Review: Firestorm Festival – Saturday

As winter slowly turned to spring, details of a new festival in Stockport, Greater Manchester started to emerge. The first lineup announcements were stellar and just kept getting better. In fact, so good, that conversations with friends in the scene tended to be met with responses varying from a straight “It’s a con!” to “They will never sell enough tickets for that to happen”. The price for tickets was more than reasonable, so I decided to go all out and book a “long weekend” ticket and see what happened.

What those nay-sayers didn’t think about was that the lineup was actually really clever. There were no arena-level headliners to blow the budget. Simply a lineup of most of the best bands the NWoCR scene currently offers, with headliners that are in the ascendancy and command a following that makes them worthy of the top of a bill. If it had just been the lineup, it would have been a great little festival. What I hadn’t counted on was everything else!

Arriving at the location I found myself in a stunningly beautiful country park. The drive in along sun-dappled lanes rich in bird life ended at a cascading waterfall and then the ticket office. The welcome was genuine and friendly. A quick exchange of tickets for wristbands and a couple of beer tokens, then shown to a lush green field to park up. As soon as I stopped, my new neighbour invited me to join them for a drink and the weekend continued in that vein.

I walked around the site and was blown away. A combination wedding venue and festival site, most of the infrastructure that makes a festival so expensive and complex was pre-installed. Main stage was a huge barn, with a central area open to the rich blue sky, but the stage and bar, along with seating and the barrier area all under cover. A good thing as the festival took place over a weekend of unbroken sunshine and 30degree temperatures! The stage was HUGE. Outside was a double-decker bus as a bar, with a roof terrace (scene of action man Shane Greenhall’s daredevil antics later), a real ale bar (drinks £5 a pint in all bars by token), food stalls from Greek to BBQ, pizza to tacos, all freshly cooked as you waited, unlike the usual warm and stale festival grub, again all well priced, and a very small retail offering. The toilets were porcelain, flushed, and immaculately clean. Proper showers adjoined. A dirt road led to stage two, a Big Top tent with another huge stage and several more bars arranged like hobbit houses around the field. Campers literally camped within sight of the stage!

Day two dawned even hotter and sunnier than the previous and rehydration became important even before the next of the poll winners, Black Roze bounded onto the stage. Fronted by Victoria “Viixen” Roze and guitarist Baz Roze they were well worthy of the honour afforded them! Viixen teasing the crowd with a bullwhip and a super cover of Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ amongst the highlights. The rapport between the two was particularly fun to watch and a great start to the day.

Start times in the Big Top were literally as sets finished in the Barn and vice versa, so the step counter was blurring as I rushed the short distance between them to catch the start of Valhalla Awaits‘ set. Very much at the harder end of the spectrum, Andrew Hunt is a commanding frontman with a superb pedigree leading a band capable of some crushing riffs. Whilst the crowd is small to start with, it grows appreciably as those still in their tents and motorhome are drawn to find out where all the noise is coming from. A superb cover of Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’ and a preview of the new single ‘Inside the Sun’ stand out in the set for me.

Bastette

Back to the stage shuffle up to the Barn and my first experience of Bastette and vocalist Caroline Kenyon, and certainly not my last. The word that came to mind immediately was “seductive” as she delivered a set of great powerful catchy tunes with a stage presence that never let you look away. One of my favourite acts of the weekend to photograph as there was always a look or pose to frame whilst the music worked its way into your brain and stayed there long after the set finished. For me, the whole point of festivals of this size is to find new music and Bastette are now firmly on my radar for the future.

Two weeks previously at Steelhouse Festival I had been blown away by These Wicked Rivers so I was looking forward to a second bite of that particular cherry immensely. I clearly wasn’t the only one as the Big Top was utterly rammed for their set and they set about showing why they are rising so quickly through the ranks. I love the combination of a bluesy feel with sheer raw power. Arran Day’s solos hit the mark every time, punctuated with his high kicks (at one point copied by stand-in bassist Mart Trail behind his back) and occasional forays down to the crowd. I still don’t get the standard lamps but now love the bizarre visual they bring. Genuinely one of my top bands at the moment and loved every second of their set.

South of Salem

A few months ago I caught the next band South of Salem on a smallish stage at a festival in Swansea but today, on a bigger stage and with a very enthusiastic audience they absolutely put that performance in the shade. With the entire band charging from riser to riser and leaping back to the stage, a solid “look” and some crushing songs at the heavier end of the spectrum (check out ‘Let Us Prey’ and ‘Cold Day In Hell’ that topped and tailed the set) they left ears ringing and beaming smiles all around the Barn.

Next up, one of my favourite vocalists around right now, Dan Byrne, this timer back with Revival Black after performing with Myke Gray at Steelhouse recently. The set took place just before the new album ‘Under The Light’ was released and erupted into life with ‘Believe’ from that piece of work. What a way to start a set! A stunning driving rocker that allows Dan to show off some serious vocal fireworks. ‘Take You Out’ followed with a sing-along hook that was infectious and by the time the third song off the new album ‘See You Again’ had exploded into life it became clear that the new album was going to be something really special. Several times Dan looked a little shocked by the reception they received but it was much deserved. One of the bands of the moment, as proven by the album entering the rock chart at number two in its first week not long after the last notes had died away at Firestorm. [Since writing this, Revival Black and Dan Byrne have parted company, Kim Jennett will stand in on vocals for the remainder of 2022’s live dates – our very best wishes to Dan, Revival Black, and Kim]

I always try to be honest and the next band up at the Barn failed to connect with me at all; Gorilla Riot. Their sound, a bluesy vibe, should have really worked for me, but on stage, it all seemed a bit directionless and laid back so it was very hard to find the energy to enjoy it! I will certainly keep an open mind if I come across them again as we can all have off days, as both reviewer and band, and I know that my energy levels were flagging by this point!

Across the field again for the epitome of laid back and bluesy as the ridiculously talented Chis Buck took to the stage in another of his vehicles, Buck & Evans. With Sally Ann Evans sitting mid-stage behind a keyboard and Chris a relatively static performer, they let the music speak for them and it does that and more. From opener ‘Slow Train’ the crowd were transfixed as silky smooth vocals and gloriously understated guitar lines washed over them. Two new songs featured in the set, ‘Never Enough’ (the slow new one) and ‘Calling Time’ (the other new one) and both sounded every bit as delicious as the older material. Honey for the soul in a tent in the countryside.

Empyre bought everybody back to the Barn and immediately set about killing the vibe, in the nicest possible way. An Empyre set is to be transported, with atmospheric and layered tones and vocals to another place, the music washes over you and captivates. Henrik Steenholdt’s vocals are pitched low, then surrounded by a sound that sits out over the fields effortlessly as if they are a giant arena, I found myself savouring a long drink, watching from the back rather than crushed against a barrier as I relaxed and let the music just wash over me.

Inglorious

Two weeks previously I had seen Inglorious headline the Friday at Steelhouse and whilst I enjoyed their set, it didn’t stand out as one of their best (I have seen them play MANY times). Tonight though the energy levels seemed higher and the set raised the bar. The setlist was pretty much the same, but Nathan James’s incredible voice seemed stronger and he had more energy on stage. Danny Dela Cruz and Dan Stevens – two of the best guitarists around – feed off each other when the band lets rip and it is great to see them both showing off their skills. The set has everything from older classics to newer material and the cover of the Heart classic ‘Barracuda’ is breathtaking. During ‘Holy Water’ Nathan left the stage and joined the crowd, singing as he went in search of a beer. Typically most glasses he found were empty until he was offered a slug from a metal chalice. Credit for simply giving it a go rather than wondering what the heck he might be about to drink!

Another band from Steelhouse next as The Dust Coda took to the stage back at the Barn. For me, these guys play a brand of rock that keeps you thinking. The sound is both melodic and riff-based, with John Drake’s raw vocals complimenting Adam Mackie’s guitar lines beautifully, next to them, Tony Ho provides thunderous bass whilst being the most active member on stage. Opening with ‘Jimmy 2 Times’ and given an extended set of thirteen songs they were able to showcase a wide range of their catalogue that would please any fan and make many new ones.

The last headliners to be announced for the festival due to ongoing tour commitments were veterans FM. Thanks to one of the best-lit sets of the weekend and a full stage of musicians, this was one of the most visually and musically appealing performances of the weekend. Watching and listening to vocalist Steve Overland is a masterclass in how to front a band; his face contorted with emotion as he wrings out perfectly pitched high notes. The sound is beautifully layered thanks to Jim Kirkpatrick and Merv Goldsworthy, and then the rhythm section keeps everything rattling along brilliantly. Not a band I have listened to a lot, but definitely a highlight of a day of so many!

Finally, to the headliners back in the Barn and for many the band of the entire weekend – Those Damn Crows. Every time I see the Crows on stage, the Crow family has grown bigger, the band has developed, the songs are more polished, the energy higher and the stage show clearly ready for larger venues. Of course, Shane Greenhall is the focus, both vocally and in terms of stage presence as before the first song has even really begun he is off the stage and in the face of the audience. We get the full monty thrown at us tonight. The songs that show the heavier side of the band (including a sneak peek of a new song, ‘Wake Up’, that is heavy as f^&*), the “stadium” section in the middle of ‘Be You’, ‘Never Win’ and of course “Blink Of An Eye”, as well as a cover version of The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ that went down brilliantly. Shane of course cannot stay on the stage and at one point almost takes out a diminutive photographer as he leaps to a bass speaker. Later he charges to the top of the double-decker bus bar before leaping off spectacularly and also disappears to the bar to get a round of shots for the band. Clearly heading to bigger and better things every time you see them and a fitting end to a superb day.

Review and images – Rob Wilkins/Celtography 

Friday review, here.

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3 comments

  1. Wow! Now that’s what I call a comprehensive review!!! Especially great to see you really appreciated Bastette 🤘🏻🤘🏻🤘🏻

  2. Glad you enjoyed Bastette, I love their music and you are right, Caroline has an amazing stage presence and is very photogenic.Songs are very catchy and the band has genuine talent and deserves to be heard more. Genuinely lovely people too. Wish them lots of success for the future.

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