Review by Woody
(no photo passes were granted for this show)
I suppose I have to start this review by mentioning that this was the last Z Rock. With dwindling audience numbers it has become harder to put the festival on, this year did see an upturn in attendance compared to last year, but unfortunately it still remains financially unviable for the event to continue. Initially at the end of day one, prior to the headliner’s performance festival organiser Mark Alger announced that given the poor attendance and the amount of money lost that the event would move to the North West, either Liverpool or Manchester where he felt the was a larger local rock fan base.
Although upon waking extremely fuzzy-headed on Sunday morning, I logged onto Facebook to see a statement stating that it was to be the last Z Rock and hoped all attending Day 2 would send the festival out with a bang.
It is quite sad as it is another nail in the coffin of live melodic rock music in the Midlands, but with ever decreasing attendances and the festival’s increasing bad reputation, it has become increasingly impossible to make the festival a success. Losing JB’s, which the local melodic rock community has felt hard and now Z Rock saying it’s final hurrah it doesn’t bode well for future live shows in the region. That said I’ve heard a very juicy rumour regarding an upcoming gig from a very reliable source that could possibly happen at The Robin later this year…..I really hope it happens, fingers crossed and with it being at the Robin, I can’t promise sobriety in fact it would be highly unlikely, oh and the tears will be inevitable!
I have to say I find all-day gigs very tiring and if I’m honest I prefer standard gigs! That said I have never felt so comfortable, relaxed and totally at ease as I did over the weekend and I really enjoyed myself, The Robin is a great venue. Although I wish I’d drank less on the Saturday.
No Z Rock is ever boring and this year was no exception. Sometimes it felt like whatever could go wrong did go wrong, and I feel sorry for everyone in the Z Rock team as it must have felt like swimming against the tide many times trying to make this gig work. We had bands dropped, we had extended sets oh and shortened ones too, technical hitches, missing instruments, we had reshuffles in the running order and well the running order was only a rough guide in the finish. This isn’t even the half of it… …ahhh Z Rock I shall fooking miss you!
First up today is a live favourite of mine Stampede whom are consistently good live act. Lead singer Reuben quickly informs us that their guitarist Chris had been in a road accident, albeit it a minor incident it of course meant he wouldn’t be well enough to perform today, so a lot rode on the shoulders of local boy Rob Wolverson to carry the guitar sound of the band, while another local Steve Graystone was back on drums too.
Stampede were on the back foot from the start, but they definitely pulled it out the bag and delivered a fantastic set of blues based melodic rock and although they came onstage late they had a lengthy set much longer than advertised, more on why later! Reuben apologised for his vocals mid-set claiming, tongue in cheek, it was too early in the day for him! But to be fair I thought sonically the guys were spot on and the sound for them at the Robin was just right with Reuben’s vocals as good, if not better, than previous times I’ve seen the band!
I really enjoyed the performance even if they weren’t many others here to fully enjoy these guys with their easy stage presence, so we got ‘Shadows Of The Night’, ‘Jessie’, ‘Having Fun’, ‘Days Of Wine & Roses’, ‘Stone Cold Turkey’, ‘Humble Pie’, ‘Missing You’, ‘Movin’ On’, ‘Send Me Down An Angel’, ‘The Runner’ and ‘Hurricane Town’.
So shortly after Stampede came offstage a mate informed me the reason behind Stampede’s extended set, otherwise I would have been none the wiser to what was going on. It so happened that second act of the day Redrum had vital instruments missing so, the organiser had decided to re-schedule them to play the following day. This meant dropping Day Two’s openers Scream Arena and extending Stampede and Shakra’s set’s to fill the void.
So up next was Switzerland’s Shakra a heavy melodic rock act, with a passing musical resemblance to Swiss brothers Gotthard. I think many would be happy with an extended set from these guys and their energetic and full-on performance definitely won the audience over and many said to me these guys have to play Firefest next year and maybe with one of Firefest/Fireworks Magazine main men Bruce Mee in the audience, maybe this could be on the cards! I know the buzz around the Robin was that they would go down extremely well with the Firefest crowd.
Whilst I do think Shakra’s set was one of the undoubted highlights of the weekend, the sound was a little off for them and did stop a great performance becoming a show stealing one! I highly recommend seeing these guys live, they’re tight as hell, bouncy and energetic and above all exciting! Get you asses back to the UK soon lads!
Amongst their set-list we got, ‘Back On Track’, ‘Nothing To Lose’, ‘Now Or Never’, ‘Let Me Go’, ‘Crazy’, ‘The Other Side’, ‘Yesterdays Gone’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’ and ‘After The Fall’.
After the ear drum bursting set from Shakra next act Legion were up against it. This Anglo-American band have just released their third album ‘Nemesis’ which is a pretty damn good slice of dark brooding rock and I was hoping for a few tunes from it. At last year’s Z the band didn’t come across well at all and not wishing to sound overly critical they were quite dull. A lot of this could have been placed on Phil Vincent’s inexperience, but I felt it was more that the songs just didn’t jump out and grab me they way they do on CD.
This year the songs sounded a lot better and definitely didn’t feel like they were blending into one another. Performance wise it was obvious Vincent was trying to be more mobile, but whilst vocally he’s faultless he does lack stage presence and to be honest and no disrespect to Phil, it is down to lack of experience. Black Country boy Vince O’Regan on guitars seemed a little less on fire today than he normally is, not a bad technical performance, he just seemed out of sorts in his performance. I’ve seen Vince countless times with Pulse, Eden and Bob Catley and always found him thoroughly entertaining, in fact I think Vince needs to get on the phone to Uncle Bob and get him back on the solo live circuit again! We miss Bob’s solo excursions!
Given Legion’s style I thought it would be the heavier groove-laden songs that really got me going, but it was actually the more melodic numbers that resonated with me today. Irvin Parratt’s keys were a little higher in the mix and that brought out the best in the more melodic tunes.
Their set included: ‘Last Time’, ‘Lay It On The Line’, ‘Just Because’, ‘Never Enough’, ‘Someday’, ‘Leave Me Alone’, ‘Long Way Down’, ‘Set You Free’, ‘Trouble’ & ‘Hard Times’.
Vince and Irvin were back on stage with next act Arabia which includes Steve McKenna (bass) and ex Paradise Lost tub thumper Lee Morris, oh and of course charismatic American front man John Blaze. These guys stole the show last year, but were up against far stiffer competition this year with what I felt was a very strong selection of bands.
This time, they were again great but for some reason, the band bar John Blaze seemed less up for it, less energetic more like they were going through the motions. Last year it was as if they were having the times of their lives but tonight it was technically good but the performance was lacking. Blaze as a natural front man has a demanding stage presence, but he seemed annoyed and his between song banter was tinged with ‘anger’, last year he was cheeky and humorous, this year it was as if he couldn’t wait for it to end! He didn’t let this affect his performance but it was obvious things weren’t quite right with him.
He had a quick rant about his accommodation, this disheartens me as it could play into people’s stereotypical vision of the Black Country. I’d just like to point out our hotels are just as good and in some cases posher than elsewhere, it just seems the organiser chose to use sub standard accommodation, obviously trying to stay within a very tight budget.
Next up was legendary cult New Jersey AOR-sters Prophet and I don’t know about anyone else but the anticipation for me was almost unbearable! Thankfully the beer had kicked in by now! So how did Russell Arcara and Co do? Well they came, they saw and they bloody well conquered! These guys surpassed expectations and with perfect sound provided by the good peep’s at The Robin the guys blew the roof off and should have been playing to a packed audience at this, their first appearance on UK soil. They performed like superstars and were determined to play a blinder for the hardcore few that had turned up today. An absolutely stunning show and I know it’s highly unlikely I’ll witness this band again so it makes it even more meaningful that this performance will definitely stay with me!
Although the band as a whole was out of this world I have to give a special mention to keyboardist Joe Zujikowski! The guy performed like a man possessed with a smile from ear to ear and throwing himself well into his performance! IF I had a band I’d want a keyboardist like this! Joe, you da Man!
Highlights from their set were ‘Can’t Hide Love’ and I nearly lost my shit during their performance of ‘Sound Of A Breaking Heart’. Totally jaw dropping and the stellar sound at the Robin fits AOR bands like a glove! There may have been a little more than a hundred of us here, but the atmosphere was absolutely electric after this and next up was the legend that is Paul Sabu! I thought I was in a dream things were only going to get better right?
The running time was running reasonably to time and Paul Sabu comes onto the stage after a massive introduction over the PA from the organiser. Sabu came onstage visibly disappointed at the lack of crowd and response, then turns around and walks offstage. We’re told its technical hitches and it’s 25 minutes before the band reappear, although I was having a slash when I heard them come back and had to hurry up in order to witness what promised to be the performance of a lifetime.
Unfortunately the band have no keyboard player so the keys are all on computer and played as a backing track and the gremlins were hard at work as the band kept stopping and starting as the computer had decided to be shite and then it even lost power, there was calls for onstage assistance, none was forthcoming and Paul and British drummer Lee Morris were becoming increasingly frustrated. This of course did nothing to keep a very tired audience interested and the atmosphere quickly dropped so by the time the first song was played Sabu got very little reaction and receiving no responses to his onstage banter annoyed him visibly and as the set progressed it really felt like he didn’t want to be here.
With him quickly losing the audience which was now getting smaller and smaller it didn’t help that the band were taking five minute gaps between every song. I was fighting a yawn and to be honest given the long day Paul really needed to deliver a high energy punchy set to keep us all rocking, instead we were all quickly fading. One disgruntled fan during a lengthy tuning gap grabbed a chair placed it at the edge of the dance floor and slumped into it and slow-clapped in disgust, I think this was the visual representation of what we were all thinking. It was a complete and utter mess which was truly a shame as this could have been something special from Sabu on his first gig on UK soil.
What we did get in between the gaps was ‘Angeline’, ‘Just Ask’, ‘Rock Don’t Run’, ‘Black The Jacks’, ‘I Believe’, ‘Loves Got A Mind Of Its Own’, ‘Bangkok Rules’ and ‘I Wanna Touch’. Sonically the band were quite good and the sound was spot on, but the way the set went it just killed the atmosphere and drained the energy out of the room.
It was about half eleven when I decided I’d had enough, cos I couldn’t see this getting any better. So all in all I enjoyed the day immensely, obviously certain aspects weren’t great like I really regretted not having those potato wedges when I had that chicken burger. My fat ass did some fridge raiding when I got home… oh and a couple more cheeky beers but shhhhh I’d got to be up early in the morning (hic) for Day 2!