A guest blog from longterm Greenbelter Peter Barrett…
It all started with a rumour.
At Friday’s Angels Reception someone mentioned that Pussy Riot had been holed up in a Brighton studio with Lee Bains & The Glory Fires. (I saw the Glory Fires the previous year: kick-ass rock’n’roll with a lead singer who has a big conscience and leads from the front.) There was to be a ‘secret gig’ this weekend. But we weren’t meant to know. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink etc.
Russian punk-anarchist collective meets American South rock and boogie boys. What kind of incredible chemistry would this be? I needed to find out more.
The great thing about Greenbelt is that all the artists are approachable. I know because I caught Lee Bains at his soundcheck on Sunday evening and popped the question: ”You and Pussy Riot? Is this true?” “Yeah, but not yet. Later on,” he smiled. During their performance he mentioned the ‘secret gig’ but he mentioned two different times that evening – and no location. This was all going haywire. Until the MC announced after they’d left the stage: “10.45. Little Big Top.” Game On.
I dutifully joined the queue and silently prayed that I would make it into this small venue. At 10.45 I walked in the door. But the band had already started. There was a woman in a black leotard, purple Dr Martens and the symbolic pink balaclava writhing at the foot of the stage to what I can only describe as a wall of howling punk-rock: ‘I swear to Almighty God/To tell the truth/And nothing but the truth’. The Clash’s ‘Guns on the roof’ had never sounded so vibrant (I particularly enjoyed the irony of the line: ‘I like to be in the USSR’). I ran into the crowd and ended up jumping up and down with a couple of guys. Before I realised, I’d inadvertently started a mosh-pit and was flung into the barrier. Hey, who cares? I’m right at the front!
This was loud. Very loud. (Someone complained it was too loud – and they were in the Jesus Arms next door.) Sasha from Pussy Riot was throwing shapes like something out of 1977. The Glory Fires were playing like it was their last gig, pumping out screaming riffs, rumbling bass and tub-thumping drumming. Next up, Le Tigre’s ‘Get off the internet’ with the very appropriate chorus: ‘I’ll meet you in the street/Destroy the right wing’. This song was written for Pussy Riot. This whole gig was wrapped in the punk DIY ethic. Sasha was reading lyrics from a sheet, crumpling them up and throwing them into the crowd. The mosh-pit was going quietly insane behind me and then I hear the words: ‘Sister, won’t you tell me where I went so wrong/I used to say my prayers, all night long/I’d listen to the Gospel ringing in my ears/Come on sister Anne, save me from my fears/I know you can, you’re my sister Anne.’ Yes, it’s the MC5 at Greenbelt. (At last.) The Glory Fires were cruising now, creating a raucous cacophony like a twenty first-century version of the Sex Pistols. And Sasha? She was leaping on the monitors like a demented pixie. Think Kylie meets Metallica. Debby Harry meets The Ramones. Siouxsie and the Banshees meets Iggy Pop. You get the picture.
Then it switched gear. From a sweaty, sexual, anarchic vibe to the take-me-to-church anthems of the recently departed – and greatly missed – Aretha Franklin. The Glory Fires segued into a gospel groove without even blinking and the crowd simply went nuts. ‘Chain of Fools’ followed by ‘Think’: People walking around every day/Playing games, taking scores/Trying to make other people lose their minds/Ah, be careful you don’t lose yours.’ Too late. We’re gone.
Then, just as we’re clinging on for dear life, they close with Bikini Kill’s ‘Rebel Girl’: ‘When she talks, I hear the revolution/In her hips, there’s revolution/When she walks, the revolution’s coming/In her kiss, I taste the revolution.’ Sasha leaps back into life – this is her life. Revolution written all over it.
Then they’re gone.
My ears are ringing and I’m leading the crowd in a call-and-response chant to get them to return: Pussy! Riot! Pussy! Riot! But to no avail. They only had six songs. That was the whole point.
This was a slice of Greenbelt history. I’ve been to some incendiary Greenbelt gigs in the past – Moby, The Alarm, The Waterboys, Midnight Oil – but this was off the scale. Unbelievable.
Thank you Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires.
Thank you Pussy Riot.
Thank you Greenbelt.
Best. Greenbelt. Gig. Ever? Oh Yes. Most definitely YES.
Photo credit: Ali Johnston