Words and photos by Tony Gaskin and Rich Ward
We were very excited here at Midlands Rocks to be given access to a great looking new Rock & Metal festival set in the heart of the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside.
Amplified Festival had pulled together a whole range of signed and unsigned acts from around the rock and metal world including headliners, Puddle of Mudd, Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons, and Reef.
And in typical British festival style, as the weekend approached, so did the storm clouds. Following weeks of lovely weather the forecast didn’t look great, but this didn’t seem to put many people off and as the storm clouds gathered so did the hundreds of fans.
The honour of being the first ever band to play Amplified Festival went to Bristol rock outfit, The Vigil, who took their opportunity and played a set full of gusto and energy on the Red Stripe sponsored main stage.
The Very Metal Art sponsored second stage was set up just a short walk away at the other end of the field and the set times were staggered so that there were no clashes between the two stages, so as soon as The Vigil had finished then VMA Stage openers, Dorja, were able to begin their set, bring some glitz and glamour to proceedings with a lively, colourful set. Still at the start of their journey, there’s some covers in their set and Sabbath’s ‘Mob Rules’ particularly stood out. And with this, the festival was well and truly underway.
With little or no delay between the 2 stages we had a quick succession of bands in a duel of Rock vs Metal. A duel where everyone was a winner!
So next up on main stage were the hard rocking duo of Rival Bones who created the first real buzz of the weekend. There are some high profile rock duos out there at the moment and it’s a hard style to pull off successfully, but these guys have got some great rocking tunes and turn in an energetic set. Having just released their debut EP and with more live work scheduled I suspect we’ll be hearing more from them in the future.
I briefly had time to dash down to the Shoot the Hoops stage. A third stage set back in the woods away from the main arena and first band on were We Come From Ashes, local lads who are creating a bit of a buzz on the scene with their thrashy hard hitting metal.
Back up to main arena then and time for Damaj on the VMA stage. Young thrashers who started off well and cranked the pace up about 6 gears, but whether it was technical issues or what, tuning seemed to be a problem, which was more noticeable on their guitar harmonies. Hopefully it was a glitch, as they seem to have a lot of promise.
Tucked away from the main site, The Tavern Stage created its own niche festival with eclectic acts booked that were either local or bands that had played at Cheltenham’s much loved and sadly now missed St Paul’s Tavern. The stage was on the back of a lorry which was christened by acoustic duo Plunderphonics, while their own beer tent, a skate ramp and Hooper Dooper hula act provided entertainment and a laid back vibe between acts.
Carrying on with the hard rock over on the Red Stripe stage, South African Ex-Pats, New Volume gave some catchy indie rock tunes to help us forget the gloomy weather, which by now was starting to batter the site a bit.
With the forecast storms fast approaching we had a musical maelstrom hit the VMA stage in the form of Bleed Again, a brutal rugged set that was the heaviest of the day so far, whilst in complete contrast there was the slick stylish set of heavy melodic rock from The Fallen State back on the main stage.
The pace was relentless with the two arena stages seemingly trying to out do each other with contrasting styles, and the VMA stage seemed to get the upper hand with a blistering set of technical metal from Codex Alimentarius, blending elements of prog, thrash and death metal resulting in a crushing wall of sound, but main stage counter punched with a curve ball in the form of folk punksters, Tess of the Circle. Mellow and soothing it counter balanced the ferocious nature of the second stage with catchy tunes that got the feet tapping and heads nodding.
It was if the gods wanted to join in as well, and with each band the rain was getting harder and the winds stronger, but Amplified pulled out the big guns. There aren’t many on the underground scene at the moment who are heavier and louder than Conjurer. Brutal riffs and bass heavy sludge, Conjurer keep going from strength to strength and were one of my highlights of the weekend.
If Conjurer were the beasts, then we had beauty in the form of The Amorettes. In the great tradition of hard rocking female bands, they have a swagger and attitude on stage that says “yeah we can play as well you know” and they do. Maybe with an intro tape of the sound of a storm and opening salvo of ‘Stealing Thunder’ was tempting fate a little too much as the rain turned into a deluge almost on cue. A set of upbeat, lively rock n roll which saw the stage get a hammering almost as much as the drum kit.
But with one last musical middle finger to the gods, Irish troubadours, Trucker Diablo give a hard hitting big F! You to Mother Nature over on the VMA stage with a raucous set, one last defiant effort to defeat the elements.
The Tavern stage relocated to the Tavern tent overcoming adversity and kept the show going to the extent that Solid Gone set up and played their set of bluesy folk rock with a makeshift drum kit made from a bin and along with sax and upright bass were an unusual sight yet delivered a thoroughly enjoyable set.
But by now the exposed hill top setting, so picturesque earlier on in the day, was taking the brunt of the storm. Torrential rain and high winds meant that for everyone’s safety all stages were suspended.
After much deliberation, organisers decided it would be in everyone’s interests to close down the stages for the rest of the day. Obviously fans, bands and everyone involved was disappointed but safety had to be priority.
But after much dashing around and talking, it was decided to set up an impromptu stage in the main beer tent and first up to try it out were punk outfit Healthy Junkies, who would have played all night if needed! But VMA headliners Acid Reign had agreed to give it a go on the tiny Tent Stage and what a memorable night it was!! These thrash legends have played some of the biggest festivals and supported some of the biggest names in metal, but they went back to their roots playing to a beer tent rammed full of metalheads and they didn’t disappoint. Front man H likes a lot of room, so feeling constrained by the tiny stage area he took to the very long bar and proceeded to entertain from there.
A difficult act to follow, but main Headliners, Puddle of Mudd were only too happy to get up on the small stage and perform their hits for their soggy and battered fans, they could quite easily have packed up and gone home with their fee in their back pocket, but Wes and the boys stuck around, a great gesture from a band that has not had the best reputation over the years.
So day one ended on a higher note than seemed possible just a couple of hours previously, but with more rain forecast for the Saturday, it seemed the Gods and Mother Nature weren’t finished with us yet!!