Now into its seventh year the Giants of Rock weekend at Butlins’ Minehead resort has attracted a little bit of scepticism among regulars over the last year or two – namely how many of the acts appearing on the bill these days can really be considered genuine, bona fide rock giants. There’s some truth in this. Contrasting this year’s line-up with that of the first such weekend in 2014 there’s probably far fewer acts that your average not-completely-obsessed ordinary-joe rock fan would be able to instantly recognise by name. However, Butlins in January has become something of a diary fixture in recent years, there were certainly a number of bands that I was still keen to see, the camaraderie among Giants Of Rock regulars (from unofficial bingo to group photos to late night chalet parties) is second to none and my long-time Butlins’ chalet buddy was definitely up for going again.
And so, I found myself on my way to Minehead once again for another year.
My personal highlights of the weekend I can pretty much neatly divide into three main categories:
- the classic era of classic rock – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Hawkwind et al
- the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – Rock Goddess, Praying Mantis et al
- and the New Wave of Classic Rock – Scarlet Rebels, Hollowstar et al
On the Friday night I finally got to see Arthur Brown perform ‘Fire’ in all its loopily eccentric over-the-top glory – even if Butlins’ health and safety requirements meant we got a sparkly glittery head-dress rather than actual flames. And on the Saturday night we got a magnificent mix of soulful blues and early Whitesnake classics from Bernie Marsden and a rumbling, rhythmic and suitably spaced-out set from Hawkwind. All three bona fide 100% rock giants in my book – no question.
Something that’s been a bit of a feature of Giants of Rock over the years has been getting a former drummer along from a big-name band performing some form of tribute to his old band. Last year was the turn of Brian Downey (Thin Lizzy) and Chris Slade (AC/DC, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and pretty much everyone else). Much as I love these guys these tribute-act-with-added-special-ingredient are perhaps stretching the concept of ‘giants’ a tad. This year was the turn of former Judas Priest drummer Les Binks. Unlike Downey’s tenure in Lizzy, Binks was only in the band for a couple of years 1977-79 and only played on two studio albums and the Unleashed In The East celebrated live album. And, quite properly, he doesn’t play any material the band released after he left – which cuts out a fair few Priest classics and many of my own particular favourites (like everything on British Steel, for example). But, boy, do this band know how to make the most of the hand they’ve been given. In Matt Young, Binks has found a front-man with an absolutely awesome voice who does the early Priest legacy proud. Les Binks’ Priesthood massively exceeded my expectations and were a real highlight. Giants? – well maybe not but certainly very fucking good.
On the NWOBHM front, Rock Goddess on the Saturday and Praying Mantis on the Sunday both delivered superb sets. Once again, Butlins’ ever-reliable last minute stand-ins Oliver/Dawson Saxon got a call at the eleventh hour. Given I wanted to enjoy the whole of Arthur Brown’s set it meant I only got to see the last half from Messrs Oliver and Dawson but they are always brilliantly entertaining and I was there for the irrepressible Brian Shaugnessy leading the crowd sing-along to ‘Wheels of Steel’ which is always one of the highlights of any weekend where they play. Unfortunately, I missed Diamond Head this time but given I’d seen them just a few weeks ago supporting Uriah Heep I plumped for Hawkwind on the other stage. Sadly, ex-Mamas Boys’ boy, Pat McManus, was another one I missed but by all accounts his late-night slot was one of the high-points of the weekend.
Even if the number of actual rock giants have been less conspicuous on the bill in recent years, one of the things that Butlins has achieved is giving a real boost to newer bands and the nascent ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ movement. Not only by giving slots for several bands each day on the Introducing Stage but by allowing punters to select three of them to come back on perform on the main stage the subsequent year. Sons of Liberty, and their eccentrically grizzled but thoroughly entertaining take on southern rock, were able to bag a main stage slot on the Friday night whereas the other two winners Hollowstar and Scarlet Rebels (formerly Void) had to content themselves with the 12-1pm ‘hangover slot’ on the Saturday and Sunday respectively. Both of them more pulled than it off as main stage acts, immediately generating rapport with the crowds, a suitably electric atmosphere and equally electrifying performances.
So, the giants quota may have gone down a bit – but in what was my sixth year here I was still seeing classic acts for the very first time, enjoying some familiar old favourites once again not to mention discovering some exciting new bands. Moreover, splitting the bill 50/50 with my chalet buddy, Elise, I ended up paying out what amounted to £44 per day all-in for my accommodation, meals and entertainment. As my late father used to say (a long-time devotee of their Rock & Blues weekends in Skegness) – it’s cheaper being at Butlins than staying at home…