Big Cheese Magazine was a long running publication specialising in the wonderful world of independent punk, hardcore and ska music. The magazine was a great launch pad for so many of the great underground UK bands that I first heard when discovering punk music, as well as showcasing a lot of international bands a time long before the Internet and social media was a thing. This year, after twenty fantastic years, Big Cheese released its final issue. To celebrate, Big Cheese boss Eugene Butcher organised a big send off at The Forum in Kentish Town with money from tickets going towards homeless charity Shelter. With a line up that any major alternative festival would be jealous of, I had to go along.
The band tasked with opening the show up with Bristol's The Setbacks. The Setbacks were the only band on the line-up I had neither seen live or even heard of before so I was curious to see what they were like. Being the first band of the day is no easy task, especially on a day as sunny as this one. I mean, who really wants to be inside when the sun is doing that shining thing. There was a nice sized crowd gathered for The Setbacks though as the five piece worked their way through a set full of enjoyable punk rock that would have found a nice home amongst the likes of 4ft Fingers and Fletcher from back in the day.
Up next we were treated to some energetic ska punk from Brighton's Bar Stool Preachers. Throughout the early part of the day I had already seen some folk sporting Bar Stool Preachers t-shirts so I was expecting good things from the crowd during their set. To be honest even if you haven't heard of the band before it's difficult not to get swept up in the Bar Stool Preachers's live show. The energy and enthusiasm from the band is second to none and is a real treat to watch and dance along too. Fantastic set from the Bar Stool Preachers that was finished by their namesake song.
Versus The World, a five piece punk band from Santa Barbara, California were the next band to take to the Forum's stage. Currently on tour with Lagwagon and Useless ID, the trio of bands managed to fit the Big Cheese Big Send Off into their schedule much to a lot of people's delight. Versus The World, who feature members of Lagwagon and The Ataris really added a slickness to the proceedings. Lead by the immense vocals of Donald Spence, Versus The World played an incredible set that really got the growing crowds complete attention. Later in the evening I was speaking to a Swedish/American chap who lives in London who was really raving about this band from Santa Barbara that he had seen.
Long running King's Lynn skate punks Vanilla Pod were once on Deck Cheese Records (Big Cheese's former record label) so it only seemed right that they played the gig. In their 21st year as a band and still going strong, Vanilla Pod opened with the fantastic sing-along Saturday Night. The band are getting older and joked about not being used to playing on such big stages anymore but were trying their best to move around the whole thing. They were really the first band of the day to give credit to Big Cheese for all the work they've done supporting the UK's underground punk scene and without them there probably wouldn't be much of a scene. I've seen Vanilla Pod a few times over the past couple of years and every time they impress me more and more. Other song highlights included Wishing Well, Dead End Town and Surrounded By Idiots.
Sonic Boom Six are another band that first came to my attention because of Deck Cheese. When Laila, Barney and co. took to the stage and opened up with the epic Bigger Than Punk Rock and the crowd and the forum just went nuts. Sonic Boom Six were loved and really woke the crowd up. You could have forgiven the Boom if they'd have played a set full of songs from their excellent new album The F-Bomb but they decided to play a set of classics from their early days. Favourites such as Sound Of The Revolution, All In, Monkey See Monkey Do and Piggy In The Middle all got run outs to great receptions. Sonic Boom Six always bring a high energy performance and this one was no different.
Israel's Useless ID have just released what many are calling the album of the year. State Is Burning, released through Fat Wreck Chords, is getting a lot of positive reviews from the punk world and had many people excited to see them play live. The four piece relentlessly played through their set barely stopping between songs to tune or engage in banter with the crowd. I actually loved this, they only had a half an hour set so it was nice that they managed to squeeze as many in as they could. The song How To Dismantle An Atom Bomb in particular was a stand out. If you haven't check out Useless ID yet make sure you do soon.
Up next, if I'm being completely honest, was the main reason I bought my ticket - Jesse James! The legendary London-based six piece were back together for a one-off reunion in honour of the day's festivities. This was their first time together since their Borderline show in 2014 and boy-golly was I looking forward to it. Jesse James were one of the first underground bands I really fell in love with when I first began to discover UK punk rock. Introduced by Big Cheese's Eugene, Jesse James took to the stage and hammered through all of my favourite tracks from Punk Soul Brothers and Mission including Growin' Up, Dear Jesus, Six Minutes, Hot Wired, First Day On A Brand New Planet and of course Shoes. This was the most nostalgia filled set of the day for me and had me smiling, singing and dancing throughout. The band really seemed to enjoy themselves on stage and so did the crowd. I can't wait for the next Jesse James reunion.
Sadly King Prawn had to pull out of the show so next up were The King Blues. As is tradition front man Itch took to the stage on his own to start the set an performed an acapella version of What If Punk Never Happened? Every time I see that song performed live it gives me goose bumps. I got a bit of a kick from Itch changing the lyrics from "fanzine out of my back pocket" to "Big Cheese out of my back pocket." That was a nice touch. From then the rest of the band took to the stage and performed the hits from their early days. I think The King Blues got the biggest sing-a-longs of the day. Songs such as Let's Hang The Landlord, Set The World On Fire and Mr Music Man went down really well with the crowd but the biggest reaction was saved for the final track Save The World, Get The Girl. I find it hard watching The King Blues these days as Itch is the only original member of the band remaining, but with songs so good and a front man as good as Itch all of the weirdness I may feel towards the current carnation of the band is forgotten as soon as they start playing. A fantastic, fan pleasing set.
Finally, after a long and fantastic day of punk and ska it was time for the days headline act. Fat Wreck Chords legends - Lagwagon! Long running skate punks Lagwagon are one of a number of international bands that Big Cheese were first to champion in the UK so it was fantastic that they were able to appear. It felt incredibly fitting, that on a day full of nostalgia, Lagwagon decided to play classic album Hoss in full. Dropping a massive banner of the album cover the band took to the stage. Lagwagon are one of my favourite bands to watch live, there's a cool nonchalance to their performance. It looks as if they don't really care about the performance but are coolly having a lot of fun. When a band has been going for as long as Lagwagon have now you need to be able to enjoy yourself on stage and not just fake it. It's abundantly clear that Lagwagon are still having the time of their lives. It was great to hear Hoss in full. They did slyly re-order the classic track Razor Burn to the end of the album. This was a good move as it's a big fan favourite. Then to my surprise they finished the set with THE fan favourite song May 26. This was a surprise because it's not on the Hoss album. Always great to hear that classic punk song.
This felt like a really fitting tribute and ending for Big Cheese Magazine. An incredible line up of bands who pulled out all of the stops and a lovely crowd. I'd love for the organisers of Big Cheese to make this an annual event to showcase our incredible scene.