Americana: album review – Orphan Colours ‘All On Red’

Back in the summer of 2010 I was one of many thousands at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival being wowed by the impressive talents and uplifting melodies of the then newly-formed alt-country outfit, ahab. Sadly, the pressures of holding it all together proved too much and the band split. Two of their number, Steve Llewellyn and Dave Burn, were not done yet, however. Together with ex Noah & The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott, Danny & The Champions of The World drummer Steve Brookes and bass player Graham Knight, they formed a new band Orphan Colours.

As Llewellyn explains, “At the end of 2013 both ahab and Noah & The Whale had been chewed up and spat out by the music business. We found ourselves out of a job despite both band’s upward trajectories. The toll of touring and hard graft was too much. Speaking for myself, I had a lot more to give and I wasn’t anywhere near done yet. I had a backlog of songs that weren’t fit for ahab and I wanted to get them out into the world. So despite having failed with ahab and the financial pressures I was under, I put every penny I had into this project.”

After a really promising EP ‘High Hopes’ in 2016 the band set to work on the live circuit but have now finally released their debut album. Compared to the up-tempo numbers of love and heartbreak from the ahab days, All On Red mines more of a classic, laid-back, country-rock vibe but the talent for strong melody, heart-warming vocals and infectious choruses is as evident as ever. The deliciously-sounding ‘Start Of Something’ which opens the albums gives you everything you would want from a great country rock song and from then on the album doesn’t falter.

“I had written my fair share of sensitive songs for ahab – about love and loss and all that, and there’s a few on here but I really wanted to bring a bit of rock n roll into the UK Americana scene and I feel like we’ve achieved a good balance on this record,” contends Llewellyn.

It was particularly nice to catch the band performing a few songs from the album as part of an in-store appearance at Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead record store last Saturday (well three-fifths of them anyway – drummer, Steve Brookes, eschewing the chance to set up his kit on the tiny shop window stage and guitarist, Dave Burn, managing to damage his ankle falling of stage the night before). Gamely, the depleted gang honour the gig anyway and deliver an impressive, heartfelt performance. While only a small number of those crammed into the shop owned up to witnessing either Orphan Colours or ahab live before, it was encouraging to see that they had clearly won over a number of new fans.

All On Red is a very impressive debut album. Let’s hope the music world conspires to keep Orphan Colours around for a few years longer than it did their predecessors.

Released: 26th January 2018

https://www.orphancolours.com/

unnamed (1)

Related reviews:
ahab at Cropredy 2015
Orphan Colours in London 2016
Dave Burn – solo album review

Advertisements

Folk-rock: EP review – Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

If I was to try and sum up the band Merry Hell I’d ask people to imagine if Fairport Convention had come from Wigan. That is not in any way intended as an insult. Being from Lancashire and being a long-time fan of Fairport Convention it is definitely 100% meant as a compliment.

Merry Hell’s lyrical themes tend to be somewhat edgier, politically, compared to Fairport but not in an over-earnest ranty way. Bitter-sweet reflectiveness and wry good humour tend to be the band’s hallmarks. And so it is with ‘Bury Me Naked’ – the band’s new single. Written and sung by the band’s female lead, Virginia Kettle, it’s a great mid-tempo sing-along with an ecological theme and a friendly rebuke about filling our lives with too much junk and clutter. Originally appearing on the band’s second album this track is a re-recording featuring some fiddle wizardry from incoming band member, Neil McCartney.

The second track ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is a slower-paced ballad that’s lifted from Merry Hell’s most recent album Bloodlines. Going back to my initial analogy, this track would not have been at all out of place alongside some of the memorable songs that the likes of Ralph McTell gifted to Fairport Convention after they got back in business as a touring and recording unit. Two additional songs ‘Drunken Serenade feat. The Banshee Reel’ and ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ also showcase the band’s song-writing and musical abilities.

Musically, lyrically and, indeed, politically there is a much-needed place for a band Merry Hell in today’s Britain and it’s good to see them going from strength to strength.

Released: February 26th 2018

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/

bury-me-naked-cover

Related reviews:

Merry Hell ‘Come On England’

Live review: Kevin Armstrong at the Kino, St Leonards 15/2/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Kevin Armstrong’s guitar playing has accompanied stars including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, Prefab Sprout, Sinéad O’Connor, Roy Orbison, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Paul McCartney and Gil Evans. For one night only Kevin guides us through his legendary career.

As a child Kevin Armstrong grew up with Beatlemania. By his teens he was buying his first guitar and living and breathing music. Experiencing life as a professional musician in the post-punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s he then found himself in a band that suddenly got dropped by their record label and, looking around at the changed Duran Duran/Spandau Ballet era-music scene, it became, in Armstrong’s words, “all c*nts in suits singing about their holidays.”

A new opportunity arose, however, when Armstrong was ushered in to Abbey Road studios to do a session to find out he would be working with David Bowie on songs for the Absolute Beginners film. Although the film would be critically panned on release, the title track was a commercial success and, importantly, got Armstrong noticed by Bowie as a musician he could work with and was asked to put a band together for Bowie’s Live Aid appearance. Breaking from his easy chat tonight, Armstrong reads out a passage describing in detail the emotions running through his head on that momentous day. Highlighting Bowie’s generosity, Armstrong talks of him taking the trouble to introduce each member of his band on stage at Wembley that day, knowing full well the impact it would have on their careers; as well as personally thanking Armstrong for the role he played in putting the band together in interviews afterwards.

In spite of being a Beatles fan Armstrong’s collaborations with Paul McCartney proved less personally rewarding, however. “We had to sit around all day listening to these very long Beatles anecdotes that never seemed to have a punchline,” he reveals to tonight’s audience, emphasising the importance of a personal spark in a relationship for a musical collaboration to really work.

What did turn out to be a very enduring collaboration though was when Armstrong was invited to play guitar on the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album Blah Blah Blah and to subsequently tour with him. That musical collaboration was rekindled in recent years with Armstrong putting a band together and touring with Iggy once more. There are many amusing anecdotes this evening but one of the funniest is Armstrong’s description of the metamorphosis that the normally urbane, well-spoken James Osterberg goes through in the hours leading up to a show as he transforms into the crazed madman called Iggy Pop.

Armstrong is one of rock’s archetypal great side-men, a musician with that instinctive feel for what the headline artist needs and delivering it with style and creativity rather than ego and me-too-ism. By way of illustration, he plays us a clip from the Tin Machine tour that Armstrong was briefly involved with, which was the sound of every musician on stage competing against one another in a wall of noise and pretty much drowning Bowie out completely.

I’ve seen many of these type of artist talk events over the years. But with a mix of live songs, film clips, spoken passages and lots of relaxed informal chat this was genuinely one of the most thought-provoking, funny and insightful that I’ve experienced. Gavin Martin (renowned former NME journalist and now music editor for the Daily Mirror and himself, like Armstrong, a local Hastings resident) is a skilled operator at teasing out revealing nuggets from his on-stage guests at events like this. But he hardly needs to say a word as host this evening. I was surprised afterwards that this was Armstrong’s first ever gig of this type. However, if it was a case of starting out with a friendly home crowd he has absolutely nothing to worry about in taking this format elsewhere. An evening with Kevin Armstrong like this is going to be well-received by audiences wherever.

http://www.kevin-armstrong.com/

1518959714633
Photo: artist publicity

Related review:
Mike Garson performs Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 2017

Live review: Towers of London at The New Cross Inn, London 14/2/18

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

A decade or so ago glam punk outfit the Towers Of London were steadlily building up a reputation. Tours supporting the likes of the Pogues and the New York Dolls. Festival slots at Reading and Leeds and Download. But then came lead singer Donny Tourette’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. Pissed, bratish and annoying, the Sex Pistols with Bill Grundy this was not. It was more like a bad episode of Grange Hill. An equally ill-chosen appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks only made things worse and though the band soldiered on for another couple of years it was pretty much all over.

Fast forward to 2018, however and they are back. “I’ve been following these guys for a while – they’ve now grown up, sorted their shit out but importantly they still retain their bite. This album blows the shit out of what they’ve done in the past!” says former Oasis manager/Creation Records boss, Alan McGee, in the publicity blurb.

So I popped along to the New Cross Inn, south-east London, to see for myself what these guys are up to nowadays. And the verdict? Yes – the band deliver a great energetic set and have, indeed, got their shit together. New single ‘Send In The Roses’ is a superb slice of anthemic, catchy glam-punk meets indie disco. Their new material is sounding great and, of course, there’s a few songs from their early days, too – raucous punky work-outs like ‘Air Guitar’ and ‘Fuck It Up’ and campy New York Dolls-esque ditties like ‘How Rude She Was’. The world needs a few more bands like this and it’s good to see them back in business.

The Towers forthcoming new album ‘Super Sounds Of K-Town’ will be released in spring this year. We all deserve a second chance at times. I genuinely hope this band do well and, hopefully, stay around for a little longer this time.

Catch the new video for ‘Send In The Roses’ here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMAEVHnJY2k

https://www.towersoflondonband.com/

27750931_2009206685960065_3008720854292041645_n

 

Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Blues Blood Baby’

Ahead of an album release this summer, Big River unveil a second single. Meaty rhythm, soulful vocals, catchy hooks and big fat guitar ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is another slice of swampy, bluesy, classic rock boogie from the Kent-based band.

The brainchild of guitarist and session man, Damo Fawsett (who was previously part of another Kent-based hard rock band, Slam Cartel) Big River have been making their mark on the live music scene for a couple of years now. With a vision to celebrate the blues, they bring those classic blues rock sounds of past decades to new and original material and demonstrate some deft song-writing abilities in the process.

The track was recorded on analogue equipment at Ranscombe Studios in Kent, giving it that raw and vintage vibe reminiscent of great albums of the era. I’m looking forward to Big River’s debut album coming out but, for now, ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is a nice taste of what’s in store.

Big River are: Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), Joe Martin (drums) Paul Martin (rhythm guitar).

Released: 2nd March 2018

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues/

Image

 

Related Reviews
Big River – Hometown Hustler
Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion 2016
Slam Cartel at New Cross Inn 2015

Live review: Anvil / Burnt Out Wreck / VOiD at The Underworld, Camden 6/2/18

Ever since they played their first ever gig at the start of Butlins’ Giants Of Rock festival in January 2017, I’d been hearing good things about Burnt Out Wreck. I was watching a band on the other stage at the time so never got to see them. I’d made a mental note, however, and when former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd announced a solo tour with his new outfit, with Burnt Out Wreck as the support act, it seemed an ideal opportunity. That was cancelled and then rescheduled and then cancelled again. Third time lucky then when Anvil announced supported by Burnt Out Wreck. An opportunity to finally catch this band, along with Anvil, who I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager when they were supporting Motorhead.

It was a triple bill at Camden’s Underworld, first up were Welsh rockers VOiD. Formed in 2002 with three albums under the belt, VOiD’s brand of classy, melodic hard rock proved a good opener for the evening. I was particularly impressed with their extremely talented lead guitarist, Chris Jones, and even more impressed when the lead singer told the crowd it was Jones’ first ever gig with the band.

http://www.v0idonline.com/

Next up were Burnt Out Wreck. Formed by Gary Moat, drummer and chief songwriter of 80s band Heavy Pettin’, Burnt Out Wreck put out their debut album in early 2017 – not long after that first gig at Giants Of Rock. Their brand of bouncy, good-time, hard rock, reminiscent of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, immediately had the audience on their side. Songs like ‘Swallow’ brilliantly bring back some of that sleazy, rock ‘n’ roll boogie swagger, that late 70s pre-stadium AC/DC were so renowned for.

https://www.burntoutwreck.com/

Things could only get even better when the mighty Anvil took the stage couldn’t it? You cannot fault this band’s dedication, enthusiasm and sincerity, or their undying commitment to the rock ‘n’ roll dream – captured so well in the film smash The Story Of Anvil. But to be truthful I was a little underwhelmed by what I saw tonight. I remember when I first saw Anvil in 1983, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a band that sounded better on record than on stage and thirty-odd years later that same thought was occurring to me. For a start the sound wasn’t good. The amps were cranked up a good few notches compared to the support bands. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that it lifted the drums and bass to a fairly deafening level while the guitar was barely audible in comparison. It was a shame because I enjoyed their new album and was looking forward to hearing a selection of songs from that, as well as earlier classics like the iconic ‘ Metal On Metal’. We got a good selection of each, plus a rousing rendition of the Steppenwolf classic ‘Born To Be Wild’. However, I came out of the gig 35 years after I last saw Anvil still convinced that they sound better on record than they do live.

That’s not to say I am not very happy to celebrate Anvil’s career renaissance in recent years. “I haven’t delivered a meal in ten fucking years,” Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow told the crowd, alluding to the opening scenes in the Story Of Anvil film which saw him driving around in a van delivering school meals between gigs. And I finally got to see the fantastic Burnt Out Wreck and also become acquainted with Void, who are another band on my ‘ones to watch’ list. All in all a good night.

https://www.facebook.com/anvilmetal/

20180206_191417

 

Folk/Rock: album review – False Lights ‘Harmonograph’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In that beast known as folk rock we often find that the ’rock’ element tends to be closely rooted in whatever were the current rock influences of the period. Late ’60s Fairport Convention, mid ’70s Steeleye Span or late ’80s Oysterband all captured that Zeitgeist perfectly; and some classic albums came about as a result.

It is not unreasonable to insist, therefore, that if this melding of the two genres is to continue in a meaningful sense that it is time for some more contemporary influences to be embraced.

The first False Lights album Salvor was released in 2015 with a mission to make ’folk rock for the twenty-first century’ and won many fans as a result. Harmonograph continues in that vein and there is an unstoppable energy and momentum about the album from the very start.

Nearly all the tracks on the album are traditional songs from the folk canon, augmented with a couple of adaptations of traditional hymns alongside a tune composed by the group’s Tom Moore. The album is steeped in history and draws on some wonderful folk tunes but it celebrates traditional music without ever being constrained by it.

The lyrics to folk songs like Murder In The Red Barn remain as dramatic, as unforgiving and as brutal as ever; but being removed from any archetypal folk stylings in terms of delivery they are given a potency that is quite startling against a backdrop of jangly indie-sounding guitar and breezy, contemporary-sounding vocal delivery. It really makes the listener hang on to every word of every song.

A stellar line-up of Jim Moray, Sam Carter, Tom Moore, Archie Churchill-Moss, Barnaby Stradling and Stuart Provan means there is never any let up in quality and there is plenty of virtuoso musicianship as well as bags of energy and creativity.

This album is a clear demonstration that False Lights continue to impress and innovate on the road on which they started back in 2015. It does not mean that we have to put away our Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span or Oysterband albums but it does mean that in Harmonograph we have some twenty-first century folk rock that can easily stand proudly beside them.

Released: 2nd February 2018

http://falselights.co.uk/harmonograph/

Harmonograph-cover-

Related reviews:
Moore, Moss, Rutter at Cecil Sharp House

A renaissance in classic heavy metal: six bands to watch out for

There was a time not too long ago when anything described as a ‘new’ heavy metal band I simply did not get at all. All these weirdly-named sub-genres and even weirder-sounding vocals that just left me feeling old, bewildered and confused.

But in recent years there seems to have been a real renaissance in classic heavy metal from young, upcoming bands who cite influences such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and a host of others from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) stable from the late 70s/early 80s. Well-written songs, great guitar solos, melodic vocals and crunching riffs: classic heavy metal seems to be in better shape than it’s been for many, many years. There’s plenty out there but here’s a quick round-up of bands that have really captured my imagination recently.

Hell’s Gazelles

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world. Get their debut EP ‘Hell’s Gazelles’.

620607--E1AE1102-4497-4D7D-B1E56445B3FD1AC7--1473290994328--FrontCover3000x3000

http://www.hellsgazelles.com/

JoanovArc

Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. Formed in 2004 by sisters Sam and Shelley Walker, they were soon joined by Deborah Wildish. After five years as a trio, Laura Ozholl completed the line-up. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.

Joanovarc-810x810

http://joanovarc.co.uk/

Kaine

Kaine is a four-piece formed in 2009 and musically inspired by the late 70s/early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal boom. Powerful well-written songs and powerful delivery, you can hear the influences from their musical heroes like Iron Maiden in their performance. The band released its debut album ‘Falling Through Freedom’ in 2012, and it’s follow-up ‘The Waystone’ in 2014. New album ‘A Crisis of Faith’ is now on pre-order and due for release in 2018. Definitely on my ‘ones to watch list’.

a2768547333_5

 

https://kaine-metal.com/

Killit

Killit are one of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years. They just have that knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. Numbers like ‘Calm Before The Storm’ and ‘Shut It Down’ from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band can wow audiences with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs.

killit

http://www.killitband.com/

The Mighty Wraith

Hailing from the spiritual home of heavy metal itself, Birmingham-based four-piece The Mighty Wraith deliver powerful vocals and mighty riffs. Catching them on the off-chance one night while at a loose end in Wolverhampton last Autumn, frontman Matt Gore and his bandmates immediately stood out alongside the other bands taking the stage that evening. 2017 was an important year for the band, with a new EP ‘Outcast’ released, support slots for the likes of of Armored Saint and even hosting their own festival ‘Wraith Fest’. Looking forward to seeing more from these in 2018.

the-mighty-wraith-heavy-metal-uk-cd-cover-design-album-artwork-layout-art-digipak

https://www.themightywraith.com/home

Toledo Steel

Powerfully majestic but hard and heavy Toledo Steel put me in mind of classic-era Dio and Rich Rutter’s vocals and Tom Potter’s and Josh Haysom’s guitars are the perfect combination for this brand of hard-hitting melodic rock metal. Toledo Steel are definitely on my list to see and hear more of and I am certainly enjoying their excellent six-track EP ‘Zero Hour’. The band’s debut album ‘ No Quarter’ is released in May this year.

10445507_661123847342324_2503018577692870970_n

http://www.toledosteel.co.uk/

Metal: album review – W.A.S.P. ‘Re-idolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol)

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Moving away from the trashy, good-time, OTT lyrics of earlier albums, The Crimson Idol (released in 1993) saw Blackie Lawless and W.A.S.P. move into the territory of the concept  album.

The Crimson Idol tells the story of dispossessed teenager, Jonathan Steele, who becomes addicted to drink and drugs following the death of his brother and rejection by his parents. He turns his life around by becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star but still seeks acceptance from his parents. Trying and failing to reconcile with them the story ends with Steele committing suicide.

Now, some twenty-five years after it was first released, The Crimson Idol is back in the form of Re-idolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol). It’s a four-disc package that includes two CDs (the complete re-recording of the original album by the current W.A.S.P. line-up, including several tracks that were never included on the original album), along with DVD and Blue Ray versions of the hitherto unreleased Crimson Idol film. The album was originally intended to be accompanied by said film and several hundred hours of footage was shot at the time. Assembled here to create approximately 50 minutes of screen time it finally sees the light of day.

Filmed in grainy, evocative black and white, it is to be seen very much as an extended album-length video rather than (in contrast to say The Who’s Quadrophinia) a fully-formed rock film in its own right. As such, I’m not sure it’s something I would necessarily want to go and see at the cinema but it’s certainly a compelling visual memento of a very significant album in W.A.S.P.’s career.

For the CDs there is a definite energy and vitality about the recordings, even if I remain to be fully convinced of what overriding artistic point is being served by bands re-recording classic albums.  However, having seen the band perform the album in full on their recent UK tour, W.A.S.P. are definitely firing on all cylinders, Lawless’s voice is as powerful as ever, guitarist Doug Blair is an awesome player and it’s great to hear the album with the original missing songs fully restored to their rightful place in the story.

The serious W.A.S.P. fan will almost certainly want to buy this. For the more casual fan, whose interest in W.A.S.P. may have been rekindled by both the recent tour and the publicity around this release, the original version of The Crimson Idol (retailing at around half the price) may well suffice.

Released: February 2nd 2018

http://www.waspnation.com/waspnation.htm

WASP-Re-Idolized.jpg

Related review:
W.A.S.P. at Hastings 2017

Live Review – Giants of Rock, Minehead 26-29 January 2018

Another weekend, another Butlins music festival. Giants of Rock at Minehead has become an absolute must in my musical calendar each January now. With three stages, forty-three bands and many, many clashes it’s obvious you can’t see everything – and I don’t even try. Inevitably, I missed some great performances but my general approach at weekends like this is as follows:

– I do like to watch act in full and properly appreciate their performance, from the minute they walk on stage to their final encore, rather than flitting about catching half an hour here and half an hour there.

– I also do like to eat, chill, socialise (and sleep) so I inevitably miss a good few bands – but the ones I do see generally get my full attention.

With those caveats here then are my highlights (and a couple of lowlights) from Giants of Rock 2018:

Friday

Taking a chance on Curved Air I thought they might be an Atomic Rooster-like surprise for me whom I enjoyed at Butlins Skegness so much the previous week. Unfortunately, it was not to be. It took me less than five minutes to realise that Curved Air were really, really not my cup of tea at all. That opened the way, however, for moving on to the Introducing Stage just as all-female foursome JoanovArc were about to start…

Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.

http://joanovarc.co.uk/

Then it was a return to one of the two main stages to watch former Wishbone Ash man, Martin Turner and his band wow the crowd with their performance of the classic 1972 album, Argus. I’d really enjoyed Andy Powell’s continuing ‘official’ version of Wishbone Ash at Giants of Rock two years ago. But Turner’s interpretation of this early material is just perfection. ‘Time Was’, ‘Blowin’ Free’, ‘The King Will Come’… No-one will ever do these songs better.

https://www.martinturnermusic.com/

Saturday

I was greatly entertained by ex-Argent guitarist John Verity at Giants of Rock two years ago and he was back once more with a lunchtime slot delivering a mix of rock classics, blues standards and material from his recent solo albums as well as, of course, a version of Argent’s irresistible classic ‘Hold Your Head Up’. A great way to start the day’s music.

http://www.johnverity.com/

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world.

20180127_183213

http://www.hellsgazelles.com/

After bumping into Uriah Heep in the chippy and having a lovely chat with a very affable Mick Box and co, it was soon time to see them up on stage. Playing mainly Byron-era classics: ‘Gypsy’ followed by ‘Look At Yourself’ followed by ‘Sunrise’ followed by ‘Stealin’, they threw in one song from the last studio album (the excellent ‘One Minute’ from 2014’s The Outsider) before going on to 1998’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ then incredible versions of ‘July Morning’ ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘Easy Livin’. Pounding hammond, stunning vocals and Mick Box on guitar having the time of his life, not only did it rank of one of my favourite Giants of Rock performances ever, it’s now up there as one of my favourite performances by anyone, anywhere ever.

20180127_175631

Things were slightly different next door on the other main stage with rumblings from audience members that Hawkwind only got to play for an hour and didn’t have time for any well-known crowd pleasers like ‘Silver Machine’ at the end. But all bands get an hour – to use exactly as they see fit. While Uriah Heep used their allotted hour with devastating efficiency to give us an out-of-this-world-performance of some of their greatest songs ever, Hawkwind chose a different approach. But at the end of the day you only get an hour. It’s Butlins not Stonehenge…

http://www.uriah-heep.com/newa/index.php

From probably the best Giants of Rock performance ever to possibly the worst…

After Uriah Heep I wandered over to the other main stage to watch a bit of ex-Toto singer, Bobby Kimball. Never really a fan of that very polished, very commercial, very shiny American AOR anyway, this was more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. In the week’s building up to his appearance numerous videos circulated on social media showing some shockingly out-of-tune vocals as Kimball murdered numerous Toto hits like ‘Africa’. If Kimball would be able to turn things around and put in a half-decent performance at Butlins it would be one of the big surprises of the festival. If he wasn’t it was going to be one horrific car-crash. Unfortunately, it was the latter. I lasted three songs – just long enough to see him murder ‘Africa’ again, before joining the mass of exodus next door to catch Stray. At least Del Bromham and his band were guaranteed a large crowd. The place was absolutely rammed and Stray put in a blistering set. The second-time I’d seen them in a week, it was a great way to end the second day.

http://www.stray-the-band.co.uk/

Sunday

Killit, who were one of the Introducing Stage winners last year, were on one of the main stages this year starting the day with a lunchtime set. One of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years, they have a knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. I so want this band to do well.

http://www.killitband.com/

My visit to the Introducing Stage on the Sunday was to catch Black Whiskey, who would go on to be that day’s winners and thus will be appearing on the main stage next year. Citing influences like Zeppelin, Free, Purple and UFO, Black Whiskey very much opt for a classic rock sound. Bluesy guitar, soulful vocals and solid rhythm. It’s a timeless, infectious mix and I am definitely happy to see more of them in future.

https://www.facebook.com/BlackWhiskeyUK/

My absolute must-see band for the Sunday night was Slade. It would be the twenty-fifth time I had seen this band since I first saw the original line-up send the crowd at Donington Monsters of Rock absolutely crazy as a 15-year old teenager back in 1981. Noddy Holder and Jim Lea have long gone, of course, but Dave Hill and Don Powell are still flying the flag with a stable line-up of vocalist/guitarist Mal McNulty and vocalist/bass-player John Berry. Anyone expecting a note-for-note musically and vocally perfect copy of the original Slade you’re going to be disappointed. But if you want a crazy, fun-packed, non-stop celebration of some of the greatest songs ever – clapping your hands, stamping your feet, getting your boots off, singing along at the top of your voice, and generally waving your arms about – you’re in for a treat. A brilliantly fun twenty-fifth Slade gig for me – I can’t wait for my twenty-sixth…

20180128_210629

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialSladeBand/

After Slade finished I opted not to stick around for Nazareth having already enjoyed them at Skegness the weekend before. (Read my review here to find out what I thought of Nazareth). Instead, I headed over to the other main stage to watch the AC/DC tribute, Bon, who were performing the Powerage album in full. I’ve nothing against tributes and have enjoyed quite a few of them at my local rock pub back home but generally it’s not what I travel hundreds of miles to Minehead for. However, a great bunch of musicians performing a classic album in full followed by a run-through of all the iconic title tracks from every Bon Scott-era AC/DC album seemed like a great party band and a great way to finish the weekend on a high – and it was.

Hard rock, prog rock, glam rock, space rock, blues rock, contemporary heavy metal… One of the great things about Giants of Rock is that if you are a classic rock fan there really is something for everyone. Another great thing is the strong sense of community amongst those coming together at Minehead to celebrate their shared love of rock. A vibrant and active presence on social media via the Giants of Rock Facebook group (set up by fans for fans completely independently of Butlins) has meant that many close bonds have been made over the four years since the the festival started. It makes for one of the friendliest weekends of this type you can possibly imagine. Roll on Giants of Rock 2019!

You can join the Giants of Rock Minehead Facebook discussion group here 

Related reviews:
Skegness Rock and Blues 2018
Minehead Giants of Rock 2017
Slade at Giants of Rock 2015