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Stone Free Festival, The O2, London, 17th June 2017

29th June 2017

Words: Liz Medhurst, Mark Taylor, Ian Sutherland, Andy Rawll, Sara Harding, Photos: Robert Sutton

stone free

This year's Stone Free festival was slimmed down to a one day event instead of last year's two day extravaganza. The appetizing line up promised much, and the MetalTalk team were out in force to soak it all up.

The first thing to hit is the wall of noise courtesy of the Orange Amps stage. As we queue to be searched we enjoy some hard rock sunshine courtesy of Australia's finest female exports Tequila Mockingbyrd. This trio as always are on point with fine songwriting, hairflinging and a flawless performance.

This stage also gave us London-based easy on the eye and the ear Death Valley Knights, purveyors of high quality rock music Massive Wagons, and the killer chops of Massive. Buck and Evans give us a polished performance – Slash-endorsed rock at its best and an exquisite blend of rock, soul and blues with those Orange Amps providing a sonic experience like no other.

Then it was time for some serious shock rock courtesy of masked maniacs, Evil Blizzard. Queues of tourists all lining up for a nice night at Nando's were speechless, the police stopped their searches and little toddlers clung onto their parents for dear life. Four bass guitars played through Orange amps created enough fuzz to rattle our teeth. One thing is for sure, once witnessed Blizzard are never forgotten.

During the day the main event happens at the 2500 capacity Indigo, which filled up quickly necessitating a strict one in one out policy, and arriving early to secure a spot was rewarded.

Openers Bang Bang Romeo impressed with the goddess tones from the imposing voice of Anastasia Walker. Things really took off with the set from The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - a majestic maelstrom, a land of soothingly bonkers psychedelia that was musically excellent. Giving Rob Halford a run for his money in how many costume changes he could muster, Arthur's energy and showmanship has barely dimmed over the years.

stone free
Arthur Brown

A short but stunning set included the 'Devil's Grip' and 'Time Captives', and with the omnipresent 'Fire' truncated due to an overrun, he finished the set with a cheery "I'm 75 in a few days so come and see me again soon before I drop dead on stage!" Utter magic.

Scot rockers Gun appeared further revitalised by their forthcoming and very promising new album, playing a tight and punchy set including two new tracks from 'Favourite Pleasures', due out in September. Former bassist Dante Gizzi was in fine voice and is steadily increasing his rankin' as a frontman, although still a work in progress.

The Answer continue to scale the heights they reached with current album 'Solas'. Showing all of the quality from their recent headline tour, this compact version kept the energy high with the rock hard, the melodies sweet, and Cormac Neeson boogie-ing around the stage. 'Thief Of Light' and 'Demon Driven Man' alongside early classics like 'Come Follow Me' prove what a striking body of work they have built up, and this is a golden era for the band. Essential.

stone free
The Answer

There's been a resurgence in the popularity of Blue Oyster Cult in the UK thanks to some stunning festival appearances in the last few years. The New Yorkers returned that appreciation by performing their classic album 'Agents Of Fortune' in its entirety last year at the London Forum, and once again London was alone in being treated to another complete album performance.

Celebrating the 45th anniversary of their eponymous debut, 'Blue Oyster Cult' was a brave move for a festival slot especially when you have to be a connoisseur fan to know the album inside out, however those lucky enough to get inside the Indigo venue before the 'House Full' sign went up were treated to a show of the highest order from one of rock's most understated bands.

stone free
Blue Oyster Cult

The audience were held captive with landscaping solos from Richie Castellano and Buck Dharma during the epic ballad 'Then Came The Last Days Of May'. The versatile Eric Bloom held court for 'Cities On Flame With Rock N' Roll' but the biggest cheers were reserved for the tracks played after the debut such as the mighty 'Godzilla' and naturally '(Don't Fear) The Reaper'. Blue Oyster Cult won over many more converts to their cause.

stone free
Blue Oyster Cult

Sweet were a surprise choice for the opening band in the main arena, but ole Blackers is a fan having once guested with them on a Californian stage back in 1976 for a version of Free's 'All Right Now'. They only feature one original member in guitarist Andy Scott but Sweet proved they are more than just a cabaret act, with a stable line-up that does full justice to those household glam-rocking tunes that sold in their millions back in the early seventies.

stone free

Sidekicks Pete Lincoln and Tony O'Hara hold the soaring harmonies together through a blockbusting set full of stomping hits. Performing to a more refined rock crowd, tracks from the influential 'Sweet Fanny Adams' album were also thrown in to please the purists with the gems 'Set Me Free' and the swinging 'AC/DC'.

Sweet are hugely popular on the Euro circuit, so it was most welcoming to witness them on a large stage back on home soil. They blitzed it.

stone free

Despite the plethora of famous names and great musicians scattered throughout the rest of the bill, one name stood out and towered over them all - Ritchie Blackmore, the living legend and icon. There were some doubting voices when he resurfaced with this line-up last year and in a two hour set of two-thirds Rainbow and one-third Deep Purple he may not have relived his glory days but just about managed to convince everyone that the resurrection was worthwhile.

stone free
Ronnie Romero, Rainbow

His band, except for stellar singer Ronnie Romero, don't really match up to the line-ups of old though, and certainly struggled with the improvisation that the boss still demands even now. That resulted in a few awkward pauses between and even during songs.

'I Surrender' and 'Since You Been Gone', the latter with a guest appearance from writer Russ Ballard, went down well with a crowd who were ready to rock with the band. Rock they did too on very good versions of Purple classics 'Soldier Of Fortune' and 'Child In Time' and 'Rainbow Rising' favourite 'Stargazer' took everything to a new level with Romero delivering a vocal tribute to RJD rich with reverence and effort.

stone free

An uneven set ended with an unexpected 'Catch The Rainbow' sandwiched between Purple royalty in 'Burn' and 'Smoke On The Water', and the crowd reaction seemed to say that the old master might be flawed but he is still worth seeing. If he comes back around again that unbelievable legacy deserves a bit more sharpness to the band and the set. He left the stage the same way he entered it though - as a legend of rock.

stone free
Ritchie Blackmore, Rainbow

Still in search of our pint of gold at the end of the Rainbow, we ventured to the far end of the colour spectrum to the Indigo2 for the after-show, already spinning a great selection of rock and Metal classics as the venue refilled with those that weren't yet ready to head out on the highway, in anticipation of the final band of the day.

Steve N' Seagulls' punningly bad name belies their musical style, their technical brilliance and the thrilling dynamism of their performance and they soon had the stage under siege performing high energy folk-backed mountain versions of classic Metal songs, from Maiden to Metallica via Megadeth.

A perfect and not so strange example was their version of 'Burn'. Whereas an hour earlier the song's composer had mustered a version that was little more than a stuttering smoulder, this unplugged interpretation had real fire in its belly, bringing a satisfying afterglow to the day.

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monsters of rock

Monsters Of Rock In Full Flight is strictly limited to 300 worldwide and is available from 30th November but those ordering before 31st October will have their name published within a dedicated page in the book.

It's a deluxe 128 page hardback book in a metal flight case with a narrative by Jerry Bloom.

When promoter Paul Loasby put on the first Monsters Of Rock Festival in 1980 he could probably never have imagined it would become an annual event that would endure for so many years.

Featuring bands from the UK, Germany, Canada and USA, Loasby chose to stage the event at the Donington race circuit in the middle of England and it would prove to be a defining moment for many of the bands on the bill.

Not least for headliners Rainbow as it was the their last ever show to feature drum legend Cozy Powell. As it would happen it turned out to be the last for vocalist Graham Bonnet as well. For many of the other bands on the bill such as Scorpions, Judas Priest and Saxon, they were all on the ascendancy and would soon go on to even greater success.

Now in celebration of this first ever Monsters Of Rock Festival comes this hardback book full of glorious photos of the bands that took to the stage for that inaugural event including back stage shots. Most of these shots have not been published before which add to the uniqueness of this deluxe 128-page book which is packaged in its own flight case.

Also included are stories surrounding the event with tales and recollections from those who were there, including artists and fans alike. Each book will be signed by the author. The 300 will sell fast and definitely go on to become collector's items so order yours now right here to avoid disappointment.


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