if we would all fit in the main stage tent, as in past years it has got rather cosy. We do though and get to watch the reggae and roots music of Golty Farabeau from the Seychelles. Tunes from his latest album 'Into The Light' are perfect for this warm Spring evening, so we take ourselves outside to listen from the grass before the sun sets.

The Mahones
Now the prize for the furthest travelled must go to The Mahones, from Canada! Strummercamp would not be the same without an Irish punk band, and these do not disappoint. Apart from playing a few green tinged covers of The Ramone's 'I Wanna Be Sedated' and The Undertones 'Teenage Kicks', they have their own like 'A Drunken Night In Dublin', a fast whistle-laden punk rock tune perfect for a dance after a long day! They are helped out by Matty Humphries from Roughneck Riot on guitar.

Last but by no means least is Billy Bragg. Definitely a coop for the festival, even though he is not fast-paced and performs 'unplugged' his wise words and basic delivery are what the crowd are after. I see now that a lot of people have come for this man alone, as the crowd are tight at the front (you can usually walk up and wonder around the pit, even with the clash city rockers and their groovy moves), but the Strummercamp family (regulars that are there every year) are taking notice too. He starts with 'All You Fascists', a song by him but with lyrics by Woody Guthrie.

After a mess about with a White Stripes riff, it's onto 'Milkman Of Human Kindness'. He mentions the Specials show at Brixton that he has just been to, reminding me that I have to leave tomorrow. Boo! The best part is during 'Sexuality', where he has multiple digs at MPs and changes the lyrics to include duckhouses, moats and other wastes of taxpayers money that have recently come to light.

Billy Bragg
Bragg's guitar deserves a mention; it has 'Strummer' across it in large letters and the words 'This Machine Kills Time' on the scratch plate. It is at this point of the evening that he introduces a couple of people on stage, who are participants of the Jail Guitar Door project, which focuses on getting guitars into prisons as a means of rehabilitation (very apt as it is named after the b-side to the Clash City Rockers single). Here are two people who were part of the project, one former inmate John Newsom and a guy on probation called Leon Walker, to play a little for the crowd and show what the program can do. Tales of prison life delivered as raps or melodies with gentle acoustic guitar sounds immediately quieten the crowd and you feel for these people, even if you previously didn't agree with "treats" for criminals. Newsom tells a truthful tale in 'Letter's To Mum' and Walker, a cheeky chappy, sings a song about 'Annabella', who was mugged, and gets us all to sing it back to him!

Bragg returns to the stage to play 'Redemption Song', heard at every Strummercamp (by law!), and highlights the line "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery". He then joins a full band line up including the two young JGD men to play a non-titled song that is roughly called "Clash Fan Fight Song". A surprisingly good, though a little sober, finish to the Saturday line up.

Unfortunately there is not music after the show, with noise regulations getting stricter, and no music in the Rugby Club, so it's off to bed really (this festival could really benefit from somewhere to have a fire, as it is well known that Joe loved a campfire, but the venue is secure and safe, and we can't mess up the rugby pitch). Some of the young 'uns that are new to the festival are up all night shouting crap, as in past years you could hear someone snoring over the other side of the grounds, it was that quiet!

around the festival site
Sunday brings another glorious day to Manchester and a new addition, the 5-a-side football challenge. Sadly I have to leave before the bands start, so catch a bit of footy and say bye to friends from the past four years until next time. Looking back at this year and the comments left on various websites, Strummercamp can only go from strength to strength (unless the venue double-book again and disrupt it all last minute). Well done to The Amigos yet again!
review by: Danielle Millea

photos by: Danielle Millea

Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th May 2009
Manchester Rugby Club, Grove Lane, Cheadle Hulme, Cheadle, Cheshire, SK8 7NB, England MAP
£59.50 per person weekend pass, £35 a day and £15 for kids
last updated: Sun 17th May 2009


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