Rockdown Festival and the love which corporate events just cannot recreate
Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms. 3-5 September 2021
Out of the pandemic, yet another incredible festival is launched rather aptly entitled Rockdown. From the creators of the award-winning event Legends Of Rock, Eddie and Elaine Yates, this event was announced for September 2021 as a post COVID-19 party.
Rockdown – Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms 3-5 September 2021
Words: Sara Harding and Gavin Archer
Photography: Antony Taylor
For those that haven’t attended this incredible event run by the lovingly entitled Bastards, this is a rock festival run by fans for the fans. An electric and heady mix of the finest of original and covers bands in the UK.
As thousands of rockers descended on the sleepy, historic town of Leamington Spa, this place didn’t know what hit them. But the locals loved us – everywhere we visited, the locals said they “loved our vibe”.
The venue is an iconic part of British rock history – nearly every important band has played here, and this weekend we were in for a treat at the Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms. Top rock DJ Barry James from Radio Caroline kicked off the event and got us in the mood to rock with classics from Ozzy Osbourne to Thin Lizzy to rare Santana.
Alas, the King and Queen of Bastardshire who reside over this festival were struck down with the plague, so the baton was passed onto the Duke and Duchess of Bastardshire, who did a sterling job. Jus and Debbie pulled this gig off together with Tipsy. Goodge was our MC for the whole weekend and did a fine job whipping up us rockers and supporting the bands with a few ‘dad’ jokes thrown in for good measure.
Kicking off the whole event was a stunning authentic tribute to Michael Schenker/UFO by the name of Rock Bottom, formed in 2012 by a group of highly skilled session musicians.
The band were a high energy blend of epic Germanness. When the band walked on stage, we all did a double-take. We genuinely thought it was Michael Schenker on stage with the flying V and hat/hair combo. And the singer was a bit fit – bearing in mind we are a gang of girls watching the set – the Teeth and Tits girls were in town.
Black Country Community
Up next were Birmingham’s finest tribute to West Midlands supergroup Black Country Communion. A four-piece combo entitled Black Country Community channels the best of blues and soul from Glenn Hughes and co.
Singer Owen Davidson was on fire, blasting out the best of BCC with his five-octave range. They are the standout band of Legends, and their fan base just grows and grows.
Thin Lizzy Experience
Finishing off Friday night were the Thin Lizzy Experience. An authentic tribute to the legendary rock band. With four great musicians and a spooky doppelgänger to Philip Lynott at the front, they really took us back to the heady days of the Lizzy.
Saturday kicked off with a lot of tired rockers heading out around Leamington Spa – the grey tops, tourists and business owners alone said they loved the hundreds of rockers who had descended on their town.
The meeting place to be ended up being the local Wetherspoons where we hung out with some of the performers, including our very own Gus Mark, from Memento. Lots of the legends rockers are of a certain age (ahem), and a lot of our gals now walk with sticks, which we all lovingly called “Harry Cane’s”.
Mr Spanky & The Hipthrusters
As Saturday evening approached, we all headed to the Assembly Rooms looking forward to the acts ahead. First up were Mr Spanky & The Hipthrusters. Even our aforementioned girls shedded their walking sticks and rocked out to this combo featuring the guitar virtuoso Rev Kenny Petrie, who’ve attracted over half a million Youtube fans.
There really was a lot of hip thrusting as this band served up some dirty, dirty southern rock. These dudes have skills, and the singer sings like he’s had a huge Tennessee whisky on the rocks – gravelly and smooth at the same time. Spotify is desperate to sign up bands over (ahem) the age of 45, and this band would seriously climb up the charts. Are you listening Spotify?
Part Clutch, part Kentucky Headhunters with a good dose of Allman Brothers, this five piece were the perfect antidote to the last year of no live music. And then they pull a banger of a cover of the Black Crowes’ Remedy. Literally, mind blown!
Hyper thrusting into a mad rock set like no other from 99 Red Balloons to The Clash, to The Sweet medley – literally, there was something for everyone. I cannot wait to witness and thrust my ample hips to this band again.
Up next were another original band Blind River, a five-piece heavy rock band created to bring classic, riff-driven songwriting to the fore. The hairiest band in town were a welcome return to the festival circuit, and by now, the dance floor was packed full of moshers stomping and screaming out the lyrics.
No tops, sweaty as hell, hairy as hell – this band assured us noise, kicking off with Going Nowhere. OMG, as soon as the riffs kicked in and the golden vocals of Harry Armstrong began, we were swinging our hair and embracing the band’s rather magnificent man rugs. These dudes have earned their rock points, and their T-shirt reminds us that we Can’t Sleep Sober. Well, there will be no sleep tonight sober in Leamington Spa.
A vocalist on par with the best bluesy rock megastars of this planet and a band as tight as my jeans after several beers. Bass and drums were rumbling through the Spa town, while the sound of the crowd spurred singer Harry to say, “it’s been too long since I’ve heard people fucking scream. It’s been a tough year, and I fucking hope it’s over now. I had to work this morning, and it was fucking horrible.”
Heavier than hell, Blind River played all originals, yet every now and then, they would slip in a nod to their heroes AC/DC. Their showmanship had every huge fifty stone hardcore biker rocker in their leathers shaking their hair whilst double cupping on that dance floor. That’s you, Bob Floyd and Tony Richards!
Blind River were literally blinding! With banter too. Up next was Acid Tongue, about men who literally shout rather than talk – aka wankers. Singer Armstong nails this with gritty, heartfelt and simply stunning vocals. Think Phil Anselmo meets Clutch meets Cornell at his finest. Up next was Waste Of Life, and that’s it, the crowd were going mad – anyone that still had their hair was swinging it. Boy, I was about to give my laptop to Clapham John and go dance at this stage. See how hard us reviewers have to work? Time next for a bit of politics with Burn The Sun. A dirty ditty about the Red Top paper.
The band finished with their anthemic song Can’t Sleep Sober, raising the roof at the Assembly Rooms. Everyone by now was out of their seats. I was already queueing for my T-shirt and CD. Do yourselves a favour and do the same.
Forever Moore followed, and we were in Gary heaven as this brilliant tribute took to the stage. Featuring legends friend and guitarist extraordinaire, Craig Price, they cover Moore’s anthemic years from the late ’70s to 1989.
It was a real dip into the Moore years and was a legacy gig. There was not a dry eye in the house, and as soon as I got home, Moore’s greatest hits were played loud while I typed up this review.
Who’s Next hit the stage and, having just finished filming a documentary with the actual The Who, it was amazing to see the ultimate tribute to Roger, Pete and co. We’ve seen them before at the Ealing Blues festival, and they never disappoint. A real trawl through The Who’s back catalogue, this was a stadium-style gig in a smaller venue. The crowd went wild. And then it was time to return to our lovely room at the Premier Inn and have a drunken, happy sleep.
Two rocktastic days were done, and the final big one was upon us. An all-dayer with six bands, one cover, two originals and three tributes were there for our delectation, beginning with a lunch with those funsters from Derby, Metal Fatigue.
For the few that hadn’t seen these guys before, they were in for a treat, an eclectic set of punk, Metal and the odd left-field number, including the bonkers Toy Dolls punk version of Nelly the Elephant, always a highlight. This was a two-hour set that always puts a big smile on everyone’s face. We love these guys, who are probably the best party band out there.
Matt Pearce & The Mutiny
Next up were Matt Pearce & The Mutiny. A Planet Rock Radio favourite, guitarist/singer Matt is well known as the guitar slinger for the likes of Too Petty, Fleetwood Bac, Legends of AOR (more on them in a bit) and his other original Metal band Voodoo Six.
Here he showed off his soulful, more bluesy style of rock. There are plenty of tracks of his debut album Gotta Get Home, plus a few from his upcoming second album and a couple of well-chosen covers. One, in particular, was the wonderful Drift Away by Dobie Gray. A lovely 75 minutes of laid-back, funky groove was the perfect antidote to the previous two hours of mad partying.
Third on today’s smorgasbord of rock was the strutting, supremely confident Collateral from Ramsgate in Kent. This six-piece melodic rock band have been making waves on the circuit for a couple of years now and have a frontman in Angelo Tristan who simply has it all with the looks, voice and charisma to take these guys to the heights of the music world.
But for us, what they have most importantly is the music, song after song are complete instant earworms, and you just know you’re gonna be humming their tunes days after hearing them.
The self-titled debut album is nine tracks of highly polished AOR with their obvious Bon Jovi influence…if ever a band is destined for potential greatness, it’s these boys.
Boot Led Zeppelin
Following that wasn’t going to be an easy task, but the fourth band of the night was THE surprise of the weekend. Boot Led Zeppelin were simply jaw-dropping. Imagine Zep in their prime, not a group containing 60 odd-year-old musos pretending to be 30.
I’ve seen many Zep tribs over the years, but these guys are, without doubt, the best I’ve ever seen. Everything was spot on. Singer Jesse Smith totally encapsulated the aura of Plant but has the chops to back it up, and Guitarist Raff Achour nails Paige’s stylings and sound. Mesmerising stuff and a real highlight of the weekend.
Legends Of AOR
Who in their right mind would or could follow that up? Well, only one man and his band of ’80s American AORsters had the capability and did just that. Legends Of AOR were next with the wonderfully talented Jimi Anderson on vocals and members of Fleetwood Bac as the band, including the incredibly versatile Matt Pearce again on guitar.
A set that brought back memories of my youth, Journey, Foreigner, Toto, Styx, REO Speedwagon and Boston, all played with real class by this insanely talented line-up. Matt himself even got to sing one number, the seminal ‘I Want You To Want Me by Cheap trick.
Smiling and singing along was found all around the packed room, and as it was Jimi’s birthday, he was really feeling the love from a crowd he had eating out of his hand from song one.
All of which brought us to the last band of the weekend, the brilliant The Bohemians, the UK’s finest tribute to Freddie and the boys and they stormed it with 75 minute set of Queen hits including the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody, Show Must Go On, Fat Bottomed Girls, Tie Your Mother Down and We Are The Champions, to slightly lesser well known songs like Breakthrough.
A fine fitting end to a wonderful weekend. As people said their farewells and slowly exited the building, tired but incredibly happy, it dawned on me just how much we had missed these events.
Although it was billed as a “mini legends”, it still carried the same vibe, and you could feel the love in the room between the paying public, the musicians and the organisers, which corporate events just cannot recreate.
On to Legends next March, a five-day anniversary extravaganza where we can all get together again and party, laugh, rock out and simply experience what only Legends Of Rock can offer….til then, folks.
Get your tickets now at classicrocktours.com.