Winter might not be rock festival season for some, but that’s not the case in Troon, a seasonally sleepy seaside town in Ayrshire, Scotland. For the seventh time, some enterprising locals have taken over the town hall to put on Winterstorm, a four-day classic rock and Metal celebration.
Winterstorm Festival 2023
Troon Town Hall – 23 November 2023 – Day One
Words: Ian Sutherland
Photography: Scott Anderson
Winterstorm has been carefully husbanded financially and has a focus on putting on quality acts in a welcoming environment. In an often troubled rock festival sector in the UK this is an event that has become a reliable, enjoyable weekend. Well supported locally, Winterstorm now manages to attract fans from over a dozen countries worldwide, including New Zealand and Japan.
Doors opened at 2 pm on day one, and well-organised access means that opening act Gin Annie had an enthusiastic crowd in front of them a mere thirty minutes later.
Wolverhampton’s finest hard rockers aren’t slow to capitalise on the opportunity and put in an all too short set of fine, melodic hard rock full of vim and vigour and genuine pleasure at the reaction so early in the day.
Singer Dave Foster might think that the crowd struggle to understand his Black Country accent, but what they totally understand is how well-played, finely crafted rock music crosses all boundaries and can liven up a cold Thursday afternoon by the sea. A great start to the weekend.
Romeo’s Daughter follows with their more veteran take on melodic hard rock. Singer Leigh Matty is still a magnetic presence all these years on from their classic debut and delivers her clear strong vocals with a cheery smile.
This was no nostalgia fest, though. It’s easy to forget that this rejuvenated version of the band have now released three albums. So, there is more material to draw on from this century than their two ’90s releases. The majority of the set leans in that direction, and the audience relishes the drive and groove of songs like Bittersweet.
That classic legacy can’t be ignored, though. Inside Out is an irresistible sing-along tune, and Wild Child is a monster riff-based set closer. The fact that they almost forgot to play the glorious I Cry Myself To Sleep shows how much they were enjoying their time in the Winterstorm spotlight. It’s such a pleasure to have this classy outfit out on the road again. A delectable set.
At this time, the much smaller Sessions stage opened up, but unfortunately, I was too slow off the mark to catch reformed hard rockers Glasgow. The house full signs were up, so I spent some time in the Hing Oot Hall where you can drink, chill, eat stovies and other local nosh and buy some merch.
Back on the main stage, there were more smiles from Pat McManus, who was delighted to be able to deliver a set celebrating his Mama’s Boys past, bolstered with some deftly delivered covers like Gary Moore’s Parisienne Walkways.
It was the Mama’s Boys stuff that really warmed the hearts of those in the room, though. When he pulled out the fiddle and added that Irish jig element to the sound, it took many of us back to the days when he and his brothers were electrifying audiences up and down the UK.
Straight Forward ended the set in a cheery groove. But I’ll admit when I sang along to the line ‘straight forward, no looking back’, I wasn’t being completely honest. I was looking back and fondly remembering.
The ’80s are well-represented today, but some of the best ’80s vibes come from someone who wasn’t even there. Chez Kane had moved on from her time with hard rockers Kane’d, but with the help of producer Danny Rexon, she has decided to capture that Hair Metal hard rock vibe we all loved back in the day.
With an energetic, high-kicking band, the feeling is of Cinderella in their heyday, but with a massive female voice in front of them. The Welsh Queen of Rock sings her lungs out like there is no tomorrow. You can’t help but punch the air and will her on. What a dynamo. Remarkable.
The New Roses
Next up on the main stage was a band with one foot firmly in the modern world. The New Roses may be from Germany but they are steeped in the American stadium rock traditions. They take that and spruce it up with a vibrant energy and manage to turn themselves into the perfect modern festival band.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know their material. Singer Timmy Rough will get you to cheer at the right times, wave your hands in the air and just get the party going while his tight as-a-tourniquet band provide the high-energy backdrop.
The guitar solos are in the right place and never so long as to overshadow the songs, and the vibe in the room just grows and grows as the band gets further into their hour-long set.
When they ask the crowd to help them save the rock ballad, the inevitable phone lights are waved in the air, and that feeling of being part of a joyous rocking experience is complete. A gritty sing-along take on Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World is a really nice touch, bringing familiarity to proceedings but not in an obvious way. Their own tunes, such as It’s A Long Way and Thirsty, are just as satisfying, though. These guys just knocked it out of the park today. A triumphant set.
In between all the action on the main stage, I did manage to get to the Sessions stage eventually and caught some gritty, committed hard rock from Scotland’s own Bad Actress and Matt Pearce & The Mutiny, adding some variety to the sounds on offer with a solid set of soul and funk-tinged rock ‘n’ roll. Sin Dogs grabbed most of my attention, though, with vocalist Peter Scallan winning the theatrical honours in his bizarre yet fascinating mask.
Musically, they have a sound now that can be crunchingly heavy at times but is also full of deft touches and unexpected flourishes. They showed much promise ahead of the new album, which should be a cracker on this showing.
Back in the main hall, it’s all hands on deck for maybe the biggest event of the weekend, a performance by the enigmatic Michael Schenker.
The Teutonic axeman is long past the days when unpredictable behaviour could get in the way of the music, and now he likes to have a great band with him and just play like only he can. Robyn McAuley is his vocalist of choice at the moment, and he puts in a fine performance, hitting all the right notes with ease. There’s an easy bonhomie on stage, and guitarist/keyboard player Steve Mann even gets to play a couple of guitar solos, but of course, this show is all about one man.
I worked out that it was just over 45 years since I first saw Michael Schenker play live, and I have to say his playing doesn’t seem to have lost anything over all that time. He is still capable of mazy, fluid runs up and down the fretboard and is one of the few guitarists who can keep an extended solo interesting.
He still manages to be an enigma, though. Most lead guitar players love to be front and centre, but often, when he’s soloing, he moves to the side of the stage and turns slightly away from the audience as if he’s a bit shy about how good he is.
How good he is cannot be denied, though, on this showing. In a targeted festival greatest hits type set, the crowd are delighted by UFO classics such as Let It Roll and Too Hot To Handle, captivated by tunes from his solo career like Armed And Ready and Into The Arena, and inevitably dazzled by the beautiful bombastic Rock Bottom.
This was a terrific celebration of Schenker’s fifty-year career in front of a packed hall that just loved every second of what he delivered. Can anyone match that over the next two days? A really high bar has been set.
Winterstorm Festival 2023 was held over the weekend of 23-26 November 2023. MetalTalk’s Ian Sutherland reports from Troon.
All Winterstorm Festival 2023 coverage can be found at metaltalk.net/tag/winterstorm-2023.
2024 Tickets will be available from the Winterstorm Festival Website.