Bilk: the only band to be banned from Rough Trade Records

How a magazine signing turned into a fiasco of epic proportions at Brick Lane's Rough Trade East

The Chelmsford trio Bilk have become the only band to be banned by Rough Trade. Pic: The Adora Archives

The Rough Trade Records label has been discovering musical talent since its birth in 1976. From The Smiths to Belle and Sebastian, The Libertines to Black Midi, the list of Rough Trade’s talent is extensive. The number of bands banned from their venues, however, is not. Just one name is on the list – that of the Chelmsford trio, Bilk.

Saturday February 10 was meant to be an ordinary magazine signing, but it was far from that. Today, history was made.

The Chelmsford punks Bilk were the cover stars for the new magazine, ASBO, celebrating the best of young talent from the streets, and were looking to launch their first edition with a bang. Bilk’s music combines the punchy overdriven guitars of Mudhoney with Mike Skinner-esque lyrics, and as their record label suggests, their music aims to grab you by the scruff of your neck. The band have just come off a UK tour celebrating their eponymous debut album, and hundreds of fans bought tickets to catch a glimpse of the group in one of London’s most intimate venues.

Rough Trade East normally plays host to an eclectic collection of vinyl records and even more eclectic shoppers. But on this particular Saturday night it had been transformed from its daytime disguise of a record shop into the stomping ground for Southern England’s disgruntled adolescents.

A queue of dedicated Bilk fans were streaming out into Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane, all eager for the visceral experience that a Bilk gig promises, namely pumping punk music, angsty anti-social lyrics and a workout in the mosh pit. Not even the bitter February air could deter the Bilk faithful. Anticipation had grown, since the scheduled acoustic set had been upgraded to Bilk’s full orchestral might of amplified chaos, promising a set more akin to their recent tour. But not even a soft play centre or a 20-acre field would have been prepared to handle the explosive energy of the crowd that erupted after one power chord.

11 songs, two mosh pits and a stage invasion later, were enough to convince Rough Trade to hastily move the in-store signing outside and ban Bilk from all Rough Trade venues. Let’s just say the gig got a little out of hand. But what was Bilk’s take on the evening’s events?

Bilk frontman, Sol Abrahams. Pic: The Adora Archives

Frontman Sol Abrahams said in a recent Instagram statement, “We show up as a rock and roll band and play a rock and roll show.

“It was chaotic like always and the fans were enjoying themselves, jumping about and moshing and that. That’s what a Bilk gig is mate!

“If they had taken five minutes to look through our Instagram they’d see what we were about and they would have said: ‘it’s probably best to keep it acoustic’. […] I mean one of our latest posts is me diving headfirst into a drum kit, they were hardly going to get Maroon 5 were they?”

Despite their angst-filled repertoire of songs, Sol is known to conduct the crowd with a degree of caution. The post continued: “As anyone that’s been to a Bilk gig before knows, I always tell the fans to look out for each other and stay safe. I’ve even stopped shows before when necessary.”

Thankfully at Rough Trade there wasn’t a health and safety risk to audience members, but a Bilk gig is never a walk in the park – “it’s a rock and roll show, not a picnic”.

“As we then finished the set with our song Daydreamer, the fans started a mad stage invasion (unprovoked by us), and this was the cherry on top of the cake.”

The crowd making Rough Trade their own. Pic: The Adora Archives

Jeanie Jean, 33, a photographer who attended the gig at Rough Trade East, described the events as “The most beautiful carnage, it was a gig to remember.”

“It was one of those ‘I was there moments’. For me it was almost my own Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall moment, I was living my own 1977 fantasy.”

Adora Mekuleyi, 21, a photographer and magazine editor, says, “I’ve worked with Bilk on a couple dates of their last tour. They’re lovely lads, and even if you search them up and look at their previous performances you get their vibe. It is a rock and roll gig. There’s moshing, jumping about and the occasional stage dive. But a major part of their gigs is that Sol tells everyone to look out for each other, to pick them up when they fall etc.

“The decision to ban the band is the opposite of what rock music is about. Yes you can have your complaints, but to go as far as to ban a band for having a lively crowd is fucked.”

The cover stars of ASBO Magazine, Bilk, at their signing at Rough Trade East. Pic: The Adora Archives

In response to the band’s newfound position on the infamous Rough Trade Blacklist the band responded with “Bollocks to it. Rock and roll.”

Rough Trade were approached for comment but did not respond.

Bilk are due to headline a charity show raising money to tackle homelessness this Wednesday April 17 at The Camden Assembly

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