Tag Archives: Butlins

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:


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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…


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.



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.


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.


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…



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


Live Review – The Great British Rock & Blues Festival – Skegness 19-22 January 2018

This review was also published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

I’ve enjoyed various Butlins music weekends over the years but 2018 will be the first where I’ve done two on two such weekends on the trot. My Butlins blow-out started off with the Rock & Blues weekend in Skegness – with just a few days respite before I head off to Minehead for the Giants of Rock weekend in Minehead. With so many bands on a number of different stages, reviews of weekends like this are always going to be one person’s snapshot but I had a fantastic weekend and this is what I saw.


Friday night began at what was designated the “Rock Stage” (Butlins dividing up the acts on the two main stages as either Rock or Blues, as well as providing two smaller stages: a second blues stage sponsored by Blues Matters mag and an Introducing Stage). The first band, Northern Ireland’s Screaming Eagles, had a great stage presence, some great catchy songs and a handful of great covers, too. A nice, energetic start to the weekend.

Atomic Rooster on next were, for me, probably the biggest surprise of the weekend. They are one of those bands that I’d always been aware of but was never really that familiar with. Other than knowing they were formed by the late Vincent Crane (the guy who did the unmistakable keyboard pounding in Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’) before this weekend I could have told you very little about Atomic Rooster. But they were absolutely, out-of-this world, stupendously, brilliantly, amazing. Vincent Crane and the rest of the earliest line-up are sadly no longer with us. But the revived band contains both Pete French on vocals and Steve Bolton on guitar who were both in the band in the early 70s and they have been given the blessing of Crane’s widow to reform under the Atomic Rooster banner. They have the songs, the set-list, the charisma and the sound. Really, this band should have been far, far bigger than they were back in the day. Similarly, the modern-day version should be far, far better known than they are today. Absolutely majestic classic rock that stands proudly against any of the rock giants, I will be seeing more of this band for certain.


The Frankie Miller’s Full House tribute that came afterwards failed to inspire the same degree of energy and enthusiasm I’m afraid and after moving to the other main stage just as the final band were finishing their last song, we headed to the Blues Matters Stage to enjoy the late bar and some late night blues.


At lunchtime we caught Southbound on the Rock Stage. Their set combined soulful blues rock with some choppy, Feelgood-esque R&B. The latter they did particularly well.

Saturday evening began for us with the legend that is Bernie Marsden. I’ve seen Marsden in various guises over the years: with a full band playing acoustic, solo playing acoustic, with a full band playing an electric blues set and, back in the day, with the best Whitesnake line-up ever. Whether electric or acoustic he’s a stunningly good guitarist and he gave us a solo acoustic set of mainly Whitesnake material. His is never a showy stage presence but few ever look as contented or as at home on stage as does Marsden playing his music and bantering with the crowds.


I left my companions to enjoy Roger Chapman Family & Friends while I headed off to the Blues Matters Stage to catch Troy Redfern. With a classic power trio format they deliver infectiously energetic hard rocking blues that just seems to get better and better every time I see them. I thought I might call it a night after that but then came Rainbreakers. They are a group of young guys from Shrewsbury playing a small stage Skegness in 2018 but to hear them they could have been playing some sun-kissed stadium in California in 1971. Channelling the spirit of the classic era of soulful early 70s blues rock they were one of the absolute highlights of the weekend and went down a storm. Great writers, great musicians and great vocals; this was an utterly spellbinding performance from start to finish.


Over the course of the Sunday lunchtime slot I did a fair bit of wandering around Stray were the stand-out act for me with a great set from Del Bromham and co.

For our final evening we opted to start with some raunchy, good-time boogie from perennial Rock & Blues weekend favourites, Roadhouse, before heading to the Rock Stage to catch Nazareth. With only bass-player, Pete Agnew, remaining from the band’s 70s/early 80s heyday, it’s more a tribute than anything – but I mean that in a positive sense. New vocalist, Carl Sentance, does a superb job handling Dan McCafferty’s vocals on classic songs like ‘My White Bicycle’ and ‘Expect No Mercy’ and the band rock hard paying tribute to those great songs.


From only one original member in Nazareth to zero in Dr Feelgood, we head over to the main Blues Stage to finish the weekend with Canvey Island’s finest. Unfortunately, there seems to have been some sound problems on that stage all night. The band start much later than advertised and from where we were on the right-hand side at the front the sound was utterly abysmal. All I could hear was the bass-line and the drums, the guitar and vocals being pretty much drowned out. They are great songs, though, and we all know them. Singing along to these was a good way to finish the weekend and I came away being far more familiar with the bass-line in Dr Feelgood’s illustrious back-catalogue than I’d ever been before. Probably the most fun I’d ever had at a performance with shockingly bad sound.


The verdict overall

When I first saw the line-up I was a little underwhelmed but I was unexpectedly impressed by some of the veteran acts and completely blown away by some of the newer ones. This will go down for me as the weekend when I finally acquainted with the brilliant Atomic Rooster and when I first discovered the amazing Rainbreakers. Thanks guys.

And thanks!

One final word should go to the marvellously helpful Butlins Guest Services staff. Like many previous weekends I had bought a big stack of CDs. But, stupidly, I’d left them in my room in my rush to leave on Monday morning. A quick phone call to Butlins and my CDs were immediately located and sent back to me. Phew!

Related Review:
Giants of Rock Weekend 2017

The top ten posts of 2017 on Darren’s music blog

Wishing you a happy New Year and thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2017. Here are the top ten most popular posts from the year, with the highest number of visits:

1. The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences: actually written in late 2016 but consistently the most popular post throughout the year. Here I trace the origin of that famous riff – back through the glam era, the Yardbirds and those blues masters. Full post here.

2. Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium: “From the moment they first walk on stage to play ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the last climatic strains of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ the whole show is pretty much a celebration of that unforgettable and seemingly unrepeatable debut album.” Full review here.

3. Giants of Rock weekend at Minehead: Excellent performances from Troy Redfern, Focus, Bernie Torme, Bernie Marsden, Oliver-Dawson Saxon, The Pretty Things and Killit captured here. Here’s to Giants of Rock 2018. Full review here.

4. In praise of the CD: It was only a few years ago that people were finding it hilarious that I was clinging obstinately to the CD rather than embracing digital formats. Now, with the renaissance of vinyl, some still regard me as a Luddite dinosaur for not embracing the switch back to the 12 inch. Here I gave seven reasons why the CD is king for me. Full article here.

5. For One Night Only – Slade’s Jim Lea in Bilston: “We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.” Full review here.

6. Sweet in London & Bilston: “This is a small venue with a tiny stage and it was absolutely rammed but the atmosphere was electric. It was evident that the band were also getting a huge buzz from playing to such a responsive audience, too.” Full review here.

7. The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs: another piece exploring my CD obsession. Here I talk through my observations hunting down charity shop bargains. Full review here.

8. Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017: my preview piece ahead of Hastings’ annual Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations with many, many dozens of gigs across the town was shared widely. Full article here.

9. Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust at Shepherd’s Bush Empire: “Holy Holy shows a way forward as to how we can continue to enjoy some of the greatest music of the twentieth century well into the twenty-first. A genuinely and truly impressive gig.” Full review here.

10. W.A.S.P. at White Rock Theatre, Hastings: “The Crimson Idol tells the story of a boy Jonathan and explores themes of estrangement, drugs, fame, money and suicide. It has become something of a cult heavy metal album and, twenty-five years since it was originally released, Lawless and his band are touring it in full.” Full review here.

Thanks for visiting Darren’s music blog everyone. Thanks also to publications like Get Ready Rock, the Hastings Independent, The Stinger, fRoots Magazine, Bright Young Folk and the Hastings Online Time for running many of my reviews and articles.

Here’s to 2018!



Review: Giants Of Rock Weekend 2017, Minehead

Giants Of Rock took place at Butlins Minehead again this January for the fourth year running. Apart from the first year (when I was already booked into another Butlins music weekend the week before) I’ve been each time. With three days of music, two main stages and a smaller ‘introducing’ stage there is always plenty to choose from but here are the performances that particularly captured my imagination this year.


Eschewing both main stages for the first start of the Friday evening programme, we opted instead for The Troy Redfern Band on the introducing stage. I’d seen Troy and co a couple of times before so it was less of an introduction and more of welcome re-acquaintance with the band’s high-octane brand of blues rock. It’s good to see the band go down well.

Photo credit: Elise Benjamin


After Troy we moved to one of the main stages for a gloriously bonkers set by Dutch flute-playing, Hammond-pounding, yodelling prog-rockers, Focus, which gave all of us in the crowd the chance to let ourselves go wild to a suitably deranged version of Hocus Pocus.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin


Former Gillan guitar legend, Bernie Tormé, is on next and delivers a blistering set as always. Consistently original, the self-styled glam punk shredmeister has been enjoying a real career renaissance of late with two very well-received solo albums and a third on the way. With drummer, Ian Harris, and bass-player, Chris Heilmann, these three make a classic power trio which is the perfect showcase for Torme’s  guitar wizardry. Not only are the Minehead crowd treated to a great selection of some of the more recent material we also get some Gillan-era classics, too, like No Easy Way and New Orleans and a stonking Smoke On The Water as an encore (the first but not the last time we would be hearing that particular song over the weekend). It was a fantastic end to the first night.

Photo credit: Lisa Valder



Live Dead 69 are a reincarnation of The Grateful Dead with original keyboard player, Tom Constanten, currently touring the UK performing the band’s classic Live/Dead album in full. The Grateful Dead are not a band I’m hugely familiar with, although I’ve long been aware of the epic jams which the band are renowned for. A brilliant bunch of musicians, I was finding the initial part of their set perhaps a little too jazzy for my tastes. But then more of a blues rock vibe kicked in and I found myself more and more drawn in. Certainly, I’m pleased to have tasted a little of what this legendary band were all about.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin


To kick things off on the Saturday night, Bernie Marsden was an obvious choice for me. I’ve seen him solo several times before (plus, of course, I saw him with the classic Whitesnake line-up back in the day) but this is a completely solo set – just Bernie and an acoustic guitar. He completely holds the audience for the full hour: some solo blues material, some Peter Green material and, of course, some Whitesnake material, the latter turning into a beautifully intimate communal sing-along to the likes of Ain’t Gonna Cry No More and Here I Go Again. Superb.

Photo credit: Elise Benjamin


With a quick change of venue we were ready for Ian Paice with Purpendicular. OK, Giants of Rock is not supposed to be about tribute bands but here you’ve got the legendary Deep Purple drummer himself, together with a cracking bunch of musicians. They absolutely nail the Mark 2-era Deep Purple sound, from the chugging bass lines, to the majestic Hammond organ, to the blinding guitar solos, to the Gillan-esque screams.

Photo credit: Elise Benjamin


To round off Saturday we had a non-stop run-through of Saxon classics by Oliver Dawson Saxon. Original Saxon members, Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson, have been touring their alternative version of the Barnsley NWOBHM heroes for twenty years now and, impressed as I am with Biff Byford’s continuing version of the original Saxon, Oliver and Dawson do also offer something brilliantly entertaining. Lead singer, Bri Shaughnessy is a powerful vocalist and a charismatic front-man in his own right and he has absolutely made what might have been a difficult role his own. And as you can never really have too many crowd sing-alongs to classics like Denim And Leather, 747 (Strangers In The Night) and Wheels Of Steel, the fact that there is not just one but two bands out on the road doing this is a bonus in my view.

Photo credit: Elise Benjamin



In spite of a love 60s R&B bands, I’d never actually managed to see The Pretty Things live until now or even listened to one of their albums in full. But front-man Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor still cut it live after more than half a century together. The two original members are joined by second guitarist/harmonica player, Frank Holland, who has been playing with them since the late eighties, together with a fantastically energetic young rhythm section in Jack Greenwood and George Woosey. Obviously, a band that’s been around since 1963 is going to have a hefty back catalogue to choose from and, while I enjoyed the whole set, I found they had more to offer when they concentrated on their mid 60s R&B period rather than their later stoner rock phase. Fortunately, the former makes up a significant part of the set and anyone who is currently enjoying the Rolling Stones new back-to-basics Blue & Lonesome album and wants an authentic slice of 60s rhythm and blues should certainly try and get to see The Pretty Things live.

Photo credit: Elise Benjamin


Still in the mood for more music after The Pretty Things, we headed off to the introducing stage and arrived just in time to see an awesome performance from the band KilliT. Great vocals. Great musicianship. Great guitar solos. Great stage presence. And, importantly, great songs, too. Instantly memorable numbers like Calm Before The Storm and Shut It Down from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band could wow the audience with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs. The best new hard rock band I’ve heard in ages, I was genuinely delighted for them when they were officially voted top act on the introducing stage that day. That means they will be back at Giants Of Rock to perform on the main stage next year. KilliT are a new band that have clearly arrived fully formed and deserve to go far.

killit-mineheadPhoto credit: Sally Newhouse


That pretty much wraps up a brilliant weekend of music for me. There were more bands on the Sunday evening and for head-liners that night punters had a choice between Steve Hackett doing Genesis or Ian Anderson doing Jethro Tull. I looked in on both but it was all getting a bit proggy for me and I just didn’t seem to have my prog head on. Reflecting on what a great range of performances I’d witnessed over the weekend, I was happy to call it a night.

A great bunch of bands. A great crowd. A great weekend. Here’s to Giants Of Rock 2018.


Ian Hunter at Giants of Rock, Minehead 31/1/16

Over the course of the Giants of Rock weekend there appears to be an informal game of one-upmanship playing out between the various artists as they recount to the audience the first time they appeared on a Butlins stage: 1976, 1962 and so on…

But no-one beats Ian Hunter’s 1956. At a time when so many of his rock contemporaries are sadly passing away in their late sixties and early seventies, it’s incredible to think that, at 76, not only is Hunter still going strong, still singing and still performing but that he is still a major creative force, writing songs and making albums as consistently original and wonderfully compelling as the ones he made over four decades ago.

I’ve described elsewhere my almost lifelong love affair with the music of Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople. And while the long-defunct (and somewhat forgotten at the time) Mott The Hoople were not the obvious choice for teenage boys to hit upon as one of their favourite bands in the early 1980s, I was privileged, during the course of the weekend, to bump into a fellow Hunter fan of a similar age with an almost identical story as my own. I felt doubly privileged when he turned up with a couple of spare backstage passes for my friend and I a few hours before the gig, allowing me to meet one of my topmost musical heroes after the show.

And what a show it was. Hunter is not usually one for a lot of on-stage banter. But his ability to connect with an audience through the quality of his song-writing and through the power and resonance of his performances is second to none. The sheer range of emotions that one can experience during the course of a single show is incredible: from the exhilarating, joyful irreverence of All The Way From Memphis to the heartfelt, introspection of Boy to the sardonic political commentary of When I’m President. All, of course, delivered with Hunter’s unique vocal style, accompanied by the superbly accomplished musicians in the Rant band.

In what was undoubtedly the number one highlight of a weekend of many highlights, we get a set that any Ian Hunter fan would be delighted to hear: from songs of the Mott The Hoople years like Honaloochie Boogie, to early solo material like Once Bitten Twice Shy to more recent material like Black Tears from his last studio album. Soon the set is drawing to a close but the band return for an encore of Rest In Peace (particularly moving following the death of Mott drummer Dale Griffin), Roll Away The Stone, Life (the brilliant new Hunter anthem from his most recent album) and, of course, All The Young Dudes. What better way to pay tribute to its writer, David Bowie (whose kindness and support came in the form of gifting the song to Mott The Hoople at a make or break stage in their career) than to bellow along to this at the top of our voices.

Then it’s all over. But, of course, it’s not quite all over as we head backstage to meet Mr Hunter and the rest of the Rant Band. A wonderful, moving moment in my life but all the more memorable for coming at the end of such a wonderful, moving performance. Thank you Ian Hunter for continuing to make such amazing music.


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Previous review: Ian Hunter at Shepherd’s Bush Empire


Procol Harum at Giants of Rock, Minehead 30/1/16

At any music festival with multiple stages, as a punter you’re bound to be faced with the odd dilemma about which act to choose when two you really like are on at the same time. But the only clash I really dithered over at Giants of Rock 2016 was between Steve Harley and Procol Harum. In the end we plumped for Procol. I’d seen (and massively enjoyed) Harley at Reading Festival thirty-odd years ago, my two companions had seen neither but in the end we all agreed on Procol Harum. A choice none of us regretted. They were top class.

All the trademark features you would expect from Procol are present: the double keyboards with the delicious interplay between hammond organ and piano, the steady authoritative bass lines, the majestic tunes and, of course, Gary Brooker’s commanding vocals. If some rock vocalists make life hard for themselves by adopting a vocal delivery in their early 20s that gets more and more difficult to pull off as they hit their 70s, then Gary Brooker chose wisely. Brooker’s cool and melancholic vocals are as strong tonight as they were in 1967, when the band first hit the charts with A Whiter Shade of Pale.

While I love the unique sound of Procol Harum I must confess to only ever having owned two albums of theirs: a best-of compilation bringing together many of their late 60s and early 70s classics and the band’s most recent album – 2003’s The Well’s On Fire, which I picked up for the princely sum of £1 at Skegness Butlins two years ago. But I’m pleased to say there’s many songs I recognise tonight from the former, and at least one from the latter.

So after taking us on a stunning journey through the likes of Shine on Brightly, Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of), A Salty Dog and Homburg there was just one song left. They leave the stage. They come back on to thunderous applause. But, oh dear, Brooker can’t remember how it goes! They tease the audience with a snatch of When A Man Loves A Woman and then with a surprisingly brilliant rendition of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, before finally the band hit on the familiar chords of A Whiter Shade of Pale, one of the most recognisable, most majestic and surely one of the most beautiful songs of the late 60s. A powerful end to a magnificent performance.

Bringing Home the Bacon
An Old English Dream
Dead Man’s Dream
Whaling Stories
Pandora’s Box
Nothing But the Truth
All This and More (which wasn’t played: The VIP Room instead)
Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)
A Salty Dog
A Whiter Shade of Pale


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Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Giants of Rock, Minehead 29/1/16

“If the last time you saw Mick Ralphs was on some distant stadium stage this is a chance to get up close to the man and his music,” says the programme for the weekend.

Actually, no -the last time I saw former Mott the Hoople and Bad Company guitar supremo, Mick Ralphs, was right here at Butlins for the same Giants of Rock weekend just a year ago. But so impressive was he and the rest of his band it was an experience I was more than happy to repeat.

As I noted last year, Ralphs has assembled a very able bunch of musicians, Jim Maving on additional guitar, Dicky Baldwin on bass and (new boy) Damon Sawyer on drums. Inescapable logic about inevitable human mortality is reminding us that the rock icons of the 70s are not going to be around forever. Indeed, we are losing quite a few of them now, even if live audiences are keen to experience the musical genres most closely associated with that era well into the 21st Century. So kudos to Ralphs for looking ahead to the next generation. He has chosen well in recruiting TV’s former Voice contender, Adam Barron, as lead vocalist. Barron, not yet 30 but gigging and singing since his teens has now been with the band some two years. And he is, in my mind, fast establishing himself of one of the finest blues rock vocalists of his generation. He effortlessly handles Bad Company classics like Can’t Get Enough and Feel Like Makin’ Love as well as material from the band’s new album If It Ain’t Broke – a mixture of classic covers (like Shakey Ground and a magnificently soulful Same Old Blues) as well as Ralphs originals (like I Don’t Care and Too Bad). The Butlins crowd responds accordingly and are clearly pleased to have the band back again this year.

An instantly recognisable sound, classic guitar licks, some of the most iconic rock songs of all time and the rich soulful, bluesy vocals of Adam Barron. It’s an on-stage masterclass in classic rock. The Mick Ralphs Blues Band should be a must-see for any fan of the genre.


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Previous review: Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Minehead 2015


Graham Bonnet Band at Giants of Rock, Minehead 29/1/16

There is enthusiastic and generous applause for former Rainbow frontman, Graham Bonnet, as he takes the stage for the first night of the Butlins Giants of Rock weekend in Minehead this year. Looking as cool as ever (eschewing, as always, the 70s/80s heavy rock get-up in favour of the 60s spiv look) he launches straight into songs from the classic Down To Earth album he did with Rainbow: Eyes of the World and the unforgettable All Night Long. Later on we get to hear Lost in Hollywood and the inevitable Since You’ve Been Gone, as well as his 80s solo single Night Games. It is an absolute sheer joy to be singing along to those songs with a crowd of equally enthusiastic punters.

Some rock vocalists unwittingly, but nevertheless helpfully, make life easier for themselves by adopting a vocal delivery and a choice of songs they’ll forever be associated with that they can still pull off with ease several decades later. Mr Bonnet has perhaps not made life as easy as possible for himself in this regard. What I did begin to notice, however, was that his voice was much more at ease with the Rainbow material than with the harder-edged and more high-octane Michael Schenker Group and Alcatraz material from slightly later in his career. Those latter songs did appear to be placing more of a strain on his vocal chords.

There’s been mixed reactions to Bonnet’s live performances in recent years. I enjoyed the Butlins show and loved singing along with the crowd. However, if I were advising Graham Bonnet I would probably be urging him to centre his live performances mainly around the polished, commercial rock of Down To Earth (and perhaps his subsequent solo album Line-Up which is very much in a similar vein) rather than trying to represent all stages of his career. Indeed, the previous time I saw Bonnet back in 2014 this is exactly what he did.

Look, Graham, you made one of the most iconic and memorable rock albums of the late 70s. You still deliver those songs well and people definitely want to hear them. Plus you’ve got some great musicians. Let your live shows be a celebration of the wonderful songs on Down To Earth rather than unnecessarily straining your voice on material that it is less equipped to deal with these days.

Still a great night though – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!


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Previous review: Graham Bonnet at The Garage, Islington



Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/15

Having seen Fotheringay on their short summer reunion tour (after a modest break of some 45 years) one of the most delightful things about tonight’s performance is, founder member, Jerry Donahue’s assertion that what started as a temporary project to promote the band’s retrospective box set is now set to become permanent. So the band that was formed by the late Sandy Denny, her late husband, Trevor Lucas, and the still very much alive Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway lives once more.

Donahue talks with great fondness tonight about his time in Fotheringay. But, given a band whose overlap in membership with Fairport Convention was often mocked by critics back in the 70s, Donahue managed to commit the ultimate faux pas by getting his two former bands muddled up and referring to the band on stage as Fairport at one point. Pat Donaldson, the only member of the original Fotheringay never to have ended up in Fairport, made to leave the stage in mock disgust. The spirit of Fotheringport or Fairport Confusion clearly lives on…

What a wonderful show we get though. Some of Sandy Denny’s most beautiful songs brought to life once again and performed live for audiences in the 21st Century. Between them, both Kathryn Roberts and Sally Barker do an amazing job handling Sandy Denny’s vocal parts with passion, beauty and respect. I was terribly dismissive about Sally Barker’s vocals when she sang a Sandy song during a guest slot at Fairport’s Cropredy appearance in 2014. But after seeing Fotheringay twice now I happily own up to being completely, absolutely 100% utterly wrong about Barker, my guilt being compounded even more because, not only did she give us such a wonderful performance tonight, she also took the trouble to personally run around backstage for me to ensure I had all three surviving members’ autographs on my Fotheringay CD. Sorry Sally!

PJ Wright also does a fine and convincing job handling the vocals originally sung by Sandy Denny’s late husband, Trevor Lucas, as well as delivering some beautiful pedal steel guitar on a couple of Sandy Denny solo tracks the band perform tonight.

Song highlights: there were so many. Nothing More, John The Gun, Knights of the Road, Solo, Peace in the End and many more, even though they have to trim their planned setlist slightly due to time pressures.

Had she lived would we now be seeing Sandy Denny joining her erstwhile folk-rock contemporaries, Jacqui McShee and Maddy Prior, at Butlins folk festival this weekend? That we’ll never know. But we have got Fotheringay brought to life once more. There have been various tributes to Sandy Denny (arguably the most gifted female singer-songwriter that Britain has ever produced) in recent years. In addition to the boxed sets and the various books we’ve had the all-star The Lady tribute show put together by Andrew Batt, we’ve had Thea Gilmore’s interpretation of Denny’s newly unearthed lyrics and, of course, we can always expect some sort of tribute in any performance of Denny’s old band, Fairport Convention. But of all the tributes, and they’ve all been wonderful in their own way, for me the one that has been the most special, the most authentic and the most spine-tinglingly, amazingly beautiful has been this current Fotheringay reunion. Long may they continue.


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Previous review: Fotheringay in London


Tom Robinson at Great British Folk Festival 5/12/15

Amidst those stalwarts of early 70s folk-rock (Steeleye Span, Fotheringay, Pentangle) this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness, also had a bit of late 70s new wave protest-singer vibe to it, with both Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson on the bill. Apart from seeing him do a guest spot for one song at Fairport’s Cropredy festival, I’d never seen a full Tom Robinson set until this evening. Robinson is one of those artists that I’ve long been aware of but I’ve only really ever been familiar with a handful of his songs. I remember being amazed (and pleasantly surprised) hearing Glad To Be Gay on the Secret Policeman’s Ball album as a young teenager. I remember his early 80s hit War Baby being on the juke box when I had a job collecting glasses in my local. And, of course, I was familiar with the wonderful 2-4-6-8 Motorway which we all sang along to at Cropredy when he did his guest spot with Fairport there a couple of years ago. But beyond that, my knowledge was pretty thin. We had a bit of a crash course from one of our number who is a serious fan on the way there and got to hear his new album in the car on the way up.

So what did I find? A really engaging performer. A singer and musician whose passion and sense of justice burns as brightly now as it did thirty-odd years ago. Some great entertaining songs – new and old. A really amusing and often hilarious raconteur. And a sincere and convincing advocate for the power of music as a force for good. In short – he impressed.

Songs from his new album, Only The Now, sat well against older material. Tracks like Risky Business, railing against the bankers, exhibited much in the way of both the style and passion of the 70s era Tom Robinson Band material, yet the subject matter is bang up to date. He didn’t disappoint in performing all of the songs I actually knew, either. A stripped-back acoustic War Baby. A mass-singalong 2-4-6-8 Motorway. And, of course, the song that was such a political statement for the mid to late 70s…

A quick scan of our Grindr apps (purely in the interests of demographic research you understand) would suggest that early December at Butlins in Skegness is perhaps not the gayest of venues. But what the folk scene lacks in diversity, it certainly makes up for in tolerance. One of the absolute highlights in a weekend of many highlights was seeing the massed ranks of the Bulins crowd bellowing out each chorus to Glad To Be Gay. I’m certainly glad to have seen Tom Robinson. And I look forward to exploring further.


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