Xmas Skankfest

  • Headliner:Jaya The Cat
  • Support:Imperial Leisure, Faintest Idea, Popes of Chillitown & more
  • When:10th December 2017
  • Where:The Fleece, Bristol
  • Reviewed By:Lee Morton

Ah, Skankfest, how I’ve missed thee. Having been to a few of these ska-punk all-dayers in the past I was determined to get to this year’s Christmas event, especially once the bill was announced and Jaya The Cat were confirmed as headliners. Although the snow did its best to disrupt travel across the country nothing was going to put a dampener on the day and the 12.45pm start didn’t deter many punters who were out in force early to enjoy the day.

The unenviable job of opening proceedings fell to 6 Foot 7, who did admirably, getting the steadily growing crowd skanking along to their high energy ska-punk. The crunchy mix of hard punk and ska from Call Me Malcolm followed, and quite clearly they had brought their dancing songs as energy levels were raised another notch. Fresh from the studio where they are currently recording their new album they were very tight from the off and the first blast of brass of the day was very welcome.

Festivities were enlivened with the arrival of King Punch. The lively seven-piece are known for their energetic live shows and this was no disappointment, with vocalist Liam leading the way bouncing around the front of the stage like a child about to meet Father Christmas. Talking of which, their cover of seasonal favourite Merry Christmas had even the most hardened punk smiling and singing along. Tasked with following them, Swindon three piece Slajerij kept everyone at the front skanking, despite having no brass section, with some deep grooves and in-your-face ska-punk. The aggression may have been dialled up but fun levels remained high.

The Punk Archive favourites Riskee and the Ridicule stood out like a sore thumb on this bill with their grime punk providing an adrenaline shot to the arm and a counter balance to the ska but the crowd took them to heart and I’m certain they converted quite a few new fans along the way. Leaning heavily on this year’s acclaimed album (and my album of the year by the way) Blame Culture, we were treated to the knowing satire of My Girlfriend is a Hipster, the absolute banger that is, erm Banger as well as the up-tempo Villain but it was the one-two of favourites Jack of all Trades and the infectious Roots that got the biggest cheers.

The Nottingham melting pot of styles that is Unknown Era were up next, bringing their mix of ska, hip-hop, reggae and disco funk that doesn’t just incite dancing, it demands it. The laid back grooves, soulful vocals and plenty of energy make them the perfect party band. Welsh act Tree House Fire were up next with their reggae/ska, which was perfect for everyone to catch their breath and relax into some deep dub grooves. This talented band got the appreciative crowd bopping along with them and their sun-drenched tunes helped everyone forget about the sleet and snow failing outside.

My only real complaint about the day is that with just a fifteen-minute turnaround between bands it didn’t leave much time to grab any food, which was definitely needed on an all-dayer. The obvious downside is that you have to pick carefully when you choose to eat as it inevitably means you will miss a band, which was the case with home favourites Imprints, whose set I missed whilst stuffing my face in the local Subway. Foot long, if you’re wondering.

Having headlined their own Xmas Party at the London Underworld the night before you could have forgiven Popes of Chillitown for being tired and hungover but if they were then they certainly didn’t let it show. Their high-tempo, all-action energy got the mosh pit going from the off and didn’t let up for the whole (too short) half an hour set. Vocalist Matt is a non-stop ball of energy, orchestrating the fun from the front of the stage whilst the band were as tight as I’ve heard them. Tracks from their second album To The Moon receive the biggest response with the contagious Wisdom Teeth being a real highlight.

The problem of following the Popes is left for local favourites Mad Apple Circus and they didn’t let the crowd down. Blending horn-fuelled styles that mix soulful Latin grooves with ska, hip-hop and jazz sounds like it shouldn’t work but in the hands of this nine-piece they manage to skilfully combine all said elements in to a very cohesive sound without sounding contrived. Armed with at least three vocalists they share the vocals around, which works really well as they change up styles from more urban sounds to smoother funky tones. Yes, it’s a home crowd but I don’t think that’s the only reason they get the reception they did as the crowd don’t stop dancing for the whole set.

One of the main reasons I had to attend this year’s Skankfest was the holy ska trinity of Faintest Idea, Imperial Leisure and Jaya The Cat that closed the night. It was King’s Lynn’s finest, Faintest Idea, that were up first and as has become normal they started with Circling The Drain which slowly builds up the tension as the brass section stalk the dancefloor whilst playing the intro. Once the song starts properly the venue exploded in a mass of skanking. The one-two of Youth and House Of Cards are tossed out like ska hand grenades with the whole crowd singing along. As well as fan favourites we also get a taste of a new song, which I think was called Shut ‘Em Down, displaying a harder edge than previous songs. Finishing with the two-tone of Easy Now Rude Boy and a raucous rendition of Bull In A China Shop the bar had just been set to a new high for the night.

If any band knows a thing or two about bars, then it’s those party starting reprobates in Imperial Leisure. Hitting the stage to the strains of First Past The Pump frontman Denis, smiling like the Cheshire Cat throughout, sprays the front rows with a bottle of Prosecco. Well, it wouldn’t be an Imperial Leisure show without an alcohol soaking, would it? First song proper Victory Cycle is a bouncy, knowingly cheeky song that gets the crowd jumping around as Denis spits out the vocals. Lucky People keeps energy levels up before the first of two new songs aired tonight, Keep It Rolling, a typically eclectic genre mash-up from them that throws some Latin flavours into the already potent mix of ska/punk/rap. Creeper incites mass pogoing and singalongs, with the party atmosphere engulfing the room as the slinky grooves weave in and out. The second new song, Albanian Nights sees Denis delivering rapid-fire rap over heavy basslines as they tell more tales of drunken revelry whilst the introduction of Beast draws massive cheers from the front rows. Slowing things down a tad with the brass heavy Alperton which is always great live especially when the whole crowd sing back the “that’s what you get for being a wanker” line. A maniacal Man On The Street is as bouncy and effervescent as usual and fan favourite Landlord’s Daughter, the ode to the charms of barmaids, end the night in chaotic fashion as Denis joins the heaving throng on the floor before final song, Isle Of Slice see him stripped to tight trunks as the funky calypso beats draw even more energy from the crowd.

With the expectant crowd well warmed up it was just left to Jaya The Cat to close proceedings on a high, although I suspect a fair few of the crowd had beaten them to that. With the recently released long player, A Good Day For The Damned receiving positive reviews it was no surprise that their set was weighted heavily with the new songs, which sound even better live with a beer in hand. Opening with Wine Stained Futon it was clear from the off how pleased they are with the new record: it’s classic Jaya but different. The gentle ska strokes pulled the crowd in immediately whilst the bouncy verses had the place jumping so much it was more a case of beer-stained floor than wine stained futon. Traditional opener Rebel Sound followed, the unmistakable intro raising the temperature in stark contrast to the freezing cold outside. Nobody does drunk love songs as well as Jaya and delving into their back catalogue sees them pull out one of the best in Nobody’s Fault: cue the mass singalong and mayhem. With a career spanning almost twenty years now they have some arsenal of songs to choose from but they do have some classic go to songs and Hello Hangover is one of them. As the line “hello hangover, how you doing my old friend?” suggests this is band that like a drink, as do the crowd judging by the reaction it gets.

Break-up song A Rough Guide To The Future picks up the tempo, with more urgency to the guitar strokes but still has that classic laid back groove that they seem to be able to lock into at will. A trio of favourites follow with the punky reggae of Twist The Cap, the unifying call to arms that is Thank You Reggae and a blistering version of El Camino, of which the rumbling basslines shake the room, or was that just the volume of people dancing?

All the new tracks aired tonight fit seamlessly in to the set and Huddersfield Rain is no exception. Similar in vein to Nobody’s Fault the chorus needs to be sung very loudly, beer bottle in hand and best friend by your side, all of which I had. Talking of singing loudly, I don’t think I heard anything louder than the “when life gives you lemons, I make gin and tonics” line from Fake Carreras after which the punk love song to their adopted home Amsterdam seemed a little flat. A quick run through the scuzzy punk of Mistake followed, which I don’t think I’ve heard them perform live before, and the set finished with lead single from the new album, Sweet Eurotrash and an extended version of Here Come The Drums. The former has a haunting quality, lifted by another strong chorus whilst the latter needs little introduction being a staple in their set list for many years now and closed the show in another mass singalong.

We may have been almost twelve hours into the day but when the lights came on no-one wanted to leave. New friendships had been formed as people sang, dance and drunk together and the power of the music to unite people across age, sex and race was such a positive that there wasn’t one face not smiling as we walked back out in to the chilly night. Thank you, Bristol.

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