I was buzzing to be invited to the Vive Le Rock Awards 2023 at the Shepherds Bush Empire O2. It was first time attending, let alone covering a rock awards ceremony. What a time was had! I showed up in London on the morning of the awards, the sun was glorious, birds were literally opera singing, and I was sat on the canal in Islington with a Pad Thai catching up with an old friend.
We hopped on the tube to Shepherd’s Bush to get in line and were grinning at the number of people who had showed up bang on the dot like us. It was a great feeling, some guy from Norway was selling his VIP ticket to an East Londoner for scrap change, everyone’s hair was quaffed into an electric do and we were all ready and rearing to go.
This year’s awards had been delayed for the last few years, so it was surely a relief to the organisers and ticket holders to finally be in attendance.
The night kicked off with a brief introduction to the night to an excited crowd of rockers, introducing not only the running order of the day and the Vive Le Rock magazine’s more than a decade of history, but Beki Bondage herself (Vice Squad) who would wow the crowd for the full night of top tier presenting.
The Vive Le Rockers (a mashup of a house band featuring members of Jim Jones All Stars, Urban Voodoo Machine and Ruts DC) played in dapper mariachi outfits, for the first of two times of the night, accompanied by various other artists throughout the set. Girlschool’s Kim and Jackie joined the band for three of the seven song set with Emergency and Bomber, Beki Bondage took the mic for Please Don’t Touch. Millie Manders and Gaff on guitar came for the last of the set with an emotive and poignant rendition of God Save the Queen as a tribute for Nora Forster who had passed away on the day of the awards. On hearing the news, a palpable wave swept the crowd, all hearts were with John Lydon and his dearly departed wife.
Beki started to dish out the awards after this, the funny thing was, that in true classic rock style – most of the artists were upstairs, too drunk of stoned to come and collect theirs. Name after name was called, and barely a soul made it down the stairs. The fun in it was hearing the various reasons why, as Beki laughed, so did the crowd. It was a great way to raise the tempo of the room.
Rebellion and R-Fest got this year’s Best Festival Award, well deserved I must say! Amyl & The Sniffers received the Best Live Band. Neville Staple was up next for the Roots award, dedicating it to ‘Cleopatra, Vive Le Rock and his wife, Sugar’. UK Subs and EDSEL Records took the Reissue of the Year. Lastly, Bob Vylan made a wonderful appearance to collect the New Blood Award shouting ‘They never told us there were two!’.
During this there was some light commotion behind me, a guy began kicking off at the security. He was clearly more inebriated than anyone else in the room and was getting some looks. Once he stopped swearing, he decided to bowl over to the bar where he proceeded to have all the female bar staff laughing for about twenty full minutes.
The interlude saw my friend and I navigate towards the smoking area. He mentioned that it felt like a microcosm of society where everyone knew each other. It did, throughout the night I noticed it more and more. In the smoking area and in the crowd people were chatting away to each other almost like it didn’t matter who they were speaking to, like invisible strings linked them. The main clientele of the awards were all rockers fifty and over who had been following Lords of the New Church for years, but I get the feeling it was more than that.
Back inside was back to the awards, I have to say the awards were kind of chaotic. I feel like the crowd, the acts and everyone in this microcosm was waiting for the music to start, it certainly wasn’t at all like most award ceremonies you see on T.V! This next set of awards saw The Interrupters nab Album of the Year, Brian James took the Pioneer Award. For Services to Music, Norman Watt-Roy, the Icon Award was received by Terry Hall and finally, the Lifetime Achievement Award was handed to the wonderful Cockney Rejects.
I went out to the smoking area and met a lovely chap called Griff Griffiths, who had made a comedy career out of a breakdown episode he had where he thought he was the King of Spain ‘even though I don’t even speak any Spanish!’. He’s written a book about this with a collection of other fascinating stories from his life and appeared on Trisha. He is also the man responsible for Are They Hostile – a documentary on the Punk, New Wave and Indie scene from 1977 – 1980. He had me laughing my head off, especially when he called me ‘The shittest music journalist ever’ when I admitted that I couldn’t spot the celebrities from the normies in the crowd.
I went back in with time to grab a beer and meet my friend before a euphoric set from The Cockney Rejects. This was followed by a chat with a member of the crowd, the lovely Manu, originally from Buenos Aires who now lives in London. He has been following Lords of the New Church for Years and absolutely loves them, his excitement was utterly contagious. We were talking about how young people in the future will use their phones less as it will be deemed uncool, and with people wondering where all the young people were at the Awards. This made me remember check on the guy who had been at the bar entertaining the bar staff, he was still about in a faded Nirvana sweatshirt perfecting his balance of irritation:amusement ratio with anyone in the crowd who caught his eye.
Neville Staple and his band then started up. As a big fan, (and having had a couple of beers) I decided to take this moment to get right up the front. I got my skank on with a couple of willing participants, and soon the whole bunch of us were boogieing. Neville Staple caught my eye a few times and I could tell he was having a great gig. His vigour and energy were infectious, it was my favourite part of the night hands down.
My next escapade to the smoking area saw me meet Dominic, a punk-rocker with a giant gold hoop earring. I got the microcosm feeling of him more than most, maybe he was a famous rock star. Apparently, I can’t tell these things when there are literally hundreds of them everywhere. They need to bring back Google Glass. This is when the night united, and Nirvana punk-kid came outside. He was in full swing;
“Has he been sniffing glue?”
“He’s just like all of us”
“I’m glad he’s here”
“He’s just like us and he’s here”
“The epitome of all of it”
With a flourish, it was time to see Lords of the New Church. They were just as great as everyone said they would be, a supergroup with Brian James (The Damned), Dave Tregnna (Sham 69), Terry Chimes (The Clash) and Michael Monroe (Hanoi Rocks) who replaced the late Stiv Bators on vocals. At one point there was a cheer from the crowd and Dominic pointed out that The Damned drummer, Rat Scabies, had just told Terry Chimes to ‘fuck off’ and jumped on the drums himself.
There were blokes in sunglasses with curly hair and drainpipe jeans pulling girls at every end of the bar, Nirvana glue-kid was swaying at the bar and I asked him for a photo because he’s now my hero.
It was a little like stepping back in time, to a gig in the seventies and despite the fact I felt like a tadpole in a pond of frogs, I loved every weird and wonderful minute. I hope the rumours that this was the final Vive Le Rock Awards ceremony prove untrue, as I think it would be a shame to lose this absolute monument to classic rock history.
Thanks for having me Vive Le Rock!