Review by Rob Billingham, photos by Lisa Billingham
The overnight rain has cleared and the sun is back with us for this, the last day of what has been a tremendous musical journey but we still have fifteen bands to strut their stuff. While the excellent DJ Garry Rokjok Lewis is filling the Regency Room with his sounds, in the V Lounge, Northants favourites Spiral Dive were already on stage about to strike a blow for rock music. I have seen these guys several times and always been impressed. Today, however, I detected a whole new feel to the band’s playing. Slowly more and more bodies, some looking more delicate than others, made their way into the room adding to the substantial number of Spiral Dive fans that had accompanied the band. Despite axeman Tony Coleman not feeling at his best, we heard a set of some of the heaviest rock so far this weekend. It seems that having replaced the previous drummer with Nick Stock, the band have hit a turning point, and found a new edge.
Next up for me was blues rocker Larry Miller. Another exponent of this genre, Larry is always being compared to the late, great Rory Gallagher, so highly thought of is his music and playing. There was certainly a sizeable crowd gathered stage front and they weren’t at all disappointed. Engaging well with the fans and Larry’s singing and amazing guitar work well on the money, it’s easy to see why the man is so highly respected.
Already well into their stride, when I legged it back to the V Lounge were the Mr & Mrs Goodjohn fronted Soulweaver, a band with so many accolades to boast and worldwide airplay afforded to their music, Soulweaver are the archetypal self contained unit, doing everything in house. Their set of bounce along dynamic rock music hit just the right spot and boy, did the crowds enjoy them.
So it was back over to the Regency room for Virgil and the Accelerators, a band I had never seen live, but one that had been highly recommended by other festival goers. It was a little disappointing then that what had been a half decent crowd had started to dwindle somewhat less than halfway into their set. I guess the imminent appearance of Persian Risk in the V Lounge may have been partly to blame. It was such a shame, because these guys worked really hard and musically I couldn’t fault them. Virgil McMahon is one fine guitarist. I can only think that these boys were perhaps a little too bluesy for some people. Me? I loved ‘em. As it turned out I only caught a smidgen of Persian Risk, this as a result of struggling to make my way into the V Lounge as the heaving crowd was out of the door! Even from my limited view it was obvious that the guys were really rocking and most certainly savouring that “full house” atmosphere.
Sonja Kristina has been dubbed the undisputed queen of British Prog music. She has been, and always will be, synonymous with the band Curved Air, who were due on the Regency stage as I trooped back from the V Lounge. Unfortunately they were competing with London rockers Four Wheel Drive, slot times clashing as they were. Individually, Curved Air is made up of fine musicians who collectively perpetuate the Curved Air sound in some style. As adventurous and moody as ever the music evoked memories of student days long ago (for me at least). Their big hit ‘Back Street Love’ sounds as fresh now as it did back in 1971 and rounded off the set in style. Prog rock can be an acquired taste, but even so the small audience had to be a disappointment to the band.
After struggling through the crowds, I made it to the V Lounge for a band with one hell of a past; London band Stray who have a history back as far as 1966. These guys meant business with some seriously hard stuff. With the crowd well and truly on board and the band with the bit firmly between their teeth, it was just a question of if, not when, they would ever finish. Great atmosphere. And yes, Del Bromham really did solo with his guitar suspended from the ceiling!
Next up were Pearl Handled Revolver. How do you describe this band? Heavy-ish rock, with blues with prog interweaves throughout in just about the right constituent amounts, I guess. Formed initially as a studio project, the band as a live gigging entity was inevitable. With keyboardist Simon Rinaldo doubling as bassist via his keys, Pearl Handled Revolver aren’t your run of the mill band. With hints of music past and lots of juicy harmony sounds, they played out a set of well constructed tunes which allowed each band member to excel in their individual fields and worked so well with the more close up and intimate nature of the room.
Back in the Regency room, the seemingly indefatigable Tygers Of Pan Tang were at it full throttle. Stalwarts of the NWOBHM scene, the Tygers are proof that the genre is well and truly alive and kicking. Although perhaps not as heavy as some of the previous rock acts, a rollicking set of their best left the crowd in no doubt that these guys left a sizeable calling card and will be around for a long time to come.
As longevity goes I guess we would have to include Uli Jon Roth as a fully paid up member of the club, having in recent times undertaken a 40th anniversary tour of his Scorpions days. As ever, Uli had surrounded himself with a band of excellent musicians, including the young and very gifted Ali Clinton (highly thought of by the man himself). With the band into their stride, UJR entered to warm applause after which we were taken to the land of the Sky Guitar with Uli’s unique and effortless style a quite mesmerising sight. With Niklas Turman’s epic vocals adding bucket loads of vitality to the set and the band as a whole really cooking, it was a pity things had to end. Glad to report that one of my faves, ‘Sails of Charon’ was in the set along with Uli’s homage to Jimi Hendrix; ‘All Along The Watchtower’.
The penultimate band of the festival, Royal Southern Brotherhood, were breaking off from a tour of France to make an appearance here. Our last helping of blues-rock for this festival was upon us and with infusions of soul and funk it was difficult not to get sucked in by the ‘hearts on their sleeves’ playing by a band of top musicians. Vocalist and percussion maestro Cyril Neville led Royal Southern Brotherhood into an immediate groove from which they never veered. Highlight for me was the Devon Allman led ‘Groove On’ from the HeartSoulBlood album; a song born out of one man’s observations of his friends.
Finally, after three and a half days of almost non-stop music which has embraced all that is rock and one last mighty effort by the stage crews, headliners Black Star Riders brought the curtain down on what has been quite simply an awesome festival.
Coincidentally, it is also the last performance by Black Star Riders for 2014, but with a new twelve song, “pretty fuckin’ badass” (as Ricky Warwick put it) album imminent, I guess the dates lined up for early 2015 will start the craze off again. Back to tonight for now, though. The packed arena was pumped up big time for these guys and one punter told me he had made a 200+ mile trip just to see Black Star Riders! Hope he enjoyed some of the earlier bands as well. Black Star Riders rocked through a set of originals and Lizzy classics as you would have expected, and the crowd danced and generally threw themselves into the whole experience. Last gig for a while or not, the band put on one hell of a show. The seventeen song main set earned a worthy two-song encore of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ and the Bob Seger classic ‘Rosalie’. I’ve said it before, but the Phil Lynott legacy is so strong it’s inconceivable that Black Star Riders will ever perform live without including a big chunk of Thin Lizzy. It’s probably a matter of how big the chunk remains as time goes on.
So that’s it. Classic Rock Tours Legends Of Rock – The Originals 2014 is over. I’m sure everyone who attended will have that one special moment they will remember. As for me, it has to be the moment when the Regency Room seemed to fill with an amazing aura as the Blockheads struck up “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”. Quite eerie.