For the past two years Butlins’ Giants Of Rock and has lived up to that name with ease and has been host to some of the finest rock bands around and this, the third year, it seems to have hit the balance yet again.
With the likes of Nazareth, Michael Schenker and Ian Hunter appearing alongside Roscoe Levee, The Texas Flood and Vambo it shows that although the older gents of rock are still in fine form there are also plenty of new bloods to take up the flame and continue the future of rock music allaying any fears that “rock is dead”.
Once again the festival site is impeccable, the food and accommodation first class, and Butlins are definitely boosting their quieter off peak times as they continually add events to their Big Weekend series.
So after checking in to our rather posh Lakeside apartment and having our usual pre-gig beers we head over to the main arena for the bands. One of the great things about Minehead and indeed most of the other sites is that all the stages are indoors and are easily reached from the massive Skyline pavilion which also houses the well-stocked bars and ample food outlets. There is even a sports bars if you feel the need to support your local footie team or more realistically you could lose some time, and cash, in the amusement arcades.
For the early arrivals there is as ever a multitude of Rock DJ’s spinning tunes in the ‘Inn On The Green’ bar who aim to please the tireless crowds now and over the weekend. We headed over to Jaks home of the ‘Introducing Stage’ and caught a few of the great up and coming bands who were playing for a slot on one of the main stages next year, with great sets from These Wicked Rivers and Western Sands. We were suitably warmed up before heading over to the main stages.
Annoyingly for the punters, however, the stages were planned with the same running times which meant choices had to be made over the weekend; we headed to Reds for a new band for us, Roscoe Levee and the Southern Slide and what a choice we made.
They had a really great mid 70′s southern groove about them with swathes of Hammond, jamming guitar riffs and slide licks. If I found one new band like this at every festival I went to I would be a happy man.
We stayed in Reds for another crowd favourite – Snakecharmer – this time without Micky Moody who had departed a few months ago and was replaced by the extremely capable Simon McBride.
Chris Ousey was on fine form as they worked through a set that kicks off with ‘Guilty As Charged’ from the 2013 debut self-titled album and also includes a number of Whitesnake classics, ‘Ready an’ Willing’, ‘Here I Go Again’ and powers into ‘Fool For Your Loving’ to end a fine show.
On our travels we took in a slick looking/sounding Graham Bonnet, blues rocker Mick Ralphs and we caught the end of Vambo a really great four-piece that had hints of Zep and Pearl Jam in their sound and certainly hit the spot for the final band of the night.
Saturday morning started with a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Freebird. I think these events should be declared a “tribute-free zone” as there are more than enough original and upcoming bands to fill the event over and over again.
By way of illustration, one of last year’s “introducing stage” winners Aaron Keylock provided some classic guitar-led blues rock including a nod to Rory Gallagher in the cover ‘Against The Grain’. (The band Skam won a place at next year’s festival. A well-deserved win from this hard rocking trio from Leicester).
Steve Harley‘s set was packed to the rafters and queueing outdoors, whilst a fabulous set from Procol Harum saw Gary Brooker in fine form. In Reds, Wishbone Ash struggled with lack-lustre sound quality whilst upstairs on the main stage Oliver’s Army turned in one of the best sets of the weekend
Featuring the sublime axework of one time Saxon guitarist Graham Oliver and fronted by northern vocalist Brian Shaughnessy, we got a classic Saxon set with ‘Dallas 1pm’ and the awesome ‘Denim And Leather’ amongst the highlights.
We have been following The Texas Flood for a number of years now and have seen them woo ever growing crowds with their no-nonsense heavy riffing bluesy rock sound with great interplay between guitarists Tom and Ben.
With tracks mainly from their debut album ‘Young Dogs, Old Tricks’ they also threw in a few new pieces to keep the 1300+ crowd happy. Definitely a band to keep an eye out for.
Decisions, decisions. Big Country or Russ Ballard? I had seen the former a few years ago so plumped for one of the true legends of the British pop/rock and a rare performance from Russ Ballard.
This was a real masterclass by one of our finest songwriters. ‘New York Groove’, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and ‘Hold Your Head’ were amongst the highlights of one of the event’s standout shows.
Deborah Bonham was as ever exquisite, whilst on the main stage guitarist Krissy Matthews really impressed.
Even though there was a 20 minute delay to Nazareth‘s set due to the below par sound system in Reds (which had sullied Wishbone Ash’s set) when they finally came onstage they were greeted by rapturous applause.
Original member Pete Agnew was joined by his son Lee on drums, Jimmy Murrison on guitar and the very capable Carl Sentence on vocals for one of my bands of the weekend. The set mainly pulled tracks from the early 70′s albums but they did throw in a few from 2014 album ‘Rock And Roll Telephone’. A superb set that really got the crowd going and was indeed on of the highlights of the weekend.
Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock rounded things off, again the room full to capacity and all the familiar classics rolled out. Fronted by the very able Doogie White on vocals and with ‘Doctor Doctor’, ‘Live And Let Live’ and ‘Lights Out’ in the setlist, they gave us a definitive headline performance to end the weekend.
Midway through the set we made a trip to the main stage for the final time to catch the last part of a set from one of the true unsung heroes in the British rock scene. Del Bromham‘s Stray have been around the scene for what seems like a lifetime and my copy of Suicide on vinyl still gets regularly played. Del still gives a performance like it’s 1974; full of energy, showmanship, and of course spellbounding guitar.
As sometimes happens at these events, timing issues mean choices have to be made and the sound in Reds was disappointing at times. The Jaks stage (used for the ‘introducing’ bands), could do with an equipment update to cope with the sonic onslaught.
But, for a blend of old stagers and new blood – and top-notch organisation/venue – Giants Of Rock can’t really be beaten.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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