BELGIUM 20th JULY 1996
Review by Shane Baldwin
|One month into the Flithy Lucre Tour, the Pistols played the Axion Beach Festival. It was no ordinary gig.....
I said to my mate Dave Bateman: “Did you hear the Sex Pistols are reforming?”
Dave: “Oh god, that’ll be terrible.”
Dave: “We’re going aren’t we.”
Me: “Oh yes.”
The Pistols were the only major punk band that we didn’t get to see
back in the day, so we had to do it, but Dave reasoned that, as it was
bound to be terrible, why not go to one of the dates elsewhere in
Europe? Then, even though the Pistols would be terrible, at least we’d
have a fun weekend away. Good plan. We plumped for Zeebrugge, as Dave
had recently had a good time there watching motocross.
As so often happened with my lifelong friend, when it came to the
actual event, he couldn’t make it, so I went with my younger brother
Clay and brother in law Graham.
We travelled by a convoluted route. A bus from Kingswood to central
Bristol, a coach from Bristol to London Victoria, another coach from
Victoria to Ramsgate, then hovercraft to Ostend. We were booked on a
ferry, but it broke down so we were upgraded for nothing. A shame
really, as we were in no hurry and looking forward to a long drink in
the ferry bar.
We were staying in Ostend as the Pistols were playing the Axion Beach
Rock Festival in Zeebrugge, an all day festival on the beach with the
likes of Manic Street Preachers, Lou Reed, The Levellers and Lush,
followed by a late night dance event headlined by The Orb, so there was
no accommodation to be had in Zeebrugge itself.
We found our hotel, took in a few bars, and stayed out far too long
considering we had to be up early next morning to get the train round
the coast to Zeebrugge.
the bars seemed to have tickets for the festival on sale, packaged with
a CD single of God Save The Queen for the equivalent of £25, which
wasn’t bad, but we decided to see what deals were on offer in
Zeebrugge. Practically on arrival a tout offered us guest passes for
£18 each, which we went for. I wanted one of those CDs, but figured the
packages would be worthless next day, so I should be able to do some
sort of deal on one. As it turned out, I was wrong. The tickets were
placed in the bars by the promoter on a sale or return basis, and if
the packages were opened they were liable for the full £25. One of the
bar owners let me take one of the posters though, which was nice of
The festival site was just beautiful, right, as I’ve said, on the
beach, with a well manned bar, spotless toilets and delicious food. And
the weather was perfect. In fact, when we entered the site we were
offered, free of charge, French Foreign Legion-style hats, in luminous
rainbow colours, to keep the sun off, but being British, we of course
refused. Might be okay for Johnny Foreigner, but we Brits are made of
sterner stuff. 20 minutes later, our necks already red raw with the
sun, we shamefacedly went back and asked if we could have one each
had a great day watching the other bands, especially Manic Street
Preachers who had only recently released Everything Must Go. They were
on quite early, about 4.00, but the whole crowd sang along to Design
For Life. We felt a bit sorry for Neneh Cherry, who played in a tent to
me, Clay, Graham, and a local punk band who we had a chat to. Neneh was
big in the UK, but she plainly meant little to the denizens of Belgium.
As the event was on a beach, in the sun, as you can imagine the
atmosphere was relaxed and tranquil.
Lou Reed played an interesting, but curmudgeonly set, the sun began to
go down, and a curious thing happened. As the darkness deepened and the
time for the Pistols’ appearance approached, the atmosphere changed
completely. People began to look edgy and nervous. Amazingly, 20 years
on, the Pistols still exuded a sense of threat and menace.
they came, and I must admit to getting a bit of a lump in the old
throat. I’d waited a long time for this. And amazingly, contrary to all
our expectations, they were bloody brilliant. Cook and Matlock were
rock solid, and Steve Jones was just stunning, somehow creating a wall
of sound guitar onslaught all on his own. It sounded like three or four
guitarists blasting out at the same time. Lydon insisted on singing
with that voice he adopted for PiL, but he always was a contrary
And in fact he made the event rather notorious.
his opening words of “We’re fat, forty and back,” he appeared to have
imbibed a few, and for reasons not apparent to us, blew a fuse at one
point and got into a ruck with one of the security people. We didn’t
see how it started, but we saw him ranting at this bloke, then it
looked like he hit him with the microphone. The bloke
was carried off, and in a rather strained atmosphere, they finished the
set. The incident aside, the Pistols were a triumph and I was thrilled
to have seen them at last.
(More light was shed on the incident by a press report a
couple of days later: "It was improvised rock theater of the highest
A fan who stormed the stage, was pushed back into the crowd by Rotten.
The security officers pounced on a roadie for the Sex Pistols by mistake.
The furious singer intervened and slapped one of them with his wireless
microphone against the head. The security man was removed by stretcher.
Rotten apologized for the delay with a dig at the overzealous Belgian
staff.... The return of the Sex Pistols was everything and more of what
could be expected.")
After the Pistols, the dance acts and DJs
took over, the atmosphere lightened, and though it wasn’t really our
thing, we stuck around for a couple of hours, had a few drinks, and had
a good time.
We then went to get the train back to Ostend, and
then it all went wrong. We found the train station packed with people,
spilling out into the street. It turned out that there was a fault with
the line and the trains had stopped running.
More and more people arrived, and as the crowd began to get rowdy, the
police turned up wearing worryingly army-type uniforms and carrying
guns. For some reason, we began to find the situation hysterically
funny, and at one point Clay and me went into the whole Monty Python
Holy Grail “Your mudder was a hamster and your fadder smelt of
elderberries!” routine, shrieking it right in the face of one of these
gun-toting rozzers. Mad.
Eventually, they sent out a fleet of police ‘meat wagons’, and used
those to transport us back to Ostend, and we finally got back to the
hotel at about nine in the morning.
weren’t due to get the ferry home until Monday morning, so we spent the
day exploring Ostend and touring the bars. We actually met a real life
Basil Fawlty. We went into a bar, and ordered three beers from the
barman, who was obviously English. After we placed our order, we waited
for him to pour our drinks, but he snapped, loudly, “Well go and sit
down then! I’ll bring them over! You’re not in England now you know!”
Brilliant, what a nutter.
Next morning we went down to check out of the hotel, to find the lady on
the desk reading the local paper and tutting loudly. She was reading
the account of the Lydon/security guard incident and shook her head at
us. We then paid our bill and went straight out and bought a copy of
the paper as a souvenir.
On the ferry, I bought a round of drinks for me, Clay and Graham, and
proposed a toast: “Gentlemen, mission accomplished!”
to Shane Baldwin for his review & for scanning his memorabilia.
Save The Sex Pistols ©2016 Phil Singleton / www.sex-pistols.net. All rights reserved.
This feature is copyright to God Save The Sex Pistols
and the author and may not be reproduced without written