As the sun set over Shepherd’s Bush the crowd laced around the Empire: a rainbow of Mohawks and fauxhawks circled the building with eyeliner, leopard skin and safety pin piercings glistening in the sun. Leather jackets pimped with studs, paint and badges enveloped the gig-goers ready for the five-hour star-studded event inside. Punks, goths, Nu punks, Teddy Boys, Joan Jett-style Rock Chicks and cyber goths illuminating the darkness. Everyone looked somehow familiar like they were in a punk band, or should be.
The stage was glittering with punk icons as opulent as the balconies of the Empire itself, the black velvet, lace and silver jewellery of the stylish dynasty of goths punks and rockers glimmering like PVC off the spotlights of the stage.
The red and white banner of ‘Vive Le Rock!’ hung over the stage like a homemade ‘Rock Against Racism’ banner. Stars from The Clash, The Damned, The Specials, The Ruts, Bad Barbee, Vice Squad, The Blockheads, The Bodysnatchers, The Blockheads, Hanoi Rocks, Bob Vylan, Sham 69, Killing Joke, and more with a special posthumous Icon Award going to the late Terry Hall picked up by his great friend singer, Rhoda Dakar who did a stunning speech emphasising how Terry Hall was ‘a great supporter of Women in music‘ and how we should all do the same. There were over fifty performers and presenters at Vive Le Rock. It was a veritable treasure trove of Rock icons past present and future, either handing out awards, playing music or picking up awards themselves. The Cockney Rejects and Neville Staples played a blistering set of rudeboy classics while Lords of The New Church blew the roof off at the end of the evening with full sets following the award ceremony.
Goth Punk supergroup Lords of the New Church were made up of The Damned’s Brian James, Sham 69’s Dave Treganna, The Clash drummer Terry Chimes, and for the first time, the band were led by Hanoi Rock’s Michael Monroe on vocals. Monroe was a great friend of the late lead singer Stiv Bators and was the only man on the planet to take his place for this one-off performance; the brainchild of Vive Le Rock’s Eugene Butcher.
Rock n’ Roll past, present, and future were represented with house band The Vive Le Rockers playing tracks from Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard hosting a plethora of guest singers. Going from punk Goth to Ska to the breakthrough post-punk of Mille Manders and Bob Vylan representing the future of the genre (as well as Amyl and the Sniffers who were honoured along with The Interrupters that night) The Award ceremony was hosted by Vice Squad lead singer Becki Bondage, who was in fierce and impeccable voice when she sang ‘Lucille’ in honour of the “King (and Queen) of Rock and Roll” Little Richard. She, like Millie Manders, was a spellbinding singer, and one of the most powerful vocalists of the evening with her herculean melodies that could easily punch with the heavyweights and the bar was set sky high that night with wall-to-wall rock icons and talent.
The night took the form of a chaotic punk variety performance, befitting the venue perfectly. When the Empire was built in 1903 it was a music hall, hosting the likes of Charlie Chaplin, before becoming the BBC Television Theatre for variety performances and revues. As Brian James from The Damned said: “Shepherds Bush Empire was an old variety gig which is what I think the ‘Vive Le Rock’ show is: a bunch of different acts doing sensational sets, and a good excuse to play some old ‘Lords’ songs dedicated to the one and only Stiv Bators.”
First on the lineup was the house band, The Vive Le Rockers who featured Paul-Ronney Angel and members of Ruts DC, Jim Jones All Stars, and Urban Voodoo Machine. They backed a plethora of guest singers including Millie Manders, Bad Barbee, Elizabeth Westwood (Westworld) and Jennie Belle Star (The Belle Stars) and Girlschool’s Kim and Jackie. Bad Barbee did an outstanding harmonic version of ‘Jock-a-mo’ and encouraged fans to listen to their radio show Bad Barbee – Totally Wired Radio.
While Jim Jones hypnotised us all with his velvet voice when he sang ‘I Put a Spell on You’ like a Screamin Jay Hawkins-style preacher man on a surreal Twin Peaks trip. It was a staggering work of vocal theatre and certainly transported us all to another world. Songs by Rock ‘n’ roll stars of the past reflected the full timeline of the evening including the roots of Rock n Roll, Punk, Ska, Post Punk – from past, present, and future – all living and breathing in the Empire that night.
Mille Manders waved the flag for new genre-defying post-punk with her fierce version of the Sex Pistols‘ ‘God Save the Queen’, owning the stage like a modern-day punk icon. Her vocal dexterity was clearly evident as she sang each lyric with melodic thunderous force, befitting the evening perfectly.
Vive Le Rock themselves said that she Manders was”tipped as the UK’s answer to The Interrupters with high octane live shows and attitude backed with morality” so it was little wonder that she was hand-picked to pick up The Album of the Year award on behalf of The Interrupters. She said that she didn’t feel worthy but after that performance, she proved that she definitely is the perfect fit and she will have picked up a host of new fans on the night to follow her on her upcoming tour.
Forging the way for the new generation of punks was Bob Vylan. The grime/punk/hip hop duo picked up the New Blood Award beaming from the stage with thanks for best new act saying, “We want to inject some life into this slowly dying genre. We are here in our heavenly whites to accept this award It’s an honour. Thank you.”
Original rude boy, the legendary Neville Staple picked up the Roots award, saying “I bet you never thought you’d see a rude boy getting an award. I love you.” Before doing one of the most uplifting sets of the evening, blasting the roof off the place, singing huge hits from The Specials, including ‘A Message to You Rudy‘,’ Gangsters’, ‘Monkeyman’, ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Ghost Town (with the added words- this town is STILL looking like a Ghost town). The set was utterly euphoric – like being in a time machine with him and his wife in her glasses and porkpie hat doing the baddest rude boy moves that we’ve ever seen with their eight-piece band. We were spoilt as he performed like a person more than half his age. It was like a full circle as the first time he came on stage The Specials was when they played with The Clash. The whole crowd were singing and jumping – everyone from the balconies to the pit. All through the power of music. In The Specials, Neville Staple sang some lead vocals and additional backing vocals alongside Terry Hall’s lead and wrote many of their songs, too.
Terry Hall’s respect for female artists was reflected in his Posthumous Icon award picked up on his behalf by the acclaimed singer Rhoda Daka – a great friend of Terry Hall’s from 2 Tone band The Bodysnatchers. She duetted with Terry Hall in The Specials’ song ‘I Can’t Stand It’ as well as singing with the Specials AKA on their ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ song. She held back the tears as she spoke of her long-time friendship with Terry Hall.
“Terry was always older than me and now I’m going to be older than him and somehow that’s not fair… He was a brilliant songwriter. I know he used to be miserable but he was honestly one of the funniest people and of which there are very few real massive supporters he always put women on the bill; he had women in his bands, and a few more of you need to know that.” The crowd cheered.“Can we have another cheer for that?” The next cheer was bigger. “Thank you. More women in music, more women on the bill more women festivals. Come on, guys, it’s not hard. Terry approved. Terry made that effort and if it wasn’t for Terry, I wouldn’t be here now.”
The crowd went wild and for many of us, this speech was one of the most moving highlights of the evening. Rhoda is also a key Patron of The Music Venue Trust and campaigner for the #OwnOurVenues initiative and recently played a double headline show at London’s International Ska Festival. She has a new album, Version Girl out on 26th May. Rhoda Dakar is pictured below with Bob Vylan and their awards.
The next award was for the ‘Billericay Blockhead’ bassist Norman Watt Roy, born in Bombay, who won the award for Services to Music which was presented by Youth from Killing Joke. Youth described how Watt Roy not only played in Ian Dury and the Blockheads but also provided basslines for Frankie Goes to Hollywood‘s ‘Relax’ as well as Jona Lewie’s ‘You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen a Parties.’ He played bass in The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’ and their Sandinista! album. As well as playing with Wilco Johnson, he played with with Madness, Roger Daltry, and Nick Cave, and is still active today, treating the Vive le Rock audience by joining the house band on stage. In his acceptance speech, Norman Watt Roy said, ” Keep Music Live. I love you all”.
The Cockney Rejects were the next to receive an award saying “Back in the day there was only one way out of the East End and that was either by fighting, football, or rock n roll. The only one who believed in us was Gary Bushall. We’d like to thank him RIP,” before starting their high-energy set. The lead singer jumped around the stage punching the air with a style like Rocky Balboa in a training montage as the rhythm section kept the riffs heavy and danceable raising the roof again.
Followed by Neville Staples and his eight-piece band, whose euphoric Rudeboy set had the whole crowd dancing and hanging on his every word. There were many other awards including a special honour for Amyl and the Sniffers.
The final act of the evening was the Supergroup Lords of The New Church. Starting with classical organ music the stage was plunged into darkness as Mark Taylor played Bach‘s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ echoing the chilling scenes from Nosferatu or Dracula’s castle.
The white spotlights sliced through the darkness, and lit up the key members of the band: The Damned’s Brian James, Sham 69’s Dave Treganna, Clash drummer Terry Chimes and for the first time, Hanoi Rock’s Michael Monroe on vox replacing their much loved late lead singer Stiv Bators
This set was on another level. It was a tight, high-quality sleazy stadium rock. You would expect a supergroup like this to headline Hyde Park. Monroe’s voice and stage moves on the night were made for the masses and impeccably tight as he straddled the mic stand and lurched into the crowd, veins on his neck throbbing as he put 100% into every single note like a 20-year-old. He moved with grace, keeping himself cool with paper fans like a geisha before throwing them elegantly into the crowd.
During the epic set, The Vive Le rock Audience we were treated to LOTNC tracks like ‘New Church’, ‘Livin on Livin’, ‘Dance with Me’, and ‘Russian Roulette’ with Monroe the consummate star, shining multi-coloured disco lights into his face and pulling rock star shapes. It felt like we were seeing the founding father of Glam punk backed by the fathers of punk themselves. The music was tight, ageless and timeless.
The crowd went wild for the final award of the evening as the Pioneer Award awarded was given to Damned guitarist, Brian James, by Clash drummer, Terry Chimes, who said, “It’s with great honour and love that I give this award to one of my best friends.” The band continued to play ‘New Rose’ and ‘Pills’ as an encore and were met with rapturous applause. We felt like we’d all been through a sonic time machine. Music melted away the years and brought us back to a place where punk ruled the airwaves. What an epic night of living and breathing rock and punk history with a fresh injection of inspiration for the post-punk icons of the future. Vive le rock!
Photo Credit: Rhoda Dakar and Bob Vylan image from Rhoda Darkar (photo taken by George)