Morrowfest 2012 @ Rock City, Nottingham – 13 May 2012

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Review by Ali Lewsley

Line-up:

  • Basement Stage

Drunken Bastard, I Like Bugs, Jaded Eyes, Drunk In Hell, Endless Grinning Skulls, FUK, Tusken Coalition, The X-Rays, Walk The Plank, Break It Up, Doom

  • Main Stage

Black Fathoms, Hark, Goatspeed, Labrat, Sontaran Experiment, Sigirya, Lifer, Raven’s Creed, Orange Goblin

On Sunday Rock City was given over to a tribute and fundraising night for Johnny Morrow. A line up of over 20 bands from across the UK and America split across two stages and lasting from early afternoon to nearly midnight is a feat of organisation by Gords and Jim that shows the respect Johnny Morrow and Iron Monkey still command 10 years after his sudden and tragically early death. The organisers have pulled in a line-up of the best in stoner rock, thrash, hard core and hip hop. There’s a decent turn out, including a “lot of young ‘uns” according to Andy from Bumsnogger who cruelly missed out of the line-up. With 23 bands on over 2 stages during the course of the day I couldn’t do justice to everyone rather than try and see little bits of all the bands I tried to catch whole sets to do the bands justice.

John Paul “Johnny” Morrow was a fixture on the hardcore and skateboard scene in and around Nottingham. He was a quiet skinny kid in a baggy sweatshirt who went on to form the short lived but massively influential Iron Monkey. During their five year career they put out two full length albums, Iron Monkey and Our Problem on Earache Records and a split with Japanese stoner band, Church Of Misery. When he wasn’t performing, Johnny could be quiet and softly spoken but in front of an audience an almost primal rage emerged from somewhere deep inside. Iron Monkey split in 1999 and their various members went on to form the short-lived bands Armour Of God and Dukes Of Nothin. Johnny, the reason everyone is here tonight, died suddenly in the Spring of 2002 and profits from tonight’s show are going to kidney research charities in his memory.

Drunk In Hell hail from the fair city of Middlesbrough and describe themselves as down-tempo punk. They’ve got a menacing stoner vibe with slow thunderous bass-lines and a singer with a vocal style not unlike Johnny himself. Their bass and drum playing makes my Red Stripe can rattle against my teeth, a vote of confidence in anyone’s book, yes? Check ‘em out.

After 16 years together, Taint split up, and HARK is Jimbob Isaac’s latest project, Morrowfest being their debut show. It feels like a big ask to step into the shoes of Taint at a gig like this, especially as what they are plugging is new to everyone. Jimbob’s day job is a graphic artist and he’s done the fantastic posters for today’s gig based on Johnny’s lyrical themes.

Goatspeed came together from the ashes of Leeds’ premier hardcore band John Holmes. In some ways they carry on where Holmes left off channelling the energy of American hardcore legends Black Flag and Corrosion of Conformity, but adding a second guitarist makes for a more metal sound. Goatspeed released their debut 7”, Zen and The Art of War, in late 2011, a change of personnel since that release has given the band a fuller sound that’s driven by Jamie’s pounding drum style. The matching riffs of Kevlar and Talos makes it sound like a faster harder version of Thin Lizzy (yep, that good). Legion prowls the stage rolling his eyes and beating his chest like Mike Muir at his retina-bursting Psycho Miko best. All told, they’re one of the highlights of the bands on tonight and well worth a watch at gigs coming up through the summer.

I swapped stages to watch Nottingham hip hop collective, Tusken Coalition, on the Basement stage. The Coalition was formed in 2000 by Sinic, Lethargy and Diverse, three musicians from a mix of hip hop and hardcore backgrounds. Sinic worked with Johnny and the gig clearly means a lot to him, especially as members of the Morrow family are watching from the side of the crowd. Tonight they are rapping over a live band including Rev J on bass, J Elliot and Marrhead on guitar. It’s too easy to say three white rappers sound like the Beastie Boys, although an Ill Communication and Check Your Head sound run through a lot of the Coalition’s set. Their shout out to MCA (aka Adam Yauch, who passed away May 4 2012) is a nice respectful touch. Tusken Coalition sound louder and harder than the Beasties and the reggae vibe laid down by Rev J and Marrhead’s guitar is a change from the moody hardcore vibe of the rest of the night.

Next band on the Basement Stage is Nottingham’s own X-Rays who’ve not played together for about 10 years. With Guitarist Greg tuning up and the band handing each other cans of Carlsberg, it’s hardly an auspicious start and I half want to go upstairs and watch the brilliantly named Sontaran Experiment, but when X-Rays finally get started it’s worth the crowd-teasing wait. Their set sticks to their well-tried-and-tested formula of Keith Morris-era Black Flag, and the crowd stick to their equally-well-tried-and-tested formula taunts of “You fat bastard”. Even if the X-Rays are all men of a certain age now, they wind the clocks back.

Sigirya are made up of ex-members of Acrimony including Stuart O’Hara who played with Iron Monkey. They take their name from the Lion Rock site in Sri Lanka, and I’m still not sure exactly how to pronounce their name. They’ve got a meaner sound than their predecessors Acrimony, Mountain Goat and Deathrip are based round heavy riffs and solos. There are a lot of references to drinking and a couple of bottles of wine passed round during Sigirya’s set. They’re excellent and I just manage to get the whole set in before legging it downstairs to catch the bands made up of ex-members of Durham based, Vorhees.

The “official” running order lists Break It Up and a mystery set. Break It Up are no slouch, but when Vorhees singer Ian Leck joins them the energy goes up a level. Vorhees toured Europe, The UK and USA solidly between 1999 and 2001, releasing hardcore classics like Spilling Blood For No Reason and Crystal Lakes Legacy, as well as getting John Peel’s seal of approval by recording a Session in the mid 90’s. Since their split the band get together for rare one off shows like tonight. The set delivers tracks from the whole of their career and draws heavily from the Spilling Blood album.

Another of John Peel’s favourites headlines the Basement Stage. Since their first assault on the crusty punk scene between 1987 and 1990, Doom have developed a “complicated” family tree with members leaving, returning, starting other bands, and changing role with dizzying regularity. Tonight Doom are Bri Doom on guitar, Stick playing drums, Dennis Boardman singing and Scoot on bass. They stick to what they’re best known for, fast heavy songs with political lyrics played with a commitment and intensity that few match. Doom is the band who out-discharge Discharge. Their 1986 song from which Police Bastard took their name and a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom Of The Universe’ are the high points of a passionate set from a band that is clearly still pissed off about the way the world is.

Orange Goblin seems to get further away from their stoner roots with every album they release and Eulogy for the Damned is their most mainstream metal sounding album to date. Ben Ward seemed to be “tired and emotional” during the set. Orange Goblin dabbl`e in the southern rock sound of later Deliverance-era Corrosion Of Conformity without the hardcore punk heritage and edge to what they do. It’s a bit sad because Frequencies From Planet 10 is up there as a stoner/doom rock classic alongside Kyuss’ Sky Valley.

It’s easy to review bands who don’t really give a shit about you. Johnny was a good guy; as Ian from Vorhees said, an “animal on stage and a gentleman off it.” Iron Monkey was a great band that was always creatively challenging and highly influential. Most of the tonight’s acts will have been heading home to start their day jobs on Monday morning as no one will have had the 4 Star luxury and limos that most people associate with touring bands. That makes the commitment shown to celebrating the life of John Paul Morrow all the more touching. People have really put themselves out to play this show, coming to Nottingham from as far afield as Leeds, Cardiff, Durham, Middlesbrough, London and a flight in from the USA. It feels like friends getting together to remember a talent who’s no longer with us and Johnny is a big miss still.