Stonedeaf festival returned, following its inaugural triumph last year, and raised the bar considerably. After a summer of great and impressive festivals it claimed its place right up there among the high spots.
Words: Liz Medhurst, Pictures: Mark Ellis
Some tweaks to the layout and facilities consigned last year’s teething issues to history. The new stage position no longer has the sun in your eyes, and facilitates a smooth straight path from artists’ area to stage. There was plenty of food on offer at really reasonable prices, and great amenities, including easily accessible drinking water points. As with last year the administration and staffing was superlative, a festival with heart.
There were tech issues to contend with, but nothing to spoil the day overall. With the sun blazing down and green grass all around (the first mud free festival for me this year, if you discount the Bloodstock layer that was still caked to my festival boots), the atmosphere was like a garden party, one full of hard rock, cold beer and vintage Monsters of Rock shirts – not a cucumber sandwich in sight.
The band line up is simplicity itself based on the early Monsters of Rocks at Castle Donnington – one stage across one day, a niche which fits perfectly with the other festival offerings we are fortunate to enjoy each summer.
Opening proceedings were Irish hard rockers Samarkind, pulling a large crowd despite the early start. They are a great choice for opening – not just because their single ‘Sun Stroke Heart’ makes it super easy for writers to come up with weather-based analogies, considering the thirty degree heat we were blessed with. Their strong performance and retro riffs set the mood of the day, and that mood was good
Picking up the baton, Massive gave us good no nonsense Aussie rock’n’roll getting the crowd going in the blazing sunshine, full throttle as per their debut album. There was a real party atmosphere going on in the crowd, which didn’t go unnoticed by vocalist Brad Marr observing “they’re the biggest boobs I’ve ever seen in my life!” Even the festival mascot Stonedeaf Geoff was persuaded into dancing on stage with them for the finale.
The Amorettes have a new line up for 2019 and are now a quartet. Following the departure of Hannah and Heather McKay, Gill Montgomery has recruited Tequila Mockinbird’s drummer and bass player Josie O’Toole and Jacinta Jaye, and added Laurie Buchanan on rhythm guitar. This grouping really flies, as you would expect with this level of talent.
We were treated to a perfectly formed set of super-charged rock including ‘Let The Neighbours Call The Cops’, ‘Bull By The Horns’, and of course ‘Everything I Learned (I Learned From Rock And Roll)’- yep, me too.
Proving that classic equals quality, Diamond Head were next. For forty years this band have delivered the goods, and the latest album ‘Coffin Train’ has kept up, if not exceeded, the standard that made their self-titled studio opus MetalTalk’s album of the year in 2016.
Brian Tatler’s stellar guitar playing with Rasmus Bon Anderson’s vocal is a perfect pairing. Old and new tracks sounded equally fresh and showed that NWOBHM is alive and kicking. ‘It’s Electric’, ‘Belly of The Beast’, ‘Bones’, every track’s a winner here. The finale of ‘Am I Evil’ was enhanced by a flypast of a Dakota from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, low over the arena, prompting compere Krusher Joule to reassure us – “don’t worry it’s one of ours!”
Geoff Tate was next with a set of Queensrÿche classics, and it’s so good to hear those vocal tones. Like a growing number of bands there are two versions going under different names, and Queensrÿche themselves have been visiting the UK this month too. Whatever goes on behind the scenes it’s a winner for fans who get a double helping from those who created the sound, each band has its own merits and doesn’t take anything away from the other.
In this case a mighty set was performed with an energetic band that owned the material. ‘Silent Lucidity’ held the arena spellbound, while ‘Operation Mindcrime’ and ‘Eyes Of A Stranger’ also stood out, but we were serenaded on each track. Hugely enjoyable.
The choice of Wayward Sons was a popular one and it’s easy to see why. Toby Jepson and his band were on fire, almost literally as the temperature had peaked and a fuse blew midway through the set. This did not deter proceedings however, and the tracks from forthcoming album ‘The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be’ are already nicely established in the set alongside the heavy duty rock’n’roll of first album ‘Ghosts Of Yet To Come’.
The sons are an incendiary live act, with a massive wall of sound and infectious grooves. They all looked like they were having the time of their lives up there, and Toby confirmed this paying tribute to the festival organisers. Another band who are a perfect fit for the festival, there was a lot of love in the field this afternoon.
Some more sons were next, this time actual ones, belonging to Phil Campbell. What started as a side project after Motörhead’s demise has turned onto a tight and impressive rock band.
With thirty-one years under his belt as Motörhead guitarist, there was no way the back catalogue could be ignored and the set was split between tracks from his former band and the new album. Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons (the sons being Tyla, Todd and Dane, with Neil Starr on vocals) are most definitely a band in their own right, with some great songs and some great banter – loud, heavy and entertaining, ticks all the boxes here.
Inglorious took to the stage as the sun set and blasted us with a powerhouse set that showed what a titan this band is becoming. Tech issues forced them to cut a couple of songs, and there was no playing safe here, the complex and ambitious songs were front and centre.
Performance-wise they have all completely gelled as a band, making use of all the stage, interacting with each other throughout. The twin guitar onslaught came from Dan Stevens and Danny Dela Cruz – they may have similar first names, but different styles and looks, both fantastic and complementing each other perfectly.
Bass player Vinnie Colla and Phil Beaver’s drumming is the engine room that drives this juggernaut. This time we heard touring keyboard player Rob Lindop much more clearly and the set was all the better for this added depth to the sound.
Nathan James’s vocals are always on point, but tonight there was another dimension – he can belt it out with the best of them, but it’s the emotion and the tone he brings which is simply breathtaking live. ‘I Don’t Know You’ and ‘Uninvited’ were genuine show-stopping emotional points. This festival season has served Inglorious well, and the UK and Europe tour in Oct and Nov is going to be a belter.
And so to The Voice Of Rock himself, headliner Glenn Hughes, thankfully back to full and vibrant health after postponing his UK dates in May due to an operation. Tonight was very much a homecoming gig for him, this corner of the Midlands only an hour or so away from where he was born and raised.
This is the Glenn Hughes performs Deep Purple tour – he has a huge back catalogue and pretty much any era, solo or band would be an attractive prospect, but the appeal of ‘Burn’, ‘Stormbringer’ and ‘Come Taste The Band’ was quite mouth-watering, albums that hold great memories for so many.
Glenn also surrounds himself with top musicians. Tonight we had Soren Anderson, Jay Boe and Ash Sheehan, all absolute masters. This is a happy band on stage who clearly love playing together. Arriving half an hour late on stage due to issues with the backline, once ‘Stormbringer’ thundered out it was clear that this was going to be a special set.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of the tech gremlins as series of power outages continued with ‘Might Just Take your Life’ and the supremely funky ‘Sail Away’. Even for seasoned professionals that’s a tall order to pull it back but they coped incredibly well. Glenn announced that here was no way he was leaving the stage, he was here to play, and the quartet jammed with what they had until it came back on each time. It appeared seamless. This is rock’n’roll, raw, real and regal.
Let’s put things into perspective – Woodstock’s 50th anniversary was a couple of weeks ago – now that’s how to have a hard time at a festival, and any gremlins today have only affected artists in a major way, but every single act stepped up and overcame difficulties in a professional way, showing sheer class. We did have some of that Woodstock spirit here though – ninety minutes of peace and music instead of three days – which turned into four due to the delays and Jimi Hendrix didn’t even get to play until the Monday morning so we’re not doing too bad here.
Glenn’s hippy mode was fully activated with his declarations of love to us all, but with Glenn you know it’s sincere. Paying tribute with stories about Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolan and David Coverdale he put his own spin on the songs encompassing soulful, funky and super-charged rock. The vocals were something else, so much strength and magic defying all logic, coming from the heart and the soul.
There’s no resting on laurels here, go to a Glenn Hughes gig and he shows you how to put in a great rock performance with astounding vocals – unconditionally, right here, right now. Pick any song played tonight, ‘Mistreated’, ‘Gettting Tighter’, ‘You Keep On Moving’ and there’s high spots in them all.
As the set and the festival wound up with ‘Highway Star’, we bathed in the afterglow of a truly great day spent in the company and artistry of great bands. Today made me proud to be part of the rock community.
Oh, and it’s the last Stonedeaf as next year it rebrands as Stonedead. I think we prefer that – forever.