Gig review: STONE FREE FESTIVAL – Day 1 – O2, London, 16 June 2018

The Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

The Stone Free festival once again took over the O2 in London for a weekend of metal, prog and some of the best live whistling ever heard! Andy Nathan and Dave Atkinson were there to capture all the action on day 1 for GRTR!

Andy Nathan writes: Arriving on site, I checked out the Indigo that was playing host to bands in the afternoon, and was substantially less busy than when the doors were closed for Blue Oyster Cult last year.

My first encounter was with a pair of bands channelling some of rock’s more primeval power. First up I caught the last few songs, such as ‘Rabbit and the Wolf’, by the Picturebooks, a German duo of singer and guitarist Fynn Claus Grabke and drummer Philipp Mirtschink, who had apparently smashed up most of his drumkit by the time I arrived. They made an impressive noise for a duo but the format was somewhat limiting.

Triggerfinger were also a band new to me, and not what I expected, a smartly dressed Belgian power trio with singer and guitarist Ruben Block in a patterned suit and greying teddy boy quiff.

At times their sound was loud and greasy garage rock which is not really my preferred style, but they had interesting dynamics notably on a lengthy and at times disturbing strip down of a Son House cover, alongside more straightforward songs like the title track from recent album ‘Colossus’. Much like fellow Europeans Volbeat, they drew inspiration from earlier, pre-1960′s forms of rock’n ‘roll and blues but took them to their rawest conclusion.

Triggerfinger - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

Slightly out of place in a high volume line up, sandwiched between Warrior Soul and Orange Goblin, were Stone Broken, whose star is rising rapidly. Their influences are somewhat unusual for an English band, peddling the type of accessible post-grunge beloved of American modern rock radio stations in the wake of Nickelback’s success, allied to a youthful enthusiasm and down to earth West Midlands charm.

Stone Broken - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

Opener ‘Heartbeat Away’ had a real Theory of A Deadman vibe to it before the now familiar ‘Better’ with a typically positive lyrical message, and ‘Stay All Night’. However newer material from second album ‘Ain’t Always Easy’ was well represented and although I raised eyebrows at a blatantly taped acoustic guitar outro to ‘I Believe’, ‘Home’ was a superb ballad that reminded me of 3 Doors Down, particularly Rich Moss’ vocals.

Anchor Lane - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

‘Doesn’t Matter’ and ‘Worth Fighting For’ were far rockier, though Chris Davis’ solos were always crisp and tuneful, and ‘Not Your Enemy’ is now enough of a crowd favourite to have several at the front punching the air to end another impressive set from this underrated band. My one gripe was that with only 40 minutes to play with a drum solo was an indulgence too far.

Dave Atkinson writes: Scottish four-piece Anchor Lane were belting out some meaty riffs as I arrived at the Orange Amps stage. Situated under the canopy of the O2 in the open air, this was a free stage to be enjoyed by ticket holders as well as anyone pitching up for the latest flick at Cine World or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. A good innovation, though not everyone was fully immersing themselves in the music, judging by hands-over-ears near the main entrance.

Anchor Lane produced a gritty, full sound built on dirty riffs sprinkled liberally with catchy choruses in the mould of maybe Rival Sons (though that may be damning with faint praise in the eyes of some). They elicited a fair bit of audience participation so early in the day. Conor Gaffney possesses a powerful, tuneful voice and it was good to see the band working hard with smiles on their faces. Decent attitude and fine tunes.

On the same stage, half an hour later, Dirty Thrills produced a very different spectacle. I saw them a couple of years ago at Ramblin’ Man and was impressed with the energy and commitment, but underwhelmed with the actual tunes. This time around, the band still produced a physical show, despite the minuscule stage, but managed to hang the songs together more effectively.

Dirty Thrills - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

Most of the material is raw, hard-edged blues rock. Jack Fawdry on guitar was a real focal point, chucking himself around the stage and writhing over his battered axe. Occasionally his instrument cut out as a result of his man-in-motion antics, but the overall performance was memorable. He had ripped off his shirt by the third track to show off his heavily tatted torso and finished the set precariously atop the Orange Amp stack grimacing and gurning over his final solo.

Dirty Thrills - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

Musically, the stand outs were the opener ‘I’ll Be With You’ where Fawdry dealt out some massive flange effects, backed up by impressive harp work from Louis James on vocals. ‘Hanging Around’ and ‘No Resolve’ were also highly enjoyable, if still a tad rough, in the style of early Zep. ‘Foxy Lady’ was given a lovely, funky, bottom-end workout. Aaron Plows on bass and waxed moustache was working his cods off with the drummer to keep things tight, to little avail. Creative tension, I think they call it.

This lot still feel like a work in progress and whilst the music could easily be polished up, it would be a shame if that came at the expense of the dynamic, visceral performance. Love the energy.

Warrior Soul emerged with a quite a fanfare amongst the Stateside alt-metal scene in the early 90′s, full of confrontational songs and abrasive attitudes. I was never much of a fan of band leader Kory Clark’s dirty vocal style of delivery, but loved the stacked guitar riffs. They were my guilty secret.

Warrior Soul - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

Reformed by Kory a few years back, the band pitched up at the Indigo as a bunch of young guns gathered around their leader doing a fair impression of David Coverdale circa ‘Still Of The Night’.

Despite my bubbling cynicism, the set was massively entertaining. The band found a rich, infectious groove, built around catchy, bottom end riffs and a huge rhythms section output.

‘American Idol’ and later ‘Burning Bridges’ were thrashed out with vigour and a dollop of Kory Clarke’s vitriol. The pace was healthy throughout and the decent-sized audience responded well. Clark continued to growl his way through a couple more from the latest ‘Back On The Lash’ outing with slick moves and sharp arrangements.

Warrior Soul - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

This was the Kory Clark show, absolutely. It was fascinating to watch how he drilled the raw recruits around him. One minute he was directing the drummer on the climax to a song and the next he was motioning to Miguel Martins on guitar to pay attention to a certain part of the crowd.

The set ended with a couple of solid anthems in tongue in cheek ‘Bad News (Rock n Roll Girlfriend)’ and ‘Generation Graveyard’ full of powerhouse guitar and roaring choruses, provoking an even stronger reaction from the crowd.

I was a convert. Again.

Back out on the Orange Amps stage, Swiss band Daxx and Roxanne were tearing up a glitzy, glam, pop-punk-rock storm and going down well enough, though from further back the stage generally sounded a bit underpowered. I didn’t get long to check them out because I’d decided to catch Orange Goblin on the Indigo stage.

I had never seen this lot before, but I’d heard the stories…. When a roadie was tweaking the staging, I thought he’d made a mistake by leaving the centre mike so high up on the stand. But no. When the band emerged, it was clear that vocalist Ben Ward is a monster. Absolute brick outhouse.

Orange Goblin - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

And with a voice and stage presence to match. This was an uncompromising slice of honest, full force, British metal. The Motorhead influence was very evident. Second track in ‘Devil’s Whip’ was a homage to ‘Iron Fist’ with the murderous drums particularly prominent; and later, new track ‘Renegade’ was a flagrant doppleganger for ‘Damage Case’.

In between, Joe Hoare was beating up his wahwah pedal for all it was worth on stoner metal influenced tracks like ‘Saruman’s Wish’ and ‘Stand For Something’. The band are on something of a roll at the moment as the new platter ‘The Wolf Bites Back’ is breaching the metal charts across Europe. The title track was one of the best tracks on show.

Orange Goblin - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018

The pace was unrelenting. Highlights included a crushing rendition of ‘The Fog’ and a furious ‘Scorpionica’. Ward’s constant banter with the crowd was almost as unrelenting. Like goading everyone to “create chaos” down the front (which worked on sledgehammer cuts like ‘Aquatic Fanatic’) and championing metal as a genre “that gets squeezed out in favour of Katy Perry and Ed f___g Sheeran”. Cue wild applause.

The scenes on stage verged on chaos too, with Ward lumbering around, chucking water about and then inviting a roadie out front to sing ‘Some You Win, Some You Lose’. The show was a gloriously unscripted, rough-edged metal romp. More power to ‘em.

Andy Nathan writes: Attention then shifted to the evening’s entertainment in the main arena, for the lucky ones as there were still substantial queues of 20 minutes or more to get in. My fellow scribe Dave Atkinson missed Buckcherry altogether, and I only caught the last two songs, concluding with old favourite ‘Crazy Bitch’ with singer Josh Todd at his most lithe and sleazy.

Dave Atkinson writes: The main arena was probably not much more than half full when Megadeth hit the stage, though some of this was the result of the slow moving queue through security. The band’s emergence was preceded by a lengthy animated sequence on the screen behind the stage which announced ‘Hangar 18′, delivered in pile-driving manner by Dave Mustaine and crew.

Megadeth - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

That new(ish) drummer Dick Verbeuren was going to play a prominent role was immediately apparent. I’ve rarely seen such a brutal display of speed metal tub-thumping. The bass drum waves felt like karate kicks in the abdomen.

The rest of the band were taught and lean throughout too. And not short of power. But the material did not always hit the mark tonight. This was not their crowd. New tracks like ‘Dystopia’ and ‘The Threat Is Real’ produced a relatively subdued reaction.

The mood was not lost on Mustaine. In one of his rare interactions with the punters, he remarked tersely that, “the voices in my head are louder than you”.?  Later, he wasted another opportunity to connect with the arena by publicly berating someone down the front who had obviously annoyed him. Priceless. Instead, the non-musical communication was conducted by the overused graphic images on the giant screen.

Megadeth - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

This soulless performance was not vintage Megadeth. That said, classics from the 80′s and 90′s worked well. A fast-paced ‘In My Darkest Hour’, with heavily processed vocals was a high point. ‘Sweating Bullets’ a brilliantly caustic observation of organised crime was delivered precisely and with greater heavy melodic swing than anything else on show.

‘Mechanix’ was another to hit the spot, before Vic Rattlehead, the band’s mascot turned up to usher in the crushing riff to ‘Peace sells…’. The encore was ‘Holy Wars…The Punishment Due’ and featured the best guitar work of the set – tuneful as well as furious, rather than directionless fret-burning. These were good moments on which to end the set.

In my view, the weakest of the Big Four thrash bands, the best of Megadeth is really very good indeed. It’s just that some of the weaker material sounds dull by comparison. This was a gig only the diehards could truly love, start to finish.

I was really looking forward to seeing the Scorpions again. After catching them round about the time of ‘Love At First Sting’, I somehow fell out of love with the band, quietly moving on from what I perceived as a cheesy image. I rediscovered them in my dusty vinyl collection a couple of years ago and am delighted to report that my palate had a stonking resurgence in Bavarian smoked cheese.. This was a cracking gig.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

Some things have changed since the ’80′s, its fair to say. Klaus Meine seemed a little frail for much of the gig and much more static than of old. Even the indestructible Rudy Schenker, approaching 70, lumbers these days, rather than his cat like prowl of younger days.

Not that the enthusiasm has dimmed one iota. After a solid opening salvo ‘Going Out With A Bang’ and ‘Make It Real’ we were quickly led into arm-waving territory with a melodic ‘Is There Anyone There?’

‘The Zoo’ followed immediately and set the bar high for the rest of the gig for showmanship and quality of performance. What a brilliant riff.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo by Andy Nathan

The Scorps never shirk an instrumental either and ‘Coast To Coast’ was chucked in relatively early. As if to emphasise the mood swing between this and the earlier Megadeth set, two blokes in front of me stood back to back and air-guitared every lick and riff of the track, almost mimicking the moves of Schenker and Matthias Jabs up on stage.

When those two were joined by Meine and Maciwoda at the front of the catwalk to bathe in adulation at the end of the track, the emotion was nothing like as intense as these two strangers in the crowd who wrapped up their moves, embraced each other and went back to join their respective pals. I was filling up.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

‘Coast to Coast’ really was Schenker’s moment. He even got a few lead guitar lines in amongst his grinning and open-mouthed, bug-eyed posing. “Play it again!”, said the bloke behind me in Cambridge Folk Festival T-shirt.

A rock n roll medley kicked off with ‘Top Of The Bill’ and featured more smart work courtesy of Jabs’ spiky lead guitar.

The look and outfits remain, frankly, ridiculous. I was right about the cheese all those years ago. If Jabs had a pair of goggles on his cap he’d be a dead ringer for Field Marshall Rommel. Schenker’s costumes look like they’ve been designed by a fashion student on hallucinatory stimulants. He does like to follow a theme through though. Not only did Schenker wield Flying Vs of various hues for the riff-heavy electric tracks, he also brought out an acoustic version for the unplugged interlude!

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

Said interlude was a master-stroke of gig management. ‘Follow Your Heart’ flowed into ‘Eye Of The Storm’ and ‘Send Me An Angel’ to provide a respite from the riffage. The mood change was a winner and set the scene for a rousing sing-along ‘Wind Of Change’. Dramatic stuff.

‘Tease Me, Please Me’ dealt a stomping change up, and cleared the way for a thunderously received tribute to Lemmy in the shape of ‘Overkill’. Motorhead’s erstwhile drummer Mikkey Dee excelled himself, needless to say, and we almost didn’t notice the jarring fit between Meine’s nasal vocal and the guttural delivery of the original. Thoughtful gesture.

Rather than the staccato ending of Motorhead’s version, we were led into a high tech (and marginally overlong, inevitably) Dee drum solo where the kit was hoisted up into the rigging and am insane amount of lights and strobes span off the base, climaxing with a video wall backdrop of every Scorpions album cover. Showbiz, baby.

Dee was on target again for a fiery ‘Blackout’, an absolute must for the live arena; followed by ‘Big City Nights’ supported by the big audience backing vocals and cheesy graphics on the big screen.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

The band took such prolonged plaudits at the end of the set – so out of kilter with the modern trend of short or no breaks at all – that I momentarily wondered if there would be no encore at all.

No need for concern, this was all part of the plan. The band re-emerged for a double ‘Love At First Sting’ whammy. First was the power balled that slayed them all, ‘Still Loving You’ grandstanding the loudest singalong and Schenker’s most fluid playing of the night. We were then invited to join an a capella verse or two of ‘Holiday’, which proved to be both spine tingling and remarkably tuneful. ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, of course, simultaneously brought the show to a close and the house down.

You have to love the Scorps. Their professionalism, work ethic and honesty is blindingly clear. They are in the entertainment business, they respect their audience and they know how to serve up a proper show. As the band milked the moments out front, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. Class.

Andy Nathan writes: I always come away from the Scorpions all too rare UK shows thinking they are unfairly underrated as a band. Perhaps it was the losing battle to conceal their thinning hair, the heavy German accents or THAT whistling song, but they are rarely mentioned in the critically acclaimed tones as, say, Judas Priest or even UFO.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

Their sheer longevity is impressive and was pleasingly reflected in the set list from the very recent (‘We Built This House’ is a modern classic) to the ancient- the Uli Jon Roth-era medley delighted me but mystified many of the (generally younger and more European) fans near me at the front.

While a step down from their mid eighties human pyramid-forming peak, the band’s energy is still impressive. There were too many guitar or drum solo passages in a set that was a tad short at an hour and 40 minutes, but that is a small price to pay if it helps Klaus Meine to stay in such good voice at 70.

A word too for the equally youthful septuagenarian to be, Rudolf Schenker, who forsook his usual rhythm duties to play some of the night’s best solos- indeed on ‘Still Loving You’ his tone and melody, not to say his pose stooped over a flying V, reminded me, dare I say it, of brother Michael.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

Personal highlights for me were a rare airing of ‘Is There Anybody There’ with its reggae lilt and Uriah Heep-inspired ‘ah-ha-aa-aa’ refrain; ‘Coast To Coast’ which as an instrumental carried a stronger tune than virtually all the bands I saw all day, the acoustic interlude, in particular a beautiful ‘Send Me An Angel’ which proves the Scorps do ballads better than any; and, yes, ‘Wind of Change’.

To many of my generation of metalheads, this song was an abomination in their catalogue but it has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, and this time it was an even more poignant experience as the optimism at world events that it expressed has in the current climate gone into reverse.

Scorpions - STONE FREE FESTIVAL, O2, London, 16 June 2018
Photo: Andy Nathan

While the 02 was far from full, this was a big stage production that could only be delivered in an arena such as this, and the Scorpions are masters of the stage movement and energy, and visual presentation needed to carry this off. Truly, to quote their own words sadly omitted from tonight’s set, there is ‘no one like them’. I just wish they would visit these shores more often.

Review by Andy Nathan and Dave Atkinson
Photos by Paul Clampin and Andy Nathan (where indicated)

Day 2 (17 June)


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Power Plays w/c 17 September 2018

THE PINEAPPLE THIEF Try As I Might (KScope)
JAWBONE Two Million Heartbeats (indie)
BAD TOUCH Hammer Falls (Marshall Records)
SARI SCHORR Thank You (Manhaton)
MALLEN Polarity (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 17 September (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 GIOELI-CASTRONOVO Set The World On Fire (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 FEDERAL CHARM Passenger (indie)
14:00-16:00 PAUL CARRACK These Days (Carrack-UK)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

18:00-19:00 JOURNEY Raised On Radio (1986)



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