The town of Troon is better known for its championship links golf course rather than as a hub for all things rock, but one man with a vision, Iain McCaig, is set to change all that. Going by the old adage of ‘book them and they shall come’ Iain set about amassing an adventurous bill with some big names to play this inaugural two-day event. The fact that it proved to be such a success and a fantastically well run event is credit to the organisation and meticulous planning that went into all aspects of the weekend.
Day 1 – Friday 25th Nov
Gridlock! No, not a new band, that was the traffic conditions which greeted me as I tried to make my way through central Glasgow en route to Troon for the festival kick off. As a result of the hold ups I unfortunately missed the first two bands of the day, Concrete Kingdoms and The King Lot which was not the best of starts. By all accounts both bands put in great sets which makes the late arrival all the more disappointing. Hopefully I can catch up with both bands in the near future.
I wasn’t the only one with traffic issues however as Tygers Of Pan Tang suffered a similar fate. The guys arrived very late for their slot and had to play a much abridged set to keep things on track timewise which was a shame. The guys only managed to fit in five songs, not much time to fit in 30 plus years of music but they did manage to fit in a new track, ‘Only The Brave’, from their just released self-titled album.
‘Love Potion No. 9’ was the track which raised the biggest cheer of the set and all too soon the band had to leave the stage. Robb Weir may be the only original member left but the Tyger legacy rolls on, unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the traffic!
Next up, again with a shortened set to accommodate Tygers, were fellow NWOBHM pioneers Praying Mantis. I caught the Troy brothers as a support a couple of years back in Glasgow and was impressed with their set, so I was keen catch them again here. One thing that strikes me about Praying Mantis is how enthusiastic they are onstage, Tino Troy in particular always looks like a man who is loving his work.
Again the set spanned the band’s long career with frontman John Cuijpers putting in a great vocal performance. ‘Panic In The Streets’, ‘Praying Mantis’ and ‘Believable’ were some of the set highlights, every one a solid slab of classic rock. Finishing with ‘Children Of The Earth’ the crowd showed their appreciation for a band who have weathered various (winter)storms but are still very much alive, kicking and rocking hard.
From a couple of old stagers to a bunch of young guns with far too much energy. Toseland hit the stage like he was on pole position when the green lights went out, 0 to rocking in roughly three seconds! The energy from James and the band could have powered Troon for the following week and the pace was relentless throughout.
It has been a couple of years since I last saw Toseland live supporting Reef and he has developed as a frontman since then, touring extensively in the UK and beyond. Although James is the focal point on stage, the rest of the band are hardly the shy, retiring types so there is always something going on to hold your attention.
Opening with the title track from their latest album, ‘Cradle The Rage’, the band powered on with a crowd pleasing set. ‘Puppet On A Chain, ‘Crash Landing’ and ‘Hearts And Bones’ all had the crowd rocking with James pulling every rockstar shape in the book upfront. ‘Renegade’ found him in his familiar position behind the piano and showing off his musical prowess.
The epic ‘We’ll Stop At Nothing’ also showcased the excellent guitar work of Zurab Melua, again another who has gained in confidence since my last encounter with the band. Things were rounded off with ‘Singer In A Band’ which again found Toseland at the front giving it full throttle. The energetic set went down a storm with the crowd and the band left the stage to huge cheers. A good job done.
Tonight’s headliners go about their business in a more polished and sedate manner. FM take events like this in their stride and give the crowd exactly what they want. This gig was part of a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band’s Indiscreet album, arguably one of the best melodic rock records, which took on the Americans at their own game.
The ever smiling Steve Overland has lost none of his silky vocal delivery and this was ably demonstrated on opener ‘Digging Up The Dirt’. The set was mostly culled from the Indiscreet album which was no surprise, highlights including ‘That Girl’, ‘Frozen Heart’ and the excellent pomp rock of ‘American Girls’.
The rhythm section of Merv Golsworthy and Pete Jupp were rock solid throughout, underpinning each track whilst guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick showcased his fretboard skills at every opportunity. Overland came to the fore once again as he took to the stage with only Jem Davis on keyboards for the heartfelt opening of ‘Story Of My Life’ which was impressive.
Davis then joined the rest of the band with his keytar at the front of the stage for ‘The Other Side Of Midnight’ which rounded of both the set and day one. With the cheers still ringing in the air the crowd left hungry for more music and for a Winterstormer steak pie…
Day 2 – Saturday 26th November
There can’t be many festival venues which allow you to stroll along the seafront and admire the fantastic views over to the snow-capped mountains of the Isle Of Arran prior to a day’s rocking. Troon concert hall is an ideal location being just a minutes walk from the beach and the local amenities, add in free parking just outside and you have the perfect combination. The sight of Last In Line’s tour bus parked up next to an ice cream stand on the promenade only added to the surreal atmosphere.
Anyone suffering from a day one hangover was soon revived by the noise produced by day two openers The Hyena Kill. The Manchester duo of Steven Dobb on guitar and Lorna Blundell are like the White Stripes turned up to 11. They produce a barrage of sound which belies the fact that there are only two people on stage. Playing tracks from their debut album ‘Atomised’ the pair delivered the heaviest set of the weekend. Not to everyone’s taste but they certainly got everyone’s attention!
Taking things in another direction were Bloodlines. The band hail from another seaside town, Fort William, but are now based in Glasgow and produce indie rock, bringing to mind the likes of Twin Atlantic and Biffy Clyro. All jagged riffs and blast beats the guys did their best to excite the crowd but only managed to raise polite applause. This was no fault of the band but more to do with the Winterstorm crowd not being the guys’ target demographic, being more suited to a slot at T In The Park perhaps.
What we needed after that was first class classic rock and luckily Mason Hill were on hand to deliver. The band were introduced on stage and given a ringing endorsement by none other than ex MSG and SAHB bassist Chris Glenn, a man who knows good music when he hears it. Mason Hill are being hailed as ‘the next big thing’ and for once the title is totally justified.
The guys have been compared to Black Stone Cherry but for me they were much better and more genuine than that. Frontman Scott Taylor has a great voice and had the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout. Playing songs from their debut EP including ‘Now You See Me’ and ‘Survive’ the guys rocked hard and heavy and the Winterstorm crowd loved every minute.
The guys threw in a cover version of Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’ with guitarist James Bird showcasing his fretboard skills. All too soon the set came to an end and the guys received one of the biggest cheers of the weekend. A job well done and it looks like Chris Glen is backing an odds on favourite.
Following Mason Hill we headed through the bar to the second hall which had a small acoustic stage set up with various acts on during the weekend. Also hanging out was the compere for the weekend, none other than Scottish rock legend Tom Russell.
Tom has been the voice of rock in the west of Scotland for around 40 years and is about to return to the airwaves in 2017 after he was part of a successful bid to get the station Rock Radio back on air. Tom was also promoting his new book of rock memoirs, entitled ‘The Godfather Of Rock’, which contains many tales of excess in the company of rock royalty, a perfect stocking filler…
Back in the hall Vega were about to hit the stage. The band’s last album, ‘Who We Are’, was recently voted as the GRTR! album of the year by my fellow scribes, so it was safe to say the guys have talent in spades. Vocalist Nick Workman knows how to work an audience and soon had the hall dancing along to the band’s melodic hard rock.
Playing a selection of tracks from their four albums the guys put on a great show. The guys showed their class on tracks such as ‘Explode’, ‘Every Little Monster’ and ‘White Flag’. They rounded things off with ‘Saving Grace’ and proved that there is more talent from Stratford Upon Avon other than the beardy bloke who wrote the sonnets!
The last time I saw The Amorettes was a few years back at a festival in the lovely surroundings of Paisley town centre so I was keen to see how they had developed. The girls have been on the road constantly of late supporting many bands across the UK and Europe so I was expecting big things.
However, as they kicked off with ‘Stealing Thunder’ I was surprised to find that they were much as they were that day in Paisley. They do play with more confidence and swagger but they never really set the place alight. From my vantage point in the balcony I could see a small pocket of die hard fans at the front bouncing along and singing every note but behind them things were a lot more subdued.
Musically the trio did their best coming across as a mix of Suzi Quattro, Joan Jett and a large dose of Girlschool. Set highlights were ‘Let The Neighbours Call The Cops’ and ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ with Gill spitting out the lyrics and firing off the riffs in equal measure. Finishing with ‘Hot and Heavy’, which included a bit of a singalong, the girls did get a good send-off but for me, and I suspect a good few others, they didn’t quite hit the spot this time around.
One band I had heard many good things about but was yet to see were Inglorious. The band have been media darlings for the last year or so appearing all over the press and on many festival bills but I was yet to see if the hype was matched by the performance.
From the opening bars of ‘Until I Die’ I could tell we were on to a winner. Larger than life frontman Nathan James is a seasoned professional and it shows as he led from the front. The rest of the band are keen to share the limelight and all put on a cracking show. Musically the band offer up high octane classic rock, picking the best bits from a range of influences like Bad Company, Whitesnake and Deep Purple.
The set was culled from their self-titled debut album with a couple of choice covers in the shape of Rainbow’s ‘I Surrender’ and Whitesnake’s ‘Fool For Your Lovin’ and the crowd loved every minute. The set was finished in style with ‘Unaware’ and Inglorious left no one in any doubt that the hype is fully justified.
That only left two bands to round off the weekend and next up we had the biggest coup of the festival. I am not quite sure how Ian managed to secure Last In Line’s only Scottish show on their UK tour but it was a masterstroke that ensured the hall was full for the arrival of a few of rocks biggest names. The fact that Vivian Campbell, Vinny Appice and Phil Soussan graced the stage in Troon still astounds me!
I was lucky enough to see Vivian and Vinny play with Dio back in the day so I was keen to hear the songs again in all their glory and as Vivian cranked out the opening riff to ‘Stand Up And Shout’ I had goosebumps on my arm. The contentious part of this project was always going to be the vocalist, how can you replace RJD? The answer is simply that you can’t, however in Andrew Freeman the band have found a great singer who does justice to the Dio-era material.
The bulk of the set was culled from the first three Dio albums and provided classic after classic. ‘Straight Through The Heart’, ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ and ‘Last In Line’ were all welcomed like old friends with chants of ‘Dio, Dio’ never far away. It wasn’t all about nostalgia though as the band have released an album of original material, ‘Heavy Crown’. The guys played three new numbers with ‘Starmaker’ being dedicated to the late Jimmy Bain who should have been there on bass.
It was the Dio material though that raised the roof with ‘Holy Diver’ being sung by every voice. There were a couple of less well known tracks in the set which added interest, namely ‘Invisible’ and ‘I Speed At Night,’ which were great to hear live. Only one song could finish things off and the band duly obliged with ‘We Rock’. This was a fantastic set and a reminder of why Ronnie Dio was held in such high esteem. With Vivian and Vinny keeping the memory alive the RJD legacy lives on, we were rocked!
That only left one act to round off the weekend and it was up to local lad (of sorts) Ricky Warwick to bring down the curtain. Ricky spent his teenage years in Ayrshire not too far from Troon and formed The Almighty which brought him his first success.
Performing as Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts the set contained numbers from every step of Ricky’s career to date. Opening with ‘Do You Understand?’ from The Almighty it was clear from the off that he meant business. This led into ‘Road To Damascus Street’ for one of 2016’s best albums ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy and Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues’, a big title for a big album.
Ricky is a great performer and commanded the stage clearly enjoying every minute. His biggest smile though was as he introduced Vivian Campbell onstage for an excellent run through of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’ which had the hall bouncing.
The rest of the set was a mix of solo material, songs from The Almighty and a great version of ‘Finest Hour’ from his current day job with Black Star Riders. There was also a cover of The Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’ for good measure. The set was rounded off in fine style again with a couple of tracks from The Almighty back catalogue with ‘Free and Easy’ bringing Winterstorm to a climactic end. Ricky proved to be a worthy headliner for this inaugural weekend and his rocking spirit summed up the whole event.
For a first year festival Winterstorm proved to be a resounding success. Well organised, family friendly with some great touches including the tie in with the local bakers, having the RNLI in to do the cloakroom for donations, hell they were even selling ice cream behind the bar as it was at the seaside!
Ian McCaig and his team deserve huge praise for taking the chance and for their hard work across the weekend to keep things on track. Here’s to more of the same next year in Troon, the rockin’ toon!
Review by Dave Wilson
Photos by Dave Wilson and Stephen Wilson
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