Cambridge Rock Festival is now is in its tenth year and has a great reputation, an extremely loyal following and attracts new attendees every year. It all started on Thursday night and over the four days more than 100 bands played across the three stages.
I arrived on Saturday lunchtime, and after checking out the arena, which was very well organised with good use of space, the first thing to do was stock up with plenty of beer tokens to ensure a steady supply of the brilliant selection of ales and ciders on offer. While trying the dry pear cider, I caught a bit of Austrian band Cornerstone's set on the main stage which was a pretty good rendition of their melodic rock catalogue, enhanced by lead singer Patricia Hillinger's quasi-futuristic silver playsuit. I then wandered over to stage two for a bit of indulging in Undertow's excellent set of rock covers, nothing to fault here.
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The first real surprise of the day however was The Temperance Movement. Every now and then you discover a band that makes you stop everything and immerse yourself in the music you are hearing. I went into one of those trances where it was all about the present moment, and loved every minute of what I heard and saw. The Temperance Movement have taken blues rock, merged it with their heart and soul, put a new hat and coat on it and unleashed it back out to the public in a very special way. This is a band that own their individual space and communicate instinctively with each other and their stage presence is very special indeed. Oh, and they are cool as fuck too. Their debut album is due to be released in September, this is something I will be snapping up.
Pearl Handled Revolver
The crowd had only just started to come down from this performance when it was time for Pearl Handled Revolvers to take the stage. This hard rock and psychedelic combo was another revelation, with immaculate songwriting, and luscious grooves. It was completely hypnotic and one of the best natural highs around.
As if this wasn't enough to be going on with, it was then time for The Pat McManus Band. Pat, Marty McDermott and Paul Faloon grabbed the crowd by the balls from the first note and didn't let go. This was a masterclass in charisma, performance and the most solid of songs from the power trio. Not only that, the sheer joy that exudes from every pore of Pat McManus is an infectious delight which lifted the energy of the festival several more notches.
After experiencing three fantastic sets, it was time for a bit of a sit down and some more of that refreshing cider. Not for too long though as Debbie Bonham was next up, performing a classic blend of soul-tinged rock backed by a tight band. This was a great and enjoyable performance. I didn't see all of the set as word was getting round of what was happening over at stage two. This was Laurence Jones, a twenty one year old fresh faced blues guitarist who was wowing the crowd with a virtuoso performance that belied his years. The tent was packed and he gained a lot of new fans – he will be around for many more years to come I hope.
I dropped in for a couple of numbers of Hazel O'Connor's set, mainly from a nostalgic point of view, as I remembered loving her when I was a teenager as she was edgy and different. She still puts on a very good show. I spent most of that hour around stage 2 though, as Del Bromham's Blues Devils had commanded the tent, and were hosting a brilliant party. An extra treat happened when a couple of the lads from Pearl Handled Revolver joined the band on stage, along with Cherry Mee Lewis, so there was a bit of a mini super-group going on there. A good-time blues set, but with half a point docked for the over-the-top and unnecessary situation of having seven endings to one song – just finish the damn song!!
As the sunset gave way to darkness, there was a choice of styles to end the evening with. Caravan were as polished and ever with their brilliant quintessential English prog, infusing the main stage with a bit of a chill out vibe but Buster James and his band provided the rockier end to the night, blasting Stage 2 with their old time rock and roll and finishing the party in great style.
For a nice gentle start to Sunday morning, we were treated Attica Rage at 11am. These boys are brilliant, and it was the first time I had seen them since High Voltage. They were kind enough to provide a wake-up call for the campers, and blew any cobwebs and hangovers away with top grade Heavy Metal.
The songs from the new album, '88mph', sounded amazing, in particular 'Long Ride Home'. Johnny Parr told us all about the band's fan led initiative in sending a single copy of the CD around the world as a kind of chain letter, hoping that it gets returned by the end of their tour in the autumn having travelled the world in 88 days. It's only reached England at the moment so a bit of travelling still to do.
There was an awesome interlude when bass player Colin Wilson took over vocals for a fantastic version of 'This Life' (theme from Sons of Anarchy) which blended amazingly well into the set. At the end of this incredible set of biker anthems and blues-tinged metal, we were treated to a Heavy Metal version of the Osmond's 'Crazy Horses' followed by 'Rebel Yell'. A brilliant start to the day.
Bedford's Hekz were up next – a band I had not been aware of before, and their prog Metal set was captivating and engaging, and something I would look forward to hearing again. They ended with a blistering version of Deep Purple's 'Burn' – a crowd pleaser, but nonetheless done with style.
It was left to the Ben Poole Band to bring some Sunday afternoon smoothness to proceedings. The six piece band were a brilliant showcase for Ben's original songs, capturing the vibe of early Dire Straits mixed up with the flying fretwork of Joe Satriani with a dash of Robert Cray thrown in. Ben is an awesome guitarist and effortlessly drew the crowd in, and there were several jaws dropping in amazement at the epic version of Hey Joe which he completely made his own.
Some unexpected between-set entertainment occurred when the Editor was leading an impromptu football kick around with several kids and displaying quite remarkable progress – until he sliced it at the wrong angle and lobbed it over the Radio Caroline Tent and into the depths of the equipment area of the site. Thankfully the question "can we have our ball back please?" was met with a cheerful response.
When Persian Risk exploded onto the stage giving a full on Metal performance, there was a collective "OMG WTF" from the crowd. There was a lot of anticipation in advance of this performance both from those who were curious about this recent incarnation after a long break and those who had heard good things on the grapevine. This is only the third time that this line up have played together live, but the energy and communication was so natural that no-one would have guessed.
Carl Sentance was in full on rock God mode and had clearly made an awful lot of good decisions in reforming the band, writing the songs and putting the band together. The new songs were stylistically different from the original incarnation, but this was an evolution, not a complete change in style.
Lead guitarist Howie G amazed as always, and bassist Wayne Banks and drummer Tim Brown provided real power and charisma. From Maiden-esque anthems to hard-edged melodic Metal this was a relentless set that delivered on every level. I knew that this was likely to be a great gig, having seen Carl and Howie perform the most incredible version Heaven and Hell at Legends of Rock last year as part of Towers of Stone, but I was more than pleasantly surprised at just how good the set was.
There was such a rush to the merch table afterwards that every copy of 'Once A King' sold out within five minutes of the band leaving the stage, which bodes well for the new album later this year.
After a fuel-stop for some gorgeous Thai curry, it was time for NWOBHM legends Praying Mantis. The touring line up has had some well-publicised changes recently and new vocalist Jaycee (John Cuijpers) and drummer Hans in t' Zandt impressed right at the start and injected a new shot of energy. There was everything here – gorgeous harmonies, anthems, classics. It was a privilege to be in the presence of Tino, Chris and the boys – a Metal institution who keep delivering the goods; no resting on laurels here.
For a change in pace we saw Mostly Autumn, who have not lost their standard over the years and this set was full of gorgeous melodies, but with just the right amount of edge to keep interest. The York-based band get the mix of rock, prog and folk inspiration just right, keeping the songs tight and varied. The placing in the line up between Mantis and Magmum was ideal.
And then it was time for the mighty Magnum, who got the set list completely right for the occasion, mixing the songs from the new album with a great rendition of the classics. Bob Catley was in good voice and the atmosphere built to that indescribable feel where you know you are in the presence of giants. 'How Far Jerusalem' and 'Kingdom Of Madness' were the highlights for me, and the band were in top form – I imagine they were enjoying this gig way more than the last festival gig they played recently which was on a very wet Welsh hillside!
That seemed like a fitting place to call it a day and head for home, as I didn't think The Animals could add anything to what had gone before. As with all good events it's not possible to see everything, but I felt privileged to have seen so many amazing sets. What a brilliant festival this had been – superbly organised, great facilities and a perfect mix of bands and audience. One of the most enjoyable weekends I have spent in a long time, the weather was perfect and I caught up with so many amazing people. Next year is already in the diary.