This time last year I had never seen The Dreadnoughts, one of my favourite punk bands of all time (probably my absolute favourite of the folk punk variety), play live before. By the end of 2017 I had not only seen The Dreadnoughts live but they had also released their first album for seven years, Foreign Skies, and what an album it was – narrowly missing out on being my number one album in my end of year list! I was pretty chuffed with this although I thought it was unlikely that I’d be seeing the band, or indeed hearing songs from Foreign Skies played live, anytime soon. That was until they announced their one and only UK date of 2018. I was ecstatic, until I saw when and where it was – the day after Manchester Punk Festival and Bristol. After umming and ahhing about how ‘sensible’ it would be to drive from Manchester to Bristol for one evening, knowing what sort of state I’d be in after the best punk festival of the year, I threw caution to the wind, booked the Monday after the gig off work (one of my last remaining holiday days for the year) and bought tickets. I’d worry about making the drive from Bristol nearer to the time and in the meantime I was hyped about going to see The Dreadnoughts again!
As it turned out, despite only having had 4 and a half hours sleep, the drive down to Bristol wasn’t so bad and we arrived with enough time to chill for a bit, grab some food and head on over to The Exchange. In fact we managed to time it so well that when we walked into the venue, the first band was just starting their set. That first band was called the Surfin’ Turnips. Now, I’d never listened to any of the Surfin’ Turnips’ music before but judging by their name, knowing that they were from the West Country and the fact that they’ve frequented festivals such as Outcider and Cursus, I had a fair idea of what they might be like. With their cider swilling lyrics and humorous performance, they were sort of what I was envisaging but they were also punkier than I expected. The band’s singer and guitarist actually mentioned the Ramones at one point and I’d be inclined to agree that musically they did sort of have a Ramones feel about them – just with added accordion and a slightly odd chap in fancy dress shaking some maracas. It was pretty bizarre but a whole lot of fun.
After popping to the merch table and buying a Foreign Skies record, The Dreadnoughts’ only album available on vinyl, we were positioned ready for the second band. Next up were the Skimmity Hitchers, another band from the West Country – well it made sense really as we were in Bristol, the capital of the West Country. I was surprised to find that Skimmity Hitchers were actually quite different to the Surfin’ Turnips. I mean, they still had songs about cider, a lot of songs about cider – Colin, a teetotal person in his sleepy and exhausted state was very confused about all the songs about cider – but musically they were very different to the first band we’d seen. Comprising of a double bass, electric guitar, drums and the occasional kazoo, Skimmity Hitchers turned out to be a sort of covers band with a twist. I suppose you would actually call the songs they played parodies rather than straight up covers as the recognisable melodies were there but the lyrics had been given a massive dose of Scrumpy and Western (that’s what they call it). Having the familiar melodies, such as Ring Of Fire by Johnny Cash, Lust For Life by Iggy Pop, American Idiot by Green Day and Walking On Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves, certainly helped to grab my attention although I’m fairly certain that the majority of the room was well familiar with Skimmity Hitchers already. For all their silliness, this was another band that proved themselves to be really great musicians and I thoroughly enjoyed their set. Any tiredness I ought to have been feeling was forgotten and I was now suitably warmed up to see the mighty Dreadnoughts.
Anticipation was running high at The Exchange. This show had sold out in no time at all and no doubt we weren’t the only ones to have travelled from outside of Bristol to see the kings (and queen) of folk punk play this special show. Soon the wait was finally over as the Canadian six-piece set foot on the stage – and it was great to see that they were a six-piece with their accordion player (who turned out to be the guy I bought my record from but I didn’t realise) over for this show, as he wasn’t with them at The Underworld show last summer. If I told you that The Dreadnoughts opened with what is the last song on their latest album you might think that an odd choice but did I mention that the song is called Back Home In Bristol? It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? Obviously the band are not from Bristol (they might wish they were) – that’s actually besides the point as Foreign Skies is a concept album about WWI – but needless to say opening with Back Home In Bristol, in Bristol, was a stroke of genius and it went down a storm. I may have already mentioned once or twice that I absolutely loved Foreign Skies and so it was so, so good to hear some of the songs played live, not least the album’s title track and my favourite song from the album. It was epic on recording and it was just as amazing played live – plus the crowd was crazily enthusiastic. I was loving every moment and not standing still for a second, although I was also trying to avoid ending up in a mosh pit or being elbowed in the face – these are the problems you have when you find yourself near the front of a raucous folk punk show such as this one. Alongside the new tracks I’ve already mentioned, The Dreadnoughts played the punchy Black And White, Amiens Polka (which is a polka, if you didn’t get that from its title) and the sea shanty Bay Of Suvla from Foreign Skies. Of course their set wasn’t all tracks from the latest album, they also threw in plenty of oldies for good measure including Antarctica, Polka Never Dies and Roll The Woodpile Down – the latter complete with the crowdsurfing drummer to the bar to get a cider shenanigans that I’d witnessed at their Camden Underworld show. There were plenty of other added extras included in the show which mostly involved various people joining the band on stage – audience members attempting to be morris dancers, some others having a Wurzels-style sing off and several cameo appearances from the likes Surfin’ Turnips, a guest accordion player (who was brilliant and I assume he was in a band but I’m not sure which) and, towards the end of their set, Smokey Bastard. Colin and I are fans of Smokey Bastard so this was a lovely surprise. As The Dreadnoughts drew towards the end of their set they unfortunately developed some technical difficulties with the electric guitar no longer working through its amp. I guess this wouldn’t be a truly DIY folk punk show without something like that going wrong. Thankfully this is a band that has mastered the art of the sea shanty and so they simply ended their set with a couple of those. I said in my album review how amazing frontman Nick’s voice is on recording and it was just the same live. Combined with other members of the band also lending their voices, this was a triumphant way to end an incredible set.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching The Dreadnoughts in Bristol and, even after the amazing weekend of Manchester Punk Festival, I would probably say that this is my single favourite live performance of 2018 so far. After all The Dreadnoughts are my probably my absolute favourite folk punk band of all time so I wouldn’t have expected anything less. It was well worth the 300 mile detour home from Manchester.
This gig review was written by Emma Prew. Photos also by Emma Prew.