Three more days of rock, roll and roast pork and “last man standing” is becoming an ever more recurring theme.
“Last man” might mean, literally, the last remaining member of a particular touring band or maybe a sole representative plying their wares.
Opener Eric Bell – judging by his frail frame – may be the last man standing in County Cork. He’s never really outlived his Thin Lizzy roots nearly 50 years ago and his competent if lack lustre jazzy blues set was never going to set the GoR crowd alight despite the inclusion of ‘The Rocker’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.
By way of contrast Brian Downey’s Alive & Dangerous had more potential, focusing on the classic 1978 live album.
However, exactly like Ian Paice’s performance with Purple wanabees Purpendicular two years ago, Downey remained vocally silent and hidden at the rear of the stage behind his younger cohorts.
The result was little more than a tribute band set, that, whilst competent, failed to really capture the spirit or indeed soul of the original band. Perhaps Downey could pick up a thing or two from another weekender Carl Palmer and at least put the drumkit firmly centre stage.
In sharper contrast, Roger Chapman‘s set was an unexpected delight. Bringing together a bunch of seasoned rockers, including Geoff Whitehorn and one-time Family man Poli Palmer, the 76-year old frontman sprinted through an opening salvo of solo highlights.
Like his career it was a set pocketed with moments of brilliance from one of rock’s most iconic voices and a couple of Family classics were mere icing on the cake.
The opening night’s headline closer was something of a wild card bringing some fiery Teutonic heavy metal to a cold and damp Minehead. But Udo Dirkschneider‘s set was infectious, aided by an excellent band and a wonderful sound mix. Plundering both Accept and his long solo back catalogue (and including excellent current album Steelfactory) he strutted the stage like a camp commander.
At last, Giants of Rock was alive and maybe a little dangerous…
A no-show from Mark Stanway’s Kingdom of Madness due to illness was a real disappointment at the start of day 2, although the band will be playing more dates in March.
With Martin Barre we almost got a dry run of the forthcoming Tull celebratory tour, but without the additional staff. Barre seems a happy man these days as he powered through a mix of Tull originals and solo work, including the latest ‘Roads Less Travelled’, with Dan Crisp a faithful lieutenant on vocals and second guitar. The sound mix, however, was unimpressive – a recurrent feature in ‘Reds’- with Barre’s fluid guitar unduly muddied.
Barre self-effacingly referred in his welcome banter to being just above a tribute band. It will be interesting to see where the future emphasis lies in terms of plundering the Tull back catalogue. So far, Barre’s solo Tull excursions have veered towards the very early years. Whilst ‘Teacher’ excelled, ‘Hunting Girl’ (from the later ‘Songs In The Wood’ album) and an opening ‘Steel Monkey’ were equally convincing.
Chris Slade‘s current band is really a tribute to his own career, spanning four decades including time with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, AC/DC and Asia. To his credit – battling lack of monitor sound – he did provide some context to the material between songs, but his band were lacklustre.
Darren Wharton’s Dare were marginally more impressive than their gig here in 2017. Perhaps the juxtaposition with a less than convincing ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ in the room next door added an extra edge to their inherent melodiousness.
Wharton himself is an engaging frontman and with the formidable Vinnie Burns on guitar songs like ‘Into The Fire’ and ‘We Don’t Need A Reason’ underlined the band’s AOR credentials.
Opening the evening’s entertainment on the main stage, Zal Cleminson unleashed his Sin’ Dogs on what must, at least in part, have been an unsuspecting seaside audience. In what was a master class of stagecraft, it was impossible to avert your eyes from his unhinged, macabre, and menacing stage persona.
Majoring on the band’s recent debut, but with a handful of SAHB numbers – dedicated to Cleminson’s musical ‘soul mate’ Ted McKenna, who sadly passed a away less than a fortnight ago – the band’s brutally heavy, and impenetrably dense wall of sound was unsparingly savage, but provided the perfect platform for Cleminson to deliver an unforgettably charismatic virtuoso performance.
It was a show that was too much for Andy Scott’s Sweet – who drew a strangely muted response – to follow. Yes, all the hits were present and correct, but after Sin’ Dogs they were more saccharine than savoury, and the packed audience seemed unsure whether they were at a rock, or 70′s pop weekend.
At least some voted with their feet and headed to the sanctuary of Atomic Rooster who were plying the same setlist since we saw them here two years ago. There’s nothing really wrong with that – it’s a great setlist – but it would be good to hear some new material.
Pete French seems an ageless frontman whilst Steve Bolton remains as energetic and purposeful on guitar. The combination of swelling organ and darker themes evokes a certain era (Hammer horror?) but, for those of a certain age, a memorable one.
Wille And The Bandits also returned to the event, two years on, both more polished and diverse as reflected on new album ‘Paths’. And despite a couple of excellent opening numbers on the main stage – which suggested they have indeed, honed their distinctive brand of blues, rock and roots over the last couple of years – it was ‘no contest’ in terms of where the majority sought solace.
Last seen on the main stage when they lorded it like seasoned troopers, the Reds stage was more restrictive for flamboyant frontman Brian Shaughnessy, but Oliver Dawson Saxon were nevertheless the perfect closers for the evening. They gave the audience everything they wanted, and with the energy and precision required, rallying with 747 (Strangers In The Night) which got the biggest cheer of the night
Opening act on the main stage, on day 3, Vega are at the vanguard of AOR resurgence in the UK. They chose to showcase songs from all five albums with ‘Stereo Messiah’ and ‘Worth Dying For’ (from the latest) amongst the highlights. Buoyed by Nick Workman’s animated delivery the band remained energised until the end.
By way of contrast session ace Elliott Randall plodded through a dubious set. Musical references to ‘Duane Eddy’ and ‘The Ventures’ is perhaps all you need to know. Larry Carlton was imported here last year but surely the promoter should ask to see the proposed setlist? Randall’s set only came alight at the very end when ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ provided the resolution the thinned out crowd had hoped for.
Focus seem to be festival staples these days, and inevitably it’s a greatest hits. For an avid-Focus freak ‘Eruption’ still lacks the fluidity of the original and the breakdown section is something of a jazzy noodle-fest. The band only touched briefly on the new ‘Focus 11′ album but the overall musicality and durability of Van Leer and his crew is unquestionable.
Returning to the “last man standing” theme, the phrase becomes more even significant in terms of the Man band. Now with only Martin Ace at the helm together with sometime keyboard player Martin Morley (and bolstered by Martin’s son Josh on guitar, although looking throughout like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights) the band is a shadow of its former self. Gone is the excitement of ‘Many Are Called But Few Get Up’ and ‘Spunk Rock’ but at least the laidback vibe perfectly matched the “lazy Sunday afternoon” slot.
FM are possibly the perfect fit for a festival like GoR and they actually appeared here last year. Family-friendly, ear-friendly, they are slick operators even if a tad predictable. Understandably the excellent current album ‘Atomic Generation’ was barely touched as they ploughed through a “best of” including the inevitable ‘Bad Luck’, ‘All Or Nothing’ and a welcome ‘Crosstown Train’.
Their challenger in ‘Reds’ Carl Palmer was no less entertaining if slightly more pomptastic. A barrage of drumbeats may not be the ideal thing for a lazy Sunday afternoon but Palmer helpfully gave us the stories behind the songs. Whether the ‘iconic’ Moog solo on ‘Lucky Man’ played on a chapman stick is a fair substitute is debatable.
Given his cv a “Carl Palmer Legacy” rather than specifically ELP would be interesting and a version of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ shows the way even if not a Palmer original. (He explained that – on Greg Lake’s suggestion – it was played as an early ELP rehearsal track).
Cats In Space are almost what Sweet might have progressed to had they developed new material and it was no coincidence that frontman Paul Manzi moonlighted with the band the previous night, playing guitar and keyboards. In truth the band’s influences are more diverse, drawing on a rich seam of British pop rock from ELO, via Queen and beyond.
The rich harmonies and precision playing reinforced their seasoned session player credentials and they even managed to include a couple of tracks from the forthcoming ‘Daytrip To Narnia’ including the superb ‘Thunder In The Night’. It’s easy to see this band becoming the proverbial “guilty pleasure”.
Headliners Skid Row had U.S.-style showmanship in spades as they majored on their first two multi-million selling albums. Now with one-time Dragonforce frontman ZP Theart firmly embedded the band tore through a series of “hits” perhaps more familiar to our Stateside friends although ’18 And Life’ achieved their highest chart position in the UK and was well received here.
Rob Tognoni might have been construed as another scheduling anomaly, perhaps better suited to the sister Skegness event. A rousing ‘Shadow Play’ (Rory Gallagher) finished his set, evidencing one of his key influences. Intriguingly there were more ladies in the front row at ‘Reds’ than previously seen.
Rhinos Revenge – also in ‘Reds’ – looked and sounded like a Jam revival group, a power trio fronted by John “Rhino” Edwards of Status Quo fame, together with a moonlighting Jim Kirkpatrick from FM. We can only assume this collaboration helps pay the bills.
Sweden’s hard rockers H.E.A.T. closed the proceedings in the smaller venue but again were stymied by an appalling sound mix. The set was also heavier than expected and lacked the subtlety and anthemic nature of their albums. This was a real disappointment.
There was no denying vocalist Erik Gronwall’s unrivalled energy levels – constantly out in the crowd, cartwheeling across stage and so on – but, for now, Vega emerged as the melodic rock contenders of the day.
Rounding things off on the main stage this year were southern rock-styled Bad Touch whose ability to fashion sub-four minute tunes such as ‘Hammer Falls’ and ‘Skyman’ (both off the excellent latest album) should be applauded. They seemed genuinely privileged to command a bigger stage, and filled it well too, and with frontman Stevie Westwood particularly impressive.
Another year, another GoR. Butlins do a very fine job with the organisation, security and catering and whilst there are still a few debates to be had about timings, stagings and artists (and a very poor sound in the Reds venue) the weekend represents all that is good in rock, not least an audience reliving their past whilst discovering new blood. This year also reflected trends, as it should, and the resurgence of AOR/melodic rock.
But, for a certain demographic, the provision of magnifying glasses on the CD stall remains a defining touch, if not exactly “rock and roll”.
Review by David Randall & Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall
Great British Rock & Blues review (January 2019)
Giants Of Rock bookings are now being taken for 2020. More information
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk Sunday 21 March 16:00 EST, 21:00 GMT
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 14 March 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 23 March 2021.
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DIRTY LACES Breathe (Golden Robot Records)
ASHEN MOON Ashen Moon (Golden Robot Records)
ANDREWW Shadow Love (indie)
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