Review: Monsterfest, Inverness – Saturday

After a brief early morning jog to shake off the cobwebs (yeah..right), it was out of the daylight and into the darkness of the Ironworks for a full day of top quality rock ‘n’ roll.

Haxan, MonsterfestFirst up, and putting the “why aren’t you playing in my back garden” moaners to shame, is Cardiff based trio Haxan. Ten hour+ journey through multiple time-zones for a 30 minute set – that’s dedication for you. The melodies on ‘Bring The Thunder’ are bright and cheery, and soon get feet tapping. They certainly brought the thunder with them in the shape of a rather nifty bass rumble from Harriet Wadeson, especially on ‘Back To My Place’. Twenty hour or so round trip – ouch!

Fear Me December had slightly less of a journey to make, but you could argue that as they came from Manchester via Argentina, they had the longest trip. Playing quite a modern metal sound, with elements of Periphery-style Prog (‘Fight Me’ and ‘Fly, Flight, Dream’), with some pop melodies thrown in (‘Not Wired The Same’), Fear Me December was arguably one of the hardest bands to pigeonhole over the weekend. Which, let’s face it, is a marvellous thing.

Anchor Lane, MonsterfestAt the time usually reserved for afternoon tea, Anchor Lane took to the stage and showed exactly why they have become one of the most hotly tipped bands on the Scottish rock scene. Debut album ‘Casino’ is set for a January release, and if the guys are feeling any nerves then they aren’t showing them. Taking the confidence gained from opening for bands as diverse as Tremonti, Eagles Of Death Metal and Cheap Trick, the Glasgow four piece put on a stellar show that oozed polish.

London based Dead Man’s Whiskey follow on and, like Anchor Lane before them, it’s easy to see why they are so hotly tipped. Extremely confident on stage (but they have just come from performing on the Kiss Kruise which must have added an extra spring to their step), the band puts in a shift which brings them heaps of new fans. How can you not enjoy a band that slips a few lines of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ into their set? Joking aside, the material on offer is very strong, with ‘Make You Proud’ being one of the standouts.

Playing what looks like it will be their last gig for some time, The King Lot set out to remind those in the crowd what they will be missing during the trio’s hiatus. Hard, melodic rock with fantastic melodies and some sensational hooks, The King Lot have been a cornerstone of the Scottish rock scene for some time now. Shades of a harder edged Bon Jovi or Def Leppard, the trio have some bangers in their arsenal, ‘All I Want’ being just one example.

Gerry JablonskiNo chance of the crowd flagging during the late afternoon/tea-time slot as blues/rock guitarist Gerry Jablonski, and his incredible band, gave everyone a set to remember. Guitar fireworks aplenty from Jablonski and his gorgeous custom Fender, at times it’s hypnotic watching his fingers fly up and down the guitar neck. Some of the jams between the band members are incredible (‘Hard To Make A Living’ particularly stands out), and special mention needs to go to Peter Narojczyk on the harmonica for his sizzling performance.

Whisper it quietly, or shout it out for all to hear, Those Damn Crows are on the cusp of something big. Before Massive Wagons broke through, everyone was asking who would be the first band from a bulging scene to do so. Since Baz and company made that leap, everyone is asking, “who will be next?”, and it’s hard to see past Those Damn Crows.

Those Damn Crows, MonsterfestOne of the most energetic live bands that you are likely to encounter today, they make each moment count. Vocalist Shane Greenhall is loving every minute in the spotlight, and makes the lighting guys work for their money when he goes for a walkabout up to the balcony. Knocking a punter’s drink over in the process, he offers his apologies and orders up a quick replacement; class guy. Those Damn Crows have a supreme air of confidence about them, but without any hint of arrogance, and that’s a rare commodity. They know they have the songs and the spark to make them stand out, ‘Blink Of An Eye’ immediately springs to mind. Who says rock ‘n’ roll is dead? Not these guys. Watch them explode when the new album is released early 2020.

Romeo's Daughter, MonsterfestPenultimate act of the evening is Romeo’s Daughter, perhaps that one band from the ’80s that should have been way, way bigger than they were. They had the songs for sure, so much so that Heart nicked one of them! Hearing Leigh Matty singing the song in question, ‘Wild Child’, as we approach a brand new decade is quite a surreal moment, especially since the voice is as strong as ever. Who knows, but maybe if Romeo’s Daughter were American rather than English, they would have stood a better chance. Their highly polished brand of AOR still strikes a chord today, and with the strength of classics like ‘Heaven In The Back Seat’, along with Matty’s vocals and Craig Joiner’s classy guitar work, there is no reason why Romeo’s Daughter cannot continue well into the new decade.

Gun is the perfect band to close out the festival, and put in a set worthy of headliner status. Like any headliner worth their salt, they deliver a hit-packed set which is an incredible example of pacing.

Gun, MonsterfestOpening with ‘She Knows’, from their most recent album ‘Favourite Pleasures’, the band really does make it look easy. It’s only when you catch Gun in concert that you realise how many bangers they have in their set. ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ was born to be bellowed out at full volume, as was ‘Steal Your Fire’, and both are met with loud roars from a crowd in the mood to party.

The debut album ‘Taking On The World’ celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and naturally plays a major part in the set. The title track, along with ‘Better Days’, ‘Money (Everybody Loves Her)’, ‘Inside Out’ and the evergreen ‘Shame On You’ are all met like returning heroes. ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ ends the set and sends the happy punters out into the chilly Inverness night with smiles on their faces. Don’t forget that you can catch Gun on the road with FM and the Dan Reed Network this December; it should be a magical tour.

Monsterfest is growing into a welcome addition to the Winter indoor festival calendar. 2020 is up in the air due to all the redevelopment rumours with the site. Hopefully a replacement venue can be found if needed.

Review and images – Dave Jamieson

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