Gallows: River Thames, London/Download, Donington Park; Tuesday, June 5/Saturday, June 9

Gallows: River Thames, London/Download, Donington Park; Tuesday, June 5/Saturday, June 9

From a party boat on the Thames to completely slayingDownload, Gallows have the week of their lives

It’s a balmy night on London’s Victoria Embankment, eerily calm as pleasure cruises float carelessly down the Thames carrying lilting jazz quartets and contented diners – but that is all set to change. For tonight, party boat The Yacht Club is rechristened the SS Death. Gallows are on board, they’ve brought family (both of Frank Carter’s parents) and friends (antipodean hyenas The Scare) and from opener ‘Abandon Ship’ onwards, they’re here to send shockwaves right up to the Thames barrier and beyond.

You have to go back 30 years to the Sex Pistols to remember a time when this genteel, public face of London was subverted by quite such militant punk rock forces. Frank Carter denies the fact that this Gallows boat show is any kind of tribute to the Pistols’ jubilee gig, but the parallels cut deeper than the murky waters below. It was a lot easier to tell what was wrong with the world in 1977; a Labour government was on its knees and a country enslaved to the three-day week, the rot was setting in and a generation was ready to unleash anarchy in the face of authority. Calling the Queen a fascist on record and making a racket on a showboat cruising down the emblematic Thames made rock history and made the Pistols front page news. Nowadays, the economy’s fine, but the country’s still sick with embarrassment as foreign policy conspires with a terminal culture of self-servitude to make a country in the grip of a different, modern kind of sickness, while a different kind of outgoing Labour government is making a different kind of cock up. Enter stage left: this generation’s most outspoken punks. Except they’re playing to a room full of industry. What’s going on?

Tonight is media-heavy and paid for by the major label that these hardcore heroes sold – if not their souls – then their recording rights and merchandising to. The legions of the dispossessed, presumably, couldn’t get on the guestlist. And amid the free booze and networking, it feels kind of uneasy. As Frank admits to NME later, “We weren’t even going to come.” You don’t get these existential crises watching Mumm-Ra.

Gallows might be below deck, a claustrophobic opposite end to the Pistols’ bravado in shouting obscenities to the spectators and TV crews, but they make up for it in sheer force, Carter crowdsurfing to the back before their opening shot has even finished being fired. “How the fuck am I supposed to sing from here, I can’t even stand up!” he stammers, perched on a table, looking weirdly vulnerable. However, it’s in precisely these extreme conditions that Gallows thrive. ‘Will Someone Shoot That Fucking Snake?’ attacks not the monarchy but the sex pests that walk among us, and up this close and personal with their sweat dripping on us, it’s as unsettling as it is thrilling – and so superhuman in its ferocity the ship looks close to capsizing.

Amazingly for a band starting to take over the world, they’re still a work in progress. Midway through, Frank suddenly remembers that there’s three songs on ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ that they can’t actually play yet: “We’ll play anything off our album as long as it isn’t ‘Kill The Rhythm’, ‘Stay Cold’ or ‘Last Fight For The Living Dead’!” It doesn’t matter. Today, Gallows have proved themselves as one of the great bands of this or any age, however stormy the waters ahead may be.

Days later, Gallows find themselves in still more incongruous surroundings; their set on Download’s Dimebag Darrell Stage finds them sandwiched between Anathema and My Dying Bride, two of what is known as “the great three of British doom metal”. Us neither. What we do know is that none of those bands muster anything near the size – or devotion – of this wildhearted throng. Any doubts that Gallows might wilt in the glare of the spotlight melt away as it becomes obvious that Frank’s beginning to enjoy his notoriety. He dedicates Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’, quite brilliantly, to Paris Hilton before the 10,000 here start singing the same hymn: “The hardest thing you’ll ever learn/Is how to love and be loved in return!”

Never mind the Sex Pistols; anarchy always divides people in the end. All Johnny Rotten wanted to do was “get pissed, destroy!” This week Gallows showed they want to save us.

Dan Martin