||GIANTS OF ROCK: MINEHEAD
Luke 'Loki' Milne: Photos by Noel Buckley
At just 25 years of age, you probably wouldn't be far from the truth to suggest that I was the youngest journalist in attendance at this year's Giants of Rock festival.
Now in it's second year running at Minehead's Butlins resort, I very quickly resigned myself to the realisation that any opportunity to knock boots with a young female rock fan probably wouldn't present itself during this particular weekend.
Indeed, Friday evening's arriving guests seemed to be populated by a swarm of rock fans with thin or greying hair, sporting the almost mandatory black tee and leather jacket fashion combo that has become virtually synonymous with both classic and modern rock music. Even the sound of the odd walking stick could be heard clicking across the ground here and there, serving as a sharp reminder (for me at least) of the sheer depth of rock history that would be on display during the weekend's musical entertainment.
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To be quite honest, I felt rather alone in my youthful state, however considering a line-up boasting the likes of Magnum, The Quireboys and the Bernie Marsden Band (Whitesnake and UFO), I can hardly say that I was surprised, and in truth this wasn't quite the case... as I soon found out.
Amid the excited music-related chatter from the older rock fans could also be heard the loud and boisterous antics of young, boozy stag and hen parties – "cock wombles", as they later became dubbed (thanks for that, Kevin!).
While they may not have been here solely to quench their thirst for good ol' classic rock, the alcohol fuelled jeers and crude costumes soon fizzled out into the realms of "annoying background crud" as the rest of us trudged between the three venues over the course of the weekend's musical entertainment.
Thankfully, the resort's two focal venues were situated remarkably close together – one on top of the other, in fact. I will say that this was incredibly handy for darting between stages to take notes, though often I felt almost teased by the thumping bass of the downstairs venue's performing artists.
The sound often reverberated through the floor as the mainstage act introduced the next song from the last and it proved a little distracting at times. It's a small grumble at best, but one I feel is worth mentioning considering the mysterious and apparently unused stage situated a little further away, standing rather tantalisingly in the resort's main arcade complex.
It's possible that I missed some of the acts that performed there (yes, even journalists have to sleep!), but as far as I'm aware it lay dormant for much of the festival weekend, which was a tad disappointing.
Perhaps I'm skipping a little too far ahead – I haven't even begun to review the bands! Let's take a moment to slip back into focus; I've set the scene well enough with this "prologue" of sorts, and you certainly didn't come here to read a holiday review!
So, without further ado let's dive into the action. Click the links below to read my day-by-day reports on the highlights of the musical acts performing at 2015s Giants of Rock festival.
FRIDAY 6TH FEBRUARY
It's a quintessential blues-rock sound that begins our weekend of classic rock here at the Giants of Rock Festival and as The Yardbirds take to the main stage one of the first things I notice during their opening performance (filled with jumpy rhythms and blasting harmonica/guitar combinations) is the sheer quality of sound virtually erupting from the venues PA system.
In my time as a music journalist I've hit a lot of club and bar venues and this might be the first time I've been truly impressed with a clear sound quality and level of production. Hats off to the sound engineers, as every instrument appears in it's rightful place, with bright tones and cutting definition that – for me personally – adds an extra level of enjoyment to band's performance.
As the Yardbird's kick into one of their many classic tracks - 'Heart Full Of Soul' - I take a moment to think about the aforementioned level of history that surrounds not only this band, but many of the weekend's performances. This particular song was released in 1965 – back when television sets still flickered with black-and-white colouring and I was but a whisper in the back of my parent's minds.
The Yardbirds playing with a heart full of soul...
There's some fifty plus years of history supporting The Yardbirds. Stood before me are a band that have played host to, amongst others, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and I can safely say that their musical style and prowess has aged surprisingly well. Of course, it's had some tweaks here and there and has been added to over the years (by way of improved equipment and line-up changes), but such a genre of music is, in my opinion, timeless.
While I may not share the memories and history with many of the night's crowd, I stand in appreciation of a band that has stood the test of time and, as their performance shows, can still raise the roof when required to do so.
While the history lesson continues above my head, I make my way down to the Reds stage, where The Urban Voodoo Machine are unleashing their own brand of "Bourbon Soaked Gypsy Blues Bop'n'Stroll" - a quote from the band's own Facebook page. As I approach the bar and cock my head towards the stage area, I am presented with a rabble of sharply dressed musicians, all sporting black and red attire, bopping along to their unique and quirky sound.
It's a striking visual play from the band, and certainly gives an aura of synchronism between the musicians that rises above the idea that a band simply need to "play in time" to achieve a successful stage performance. Of course, this isn't a fashion parade, and thankfully The Urban Voodoo Machine provide a rustic and earthy soundtrack to the bustling social activities of the Reds venue.
Gritty and fun, their musical performance, crowd banter and interactive chants inspire a more "rough and boozy" feeling within myself and much of the crowd, who are jiving along in patches here and there. I grab myself a double JD and coke as I soak up the unusual mix of guitars, accordion, upright bass and washboard percussion, revelling in a light-hearted and fun musical performance from the band, who all seem to be enjoying themselves just as much as the crowd.
Next on the main stage are a band who will surely capture the interest of both the young and old; Black Star Riders. Formed out of the ashes of Thin Lizzy, I revisited their first album 'All Hell Breaks Loose' ahead of their festival appearance in order to prepare myself. It's an absolute belter and I have to confess that of all the bands appearing this weekend, BSR appear in my top three of "most anticipated".
They don't disappoint and while the band now lie under the guise of a new name there are still unmistakable Thin Lizzy traits tracked through the veins of their newer music. Dual guitar melodies, blistering solos and the vocal power of Ricky Warwick, whose tone is a stark cry back to the days of Phil Lynott himself.
Ricky Warwick, Black Star Riders. The business!
Blasting through historic tracks like 'The Boys Are Back In Town' and 'Whiskey In The Jar', theirs is a balanced setlist of old and new, gripping the hearts of the older fans while coaxing the young with fresh tracks like 'Hey Judas'. It's delivered with a punchy feel and a sturdy rhythm that brings a shiver of anticipation at the thought of Black Star Riders upcoming album, 'The Killer Instinct', now only days away.
Dominating the main stage to round off the evening are all-female rock act The Amorettes, while The Quireboys take to the Reds Stage, opening up with their classic rock sound synonymous with their era.
It's a tough break and almost unfair to force the festival-goers to choose between two fantastic closing acts. On the one hand, The Amorettes provide a slick, sexy and hard-hitting take on the rock genre. With pumping drums, ripping guitars and a great 80s feel (as shown in their performance of 'Take Cover' from their most recent album), fans and new listeners surely walk away from their performance with the intention of grabbing their upcoming album which is released on March 23rd... and I'm certainly keen to do the same.
The Quireboys being a bit Spikey...
On the other hand, you've got The Quireboys. The band have a great sound that conjures up old-school vibes synonymous with AC/DC and The Rolling Stones (who the band have toured with), and presents a great end to the night with some great crowd participation.
The final round of the night features a tough split between the two stages – something that sadly plagues many of the weekend's performances. There are so many great bands on display this weekend, and it's been tough to cover them all.
I've skipped over Colosseum, whose Jazz-Rock set was fantastic, to say the very least – yet I found it incredibly hard to tear myself away from Black Star Riders to cover it. While I feel a little guilty for this, there are a few grumbles over the weekend (not just from myself) concerning this "either/or" setup of the festival, and it proves damaging at certain points throughout the weekend, as I'm sure we'll see.
That said, as the evening of entertainment draws to a close and I retreat to my chalet to catch some sleep, I can't help but think that this has been a fantastic opener to the festival, featuring some top-notch, memorable performances. Thumbs up for Butlins and the first night of the Giants of Rock festival!
The Amorettes. Girl Power!
SATURDAY 8TH FEBRUARY
As acoustic trio, Nalle And His Crazy Ivans, hit the Reds stage in the early hours of the afternoon and I notice many of the weekend punters reaching for a pint of "hair of the dog". With a wave of stomach-dropping nausea hitting my insides, I opt for the safer option; a non-alcoholic energy drink. There's a lot of musical content to cover today, and I need to remain focussed!
Nalle And His Crazy Ivans provide yet another old-school edge to the musical entertainment here at the Giants of Rock festival, and the acoustic nature is a welcome sound to those with tender heads!
Skilful slide guitar playing and a warm, full-bodied vocal tone from the trio wins my affection, as they entice some healthy crowd participation during tracks like 'Shake, Rattle And Roll' and 'Don't You Lie To Me' - both classic rock and roll tracks from the 50s. This, accompanied by other tracks donning the 12-bar-blues format, creates a warm and relaxed start to the day, somewhat in contrast to the rockin' performances from last night's bands.
Del Boy. Are you experienced?
This "lull" doesn't last for too long, mind, and the Johnny Winter Experience hits the stage shortly after to kick it up a notch. Fronted by Stray guitarist and vocalist Del Bromham, the band sets about performing the works of the late Jonny Winter, who sadly passed in July of 2014. As Del explains, he's often been mistaken for Johnny and recounts a tale in which a photograph of himself was published with Johnny's name featured in the caption! Easily done, you might say, since they both play the same guitar...
It's a meaningful yet light-hearted performance, with the slide style of guitar playing continuing on from the previous act to add a little colour and flavour to the music. A noteworthy track for me is 'Medicine Man', which kicks in with a slick and dirty guitar lick, followed by some gritty lyrics that inspire a tapping foot at the very least from the venue's crowd.
Bromham's vocals fit the gritty rock style well, and the distinct sound of a roughened, weathered vocal tone fits wonderfully around the band's cover of 'Johnny B Goode', a personal favourite of mine. Again, I marvel at the sheer quality of sound forcing it's way from the venue's speaker system. Both the main and Reds stage have provided an excellent level of sound – but of course, the technicians deserve praise as well!
Slack Alice are the last of the early afternoon performers at the Reds stage, and they open with a groovy blast of guitars, harmonica, driving bass and... uh... cowbells.
Interestingly enough, if you throw a search into google for Slack Alice, the second entry that comes up (the first being the band's official page) is a link to urbandictionary.com, a rather humorous website that offers user-submitted definitions to slang phrases and words. According to Urban Dictionary, Slack Alice is: "A derogatary [sic] term for a female. It means the female is a slut and her vagina is rather slack because of all the cock she's had."
Well now. You learn something new every day.
Thankfully, the musical representation of Slack Alice are not so slack. Delivering a performance tighter than a nun's - okay, let's not go there(!) - the band features founding member and frontman Cliff Stocker, whose harsh vocal performance is inspiring, given his fourty-something years in the music business.
As Slack Alice part ways with the crowd, it's time for a short breather. Up until now, all acts have appeared on one of two stages, but the late afternoon/early evening of the second day of Giants Of Rock opens up a third point of interest – The Introducing Stage. It is here that a swarm of bands compete over the weekend to win a slot at next year's festival.
I'm going to have to glaze over the weekend's acts featured on the Introducing Stage, for fear of writing something closer to a book than a review. I will, however, take some time to bring to attention one particular performer – sixteen-year-old Aaron Keylock. The penultimate act of Saturday's Introducing Stage virtually took my breath away, and with good reason. Hendrix-esque heartfelt, wailing guitar riffs and solos have the entire venue mesmerised, with all eyes focussed on a single point – him. His bluesy vibe create a fantastic atmosphere, and I can't help but be impressed by his performance.
While his voice may not have matured into the role just yet (it's missing a level of rasp that only age and a fucktonne of Jack Daniels can bring) his guitar playing certainly has, and Keylock is one musician I intend to keep a close eye on in the coming years. Word has it that he'll be performing at next year's Giants Of Rock festival, if you're keen to see him perform... though i'm sure he'll have tour dates set up between now and then.
As the sun sets across the sky and draws in the inky black night, it's time to head back to the Main and Reds stage for the evening's entertainment. Funk-Rock act Hundred Seventy Split take the main stage by storm with frontman Leo Lyons adding a little humour early into their set.
Hundred Seventy Split. Flying a Mahogany Spitfire..?
The main stage pit area is a little empty to begin with, and Leo is unashamed in making a quick quip in regard to this ("I can see you! I can count you!"). It's an honest piece of humour that shows that the slightly thin crowd numbers haven't shaken the band's enjoyment of being on-stage.
Working through their funk-infested setlist of boogie-inspiring tracks like 'The World Won't Stop' and 'I'm Gonna Dance On Your Tombstone', I can't help but feel the need to join in with the crowd, who have taken to dancing along with the groovy riffs and melodies laid out by the trio of musicians. It's infectious in it's raw and dirty delivery, and opens up a fresh angle to the festival – a dimension of rock music that perhaps hasn't been explored in the late-night performances thus far, and from where I'm standing it's a welcome change of pace and feel.
As Hundred Seventy Split round off their set I come to terms with the fact that yet another band has seriously sparked my interest – as has been the case with many of the performing artists of the festival so far. The level of musical skill and talent of all bands and performers up until this point has been exceptional, and I remain optimistic for the remaining acts of the Giants of Rock festival as the eclectically-inspired Family take to the stage.
Weaving a cool, unique style of progressive rock that fuses elements of folk, psychedelia, acid and jazz, Famly have been around since the late sixties, and their markedly calmer set provides a little reprieve from the rocky road laid out by Hundred Seventy Split. It's not without it's moments of grandeur though, and with an instrumental layer featuring dreamy saxophone melodies, twinkling xylophone and open, flange-affected guitar chords, I can't help but feel Family's rather cinematic performance would benefit from the backing of a full orchestra, a la Symphony and Metallica.
I use the word cinematic quite literally, as the stage seems to come alive, filled with performers all moving and interacting with one another to the beat of the drums. Their stage presence is high-quality and adds an extra level of enjoyment to the mix for me as Roger Chapman's unique and distinct voice grips the air.
Alas, while I would love to continue watching Family's performance, I have a personal goal to achieve with the help another classic prog-rock act that is currently settled into the Reds Stage; Focus.
I remember watching Top of The Pops 2 with my father as a boy and hearing the weird and wonderful yodelling of Thijs van Leer for the first time during a performance of their classic hit 'Hocus Pocus'.
It was unlike anything I'd ever heard, surreal and yet unbelievably cool – I'd not heard another band doing that sort of thing, and it certainly grabbed my attention as a youngster. So what's my personal goal? Well... to see a live performance of 'Hocus Pocus' by Focus, of course!
I get my wish of course, but before then I am delighted to be subjected to some of the band's songs that I appear to have missed along the way. It's a little too easy to "stick to the hits" of older music acts that pre-date your age, and I'm ashamed to say that I'm guilty of doing so with a fair number of bands.
I have absolutely no idea what songs to expect from Focus' set list; I've never heard them before, save that little morsel of my childhood that still excites me when it crops up on the TV or in music stores. I can't really give you song titles, and I'll explain why now...
The sound that creeps from the speakers is delightfully haunting and beautifully defined. This must be the third time I've said it now but I cannot stress how excellent the music production has been throughout the weekend, and here it is no different. Menno Gootjes' guitar performance is soulful, hard and cutting, and the melodies that rise through the air are sweet and enticing.
So you see, I don't really care what the song titles are, simply because I am lost in a moment, enjoying a stream of compositional greatness. The stage is beset with mist from the dry ice machines, and as Van Leer treats the audience to a truly beautiful flute solo, I stand almost mesmerised amid what is for me one of the most special live performances I have seen this weekend.
I've drawn on my age a few times during my review of the Giants Of Rock festival, but I do feel that it's an important factor to play on. Popular Music of my era is simple, disposable and formulaic at best. While some may argue that Focus weren't exactly a mainstream band even in their hayday, you simply cannot deny the fact that the level of understanding of musicianship beats the shit out of Taylor Swift and Justin fucking Beiber.
And yet, having said all of that, I still want Focus to play bloody 'Hocus Pocus'! And of course, as the band hit their encore, they do.
And it's brilliant. And I love it. And the crowd loves it. And we all sing along. Badly. And then we rock out to the chuggy guitar riff that kicks in after the rising yodel crescendo. And I filmed the whole thing on my phone. And I'm never going to delete it. Ever.
Total childish fanboy moment. I'm allowed the odd one or two though, right?
It's been a jam-packed day of musical entertainment; each of the day's performing artists have delivered a bright, tight and entertaining layer of sound to accompany the rather heavy drinking that seems to be going on. Hey, it's a festival, what do you expect?!
Rounding the evening off in style are rock act Magnum (a band formed in the early 70s and still featuring two of it's founding members) and the blues-based Mick Ralphs Band; Ralphs of course being one of the founding members of both Bad Company and Mott The Hoople.
Bob Catley, focussing on Magnum
Whereas the split of Friday night's final acts caused a little annoyance for some (myself included), tonight's seems to work with marked success. For those still harbouring enough energy for a full-bodied rock performance, Magnum's electrified stage presence and crunchy sound rumbles the floor of the Reds venue. They've even brought their own lighting technician, and there's a clear difference as the lights dip and blaze in time with the catchy, classic rock music performed onstage.
Feeling something a little lighter? No problem – Mick Ralph's band smoke up a hazy, sexy and chilled blues vibe with tracks like 'Feel Like Making Love' and a slightly newer addition to their catalogue, 'Should Know Better'.
Both bands present an absolutely fantastic end to a mammoth day filled with talent and skill. Having spent a lot of time watching young and nervous amateur bands, it's been a real treat for me to soak up some professional-grade musicianship. I'm absolutely shattered by the time my head hits the pillow, out like a light and looking forward to the last day of the festival!
SUNDAY 9TH FEBRUARY
It's the final day of the Giants Of Rock Festival here at Minehead Butlins resort, and as I step out of my chalet the blinding sunlight hits my face with a warming glow. It's the first day of sun we've seen this weekend, and places a great setting for the last day of what has been a fantastic weekend of musical talent, creativity and experience.
Once again we dive straight into the action with a mid-day performance from Cregan & Co, featuring of course Jim Cregan, who is best known for his work co-writing and co-producing the music of Rod Stewart.
Jim Cregan - in your heart and soul...
It's out-and-out classic tracks from the band, as they drive their way through a sing-along set list of tracks like 'In My Heart, In My Soul', 'I Don't Wanna Talk About It' and 'Young Turks'. The crowd reception is possibly the most energised of the weekend, with the whole room singing the words in unison with Cregan. There's even a bit of Santana thrown in for good measure, and why the hell not!
It's an absolutely electric start to the day followed by performances from the Climax Blues Band and Roger Chapman & The Shortlist, with both bands providing skilful, soulful performances and yet more evidence of the sheer level of professionalism and musicianship that has been displayed throughout the Giants Of Rock festival.
Evening falls fast on the resort, and the festival's final round kicks off with another tricky split in performers. Deborah Bonham is set to dominate the main stage, while UFO and Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden is about to unleash some fury in the Reds venue.
Bernie Marsden. Still walking in the shadow of the blues...
It's another almost unfair either/or scenario, as both performances are inspiring. Whitesnake's 'Fool For Your Lovin'' has long been a personal favourite of mine, and the same can be said of course of 'Here I Go Again'. Hearing them performed live is a great experience with the crowd bawling the lyrics back at Marsden as he coaxes us along, and the band are on solid form as I take my leave to check out the action upstairs on the main stage.
Deborah Bonham... what on earth can I say about Deborah Bonham? Of course, she may somewhat live in the shadow of her brother, the late John Bonham (of Led Zeppelin fame), but she's quite possibly the most vocally impressive, entertaining and awe-inspiring performer I've seen up to this point. Her voice fills the air with biting power, as smooth as it is rough and raw.
Bonham has an exceptional amount of soul in her voice, and the variation of soft, lulling tones to gritty, soulful belting is truly spine-chilling, and I can't help but smile during her performance of 'Grace'.
Deborah Bonham feelin' alive...
A seldom-seen instrument in modern western music, Bonham is backed by the honeyed tones of a Mandolin during her performance of 'Feel So Alive' - A track from her album 'Spirit' - and the inclusion of said instrument adds an intriguing dimension to the heavy mix of rock and blues that has been experienced so far this weekend.
The band's visual presence is phenomenal, with Bonham taking every opportunity to step back from the microphone to dance and rock out to the catchy music performed by the instrumental section of the band, all of whom are visibly taking enjoyment from their time on stage - it's great to see a band having fun during their performance.
It's over a little too quickly for my liking (though I'm being a little greedy perhaps!) and the second band pf the night announce their arrival to the main stage with... the Thunderbirds theme tune?
Slade are GO! The crowd give a loud cheer as the band kick in with 'Gudbuy T'Jane'. Despite being Noddy-less, Mal McNulty does a great job and with the showboating antics of guitarist Dave Hill (who's been performing with drummer Dom Powell for over 50 years!) and an arsenal of great uplifting tunes, the emphasis was to party.
The whole band delivers exactly what you'd expect; all-out rock and roll. Their visual presence is chaotic and fun, making use of the whole stage while their sound is loud, abrasive and energising. They certainly win the award for loudest band of the weekend!
Slade - they're all crazy now...
The crowd respond fantastically as Slade run through the chuggy 'Lock Up Your Daughters' and the rockabilly infused mash-up 'My Baby Left Me/That's Alright Mama'. Swaying arms, dancing and rocking out with some inflatable guitars that seem to have multiplied over the course of the weekend, the crowd are unashamed in showing their appreciation as the band re-appear for their encore – the classic 'Cum On Feel The Noize'. Like many of the members of the crowd, I whipped out my phone to record the performance, which was, in a word, spectacular.
For those not so inclined on the louder aspects of rock, Manfred Mann's Earth Band have been easing the Reds venue into some light, bright melodies that add a positive, feel-good vibe to the final night of entertainment here at the Giants Of Rock festival. It's an engaging musical performance, with almost progressive flashes running through the catchy melodies of the music.
In a complete attempt to distract from the fact that I went to grab a burger at this point and missed quite a bit of Manfred Mann's performance (sorry guys!), I've got YouTube up on my laptop at the moment to remind me of their musical style. There's an absolutely brilliant video of 1979s 'Don't Kill It Carol', in which the late guitarist Steve Waller is sporting an absolutely FABULOUS hairstyle and beard combo. Aaaah, the booming, fashionable era of the seventies! Still, it's a catchy tune...
It's almost time to wave farewell to the 2015 Giants Of Rock Festival, but not before Eddie And The Hot Rods give us one final dose of hard-hitting rock music to wind up the weekend with a bang. With a set list filled with foot-stomping tracks, the crowd bob their heads and dance along as an invigorated Barrie Masters powers across the stage in a white shirt and trousers, proving that age hasn't slowed him down in the slightest.
Eddie And The Hot Rods can do anything they wanna do...
With overdriven guitars providing a huge layer of sound, Eddie And The Hot Rods lay out a rather impressive performance of the anthemic 'Why Should I Care', and it seems like a perfect time for me to leave the crowd to their night of partying and head back to my chalet for a good night's sleep – this weekend has well and truly taken it out of me!
Closing comments? Let's see.
I'll take an opportunity first of all to apologise for missing out a few bands, especially if you – as a reader - were looking for their review in particular. I really do wish I could have covered every band that performed over the course of the weekend. Sadly, the rumours that journalists feed off the blood of musicians and therefore require no sleep simply aren't true...
But let's get back to the point. Every band I've seen over the course of the weekend has impressed me with their musicianship, skill and enthusiasm for one of the best styles of music out there – rock and fucking roll!
With (highly unsubstantiated) rumours of Boston performing at next year's festival, I'm certainly keeping my eye out for the 2016 bill – if the talent is anything close to what has been displayed this time around, it's sure to be a must-see for any true rock and blues fan!