It’s only midday when we step off the train at Hatfield station, but as the colourful crowd snakes its way towards Slam Dunk Festival’s South leg, today already feels like a victory. It’s been postponed no fewer than three times thanks to Covid, and not since I last visited the dentist have so many unexpected gaps had to be filled at short notice. The Slam Dunk team have done a sterling job in less than ideal circumstances, and after what feels like an eternity, the day has finally arrived.

“This song is about divorce!” declares BUSTER SHUFFLE vocalist Jet Baker as they take the Punk In Drublic Stage (yep, it’s back again, complete with craft beer tent). Well, sir, that’s not really the kind of song best suited to gorgeously sunny weather like this. Luckily, said song turns out to be vintage Buster Shuffle; a mix of ska and piano-driven East End music hall charm. These guys have their showmanship finely honed, and if the likes of ‘Our Night Out’ don’t get you at least bobbing your head merrily, we feel bad for you.

We’ve crossed paths with veterans SNUFF many a time, and whilst their brass-laden punk sound has - on the whole – aged well, we’re in the mood for something more hardcore to blast away what remains of the cobwebs in our heads. We head into the Jagermeister Tent to catch the tail end of BRUTALITY WILL PREVAIL, and it’s safe to say that today, brutality did indeed prevail.

DEEZ NUTS vocalist J. J. Peters appears to be wearing pyjamas, along with a Fred Durst-esque red baseball cap. Like Durst’s crew, his band aren’t offering anything too cerebral, but those chunky breakdowns feel good when they hit this hard. The pit bounces and swirls to hardcore anthem par excellence ‘Band Of Brothers’, and a furious ‘Face This On My Own’ is the perfect parting shot from a band reminiscent of a gang of tigers let loose after being caged for 18 months.

Back on the PID Stage, CAPDOWN are looking increasingly long in the tooth these days, but they still serve up their ska-punk enjoyably raw and spiky. Jake is still the consummate sax-wielding master of ceremonies, and ‘Pound For The Sound’ certainly gives us our money’s worth. Apparently, today is Jake’s daughter’s 12th birthday. Damn, we’re old.

You’d imagine that CREEPER would be better suited to darkened halls than sunny festivals, so it’s a welcome surprise to witness them utterly dominate the Rock Scene Stage, lending Slam Dunk a welcome sense of the theatrical. Be it the punk blast of early favourite ‘VCR’, the suave lounge-pop of ‘Cyanide’ or a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Misery’, these are all songs that the crowd have long since taken in as their own, and today Creeper reward that devotion in spades. Second album ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’ has seen them blossom into a band that rightly believe they can do anything, and with this kind of performance, it’s thrilling to think where they could go from here. Needless to say, we’ll be watching closely.

A much-needed break for food and booze ensues, accompanied by the lilting reggae of THE SKINTS in the background. The London quartet are as tuneful and soulful as ever, and prove quite the musical tonic.

We saw SPUNGE many times back in the day (told you that we’re old!), despite them being decidedly not cool in certain circles. We never cared, because it was hard to deny their talent for writing ridiculously catchy ska-punk tunes, and today a small but devoted crowd happily skanks and bounces away throughout their half hour set on the Key Stage. It’s nothing more than pure, unadulterated fun from a band that was made for this kind of sunny weather.

There was much online celebration to greet the news of ALKALINE TRIO being added to the bill, so it’s shame that, after kicking off with a storming ‘Private Eye’, vocalist/bassist Dan Andriano runs headlong into technical gremlins. Thankfully the situation is soon resolved, and what follows is a strong contender for set of the day; black-hearted punk rock anthems with a fair few deep cuts sprinkled in among plenty of crowd favourites. “Thanks for surviving Covid!” yells vocalist/guitarist Matt Skiba, before a particularly venomous ‘Armageddon’, and truly the pleasure is ours. Giving Creeper a run for their money in terms of having the most visibly devoted fans present today, the Trio sound absolutely massive, and by the time they close with ‘This Could Be Love’, it’s clear that their all-too-long hiatus hasn’t blunted them at all. Essential.

FRANK TURNER & THE SLEEPING SOULS bring some spirited folk-punk that makes for a fine singalong as the sun goes down. Whether leading his band through old favourites like ‘I Still Believe’, or going solo for an acoustic rendition of NOFX’s ‘Linoleum’, Frank - even after all these years - comes across as a fan who still can’t quite believe he’s sharing stages with some of his favourite bands, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Back for their second consecutive Slam Dunk, you can’t help but wonder if NOFX now see the UK/Europe as something of a refuge, after their Las Vegas gaffe of three years ago. As usual, their set is roughly two parts music to one part largely nonsensical banter, and you’re guaranteed to leave either frustrated by their immaturity, or amused by their irreverence. Hey, punk rockers rarely grow old gracefully. Musically, they’re still tight as ever, though; with a superb mid-set brace of ‘Leave It Alone’ and ‘Liza And Louise’, and newie ‘I Love You More Than I Hate Me’ slotting in nicely among the classics. You’re never quite sure what they’ll say next, or what they’ll play next, and therein probably lies the secret as to how they can continue to draw large crowds after nearly four decades in the game.

Overall, a resounding success of a day, made all the sweeter by the sense of triumph over adversity - and some damn fine weather. Here’s to you, Slam Dunk, and here’s to your return in 2022!

[photo courtesy of Nathan Robinson @]