This was the sixth annual Giants of Rock weekend hosted by Butlins in Minehead – and my fifth. Here’s a small selection of bands that stood out for me this time, as well as one that I’m afraid just didn’t do it for me at all.
Sometimes you want to see an artist, at least just the once, for the small part they played in rock ‘n’ roll history. For me, original Thin Lizzy guitarist, Eric Bell, was one of those names who fitted into that category. It meant missing the much-praised ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ band Ethyrfield on the other main stage, sadly, (but I made up for this by buying Ethyrfield’s CD from the merch stand later). Eric Bell gave us a run-through of rock ‘n’ roll and blues standards. It’s a little ragged in places but we’re soon into a rendition of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ – a slightly different arrangement of the old folk song compared to Lizzy’s version that many of are used to but Bell’s unique guitar sound is unmistakable and this is basically what I came in to hear. Ironically, the drum-kit of Bell’s former band-mate, Brian Downey, sits unused behind Bell’s band because Downey’s own take on Thin Lizzy’s heritage, in the form of his Live & Dangerous tribute, was the next act. Anyone hoping for some form of cross-fertilisation between these two performances, however, would have been disappointed. There are no guest jam spots or even any acknowledgement that the two bands are in the same building on the same stage on the same evening. Compared to the revived Thin Lizzy of a few years ago (which ended up morphing into Black Star Riders) this is more faithful copy of classic-era Lizzy in conventional tribute act format. But Brian Downey has more than earned the right to perform and celebrate these songs as many times as he likes and the band get a good reception.
Eric Bell http://www.eric-bell.com/
Ones to watch
Now performing under their new identity (but still down in the programme as VOiD due to them still using their old name when they were originally booked last year) Scarlet Rebels emerged as one of the stars of the introducing stage this year. “Unfortunately, there are about a million bands called Void and no-one could ever find us,” lead singer, Wayne Doyle, tells the crowd. I had caught these guys doing a support slot a year ago and what has not changed is their brand of classy, melodic hard rock which immediately impressed me first time around. Lead guitarist, Chris Jones, is an absolute live-wire on stage, injecting wave after wave of energy into the crowd with his soloing, while front-man, Doyle, has a great voice that’s just perfect for modern-day classic rock. Let’s hope any identity issues that the band suffered under their previous moniker are now firmly behind them and that Scarlet Rebels get the recognition they deserve. As one of the triumvirate of introducing stage winners over the three days they’ll be back at Butlins on one of the main stages next year. Thoroughly well deserved.
Scarlet Rebels http://www.scarletrebels.com/
Surprise of the weekend
Playing only their second gig in 35 years (the first being at Skegness Butlins the week before) the newly-revived Geordie are one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. The band had a handful of hits in the mid 70s but are now best-known as the band that launched Brian Johnson’s career prior to him being tracked down by AC/DC in 1980. Original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Powerful, foghorn very Johnson-esque vocals from Wright with a very well-rehearsed band behind him served to breathe new life into some long-neglected songs. It was great to hear the likes of ‘Can You Do It’, ‘Don’t Do That’ and ‘All Because of You’ getting a live airing after all these years. I’ve seen numerous band revivals at weekends like this, sometimes on some really rather tenuous ground. I therefore approached this with a mixture of curiosity and cynicism but they massively, massively exceeded expectations. A real surprise. I was half-hoping that Geordie would encore with a cover of Back In Black or Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution as a cheeky little nod to the part they unwittingly played in rock ‘n’ roll history – but it wasn’t to be (Geordie – if you are reading this you should absolutely do it!). The job of delving into AC/DC’s back catalogue was instead left to the next act, Chris Slade’s Timeline when the current (and former) AC/DC drummer ran through a selection of classic songs from his various bands. For sheer impact and confounding expectations, however, the afternoon very much belonged to Geordie.
Sweet delivered a blistering set and hopefully gained a few more “oh, I just thought they were just a pop band I didn’t realise they were such a great rock band” converts in the process. However, I’ve written about this band many, many times before and readers of Darren’s music blog will be left in no doubt at all of my affection for all things Sweet. Instead, I’m going to give a mention to Oliver/Dawson Saxon. After they had both walked away from Biff Byford’s Saxon, guitarist, Graham Oliver, and bass player, Steve Dawson, got together and formed their own version of the band. Now I’m not saying Oliver Dawson Saxon are better than the actual continuing Saxon – but they are certainly more fun. With his on-stage patter, lead singer Brian Shaughnessy is more Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club than Hallo Wembleyyyy and cuts a hilarious and quite bonkers stage presence but he is an absolute dynamo of a vocalist. When it comes to belting out all those old Saxon classics there is always so much energy from this band and Minehead 2019 was no exception. There are no pretensions to be anything else with this performance. It’s just good old-fashioned New Wave Of British Heavy Metal played exactly the way it should be. The perfect party band to end the night with on a weekend like this. Oliver/Dawson Saxon we salute you.
And one that just wasn’t for me
Paul Manzi had quite a busy weekend. He did an excellent job filling in as a temporary member of Sweet on the Saturday night due to Pete Lincoln’s absence and then he was back on the Sunday night fronting Cats In Space. There’s another Sweet connection, too, because former Sweet bass player, Jeff Brown, now carries out that very same role for Cats In Space. Like Sweet, harmony vocals and hook-laden melodies are in integral part of the band’s sound. Rather than the British glam rock era of the early 70s, however, this band very much take their cues from the American AOR/ power pop era of the early 80s, when albums were as shiny, polished and lavishly-produced as an episode of Dynasty. Unfortunately, as with that TV series it’s a genre of rock that simply leaves me cold. It’s clear that Cats In Space love what they are doing and they execute it with total professionalism. I really wanted to like them but three songs in I realise it’s never going to be. If the previous night was Sweet this, for me, was saccharine. I up and leave for the other stage. Raw, raunchy down to earth blues rock from guitar maestro, Rob Tognoni was the perfect antidote to what I’d just walked away from – and someone I look forward to seeing more of.
Rob Tognoni https://www.robtognoni.com/