Day 2 – Saturday
John Verity opened up shop on a damp Saturday with a thoughtful blues rock set, not overplaying his own solo material (new album: Blue To My Soul) and treating us to some familiar standards including ‘Cocaine’ and ‘Rocky Mountain Way.’ Verity was in the later Argent line-up but migrated to the short-lived Phoenix with bassist Jim Rodford. ‘Hold Your Head Up’ was therefore all the more poignant for Rodford’s recent passing.
The aperitifs for the evening’s main entertainment provided not only something of a culture clash, but laid down a firm challenge for the day’s headliners, with the quintessentially British Manfred Mann’s Earth Band unfortunately billed at the same time as Fran Cosmo (of latter-day Boston fame).
One of the tightest outfits of the weekend to date, the Earth Band were in supercharged form – vocalist Robert Hart, in particular, surely vying for ‘best singer of the weekend award’. And Manfred, looking remarkably trim for his 77 years, stalking the stage with his keytar and with some purpose.
Whilst erring, at times, towards prog (which, if more restrained, would surely have put the band in the Mike & The Mechanics popularity league), and throwing everything from soul, to ska and reggae into the mix, it was the more commercial ‘covers’ like Springsteen’s ‘For You’ and ‘Blinded By The Light’ and – in particular – Dylan’s ‘Father Of Day, Father Of Night’ that struck home hardest.
Interestingly, Pete Feenstra was unimpressed when he reviewed them in 2015 but with this performance they have certainly got their act together.
Impossible to skip, it meant only catching the finale of Fran Cosmo‘s act, including the Boston classics ‘Don’t Look Back’, ‘More Than A Feeling’ and ‘Smokin’. It was all you’d expect from one of our ‘special relationship’ cousins – impeccable showmanship, and nailed on professionalism. If only there had been time to sample more …
We remember centre stage headliners Hawkwind from numerous gigs in their seventies heyday. Without the attraction of Liquid Len and – frankly – Stacia, the present incarnation may be a shadow of their former selves. Opener ‘Born To Go’ did, though, revive fond distant memories of joss sticks and hairy pudenda.
Uriah Heep, on the other hand, were hotfooting it from the studio having finished their next album ‘Living The Dream’ due in the autumn. But, as the effervescent Bernie Shaw emoted “What a fucking great way to start the year” at Giants of Rock. We couldn’t agree more.
Bernie owns the stage and must surely get the Freddie Mercury ‘front man of the weekend award’ for his typically charismatic and irrepressible presence. Predictably, the band focused on the Byron era, but it was the latter year material such as ‘One Minute’ and ‘Between Two Worlds’ that provided a more contemporary feel, and it’s a shame they rarely plunder their 80s or 90s releases.
Like Hawkwind, Heep’s set was short at just over an hour and Butlins’ scheduling at this point has to be questioned with over an hour-long wait for Bobby Kimball.
The original Toto singer was certainly the wildcard of the weekend, with a set that got more intriguing as it went on. Kimball spent much of the gig surrounded by throat spray, water and lozenges and a wadge of lyric sheets that were constantly referred to. This paraphernalia was probably as distracting for his vocal delivery as it was for the audience. In fact in the early part of the gig it seemed he used a water bottle more than a microphone.
Strangely Kimball only really seemed to hit his stride at the very end of the gig – leaving the paraphernalia behind – with a very fine rendition of ‘Hold The Line’. Before that he constantly regaled us with tales of “when I was in Toto” and as expected the bulk of material represented his tenure with the band from 1976-1984 and again 1998-2008 (reflected in the excellent ‘Falling In Between’).
Although he indicated we’d be hearing songs from his most recent solo albums, this never happened. 20 minutes before the end of the gig the band left the stage and Kimball – on keyboards - proceeded to play anything that seemingly came into his head, a stream of consciousness that embraced Elton John and his early influences. Without the 12:30 curfew he would almost certainly have continued playing, lozenges permitting. A wildcard maybe, but a strangely addictive one.
Review by David Randall & Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall
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Power Plays w/c 18 March (Mon-Fri)
SUZI QUATRO Macho Man (SPV)
JOANovARC Try It On (indie)
DARK STARES You Know Me (indie)
AS SIRENS FALL She Runs With The Wolves (indie)
KEITH HOWE Got It An’ Gone (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 18 March (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 GLENN SHORROCK Sings Little River Band (Social Family Records)
12:00-13:00 INGLORIOUS Ride To Nowhere (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 BONNIE TYLER Between The Earth And The Stars (BMG)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
BAD COMPANY Here Comes Trouble (1992)
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