Concert Reviews

Giants Of Rock 2019 Hot
Written by Central Electronic Brain     March 05, 2019    
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Giants Of Rock 2019 - Butlins, Minehead (UK) - 26-27 February 2019

Day One

It's been nearly a decade since the Butlin's holiday camp in Minehead held the inaugural Hard Rock Hell, where I sat incredulous as Twisted Sister played without any irony (but lots of swearing). Fast forward to 2019 and the Giants of Rock festival that replaced HRH is showing great staying power as it enters its sixth year of existence. It was only my second visit, but after having a thoroughly enjoyable time last year I had to check it out again, especially as once again the line-up was impressive, containing The Sweet, Skid Row, Carl Palmer and Cats In Space to name a few.

As we checked in it was obvious the set up hadn't changed, even down to the fact we got exactly the same accommodation as last year, with possibly the same evil seagull prowling about on the balcony. This is no complaint, however, as Butlin's these days is a far cry from the past and our two-bedroom set up was almost as nice as our house (with the added bonus of having someone else clean it). The accommodation varies from bog standard to luxury, and if you're happy with just having somewhere to crash the weekend can be ridiculously good value.

As far as the music goes, there are three venues. The main one is Centre Stage, the largest with the greatest capacity, better sound and most bars. The next one down is Reds, in a smaller nightclub area. This one has a smaller but still decent sized stage and generally lacks the sound quality of Centre Stage, although it's usually decent enough if you stand further back. Bottom of the ladder is Jak's, more of a pub venue with the smallest stage but surprisingly good sound. This is the home of the "Introducing" stage, where newer bands play and are voted on by the audience. The winner each day is invited to return the next year to open Centre Stage. The only problem with Jak's is that it often has bands when the other stages don't, meaning it's almost unbearably claustrophobic and for the robust only.

For this reason, we settled down for a cup of tea and some of the delicious food available, beginning our musical experience when Centre Stage opened at seven. First off were one of last year's Introducing stage winners, Ethyrfield. A bunch of young, enthusiastic musicians, Ethyrfield are one of those power trios that make sure every track vibrates your bones with ferocious drums (courtesy of a drummer who looks about 15 but can certainly play) and thumping bass. In all honesty it wasn't that exciting to me as it really reminded me of Pearl Jam with a bit of The Answer thrown in, the low down vocals having trouble expressing any joy in any way. They were solid and certainly had their fans in the venue, but they aren't a band my AOR brain can really get excited about.

The next act on Centre Stage was Roger Chapman, so we decided to head down to Reds and check out the next two acts, both of which feature an ex Thin Lizzy man. First up was The Eric Bell Band, featuring Lizzy's ex lead guitarist (although only briefly in the beginning). When he came out and started playing it was obvious to anyone bothered that this isn't a Thin Lizzy show. Instead, Bell was giving us the blues, but in a good way. After a few upbeat numbers he dived into Muddy Waters' 'Hoochie Coochie Man', which slowed things down but at least slowed them down with a bit of class. Bell took on vocal duties for the show, accompanied by just a drummer and bassist, and he did pretty well, putting his own spin on 'Whiskey In The Jar' that ended up being unintentionally funny as the crowd determinedly sang the Thin Lizzy version as he wandered off in his own direction. It wasn't the most exciting show, but was a good example of a band doing something well that they enjoy.

Next, Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey brought Alive & Dangerous to the stage, and as the name suggests this is most definitely a Thin Lizzy show. As Downey does an excellent job at the back, all eyes were on Matt Wilson, possibly wondering how Downey managed to clone Phil Lynott. Wilson is a revelation, not only playing bass and singing, but also talking between songs in a lovely Irish accent. It was a masterclass of a set for Lizzy fans, slotting in all the favourites, from opener 'Jailbreak' to 'The Boys Are Back In Town', 'Cowboy Song', 'Dancing In The Moonlight' and more. As tributes go this is a cracking one, and whilst Limehouse Lizzy will always be the ones to beat, Aive & Dangerous have a founding member of the band behind the drum kit so get plenty of bonus points. You can't go wrong with talented people playing classic songs, and Alive and Dangerous brought the house down.

In between the Lizzy men we sneaked out to Jak's to see Midlands band Iconic Eye, knowing it would be a bit calmer due to the other stages being active. It was a great decision as from the off the band had us wondering why they were stuck down here when they should be wowing people on a bigger stage. Delivering powerful Melodic Rock (no keyboards) with tons of hooks, Iconic Eye have some real talent. Each song the five-piece threw out was given a boost by vocalist Jane Gould, who was smiley, very attractive and blessed with a great stage presence. The only person who looked happier than her was bassist Michael Dagnall, who bounced around the stage looking like he just won the lottery. Fast tracks like 'Am I The One' and 'Black Heart' were balanced mid-set by the beautiful power ballad 'Black Country Lady', a track that really gave Gould a chance to shine whilst not fighting against three guitars and drums. With their set time meaning they had no hope of winning the day's vote, Iconic Eye nonetheless won a few new fans and deservedly so.

After being well rocked by Iconic Eye and Brian Downey, it was time for Centre Stage's main event, namely Udo Dirkschneider, otherwise known as U.D.O. After leaving Accept in 1997, Udo formed his own band and has been rocking away ever since, through sixteen studio albums of shouty heavy metal. I remember seeing him with Accept in 1985 and thinking he was a very, VERY aggressive performer, and wonderd if he's still got it all these years later. What he hasn't got, unfortunately, is a lot of mobility, owing to a knee injury that would have seen some wimps cancel the gig. Not Udo, as he stood pretty still centre stage and belted out an hour of great music. It's all pretty basic stuff, to be honest, but it's timeless Metal played exceptionally well. Udo himself still has the sort of squeaky, growly voice of old, although he doesn't exert his voice unnecessarily. It was all in tune, though, and a great way to finish off the first day. Old school Metal may not be to everyone's taste, and I can see why, but as my feet tapped and my head shook (I just can't stop it), I was happy enough that the day ended with U.D.O.

Band Of The Day: Iconic Eye

Day Two

A leisurely start to the day saw us catch the last half hour of Centre Stage openers Clearwater Creedence Revival and yes, you did read that right. Filling in for the injury-stricken Kingdom Of Madness, they delivered an impeccably good set of CCR covers that can never fail to entertain. The audience lapped it up and sang along to many of the songs, and although they're a tribute band they are as close as you'll get to the real thing, despite being British.

Following on was a real blast from the past, as Geordie are a relative unknown to many people. Most know them as the band Brian Johnson left to join AC/DC, but what they don't realise is that they were a pretty successful Glam Rock band in the early seventies. We're not talking Slade numbers, of course, but when their 1973 top ten hit 'All Because Of You' was dragged out there were a fair few people reliving happy memories. Featuring original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums), the band is completed by guitarist Steve Dawson and the Jason Statham-esque Mark Wright on vocals. Wright is a revelation, his snarling delivery working perfectly, and it didn't take long for the crowd to warm to him and the band. The music is a mix of glam and bad boy boogie that is easy to enjoy, as well as a storming version of 'House Of The Rising Sun', and there were many who left the venue, me included, who were very glad that Geordie decided to come back.

geordie giants of rock 2019 live

Next on the list to be ticked off were Dare, seeing a third ex-Thin Lizzy member gracing the Reds stage in Darren Wharton, a keyboard player who turned out to be a fine singer and frontman. Although many fondly remember the band from their first two albums, Dare started off with the title track from their 2016 gem 'Sacred Ground', and straight off it was clear that despite the muffled sound Wharton was in fine voice and finer spirits. Fans of older material were well catered for, of course, with classic tunes like 'The Raindance', 'Abandon', 'We Don't Need A Reason' and 'Return The Heart'. Fittingly, Wharton dedicated 'King Of Spades' to "My old band leader" Phil Lynott. Elsewhere on stage Vinny Burns did what he does best with killer guitar throughout, and a delighted crowd lapped up every lick. In the end, I was a finely polished set that left us all with big smiles on our faces.

We stayed in Reds to check out Rhino's Revenge, a three-piece band led by John "Rhino" Edwards, the bass player in Status Quo. Backed by drummer Richard Newman and guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick (also playing this weekend with FM), Edwards delivered the sort of lively Blues you'd expect from a Status Quo member. He has a good voice for the material and has allied himself with two excellent musicians who obviously enjoy the music. Fittingly, he collects for the Save The Rhino campaign at every gig. They went all out Blues with 'Busy Doing Nothing', but it was the lively numbers that seemed to excite the crowd the most, notably 'Gravy Train', 'Two Way Traffic' and 'Busy Doing Nothing', three fun late era Status Quo songs, the former written by Edwards and Rick Parfitt. It's another case of a band having fun and playing music that's easy to enjoy without too much thought. If you want a good night out then I would recommend seeing this lot on their upcoming tour.

As the clock neared ten, we rushed to Centre Stage to catch Glam Rock legends Sweet at work. An air of expectation flooded the room as they came out to the intro to 'Action', and suddenly everyone was smiling, dancing or both. There's a few more wrinkles on Andy Scott than in the old days, but he handled his guitar with aplomb, as well as contributing to the superb harmonies the band are so well known for. A key ingredient in these is Paul Manzi of Cats In Space, filling the keyboard spot before he took the stage with his own band tomorrow. An hour is really not enough to allow Sweet to play everything you'd want, but they did their best, including a great cover of 'New York Groove' that incorporated 'Empire State Of Mind' and blows Ace Frehley's well-known version out of the water. It was brilliant to hear 'The Six Teens', 'Set Me Free' (which I first heard when Saxon covered it) and 'Turn It Down' live onstage, and frontman Tony O'Hara did a fine job on lead vocals. There was plenty of audience singing, particularly on 'Love Is Like Oxygen', and the band were eternally amused by people in Heavy Metal shirts singing along to 'Little Willy'. 'Fox On the Run' was simply brilliant, and of course they finished off the night with 'Blockbuster' and 'Ballroom Blitz' to rapturous applause. A virtuoso performance they can be proud of, the only downside being it just wasn't long enough.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Although it had been a long day we couldn't resist going back to Reds to catch Oliver/Dawson Saxon, featuring Graham Oliver and Steve "Dobby" Dawson. I first saw these guys back in 1984, so was looking forward to seeing what they sounded like now, and crossing my fingers that they had a decent vocalist to do the songs justice. You can imagine how happy I was, then, when we walked in to find the band had already started their first track 'Rock & Roll Gypsy' with what sounded like Biff Byford on vocals! Obviously it wasn't Biff, but Bri Shaughnessy, also of fellow Northern NWOBHM band Seventh Son. To be fair he totally nailed the songs, following the opener with 'Strong Arm Of The Law'. What became apparent between songs is that he's mad as a box of frogs, like an uncle you have to keep an eye on at any gathering. Despite that, his enthusiasm was infectious and clearly he was having a whale of a time. The set was stuffed full of classic Saxon songs, going all the way back to 'Frozen Rainbow', through 'Power And the Glory' and up to 'Crusader', each belted out with passion and a sense of enjoyment. Oliver and Dawson themselves deserve to play these songs even if they were robbed of the name, and they both do a fine job, with Oliver's son Paul keeping things tight at the back on the kit. There was an additional guitarist in Gav Coulson, and to be honest his widdling style doesn't really fit with the band although he's undeniably good. Regardless, it was a set that just kept giving, with 'Dallas 1PM' (with a brilliant moment in the middle as Shaughnessy shot himself in the head with a "Bang" joke gun) , 'Strangers In The Night' and 'Princess Of The Night' welcomed like old friends. By the time they finished with the obligatory 'Wheels Of Steel' they'd managed the longest set of the festival at nearly eighty minutes and we all wished they could do some more. Simply brilliant, and for my money a better, more fun show than you get with Biff Byford's lot these days.

Band Of The Day: Oliver/Dawson Saxon

Day Three

It was a Centre Stage kind of a day as we finished a hearty breakfast and gratefully sheltered from the typical seaside in January weather. The first band for us today were Vega, who I've followed since their inception five albums ago. A very healthy crowd had gathered for them, many having enjoyed opening act Black Whiskey. Vega are definitely a cut above many bands in the live arena, and they gave us an hour of fast paced Melodic Rock set alight by the energetic antics of frontman Nick Workman, who had far too much bounce in him for a Sunday lunchtime. They sensibly delved into all of their albums for material, and in another era the set would be hit after hit, and probably played at Wembley. 'Kiss of Life', 'Every Little Monster', 'What The Hell', 'White Flag'... it was a depth of material most bands would be envious of, and the band were tight as ever from start to finish. When Workman enquired as to what he should call the crowd (Minehead? Giants of Rock?) some wag shouted out "Fucking Amazing!", so that's what we were called for the rest of the set. A fine example of a talented band with great songs on great form, Vega knocked it out of the park as usual.

The plan was to stay in Centre Stage and enjoy Focus, honest it was, but after three songs I was so bored we decided to go off for some lunch instead. I appreciate they are excellent musicians and all that, but when you start a set with five minutes of slow flute playing it's going to lose you a few people! In fairness plenty stayed and those with an affinity for the band by all accounts had a great time, but they're just not for me.

Closing Centre Stage for the afternoon were festival favourites FM, another band I've been stuck on since before their first album, after seeing them support Gary Moore back in the old days. They played Giants Of Rock last year and it's no surprise that they once again delivered a flawless set of user friendly Melodic Rock. Steve Overland still has those golden tonsils, and whilst he doesn't have the energy of Nick Workman, he certainly has the talent. Opening with 'Black Magic' from last year's 'Atomic Generation', they smoothly ploughed through the back catalogue with such gems as 'That Girl', 'Someday' and 'Let Love be The Leader', revisiting the new album for standout track 'Killed By Love'. Although guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick is more of a Blues man, he knows exactly how to play Melodic Rock without stamping all over it, and as usual it was great to see bassist Merv Goldsworthy pissing about with a big smile on his face. Whilst I was enjoying the set, my partner in crime checked out Carl Palmer's Legacy on the Reds stage, and the report is that they were pretty bloody special. I sort of wished I'd gone there myself, as I've seen FM a billion times, but it was hard for me to miss them.

fm giants of rock 2019 live

The one band I was prepared to miss FM for opened the Centre stage in the evening. Original running times had them competing with FM in Carl Palmer's spot in Reds, but sensible heads prevailed and a very expectant and large crowd gathered to see the phenomenon that is Cats In Space. In a few short years and two albums (three in a few weeks) Cats In Space have taken the Melodic Rock world by storm, even if they can be rather a Marmite band. Myself, I'd been looking forward to their set, hoping they could replicate the sumptuous harmonies of their recorded work. My hopes were realized pretty quickly as they opened up with 'Too Many Gods' and my personal favourite 'The Mad Hatter's Tea Party'. The playing was impeccable, and the vocal harmonies even more so, with Paul Manzi's sweet lead vocals backed up by his band mates at varying octaves. It was nice to hear 'Clown In Your Nightmare', a more crunchy track than most, and the ballad 'Scars' got plenty of love. New track 'Thunder In The Night' went down well, although I'm still not enamoured by its Disco beat, and another new track 'Hologram Man' made me quite excited to hear the new album 'Day Trip To Narnia'. Another highlight was 'The Greatest Story Never Told', which genuinely sent shivers down my spine, featuring a superb guitar sequence at the end. They rounded off with 'Five Minute Celebrity', and it was a shame that, as they actually had three minutes left, they didn't add 'Two Minutes Fifty Nine' on the end. Nonetheless, it was a brilliant performance that mixed Queen, Styx, Supertramp and ELO together into a glorious meal of melody and enjoyment. Maybe not everybody wants to be a cat, but I certainly do and will be checking out their tour in March.

cats in space giants of rock 2019 live

And so we came to the weekend's headliner, fresh off a UK tour, and it was the one and only Skid Row. Annoyingly, they were clashing with their tour support H.e.a.t, who were on in Reds, but I just couldn't miss the opportunity to see them. The days of Sebastian Bach well behind them, Skid Row are now fronted by ex-Dragonforce man ZP Theart, which is not something many people would have seen coming. It was my first experience of him live, and my first of Skid Row since the eighties, so I was pretty happy when it soon became apparent that this is a match made in Heavy Metal heaven. 'Slave To The Grind' and 'Piece Of Me' put any doubts to rest, and it was fun to see the band have brought along little platforms to put at the front of the stage. Throughout the set they all had a go at standing on them and posing like proper Metal gods, and it's a nice touch. Theart adapted well to the material, not treating it like Dragonforce and approximating Bach's original vocals very well whilst whirling like a dervish all over the stage. Founding members Rachel Bolan and Dave "Snake" Sabo both shined as well, with Bolan taking over lead vocal duties for a frantic version of the Ramones' 'Psychotherapy'. Sabo played some superb guitar throughout, including a fun five minute-plus guitar duel with Scotti Hill, another who was there almost from the band's inception. They were graced with an extra fifteen minutes over the hour, and it was no surprise to anyone when they encored with 'I Remember You' and a raucous 'Youth Gone Wild'. Loud, proud and tons of fun, Skid Row showed exactly why they were put at the top of the bill.

And so with that our weekend came to an end, as we forego late night shenanigans with Bad Habit due to being totally knackered. Once again, Giants of Rock threw up plenty of great bands giving wonderful performances, minor controversies, happy fans, moaning fans and drinks almost reasonably priced. If you're thinking of going next year (only The Quireboys announced so far) I'd advise you to as it's a friendly, fun festival. Hi de Hi...

Band Of The Day: Cats In Space

Also played: Willie And The Bandits, Atomic Rooster, Man, Roger Chapman, Chris Slade, Zal Clemenson's Sin Dogs, Martin Barre's Jethro Tull, Elliott Randal, Rob Togoni and more

Giants of Rock Live Playlist - 19 tracks recorded at the weekend, including The Sweet, Cats In Space, Vega, Geordie and more

Review and photos by Alan Holloway

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