Review: Firevolt Festival – Saturday

Firevolt Festival,

Stockport, Greater Manchester

Last year a new festival called Firestorm started to appear on social media. The lineup was a “who’s who” of the current rock scene, and the immediate reaction was that “it will never happen”.

It did! And it was utterly superb!

So, with this year’s lineup looking just as spectacular and knowing how much I enjoyed the first event, there was no way I was not going to be there for the second (now renamed Firevolt).

Firevolt is a two-stage festival, with minimal waiting between bands as one stage is set up as the other is “live”. Stage 1 – The Trooper Stage – is in the barn. A large wooden structure with an open central area. At one end is the large stage and at the other a massive bar. Outside this stage is the main gathering area with food stalls, bars, stalls, toilets (proper porcelain loos and immaculately clean at all times), and even large shower blocks. Beer is £5 to £6 a pint (including some great craft beers), the range of food covers every taste and the stalls sell a great range of products.

A very short walk away is stage 2. A “Big Top” tent with another huge stage and another bar or two, surrounded by a field and seating areas. It’s a fantastic setup, intimate but also extremely professional.

Friday review, here.

You had to be a hardy and keen rocker to be up and ready for the first band of the day as “The One to Watch Party” kicked off in the tent at the ungodly hour of 11.45 am with The Hot One Two. Sounding more like a Latin jazz band than a rock band they quickly showed why they had been lauded so much by Stret and Bev with a wonderfully energetic and lively set (weirdly totally unlit! Clearly the fans appetite for music wasn’t matched by the lighting engineer!). Not being a band I, or most of the crowd, had come across before, they took their opportunity well. I have never seen a guitarist gurn as much! The point of this slot was that they were deemed to be a band worth watching as they have huge potential. Have to say they were a perfect choice for that and I can’t wait to see more of them in the future.

After the Sons of Liberty yesterday, today we had the Thieves of Liberty, back on The Trooper Stage. Like Luna Marble the day before, they were given the opportunity after a Battle of the Bands competition and again, showed just how much faith we can have in good, new rock music being out there! With a somewhat bluesy vibe to their sound, they really impressed with songs such as “Sick Pup”, “Calypso” and “Smoke in the Air” and were having as good a time on stage as we were in the crowd watching. The challenge for all these new bands is how to stand out from the crowd. It is great that the Firevolt team has this policy of showcasing young, new talent and from here it is up to them!

Last year (if I remember rightly) A’Priori were a late addition to the bill and I was more than a little impressed, so it was great to see them invited back (another Firevolt innovation, asking fans each year who they would like brought back the next year and also who they would like to see play that hasn’t – and actually listening!). They bring a very different vibe being made up of guitar, keys, and drums, and have a crushingly powerful sound that really appeals. A lot of trios could learn from their stagecraft. I have seen bassists and guitarists rooted to their mics and no real animation far too often but, guitarist/vocalist Tony Lang commands the whole stage, especially as keyboard player Mark Wilson has no option but to remain in one place. “Shotgun Blues” and “Wasted Years” are my standout highlights of the set.

Valhalla Awaits featuring Andrew Hunt (briefly of Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons vocal duty) are up next and certainly provide the heavier end of the spectrum. With Hunt mostly hidden behind a curtain of hair the Welshmen impress as always with songs such as “Skin and Bone” and “Inside the Sun” interspersed with a cover of “Breed”. They are another band invited back and it is easy to see why as they provide something darker and more intense than many of the other bands and add significantly to the musical variety on display. They strike me as a band looking for an opportunity. The potential is there, but they need some kind of opportunity to step up to the next level.

Another of the bands that stepped in late in ‘22 were Scruffy Bear and I remember absolutely loving their set then! Fronted by the powerful and wide-ranging vocals of Georgy Eaton, the guys from Yorkshire once again took advantage of the opportunity to impress with their bluesy, soulful music. I found myself wanting to ask the sound engineer to add a touch of reverb to Eaton’s voice as it was left very dry but that may have just been me! My favourite tune of the day; “Water”, but once again I find myself letting their music wash over me and smiling throughout, which is never a bad thing!

Following on, were Absolva. New to me, but hugely enjoyable with songs such as “Side by Side” and “Beyond the Grave” they delivered an enjoyable set at the harder end of the spectrum that kept my head nodding. I may have started to get that mid-afternoon energy drop though as I found myself enjoying from a distance rather than being completely caught up in their set, which is definitely a “me, not them” thing and one of the issues covering a festival single-handedly!

From the heavy end of the spectrum to the sonic syrup of the AOR end with Vega back in the tent. Fronted by the smooth voice of Nick Workman it isn’t a genre of music that really gets in my heart but I can appreciate it for what it is: a set full of beautifully crafted rock songs played with style and skill. From opening song “Worth Dying For” to set closer “Hands in the Air” it is a thoroughly professional and stylish set that, for those that enjoy the softer end of the spectrum delivers on every level.

In total contrast, back at The Trooper Stage, The Virgimarys attack the set in a totally different way. Quite how two people deliver such a huge sound is utterly beyond me. I find myself mesmerised watching Danny Dolan batter the living daylights out of his kit. He is a completely unique drummer with a style all of his own. It takes half a song before the first broken stick is thrown away in disgust and several more follow. Meanwhile, Ally Dickaty somehow provides both lead and bass sounds from one guitar along with punky vocals. “The Meds” sets the scene and the pace simply doesn’t stop for their entire set, both of them dripping with sweat by the end. A band that are once seen and never forgotten!

One of the bands that most impressed last year and were invited back were Mason Hill and on this occasion, they delivered even more with one of the stand-out sets of the weekend. However, I am writing this after an enforced delay due to illness and a holiday away, and in that time it transpired that singer Scott Taylor collapsed with a heart problem the next day. Originally he was asked to rest for two weeks, meaning an appearance at Stonedead Festival was cancelled. However, since then it has been announced that he has left the band permanently. One wonders what Mason Hill have done to deserve such constant bad fortune and I send every hope to them that a replacement singer brings a change of luck and allows them to take the place amongst the best of this genre that they deserve. That said, the set they delivered was simply astonishing and I will always treasure the fact that I was present. In James Bird they have one of the most understated and possibly underrated guitarists around, so whilst Scott will truly be missed, it is important to think of this as a talented group of musicians and not simply a vehicle for a singer. Our best wishes go out to each and every one of them and in particular we wish Scott a complete and swift recovery.

Finally, Saturday night headliners of The Trooper Stage were The Answer. A measure of just how genuine Cormac Neeson is could be seen in the fact that he watched most of the preceding sets from the wings, simply enjoying the music. From the moment they take to the stage The Answer have the crowd in the palm of their hand. No more so than when Neeson descends amongst them and almost sermon-like preaches as everyone sits on the floor around him. It is a simply magical moment. Just one of so many memories of this wonderful festival and how it is approached by both fans and bands. The set showcases everything that The Answer are about, glorious blues rock, filled with harmonica, dancing, drinking, and that sensational voice and charisma. What a way to end the day, and we still have another to enjoy tomorrow!

Review and photos – Rob Wilkins/Celtography

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