In an era before streaming, social media and iPhones, Baby Rattlesnakes created a buzz by writing great rock songs and playing riotous gigs. Twenty years later, Simon Rushworth went in search of the North East’s next big thing…and some answers.
Earlier this year grainy YouTube footage emerged of four frenzied, punk-fuelled rockers running through a full throttle set of adrenalised early noughties anthems. The band was Baby Rattlesnakes and the long-lost film featured the biggest night of their fledgling career.
A blistering performance would earn the fast-rising quartet first place in the 2004 Kerrang! Battle Of The Bands. There was immediately talk of full headline UK tours, record deals and magazine covers. Then it all went quiet for one of the biggest noises in North East music.
“I suppose that night in Trillians we thought we were on the brink of something special,” recalled singer and songwriter Adam Barnes. “A few people even said we might be the next big thing. Looking back, those people were probably our mates.”
Ironically, the imposing 6ft 4in frontman had already been the next big thing as a talented local hero representing Sunderland and Newcastle’s top-flight basketball teams. He’d starred on Sky Sports, rubbed shoulders with royalty and gone sledging in Lapland with Kevin Keegan. But music was his first love. And Baby Rattlesnakes trumped basketball by 2004.
Adam wrote angsty rock songs with a message. He spoke to teens and to 20-somethings. And he brought energy and ambition to a scene desperately seeking its new leaders. Two decades down the line and the married father of two teenage daughters still refuses to give up on his rock and roll dream.
“I’ve been in plenty of other bands since the Baby Rattlesnakes and often played to bigger crowds and on bigger stages than we ever did,” he explained. “But I’ve always believed there was unfinished business where Baby Rattlesnakes was concerned.”
Having tracked Adam down it was time to find out more. Rumours of a 20th anniversary reunion had been circling for some time and bass player Chris Sterling was in no mood to quash the gossip.
“I remember that night in Trillians like it was yesterday” he smiled. “It went off. Baby Rattlesnakes has always been about how strong the songs were. I had them playing in my head for years after we finished.
“They were the only band I still had to power up my iPod Touch to listen to as we recorded those songs before the days of streaming. We’ve always wanted to get back together. Life just kept getting in the way.”
At first Adam and Chris were reluctant to confirm or deny suggestions that the band had practiced together with a view to playing a top secret 2023 reunion show. Social media gave nothing away. Friends and family remained tight lipped.
Ultimately a trip to Lincoln’s Call Of The Wild Festival in May — and a chance meeting with another ex-Rattlesnake — put more meat on the bones. John Saunders founded the original trio with Adam and drummer Kallie Wolstenholme before carving out a successful career with in-demand tribute band Fu Fighters. He said: “I’m not going to lie…Adam floated the idea of a 20thanniversary gig and of course I was up for it. We both agreed it wasn’t time to put Baby Rattlesnakes to bed for good.
“So yeah, we’ve been rehearsing really hard as we don’t want to let anyone down — including ourselves. There’s no point doing this is we don’t do it properly and this is the tightest we’ve ever sounded.”
With the cat out well and truly out of the bag Adam agreed to another chat. He confirmed John’s story: lost, but never forgotten, The Baby Rattlesnakes are back.
“The rumours are true,” added Adam. “There’s a gig on August 12 at Downcast Studios in Gateshead. Saunders never could keep a secret but he’s right — we sound much better than we did 20 years ago.
“Older and wiser? I wouldn’t go that far. Older and wider, maybe! But you can’t beat experience and as soon as we started rehearsing the old songs I couldn’t believe how good the band sounded.
“When I realised it was almost 20 years to the day that we played our first gig I got in touch with the lads who were part of the last Baby Rattlesnakes line-up. They were up for giving it another crack and when we got back together everything just clicked.
“We’ve all been through a lot during the last 20 years but rock music’s still the common thread that ties us together. Once upon a time we dreamed of signing a record deal and seeing the world. Now we’ll be well chuffed if we can sign the odd poster and see our mates!”
So now they’re back. But why did they ever go away? It’s a question none of the band can really answer.
“Like Chris said, life gets in the way,” added Adam. “We played some great gigs with The Quireboys, Electric Eel Shock and Antiproduct and even went on a tour to the West Midlands. But we just didn’t get a big break.”
“Maybe we were the right band at the wrong time,” added Chris. “I can’t really remember why we decided to take a break or call it a day. All that matters is we’re back. Even if it’s only for one night.”
Entry to the Baby Rattlesnakes reunion show at Gateshead’s Downcast Studios on August 12 is free. Doors are at 2pm with support from Katie Grace and Late Fix. Food is available at the family-friendly gig.