Floods, rain, rock music, more rain, howling wind, storms, seagulls, climactic guitar solos, wigs, trannies, vestal virgins, tarts, vicars, hot dogs, oceans of beer and more rain. It could only be Butlins Giants of Rock!
Although the Giants of Rock didn’t quite have the capacity crowd anticipated due to the adverse weather conditions, the legions of rock fans still swelled to around an estimated 4,000 strong who in their more fervent moments made enough noise to fill Wembley.
Yes folks, rock may be reaching its pensionable age, but show rock fans a great band and they will tear the walls down.
‘Giants of Rock’ is the latest of the Butlins big music weekends and stands alongside the other well established events including the Blues and the Alternative weekends held at the Skegness and Minehead sites.
It’s a great idea to use the excellent facilities the sites have to offer, such as accommodation/indoor stages and undercover communal areas in the out of season dates.
The accommodation is very good and covers self catering chalets alongside catered serviced rooms all within easy reach of the stages. The stages themselves are all in the main complex and fully undercover with plenty of seated and standing areas and well stocked and reasonably priced bars.
There were a few stalls for rock memorabilia/T-shirts/patches/badges etc all supplied by Bob Moon who covers the festival scene extensively in both UK and Europe and he was joined by graphic artist Rodney Mathews, responsible for over 70 album covers including Magnum and Asia.
Over the 2 ½ day festival there are 22 bands to listen to and best of all there are no real overlaps and also a gap between each band so plenty of time for refreshments.
And while there were several changes to the programme – most of them for the better – the Giants Of Rock festival got off to a very good start and in a proggy vein with Curved Air and then Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre rolling back the years.
Day 1 Friday 7 February
Curved Air now feature former guitarist Kirby (Gregory), he of Stretch’s ‘Why Did You Do It’? fame. His angular solos and muscular musical presence brought a new dimension to the band. Together with Sonja Kristina’s theatricality and the manic violin playing of Paul Sax they impressed with a jammed out ‘Propositions’, the delicate ‘Marie Antoinette’ and the descending synth sweep of ‘Back Street Luv’.
The opening track of the night ‘Spider’ was off the soon to be released new album ‘North Star’ and showed they are still working hard and producing new work. The interplay on stage between Sax, keyboards player Robert Norton and Sonja made for a enjoyable and flowing set which concluded with ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘Vivaldi’.
We didn’t know quite what to expect from Martin Barre, save perhaps for some Tull covers, but he brought new arrangements to bear on early Tull classics like ‘Minstrel in the Gallery’, ‘Cry You A Song’, ‘A Song For Jeffrey’ and most amazing of all ‘Teacher’. After some passable blues including Warren Haynes’ ‘Thorazine Shuffle’ the band pleased the aficionados with ‘Locomotive Breath’. Although the absence of flute may dismay some punters.
Now for a bit of good old rock in the form of John Coghlan’s Quo; apart from ‘Juniors Wailing’ all the rest of the set was classic Quo tracks performed at their very best by one of the strongest lineups Coghlan has put together.
In this shorter than normal set we got a great version of ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ and an encore of ‘Down Down’; a great set to boogie along but sadly no ‘Down The Dustpipe’. The set was marred by a muddy mix, although in general the sound was much better for the rest of the weekend.
Late replacements The Ian Nix Band endeared themselves to the late night rockers by blasting their way through a rock-blues, audience friendly set that started in front of about 30 people and led to a deserved encore to about 300 die-hards. Ian Nix has played in Desmond Dekker’s band and Steve Nichol is the original Eddie & The Hotrods drummer. Lovely stuff!
Day 2 Saturday 8 February
Days 2 and 3 offered music in two venues and with Pete Feenstra running Centre Stage.
The wind was still blowing outside and in Red’s Bar there was a great rock blues set blowing in from Slack Alice. Led by founder member and writer Cliff Stockers, a particular fave of mine was ‘Preacher’, a smouldering blues track which featured Chris Preston on resonator. A great way to kick out the cobwebs and the growing crowd that had ventured out early really enjoyed it.
Elliot Randall is one of those players that you might not have heard of but will know a huge amount of his work. As a session player he played on the Steely Dan tracks ‘Reelin in the Years’ and ‘Fame’, basically his career is a who’s who of the music industry.
I knew very little about him but what we witnessed was a tour de force of guitar work which was matched entirely by the rest of the band, I certainly got the feeling I was watching a legend and there was a great buzz around the crowd, inevitably after a stunning set and we got to hear ‘Reelin In The Years’ and how good it sounded. This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
Now what happened next was definitely confusing, Molly Hatchet were due on stage but on came Iron Horse who turned out to be the support act on their tour. Molly Hatchet did come on and played a short 30 minute set which was somewhat torpid. Whatever the plan, it didn’t seem to work and short-changed those Hatchet fans who had travelled a distance to see their heroes.
Big Country, now a four-piece with ex-Simple Minds bass player Derek Forbes added to the fold last year and the vocals shared since the departure of Mike Peters, put in a great set that included all the hits and ending with a rousing version of ‘In A Big Country’ followed by ‘Home Of The Brave’.
FM also performed a great set that went down very well with the crowd. Brilliant guitar work by relative newcomer Jim Kirkpatrick who worked well together with vocalist Steve Overland to deliver a full-on AOR set.
Back on centre stage the Bev Bevan Band featuring Quill vocalist Joy Strachan-Brain and keyboard playing vocalist Abby Brant, played something of a career retrospective, which somehow managed to conjoin ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Nights in White Satin’ with the ‘Nutbush City Limits’ encore. The Move stuff was a joy.
Hawkwind are space rock at its best and one of the original bands of the genre, but it does seem mightily strange to be listening to them in a hall when – in season – the purple rinse brigade will be playing bingo.
Hawkwind placed the emphasis on computer generated beats, a relentless drone, audio overkill and colourful theatricality. Guitarist Dave Brock steered the ship via throbbing bass lines, a high pitched theremin, electronic squalls and indecipherable poetic psycho babble to the more familiar ‘Orgone Accumulator’, the propulsive ‘Brainstorm’, the enveloping ‘Reefer Madness’ and the climactic ‘Silver Machine’.
The startling 10 foot high pagan dancers and their fertility poles provided a colourful diversion in moments when the band really could have chosen better material from their back catalogue. Still, ‘Sentinel, and ‘Utopia’ went down well, as did the whole show, which brought them a deserved ovation.
How to follow that? The troops refreshed themselves at the bar, gorged on hot dogs, staggered round the complex, and came back in time to catch a stonking midnight set by the enduring Stray.
Together with former vocalist Pete Dyer and the delectable Cherry Lee Mewis (and the solid backline of Robbie Stewart Mathews and Karl Randall), Del Bromham powered his way through his own ‘Ballad of JD’, a ripping Stray classic ‘One Night In Texas’ and the quite brilliant ‘All In Your Mind’. He ended the set by lassoing his suspended guitar and fully deserved his encore. Great stuff!
Day 3 Sunday 9 February
Opening up on Reds stage was a lady whose family must have RnR running through their DNA. I have seen Deborah Bonham on a number of occasions and she oozes passion and love for music and performs it with a ballsy attitude that comes right from the heart.
Touring the release of her new album ‘Spirit’ from which she plays a number of tracks including ‘Take Me Down’ which has a nice country feel to it. On stage, she is barefoot and rocking out with the music, and takes up the acoustic guitar for a song or two. Finishing her set with a rousing version of ‘Rock and Roll’ as a tribute to her brother John, this – as ever – was an amazing set by an amazing lady.
Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash had previously toured the seminal album ‘Argus’ for a number of years but the set has now changed and includes a more varied selection of tracks. ‘King Will Come’ still makes the cut and shows off the iconic dual guitar work brilliantly – Ray Hatfield and Danny Wilson trading licks with such ease and fluidity. Rolling through ‘Warrior’, ‘Persephone’ and ending the set with ‘Phoenix’, this was a great crowd pleaser and the encore of ‘Blowing Free’ and ‘Jailbait’ saw some of the best crowd reaction of the weekend.
If you can set aside the “supergroup” terminology Snakecharmer are just a bloody good rock band who just happen to be made up of a lot of ex-Whitesnake members.
Comprising of Micky Moody on lead guitar – who I saw in 1981 alongside Bernie Marsden in Whitesnake - Neil Murray on bass, Harry James, drums, Laurie Wisefield on guitar, Mark Stanway on keys and fronted by Chris Ousey on vocals. I’ve seen them a number of times over the past few years and they are just brilliant. Pulling a number of tracks from classic Whitesnake, ‘Ready And Willing’, ‘Here I Go Again’ and the encore ‘Fool For Your Loving’.
The rest of the set is from their debut album ‘Snakecharmer’ a great sounding album of bluesy rock numbers, yet again a great cheer from the crowd.
Wilko Johnson has stated “Man, it makes you feel alive to be told that you’re going to die’. After putting in two sets at the previous Butlins weekend in Skegness he is as full-on and as energetic as ever. Joined onstage by bassist Norman Watt Roy, who also puts in a blistering set to match that of Wilko, and Dylan Howe on drums the band is as tight as ever and covers a lot of Dr Feelgood classics including ‘Roxette’ and ‘The More I Give’ and finishing off with the classic ‘Johnny B Goode’.
The last session of the weekend on stage 1 and, thankfully, no sign of the hen and stag parties so far that threatened to become intrusive! Screaming Eagles are a hard rocking bunch of lads from Belfast, I have seen them a few times now and their high energy rock is infectious and pulls in a lot of new fans.
Considering they had the two most awkward sets of the weekend (on at the same time as Wilko and graveyard shift on Sunday) they went down a storm and after each set they had a queue of people seeking out their debut album ‘From The Flames’.
Vocalist Chris Fry is a cross between Bon Scott and Robert Plant, and Adrian McAleenan cranks out a combination of power chords and brutal solos to match the band’s energy levels. They are surely destined for great things.
After a shaky start with the almost cabaret styling of ‘The Six Teens’ The Sweet slipped into overdrive, combing sonic overload with a string of hits you had almost forgotten. By the time of ‘Fox On The Run’ and ‘Blockbuster’ the harmony heavy bombast had the crowd at fever pitch. Original member Andy Scott is joined by Bruce Bisland (drums,vocals), Pete Lincoln (vocals, guitar) and Tony O’Hora (guitar, keys, vocals). A great fun and entertaining set that was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
Blue Oyster Cult are a band I have not seen since 1981 Monsters of Rock, Donington. They were well drilled and almost slick, with shimmering four-part harmonies on ‘Burning For You’, while Buck Dharma added beautifully sculpted guitar work.
They almost headed for pastiche on the overwrought ‘Godzilla’, complete with a redundant run through of the bass player’s musical career. But there’s no denying the melodic beauty of ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’. Visually we got the best light show of the weekend which all added to an excellent set and concluding with ‘Cities On Flame’. They will run and run.
And so to Uriah Heep. In some respects little has changed over the years, save for the panto touches, which extend to Mick Box’s oblique sign language as he wah-wah’s his way through a solo, inviting women on stage for ‘Easy Livin’ and the triumphal ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ finale.
Bernie Shaw worked his socks off, as the band powered their way through ‘Against All Odds’, ‘Stealin’ and the more recent ‘Into The Wild’ at incredible volume levels. It was all good crowd pleasing stuff, including ‘July Morning’ which has sacrificed its emotional impact for a bludgeoning melodic sweep.
Who but Heep could rouse the faithful at 12.30 am? They may be a dying breed but, hell, with Bernie Shaw – possibly the hardest working frontman in show biz – they sure know how to rock out.
Together with Sweet, and Hawkwind and with an honourable mention for Stray, they made the biggest splash of the weekend, leaving Pete Feenstra to fend off end of pier requests for ‘Smoke On The Water’.
Some setlists can be found at http://www.setlist.fm/venue/butlins-holiday-resort-minehead-england-5bd62f38.html
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
Additional reporting by MC Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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