UK blues rock band, Big River, release their new 4-track EP ‘Beautiful Trauma’ on all platforms for digital download and CD on 19th August 2022.
The track listing for Beautiful Trauma is:
Don’t Hold Out
The Long Way
Formed in 2016, Big River have been on a journey since their first album, Redemption (released in 2019). The band have been developing new material and new ways of writing, performing and collaborating. With a new singer and bass player Big River have now put together a new EP of fresh material which shows this progression.
Big River are: Adam Barron (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Simon Gardiner (bass), Joe Martin (drums / backing vocals).
Lead vocalist, Adam Barron came to prominence as a contestant on UK TV show The Voice and went on to secure the lead vocalist position fronting Mick Ralphs’ Blues Band. Sadly, that venture came to an end with Ralphs’ debilitating stroke but Adam teamed up with Big River last year. One of the finest blues rock singers around today, he is the perfect fit for Big River as the band move on to new heights.
Announcing the new EP, drummer, Joe Martin, says:“These songs have been performed live and have gone down a storm with all audiences. Through the changes Big River have maintained their thunderous live sound, but it’s that bit sweeter. The future is bright.”
Big River are currently on the road in the UK promoting the EP until the end of the year when they will head back into the studio to start recording a full album.
Beautiful Trauma is released on 19th August on CD and all the main digital platforms.
It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance.
Thirty-two years later and they are still at it, well Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood anyway. The set opened with a poignant tribute to Charlie Watts up on the huge screens and Jagger dedicating the concert to him.
Opening up with a wonderfully energetic version of ‘Get Off My Cloud’ to get us all instantly in the mood, the hits keep rolling. Timeless classics all, I was particularly moved by a poignant rendition of ‘Angie’ and a beautiful ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, a song we played at my dad’s funeral back in 2007 so it has special meaning for me.
There was quite a lot of banter with the crowd, a playful Jagger welcoming us to the “American Express British Summer Time Covid super-spreader event” at one point. This is the fifth time the Stones have played Hyde Park, the vocalist reminds us. “The first one was free,” he says, recalling that legendary Hyde Park concert back in July 1969 following the tragic death of Brian Jones. “The following ones were not free,” he says with a wry grin, acknowledging the hefty wads of cash that most of us had forked out for the privilege of being here tonight.
Keith Richards is in his element, taking lead vocals for a couple of songs, ‘You Got The Silver’ (from Let It Bleed) and ‘Happy’ (from Exile On Main Street). It also gave Jagger a short rest back stage. But for the rest of the concert he’s bopping and preening and dashing out into the crowd on the famed ‘ego-ramp’, the same as he’s always done in a way that’s just impossible to believe he’s now almost 79.
As Matt, my gig partner for the day points out, it’s not a massive entourage of a backing band. Jagger, Richards and Wood are joined by the ever-present Darryl Jones, who took over from Bill Wyman back in 1994, and Steve Jordan filling in for Charlie Watts since the latter’s shock demise last year. Alongside them are Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford on keyboards, Bernard Fowler on backing vocals and percussion, Tim Ries and Karl Denson on saxophone, and Sasha Allen on backing vocals. Both the sound and on-stage vibe is perfection.
Jagger’s soon back on stage and the band launch into an extended, super-funked-up version of ‘Miss You’, an opportunity for a mass boogie by the Hyde Park crowd and communal “ooh-ooh ooh-ooh ooh-ooh-ooh” backing vocals before we move straight into a deliciously laid-back ‘Midnight Rambler’, with bags of harmonica from Jagger and Richards and Woods trading country-flavoured guitar licks.
And there’s still time to pack a whole more classics in: ‘Paint It Black’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. Another poignant moment comes as the big screens depict an eery tableau of bombed-out buildings during ‘Gimme Shelter’ as the band’s tribute to Ukraine, with backing singer, Sasha Allen, duetting with Jagger on this one and demonstrating what a fantastically soulful voice she’s got as she joins him on the ramp out into the crowd.
Unlike the Eagles last week, who launched straight into their encore set without the hassle of going off stage and coming back on again, we did have to wait a couple minutes for the band to return and conclude with ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and riotous, life-affirming ‘Satisfaction’.
I probably won’t get to see them again, regardless of the band’s future plans as they reach their sixtieth anniversary milestone. But this was special and something I’ll remember forever.
My first BST Hyde Park festival since Blur in 2015, and I’ve not just got one this year, but two. First the Eagles then the Rolling Stones a week later.
Having long been on my bucket-list of must-see artists, I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing the Eagles until now so today was always going to be really special. It was made even more special by the early evening support slot from none other than Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. It’s a superb fit as their lush bluegrass-soaked Americana perfectly complements the laid-back, west coast, country rock of the headliners. Giving us a selection of tracks from their stunning 2007 Raising Sand album and its recent follow-up, Raise The Roof, the pair also manage to chuck in a couple of Zep covers, too – ‘Rock and Roll’ and a majestic version of ‘The Battle of Evermore’, originally a duet between Plant and Sandy Denny.
The sun continued to shine and the Eagles took to the stage on a lovely warm summer evening in Hyde Park. If there’s one band you don’t want to see performing against a backdrop of typically unreliable British weather, it’s got to be the Eagles. But everything is on their side tonight.
Following the sad passing of Glenn Frey back in 2016, the Eagles these days are Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and new boy, Vince Gill. It’s a masterclass of a performance and the classics just keep rolling: ‘One Of These Nights’, ‘Witchy Woman’, Take It To The Limit’, Lyin’ Eyes’, They just keep coming.
Glenn Frey’s son, Deacon, who was officially part of the line-up for a time following his father’s death, joins as a special guest for a couple of songs, including a stunning ‘Take It Easy’.
Ever the rock star, and never one to really go for the regulation, trade-mark, laid-back Eagles persona, Joe Walsh brings his flamboyance to the performance and gets to do a couple of his solo numbers, too. He’s still in fine voice and his guitar-playing is just a delight. Drummer and founder, Don Henley, also gives us one of his solo numbers, dedicating ‘The Boys of Summer’ to Taylor Hawkins.
Those Eagles classics keep coming though. They’ll be on for two hours by the end. Probably mindful of Westminster City Council’s ultra-strict curfew policy and given that we are now well past 10pm, “We’re not going to do that walk on and walk off thing,” we’re told. Before we know it, it’s ‘Hotel California’ and it just felt magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening watching the Eagles perform the song they’ll always be most famous for. We’re not quite finished yet and there’s time to squeeze in ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘Already Gone’ before the curfew hits.
A truly magical evening and a chance to finally see one of my bucket-list bands. And next week it’s the Stones!
Much as I hugely appreciate Ronnie James Dio’s genre-defining mark as lead singer of Rainbow, Graham Bonnet’s own stint on vocals neatly coincided with my early teens and thus the time I was starting to get really into rock music. I’ve always had a real soft spot for Bonnet, therefore.Rainbow’s Down To Earth and Bonnet’s subsequent solo album, Line Up, are still albums I enjoy playing, along with his later output for MSG and Alcatrazz.
He continued to record throughout the 90s and into the early 00s but then it seemed to go rather quiet for Bonnet in terms of new material. In recent years, however, there’s been a prolific and energetic release schedule. As well two reunion albums with Michael Schenker and a new Alcatrazz release, he’s now also on to his third album with the Graham Bonnet Band. Day Out In Nowhere follows The Book, released in 2016, and Meanwhile, Back In The Garage released two years later.
This latest Graham Bonnet Band album sees him recording, once again, with long-time members, Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass and Conrado Pesinato on guitar, alongside newer members, Alessandro Bertoni on keyboards and Shane Gaalaas on drums. Day Out In Nowhere also sees a host of guest appearances, too: Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore), John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie), Mike Tempesta (Powerman 5000), Roy Z (Halford, Bruce Dickinson) and, most notably, Bonnet’s former Rainbow bandmate, Don Airey (now with Deep Purple, of course) who provides his trademark Hammond on one track, ‘It’s Just A Frickin’ Song’.
Bonnet: “Similar to the first two albums, it will reflect different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist. I’m also delighted to be playing with original members of the Graham Bonnet Band, Beth-Ami Heavenstone who has been my constant partner (on and off stage) since meeting back in 2012 and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, who’s innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting.”
Day Out In Nowhere is classy, polished, melodic hard rock, that proves to be just the vehicle for Bonnet’s distinctive and equally classy vocals. Bonnet claims that the albums fronting his eponymously-named band more accurately reflect his original vision for a reunited Alcatrazz, with the guitar pyrotechnics dialled down just a little and more emphasis placed on well-constructed songs and intelligently-written lyrics. That’s exactly what we get here. It’s not to say there’s not some superb guitar from the ever-reliable, Conrado Pesinato, but it does show strong melody and well-crafted songs are at the heart of what makes for an essential Graham Bonnet album.
Bonnet’s lyrics across the eleven tracks tackle everything from alcoholism to the state of the world. The final track, however, the dramatic and theatrical-sounding ‘Suzi’, is something of a leftfield turn and a complete change of pace, with Bonnet backed not by a rock band but by an orchestra.
Now in his mid-seventies, Graham Bonnet is clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.
Day Out In Nowhere – tracklisting:
Twelve Steps To Heaven
Brave New World (ft. Roy Z)
Day Out In Nowhere
The Sky Is Alive
When We’re Asleep (ft. Mike Tempesta, John Tempesta)
My early teen years neatly coincided with the ascendancy of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). I missed the first Monsters of Rock at Donington in 1980 but was there for the second. I went out to get the first issue of Kerrang! (which I still have) and bought (or taped) albums by many of the bands featured in this book. Unlike many other genres or musical movements that I’ve grown to love over the years, this one perfectly aligned with the period when I was seriously getting hooked on music for the first time.
Taking the form of a transcribed oral history, Denim & Leather features contributions from a plethora of figures, from artists to managers to promoters to writers to fans, who were around during the short life of this grassroots phenomenon which gave a much-needed shot in the arm to the world of hard rock at the tail end of the 1970s and the dawn of the 1980s.
Sometimes books of this nature, featuring an endless stream of quotes and half-remembered (and often contradictory) anecdotes but little in the way of context or analysis, can be a bit of an exhausting and not always particularly satisfying read. But Denim & Leather is cleverly done and author, Michael Hann, has skilfully organised it in a way that allows for clear narratives to emerge. The various chapters take us through key events chronologically but also give us an in-depth look at particular aspects of the scene. There’s chapters on the importance of things like The Friday Rock Show, Sounds and later Kerrang! mag as well as the first ever Monsters of Rock Festival but it also looks at some of the less rose-tinted aspects of the scene, like the all too frequent misogyny.
Wisely, the book doesn’t get too hung up on rigid definitions of what is and what isn’t NWOBHM and there is a chapter devoted to the influence the movement had on that trio of post-Purple bands, Rainbow, Whitesnake and Gillan, as well as lots of mentions of Judas Priest, whose members were all making music well before NWOBHM became a thing although they certainly benefited from it.
Given the importance the two bands had in influencing the later sub-genres of thrash metal and black metal respectively, there’s a whole chapter devoted to Diamond Head and another whole chapter devoted to Venom. I never really got the whole extreme metal thing, personally. But at the other end of the spectrum I never really bought into that overproduced very Americanised direction that Def Leppard soon headed in either. That also takes up a considerable chunk of the book and, in the end, is what pretty much did for NWOBHM.
For me, NWOBHM was at its very best when it melded the uncompromising heaviness of the first generation of heavy rock acts with the catchy choruses and three-minute tunes of the early 70s glam rock scene and the DIY ‘get-up-and-do-it’ spirit of the punk era. The bands that most closely adhered to that template were the ones I warmed to the most – and still do. My favourite quote in the book – from former Saxon bass man, Steve Dawson, thus perfectly sums up why I always had more love for Saxon than Iron Maiden:
“Without sounding elitist, I think the tunes we wrote were more catchy songs. Not just a riff with some fucking twat screaming. A lot of the so-called NWOBHM wrote riffs with singing, and not songs – melodic tunes that you could whistle. Iron Maiden were sort of in that bracket to me.“
Denim & Leather is a well-researched and highly readable look at a crucial but often overlooked period in rock and metal history, with many insightful, entertaining, thought-provoking and occasionally downright disturbing contributions from some of the key players in the NWOBHM scene at the time.
Given I’d spent a good chunk of 2021 and the first part of 2022 living and breathing all things Suzi Quatro, the timing of the celebratory Royal Albert Hall concert couldn’t have been more perfect. Coming, as it did, just weeks after getting the final draft of Suzi Quatro in the 1970s off to the publishers, Suzi’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.
There is no support tonight, just Suzi and her band in this packed iconic venue, performing two sets equally packed with hits and other highlights from across her fifty-year solo career. Kicking off with ‘The Wild One’, the hits rolled thick and fast: ‘I May Be Too Young’, ‘Daytona Demon’, ‘Tear Me Apart’, Mama’s Boy’, ‘Stumblin’ In’ and ’48 Crash’. The backing band is polished and versatile and sounding great – and if you’ve not encountered Suzi Quatro live for some considerable years or your main memories are of seeing her performing on Top Of The Pops, the band now encompasses a brass section and backing singers.
We were promised some additional special guests, too, and I half-wondered whether Chris Norman would be brought on stage to reprise his role in ‘Stumblin’ In’ but it’s the guitarist, Tim, who gets to sing the duet instead. We don’t have to wait too long for the first special guest to appear, however, as Suzi brings up her guitarist son, Richard Tuckey, who worked with her on her two most recent albums, 2019’s No Control and last year’s The Devil In Me. Both albums picked up very favourable reviews at the time and together they perform a song from each. The mother and son dynamic works incredibly well, both in the studio and live on stage, recapturing the energy and raunch of Quatro’s early solo career and adding a contemporary edge. After the classic Chinn-Chapman glam era, this new Quatro/Tuckey partnership is fast becoming my next favourite chapter of Suzi’s long career.
We don’t have to wait long for the next set of special guests to appear, either. Paying tribute to the great bands that were around in the 1970s, Suzi welcomes her next two guests: Sweet’s Andy Scott and Slade’s Don Powell. The three worked together a few years ago, of course, releasing the excellent Quatro, Scott & Powell album back in 2017 and undertaking a successful tour of Australia. This will be the first time a British audience has had the chance to see the three perform together, however. Launching into ‘Slow Down’ from the trio’s album together they give us a gloriously energetic slice of 1950s rock and roll, followed by a blistering cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’. I do hope we get to see more of this glam-era power trio in the not too distant future.
In a complete change of pace, and to prove that she can do soft, emotive balladry as well as any of them, Suzi sits alone at the piano for the final song of the first set, a beautiful rendition of ‘Can I Be Your Girl’ from the Unreleased Emotion album which is dedicated to her mother and father.
The second half sees more vintage hits as well as more songs from the new album. Indeed, the set opens with that wonderful tribute to her Detroit home-town, ‘Motor City Riders’, from The Devil In Me. Although she will always be best known for the thumping, raucous sounds of the Chinn and Chapman early ‘70s hits, Suzi Quatro’s illustrious back catalogue explores a range of styles and genres. Suzi and the band delve into a number of these tonight, including the funk groove of ‘Your Mamma Won’t Like Me’, the heavily new wave -influenced ‘She’s In Love With You’ and the country rock of ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, as well as more traditional Quatro fayre in the form of ‘Can The Can’ and ‘Devil Gate Drive’.
By the time we hear these two, of course, it’s a sign that things are starting to draw to a close, sadly. There’s just time for a riotous rendition of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Rock n Roller’ before a complete change of mood, once again, this time with a cover of the Eagles ‘Desperado’.
Almost fifty years since she had her first big hit and almost forty years since I first saw her at Reading Festival when I was seventeen, Suzi Quatro gives a masterclass of a performance tonight. Still rocking, still singing, still pumping out those powerful bass sounds and still the consummate entertainer, Suzi Quatro definitely still has it.
My book Suzi Quatro in the 1970s will be published by Sonicbond Publishing on 28th July 2022. Details here
The Wild One
I May Be Too Young
Tear Me Apart
No Soul/No Control (with Richard Tuckey)
The Devil In Me (with Richard Tuckey)
Slow Down (with Andy Scott and Don Powell)
Rockin’ in the Free World (with Andy Scott and Don Powell)
Former Rainbow, MSG and Alkatrazz lead vocalist, Graham Bonnet, has announced his forthcoming studio album will be released on 13th May. Ahead of the album, a new single and video, ‘Imposter’, is out today (8th March).
On the album, entitled Day Out In Nowhere, Bonnet is joined by his regular bandmates Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass) and Conrado Pesinato (guitar) along with keyboardist Alessandro Bertoni and drummer Shane Gaalaas.
Bonnet:“In a similar way to the first two [GBB] albums, this new record reflects different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist,” states Bonnet. “I’m also delighted to be playing with original band members Beth-Ami Heavenstone, who has been my constant partner on and off stage since we met in 2012, plus Conrado Pesinato, whose innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting. They were also both involved in the album production, which helped make the whole process seamless.”
The album also features guest contributions and co-writing credits from the likes of Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore), John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie), Mike Tempesta (Powerman 5000), Roy Z (Halford, Bruce Dickinson).
One particularly significant guest is current Deep Purple keyboard player, Don Airey, who, of course, played alongside Bonnet on the classic 1979 Rainbow album, Down To Earth.
Bonnet: ” I’m very excited to be playing on an album again with Don. Aside from being my long-time friend and former bandmate, he is one of the most incredible musicians I have ever had the pleasure to play with, he’s a ‘real’ keyboard player and a classically trained pianist.“
The album follows his three recent critically-acclaimed albums: The Book in 2016 and Meanwhile, Back in the Garage in 2018, plus a 2020 reunion album with Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz entitled Born Innocent.
DAY OUT IN NOWHERE TRACKLISTING 1 Imposter 2 12 Steps to Heaven 3 Brave New World feat Roy Z 4 Uncle John 5 Day Out In Nowhere 6 The Sky is Alive 7 David’s Mom 8 When We’re Asleep feat Mike Tempesta & John Tempesta 9 It’s Just a Frickin’ Song feat Don Airey 10 Jester feat Jeff Loomis, Kyle Hughes 11 Suzy
Veteran Scottish hard-rock band, Nazareth, have released a new single, ‘Strange Days’, ahead of a brand-new studio album out on 15th April.
Surviving The Law is the band’s twenty-fourth album since Nazareth formed in 1968 in Dunfermline. After the departure of founding vocalist, Dan McCafferty, in 2013 – for health reasons, there were some questions about the band’s future viability with new vocalist, Linton Osborne, joining and then rapidly leaving after less than a year. However, with the arrival of new lead singer, Carl Sentance, the band found a new lease of life. Sentence has brought a real energy to the band and Nazareth continues to be a popular live draw and their 2018 album, Tattooed On My Brain, picked up dozens of favourable reviews.
The band today are founding member, Pete Agnew (bass), Carl Sentance (vocals), Jimmy Murrison (guitar) and Lee Agnew (drums). All four members have contributed their share of song-writing and, like the previous album, this latest one has been produced by Yann Rouiller at Sub Station in the band’s home town of Dunfermline, Scotland.
A year on from the release of his well-received debut album last year, Sussex-based singer-songwriter/musician, Tim Izzard, has a brand-new EP out. 21st Century Exposé builds on the themes explored in Izzard’s debut album, Starlight Rendezvous, an album of original songs inspired by David Bowie in at the height of his Ziggy period. 21st Century Exposé is a full-on celebration of the glam era in all its glory and the sparkling, luminous trail it has left across music of many different genres over the past fifty years.
Tim Izzard:“Starlight Rendezvous had its origins very much rooted in Glam-era Bowie. The follow-up EP, 21st Century Exposé further celebrates the man and the old and current glam scene, mixing up old school new wave, power-pop, glam, neo-glam, futuristic ballads and a slice of cabaret to muse on twenty-first century living.”
The lead song on the new EP is the wonderful ‘Glam Rock Star’, a tribute to glam rock’s first half-century – a genre that is still influencing music today.
Izzard: “Whilst it is recognised that T. Rex’s 1971 No.1 Hot Love gave birth to UK glam rock it was in 1972 that it escaped into the playground with Bowie, Roxy, Alice Cooper, Mott, Slade and many others pushing the musical and make-up boundaries! I still remember vividly watching an alien Bowie perform Starman on TOTP and later on the futuristic , 50’s throw-back of Virginia Plain by Roxy Music. Fifty years on and there are still many bands and artists producing new glam and neo-glam music such as the UK’s The Voltz, Sweden’s SilverGlam and, in the US, Creem Circus and Gyasi. Like the influence of Bowie on my music you can hear Bolan’s vocal, Mick Ronson’s guitar or the wall of sound of Slade and much more in the ‘New’ Glam sound.”
This month saw a return to Minehead for what would turn out to be the last of the Giants of Rock weekends which have been running off-season at Butlins for the past eight years. I missed the first one, back in 2014, because I’d already committed to going to Skegness Butlins for the Rock and Blues weekend that year and, obviously, we all missed the one last year because it was cancelled due to Covid – but other than that it’s been an essential date in my gig calendar every year.
In truth, and no disrespect to any individual act playing, the festival line-up was starting to look a little threadbare. Past weekends had given us the likes of Uriah Heep, Michael Schenker and Ian Hunter but Butlins’ capacity for signing up genuine bona fide rock giants seemed to be on the wane somewhat. Admittedly, simple demographics have meant that performers from that classic era of classic rock (post-Beatles – pre-punk: 1969-1975) are becoming more and more of a rarity but Giants of Rock also seemed to be getting stuck in a bit of a rut with the same promoter relying on the same small roster of acts year in year out.
I was pondering whether this might be the last time I book but in the end the decision was made for me. From next year the slot previously filled by Giants of Rock will be given over to Bootleg Ball described in the publicity as “A tribute to the giants of rock – featuring the best tributes to the biggest rock bands on the planet past and present.” I’m not snobbish about tribute acts, I’ve seen some great tribute bands locally down here in Hastings but the idea that I’m going to make a 500-mile round trip to the West Country to see tribute acts is a non-starter, particularly when there are so many other festivals like Hard Rock Hell and Cornwall Rocks to choose from. I can see the attraction from Butlins’ perspective though. As well as aiming to hold on to some of the loyal Giants of Rock audience they’ll be able to substantially up attendance figures by appealing to the lucrative stag and hen market and those large groups that you get on so many other Butlins weekends on the look-out for some tongue-in-cheek fun.
Knowing it would be the last Giants of Rock did mean the weekend was tinged with a touch of sadness. One of the truly wonderful things about Giants of Rock is the strong sense of community that has built up amongst regular attendees. I therefore wanted this last hurrah to be a memorable one – thankfully it was.
I have some vague memories of seeing Ten Years After at Reading Festival as a 17yo in 1983. They were already well into ‘heritage act’ status even then but other than inheriting an Alvin Lee best-of CD from my dad, I mainly know them via Slade’s wonderful cover of ‘Hear Me Calling’ on the Slade Alive album. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect tonight. The late Alvin Lee had left the band a good ten years before his untimely death in 2013 and I recall reading of a further split in the ranks more recently. So I really had little idea what the Ten Years After of 2022 would have to offer and I’d done no research beforehand – but, my, they are absolutely mind-blowing. Still with original keyboard player, Chick Churchill, and original drummer, Ric Lee, vocalist/guitarist Marcus Bonfanti is a stunning blues rock performer who exudes energy and the interplay between him and keyboardist Chick Churchill is a thing of immense beauty and absolutely joyful to watch. This was definitely one of my “oh wow” highlights of the entire weekend and I will certainly be on the lookout to see them again – they were just incredible. Ironically, in the other room another band that I also remember from Reading in 1983 was on stage – Big Country. I never really got into them at the time and catching the end of their set while waiting for Praying Mantis, I can report that they still don’t really do much for me now either. They certainly had a packed-out room and an enthusiastic crowd though. Praying Mantis, on the other hand, lived up to all expectations and, once again, delivered a superb set of polished melodic metal.
At festivals I tend to have a policy of trying not to cram in so many bands that I’m completely knackered before the end of the evening and end up missing acts I really want to see later on. As such, it was a leisurely start on the Saturday but I made it in time for Sad Café who were the last of the three acts on the main stage in the afternoon. Bizarrely, Sad Café were another band I remember seeing at Reading in 1983 so it seemed appropriate to give them a go for old time’s sake. I lasted about three songs but they weren’t doing anything at all for me I’m afraid so a catch-up with old friends outside the venue became the preferred alternative before heading off to the Introducing Stage. This year, the stage had moved from the cramped but intimate surroundings of Jaks bar to the big Skyline Pavilion. The acoustics are not good, it’s draughty as hell and while it’s still daylight it has all the atmosphere of a shopping centre on a rainy afternoon. Nevertheless, bluesy mother and daughter -fronted combo Lee Ainley’s Blues Storm impressed me enough for me to buy their recent CD – Evolution. Sussex-based (so fairly local to me) I look forward to seeing more of them. By 5pm it was now dark, there was a sizeable crowd and a more gig-like atmosphere for the next act: Matt Long and the Revenant Ones. Hard riffs, powerful songs and catchy choruses this classic power trio of Matt Long (guitars and vocals), Adam Pyke (bass) and Kev Hickman (drums) immediately had the crowd going and soon had me heading straight to the merch desk. I wanted to buy The Other Side their debut album – but they’d forgot to bring any! Never mind, I’ve just ordered one online as I write…
Saturday evening became a bit of a Giants of Rock nostalgia-fest with three acts that have very much become must-sees whenever they’ve been on. First, there is ex-Argent guitarist John Verity with his trademark blend of stunning blues rock solo compositions and classic hard rock covers.
Next, we have the reformed Atomic Rooster which includes vocalist Pete French and guitarist Steve Boltz from the band’s early 70s era. Filling Vincent Crane’s shoes is a hard ask but Adrian Gautrey does an incredible job on Hammond organ bringing those signature heavy keyboard licks to a live set. I’d absolutely love to see them release a live CD from the modern-day Atomic Rooster. If you’re reading this please take this as a formal request. The final of my trio of past GOR favourites tonight is Geordie. Reformed in 2018, original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) have given Brian Johnson’s pre-AC/DC band a fresh reboot and are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Originally notching up a handful of hit singles as an early 70s glam rock act before evolving into more traditional hard rock album territory in the years that followed, the band pull off both personas superbly and provide a perfect end to the evening.
Young twenty-something Swiss guitarist, Félix Rabin, was one of the winners of the Introducing Stage in 2020 and he is back this year with the first slot of the day on the main stage. I missed him last time around but his incredible stage presence and virtuoso guitar skills make him a obvious winner with the crowd. As soon as he’s finished there is a huge queue forming at the merch desk. Unlike Matt Long, Félix Rabin did remember to bring along a big box of albums but they still managed to sell out before I could get to the head of the queue to buy one – definitely a name to watch. I stayed around for prog rock outfit the John Hackett Band but my energy levels dropped and after a couple of songs and some very obvious sound problems I sloped off for a long snooze. I was back in time for the awesome Gorilla Riot on the Introducing Stage. Frontman vocalist/guitarist Arjun Bhishma is gloriously cocky, cheekily irreverent and hugely talented. The band are an instant hit and their brand of raunchy, sleazy, bluesy rock and roll is delivered to perfection.
Sunday evening’s entertainment is centred around another Giants Of Rock favourite Wille and The Bandits followed by Nazareth and Vambo. It meant missing the excellent King King but I’d already seen them just before Christmas and some good-time party rock and roll that the rejuvenated Nazareth provide in spades seemed just the ticket for the last night of the last ever Giants of Rock.
So that is that. Thank you Butlins Minehead. You’ve given me some incredible memories over the last seven years – from spending time back-stage with one of my all-time musical heroes, Ian Hunter, to meeting a very amiable Uriah Heep in the chippy, to discovering a host of superb bands like Hells Gazelles and Scarlet Rebels, to witnessing incredible performances from iconic performers like Procol Harum and the Pretty Things. And perhaps, most of all, the annual Giants of Rock weekend has helped build an incredibly friendly and welcoming community of rock fans, ably fostered by an extremely active Facebook group throughout the year. I am certain that some of that magic will long outlive the festival itself.
Thank you Giants of Rock and to everyone who has helped to make it special over the past eight years.