No thunderstorms to disturb my much needed rest overnight so I was up early and walking around the wider environment of Ramblin’ Man, which is set in a beautiful park with a lake, whilst listening to the sound checks taking place on the various stages.
Once the gates opened I decided to start my day back at the NWOCR stage where compère Pete K Mally was starting to regret being quite so enthusiastic introducing bands on the Saturday, as he hoarsely welcomed local band Salvation Jayne to start the proceedings. On a weekend where, Blues stage excepted, on stage females were rare, Chess Smith and her colleagues added colour and hope for the future. With a darker sound than many of the bands gracing the Rising stage, far more QoTSA than Motley Crue, they certainly woke up those still sleeping in and drove away any remaining hangovers with a set of rock of the “alt” spectrum, meaty riffs and raw vocals.
I then caught a short interlude of Austin Gold as they opened the Main stage. Polished and melodic in contrast to the more edgy vibe that I had left behind on the Rising stage, their set was pleasant but failed to grab me. Great music for chilling and listening to with smooth vocals from David James Smith but when I look back and reminisce I have to be honest and say more energy and passion were needed to really get the crowd going.
In contrast King Creature had travelled up from Cornwall to play in the “Grooverider” tent (nope, I have no idea what it means either but today it seemed to mean Heavy!) and took the opportunity offered with both hands. As their set started the tent was relatively empty, but once the twin guitars of Vincent and Evans had ripped out the opening riffs, Dave Kellaway’s thunderous bass and growled vocals, along with Jack Bassett’s pounding drums, brought a stream of people to see what the noise was. The day before people had commented on sound bleed into the tent during prog sets but when The Creature were playing it was main stage suffering from sound bleed! By the time I left the photo pit the tent had filled appreciably and the crowd outnumbered those standing to watch at Main stage.
You have to love a band whose set list is written on pages from a copy of Razzle (I was informed of the exact magazine by a fan who wanted the set list so trust them for factual accuracy!). Browsing social media later it was clear that King Creature made a huge number of fans in their brief time on stage, and may even have set in motion a heavier direction at the Fair in the future so successful was their set, along with the other heavier sets of the day.
I don’t know how bands are rated and scheduled at a festival but having Living Colour second on main stage felt as if they were being criminally undersold, and so it proved. Giving the crowd one of my favourite performances of the whole weekend their blend of funk and rock was infectious and immensely enjoyable. Couple that with the pure charisma of Corey Glover, guitar virtuosity of Vernon Reid, complex rhythms of drummer Will Calhoun and syncopated stylings of bassist Doug Wimbish, and you had almost an hour of pure musical joy. If you haven’t seen them recently, you need to! I have the pleasure again this weekend at Steelhouse and will be agreeing completely that “Elvis is Dead” and joining the “Cult of Personality” with a big smile on my face and my feet tapping.
Rushing over to the Rising Stage again I was just in time to catch Gin Annie. The Rising stage gave many bands a chance to shine and one thing that is worth commenting on is just how varied the styles of many of the bands were. In terms of the sort of music I like, Gin Annie totally hit the spot. Coupling really hummable melodies that bounce around in your head long after the gig, with genuinely heavy guitar riffs isn’t easy, but Gin Annie make it look and sound that way. Vocalist Dave Foster doesn’t seem to stop smiling the entire gig. The sort of smile that says that he loves what he is doing, and who he is doing it with, and that joy of performing is reflected in his band mates as they deliver a set of pure, unadulterated fun. There were so many bands playing this stage that made you feel rock is in good hands and Gin Annie gripped the future as hard as any.
There is no need to detail the many issues that have affected Inglorious over the last year. Social media has been full of conjecture and allegation and as people in Britain love to “knock them with big egos off their pedestals” (a quote I heard just before they went onstage) sides have been taken. I am more interested in the music than the gossip.
The new band is immense. Nathan James’ voice is every bit as powerful and wide ranging as it has ever been and they are delivering the same material that people loved last year. When I saw them early in this incarnation the various musicians felt a little like session musicians with little interaction between them, but time has helped them gel and now they are a joy to watch on stage as they are far more mobile and clearly enjoying themselves. Phil Beaver is still a whirlwind of hair at the back, Vinnie Colla and Dan Stevens own their side of the stage and both are clearly excellent musicians. Where I get really excited however is on the other side of the stage. Danny De La Cruz, at just 19, is surely destined for greatness. The interplay and affection between him and James is clear and if it translates into their songwriting even their biggest sceptics will surely get swept along. The crowd is relatively small when they appear on stage. Scheduling them against Richie Kotzen AND Crobot one of the worst clashes of the weekend, but by the end a great many people had joined and stayed thanks to the sheer quality on display.
The two schools of thought about Inglorious can be summed up by what happened in the last song. Kicking in to “Until I Die” James left the stage, his band mates clearly confused by his departure. He eventually returned and stopped them playing, saying that the mic had been cutting out and he wasn’t playing until it was fixed as the crowd deserved to hear their biggest song sung properly. He played over the time slot to make that happen. Was it a a diva moment of the highest order or a genuine love for fans of the band and a desire for them to not be short changed? Those who know him well will tell you the latter. His detractors the former. All I care about is that when the mic worked it sounded bloody brilliant!
A couple of very short stops followed. Firstly on the Rising stage where Matt Mitchell and the Coldhearts, watched by Toby Jepson amongst others, struggled with technical problems that out lasted my brief stay at that stage, and then over at the Blues stage where I caught Everlast. Drawn there by the tracks on the event playlist it was probably the most unique sound of the weekend, blending rap and blues, but it was very static and a little TOO unique and I didn’t feel drawn to spend more than one or two songs watching.
Headlining the NWOCR stage, whispering Pete K Mally introduced The Fallen State. Playing for the first time without guitarist Dan Oke, the band are backed by an “Action Dan” doll on an amp in a tribute to his fight against lung cancer, wishing you all the best Dan. Sophie Burrell has been drafted in to help out, and looks as if she has been with the band forever (and confusing me as I had seen her in a totally different band at a festival in May). They attracted a very big crowd and utterly deserved it. Singer Ben Stenning combines soulful delivery, energetic stage presence and personality, whilst the instrumentalists seem to be everywhere at once, laying down complex and melodic tunes and rhythms. Special guest vocalist Leon needs a mention as he is back in his spot prodding me to tell me he can’t see, and using me as his unofficial photographer pit boss to keep his sight lines clear. All of the bands on this stage over the two days really impressed, but this was one of the stand out sets from a band just a little further down the road than the others. They need to keep up their game though as the pack are chasing hard and are hungry for success.
Also, a big shout out to the New Wave of Classic Rock group on Facebook who tirelessly champion many of these young and talented bands ensuring that in years to come there will be new bands fighting for those headline sets and considering themselves Classic Rock.
Nothing was taking me away from main stage now until the last note. Firstly, Airbourne. I really don’t know if a lot of people at Mote Park knew what hit them. Literally leaping on stage, Joel, eyes blazing, was a whirlwind of bonkers energy. Either side of him Matt Harrison and Justin Street sprint from side to side and back, and behind him brother Ryan at times looks like he has as much fun watching as we do! A mosh pit forms. This is the most civilised festival on the planet with people sat in chairs as if watching a cricket match and a genuine mosh pit breaks out. Watching both the pit and the reaction is hilarious. In case there isn’t enough madness Joel goes walkabout in the crowd on a security guys shoulder, starting a mosh pit in the photographer area as we all fight to get the best view and withstand the security guys trying to pull us back off the barriers. He then starts a game of lobbing pints of beer into the crowd. Somehow most of the contents stay in the glasses until they reach a grasping arm or ducking head at which point they explode all over those nearby. Until that is one athletic young lady on her partner’s shoulders takes a clean catch and drains the glass in one. Instant heroine!
Several times Joel refers to people saying that they are not “original”. He doesn’t care and nor should we. They are fun, bring huge energy and what they play is impossible to resist so just enjoy it for what it is!
Finally, Foreigner. I really didn’t expect to enjoy them as much as I did. Mostly, this was due to a set list that featured pretty much every Foreigner song I know and love and can sing along with. There was a lot of filler. On paper the set list was incredibly short, compared to say Black Stone Cherry the night before, but the sound and lights were superb, there was staging and the musicians were excellent technically at what they played so it all worked as a spectacle.
We weren’t allowed into the pit for the usual first three songs. Instead we got songs 6-8 which meant we got to see Mick Jones join the band on stage. Now looking more like a professor of physics at an OxBridge university than a rock musician he can clearly still play a mean guitar, and watching him interact with the younger members of the band is a true education. How about this set list? “Double Vision”, “Head Games”, “Cold as Ice”, “Waiting for a Girl Like You”, “Dirty White Boy”, “Feels like the First Time”, “Urgent”, “Juke Box Hero”, “I Want to Know What Love Is and Hot Blooded!
A joy that transported us all back to our youth, I was 22 when I last saw Foreigner and the set list was much the same, and a wonderful end to a fantastic weekend.
Review and photos – Rob Wilkins