Words & photos by Tony Gaskin and Rich Ward
Fortunately Armageddon didn’t decide to pop up this weekend and after 2 days of wind, rain and uncertainty, Day Three looked very promising indeed. The VMA Stage and Shoot The Hoops stages had been completely shutdown but with a topically Dunkirk spirit, bands were shuffled around between the Beer Tent Stage (now officially called that so it’s got capitals!) and the Tavern Stage with the Red Stripe Main Stage going ahead as scheduled, so let the show commence!!
With almost sychopated timing, the rain began to fall just has Sunday’s main stage openers, Crooked Little Sons took to the stage, but it was a whimper, the worst had been and gone, so the Rock ‘n’ Roll quartet from Devon played a rip roaring set of stomping tunes to get all the early risers well and truly in the mood for a full day of rock and metal.
With a full day of bands scheduled on both the remaining Arena stages and also on the Tavern Stage, there was going to be plenty of music for everyone, and a busy day for me!! So hot footing it over to the tent I caught some tasty Thrash action in the guise of Panic Switch, a local band from Cheltenham that I was suprised to see have been around since 2005. Although the thrash element was at the forefront, their style also mixed in some brutal hard core vocals and break downs. First two bands down and Sunday was already looking great!
Meanwhile, Fragile Things were keeping the pace up back on main stage with thunderous songs in a great heavy melodic style, one of the best voices of the weekend, a band to keep tabs on that’s for sure. As are Hell’s Gazelles. The Oxfordshire four piece got the early beer tent crowd well and truly rocking with an energetic set of hard rock anthems. Front man Cole Bryant was a real live wire and took to the bar to entertain us. By now Fridays deluge was but a distant memory, the bands were ace and the crowd were having a blast.
Instill were next up on the Red Stripe main stage, and when you see them for the first time they look like a bunch of mis-matched blokes dragged up on stage, but as soon as they start to play it’s like WOW, these guys are good! With a funky vibe, but heavy, they remind me of early Faith No More, great rhythm section.
Reflecting the diversity and range of the music on offer this weekend, we went from getting our funk on to getting our heads split open with the bottom end juggernaut that is Garganjua. The name conjurs up images of old Japanese monster movies, and this band is certainly a beast to be reckoned with, fast becoming challengers to Conan as the heaviest Doom band around!
From the beast to the beauty, and up on main stage Courtesans were delivering a beautifully crafted set of songs that were full of passion. This band takes you through the whole spectrum of emotion; anger, sadness, rage, love. Finally, people are sitting up and taking notice of this band, one of the main highlights of the weekend.
Full marks must be given to Valensole who were out actively promoting themselves handing out flyers and letting people know their stage times for their stint in the Beer Tent Stage. It would therefore have been rude not to at least catch some of their spirited indie-meets-punk-meets-rock set. Their promotion paid off and they seem to have won over a number of people who stayed to watch their set.
Day 3 has already given us some great performances and up next were a band I’d never heard off before, Desert Mountain Tribe. An amazing discovery for me, this band has elements of Hawkwindish Space Rock, early post punk alt rock in the vein of Echo and the Bunnymen and throw in a bit of psychedelic Stone Roses. Completely chilled out, I absolutely loved this band. Originating in Köln and now based in London, you need to catch these guys live, a perfect festival band, but I’d be intrigued to see them in a small venue.
There is literally no let up with the quality of the bands on show today with Sümer ready to blow our minds in the beer tent with their multi layered prog mastery. I was really looking forward to seeing these guys up on the VMA stage, but they are amazing on whatever stage you put them on, and the tent is rammed to catch one of the performances of the weekend.
I stick around at The Beer Tent Stage to catch In Search Of Sun, a band I’ve heard a lot about but not had the pleasure seeing them live before today. A band that straddles the fence between hard rock and heavy metal. Great riffs, impressive solos and funky bass lines are backed up by one of the best drumming performances of the weekend.
By the time Bad Touch take to the stage, the weather is possibly the best of the whole weekend and they get to play a set of classic rock inspired tunes in glorious sunshine and blue skies. Already being fairly familiar with them from seeing them in small support slots, I was surprised at how far they have come and was genuinely impressed with their confidence and delivery of some great tunes. With ‘99%’ being reminiscent of the Black Crowes at their very best, maybe they’ve just needed a bigger stage to show their potential.
I’ve always thought the name “Massive” was a bit tongue in cheek. The Aussie rockers are touring over here at the moment and the name suggests a bit of cockiness, or just a bit of a laugh seeing as front man Brad is a pocket rocket, but whatever the origin of the name, they play rock ‘n’ roll straight up and ballsy. It’s a whirlwind set that ignites the early evening crowd, and great to see that the art of the touring rock ‘n’ roll band is well and truly being kept alive by bands like Massive.
Amplified has certainly brought together a variety of different acts and the next two are probably some of the most diverse of the weekend; Charlie Baxter is an unlikely looking frontman who takes the Tavern stage by storm with a set of rock originals with a heavy electronica leaning. His infectious rhythms succeeds in getting people in the Tavern Tent dancing. Meanwhile on the main stage, Vega are flying the flag for melodic rock. Heavily focused on the keyboards and Nick Workman’s soaring vocals, the edge is added with a quite heavy rhythm section and cutting lead guitar.
One of the bands on everyones lips this weekend were the very popular Divine Chaos. Very nearly a victim of the weather DC were slotted into the Beer Tent line-up and they showed their appreciation with a killer set of thrash that had young and old alike banging their heads.
The evening was drawing in now and as dusk was settling, Unzucht took to the stage with their brand of Germanic dark metal. Melodic and heavy, the band won over many new fans, including me. Not normally a fan of the sometimes over the top self indulgent Euro metal, but these guys were ace, blending their darkness with a more heavily influenced NWOBHM tone.
To get noticed in todays saturated music business some bands like to employ a gimmick. Heck‘s gimmick is to get in among the crowd, right in your face. So much so one poor punter got pole axed by a twirling headstock. Gotta say, didn’t really do it for me, it’s nothing new, Baby Godzilla been doing it for years!! and you need to back up it up with the music which unfortunately these guys hadn’t got.
Anyway, that was probably the only real disappointing set I saw all weekend, so can’t grumble, I was onto my last band of the weekend, Reef. Of course everyone knows that one song, but if that was your only knowledge of the 90’s indie rock legends then you would be in for a pleasant surprise. Their big commercial success was of course in the late 90’s but they’ve kept busy with occasional tours and festival appearances. Highlight was always going to be ‘Place Your Hands’ with the crowd singing along, but they show what a great band they are with a set of diverse rock and indie tunes taken from their extensive back catalogue. Don’t forget they had at least half a dozen top 20 hits, you probably remember more than you realise!
It was down to NWOBHM pioneers Diamond Head to close proceedings in the Tent. Taking a break from recording their second album with Danish dynamo Rasmus Bom Andersen at the mic, they delivered an energetic hard hitting set mixing classics such as ‘Lightning To The Nations’ and ‘The Prince’ with 3 tracks from last year’s self titled album. This in itself shows the strength of the new material and the reason why the band are enjoying a period of resurgence. Brian Tatler’s epic ‘Am I Evil?’ brings a close to to what has been an enjoyable and eventful festival.
A lot has to be learnt from this weekend with regards to the logistics and manning of the festival, but you can’t knock them for putting together a killer line-up for it’s first year, and if it hadn’t been for the extreme weather, we’d have had a fantastic debut. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have put the organisers off and Amplified 2018 is already under way!!