So heading over a cold and windswept Snake Pass we are on our way to the first Winter Rocks Festival which is being held at one of the country’s premier live music venues, The Corporation (Corp to the locals) in Sheffield.
It’s a one day music festival with two stages and a line up to compete with some of the more well-known festivals. For the princely sum of £18 (Advance Purchase) we are getting The Answer, Black Spiders, and Heavens Basement! Any of these alone would justify the price.
The venue is well established and has great infrastructure and crew already onboard. The main room has 1000 capacity and a great PA and lighting rig.
Stage 2 is just off the main room and is somewhat smaller and slightly awkward in shape but at least it has a high stage so you can see the bands and the smaller size does give it a great atmosphere.
There are three well stocked and relatively cheap bars and a great secure outdoor area for chilling out, smoking etc. Food is taken care of this weekend by Safari Sauces offering a wild choice of delicacies.
The doors opened at 12.30 and by the time the first band come on there is already a decent crowd down on the barrier. Opening up for a festival is a hard slot but Black Country based Liberty Lies took it in their stride and belted out a great set. Based mainly around their 2013 album ‘Reflections’ they have quite an alt-rock sound with songs like ‘Beggars Belief’ having a prog leaning to them.
With only a quick 30 minute set it was enough to get a good feel for them and I’m looking to see them again. Now opening over on stage 2 was a band we had being tipped off about, ‘Regulus’ are a Sheffield based band have played the Corporation many times.
Opening on Stage 2 four-piece stoner rock/groove band Regulus have a sound similar to that of Orange Goblin, most of the set coming from their new album ‘Smoke’ whose title gives a hint of what the music is all about.
With huge slabs of fuzzed out, flanged out, wah-wah guitars delivered from both Luke and Ozzy and some great thick chunky bass lines from Carl to give the whole sound its groove they pound out ‘The Devil Don’t Change’ and ‘Promised Land’.
‘Off the Rails’ kicks in with a great drum lead in from Joe on drums who almost seems hidden at the back of the dark stage but is making up for it by the constant pounding of the bass drum.
The set ends all too quickly with ‘Big Business’ a slow burning beginning with piles of fuzz and wahwah licks before it gets into its groove and finishes off with some great twin guitar work. Overall an awesome set by these guys, heavily influenced by the stoner, weed smoking sounds of the 60′s/70′s and more lately the spurge of bands in the 90′s, the set went down really well with the packed crowd considering the early set time.
On Stage 1 Aaron Keylock is currently taking the blues rock guitar scene by storm – at the tender age of 16 he has played over 200 shows and supported some great bands and received great reviews. The band wander on stage with a relaxed swagger definitely not befitting their young age and power straight into one of Aaron’s own songs, ‘Medicine Man’, a powerful rock/blues track that gives the first insight into his amazing guitar skills.
It’s not just the sound but how natural he makes it look akin to the late great Rory Gallagher. A great rendition of Johnny Winter’s ‘Self Destruction Blues’ follows and the overall sound of this young three-piece band is tight but still gives enough space for Aaron to slip in extra licks and riffs to give it a great sound.
Sometimes you see a band and can only think of how far they can go and this is certainly the case with Aaron Keylock, raw guitar skills to match the best and a knack of writing some great songs it’s a matter of when not if!
Sheffield based Coyotte Mad Seeds another on my must see list, three-piece hard rock from Sheffield they have been round for a while now and released their debut album in 2013 ‘Skin And Bone’. Guitarist Joe Elsey leads us into ‘Propaganda’ with big thick guitar riffs before Chris (bass) and Rik (Drums) come into the mix for what is a slow burning track with plenty of heavy riffage.
Joe has also has a quite distinctive and great sounding voice takes care of most of the vocal duties with bassist Chris Whitehead picking up a few tracks. They have pulled in a great crowd and play a powerful and tight set that concluded with ‘Skin And Bone’, ‘Luck Is For Losers’ and finally with a cover of Grand Funk Railroads ‘American Band’.
After a break for food and beer it’s time for The Black Hands on stage 2, a four piece groove laden southern blues rock band. We’ve seen them a few times now and really like their style, raw guitar/slide/harmonica; they kick it all out in a tight set from that includes tracks from their EP ‘Nobody Knows Nothing’.
Andy Gannon’s vocals are raw/soulful and powerful as he belts them out and he intertwines them with some great harmonica work. The whole sound has a great boogie feel to it with tracks like ’45′ and ‘Experience Blues’ that’s starts off slow with a lead of vocal and drums before getting into the groove.
Guitarist Daniel Riley certainly knows his way round the fretboard as he wrings the notes out, from some basic 12 bar blues to searing high solos and awesome slide work. Definitely one of the bands of the day for me, I just wish they would get the merchandise sorted out as yet again they had none with them!
Another band that stood out for me was The Verals on stage 2, a young Sheffield three-piece energetic rock and roll band. They have a really catchy tight punchy sound and soon got the stage rocking down with them. As far as I gather they are currently working on an EP release which I hope to get hold of when it’s out.
Eureka Machines on stage 1 are something a bit different, this is pop punk; full of energy and attitude but all in a nice way. Formed by Sisters Of Mercy guitarist Chris Catalyst they come from the same music school as Terrorvision and Wildhearts and play great catchy tracks and bring some fun back into music.
Currently pledging their fourth album ‘Brain Waves’ which is due out next year they are definitely a band that should be on your to see list. A great fun set that included ‘Champion The Underdog’ and the catchy ‘Pop Star’ about trying to be a pop star, Chris even found time to have a dig at me (in a nice way) about photographing them. Definitely one of the bands of the weekend.
Now for the first of the main bands and what corker, Black Spiders are from the hard rock school and play it loud, hard and in your face. The first time we saw them in Ireland a few years ago their first line nearly knocked up off our feet it was so loud, F…U… Black Spiders they shouted, a line which they still use today and get the crowds to shout back at them.
They have sleaze, catchy rhythms, corny lyrics, and they certainly know how to rock out with ‘El Diablo’, ‘Stay Down’ and ‘Stick It To The Man’ demonstrating the wall of sound that is strengthened by the three guitarists hammering out the riffs. Awesome.
Heavens Basement packed out stage 1 and they were definitely one of the big crowd pullers this weekend. Hard rocking ‘Fire Fire’ rang out and the crowd were on form singing along with Aaron Buchannan. Sid Glover as ever pulling out the huge riffs was all over the stage.
Stage 2 headliners Goat Leaf could have blown the main stage away tonight, if not with the mass of fans there for them! Then with the deep bass groove laden rock they were playing, the stage was rammed full ready for them to rattle our bones.
Rotherham based, they have great following and I can hear why; their sound mixes foundation-shattering bass rhythms with solid drumming and plenty of driving fuzzy guitar riffs.
Vocalist Jonny Town has been here most of the day taking in the vibe and craic of the festival and is now giving it all back in an awesome performance. Think of the psychedelic sound of 70′s Sabbath and throw in a big slab of stoner rock and you’re on your way to these guys, I’ve never heard a Rickenbacker sound that deep!
I have followed The Answer since their beginnings and have seen them many times including going over to Northern Ireland to watch them playing their homecoming gigs.
They are playing a last few gigs this year before the hard work starts again next March as they tour the release of their fifth studio album ‘Raise A Little Hell’ and tonight we get a few tracks of that album as a little teaser.
In fact after set opener ‘Come Follow Me’ we get the first of the new tracks ‘Long Live The Renegades’ followed later in the set by ‘I Am What I Am’. The tracks are going back to their bluesy days while still keeping the overall heavier sound introduced on New Horizons although ‘Last Days Of Summer’ has a stoner feel.
The band are on form and putting their all into the set with some great banter from Cormac. ‘Preachin’ as ever gives him the chance to go into the crowd to spread the groove, then rejoining the band on stage they finish off with ‘Demon Eyes’.
It might only have been one day but the quality and quantity of bands on offer at Winter Rocks was excellent and a credit to all the organizers and to the supportive crowd. At the time of writing the festival is going ahead next year but no dates have been confirmed as yet.
Review and Photos by Simon Dunkerley
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