Belsonic Festival, Custom House Square, Belfast
Added: 3 Sep 2010 // Gig date: 27 Aug 2010
reviewer: Francis Higney
The vanguard of the punk rock movement took time out of their busy schedules to visit Belfast during its darkest times of the 1970s. Bands like the Damned, Clash, Siouxise and the Banshees and Penetration brought a glamour fired in the London furnaces of the Lyceum, Roxy and the Rainbow to the Ulster Hall and the Pound to sate a musically and culturally starved youth. The flag bearers that were the Sex Pistols had all but imploded by the time punk had gripped the province and so were not missed. The Jam were. They became the biggest band to emerge from the new wave and their natty dress sense and sixties influences saw them embraced by the revitalised mod movement.
Belfast still has a long running love affair with punk and even today has a thriving mod scene which should have ensured a sell-outt gig for former Jam frontman Paul Weller at this open air Belfast gig – part of the Belsonic festival that had already seen Kasabian and Florence and the Machine play in the heart of the city. But on a dank drizzle-threatened evening the gig was at best three quarters full. Sited near the quayside, the Custom House Square is a natural amphitheatre bordered on three sides by what were formally yuppie apartments but are now millstones for the once monied. Britain’s king of soul also came by royal appointment if the huge neon Royal Mail sign that hung in the still night air like a halo was anything to go by. But there was a disjoint between the ruler and his subjects as his latest edicts contained on ‘Wake up the Nation’ patently failed to do just that. It was not until the evening was electrified by Changing Man that the crowd seemed to shake out of their slumber. It was a shame that the night continued to progress in a similar matter with the most rapturous reception given to the old Jam and Style Council songs that were dusted off including Pretty Green, Start and Shout to the Top. For his latest album contains some of the most adventurous and experimental songs gathered together on one album for some time.
But this audience could not see the wonder in the Trees, possibly the weirdest thing Weller’s ever penned and which left this time-trapped audience dumbfounded. Similarly One Bright Star and 7 & 3 Is the Striker’s Name came and went almost unnoticed.
Some of the crowd perked up, however, with the arrival onstage of R&B stalwart Wilko Johnston. The former Feelgoods guitarist was coincidentally playing at a nearby venue as part of the Belfast Blues Festival and was co-opted onstage for a couple of numbers. But the majority of the crowd were here to hear the hits. Once these were delivered they headed off happy into the thickening Irish mist.