Published on February 3rd, 2018 | by Gary Spiller0
Giants of Rock Festival Review – Day 2
Saturday dawned blowing a hoolie, or was it a hoodie, as I misread a comment on Facebook such was my frazzled condition following the drunken antics of the morning after the night before. Three day’s supply gone in the blink of an eye. Do it all again? Of course we would!
Such is my belief in the meritorious attributes of the Intro Stage, I dragged my sorry posterior into Centre Stage to see, Welcome Back Delta, take to the stage in tremendous style for the weekend’s first hangover slot. The triple pronged guitar attack led by Rob Duncan, ably supported by affable frontman, Joe Kelly, and duck-walking, Andy Hammond, is constructed upon a solid base provided by livewire bassist, Phil Davies, and steady as a rock drummer, Steve Roberts. ‘Concrete Donkey’ from the 2013 debut album, Shocker, goes down a storm along with newer material from their 2016 release, Sucker. These Cotswold rockers produce a stonking sound that Them Crooked Vultures would be proud of and are rightfully cheered loudly by the gathered ensemble at the end of their set.
Next up is one of the absolute highlights from a weekend that produced many such fantastic moments; former Argent guitarist, John Verity, has become a firm favourite of mine since catching him live here at Minehead in 2015. Putting it simply I could listen to John and his band – consisting of bassman extraordinaire, Jamie Mallender, and young drummer, Liam Grey – all day; such is their sublime musicianship. Opening up with their interpretations of blues standards of the calibre of Sonny Boy Williamson’s, ‘Help Me’, and J.J Cale’s, ‘Cocaine’, bodes well for an enthralling hour. So it proves with the steadily growing Centre Stage crowd being transfixed by some new material in the form of ‘Never Gone Change’ and ‘Going Down’ from John’s latest releases, My Religion and Blue to My Soul, before John dipped into his slightly more distant back catalogue to rip through a great version of Argent’s anthem, ‘Hold Your Head Up’. Turning it up a notch next was a thumpingly good version of ‘Purple Haze’ prior to winding up proceedings with Bob Seger’s, ‘Old Time Rock n’ Roll’ and the legendary Chuck Berry’s, ‘Johnny Be Goode’. Totally enthralling, oh and who could forget the large duck sat atop John’s amp? The blighters were everywhere; even overrunning the merch stall run by John’s lovely wife Carole. It would seem that the duck has been adopted as the unofficial mascot of this festival; courtesy of much banter surrounding the feather ‘fiends’ on the unofficial festival Facebook group!
The earlier than normal start to the day’s proceedings meant that the afternoon sessions had an extra slot compared to last year, so I plumped for former Boston vocalist Fran Cosmo down in Reds having seen Manfred Mann’s Earthband here in 2015. Whilst not completely familiar with Boston’s discography I was thoroughly entertained by Fran’s set, with classics like ‘More Than a Feeling’, ‘Don’t Look Back’ and ‘Cool the Engines’ all giving the feeling of a greatest hits sing-a-long hour. A few minor sound issues were swiftly and competently overcome very early on and the large Reds’ crowd are shown why Mr. Cosmo got the gig as Boston’s vocalist for over a dozen years; no doubting his quality. Fran’s band members had only a week to practice this set and their quality shone through in bucket loads.
Yorkshire’s Straightshooter got the proceedings in Jaks off to a flying start with their polished “Southern Fried rock”, as frontman Jon Berry terms their music. Nice to hear something a bit different with their tunes proving most infectious. Interesting to note talented bass player Keira Kenworthy back for a second year in Jaks following on from her other band Syteria’s very well received set last year and that her dad Mike (once of NWOBHM band Raven) is pounding the skins.
Devon oggy-rockers Departed are up next, and from their first song began dismantling Jaks with a blistering 45-minute set. These four young men are riding the crest of a wave following a support slot on Michael Schenker’s recent UK tour, and their stagecraft alongside their musicianship shone through to every corner of the crowded venue. Fronted by former Empire of Fools singer, Mark Pascall, and guitarist, Ben Brookland (ex-The Treatment), Departed have not one but two charismatic frontmen who know how to ‘work’ a crowd and engage themselves well with their audience. Alongside them are brothers Howie (bass) and the highly charged Connor Spring (drums), who lay down an earthquake-proof rhythm that is completely unshakeable. With their music drawn in main from their eponymous debut EP, this powerful quartet set about the masses enquiring, “Are You Ready?” and tearing through top notch belters like, ‘Pretty Little Thing’, ‘Superstitious’, and ‘Steal Your Crown’; tunes that are destined to become firm favourites of future sets. Music of the future, infused with music of the past; great stuff that sent this rock duck happy on his way to the evening feeding.
Sadly, whilst eating I missed Hell’s Gazelles and Piston who both garnered more the favourable reports from friends who saw their sets, meaning that they both make it on to my “Oh nuts I missed them at GOR but must get to see them real soon” list.
Opening up the evening slots in Reds were pop-rockers Rews; a breath of fresh air duo who brought something quite different and refreshing to Giants of Rock with their catchy tunes, like their singles ‘Miss You in the Dark’, and ‘Shine’. Belfast born guitarist, Shauna Tohill is radiant out front and drummer, Collette Williams, the London half of this sparkling pair, is high energy alongside, I look forward to getting their debut album Pyro in the very near future to become better acquainted with their captivating tunes.
Following on from fresh as a daisy Rews in Reds are classic rock outfit Uriah Heep, and I’m not going anywhere. I have a soft spot for these guys and having seen them a few times over the years, including a fantastic appearance at the first GOR in 2014, one knew that the packed to capacity venue was going to be served up classic rock nailed in a quality fashion; and thus it transpired.
Vocalist Bernie Shaw, 32 years in the role, puts in a stunning performance out front with Phil Lanzon’s keys entwining magically with founder member Mick Box’s six string output; ably assisted by drummer Russell Gillbrook, and bassist Davey Rimmer. Heep’s stage entrance is heralded by droning keyboards and boom they hit the ground running launching into the classic, ‘Gypsy’, the band’s debut single from 1970. The classics keep rolling and Heep nail them in consummate style; 71’s, ‘Look at Yourself’, follows before the music progresses another year with the beautiful and entrancing, ‘Sunrise’. Curiously the year on year progression continues as Heep ramp things up a notch with ‘Stealin’’ off the 1973 concept album, Sweet Freedom. Every note is lapped up enthusiastically by a completely rammed Reds harking memories of Schenker and Paice’s sets from past festivals on this very stage. We’re brought out of the early 70’s with 2014’s rocker, ‘One Minute’, before slipping back into the 20th century with ‘Between Two Worlds’, which precedes ‘July Morning’ and it’s so familiar and sweet keyboard intro. Apparently, Heep are highly revered in Bulgaria where fans gather in large numbers to listen to this track on the shores of the Black Sea to celebrate the first sunrise of the seventh month of the calendar. So very swiftly Heep’s hour long set is at an end as they wind up proceedings with highly polished performances of, ‘Lady in Black’ and my long time favourite, ‘Easy Livin’’. What can be said in conclusion other than total professionalism? I remarked to my good friends alongside me “That’s how ya nail a classic!”
And so it came to the final slot of the middle day of GOR; curiosity got the better of me and I selected former Toto vocalist, Bobby Kimball, having seen Stray a few times previously. Mr Kimball’s achievements in the talented ranks of Toto during the late 70’s and early 80’s are beyond debate; hit singles, multi-million selling albums, Grammy nominations and awards; Bobby has been there, done it and got the whole shebang! Sadly the ravages of time and excesses that went with the then bloated monster of the music industry appear to have taken its toll. His voice is not as once was and indeed for ‘Africa’, the majority of vocals are undertaken by a talented backing singer. It feels like we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. There is no doubt Bobby’s a character as he natters extensively between numbers. The classic ‘Rosanna’ is held together okay, borne of the quality of the musicians that are on stage with Bobby. In fact, these are the very same gents that played alongside Fran Cosmo earlier in the day. Strangely the band depart the stage partway through the set to permit Bobby some solo time as he tinkers through several minutes of largely unidentifiable tracks; much to the bemusement of the rapidly diminishing Centre Stage audience. The return of his backing band heralds, ‘Hold the Line’, but putting it politely Bobby’s vocals are not as once was, and he really struggles with this classic song. I feel a tinge of sadness cross over me.
All that’s left is a classic moment right out of Phoenix Nights as the curtains close to bring an end to the set. However, Bobby’s not done and pops his head through the curtains to introduce his guitarist before handing him the mic to continue with the remaining introductions. Comedy gold anyone?
Photos by Kelly Spiller