Leeuwarden is a pretty town in the north of the Netherlands which twice every year becomes the rock and Metal capital of the States Of Friesland and hosts two separate festivals. Into The Grave is the more Metal of the two but this year MetalTalk had an eye on its’ sister event Cityrock. Day one was more of a modern rock event headlined by The Hives but day two’s line-up had a classic rock and Metal vibe which was just too tempting to resist.

Uriah Heep/Mother’s Finest/Queensrÿche/Vandenberg’s Moonkings/Kadaver/De Wolff/De Hunekop
Cityrock Festival, Leeuwarden, Netherlands
3rd September 2016

Ian Sutherland: Photos by Mark Kennedy

cityrock festival

After sorting out accommodation issues the MetalTalk contingent arrived at the festival’s new site in the town’s picturesque Rengerspark on a beautiful sunny day and had time to grab some ice cold beer before the arrival on stage of the day’s third act, De Hunekop. They turn out to be a popular local act who deliver a fun set of rockabilly with a hard edge which gets some of the early arrivals up and grooving around.

While I enjoyed the sense of fun and the double bass player having a great time dancing away with his instrument I thought the material wasn’t the strongest and felt that maybe they were running out of steam and losing the crowd a little by the end of their set.

cityrock festival
De Hunekop

De Wolff are another Dutch band but are a total contrast in styles. Describing themselves as raw psychedelic southern rock they are a pure throwback to the sixties and seventies. They are a power trio but with the unusual set up of guitar, keyboards and drums. No bass required apparently and they certainly had a very full sound which really grabbed the attention of the festival.

cityrock festival
De Wolff

Frontman Pablo van de Poel can’t help but remind of you of Alvin Lee in Ten Years After with his fiery guitar playing and gritty, honest vocals. He doesn’t totally hog the limelight though as his brother Luka on drums and keyboard player Robin Piso also get a shot at doing the lead vocals. It’s the playing of all three which is mesmerising though and the music was a heady mixture of heavy blues and swirling soulful rock which was just the perfect soundtrack for a festival crowd enjoying a sunny afternoon.

The southern tinge to their sound is probably more to do with them recording an album in Georgia in the US rather than coming from the deep south of the Netherlands but the distinction really doesn’t matter. In an era when being a retro rock band is now cool they are simply one of the best I’ve seen and really deserve to be heard by even more than the few thousand here.

cityrock festival

The bill moved onto a more international footing with the arrival of another power trio in the shape of Kadaver from Berlin. Specialising in a powerful brand of stoner rock as well as growing fine beards they set about pounding the festival into submission. There isn’t too much subtlety in their style and they are one of those we’re here to play not talk minimum chat kind of bands. In the end it felt like it was all about the groove rather than the individual songs.

It was fun watching the band’s intensity and drummer Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt is a real crazy character behind his minimal kit but their style didn’t really quite grab me or the rest of the crowd the way De Wolff did. Maybe they needed a little more variety to make their vibe work in the sunshine.

cityrock festival
Vandenberg’s Moonkings

Adrian Vandenberg may be Dutch but his spells with Whitesnake have made him a very well known name internationally. Coolly strolling onto the stage with his current Vandenberg’s Moonkings band it is immediately obvious to everyone that this is a guy used to being in the spotlight and he effortlessly throws some cool poses and shapes while playing some very accomplished guitar. Singer Jan Hoving has a good voice and an easy going manner that fits well with his boss/bandmate but I found the band’s original material less than inspiring and when three songs into a fifty minute set they gave Mart Nijen-Es a drum solo I thought it was all going in the wrong direction.

The set was saved from disaster in the end by covers of Whitesnake‘s ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘Here I Go Again’ and a nice version of ‘Burning Heart’ from the Dutch axeman’s days with his eponymous band and featuring some great vocals from Hoving. Personally I thought adding in a cover of ‘All Right Now’ to effectively make it four covers and a drum solo in such a short slot showed a lack of confidence in the band’s own songs though and overall found their appearance disappointing.

cityrock festival

Next up were Queensrÿche who judging by the number of t-shirts around were one of the most anticipated acts of the day. Despite rain starting to fall they weren’t going to let the big crowd gathered to see them down and came roaring out of the gate with ‘Guardian’ from their latest album ‘Condition Human’.

With all the controversy of the split with Geoff Tate now well behind them and Todd La Torre firmly established as the band’s frontman this band who virtually invented prog Metal can now focus on what they do best which is perform great songs very well.

This being a festival set, after the 21st century ‘Rÿche opener they simply raided the vaults for classics for the rest of their slot. ‘Best I Can’, ‘Empire’, ‘Screaming In Digital’, they all still sound fantastic with the band totally on fire all the way through. Scott Rockenfield hasn’t lost any of his power behind the kit and Michael Wilton loves to take centre stage with his cultured soloing. Plus there’s TLT as their vocalist is now known, prowling the stage and hitting those high notes with ease.

I thought it was taking a risk to include the elegant ballad that is ‘Silent Lucidity’ in this environment but it worked superbly well while ‘Queen Of The Reich’ was simply magnificent, THAT riff just as stunning as ever. All too soon it was all over but everyone here was reminded that back in their heyday this was the band to beat, the band who were setting the high bar everyone else had to aim for. Now rejuvenated and energised after all their troubles they are showing the world that they can still be the band to set the standards and it’s fantastic to see and hear. Stunning.

cityrock festival
Mother’s Finest

Personally I like a festival to have a bit of variety and Cityrock managed that in fine style moving from the pioneers of progressive Metal to the pioneers of funk rock in Mother’s Finest. A band who have been laying down their uncompromising mixture of pure funk and fiery, rocking guitar riffs for over forty years now they still retain a following in parts of Europe and their native USA. Tonight’s crowd was a mixture of rock and Metal fans who didn’t know them and many who did but they didn’t let that or the fact that the rain was getting heavier get in their way. Glenn “Doc” Murdock simply walked up to the mike and announced: “We are Mother’s Finest from Funk Rock, Georgia,” and they were off and running.

Bass player Jerry “Wyzard” Seay sets the tone along with drummer Dion Derek Murdock churning out the biggest, dirtiest, heaviest funky grooves you will ever hear. Add in the twin riffing guitars of Gary “Moses Mo” Moore and Jerry “Red Devil” Hayes and you have a marriage made in heaven, really heavy music you can dance to. The magical icing on the cake comes from the undisputed star of the band, singer Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy. Even forty years on she still looks fabulous and just dominates the stage with sheer force of character and attitude. Imagine Tina Turner finally let loose to properly rock it up and you’re part of the way there. Vocally she has lost some of the power that was once there but she still has adds an electric, soulful twist to the songs.

The songs are mostly standards that the long time fans all know and ‘Burning Love’ and ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ generate lots of dancing among the crowd and some energetic singalongs as well. The momentum is lost a little bit in the middle with some overlong soloing from Moses Mo and chat from Doc but we’re soon back on track and ‘Give It Up’ and ‘Baby Love’ are a fine way to wrap up what was a terrific performance.

Mother’s Finest have been pumping out the definitive sound of funk rock since Dan Reed was in short trousers and they are still the masters of the genre. Not every rock fan in the crowd succumbed to those powerful, insistent grooves and riffs but it was their loss. The rest of us danced and sang in the rain and loved every second of it.

cityrock festival
Uriah Heep

The rain by now had become torrential but Uriah Heep are a band who instill loyalty in their followers so when they burst onto the stage and straight into the classic riff of ‘Gypsy’ everyone was still there to greet them. There were some initial guitar and vocal mic issues which may have been due to the damp conditions but Bernie Shaw and Mick Box are consummate, veteran professionals and dealt with them with ease. Once those distractions were out of the way they focussed on delivering a mixture of new songs but primarily seventies classics.

Never one to shy away from an on stage issue the amazingly energetic vocalist continually stood at the front of the stage, getting wet together with his fans and exhorting them to sing along and enjoy the occasion despite the conditions. The crowd really responded to that and the standard sing along stuff on ‘Lady In Black’ and ‘Stealin” in particular got a fabulous response. This of course gave founding member Mick Box a reason to smile but then he never needs one. The sight of him grinning away while playing guitar with one hand and mirroring the sound with the other is one of the classic visuals in rock for me. His good cheer is infectious and he’s no slouch as a player or song writer either.

The two guys at the front of the stage are ably backed by another ball of energy in Russel Gilbrook on drums, Davey Rimmer on bass and Phil Lanzon on keyboards. This veteran band showed that they were another collection of musicians who know how to get it done in any circumstances. The magic moments shone through the pouring rain from the atmospheric harmonies of ‘Sunrise’ and the bouncy groove of ‘Easy Livin” to the inevitable immaculate epic that is ‘July Morning’. The new songs like ‘The Outsider’ sounded great too but as wet and cold as everyone was it was the golden oldies which warmed hearts and along with a few drinks topped up with rain kept everyone going.

This was a terrific performance but I simply expected that from such a great band. I have been going to see Uriah Heep for decades and they never let me down. Cityrock itself didn’t let me down either. This was a well run festival in a nice venue and the final run of three bands who were all simply outstanding was terrific value for money too. I’ll be back.

Here’s some fan filmed footage from the festival which gives you a good feel of the event.

Sleeve Notes

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