Nestling in the shadows of Sheffield Ice Arena, and dwarfed by the high-wire activity centre that overlooks it, you will find Don Valley Bowl; the home of Rockin The Bowl festival, and given that we are the Steel City itself – the subtitle of: Forged In Fire Set In Steel, is very apt. Birthed in 2019 the festival offers up an alternative to travelling way down south for one of the many festivals that are rapidly filling up the yearly calendar. Faced with the shenanigans that 2020 brought, the hard-working RTB team pulled out all the stops to ensure that RTB 2021 went off without any hitches on what must surely rank as one of the best value-for-money festivals on the circuit: £35 for a three-day arena ticket.
Billed as a party night, Friday has a smaller bill with just the main stage (named the Mikey Lawless Stage in remembrance of the much-missed Falling Red bassist) in operation. The job of opening the weekend fell to Blackburn-based Bastette and my oh my doesn’t the larger stages suit Bastette frontwoman, Caroline Kenyon! With 30 minutes or so to make an impression, Kenyon set about the task of making sure that everyone savvy enough to book time off work on a Friday (or simply pull a sickie) were left talking about Bastette’s performance once the dust settled. Supremely confident onstage, Kenyon works the crowd in such a way that it’s hard to imagine her being anything other than a rockstar. Confidence and stage presence will only get you so far though, without the songs to match then it means nothing, but thankfully Bastette does have the songs in their arsenal. ‘Sick & Twisted’ is a creepy, slow-building gem, ‘Sunglass’ sinks its hooks in and doesn’t let go while sparking an Evanescence comparison or two, and the epic-in-the-making ‘Rollercoaster’ is the kind of song that is easy to imagine Bastette performing as an encore in front of much larger crowds, with Kenyon wringing every emotion out of her playbook before dropping the mic and leaving the stage as the band wail to a conclusion behind her.
There surely needs to be a UN regulation passed that Daxx & Roxane are featured on every rock festival bill, yeah? If ever a band was put on this earth to grab a festival by the scruff of the neck and provide some welcome relief from the relentless barrage of shit that was 2020 and is 2021, then that band would be Daxx & Roxane. Sounding nothing like you would imagine a band called Daxx & Roxane to sound like, the Swiss rockers – now based in London – bring some high-energy rock & roll to the party and play like it’s their last moments on earth. Each song is larger than life, from ‘Ticket To Rock’, and the big-ass drum grooves of ‘Strange Woman’ to the slow, bluesy vibes of ‘Lust & Love’ (complete with guitarist Simon Golaz breaking out the harmonica), and when they throw in a funky-as-hell cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstitious’ – it all makes sense. Daxx & Roxane are out on the road later this year with Dirty Sound Magnet, buy a ticket, and be prepared to dance…and smile…a lot of smiling.
As with so many live shows at the moment, RTB suffered from a few cases of acts having to withdraw because of Covid. With some members of Liberty Lies having to isolate, local boys Steal The City were not going to pass up the opportunity of performing on a large stage in their home city. With the band undergoing a change in personnel, as well as a change in roles (lead guitarist Smit swapped six strings for four, and now covers bass guitar duties), Steal The City are back better than ever and raring to go. With heaps of energy, along with some cracking guitar work and lashings of hooks, Steal The City are a pleasant surprise to all encountering them for the first time. ‘Good Old Days’ sparks a Wildhearts vibe, while ‘Know It All’ packs in oodles of razor-sharp riffage. Steal The City really didn’t have anything to lose, but they knocked it out of the park and earned the right of a return visit in 2022.
Making their debut outdoor show at Rockin The Bowl, punk & roll nutters The City Kids could easily have struggled to make an impression in the Sheffield sun-rain-followed by more sun-then some more rain. More suited to playing in a dark, sweaty club, than in the open air, The City KIds; JJ (Ex-The Main Grains), Dennis Post (Warrior Soul), Berty Burton (Tigertailz), and Falling Red drummer Dave Sanders, managed the near-impossible task of making everyone watching feel as if they were propping up the bar in their local dive on a Friday night after just being paid – cash in hand, in a stubby, brown pay packet. The City Kids are the musical equivalent of the work hooter sounding at 5pm on a Friday and knowing that you don’t need to return to work for a few days. In short, The City Kids keep it simple and play non-fussy, straight-ahead, fun punk & roll, and they don’t half play it well. Think The Wildhearts jamming with The Undertones, add heaps of attitude, and you are almost there. Anyone taking to the stage using Twisted Sister’s ‘The Kids Are Back’ as an intro tape always gets an extra Brucie bonus, but considering that these guys have hardly played together…ever…then the fact that their 40-minute set was one of the standout sets of the weekend, was all the sweeter. Special mention to Dave Sanders for playing his heart out on what must have been an emotional weekend for him. Catch The City Kids on tour with The Suicide Notes in October.
The choice of cover version can often say a lot about the band that is covering the track in question; earlier on in the afternoon Daxx & Roxane slapped-de-bass on a groovy cover of ‘Superstious’ and it was a perfect match, ditto Southern-fried rockers The Outlaw Orchestra and their choice of opening track – a riotous version of Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ that slapped harder than the undisputed champion of Russia’s face slapping championship. Lest we forget that Joe Walsh was one of the few guys manic enough to go toe-to-toe and drink-for-drink with Keith Moon and live to tell the tale. And it makes perfect sense for The Outlaw Orchestra to pay homage to that lunacy with a tip of the hat to the greatest president that The United States of America never had. The trio from the South coast of England are all about having a good time, but although it’s played for laughs onstage (‘Chicken Fried Snake’ – ”…I’m a Rhinestone Cowboy…in a nudey suit…” the tres hombres (Dave Roux (guitar/vocals), Pete Briley (pedal steel/banjo) and Ryan Smith (drums/percussion)) are serious musicians and it would be a great injustice to consider them a gimmick band. The songcraft, and storytelling on display is first-rate and The Outlaw Orchestra makes the ability to connect with an audience look effortless, and there is a lovely moment when Dave Roux presents a competition winner with a handmade cigar box guitar onstage, which – along with the only Sean Bean/Yorkshire – ”Bastard” reference of the weekend – was pretty damn special indeed.
On their most recent studio album; ‘Atlantis’, the Cats well and truly sharpened their claws. The trademark Cats In Space 70’s-tinged AOR/power-pop/melodic rock sound was still very much prevalent, but ‘Atlantis’ packed more of a rockier sound than previous albums, and this has been carried into the live setting. Touring with acts such as Deep Purple, Status Quo, and Thunder have brought a wealth of experience, and that experience is starting to pay dividends now. The difference between tonight, and five years ago when this reviewer last caught the Cats live, is night and day. With new vocalist Damien Edwards (Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds) firmly ensconced in the camp – to the extent that the band has just released a compilation album that features Edwards putting his vocals on older material – the band seems more comfortable than before, and perfectly at home as headliners on larger stages. With Edwards bringing his arena-ready voice to the party – tracks such as ‘Spaceship Superstar’, ‘Revolution’, and ‘Mr. Heartache’ all sound massive under the night sky. The harmonies – as always – are to die for, and bassist Jeff Brown proves that he is no slouch in the vocal department when he handles co-vocals on a magical version of ‘Twilight’. The strength of the guitars always comes as a surprise to anyone unfamiliar with the Cats and the six-string mastery from both Greg Hart and Dean Howard is something to behold, especially Hart with his Gibson Explorer, rather special indeed. Highlights of the set? Difficult to choose as the setlist was so strong, but ‘Marionettes’ takes some beating, as does ‘I Fell Out Of Love With Rock ‘N’ Roll’. Catch the Cats on tour throughout the remainder of 2021, start warming up the voice now though, as you will need it on the night.
Review – Dave S
Images – Dave Jamieson
Saturday review, here