Putting The Riot Back Into Muck and Stalls
R*E*P*E*A*T at Strawberry fair 2003

It was with a bit of dread and a lot of surprise that I was asked to co-ordinate bands for the young performers stage at the doggy on a string / hippy in a puddle fest that is Cambridge's annual free festival on Midsummer Common, Strawberry fair. I agreed to do it as I was told that I could book whichever bands I liked, and (despite my appeals to wider genres) the line up pretty quickly took on a distinctly guitar based pop-punk-rock feel. Many of the bands had already gigged for R*E*P*E*A*T and others promoters in Cambridge, and some had played much further afield; those that hadn't were only held back by their age not their ability.

One such band was Feedback, a very young, raw outfit, brimming with ability, confidence and tunes. After several hiccups on the technical front, they started nervously but soon got into their stride. Their influences were clear from their choice of covers (Blink 182, Manic Street Preachers, Feeder) but it was their own song "Sleeping Sickness" which I found hardest to dislodge from my head once I'd got home. Now they need to work hard at writing more as good as this, and learning to stand in more than one pose!

Next up, The Hammers, are of a similar age but vastly more experience, and it showed from their swagger and they way they tore into their set. The energy coming from the stage was infectious, and the equipment looked to be in danger of getting a serious trashing very early on in the day. "Electric Chair" is a monumental song, simple musically but devastating lyrically, while the newer songs revel in more riffology without ever meandering into mindless musicianship.

These boys have something to say and they're gonna shake you til you listen! By the final chorus of "Fight For The Right To Party" young moshers were joined by older punks in a joyful celebration of independence, attitude and the enduring power of rock'n'roll. www.the-hammers.com

Clearless produce accomplished indie pop and rock with tunes to die for. The guitars mesh beautifully with the soaring female vocals to produce something very special. Think Catatonia, think Darling Buds, think The Primitives - we need more bands like this.

When I saw the bass player practising his star jumps rather than tuning his guitar I knew we were in for something exciting next- Princess Drive are a ginger headed run away train of attitude, ideas and adrenaline, an impatience with the past combined with an intelligent homage to the heroes of pogo, page and politics.

These include The Manics, Miss Black America in their funkier guise and The Clash. Princess Drive's cover of 'Guns of Brixton'is a good indicator of their take on the aesthetics of punk and the way it should mix with politics. This is a band learning fast and with a world to gain, watch this space.

Hidden Signal are also progressing in leaps and bounds - a month or so ago they were a Red Hot Chilli Peppers covers band playing at friends' parties; now they're gigging entirely original sets to hundreds at The Junction and on Parkers Piece. Their own songs have the originality, musicality, memorability and diversity to make them instant crowd favourites; for myself I prefer the more straightforward energetic numbers such as the one they always introduce as "our punk song". The use of backing vocals in this number along with the band's more animated stage antics shows that with Hidden Signal, the possibilities are endless.

And during their set we had our first crowd trouble of the day as the three year old pictured here tried to invade the stage and threw grass at the senior steward (me)!! www.hidden-signal.com

Next up were Kneehigh from (shhh!) Norwich, touring to support their debut album. This was a bit of a coup as (1) I wasn't meant to book bands from outside Cambridge so shhh!! (2) Kneehigh are becoming a bit of a big name, having played two sold out gigs in Cambridge in the past few months.

Their set was a real treat, a compelling mix of emo and hardcore, delivered with energy, passion and conviction. The best compliment we can pay Kneehigh is to say that the tent was packed (unsual in itself for a visting band) and the audience lapped them up, they had trouble leaving the stage at the end of their frenetic, gripping, powerful set. http://www.kneehighmusic.com

29 Times kept the rawk flag flying with their high octane, full throttle rock, a white knuckle ride of noise, melody and energy. Kev and the boys rock like it's the end of the world and they know it, and they soon had the crowd eating out of the sweaty palms of their hands. After the final incendiary number they tried to smash a guitar into the stage, but it ended up breaking the stage, a bit like their set.

Zim's Bridge weren't phased by following such a performance, despite their more reflective post-rock sound. They used acoustic instruments to produce subversive, politically driven songs, and were probably the most original sound of the day. It's great testament to the intelligent appeal of their performance that the tent did not empty during their set, in fact many of the rock fans from the previous two bands looked on in appreciation and enjoyment.

We Can Build You have been making a name for themselves across East Anglia and beyond with their take on 21st Century Riot Grrl, attracting the interest of established bands, fanzines and other media types in the process. They are more interested in the message than the medium, as they deliver in unsettling manner some of the most unnerving lyrics I've ever heard. Inspirations include The Pixies, Richey Manic and PJ Harvey, while older listeners may have heard something of The Slits in there too. If there's any justice, We can Build You deserve to be HUGE, without ever having to undergo the indignity of learning to play their instruments properly.


Last band The Azadi Collective, on the other hand, show that technical knowledge may not be a handicap at all. Using samplers, beat boxes, raps and multi cultural tunes, they produced a sound which soon had the whole tent swaying and dancing, as well as thinking. Inspirations must include Asian Dub Foundation and maybe Disposable Heroes too, fine footprints to step in. A band like The Azadi Collective made me happy to be part of a multi cultural society, and seeing the reaction they received made all the effort put into organasing the stage worthwhile. http://www.azadicollective.com/

So thanks to all the bands for playing, the audiences for watching and to everyone else who helped with stewarding, sound, light, food, carrying equipment, fetching me cups of tea or just checking I was OK. When reading the above reviews, remember I booked all the bands, so I may be a little biased, and I couldn't watch all their sets, but here's the reaction of one member of an established local band to finish with …

Must say Rosey mate that i was most impressed with what was being organised (and semi-destroyed) in the young peoples tent that day. Wish i had made more effort to help out to be honest. Thanks for a nice day and keep up the good work, you old goat. lots of love dominic Water rat brain from the sewage farm sound system