Gig review: GIANTS OF ROCK – Butlins, Minehead, 27-30 January 2017

Steve Hackett - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

David Randall sets the scene…

Giants of Rock.  Geriatrics of Rock?  It’s where we’ve ended up.  The bracing sea air, the faded resort town, the surfeit of hand-wash.   These events as much remind us of our own mortality as that of the artists we celebrate.   If over the weekend there were enough references to passing friends (and perhaps for some in the audience after three days of aged excess) there was also much to be thankful for.

Whether by the law of diminishing returns one original member makes an original band is a point for discussion, but at least they have an association and keep the flame burning.  Corky Laing probably put it all in context when he thought most of the audience would have come from a rest home.  Or as Bri Shaughnessey from Oliver Dawson Saxon put it more succinctly “Didn’t I see you fuckers last year?”

But where else are you going to hear Corky or early period Rooster or Grateful Dead’s keyboard player Tom Constanten all under one roof?

Graft on a supremely efficient operation by Butlins, great accommodation packages,  and superb catering and you might even have the perfect nostalgia trip.

But what does it tell us about modern music? Where life imitates art and original members sit in with tributes, older soaks cosy up with youth, and the eternal nature of a good song is subjugated to high energy and apeing earlier idioms?

Admittedly younger bands don’t have exposure to the budgets, TV and radio of yesteryear and for that the older guys and the audience should be grateful:  it was a golden era. But I hasten to add that it was also an era when musicians could really play, and write durable and timeless music.   This was particularly evident in Oliver Dawson Saxon’s set and also Atomic Rooster’s.  Can you really say that about many new bands working in the classic/hard rock space? Nowadays a quick shifty at YouTube for your “technique”, access to Pro Tools, and a way with social media is maybe all that’s needed? Song craft might be incidental…

Lisa Ronson - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Friday

Pete Whalley writes…

Lisa Ronson may not be a Giant of Rock, and perhaps – on this showing – looks unlikely to be but like most acts at the event she did, at least, have a bona fide Giant in her ranks in the form of Mott The Hoople keyboard player Morgan Fisher.

But minus a sax player – an element which defined her excellent 2015 debut album Emperors Of Medieval Japan – her set had a very ‘clubby’ feel.  Madonna and Prince covers didn’t seem to ‘connect’.  It was left to an impassioned address by Fisher about colleagues ‘lost’ (Pete ‘Overend’ Watts, Lisa’s father Mick, and, of course, Bowie) leading into a rousing version of Mott’s 1974 ‘Saturday Gigs’ single, and a cracking ‘Tales Of The City’ – with just the right doo wop backing vocals – to get the crowd bouncing.

Focus - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

David Randall writes…

Focus have toured regularly in recent years and so the novelty of their latest incarnation has worn off a little.  Nevertheless they always deliver a quality set and invariably a greatest hits.  Sir Thijs van Leer is a real character and consummate musician whilst Pierre van der Linden a peerless drummer.

Inevitably the spotlight falls on their guitarist and to be truthful it’s a thankless task.  Mano Grootjes demonstrated throughout that he has the notes but not enough emotion.  “The Bridge” (part of the extended piece ‘Eruption’) in particular deviated from the original wig-out and meandered somewhat aimlessly and a perfunctory ‘Hocus Pocus’ failed to hit the spot.  Search out Marillion’s take on YouTube by comparison.

Gun - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Bernie Torme - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017
Photos: Simon Dunkerley/GRTR!

Scots pop rockers Gun rounded off Reds stage for the day.  Ear-splittingly loud this was a high energy set that majored on their key triumphs including a muscular ‘Word Up’ whilst centre stage the engaging Bernie Torme turned in another high energy hour including career highlights with Gillan.

Corky Laing - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Saturday

Pete Whalley writes…

Some of the most unexpected delights come from the most unexpected of sources.  I expected Corky Laing’s Mountain to be an excuse to wheel out one of rock’s elder statesmen, but Laing’s performance was one of a man 69 years young, not old.

With his drum kit set sideways on to the stage is was an opportunity to witness ‘up close and personal’ a true master of his craft, whose Keith Moon influences were evident long before he mentioned that, at 15, all he wanted in the world was to be Moon.

In fact, his oratory prowess was a highlight – a storyteller of the highest calibre – even his drum solo was punctuated by a ‘rap’.

A Mountain compilation of 9 or 10 tracks was spotted in the record stall prior to the gig and that’s probably all you need.  ‘Mississippi Queen’ was, of course, a highlight, but seldom have I seen a drummer dominate a set with such panache, and such deft use of the high hat and cowbell.  There’s just not enough in rock these days.  A true ‘giant of rock’.

John Lees' Barclay James Harvest - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017
Photo: Simon Dunkerley/GRTR!

John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest were calming, mildly proggy and pastoral; gently caressing keyboards vying with  tasteful and considered guitar breaks  and even a recorder solo (somewhat marred by Ian Paice’s drum solo hammering up through the floor).

‘For No One’,  ‘From The Night’ (banned at the time by the BBC),  ‘North’, and ‘She Said’ – all from that golden early 70′s era  – made me think that an evening in the presence of this band would actually be a rather pleasant and rewarding experience.  Giants?  Maybe not, but BJH have left an indelible mark on the face of rock, and it’s perhaps one that in life’s quieter moments merits some further exploration.

Purpendicular - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

David Randall writes…

Billed as “the world’s most booked Purple show” Purpendicular didn’t really look like a tribute band. The singer looked as if he could front a southern rock band, the guitarist an American AOR outfit.  The drummer looked like Ian Paice.

By it’s very name the band majors on Morse-period Purple with very few Coverdale songs. Without the authoritative presence of Paice (who we heard later likes to keep his hand in between proper tours) the band would frankly be good down at your local British Legion. They seemed to venerate their young Italian guitarist Valerio Dossini but an instrumental set piece ‘Cascade’ was rather lacking in hue and rather interrupted the flow of Purple.  That said they went down well with the healthy-sized crowd.

Bernie Marsden - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017
Photos: Simon Dunkerley/GRTR!

Bernie Marsden was holding fort on Centre Stage armed only with a fund of stories and an acoustic guitar.  He held the audience captive nevertheless, a genial host tapping in to a proud legacy.  Evidently good friends still with David Coverdale, but a reading of 1987’s  ‘Is This Love’ whilst appreciated might have been taking his connection and band links a tad too far.

Atomic Rooster - Giants of Rock, January 2017

Atomic Rooster – now reformed with the blessing of Vincent Crane’s widow – included vocalist Pete French moonlighting from Leafhound and Steve Bolton.  Both were in an early-70s line-up of the band.  ‘Tomorrow Night’ and ‘The Devil’s Answer’ (French sang vocals on the U.S. version of the single) reminded us of their glory days along with the spritely instrumental ‘Vug’.  But it was all executed with panache and passion.

Oliver Dawson Saxon - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017
Photos: Simon Dunkerley/GRTR!

Oliver Dawson Saxon were a great way to round off on Centre Stage.  I recall seeing the band with John Ward but Bri Shaughnessy is a really, really good fit.  I mean where do you find a Yorkshire man,  an engaging comedic frontman, and great vocalist who also looks the part and fits the songs like a glove?

Oliver Dawson Saxon - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

The inevitable big hitters – including  ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’, ‘Denim & Leather’ and ‘Dallas 1pm’ – also demonstrated that Saxon were one of the finest charting bands who championed heavy metal and fashioned succinct sub-four minute nuggets in an age which demanded them.

Wille And The Bandits - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Sunday

Pete Whalley writes…

Wille And The Bandits proved to be one of the most exciting draws – of both old and new bands.  ‘Progressive’ in the widest sense if the word, they married blues rock and roots with a true mastery of their craft.

Matthew Brooks’ six string bass was used to stunning effect as a lead instrument, and Wille Edwards’ lap work, added – at times – an almost Floydian dimension to the three-piece’s sound. And while they rocked out as hard as any band over the weekend, there was a cultured element to their sound was seldom bettered.

They went down a storm in the early Sunday afternoon graveyard slot – equally impressive delivering material off their excellent new album Steal, or an innovative ‘Black Magic Woman’ cover that paid suitably individualistic homage to both Peter Green, and Santana.

Skarlett Riot - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

David Randall writes…

On Centre Stage Skarlett Riot have been gathering momentum since winning introducing stage in 2016.   Their blend of high energy, angsty melodic hard rock puts them in Paramore/Flyleaf territory which in truth is a crowded marketplace.   To their credit a larger stage served them well but they’ll need a few anthems and not a little luck to really make their mark.

The Pretty Things - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Over on Reds stage The Pretty Things drew a healthy crowd in the mid-afternoon slot and bringing a less frenetic, more mature rock and blues vibe at a time when that style was more appreciated.   By way of contrast Persian Risk were enough to wake up the heaviest of sleepers although their mix of sometimes thrashy melodic hard rock failed to hit the spot.

Dare - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Dare showed why they became also-rans in the late 1980s not dissimilar to FM.  Darlings of the AOR set who have welcomed them back into the fold more recently, their brand of Celtic tinged mellifluous melodic rock is very well performed.

But the period also threw up the likes of John Waite and Richard Marx; heavyweights who’d already captured the U.S. market.  Still, Darren Wharton looked cool in his shades as he took centre stage on vocals and away from his normally expected keyboards.

Rebecca Downes - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

On Reds stage Rebecca Downes delivered a strong vocal performance reflecting her growing stature although her blend of rock soul and blues may frustrate some who would like more of one style than the other.  Highlights included ‘Fever In The Night’, ‘Believe’ and ‘Night Train’ all available on the recent ‘Be Live’ release.  And a chance to hear the new Magnum keyboard player Rick Benton.

Ian Anderson - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017
Photo: Simon Dunkerley/GRTR!

Pete Whalley writes …

‘Relegation’ to the Reds ‘second billing’ stage due the clash with Steve Hackett actually did Ian Anderson a massive favour.  The low roofed, sweaty club-like venue fitted his revisiting of Tull’s formative years hand in glove.

And while we know Anderson’s vocal ability has declined, it didn’t seem such a big deal in this intimate setting and minus recent vocal ‘minder’ Ryan O’Donnell.   And he was was in tremendous form on flute and harmonica, cavorting around the stage like a youngster.  Even the normally restrained Florian Opahle, played like a man possessed.

If ever proof were needed that you’re never to old to rock and roll, then this was it – a supercharged set that closed with one of the best versions of ‘Locomotive Breath’ I’ve been privileged to witness, and a weekend highlight, for sure.

Steve Hackett - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

David Randall writes …

To say Steve Hackett was disappointing in this context would be a little misleading.  Programmed for the cavernous Centre Stage the gig lost the finesse of a fully seated venue and perhaps some of the majesty of his music. Perhaps also this reviewer’s ears had been worn out over three intense days of r-a-w-k and roll.  It did afford, however, a sneak preview of his May UK tour.

Opening with three songs from the forthcoming album was maybe a little brave but any fears for direction of travel quickly dissipated:  it sounds to me very much like business as usual.

Steve Hackett - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

What may be a little tenuous now is the dual billing with Genesis and the resurrection of a couple more obscure tracks including ‘Inside And Out’  plus the somewhat thespian Tad Sylvain grated a little especially if you are not a Genesis die-hard.

As my fellow cohort Pete Whalley commented previously Hackett has let the Genesis genie well and truly out of the bottle and created an irresistible expectation.  For me there is nowhere near enough Hackett solo material in the mix and a quick sortie to check out his prog peer Anderson confirmed that – given the context – the Tull ticket was the better bet.  Now, Hackett in a club atmosphere and with a rockier setlist would really be something…

Eric Sardinas- Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

The event was rounded out with two current blues rock heavyweights,  although it was Popa Chubby who out-punched Eric Sardinas in terms of attracting a healthy audience in the traditional end of evening graveyard slot.

The Giants Of Rock weekends have been regularly reviewed by GRTR! and bring together several thousand like-minded souls who have lived for rock since the late-1960s.  By that I would include the artists too.

It’s like a three day memory board, and if ever there was a cure needed for early dementia, for rockers, this is it.  It should be available on the NHS and Butlins will be the care provider.

But, at the end of a fascinating, sometimes surprising, always evocative three-day musical fairground ride: we all emerge as Giants of Rock.

Reviews by David Randall and Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall, except where stated

Popa Chubby - Giants of Rock, Minehead, January 2017

Photo gallery by Simon Dunkerley (pictured, above) and David Randall

 


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Power Plays w/c 17 April 2017


MOLLIE MARRIOTT Control (indie)
BLACKWATER CONSPIRACY Hanging Tree (indie)
THE BLUE HORIZON Zero Hour Contract (indie)
BIG WOLF BAND Heaven’s Got The Blues (Indie)


Featured Albums w/c 17 April 2017 (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 LITTLE RIVER BAND Revisited (from “The Big Box”) (Store For Music)
12:00-13:00 ECLIPSE Monumentum (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 LYNNE HANSON Uneven Ground (Continental Song City)



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