Held over three days on the outskirts of Morecambe, the Nice N Sleazy Festival has become one of the best small punk festivals in Britain. Over fifty bands will grace its two stages during the course of its three day life, and over three hundred dyed in the wool punks and skins will stand and watch them play. Eventually you come to regard it not as a festival but more of a family gathering, or a convention for long lost friends if you will. And it’s true everybody here knows at least somebody else, or if they don’t, come the end of the festival at the very least they’ll know each other’s name. Guttersluts, a punk band from Leeds, gives this observation some credence when they tell me “Punk is a way of life; it’s a kind of brotherhood. A punk will always acknowledge another punk; we are all friends cos we are all considered outcasts just 'cos of the way we look” Mind you, the next time I see the rotund singer of the Guttersluts is in the early hours of Sunday morning, gyrating around the stage in nothing more than a furry pink thong.
But what is punk today? I asked Phoenix, the striking chanteuse of PedAgree Skum this very question who then explained to me, “Punk is not a phase, a look or a fashion. Punk is a feeling within that comes from the heart. It’s something that makes the fight worthwhile. It is a way of life and we live it every day. It’s remaining true to yourself and what you stand for. Being what you want to be and knowing exactly what you stand for” And you only have to talk to any one of the sweet and colourful punks who’ve trekked from all corners of the map to congregate and set up camp here with other like-minded souls, that Phoenix’s eloquent definition is almost a core belief.
The two big star attractions this year are by turn the Anti-Nowhere League and The Business, and it’s true that both still have the power to enthral. They drag all the other smaller bands in their wake but to their credit they aren’t aloof or above anybody and still spend time in the bar after they’ve finished their sets to pose for photographs and listen to anyone who wants to talk them. It’s kind of cool to see there’s little in the way of hierarchy at this festival and that punk bands as big as the League still have time for their fans.
Musically punk music is still a broad church and after listening to all these smart little bands play it’s still just as difficult to pin punk down to a particular style. I’m still not sure whether the idea is to play as fast as you can or as passionately as you can to be punk, but either way all the bands here put their heart and soul into their performance. Some though like London based Healthy Junkies or Nottingham's Girlfixer or Lancaster’s Mitford Rebel manage to sparkle more than most. But really there’s no general template that any of the bands here particularly adhere to, which makes Leeds’ dirty rock n rollers The Kingcrows concise description is particularly apt “Punk is doing your own thing, your own way, for yourself. If anyone else likes it that's a bonus, but always choose your own path and don't let anyone tell you you're wrong”
Lyrically most of these bands are angry at the injustices of society which when you think about it is rather odd because you never think punks, with their perceived boorish and loutish behaviour, could ever possibly take the moral high ground. But JJ from Stoke on Trent’s Wasted life gave me the following insight “We live in a sick society and they think our music is obscene, but we just reflect on what goes on in the world. The TV paints a picture of a life that most people don’t get to see. This is real life and we're here to tell the truth that society tries to ignore. We'll never go away”
And that truth takes many forms whether it be Suicide By Cop’s beautifully articulate ‘Cellophane’ or Total Bloody Chaos’ blunt rant ‘Fuck Off Nazi’ Perhaps having no rules to speak of is a much richer environment in which to create music, I don’t know, but one thing I was really enamoured by was that the people who gathered to watch the bands actually kept quiet and took time to listen. That’s a refreshing change to the usual shows I go to where the audience jabber loudly through the performance.
By Sunday mid-afternoon, after two wonderfully friendly, but boozy days of top class music, the excessive amounts of alcohol and general lack of sleep begins to take its toil and I’m beginning to flag. So I do what I presume many others who’ve come to this festival have done at some point. I go and get a tattoo. Fucking ouch! There are punks here who appear to have every square millimetre of their body brightly coloured with Indian ink. God almighty one tiny prick and I’m clenching my jaw and sweating like a pig. On the plus side, I reacquaint myself with the fine art of drunken dancing and not giving a tinker’s cuss about what people think of me, which is good really because this is exactly what this festival allows people to do; have a say, have a laugh, look daft. For me, it’s the best fun I’ve had in years and I enjoyed myself immensely. Put simply, as Manchester’s 3CR would say, “Punk is a way of life and the greatest invention since sliced bread!”
Strangely this brilliant music festival is more about the people who attend it rather than the bands that play. They say punk died long ago but this festival shows it’s still full of life. So perhaps I should leave it to one of the bands, in this case the wonderful Top Buzzer, to finish this review. They told me “Punk is an attitude and a way of thinking. The fact that things like Nice 'N' Sleazy festival exist today, still shows that punk is far from dead"
Review & a selection of photos from the festival by Phil King