Sunday, 7 August 2016

999 THE DICKIES, Ashley Reaks, Bristol Fleece, Saturday 6th August 2016

This was always going to be a bit of a mad one; The Dickies, veteran Californian cartoon punk rockers and demolishers of unsuspecting rock’n’roll standards, back on my gig itinerary for the first time since that chaotically brilliant Damned support slot, back in December 2012 (gig 867)… However, the crazy factor took an unexpected – and some might say unwelcome – sideways turn with the announcement that vocalist Leonard Graves Phillips had been hospitalised a couple of days prior to the gig. A band facebook announcement revealed that in true punk rock fashion, the band were soldiering on, with a plethora of guest vocalists being arranged “on the fly” to backfill for their absent leader. There was therefore no question of my not attending, but I wondered… given that the hyperactive, helium voiced, manically gabbling Leonard, plus his selection of props, puppets and toys, is such an intrinsic part of The Dickies “live” experience, how would they fare without him? Would this be either a glorious and chaotic triumph, or a disjointed punk rock karaoke disaster?

With anticipation/ trepidation, I set off and parked up just before 8, wandering into the very quiet early doors venue, being handed a note regarding Leonard’s absence on the way in. Saw guitarist and fellow original member Stan Lee walking around the venue making lists and allocating potential singers to tracks, so I enquired about Leonard, then was asked by the Scottish merch guy if I can sing! Graciously declined the “opportunity”, but chatted with him about tonight’s plans; they’re still working them up! As the place filled up, we were subjected to the support slot stylings of soloist Ashley Reaks and his accompanied “art”, consisting of provocative sexual imagery which for me reaked (sic) of deliberate and slightly puerile 6th form style shock tactics. A couple of early beatbox samba driven numbers were equally poor and potty mouthed, but then Reaks played a pretty passable Billy Bragg-styled punk rock track from his “Planet Grot” album, followed by a decent reading of The Cure’s classic creepy goth track “A Forest”! Hmmm…

Took a wander down the front as The Dickies (well, the 4 remaining members, anyway) set up, then gave the thumbs up to start the set at 10 past 9, Stan announcing, “help us out, you guys!” before leading the band into the anthemic fanfare of instrumental opener “Rondo (The Midget’s Revenge)”. Hefty bassist Eddie then filled us in; Leonard’s in hospital in Luton, some kidney problem, complications but not life threatening, but he wanted the tour to continue – “it’s all about the music, it’s all about you guys!” So on came the first “guest” vocalist; Ian the merch guy I’d been chatting to earlier, done up as “Where’s Wally”, and with a fun manic pogoing stage presence to make up for his inevitable vocal shortfall. Nonetheless, he did a sterling job, powering through amphetamine-fast and ridiculously hooky and singalong US punk rock classics such as “Fan Mail”, a superb “Nights In White Satin” and a frenzied “Waterslide”, powered throughout by the gnats-chuff-tight rhythm section of the dickie-bowed drummer and the aforementioned – and nuclear metronome-wristed – bassist Eddie. Eddie himself and second guitarist Ben took a turn on vocals before dragging their suave driver Dale on for a strident, eye-popping “Paranoid”, then a local punter on for “You Drive Me Ape”, which honestly the guy fucked up totally! Still, as he said, he was just walking past…! The real surprise, however, was reserved for when The Dickies invited the venue owner, Blue Aeroplanes bassist Chris Sharp, onto the stage. Apparently only knowing one Dickies number, and having been given an hour to learn 2 more, he brought a sheaf of lyric crib-sheets onstage and totally nailed a brilliant “Give It Back” and “Rosemary”. Ian then returned for set-closing double “If Stuart Could Talk” and “Gigantor” (for which he donned an impromptu towel “cape”), the band then leaving the stage to a huge reception. So, triumph or disaster? Thankfully, it veered considerably towards the former!

Encores of an almost straight “Breaking The Law” (the old Judas Priest HM chugger) and the inevitable “Banana Splits”, again delivered superbly by Chris, ended proceedings, and I grabbed the list and scampered around collecting signatures and offering congrats. Shorn of Leonard’s cartoon stylings and props, this felt more like a conventional “rock” show, but nonetheless The Dickies – and their guest vocalists – made it a thoroughly entertaining evening of vintage crazy and singalong punk rock. Be well and get better soon Leonard; 2016 has already taken away far more than it deserves to. But in the meantime, rest up and rest assured that your boys – and Ian the merch guy – are doing you proud!


  1. There isn’t much point defending my art and music as it's obviously way beyond your imaginative capabilities - reviews always say more about the reviewer than the act- suffice to say that I was invited on the tour by Dickies singer Leonard Phillips who collects my art and contributed vocals on one of my recent albums. My art has been exhibited all over the world and bought by the Arts Council amongst many other art organizations and collectors. As for the music, apart from an entire pop career in the 90’s, I've made 10 albums in the last 4 years with contributions from members of Magazine, Captain Beefheart, It Bites, The Jackson 5 and The Commodores as well as Leonard - all of whom who are hardly likely to lend their name to 'puerile 6th form' creativity. Your comment about the opening tracks being 'samba-driven beatbox numbers' was so musically-naïve it was laughable - here's the opening track I played that night
    I have no problem with people not liking my work but to be so dismissive, patronising and mean of someone's creative expression just because you don't understand or like it is unnecessary and the sort of armchair criticism that is the death of creativity to some aspiring artists and musicians. BTW - the art's nothing to do with shock tactics - more an expression of a life and childhood filled with abuse, severe depression, violence and psychological scarring – which art helps me recover from - but I would doubt you would even be able to imagine that. Next time do some research - or even better, why not just walk out if you don't like it?

  2. Wow, I'm sorry you've taken such umbrage with my comments Mr. Reaks. The views expressed are my own opinion and are by definition subjective, and I'm surprised that the opinion of an amateur blogger such as myself matters enough to you that you feel the need to respond in such a lengthy manner (despite stating up front that you felt no point in doing so!). To address some of your points;
    I hope my writing does say more about me than about the acts I "review". I'm expressing my opinion, after all, and am writing about my experiences at these events, rather than "reviewing" them per se. This is why I call them my gig diaries, rather than my gig reviews.
    Kudos to you for your art exhibitions and musical career. You're correct, I did no research on you, I merely commented on what I saw and heard, much of which I didn't like and felt unsettled by, and reserve the right to express my opinion of that.
    I don't routinely walk out of performances as I feel that denigrates the performer even more that my subsequent comments and critiques, and you never know, performers retain the capacity to surprise even after a poor start. Such was the case with your performance, as I actually enjoyed your Planet Grot number, and your rendition of "A Forest", and said so above. The "Hmmmm" statement was intended to convey a feeling that I couldn't make my mind up about the set as a whole.
    Finally, I am again gratified that your art seems to enable you to purge yourself from the difficulties you've faced in your life. I too faced a very difficult childhood having suffered from extensive bullying and racial abuse at school (despite having no obvious racial background - well, that's the 70's for you), so yes, I am able to imagine that. Again, you still can't expect everyone to like it.
    I think we need to agree to differ, but I wish you well in your future endeavours.

    1. I don't care in the slightest about whether you liked it or not but my work's important to me and I'll defend it when it's being unreasonably belittled - I'm glad it unsettled you - your comment about 'support bands being fair game' tells me all that I need to know