LIVE: Chelsea – The Garage, London 23-04-2016

With 2016 marking the 40th anniversary of punk, I’m sure we can look forward to a lot of anniversary shows over the next few months, well, now that the establishment figures and celebrity wankers seem to have got theirs out of the way first. Original first-wavers Chelsea take a turn tonight, as their 40th anniversary tour stops off at Highbury Garage. Perhaps more famous for the band they spawned (most of the original band leaving in late ‘76 to form Generation X), lead singer Gene October has nevertheless kept the name alive through various lineups over the years.

The Bermondsey Joyriders will be a familiar name to Pure Rawk regulars, although not an obvious choice for a Chelsea support. That is, until you take into account that Joyriders bassist, king of the square guitar and the Old Kent Road Martin “Gentleman James” Stacey, was in Chelsea MkII for a bit in ‘76-77, at which point it all falls into place. Their raucous brand of blues rock and slide guitar may be a bit at odds with the straight ahead punk on the rest of the bill, but these guys have a fair old pedigree of their own, and they take a sparse 7.30pm crowd and have them fairly well warmed up by shoutalong closer, Who Are Ya.

Next up are fellow ‘76 classmates, The Members, best known for their ’79 hit Sound Of The Suburbs. They open their set with the aptly chosen Chelsea Aggro from their new album, and gave a fairly decent account of themselves, with their reggae influenced classic singles Solitary Confinement and the yet again newly relevant Offshore Banking Business rubbing shoulders with more straight ahead punk tunes. We get Sound Of The Suburbs just before the end, before closing on At The Chelsea Nightclub, nicely bookending the set with Chelsea references. It was a much better showing than recent reports had led me to expect of The Members, but they are a bit of a pub singalong these days, a fact which their between song banter suggests they are fairly comfortable with.

As time for headliners rolls around, it would be an optimist that would call The Garage more than half full tonight, with a fair bit of empty space up the back. This seems to perturb the perpetually enraged Gene October none however, who along with tonight’s lineup of Nic Austin, Mat Sargent and Lee Morrell are a much leaner and keener prospect than The Members. Chelsea put out a greatest hits set spanning 40 years and nine studio albums with the energy that would challenge a band half their age, to a small but loyal crowd. October leaves the stage briefly as we approach curfew, leaving the band to do a song without him, but comes back with both barrels for the encore, culminating in debut single Right To Work.

They may never have quite written that crucial hit single, but Chelsea are still here and still have fire in their bellies 40 years on, and in comparison to today’s throwaway guitar dross, that’s no mean feat.

Chelsea 40th Anniversary Tour