The first full day of music at Rockin The Bowl brought with it a notable change in attire from the RTB punters. The Cats In Space T-shirts that adorned those who spent most of Friday on the barrier were gone and in their place was a plethora of metal shirts; Motörhead was a popular choice, as was Judas Priest, but the vast majority featured the name and face of tonight’s headliner, the Queen Of Metal herself – Doro.
Those up early enough for the gates opening were treated to the sights and sounds of Doro’s band sound-checking, which included a lengthy run-through of Priest’s ‘Breaking The Law’ – a clue for later on? Maybe, yes, but for now, the job of kicking proceedings off fell to local groove-merchants Lowdrive. The fantastic thing about a festival such as Rockin The Bowl is that there are always bands that you might be unfamiliar with and when you check them out, their performance ends up taking your breath away… as Lowdrive did. Heavy riff-orientated grunge-tinted stoner blues-rock, what a bleeding mouthful, eh? Maybe “A more metallic-Clutch” might have been less wordy but Lowdrive has so many different tastes and textures going on that it will make your head spin: as will the towering fuzzy riffs on ‘Roller’ the title track of 2018’s debut album. The combination of Andy Sawf’s rough, authentic vocals and some fine Iommi-inspired riffage from John Hodgson means that further investigation is compulsory.
JOANovARC has had a few changes in personnel over the years and RTB marked the arrival of new vocalist Hazel Jade (Elevation Falls) who was announced as the permanent new vocalist a few days after today’s performance. Onstage for the first time since 2019, Hazel is an impressive performer with a voice to match her larger-than-life stage presence, and such is the chemistry with the other three band members, the average punter would never have guessed that this was her live debut with the band. Confident enough to coax some audience participation out of the early risers on ‘Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (well, it was a late night last night), and equally at home on mellower moments such as ‘Down By The River’ as she is on the heavier material, Hazel looks like a fine addition to the JoA ranks. The highlight of the short set though was the infectious bubblegum power-pop of ‘Say Sayanora’ which saw one of the most talented young bassists on the circuit today, Keira Kenworthy, taking over lead vocals. Damn good fun.
Continuing a very strong day of NWOCR-approved acts were band-of-the-moment, Florence Black. With arguably the most long-awaited debut album of quite some time only a matter of days away, the Welsh power-trio set about the task of introducing the assembled throng to some of the tracks on said debut album: the majestical ‘Weight Of The World’ (pick it up now pop pickers). A few tracks, namely ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Sun & Moon’, have been previously released as singles and are both met with howls of approval – especially the lighter-tinged ‘Sun & Moon’, a track that proves that the trio was justifiable in their decision to hold back on delivering the album until the songs were just right. A fantastic mixture of Foo Fighters-esque hooks and big-ass riffs, ‘Sun & Moon’ highlights the growth in the songwriting department from FB mainman Tristan Thomas, something made all the more notable with the exquisite ‘Grove Street’ which features Tristan swapping his trusty Les Paul for a Fender Strat and a fantastic picking-style intro – that chorus though, oof! On the album, it is bloody special, but in a live setting, it takes on wings and soars to the back of the bowl and back again just in time for Tristan to highlight his six-string talents. Ending on what else but a fiery rendition of ‘Breadfan’, this was one of the strongest sets of the day and one that laid down a hefty marker for the rest to follow.
So, how do you follow the full-on heft of a Florence Black performance? With the self-effacing Empyre, that’s how. If Empyre frontman Henrik Steenholdt was a TV character, then he would be Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Steenholdt doesn’t feel the need to break out any stereotypical frontman cliches, instead, he’s wonderfully deadpan throughout the set as he offers up quips about not boring the audience too much, etc, and how can you not warm to a band that has an official T-shirt with the commands “No Singing. No Clapping. No looking as if you are having a good time.” on the back? Thankfully the audience ignores all three commands and are having a great time as the widescreen, cinematic tones of Empyre wash over them…especially on the warm, slow-building new track ‘Waking Light’ – which sees drummer Elliot Bale just about steal the show from Empyre guitarist Did Coles – and fan favourites ‘Only Way Out’ and ‘New Republic’. With the band out on the road alongside Mason Hill, as well as having new material bubbling under, it’s crucial that Empyre continues the momentum that had just begun to build before the C-word struck and the whole world went tits up.
Hell’s Addiction played a bleeding stormer. No faffing around, no easing back into things. Just a heads-down, full-pelt 40 minutes or so of AC/DC/Skid Row-influenced rock and roll. Showing that the Leciester sense of brotherhood is very much alive in 2021, a special guest was on hand to make sure that the C-word didn’t put the brakes on today’s long-awaited performance: SKAM were forced to pull out of performing on Sunday, Hell’s Addiction drummer Luke Morley fell foul to the same, hence SKAM drummer Neal Hill was on hand to bring the thunder for the first Hell’s Addiction gig in some time…“1 Year, 8 Months and 10 days to be exact – that’s 619 days not doing what you know we do”. Any suggestions of rustiness were nowhere to be found, and as soon as the twin guitars of Liam Sargent (winner of best T-shirt of the weekend BTW) and Dan Weir kicked in then it was indeed a glorious noise. With frontman Ben Sargent in full-on kid in a candy store mode, it was actually quite emotional watching on and witnessing just how the last 18 months or so have robbed so many of so much. There is new music on the way but in the meantime, pop on ‘We’re On Fire’ on t’stero and crank it all the way up – still a total banger.
For Norfolk rock ‘n’ rollers Bad Touch, everything fell into place for their early evening slot. The sun began to shine almost as soon as they stepped foot on stage, and if that’s not an omen then who knows what is. Bad Touch, with an amazing backdrop of sunshine, if Carlsberg did gigs, then it would have been this. When Bad Touch are on form like this then they are (ahem) untouchable, and what followed over the next 45 minutes or so was, for many, the set of the day. With ‘Let Go’, followed by ‘Too Much Of A Good Thing’ and ‘Waste My Time’, Bad Touch were not hanging around – as well as not being in a rush to get anywhere – it was something totally organic and free-flowing, and a joy to behold. With the rootsy, soulful vocals of Stevie Westwood at the centre of everything that Bad Touch does, the audience knows to expect some emotion and a vocal tour de force, but maybe it was because of the lockdown and the on-off-on-again-off-again-back-on-again nature of their impending tour but tonight, Westwood was other-worldly. The band rolled from track to track and moments such as ‘Strut’, ‘I Get High’, ‘99%’ and a belting cover of Alanis Morissette’s ‘Hand In My Pocket’ were all warmly greeted by the Bad Touch faithful, everyone in attendance was bearing witness to something special indeed. Witness for yourself when Bad Touch hit the road later this year.
Black country hard rockers Gin Annie have steadily been gathering up a head of steam over the last few years (C-word excepted) and their hard work was rewarded with the sunset slot at Rockin The Bowl where they smashed the role of last-before-the-headliners out of the park. Melodic but also with a hard edge (thanks to the dual guitars of Byron Garbett and Brian Green), Gin Annie are one of those bands who come alive onstage and sound way heavier than they do on studio output. David Foster is an engaging, confident frontman who seems to have the uncanny ability to make eye contact with everyone in attendance tonight and making it feel like he is performing only for them. Most of the set is culled from the ‘100% Proof’ album and ‘Chains’ is still as memorable as ever, as is the call-to-arms homage known as ‘Born to Rock n’ Roll’, new tracks such as ‘Devil In Me’ prove that Gin Annie have put lockdown time to good use, and are raring to go. Catch them on tour imminently, all dates can be found on their social media pages, and don’t forget to pre-order the new live DVD/CD bundle while you are there.
And so to the headliner, and probably the most metal of acts to perform at Rockin The Bowl over the weekend: the Metal Queen herself – Doro. As mentioned earlier, the barrier was full of punters decked out in Doro Tshirts, and even some old-school Warlock shirts, and it’s no surprise that when Doro appeared on stage…the crowd did indeed go wild. Battering her way through a 90 minute set of old-school metal, Doro and her fine band of musicians had many screaming in delight as soon as Warlock nuggets such as ‘Earthshaker Rock’, ‘I Rule The Ruins’, and the glorious ‘Burning Witches’ came blasting out of the PA. ‘East Meets West’ is still fist-pumping fun and it is hard to believe that the album that it is lifted from ‘Triumph And Agony’ celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, likewise the ballad-of-sorts ‘Für Immer’ which really is timeless. On the subject of timeless moments; how about the Warlock anthem ‘All We Are’, which comes roaring out of the night sky like a runaway train and has the Doro faithful screaming along in glee, follow that moment up with a special guest appearance from Saxon’s Paul Quinn for a romp through ‘Breaking The Law’ and it makes for a metal-tastic end to the evening.
Steel City Stage:
As if 22 bands on the Mikey Lawless Stage over the weekend was not enough value for money, the fine folks at RTB also set up a second stage to highlight the wealth and depth of local unsigned talent – the Steel City Stage. The job of opening the second stage fell to metalcore/heavy sludge outfit Zero Point Zero who brought a killer modern metal touch to the weekend. Local progsters Firegarden were up next and for a trio, they don’t half pack in an expansive sound to their short set, loads of awesome jams and lengthy tracks were very much the order of the day. Donny boys Blame The Sacred are not short on confidence and their groove-filled set (think Alice in Chains/Black Label Society and you are on the right tracks) was an unexpected bonus on an early afternoon where many were staving off a hangover by not stopping drinking from the previous day. A Joker Among Thieves proved to be another new discovery, and with their riff-heavy grooves filling the tent (‘Stomp On My Heart’ is a little belter), a lot of approving nods from the grizzled veterans in attendance were very noticeable. Coyote Mad Seeds have a NWOBHM-vibe about them and find plenty of new fans amongst the Doro faithful and that big-ass bass rumble is still pestering Sheffield residents even as we speak now, one week on. Yorkshire banjo punks Shanghai Treason brought a jig or three to the early evening, and by Christ, they had that tent rocking! Catching these guys in a sweaty dive should be quite an experience. Closing the opening day of the Steel City Stage were perhaps one of the most experienced bands to play the stage over the weekend; heavy rock n roll four-piece Silverjet. In a sense, Silverjet gives off an aura of vintage Dogs D’Amour crashing a party at Axl’s gaff, throw in some big, hooky riffs and modern production values and you are nearly there.
Review – Dave S
Images – Dave Jamieson
Friday review, here