Review: Firestorm Festival – Sunday

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 were 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!

Yet another beautiful and warm day dawned for the third and final day and the job of kicking things off went to Blackpool trio A’Priori. Never having come across the band before I thoroughly enjoyed their set, which had a very different vibe courtesy of drums, guitar, and keyboard as opposed to bass. They really got the early risers going with a superb cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ alongside their own, catchy material.

Following them onstage were Firekind who had travelled all the way up from my own neck of the woods in Devon. Delivering one of the most complex soundscapes of the festival, Firekind combines energy and superb musicianship to win over a crowd that I suspect hadn’t encountered them before. It is unusual to see two trios follow each other onstage at a festival and it was fascinating to hear just how layered a sound yet how different these first two bands were.

Kicking things off on the Big Top stage were Liverpool-based Groove Rock band Attic Theory. I have to say I was very surprised to see, amongst the very much middle-aged multiple band members (I think six on stage), a very young female bass player. All became clear when during the set the band introduced Lucy, a student of one of the guitarists, who did an amazing job of standing in for the usual bass player Kenny, who had gone to Bloodstock. With new single ‘Narrow Lines’ dedicated to the suicide support charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a cover of ‘Time After Time’, and a deliciously husky vocal delivery, they impressed a lot!

King Herd (or Kind Herd as introduced by the onstage compère) were another band that had played recently at Steelhouse. My impression of them there was that the big stage somewhat overwhelmed them as, whilst I enjoyed their music, visually they didn’t keep my attention. Today, however, on the smaller stage, I found them much more engaging and therefore kept more of my attention on the music. The slower songs in their set had a real Thunder-vibe about them and it will be really interesting to see how they develop over time.

Mid-afternoon and the time when my energy and attention traditionally wane at festivals but with the lineup taking the festival through to close there was no chance of that whatsoever.

First to one of my favourite bands of the moment, the superb Scarlet Rebels from Llanelli (and proud of it!). Taking the stage for what was probably the hottest set of the day, lead guitarist Chris Jones had clearly done his homework, as he stood in front of a very shiny fan. This also had the effect of every photo featuring him, looking like a shampoo advert with his locks flying everywhere. I am clearly not the only one that had become an admirer as the tent was rammed with one of the biggest crowds of the day, taking on the role of choir for ‘Take me Home’ and the anthemic ‘These Days’, “dedicated” to Boris Johnson. It is going to be fascinating to see how the Rebels continue to drive their rise through the ranks because the sky really is the limit.

Back in the days of Ramblin’ Man festival, I caught a band on the Rising stage that really impressed me, but somehow I haven’t managed to see them anywhere nearby since then. So I was eagerly anticipating Ryders Creed‘s set and I was definitely not disappointed! Vocalist Ryan Antony Hulme was every bit the showman I remembered. Alternating between brooding intensity and manic energy, covering every inch of the stage and owning every word of every lyric. Behind him Myles on guitar, Richard on Bass, and Lee on drums deliver some fearsome riffs and rhythms. Genuinely one of the sets and performances of the day for me!

I attended the next set with an open mind, but a heavy heart. I’ve seen The Quireboys a number of times over the last couple of years and loved every moment, but the recent fallout and legal issues between the band and departed vocalist Spike left me wondering what would remain. Being honest, I found it musically spot on. Great songs, professionally delivered. But for me, the magic was missing. I loved the edge and unpredictability that Spike bought to every performance. Nobody really knew what would happen next. Yes to some it might be unprofessional, but sometimes music should be about more than just perfect delivery. It should have vulnerability and even a little danger, and that was what drew me to Spike. As I say, there was absolutely nothing wrong at all. It just didn’t feel “right” for me.

Three to go and everyone a genuine headline performance

First, the incredible Mason Hill all the way from Scotland. What I love about this band is the visible emotion on vocalist Scott Taylor’s face as he experienced the incredible welcome the band got. The bond between crowd and band was something to witness, with spontaneous sing-alongs breaking out between songs and choruses roared back louder than the sound system. So much so that their set overran, but after the massive reaction to ‘Backs Against the Wall’ (an absolute classic that always gets right into my heart when I hear it live) the band were given special permission to keep going and deliver a massive version of Audioslave’s ‘Cochise’. My face literally hurt from singing and smiling so much!

The Big Top headliners bought a totally different vibe from the same part of the country as the incredible King King brought the blues to the tent. The set was a slow burn. Solo’s brief and to the point as the band warmed up. In the sunset the grass banks outside were full, the music washing over a relaxing crowd. Then, slowly, they let rip. A stand-out moment for me was ‘Whatever it Takes’, introduced as being about watching someone die but not being able to do anything about it, which featured some emotional dual guitars. King King main man Alan Nimmo seemed to keep drawing more and more wizardry with every solo and I found myself utterly enchanted and occasionally realising I needed to breathe as I lost myself in some of the best musicianship of the entire festival.

So finally to Stone Broken, given the honour of closing Firestorm 2022. After a disrupted tour and celebrating an accomplished new album ‘Revelation’, I can safely say this was the most engaging performance I have ever seen from them. Vocalist/guitarist Rich Moss seemed relaxed and I got the impression he was really enjoying himself and the band fed off that. Guitarist Chris Davis and bassist Kieron Conroy were constantly on the move and posing on the risers. We got songs off that new album that had never been played live before, and poor Chris managed to make a mess of one, resulting in banter and fun. T-shirts were thrown out to the crowd. Drummer/vocalist Robyn Haycock’s grin seemed even bigger than ever and I really enjoyed every note. ‘Wait for You” was, as always, a chance for band and crowd to join in harmony, and the band were joined for the last song of the festival by their guitar tech. A great way to finish a really superb festival.

They said it would never happen, but it did, and I was there. I’ll be there next year too! Tickets are on sale now, and the organisers have even canvassed this year’s attendees for suggestions for bands to repeat, and new bands to invite. How about that for a connection to your audience, with every email answered personally by the team.

Friday review, here.

Saturday review, here.

More information about Firestorm Festival can be found here.

Review and images – Rob Wilkins/Celtography

 

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