Radical Dance Faction and a host of festival friends put on barnstorming night of entertainment in West London.
Kingston Upon Thames is not a place I have visited before. And I think the same could be said about most of tonight’s crowd, as the massed clans of the festival scene gather for a rather splendid night of punky reggae.
When I think of Kingston Upon Thames, I think of boat races, Pimms and Hunter Wellies. I’m not sure why I have this image, perhaps it is the ‘Upon Thames’ bit that gives it a whiff of ‘old money’. But stepping out of Kingston Station, it doesn’t appear to be particularly posh, but it does appear to be a reasonably thriving town centre.
Once again, we are booked into a hotel to avoid the hassle of getting home late at night. A quick look on ye olde Google Maps tells us that the railway station, our hotel, and the venue for tonight’s gig are all within a three-minute stagger of each other. I like this part of town already.
We are a little early to check in so plonk ourselves in the Wheel Wrights Arms for a swift one. Which is followed by a slightly slower one. And several more. Before floating over to the Kings Tun (see what they did there?) for some food to soak up the beer. We don’t want to peak too early, obviously.
We try to check in to the Travelodge, but amazingly there are two, literally two hundred yards apart. Needless to say, we go to the wrong one first. When we check in to the right one, it is cheap and cheerful, but we don’t plan on spending a lot of time in the room – and we are quickly off back down the pub.
We hit the venue early – there are a lot of bands on. The Fighting Cocks is my sort of pub. It shouts ‘punk rock’ as soon as you walk through the door. It has a long history of live music and comedy, having hosted many of the big names on the stand-up circuit on their way up, as well as the likes of Eric Clapton, Frank Turner and The Voodoo Glow Skulls.
Tonight is my first visit though. As we walk through the door it immediately feels like our local, such is the number of festival heads that have turned out from around the country. Cardiff, Bournemouth, Luton, Hereford and of course, London are represented. Not to mention aqua-itinerants of no fixed abode.
But our first aim was to catch up with old friends that we haven’t actually met this century. They live in Kingston, so it would have been rude not to say hello. Despite not having met up for a very long time, it felt like it was last week when we last met – and we continue to drink, still trying to avoid peaking too early.
Eventually we head out to the back room where the gig was being held. First up were due to be the True Earthers. They are a collective that have been around since 1988, but I only discovered them after they released the album ‘Call to the Tribe’ in 2015 – which featured none other than Chris Bowsher of RDF on guest vocals on one of the tracks. They are laid back and chilled – although I don’t recognise any of the tunes and they don’t look like they were even born in 1988. They are a nice start to the evening – although it’s not till several days later I discover it wasn’t The True Earthers! (Bloody alcohol!). I have no idea who they actually were.
Next up were Newbury five piece, Drop The Gun. Google tells me they formed in the summer 2012, or there abouts. This isn’t their first rodeo though. They have been around the block (front man Sid Wobble has served time in the ranks of RDF – there is a theme developing here) and their sound has a tightness you can only get with time. (There’s a compliment on there somewhere.)
The room is starting to fill up now and Drop The Gun get the crowd bopping with their genre mixing punky vibrations.
Tonight is the first gig for quite a while from Damidge, front man Al hasn’t quite been up to performing and tonight he spends most of the set sat down. The lack of live practice doesn’t show though, and they put in a blinding shift. Formed all the way back in 1986 in south London Damidge play a style of Punk Rock with a psychedelic twist. They take as much from the early seventies New York CBGBs style of punk as they do from the class of 77 London. They ignore the punk rock rule book and play rock and roll with ‘raw power’.
I have been a fan of the Sporadics pretty much since their inception over a decade ago. over time their line up has changed quite considerably, but they have retained their ability to get a crowd bouncing with their up-tempo happy-go-lucky ska punk. And tonight is no exception, with the dancefloor becoming a heaving mass.
Topping off the night we have Radical Dance Faction. Formed in 1988 they are probably one of the closest rivals to Hwkwind for the number of people that have been in and out of the band over the years. In the last three years alone i have seen members of The Rhythmites, Tarantism, Dub The Earth, P.A.I.N. and Damidge stepping up to the plate to keep the show on the road (and that’s just the musicians I’m familar with). Tonight, Fraggle from Back to the Planet / The Skraelings / AOS3 / Eff Off is making his debut on guitar.
I suppose this night sums up RDF, they are the thread holding the lineup together. The band is like a soup that feeds other bands, a soup that other bands throw ingredients into, a soup that never goes off the boil and festival goers hungry for musical sustenance know they can rely on. And tonight, in the run up to the winter solstice, festival goers have spontaneously and independently found themselves drawn to the Fighting Cocks to feed on this festival soup – like wise men and women following a lodestar.
And they get what they came looking for. The dubby rhythms feed the hearts, the punky vibes feed the feet and the lyrics feed the head. the dancefloor becomes a seething mass, with a collective grin from the drum riser to the bar and back again.
It might be the middle of winter, but the tribe has come out of hibernation for the night, and we are all pleased to see eachother and reflect on the fact that we will soon be closer to the next festivals season than the last and we will soon all be back in a feild togther.
At some point during proceedings, despite my best efforts, i do peak. I’m not sure when this happened, but I do recall in the middle of the night mistaking the bedroom door for the bathroom door and finding myself in the hotel corridor stark naked. Always a sign of a good night out.