Every August thousands of punk music fans, ranging from mohawk-sporting crust punks and rainbow-haired girls, to cute rocker kids-  and even guys who look like they might play golf with your dad – descend on Blackpool; an unassuming seaside town in Northern England. With visitors pouring in from across the world, it’s safe to say that Rebellion Festival can pull in a crowd! And I don’t think its because they were dying to see Blackpool.

Blackpool perhaps has an unfair rep, as the home of the “hen do” and northern England’s answer to (an incredibly low budget) Las Vegas. A bit tacky, A bit kitsch and more than likely it’s raining; Blackpool is perhaps not at the top of all travel bucket lists and that’s fair enough. But I must admit, I was unwittingly charmed by this quirky coastal town, and I think you might be too. Firstly, Blackpool still has all the things it is known for: tourists, hen do’s, arcades, candy floss and presumably a lot of hangovers. But it also has bougie seaside dining, friendly boozers, a plethora of accommodation and the sun even shone!

Being that Blackpool is so, well, Blackpool for most of the year it is very much apparent when Rebellion rolls into town. Tattered DMs jostle amongst fresh Reeboks, and buggies pass nonchalantly past clusters of people happily downing strong cider. For four days a year, the entire town is alive with the sound of Rebellion. Although the festival runs at just one venue – Blackpool’s Winter Gardens – the whole town is smattered with rockers eating ice cream, bursting from pub gardens and getting a cheeky Instagram or two on the famous seafront.

The Winter Gardens is perhaps not what you would imagine when first hearing about such an event. No sweaty club basement is this; it’s a theatrical 10-room venue with a regency feel – each room oozing with individual character and ranging from art deco hallways to multi-level-theatres and even an opera house. Of course, my first thought was ‘why would they hold an event like this at such a nice venue with so many breakables?’ But as I would come to realise later, the Rebellion crowd isn’t the rowdy youths you might expect, but a varied mish-mash of old and young, united in a love of punk music, with some attendees rocking up every year for the last 23 years!

The first festival ever thrown – then known as “Holidays in the Sun” (an ode to one of Brit punk’s most prolific acts – The Sex Pistols) was held originally in the Winter Gardens in 1996, before changing venue to Morcombe Bay and its name to “Wasted.” But as of 2006, after touring all over the world, Rebellion came home to the Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. And while I’m sure much has changed since the early naughties, but the crowd seems no less dedicated.

Set over four days, Rebellion is far more a marathon than a sprint. Attendees must keep their wits about them to make it through all four and come out the other end with memories, brain cells and funds for the train home. And I can guarantee to you that the lunchtime train back to Manchester on Monday morning is indeed a sorry sight, in the best possible way! While many will attend the weekender, it’s also possible to buy day tickets so some of the crowd won’t be in attendance all weekend – Saturday being the busiest day and night, when a lot of major acts will be playing.

I was ultimately impressed by the venue; The Winter Gardens may be a beautiful old building, but it’s packed with lots of excellent facilities. With several bars throughout the ten rooms, there was never a queue for drinks – or toilets, for that matter – and plenty of seating, facilities for disabled guests, friendly staff, ample space, plus a casual re-entry system that meant you could pop out as frequently as you wanted. The only real downside of this venue is it wasn’t made with the thought of 5000 sweaty punks dancing inside it, so the AC situation left quite a lot to be desired.

Regardless of the ventilation woes, smiles still spread widely across faces and cold beer kept the revellers (or rebellers, should I say?) dancing. We met two veteran punks who diligently braved the heat day after day, even bringing their ever-expanding families (sons, daughters and now grandchildren) to the festival over the last ten years. I mean, that’s dedication, right? It became more and more apparent throughout the weekender that the Rebellion crowd is very much a family of its own. There’s a solid community bond here, and I’m sure that is in part due to the welcoming nature of the crowd. Everyone just gets along, there’s no drunken brawling, no line-cutting or general bad vibes… It just works.

Day and night host slightly different vibes. Daytime at the Gardens is more relaxed with fewer guests, with more room to wander from room to room and discover new bands (who are often given the earlier time slots), and time to amble through the market and pick up some of the copious amounts of band march and alternative fashion. The evening brought larger crowds and sweatier rooms, but still an upbeat vibe. And with all the acts finishing around 12.00 – 1.00am attendees have enough time to get a decent nights sleep before the midday start tomorrow or to carry on into the night. Full setlist times are published ahead of the event so it seems everyone already knows what they want to prioritise ahead of time.

We spent most of our time flitting in and out of the venue, a few hours in the early afternoon, then off to explore some of Blackpool’s trademark delights such as the pier and seaside amusements before returning in the evening, fed and watered and hopefully ready for the night’s events. It would be such a different experience if there weren’t such a lenient re-entry policy, making getting out and see some of Blackpool’s cafes and bars, and also not to have to pay bar prices all day long.

I was equally impressed with the ease of getting around town. We stayed fairly centrally at the Holmsdale Hotel, but took the tram up and down the seafront most days to visit various areas. Although the walking distance isn’t huge between many attractions, to go the whole length of the seafront, you’d definitely want to invest in a transport pass to make the most of your time. We also took a few buses which we were surprisingly spotlessly in comparison to the arguably questionable London buses we are used to!

Saturday night was quite a cultural eye-opener as apparently that is the night in Blackpool and anyone and their nan are out in force hoovering up jager bombs and letting the week’s stress shrivel to nothing but a giddy memory! If you want to see the hen do crowd, this is it! But thankfully Blackpool has enough bars, nightclubs and kebab shops to accommodate a variety of visitors and there didn’t seem to be any clash between the locals, hen parties and festival-goers. It’s worth bearing in mind that public transport stops around midnight so after there it will be taxis only, or your wobbly vodka-legs, to carry you all the way home.

As a southerner, there’s a kind of a joke between the north / south divide in England that northerns are jolly and pleasant while southerners are unfriendly and unjustly paranoid – which is definitely somewhat true. None the less, I was really impressed by the trademark northern hospitality; we had several people go out of their way to assist us, which almost definitely wouldn’t happen down south! Many fans we met had travelled so far to be there – furthest being America, but there were many, many Europeans who also made the pilgrimage. I guess where else are you going to see every living punk act all at once?

I think even people without a deep interest in punk music could enjoy the merriment of Rebellion Festival, but four days might be a bit much if the music doesn’t interest you at all. It was super interesting to see the juxtaposition of punks again the classic British seaside – I think that in itself is worth coming for! If you are interested in discovering new bands, this is also a great opportunity to scout for up and coming acts. My favourite of these being the totally kick-ass The Ramonas. Essentially an all-female Ramones cover band – but also with a plethora of their own tunes – great stage presence and adorable Scottish accents! We saw them on stage in one of the main rooms as well as in an intimate acoustic set in the cosy acoustic lounge, which was one of the highlights of the closing Sunday night.

So, you don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be punk, you don’t even have to be that drunk – which is saying something in England. Most definitely a hugely unique festival that I hope will continue for another 23 years.

Rebellion 2020 will be held on Thurs 6th – Sunday 9th of August. Tickets available from their website. Also, give them a follow on Facebook to keep up to date with any announcements.

 

** Thanks to Rebellion Festival and Blackpool Transport for hosting me on this trip. All thoughts are my own.**