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Winter's End, Sandford Holiday Park, Dorset
24th-26th February 2017

3rd March 2017

liz medhurst
Words: Liz Medhurst, Additional pictures: Dave Craig

winters end

Winter's End – those two words alone are enough to spark a smile, so what better way to celebrate with than a festival? Planet Rock did just that and put on a packed weekend compered by Paul Anthony, Darren Redick and Wyatt Van Wendels and organized by an efficient and impressive backline crew, and it was a total success.

There's a lot of good reasons to celebrate too, looking at the line-up. There's some serious quality here, and to add to the bright outlook it's all UK based acts. Refreshingly for a festival there are no stage clashes whatsoever, with one main stage, and the days split into afternoon and evening sets so very easy to see everything and have time to eat. With the added bonus of a venue with excellent facilities, this was a great warm-up of the festival muscles to start the year.

Due to traffic woes which doubled the journey time the satnav suggested, I regrettably arrived too late to catch openers Hand Of Dimes. Led by former Skin vocalist Nev MacDonald, good reports were heard of their set. Tilt were up next and impressed with their good tunes with proggy undertones, providing plenty of opportunity for swaying and nodding of heads, setting up the atmosphere nicely.

Aaron Keylock has been making a lot of waves as an accomplished blues guitarist with a maturity surprising for his teenage years. All slim of hip and shiny of hair, he and his hot young trio have all the moves, and had us boogie-ing away. A strong performance that was faultless in execution and with a nice hard edge.

A very slight blip then occurred with the onset of mild dismay brought on by the realization that the bar had already run out of official beer, Trooper, with no more deliveries planned for the weekend. Fortunately this was alleviated by the next act. Bernie Marsden took to the stage with his band for the evening – FM's Jim Kirkpatrick, ex-Magnum Mickey Barker and fellow Whitesnake colleague and current Snakecharmer bassist Neil Murray. Just take a moment for that quality and experience to sink in - what a treat.

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Bernie Marsden, Mickey Barker and Jim Kirkpatrick

There's no conversion into a craggy old blues guy for Bernie – he continues to play with an energy which lifted the roof. Throughout the set he delighted, whether it was pure blues, funking it up with a little Latino edge, paying tribute to colleagues Jack Bruce and Peter Green and of course the Whitesnake numbers. The latter went down a storm with the entire hall taking over vocal duties for 'Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues' and 'Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City'. Bernie has lost none of his impact and he was piledriving those riffs, his cheeky grin between numbers showing just how much he was enjoying himself.

After the final track, 'Here I Go Again', in which he was insistent that we sang the hobo version, the room was glowing with well-deserved appreciation - Bernie and co have still got it in spades.

It was a big ask for headliners Toseland to follow that, but they rose to the occasion with style. Over the last couple of years the band have honed their songs and performance and would not be out of place in a stadium. James Toseland himself is looking sharp with more than a passing resemblance to Tom Cruise and the performance was tight, slick and powerful.

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New song 'Bullet' impressed, and there was a terrific finish to the main set with 'Hearts And Bones'. Excellent choices for the encore too, with James at the piano for 'Renegade' and then 'We Will Stop At Nothing' which starts as a ballad and ends as a full blown anthem sending everyone back to the caravans singing. Great start to the weekend.

Saturday dawned and the festivities started early with Sugarman Sam And The Voodoo Men getting us into the groove nicely. Local band Voodoo Vegas then blasted away the cobwebs with a high energy set with a great Aerosmith vibe. This was a strong performance made more impressive given that it was only the second performance with new drummer Mike Rigler who gelled really well and the only disappointment was that they weren't on for longer.

There was a great slice of old school Metal next with King Creature before Touchstone added some glamour and a mystical element to the proceedings with gorgeous frontwoman Aggie mesmerizing. Can't complain about a bit of prog in the afternoon.

Closing the afternoon set, RavenEye were absolutely electrifying. Milton Keynes' finest, Oli Brown, was fiery, fierce and freaky. What a revelation - all those years of being schooled in the blues have enabled him to cut loose in a thrilling way and the band prowled the stage like lions, proving their feline dexterity by jumping the barriers into the crowd mid-song.

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RavenEye. Photo by Dave Craig

It was feral yet coherent and the energy was off the scale. That set certainly got the sap rising - good job there was a bit of a break as a cool down was in order...

Fed and watered and back in the venue, it was down to Massive Wagons to start things with a bang – and their vibe was indeed massive, with bits of drum kit flying off at one point. There was a heartfelt tribute to Rick Parfitt, and overall the voltage was kept high as these guys know how to put on a show.

The standard of acts continued to rise and hearing the defunct Thames Television theme followed by The Sweeney meant that it was time for Cats In Space to bring with them everything that was good about the 70s and leaving the rubbish back where it belongs.

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Cats In Space. Photo by Dave Craig

Treating us to a selection of songs from debut album 'Too Many Gods' the cats proved that the songs hold up brilliantly in a live environment - Glam Rock for the win here, it's what Saturday nights were made for. We were also introduced to a new song, 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' as a taste of what to expect from the forthcoming second album, which had immediate impact. If the first album was full of swooningly gorgeous melodies, harmonies and chord progressions then this is completely overflowing with even more of the good stuff, and with very topical lyrics as well.

This was an epic set with which expanded their fanbase further. Catch Cats In Space on tour this month with Thunder; their support slot is a must-see and the second album a must-buy.

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Cats In Space. Photo by Dave Craig

Chantel McGregor calmed things down, but only slightly as there was plenty of shredding in her powerhouse set. A virtuoso and blues goddess, she always impresses with her brilliance.

Gun put in a very strong set, confidently putting most well-known track 'Word Up' as the second song, their catalogue of originals being strong enough to keep the big numbers coming with only a couple of covers. Paul Anthony reprised his backing vocal performance on 'Everyone's A Winner', and Dante Gizzi and co showed that the band continue to be revitalized - they certainly earned the final huge applause.

It had been a remarkable day so far and there was still the headliner to come. Inglorious were the embodiment of "highly anticipated" judging by the number of shirts that bore their name and the cheers each time their name had been mentioned from the stage up to now.

It was a big thing to be Saturday night headliners under the circumstances. Their first album was only released almost exactly a year ago to the day, and they have just gone through a significant line-up change with Drew Lowe replacing rhythm guitarist Wil Taylor. The weight of expectation was also heavy as they have moved up a league – having proved their credentials as a fabulous live act they needed to show that this could be sustained with new material.

Inglorious blasted through any doubts with a ferocity equal to one of Nathan James' screams, and put in a set of top quality hard rock that raised the roof. Entering the stage to the theme from Grandstand and opening with new track 'Read All About It' with its insanely catchy riff and chorus, the band completely owned this venue from the off.

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Nathan James and Phil Beaver - Inglorious. Photo by Dave Craig

The set contained most of the first album, a couple of well chosen covers and four new tracks from the forthcoming album. The band looked relaxed and happy with their personalities shining through. The performance was polished yet retained plenty of raw moments – this was simply a great rock show. 'Holy Water' is firmly established as a classic now, Nathan wandering through the audience encouraging everyone to sing along, to mutual delight.

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Andreas Eriksson - Inglorious. Photo by Dave Craig

Inglorious were immense and it's clear that the hard rock muses are still well and truly present and involved. A fantastic headline set.

Saturday could be summed up by the last thought that crossed my mind before going to sleep: “Fuck, what a great day that was”.

So Sunday had so much to live up to, I hoped it wasn't going to be an anti-climax. Nope. No worries. It was brilliant too.

The day started well with Western Sand whose groove laden and bluesy Southern hard rock sounds provided the perfect start; a spectacular version of Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen' was gloriously laid back with just the right amount of sleaze. Frontman and guitarist Tyler Hains was dynamic and engaging, and the whole band was a solid unit. Lovely stuff.

Following this, Welsh rockers Fireroad continued with a spirited presentation of indie rock, vocalist Rich Jones having a great set of pipes. Things then took a distinctively mellow turn with The Saiichi Sugiyama Band. The skilled six-piece filled the hall with rich and soulful sounds, the undoubted highlight being, 'Melting Away', performed in tribute to Andy Fraser who featured on the original recording.

Skam were a real pleasure who kept the energy levels high with good honest rock'n'roll blistering their way through the set, dialing it up on every song and ending on the epic 'Massacre'.

Dirty Thrills closed out the afternoon session with a striking and intense set that was loaded with fun. This band have dirty blues licked and what movers they all are, looking damn fine too in their vintage style. Bass player Aaron Plows looks like a cool comic book character, and having his bass high enough in the mix to be a lead instrument was a cool twist.

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Dirty Thrills

They have the substance as well as the style and this enthralling display topped off with the massive vocals of Louis James needs to be experienced again very soon. A live act to add to the essentials list.

Vega were the opening band for the final block of the weekend and what a treat they were. We were instantly in melodic rock heaven with 'Kiss Of Life' and the minutes just flew by, the emotional punch of 'Saving Grace' lingering long after the band left the stage.

Stone Broken received a great reception from the crowd and this was well deserved. I last saw them a month ago where they were a strong support for Glenn Hughes and they are even better now, so some of his magic may have rubbed off on them. Like a breath of fresh air, Robyn, Chris, Rich and Kieron swept their huge choruses and power rock to every corner of the hall.

New song 'Just A Memory' went down well and the huge ballad 'Wait For You' was sung back with gusto. Going by the reaction this is a track which is going to have a long life as one of those meaningful songs for couples. Talking about the reaction, Stone Broken were the only non-headline act that returned to the stage for an encore – we can safely say that this set was a triumph.

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Stone Broken

Dare were the penultimate act of the festival and there was no opportunity for flagging as Darren Wharton and co pumped out top quality Celtic-tinged melodic rock, with a career-spanning set. The quality remains high, with tracks stretching from 'Days Of Summer' from 2016s 'Sacred Ground' back as far as 'Abandon' from the first album all sounding strong.

Darren announced from the stage that the debut album, 'Out Of The Silence', is going to be re-recorded this year and given a heavier slant. Other highlights included Thin Lizzy's 'Emerald' and an emotional 'Where Darkness Ends'.

The final act of the festival arrived on stage twenty minutes late, but all was forgiven once they started as they were worth the wait. The Answer were simply stunning. The current album, 'Solas', is a radical departure from their previous, excellent work and the best thing they have ever done so it was gratifying to hear so much of it represented in the set.

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The Answer

The songs are heart-opening, soul-bearing emotion yet the set was blisteringly hard-rocking with a great punch. The new material is more rocked up than on the album, especially 'Tunnel', and The Answer still put in the top quality performances they are known for, taking things up a notch.

Cormac Neeson was full of good humour and banter and had everyone entranced when he dived into the crowd and persuaded everyone in his immediate vicinity to kneel around him for the quiet interlude of 'Demon Eyes' before the huge rocking number burst into life again.

With a range of Celtic instruments to augment the heaviness and interspersing warrior energy with tenderness the finale could not have been better.

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The Answer

And that was it – what a weekend. This was one very happy reviewer leaving for the journey home with good mood undefeated by neither the weather turning miserable again nor a foot sprain picked up as a bit of collateral damage. From the rising stars, to the old guard, to the cream of the current crop this was a showcase of UK rock to be proud of – well played Planet Rock.

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