Review: Nozfest 2021 – Southampton

Imagine you love music but never really see the bands you like playing together on the same bill. Or in your local town. What do you do? Well, a lot seem to moan on tour announcements, expecting bands to play their local village hall in between Wembley and headlining Download. Or complain on festival announcements that the headliners are crap and some band they and three other people like should headline. Jodie Bowie, a young lady from the South Coast decided to do something different though. She decided to take on the role of promoter herself and bring all her favourite bands to a small venue in Southampton. Thus Nozfest was born, featuring a host of NWOCR bands.

As with so many dreams, Covid got in the way of the repeat performance, but as things started to lift, her determination to make things happen meant that I found myself heading along the coast for Nozfest 2 at the 1865 club with no less than ten bands to enjoy.

I arrived at the venue and immediately encountered the whirlwind that was Jodie as she juggled a host of responsibilities. Now, Download is promoted by Andy Copping with his trademark hat. Jodie’s version was to stand out in a sea of black by wearing white and pink. Think the girl in the red dress in ‘Schindler’s List’ and you will have an image of the visual delight of one, petite soul dressed like that and standing out in a monochrome crowd.

That crowd had already grown to a decent size when the opening act, Spyder Byte took to the stage. As with many bands this summer they could have had no idea when originally being booked just how momentous their appearance would be, as, for many, this was their first taste of live music in such a long time. Not remotely overawed they bought a set of sleazy tunes and immense stage presence that grabbed the crowd’s attention and refused to let go. Nathan Hammond on bass appeared to be on a mission to cover every inch of the sizeable stage, appearing in my lens every time I raised the camera whilst vocalist Daniel Lawerence strutted and belted out some cracking songs including ‘Double Dose’ and the very enjoyable ‘Strip Club Blues’.

There then followed a real change of pace and image with Trouble County. Far less visual yet more complex musicianship that took a song or two to adjust to. As the set developed though, the intricacy of the bass and lead combinations began to impress as they deepened the Southern backbone of the sound. Frequent tempo and key changes as well as intricate bass lines matching the lead and vocal patterns kept my attention throughout. Coming after the live wire Spyder Byte, it took the crowd a while to warm to the trio but by the time they encouraged them to sing back the lyric “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on” they had certainly converted more than a few to their raw and bluesy sound.

I had seen the next band once before at a small festival in Cornwall and was incredibly impressed, and that reaction was reaffirmed and cemented by the performance of Western Sand. Led by Tyler Hains, and one of several bands with a lineup change, they were clearly delighted to be back on stage as they appeared following a little ‘Dirty Harry’ to blast into ‘Dark Horse’. They definitely got the biggest crowd reaction of the day so far including sing-along participation on ‘Going Down’. Covering ‘Mississippi Queen’ is easy. Covering that song well, far harder. The drum “solo” stood out for me with short-lived bursts of energy and variety whenever the main theme paused, rather than an extended focus on the rhythm section. In a year when so many have been lost, it was touching that their final song was dedicated to Lloyd Allen, a regular photographer and music fan. Western Sand were the first band to leave behind that “hubbub” where the room fills with the sound of people telling each other just how good what they have just seen really was.

Both The Wicked Jackals and Beth Blade and the Beautiful Disasters were bands that apparently played the festival two years previously but oddly, I had seen neither play live before! I think it is safe to say that I will be looking out for both again in the future!

Firstly The Wicked Jackals and a return to a bit of LA sleaze and glamour. When you can showcase a banger such as ‘Ain’t Gonna Change’ with its catchy vocal hooks courtesy of Oliver Tindall and screaming guitar solos via Marty Venus pretty much as soon as you hit the stage; then follow it up with a mix of covers (a bit of WASP and a smattering of The Cult) and home-written beauties (particularly ‘Scream’) and mix it with image and all the moves, you know you are going to have the crowd in the palm of your hand, and so they did!

The first half closed out with the aforementioned Beth Blade and the Beautiful Disasters (the only female representation on the bill). It may have been me, but for the first song or two Beth was the first person I noticed to genuinely feel the weight of the occasion a little. Then, as the set picked up steam, a cheeky grin appeared, more of the stage was covered and the set took off. Beth herself is one heck of a frontwoman and no mean songwriter (‘Hell in High Heels’ has to be one of my favourite titles ever AND has a glorious riff to boot!) Standouts of the set for me were ‘You and I’ ( a rather good power ballad) and ‘Tonight I’m With You’ (showcasing that for some the pandemic was an opportunity for creativity). It was also lovely to see Jodie given some spotlight when she joined Beth on stage for ‘Aint got Nothing if you Aint got Rock and Roll’.

Whilst the running order didn’t have a mid-list break, it is fair to say that when I looked at the lineup there was a definite jump in class and popularity from the opening five bands to the following five. Maybe experience, maybe exposure, but the second half of the lineup was what had drawn me to the festival in the first place.

That commenced with Collateral. Getting bigger every time I see them (in terms of the number of band members, now with keys and a second guitar to add depth and maturity to the sound) and just more and more polished, they blew me away yet again. Now if you were to list what you need to be successful it is hard to see why these guys shouldn’t be absolutely massive:

Image – Check
Looks – Check
Songwriting – Check
Musical ability – Check
Pure “IT” appeal – Check

It always feels that I am watching a stadium band in their infancy when I see Collateral play, whatever size the stage and setting, and both at Steelhouse and here at Nozfest they are keeping the momentum going and taking the whole crowd with them. Angelo Tristan is clearly born to be a frontman. I follow his Facebook feed and his anger and frustration at being denied the chance to follow his calling for the last year or so has been keenly felt. It isn’t just the Angelo show though. Every time Todd Winger takes the spotlight the solos are melodic but intricate and the constant driving rhythm behind every song means nobody gets any rest whatsoever. A huge reaction from the crowd to a set that includes an opener as strong as ‘Mr. Big Shot’ through an all killer no filler setlist, to closer ‘Lullaby’, and cements another step on the ladder.

I confess to being a huge fan of Hollowstar, mainly since an appearance with Dan Reed in Bristol where I both fell in love with their music and also the sheer class of frontman Joe Bonson when he saw my partner struggling to reach me at the front and literally barged (politely but firmly) through the crowd in front of her to get her there safely. After the reaction for Collateral, I was a little concerned about how they would fare but I needn’t have worried. I don’t think I have seen Joe so relaxed on a stage. Genuinely funny introductions to both band members (new guitarist Carl Ledger introduced with a gag about Kris Barras if he didn’t go to the gym) and various songs in the setlist (getting the crowd to clap along NOT in time and laughing at how bad they were at it) and even a segment where due to technical issues he dumped the bass and looked remarkably comfortable as a plain frontman. He even told the crowd they were “becoming a bit Bournemouth” when they started to quieten which I thought was comedy gold.

Beneath the huge likeability of the Bonson brothers, manic guitarist Phil Haines and new man Ledger, are some of the most lyrically complex songs on display throughout the day. Whenever I have seen Hollowstar live before, ‘Good Man Gone’ has really affected me. The intro by Joe is always very honest and emotional and it is a genuinely tough song to listen to. Today though he dedicated it to Phil’s recently departed father with a story about how he was the “good man” that had led them to where they were today. Many in the crowd were having to blink away a tear but Phil himself wrang out every drop of emotion in his solo and finished the song with tears rolling down his face. If one moment at the whole festival went to another level it was when that song was played. Utterly immense! Balancing that moment was the glorious segue from The Proclaimers ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ into ‘Wishing Well’ and as always the final song in the set, the superb ‘All I Gotta Say’.

The stage at 1865 is pretty big and that could make things difficult for a three-piece, unless, you have Matthew Gilmore playing with SKAM that is! Sporting the loudest shirt of the entire weekend he is utterly maniacal on stage, completely filling any space left around Steve Hill on guitars and vocals and brother Neal on drums. If he isn’t crouched bent over his bass he is charging around, eyes back in this head like a zombie or bouncing with more energy than anyone in the crowd. For my part, I think the energy of the last two sets had taken it out of me a little and I was more a passive observer of SKAM’s set than an active participant, but still thoroughly enjoyed songs such as ‘Bring the Rain’ and ‘No Lies’ (where Steve decides to leave Matt to the stage and disappear into the crowd instead) as well as a damn good cover of ‘War Pigs’.

Two to go, and somehow the next one rather than the last one is Mason Hill (which shows JUST how good a lineup Jodie Bowie put together!). I also got a little glimpse into just how much this band meant to the promoter as I found her in the photo pit showing just what big emotions music can release in us all! As with Collateral, I was lucky enough to see Mason Hill just a few weeks ago at Steelhouse and Scott Taylor still had the same shit-eating grin and sheer joy of being back on stage as he had then!

It is as if Mason Hill have been chained and caged. By record companies. By fate. By covid. Now, they have escaped into the light of an album release and an upcoming tour, and my God they are enjoying it. ‘Hold On’ opens the show and every single person in the venue is on their feet as Scott shouts “Wake up, did you really think I disappeared? Can you hear my voice” – ridiculously apt in the circumstances! ‘DNA’ and ‘Broken Son’ are thrown at the crowd with energy and passion, ‘Best of You’ is utterly sublime and provoked a singing competition between the crowd that was actually soulful and very tuneful. Just for a moment, I was in that stadium with phone lights on and a huge audience singing along. ‘Against the Wall’ is another utter cracker, ‘Where I Belong’ so radio station friendly, introduced by the crowd and then taken to another level entirely by a guitar solo that simply soars out into the night and across Southampton Water and makes you celebrate the human contact of being in the room with others experiencing it. ‘Now You See Me’ with its’ ridiculously intricate and funky guitar opening is the set closer of what was an absolute triumph for the Glaswegians.

It had been a long day and a lot of bands, and I would say that the venue was a little less full when headliners The Treatment exploded onto the stage, but in true headliner fashion, they simply delivered a set that showed why they had that honour. A blur of movement and activity with the two Grey brothers Tagore and Tao never stopping for breath and singer Tom Rampton prowling with purpose, it was hard to stop for breath. It is music to enjoy. Not complex. Not intricate. Just great fun rock and roll delivered well and with energy and flair. It also showcased how odd life has been when it was announced that new bassist Andy was playing his first live gig despite being a band member for well over a year!

Highlights of the set for me were ‘Let it Begin’, ‘Devil in the Detail’, ‘Get the Party On’ – where somehow the crowd found far more energy than I had left to leap up from the floor – and what should have been the last song of the set ‘Shake the Mountain’. I say “should have” as despite the sound man shaking his head and giving thumbs down when asked if there was time for an encore they went ahead and played one away, ‘Running with the Dogs’ chosen by the crowd for that honour.

Huge congratulations to Jodie Bowie for putting on such a great and varied selection of bands in such an uncertain climate and I really hope to be invited back next year (and to have a slightly easier week in the NHS to write the review up and process the pics afterward!)

Band of the day for me? Hard to choose one, so I will split that honour between Collateral, Hollowstar, and Mason Hill

Review and photos – Rob Wilkins

 

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