It’s August Bank Holiday weekend, so we know the drill by now. Stonedead Festival is the number one place to be, and this fifth-year anniversary show has cemented that in fine style.
Stonedead Festival 2023
Words: Liz Medhurst
Photography: Paul Hutchings
We’ve become used to customs and traditions such as Krusher compering in his inimitable style, the on-stage recognition of services, toasts to absent friends and a lineup assembled to delight the discerning rock fan. Add to this the relaxed but professional atmosphere, brilliantly run operations, and incredible value for money tickets – the result is nothing less than a complete joy to be here.
Up until now, it’s also been the luckiest festival for weather. However, this run ended in quite dramatic fashion on the Friday night warm-up party. Just as The Karma Effect were hitting their stride, proceedings had to be halted as not only did the heavens open in an almighty deluge, but there were reports of lightning strikes in the area.
It was all back on after a forty-five-minute break to complete their set, and then Kira Mac wowed in typical fashion, with huge shiny riffs perfect to keep the mood high.
It was then left to Myke Gray to provide a virtuoso display of Skin classics to close the evening on a high before damp campers shuffled back to hopefully dry off.
Of course, Saturday is the festival proper (“one day, one stage, one monster rock show”). The opening band is always picked by public vote, and Kent-based hard rockers Collateral received an effusive welcome to the stage.
Stating that this was their biggest gig to date, the band made the most of every minute, right from the opener, Mr Big Shot. Angelo Tristan, a contender for the most smiley frontman in rock, ensured everyone was suitably woken up, leading the already sizeable crowd in singalongs.
A set of super stylish songs, including new track Glass Sky and crowd favourite Lullaby, was delivered with off-the-scale energy. The drizzle started mid-way through, which turned into quite a major shower, but hey, the climax of their set saw an explosion of pyro and confetti cannons – who cares about a bit of rain?
Fortunately, from here onwards, there was good weather all the way through, and incredibly, the showground had almost no mud. The excellent drainage was put to the test and passed with flying colours.
South Of Salem were up next with their bewitching, heady combination of major riffs, dynamic wails and hook-driven melodies. Combining material from 2020’s The Sinner Takes It All with some new tracks too, the Bournemouth-based quintet took their moment and ran with it, owning every inch of the stage.
There are some cracking tunes here – No Plague Like Home, Death Of The Party (complete with black-clad cheerleaders) and Cold Day In Hell standouts in a set that belted along at a fantastic pace.
On paper, their gothic looks and dark lyrical content may seem at odds with the melodious anthems, but it’s a combination that really works. It’s clear to see how this band pick up many new supporters with each gig, and on this showing, their first UK headline tour later this year is going to add to that number significantly.
Making their UK and European debut, the next act brought plenty of fun to proceedings. Deraps, the Canadian-Australian power trio, are named after the frontman Jacob Deraps, and with one album under their belt called – you’ve guessed it – Deraps, this is a band on a mission to be noticed.
It’s not hard, with Jacob bounding around in sparkly animal print leggings, making moves reminiscent of Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future. With a combination of originals, including the Van Halen-esque Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll and some well-chosen glam and Hair Metal covers, this was a good showing and a respectable debut.
During the Deraps set, there was another noble Stonedead tradition – the fly past. After last year, there was much talk of how the Avro Lancaster bomber could be topped, so there was great anticipation as the distant rumble of engines was heard before a formidable and familiar shape appeared – it was the Lancaster again! Huge cheers abounded – yep, it can’t be topped. Great decision, what a brilliant sight to see once more.
Welsh power trio Florence Black brought us right back to earth with a superb, heavy-hitting set. Having set stages alight all summer at festivals such as Steelhouse and Hellfest, it was a bonus to have them here, too.
A late replacement for Mason Hill, who had to cancel due to illness, this was a worthy substitution. With the deep grooves resonating over the field, the band certainly got the blood pulsing through veins in an explosive, passionate display. The crowd were massively responsive to guitarist Tristan Thomas exhortation to “Let’s Fucking Go!” chanting and bouncing to The Deep End.
Breadfan, the Budgie cover that they have made their own, saw a circle pit open up. By the time the luscious Sun And Moon closed things off, we had witnessed a beast of a set that left us wanting more. A triumph.
We’ve come to expect nothing less than perfection from the cream of the crop of mainstream classic blues rock, King King. You don’t usually hear a bad word said against this band, and with good reason. Smooth but not too much so, polished and pacey, there’s so much to like from the Glaswegian five-piece.
Fresh from the Mediterranean sunshine from their appearance as part of Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea cruise, this was a lesson in sheer class. Alan Nimmo, now joined in the lineup by his brother Steve on additional guitar, was at the heart of the action, although every member shone. Keyboards have always been a major part of their sound, and the electric piano shone today, especially during set staple Rush Hour, which saw thousands languidly swaying in the sunshine. A sublimely pleasant way to spend an hour.
It’s time to step things up a gear now, and who better to kick off the next section than The Answer, vocalist Cormac Neeson declaring this to be phase one of the Irish takeover. It’s so good to have this band back, promoting new album Sundowners, their first since 2016’s incredible Solas.
With no tracks from the latter, there was much more of a return to straightforward hard rocking, but with still plenty of flashes of Celtic magic and mystery.
The band still have all the grooves, and these hard-rocking songs are played with passion, soul and grit. As we shook out bad karma, band and crowd were in sweet harmony. The new material, such as Sundowners and Blood Brothers, blended beautifully with classics like Come Follow Me and Under The Sky.
Spectacular lived up to its name and, with Preachin’, Neeson vaulted over the barrier to bring the faithful to their knees, wisely remarking, “You’ve got to get down to get up.” The preaching was most certainly to the choir here. What a return.
There was no formal introduction for Therapy? so it was straight into the session, and the frenzied energy of the Northern Irish lads packed 15 whole songs into the hour, no messing about here.
The songs may be short and, in some cases, abrupt, however, this is no matter for the band faithful who gathered en masse to leap with abandon in the pit. It’s nearly thirty years since the breakthrough album Troublegum, and the band are having a bit of a resurgence with Hard Cold Fire, which has given them their highest chart placing in twenty years.
Stylistically, it’s more of the same punchy, furious statements, the bitter message of Poundland Of Hope And Glory coming through loud and clear.
There’s hope and encouragement buried here, too, though, with Kakistocracy’s topical refrain of “It’s ok not to be ok”, and the biggest cheers were saved for Potato Junkie. Let’s face it, you would feel short-changed if this wasn’t in a Therapy? set.
Die Laughing is often dedicated to those who have recently passed, so this evening, recognition was given to Sinead O’Connor and Bernie Marsden, news of the latter sending shock waves around the whole community just twenty-four hours previously.
Rounding off the trilogy of Irish-led bands, Black Star Riders sent ripples of pleasure throughout. Originally due to appear in 2021, they were felled by the ravages of COVID-19, like many others that year.
This time round, there’s been a few more lineup changes, with Scott Gorham the most notable absentee, although the band have a constant in Ricky Warwick. Starting with a bang with All Hell Breaks Loose from their debut album, the hard-hitters gave us a bit of nostalgia and a whole lot of celebration as we travelled throughout their catalogue.
Whether getting lost in the Celtic storytelling of Soldierstown or jumping to the driving beat of Testify Or Say Goodbye, this was a full-on experience, with only the one Thin Lizzy track, Jailbreak, which saw Warwick give a heartfelt tribute to Gorham.
New guitarist Sam Wood fits in beautifully – to no one’s surprise – and if there were an award for the most smiley guitarist, he would win it by miles. Sam plays in a lot of bands. Maybe he could team up with Angelo from Collateral, too, as no one could stay glum with that amount of cheeriness.
After a rip-roaring version of Crazy Horses (yes, that one), Therapy?’s Andy Cairns returned to the stage to join in on Finest Hour, and with Bound For Glory wrapping things up, the conclusion was that Black Star Riders were indeed very special guests.
And so to the headliners, Blue Öyster Cult with a UK festival exclusive, who played an absolute blinder. There had been some mithering beforehand (isn’t there always!) about whether a festival was the best place to experience this band, but it was proved that these songs worked equally well up close in the pit or more leisurely further back in the camping chairs.
With a huge back catalogue, it’s not always obvious what will be played from one tour to the next, but they do have a knack for getting the setlists just right, with the deep cuts alongside the big hits.
Original members Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom, wrapped up warm against the late summer evening chill, defied their years and, with their colleagues, delivered the goods in style.
So many highlights, including a funky That Was Me followed by a harmonious Golden Age Of Leather with crowd participation on the immortal line “raise your can of beer on high, and seal your fate forever”. Throughout, the lyrics are rich in imagery, encompassing tales of the paranormal, epics with menacing undertones, and, of course, more than a touch of mysticism.
It’s all wrapped in a glorious rock package with some proggy tinges, hypnotic guitar solos and melodies to swoon over. There’s also light relief with Godzilla, making a good companion to the unicorns and giraffes in the crowd.
It was almost over after (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, as there was a check to see if the curfew had been breached due to late arrival on stage, but no, the word came that there was indeed time to go out with Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll, a belter of a closing number.
And that was that. Stonedead 2023 closed its doors, leaving 5,000 happy punters and an immediate sell-out of next year’s early bird tickets. Well deserved. We are counting the days to the next time already.