It’s been nine years since I heard about this not-for-profit festival in Manchester that was dedicated to Joe Strummer and his memory. Nice years. Times does indeed fly. The festival has settled into its home at Manchester’s Rugby Club over this time, having only been forced out at very little notice by Manchester Council in 2008. Unfortunately due to friend’s weddings we have missed the last couple of festivals, but return this year and see how much it has grown in our absence.
The venue size is of course the same, but the car parks are full, the field is nicely packed with tents, but not overcrowded, one of the things that I love about this, and any, festival really. There are new additions, like the Reggae tent in the camping area (I say camping area, the stages are also in this area, so it’s a shared field).
The Hempen Jig Stage has moved from a small tent near the food stalls to a larger outdoor stage with seating (the only outdoor stage at this festival). This homes mainly the acoustic music over the weekend. Due to Manchester’s lovely hydrating weather the organisers, all friends with Joe Strummer, had the foresight years ago to put all the music undercover, so the main stage remains as it always has, under a large marquee. This stage sees all the more established acts, the headliners and merchandise stand, and promoted by the two guys who make the festival possible, the Los Amigos.
In the corner near the rugby club seats (another godsend if (when) it’s raining!) there is a new art gallery tent, hosting some exceptional and intriguing artwork. There are many paintings and drawings of punks well-known, Vicious, Ramone, Strummer. David Worth’s look slightly like they would fit in on Southpark, with original ideas. Paul Hannah can spend up to 9 months on one piece of art, for example a pen drawing of Billy Bragg made up of over 2000 cells depicting justice (scales) and other themed images. The stand out more original one for me though was Dr Victor Freakinstyle; a guy who takes animal bones and makes sculptures out of them, sometimes adding clay to create weird and wonderful designs, and sometimes spending a long time attaching the bones to bike parts to make creatures. So much talent on show.
There is an inflatable cinema on the field too, showing amongst other things punk documentaries after the headliners. The food and drink are reasonably priced and available all day, both outside and in the clubhouse. You can usually watch the cricket on the Sunday (if you’re that way inclined that is… give me music any day!), but this has been rained off.
Friday night is Strummercamp's party night, where the friends you have met over the years and have yet to meet all congregate in the clubhouse. It’s not just me that keeps saying it… this is indeed the friendliest festival there is. I see faces that have been coming since the first festival in 2006, and we all get together again every year. Not many festivals have that effect on people. Cheapskates, Louise Distras, and XSLF (Ex Stiff Little Fingers) are providing the first nights music.
The TNS stage, that attracted more and more youngsters to the festival over the past six years, has now moved inside the actual rugby club, and shares the Dave Howard stage with Spannered (TNS on the Saturday, Spannered on the Sunday). This continues to be the place to be for the younger crowd, as Punx Inna Jungle are also hosting the afterparty on both nights, until the small hours.
The festival is not just about punk however, its musical diversity continues to spread like Country Life butter (boooo!). Ska, classic punk, folk, blues, reggae, rockabilly, poetry, electronica and more.
Spannered have Arms and Hearts, Maxwells Dead, Reservoir Coots, Autopsy Boys, and The Wakes and Punk Inna Jungle follow up again with bands like A Sudden Vengeance Awaits, and The Bob Hoskins Experience (RIP Bob! Another legend gone). The Hempen Jig Stage hosts Mauri Clash City Rocker, The Lone Groover, Billy Liar, and Speed Dinosaurs.
The main stage has the same friendly security outside it since the first one, more people who give up their time for free to get this festival running. On the stage are Dub Sex, Rotten Hill Gang, Jah Wobble, and Dreadzone on the Saturday. Sunday sees Trailer Trash Orchestra, Attila the Stockbroker, Evil Blizzard, The Membranes, Ruts DC, and Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra.
There is no time to go over every single act here, there are over 100 bands across the stages nowadays, too much for one or even two set of ears and eyes! The acts to mention are Speed Dinosaurs, playing comedy folk music like ‘I Wish I worked Harder At School’ and the odd cover, namely Beastie Boys ‘Shake Your Rump’, with a ukulele, double bass and cajon. Evil Blizzard are a little like Slipknot's cousins… all masked up in boiler suits and just sheer crazy, like musical drugs.
Jah Wobble (ex PiL bass genius) is astounding, and followed by Dreadzone getting the entire tent moving the Saturday night at the main stage is the place to be. Revenge of the Psychotronic Man and their speed punk are always great to watch, as are all their fans producing instant human pyramids and this year, Human Wagon Wheels. Vanilla Pod are extremely catchy punkers from Norfolk, who have played Yorkshire’s Out Of Spite fest in the past. The Roughneck Riot have two new members, and even though they are on at the late time of midnight they still pull a great crowd towards their Pogues / Dropkick Murphys sound. Also well done to the singer / guitarist, who played the full set with his arm in a sling.
A Fish Called Bastard are late to the festival, so the line up at Spannered is a little confusing but still brilliant. Autopsy Boys (give em some room, the singer likes to take up a bit of floor space) create punk noise to a very high standard, whilst the singer plays with some buttons and samples and screams like there’s something dangerously wrong, whilst rolling around. Mesmerising and winners of the loudest band of the weekend award. The Wakes have the best harmonica player I have ever heard.
Attila the Stockbroker, a Strummercamp regular, plays a very heartfelt set this year, still with its funny political punk poetry and songs, but with some sad poems about his late mother and stepdad. John Robb is also a Strummercamp regular as part of Goldblade, but this year he and fellow members are back as his original band The Membranes. Ruts DC have some feedback troubles but then get their reggae underway. Lee Thompson (Madness Saxophonist and songwriter) and his Ska Orchestra win the award for the most microphones used on stage at any one time!
Joe Strummer’s rendition of ‘Redemption Song’ plays out, as is the custom now, as the last song of the main stage. What is lovely this year is that the crowd hug the people next to them and huge circles form in the crowd, it really is uplifting. Next year sees the 10th Strummercamp, a huge achievement for this small dream that has organically grown over the past decade. I will be there, my advice is that you try to make it there too. You’ll be a regular before you know it.
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