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.
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.
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.
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!