Recently it was Reading and Leeds Festival weekend. Obviously, this year the festival didn’t get to happen but the BBC did show highlights. Whenever Reading and Leeds Festival comes around it always has me thinking of past line-ups and how they were much more to my taste compared to what the festival has become now. I think about the old Lock Up/Concrete Jungle stage, which over the years, featured punk legends such as Bad Religion, Descendents, Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake, Social Distortion, Bouncing Souls, Anti-Flag and many more alongside UK stalwarts like Lightyear, Capdown, No Comply, Adequate Seven, Sonic Boom Six, King Prawn and, in later years, Great Cynics, Muncie Girls and Apologies, I Have None. I then go on to thinking about the The Lock Up show on Radio One which was hosted by Mike Davies. This show was much loved among the UK punk community and showcased so many bands we still love today. The show ran in various time slots between 2002 and 2014 and was a great success. As well as playing the biggest punk bands from all over the world it also gave loads of opportunities to DIY bands. It was arguably one of the biggest periods for punk rock in the UK and everyone looks back at the time with a great amount of fondness. Recently, whilst bored at work, I got to pondering about what the UK punk scene would have been like if the Lock Up show had have stayed on air and continued to have the similar success it had in its prime.
For me the punk scene, in times before COVID-19 at least, was thriving in 2020. There’s an incredible amount of amazing bands emerging throughout the UK. There are great amount of shows on all the time and plenty of festivals for bands to play but I think it’s fair to say that they aren’t always the best attended. You’ve got to imagine that if The Lock Up was still on air, shows would be better attended and you might see DIY punk shows at bigger venues than the ones that currently that put on punk shows. This would obviously be in huge part due to the increased exposure bands would be getting because of being featured on a mainstream radio station. Nowadays bands are competing to get on Spotify playlists, hoping to get some decent exposure. Some bands can get exposure from that but it surely can’t match the boost you get from a Radio One play. There would also be more bands than ever getting together to play punk music because they’ve been inspired by what they’ve heard.
That does lead me to something that would be a negative if The Lock Up still existed. To my knowledge, the UK punk scene for the most part works together as a community. Bands and labels work together, swapping gigs, sharing each other’s music and generally working as one to help the scene grow. I worry that all these bands trying to get played on The Lock Up would create a competitive atmosphere that would involved lots of bitching, backstabbing and one-upmanship that just isn’t needed in the punk scene. There is a risk that the special community feeling that spreads throughout the scene would be lost and that would be a massive shame.
As was mentioned in the introduction, a big part of The Lock Up radio show was their stage at Reading and Leeds Festival. For a lot of bands this stage was a stepping stone for getting to play to hundreds of thousands of people on the main stage. I’ve been thinking about which of the current bands in the scene would have played on the main stage by now if The Lock Up still existed. My first thought was The Menzingers. That band are already playing in decent sized rooms throughout the UK without much radio play. With the backing on The Lock Up still behind them it definitely wouldn’t be a surprise to see them on the big stage. Seeing that many people shouting “I will fuck this up, I fucking knowing it” back at the stage would be a pretty special moment. From the ska scene you can’t look past The Interrupters being an ideal candidate for the main stage. Since the release of Fight The Good Fight in 2018 the band have blown up (in punk terms) and their brand of positive unity music would fit in perfectly. Also an outside bet would be Canada’s Pkew Pkew Pkew. The band’s infectious pop punk is perfect for radio play and instantly takes up residence in your head. Plus their inclusion in the Tony Hawks reboot is surely going to unearth a massive new fanbase for The Boys.
I’ve also been thinking about the current crop of UK bands who might find their way onto The Lock Up stage. Nervus and Fresh would undoubtedly have played it by now. There was a stage when it seemed as if at least one of those bands were on tour with whatever big band were over from the USA so it would only be right that they were featured. I would also imagine Darko would have played at some point. As one of the most beloved skate punk bands in the UK and Europe, I’m sure they would have had substantial play time on the radio show and would wow everyone in the tent. Wonk Unit are one of the bands that really unite the old school punks along with the new so would be a shoe in to appear at some stage. The hottest young band in the UK at the moment are Aerial Salad and are certain to do some big things in future years. Imagine where they would be if they had the Radio One hype machine behind them. They might just skip The Lock Up stage and get on the main stage. They have that much appeal, it won’t just be the punks who love them. Then, following on from the likes of Lightyear, Capdown and Random Hand representing the ska punk scene, you’d have to include Call Me Malcolm, Bar Stool Preachers, Millie Manders and The Shutup and Popes Of Chillitown from the current crop of bands.
In trying to think of a negative, I thought of the effect that The Lock Up Stage might have on various festivals around the UK and Europe during August. In the past few years, since less punk bands were booked for Reading and Leeds, we’ve seen the growth of festivals such as Boomtown, Rebellion, Brakrock and Punk Rock Holiday. I do wonder if Reading and Leeds was still filling The Lock Up with punk bands, would these over festivals attract the big names of punk rock that they currently do? Reading and Leeds is one of the most prestigious music festivals in the world and, at the time, for a lot of these bands it most have been a bucket list festival to play. Because of this, bands will have arranged their tours around the traditional August bank holiday weekend rather than earlier in the month when Boomtown and Rebellion take place.
I guess with the extra punk festivals and in theory a bigger punk audience due to the extra exposure, there will be plenty of great bands to fill all of the festival slots and it would give more of a chance to the smaller bands to play for big audiences which is only a good thing.
To finish this column of pondering I should come up with a conclusion. I think that The Lock Up show was absolutely fantastic for UK punk rock and opened doors for loads of fantastic bands. It is much missed and you can’t ignore the legacy it created. We need more radio shows dedicated to punk rock music at a mainstream level. Punk rock is plodding along nicely in its underground status but imagine how it would thrive again with big backing. It would be an incredible time.
This column was written by Colin Clark.