Prior to the day’s and, indeed, the event’s festivities kicking off on Saturday afternoon, we were welcomed by our MC for the weekend, the ever-genial Pete K Mally, who is a familiar and popular feature of numerous events on the NWOCR scene.
Sporting a Dry Ice Cannon, he remarked, “I’m the shittiest Ghostbuster ever,” discharging his weapon as he introduced the self-admitted ‘Blues Hearted Dirty Rockers Gallows Circus to the stage.
Looking around, it was highly encouraging to see that a good-sized crowd had already gathered, which was a definite improvement on the commencement of the previous year’s inaugural event.
One could say that they summarised their whole sound right from the opening chords of Faith To Believe. They certainly had me instantly hooked, and I remained that way right through to the obligatory Whiskey song. You can just imagine the organic tone of Oscar Rees’ Les Paul/Marshall combo.
The subsequent Game On was even more instant.
“We are Gallows Circus, and we are very pleased to be here,” announced distinctive frontman Ian Day. A mellow, harmonious intro was just one of the many characteristic influences on the charming Hunt You Down that could qualify it for the status of ‘Southern Hymn.’
Oscar let rip with a surging solo on Medicine Man, the supercharged number deserved nothing less.
“This is a bit more chilled before we rock things up again.” Holding My Breath combined those Southern influences once again with a more accessible, mainstream power ballad feel. It’s the kind of song that is a genuine showstopper in anyone’s hands.
By this point, I was firmly of the view of just how much they had stepped up since my last encounter. True to Ian’s word, Bones To Pick picked up the pace again.
“We’ve got two songs left, and we’re going to make them good ones.”
Bring Your Crucifix had the most seductive, gritty pulse. By now, Gallows Circus had transcended the fate that befell many opening bands and were still retaining the attention of that sizeable and increasing audience.
Signing off with the song that is on the Event CD, Hell’s Whiskey had a deliciously filthy riff of comparable coarseness to its predecessor, with the exuberant drums accentuating the effect. A most enjoyable opening to warm up the appreciative crowd for the rest of the day’s festivities.
A band whose star is very much in its ascendancy are South Coast blues rockers Brave Rival, who seem to make a lasting impression wherever they appear.
Lindsey’s fascination for the Black Country dialect seems to be gathering momentum as today she was sporting a tee-shirt from a Dudley venue with a local catchphrase emblazoned across it. Local blues enthusiasts know exactly where it’s from.
Every song is a perfectly crafted piece of engrossing blues rock delivered in such a compelling, stylish manner. The synergy between the two complementary vocalists, the aforementioned Lindsey and her sparring partner Chloe Josephine, is almost telepathic in nature, and the interaction bordering on sassy theatricality.
That’s just the strike force. Providing the musicality is the masterful six-stringing of Ed Clarke and the unrelenting rhythm section of Billy Dedman and Donna Peters.
They positively leapt out of the traps with Run And Hide, possibly their paciest number, with Ed delivering a very Blackmoresque solo. New song, Bad Choices, with its recurring riff, is already warmly welcomed and highlights the vocalist’s absolute synchronism.
“Feels good being up here.” And so it should. The largest stage that I have seen them play and one that befits their level of talent.
Secrets led to the percussive assault of the rip-roaring Heart Attack. One couldn’t miss that drummer Donna was sporting a grin a mile wide. As Ed unleashed another consummate solo, Lindsey and Chloe even indulged in a spot of jiving.
The second new number, Stars Upon My Scars, has all the hallmarks of a blockbuster. Developing from a bluesy intro, the voices build in soaring synchronicity, a simply jaw-dropping sustain on the penultimate chorus and Ed spoiling us with not one but two dazzling lead breaks. Cannot wait to hear the recorded version.
“Don’t break up with us, or you’ll get an angry song written about you.”
Guilty Love is another of their characteristic ‘post-relationship’ songs. Frenetically upbeat but with those oh-so-acerbic lyrical themes.
The ‘older new one’ Fairy Tale was just lush. Given its refrain, one may be forgiven for thinking it’s called Rabbit Hole.
Finishing to rapturous applause on the spectacular and sultry What’s Your Name Again? Showing just how ‘interchangeable’ their songs are in relation to the setlist. On my last sighting, this one provided a powerfully atmospheric opener.
Massive shout out to bass trooper Billy, who ploughed through the pain barrier to anchor the whole thing. No set duration is sufficient to appreciate the magnificence of this band. To use the phrase “Dun Yo Want Sum Mooer,” Most definitely.
I eagerly anticipate their next release, one fortunes permitting, will see them blast off into the stratosphere.
White Raven Down
Making a swift return to Wolverhampton were ‘unpigeonholeable’ trio White Raven Down, who had appeared at the last Bank Holiday Weekend’s GiffFest.
Comprising Stu Bailey on vocals and guitar, Luke Chappell on bass and Tomáš Mrázek on drums, they certainly match their description, producing an electrifying, deeply atmospheric fusion of post-grunge and classic rock.
It has been well over a year since the unforeseen departure of original vocalist Will Taylor, which then saw Stu pick up the baton. It is a testament to his abilities that, having risen to the challenge and performed at multiple similar events, he is now firmly rooted as well as content in the role.
He was another who had been suffering from a seasonal virus and had spent the previous day in bed. “Wasn’t going to miss this.” The frantic riff of Mind Reader gets proceedings underway. Impact instrumentalist Tomáš is consumed within his own world while bassist Luke cuts a distinctive figure in his trademark cut-off, swinging his radiant Ricki.
The ascending grind of All Day Long tips its hat somewhat to Alice in Chains, their craniums oscillating with encouraging regularity – impossible not to, really, as it takes you on a twisting expedition of melodies.
Void & Flame sees them dip their toe into the more progressive waters of Metal. Moody as it built but so bone-crushingly heavy as the full impact of the rhythms was eventually felt.
Silence, from the debut EP, was dedicated to long-time band supporter and helper Paul Richardson, who had been taken ill and was unable to travel for the show. A popular figure amongst many attendees, all would join Stu in wishing him a swift recovery.
Listening to this (or the recorded version now), it is significant just how far their sound has developed and been enriched. The audience participation bit here, giving some relief from the unyielding intensity.
Take Me took on a new life in this setting. Things concluded with Lost Your Hold. The initial intricate drum patterns evolve into a piledriving assault to bring it all home. The fading refrain of “Watch Me Slip Away” seemed apt as its open-ended nature appeared a passive invitation to return and savour a full set on a future occasion.
Another triumph for this most affable and appreciated trio who are punching far above their weight.
NWOCR Livefest 2023 was held over the weekend of 23-24 September 2023. MetalTalk’s Sophie James reports from KK’s Steel Mill
All Photography: Jason Samuels
All MetalTalk’s NWOCR Livefest 2023 coverage can be found at MetalTalk.net/tag/nwocr-livefest-2023.