Now in its third year, the Giants Of Rock Festival goes from strength to strength with an ever growing army of happy rockers attending this fun filled friendly event.

Butlins, Minehead
29th-31st January 2016

Words: Mark Taylor. Photos by Noel Buckley

giants of rock
Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock

Almost 4,000 people attended this year and thankfully the local fancy dress stag nighters stayed away to let serious music lovers of all ages enjoy three days of quality rock music that spread right across the board.

With top notch quality accommodation and food, you really can’t go wrong at this festival where, despite stage clashes like you get at all festivals, you don’t have to trek three miles across a field to see your favourite bands.

In the case of Minehead, the two major stages are right on top of each other, so just a quick hike up or down the stairs mean that it’s possible to catch a bit of both if you wish. With wallet friendly beer prices, the pints were flowing fast as were the laughs.

Friday evening started with Mostly Autumn featuring the sparkling vocals of Olivia Sparnenn and Bryan Josh on guitar. A quality atmospheric set of epic delights such as ‘Heroes Never Die’ and ‘Dressed In Voices’.

giants of rock
Mostly Autumn

Josh was the first of many artists over the weekend who spoke fondly of their first visit to Butlins, in Josh’s case it was 1976, who was only too pleased to be here with his band who deserve a whole lot more success.

If they were dressed in Goth clothing they would be on top of their genre, but this is a very special unique British band.

The well suited Graham Bonnet gave a connoisseur choice set list that pleased his hard core fans.

In recent visits he has just stuck to his Rainbow past, but after openers, the grandiose ‘Eyes Of The World’ and the smash hit of ‘All Night Long’, the super lungs vocalist dipped into other delights from his solo career with the Russ Ballard penned ‘S.O.S’ and the Top Ten hit of ‘Night Games’ as well as ‘God Blessed Video’ and the AOR ride of ‘Will You Be Home Tonight’ from his time with Alcatrazz.

giants of rock
Graham Bonnet

Other gems included a rare live outing for the commercial ‘Dancer’ and the hard rocking ‘Desert Song’ from his short lived experience with the Michael Schenker Group’.

At 68 years of age, that voice does falter at times but Bonnet is a lively colourful character that they don’t seem to make anymore. Riding out with ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and ‘Lost In Hollywood’, this was a highly entertaining set.

Just a shame he wasn’t place on the bill for Sunday instead when he could’ve guested with both Russ Ballard and Michael Schenker. Bonnet did promise from the stage that he would be around for the Sunday but it never materialised, Bah!

giants of rock

I managed to catch the last few songs from Snakecharmer who recently departed with Micky Moody. His replacement was a wise choice in Simon McBride who brought a new sound to the band, a bit more of a metallic edge which didn’t take away the soulfulness of Snakecharmer. I certainly hope they continue because once again Snakecharmer were very well received.

I’ve never been impressed by the Mick Ralphs Band before but this time they surpassed all expectations. Mainly because the Bad Company/ Mott The Hoople guitarist has hired the extreme vocal talents of the young Adam Barron who not only owned the stage with a confident swagger but has a ballsy voice that totally lifts the music.

New songs such as ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Nothing’s Going To Stop Me’ had a real gritty groove to them, and Barron really came alive for a kicking version of ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’. A terrific way to end the opening evening.

giants of rock
Mick Ralph’s Band

After a full on hearty breakfast Saturday started with the John Verity Band on the Reds Stage and Freebird upstairs on the main Centre Stage. John Verity is an ex member of Argent and renowned record producer who played a warming set of originals and a few choice covers.

giants of rock
John Verity

Freebird are as the name suggests a classic rock band who love Lynyrd Skynyrd and got the party started for the day ahead.

I was most impressed by the young Aaron Keylock the previous year on the Introducing Stage who completely blew me away with his style of blues taking his cues from the elder statesmen.

Given a leg up this year to the Centre Stage, Keylock once again worked his socks off but did at times seem a little lost on the big stage, but his young band full of teenagers expressed tenacity and grit and showed plenty of future promise.

giants of rock
The Aaron Keylock Band

Del Bromham had the honour of appearing twice here over the weekend as did his backing band who were members of his own Stray.

Del Boy played a more bluesier set with a nice dedication to Larry Miller with ‘The Ballad Of JD’. ‘Slave’ and ‘You Don’t How How I Feel’ were other highlights topped by a ripping cover of Traffic’s ‘Mr.Fantasy’, always the entertainer.

giants of rock
Del Bromham

While Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel was coming to make ’em smile downstairs, I was on the upper deck to witness a rare UK outing from Procol Harum who delivered a dark doomy set of proggy delights.

giants of rock
Steve Harley

The lyrics are rather sinister on some numbers like the morbid ‘Dead Man’s Dream’, but organist Gary Brooker (First here as a happy camper in ’62) and the tight riffs of Geoff Whitehorn held those down the front captive with landscape movements of ‘Grand Hotel’ and the majestic epic ‘Whaling Stories’.

Jaws remained agape for the superb ‘Salty Dog’ and the marvellous inquisition of ‘Conquistador’ before skipping the light fandango with the immortal ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’. A class act.

giants of rock
Procul Harum

Wishbone Ash fronted by founder Andy Powell brought the guitar twin harmony with a quadruple offering of tracks from the classic Number One album ‘Argus’ before bassist Bob Skeat got to express himself on the stormy ‘Heavy Weather’. A stylish set that passed all too quickly.

giants of rock
Wishbone Ash

Oliver’s Army were having a right ole knees up on the Centre Stage. Featuring original Saxon axe man Graham Oliver, who led his boys through a right rumpus set of Saxon classics.

Vocalist Brian Shaughnessy was well on form with his Northern humour taken right from the piss taking gag book of Johnny Vegas, a barrel of laughs.

giants of rock
Oliver’s Army

Storming versions of ‘Wheels Of Steel’ with mass sing along and the ode to festivals with ‘And The Bands Played On’ ended a rowdy Saturday evening.
Forget ‘Dallas 1pm’, this was Butlins 1am and Oliver’s Army had surprisingly taken the joint by storm.

giants of rock
Oliver’s Army

Afterwards it was all back to the luxurious chalet to celebrate the birthdays of photographers Noel Buckley and GRTR!’s Simon Dunkerley, along with assorted invited guests which included artist Rodney Matthews and merchandise seller Bob Moon. More laughs and tipples were shared until daylight appeared!

giants of rock
Rodney Matthews

Nursing severe hangovers, Sunday got awakened by British rockers Texas Flood who have been winning themselves many fans from previous visits to Butlins including the week before in Skeggy at the Great British Rock & Blues Festival.

Once again the boys delivered the goods with their ballsy swinging rock ‘n roll with songs like ‘Gambling Man’ and ‘Forget About You’ going down like a neat Honey Jack.

giants of rock
Big Country

I missed Big Country but by all accounts they were on fire. Bruce Watson along with new vocalist Simon Hough led his band through an arsenal of Celtic flavoured rocking hits. I’ve seen them before in recent years and know full well what they’re capable of so I’m not gonna dismiss all the positive vibes that came back from my friends.

The reason I missed the Scotsmen was because songwriter Russ Ballard was playing an ultra rare solo slot. An artist in his own right plus his time spent with Argent, Ballard has paid his mortgage off ten times over by letting other artists have greater success with his own songs.

giants of rock
Russ Ballard

Starting with songs from his solo albums, ‘The Fire Still Burns’ shone the brightest, but then came the enlightening songs that we know and love done as they were originally written as in ‘You Win Again’ made famous by Hot Chocolate, a minor hit for ABBA’s Frida with the sublime ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ and ‘New York Groove’ a hit for both Hello and Ace Frehley.

Former band mate John Verity was invited up for Argent’s ‘God Gave Rock ‘N Roll To You’ but bizarrely didn’t appear until ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. A pleasurable set.

Over in the Jaks Bar, young bands were given the chance to prove themselves to an older audience. Already popular on the gigging scene, Skarlett Riot, The Raven Age (Who’ll be soon supporting Iron Maiden on their World Tour) and Jupiter Falls all proved to be a knockout.

After stuffing myself with a full Sunday roast followed by an apple pie and custard, my belly didn’t have much room left for beer, I tried my hardest though.

Deborah Bonham has the personality and voice that fills the room. At one time, while Deborah was addressing the crowd, she had to tell off our snapper who was in deep conversation with the white suited guitarist Peter Bullick, but our Noel Buckley once again got his 15 seconds of fame when Deborah Bonham wished him a happy 60th birthday from the stage.

giants of rock
Deborah Bonham

After ‘Duchess’ and a jiving ride of ‘Devil’s In New Orleans’ Bonham and her band paid tribute to David Bowie with ‘Rebel Rebel’ which was fitting as drummer Richard Newman’s father played the drums on Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ album. A nice touch.

Ian Hunter & The Rant Band played a mixture of Mott The Hoople classics and recent solo material. Hunter, now in his mid-seventies looks the man half his age and with more hair than most.

He declared that he hated ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ but still gave a lively version as he did with ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ and again with a teasing intro to ‘All The Way From Memphis’. Although not directed to anyone but ‘Rest In Peace’ could’ve been for any number of departed friends and the place lit up for ‘All The Young Dudes’ before saying ‘Goodnight,Irene’. Pure class.

giants of rock
Ian Hunter

Thankfully for me, Nazareth were over a half a hour late on stage trying to solve sound issues, something which plagued the Reds Stage all weekend. This only fired up Nazareth, who once they got going, really rolled.

New vocalist Carl Sentance has more of a operatic metal edge compared to the gravelly voice of his predecessor Dan McCafferty who had to retire due to illness. It takes a few numbers for the ears to adjust to the new sounds of Nazareth but with a huge catalogue the band could do no wrong, the bad bad boys triumphed.

giants of rock

Many were surprised that Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock were performing on the Reds Stage while Stray had the honour of doing the graveyard shift on the larger Centre Stage, but as the chirpy Del Bromham joked “I heard the Germans were in Minehead, so we got here first to lay our towels down.”

Stray played a blinder, a band who have been underrated for their entire career who still know how to write top notch tunes as in ‘Free At Last’ and the cowardice war cry of ‘Harry Farr’.

giants of rock

Del Bromham is full of smiles and tricks and hangs his Les Paul from the ceiling to gain plenty of feedback for ‘All In Your Mind’. For those who stayed behind for Stray were treated to a highly entertaining set from this hard working band.

giants of rock

Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock were the ‘must see’ act of the weekend. Unsurprisingly the room for Reds Stage was rammed to capacity. Schenker didn’t disappoint, a man who has turned his career completely full circle and stuns those who watch him with his fluid performance.

His band complement the professionalism of the guitar maestro which is bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell both formerly of the Scorpions along with Scottish vocalist Doogie White and Wayne Findlay on keys and guitar.

Over the past few years this band has gelled as a unit and are now a strong tour de force. ‘Lord Of The Lost And Lonely’ is fast becoming a classic and live favourite. ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ really raises the roof, a song written by the drummer from his time spent with the Scorpions.

giants of rock
Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock

But the real masterpiece is ‘Rock Bottom’ from Schenker’s time in UFO where he proves he is the world’s greatest Metal guitarist with an extended solo that just makes you reach for the air guitar. Purely magnificent.

As people exited the arena and talked excitedly about the performance they had just witnessed, very strong winds were blowing in from across the Atlantic Ocean.

Giants Of Rock, rocked like a hurricane.

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