Tag Archives: Festivals

Think metal is dead? That’s your fault

There’s a hard-hitting if somewhat sweary editorial in Metal Hammer about the conservatism of some metal fans. Those people who refuse to accept that generations of bands since they came of age are actually producing great music, even if it doesn’t sound exactly like their favourite band when they were 17.

On the Metal Hammer website we cover pretty much everything considered metal – from Babymetal to Burzum – but 90% of the time the younger bands are being slaughtered in the comments section for daring to have a haircut not approved by the High Priests Of Metaldom or for not recreating Rust In Peace. The bastards. Like, how dare a band in 2016 have the tenacity, no the ignorance, to sound like something other than Megadeth?

It’s pointed out in the comments that the loud people on the internet may well be an unrepresentative and self-selecting sample, but there’s no denying that these people exist, and there are plenty of them. And not just in metal either; the prog world is full of them. It’s why so many 70s bands can play to full houses trotting out the same dreary old greatest hits set that they’ve been playing for the past twenty years while vastly better bands play to a few dozen. Great bands get dismissed as “Not proper Prog” because they don’t sound exactly like Pendragon.

People like this are one reason why so many festivals, from the huge Download to the far smaller Cambridge Rock Festival frequently end up with such conservative lineups, with acts who are well past their prime topping the bill. Meanwhile far better bands who might excel if given the chance of a headline spot themselves go on at 3pm.  Why, for example, have Nightwish never headlined a major festival in Britain?

It’s got to the point where you can tell exactly which age group the biggest proportion of attendees of any given festival fall into by whoever is headlining.

Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis thing, when you’re young enough to think everything still revolves around your generation but not quite old and wise enough to have reaslised that actually it doesn’t. But once you get past the wrong side of 50 is starts to get a lot harder to pretend that the heroes from your youth are still as good live those a generation younger. Sure, at a big festival or an arena gig they can still make a big spectacle with large-scale production values denied to “lesser” bands. But in smaller venues there’s nowhere to hide, and there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve seen a younger and hungrier support band completely blow some old-stagers away.

Anyway, go and read that Metal Hammer piece. And take a look at yourself and think about whether you are part of the problem.

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Dear organisers of Let’s Rock Bristol. You use the word “Rock”. I do not think you know what it means. Unless of course I’ve totally forgotten Bananarama’s metal years.

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There is something distinctly galling about witnessing mainstream media commentators gushing about Glastonbury signifying the beginning of the British summer festival season. For those of us who enjoy music that allows for a touch more aggression and energy than Mumford & Sons, the true start of the summer comes with Download” – Dom Lawson tells it like it is. Never thought I’d read words like that in The Guardian.

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HRH Prog 2

After the sold-out HRH Prog Festival in Rotherham, it’s now announced that HRH Prog 2 will take place In Wales.

HRH Prog 2 will take place at Havan y Mor, Pwhelli, North Wales, on March 20-23 next year. And Chic Festivals boss Jonni Davis promises the change of site offers a better experience for prog fans.

It’s always a good thing for any organisation to learn from it’s mistakes, and in this case Version 2 seems to have fixed many of the bugs in the first festival. The organisers promise it won’t be freezing cold (One lead guitarist reported on Facebook that he couldn’t feel his fingers on stage!), and there will be more variety of food, not just pies. There is also just one main stage, meaning the festival won’t be bedevilled with the number of clashes that this year’s event suffered (Mostly Autumn vs. Also Eden, and Karnataka vs. Hawkwind were just two).

Just as significantly they’ve announced it almost a full year in advance, in relatively remote location. This means that it will be an epic journey to get there, although Snowdonia is rather more scenic than Rotherham. But it also means it’s not going to tread on the toes of other competing events, and should hopefully avoid the unfortunate situation with the collapse Y-Prog festival.

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Are There Too Many Prog Festivals Now?

Knifeworld, headlining the Stabbing a Dead Horse tour.

Are there just too many Prog festivals now? The collapse of the Y-Prog Festival that was supposed to have taken place of the weekend just gone, and August’s Cambridge Rock Festival reducing prog on the main stage to a mere token presence this year are bad news for prog fans. It may be a case of extrapolating too much from limited data points, but I wonder if there are now more specialist prog festivals than the market can realistically support.

If the prog scene is to continue to grow and prosper, what part should festivals play in this? Are festivals aimed squarely at hardcore prog fandom counterproductive? Do they promote a ghetto mentality when it’s better to get the music out there in front of a wider audience? Should we instead be encouraging more prog bands with crossover appeal to play more “mainstream” rock, indie or folk festivals, and also encourage some of those festivals to add a critical mass of progressively-inclined bands to their lineup?

Ironically that’s precisely what the Cambridge Rock Festival had been doing over the past few years.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2009

I’m back from four days of superb music, amidst a bit of mud, at the Cambridge Rock Festival.

This is one of the many smaller festivals up and down the country, which contrasts with the big corporate festivals like Glastonbury and Reading. It started out as a beer festival with a few bands, but gradually the music side of things grew more important, eventually resulting in a name change from the old name of “Rockinbeerfest”.

The music is very much aimed at an older classic rock audience, with a bill made up of a mix of 70s veterans and younger progressive rock or blues artists. It’s like travelling to an alternative universe where punk never happened, and musical ability never went out of fashion.  This year they’ve moved to a new location. Rather than having the main stage in the converted cowshed in Godmanchester, we’d moved to the Haggis Farm Polo club just outside Cambridge.

Last year I just went on the Sunday, but this year I decided to make a full weekend of it. This was the first time I’ve camped at a festival (or indeed camped anywhere) since the Reading Festival back in 1983.  I camped with group of fellow Mostly Autumn and Breathing Space fans that included Colin and Helen, Chriz (the cider monster), Andy Goodall, Roger Ashworth and Doogie Walsh.

Let’s get the one negative out of the way first. There was nothing anyone could have done about the torrential downpours on the Thursday night, which caused one of the stages to be shut down because the backstage area was flooded, and as the contractor supplying the power have stated, water and electricity don’t mix.  But I have to say the bands, audiences and festival as a whole were badly let down by the contractor providing the PA. We had long delays over the weekend, band after band complaining about lack of monitors, and things finally came to a head on Sunday.

The good points apart from the music were excellent food, some great real ales, and a fantastic vibe. With just a couple of thousand in attendance it felt more like a weekend-long private party than a festival.  It was lovely to see Mostly Autumn stick around for the whole weekend; plenty of opportunities to chat with them, and even watch some of the other acts with members of the band.

Johannes James of Kyrbgrinder

I missed the first act on Friday, so my day kicked off with a great set from Northsydes.  They sounded a bit like Led Zeppelin fronted by Janis Joplin, and what impressed me was the way all four members made an equal contribution; powerful vocals, tight drumming, some great guitar work and wonderful bass grooves.  I was also very impressed with Kyrbgrinder playing on the smaller Radio Caroline stage.  They’re fronted by Threshold’s drummer Johannes James. There are not many people who can sing while playing prog-metal lead drums at the same time. And he’s such a charismatic frontman you barely notice the other two guys on stage.  They were possibly the find of the festival for me.

Heather Findlay of Mostly Autumn

I know I’m biased, but Mostly Autumn were the band of the day for me.  After a considerable delay due to technical problems they delivered a very powerful 90-minute set in adverse circumstances, despite being forced to stop playing in the middle of “Simple Ways” when something broke.  The setlist was pretty close to the one they would have played last year had they had they been able to play a full set, with a very powerful “Unoriginal Sin” and a magnificent “Carpe Diem”, and a lump-in-the throat “Heroes” to finish. With regular drummer Gavin Griffiths have another commitment this weekend, it was hats off to Robbie Baxter, normally part of the road crew, for filling in on drums for such a high-profile gig, and doing an admirable job.

The following headline set from the John Lees Barclay James Harvest was good too – vastly superior to the disappointing Les Holroyd version of the band I saw a couple of years ago.  It may have meandered at the beginning, but as it went on, and the sound mix improved, it built in intensity, and I left the main arena with “Hymn” still playing in my head. While I don’t know that much of their back catalogue, they played a lot of the standards I recognised, like “Poor Man’s Moody Blues” and “Child of the Universe”, and it was great to hear plenty of real live Mellotron.  And who was that girl dancing next to me, and singing along to “Mockingbird”?  Sure I’ve seen her before somewhere…

I spent much of Saturday moving from stage to stage. Since most of the bands were unknown to me, I probably managed to miss some great bands while watching someone else on another stage.  I spent quite a bit of time in the smaller CRS tent, rocking out to the very metal Crimes of Passion, and also saw most of Manning’s set, very very prog, with no fewer than three keyboard players.  On the main stage there were some great sets by Deborah Bonham and Never the Bride. The latter gave us one of the quotes of the weekend, when Nikki Lamborn told the sound crew “Stop playing with their knobs”.  70s Veterans Stray also delivered an entertaining set, featuring some serious Stratocaster abuse. That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!

The delays and technical problems which had affected Mostly Autumn the previous night were worse, when we waited, and waited for the mighty Uriah Heep. Finally they rolled the intro tape, the band came out, and… nothing happened. They stood around looking embarrassed, before shuffling off stage again.  It would be another half an hour before their set finally started, and like Mostly Autumn the night before rewarded the crowd’s patience with a blistering set, mixing 70s classics with selections from their recent album “Wake the Sleeper”.  Their classic Hammond-drenched hard rock sound and remarkable energy levels for a band of their age made them the band of the day without question.  Saying that, the following set by headliners The Quireboys went down well, a great party band to finish off the night. Or rather, morning, because it was gone 3am by the time the music finished.

Bryan, Paul and Olivia of Breathing Space

After some excellent glam-metal from Morph to rock away the hangovers, the first ‘big’ band on Sunday’s bill was Breathing Space. They’d gone down well last year with a ballad-heavy set, but this year’s CRF witnessed a transformed band.  They played a far rockier set, drawing heavily from the new album “Below the Radar”,  Now with Bryan Josh standing in on guitar  they delivered the best live performance I’ve seen them do all year, tight, energetic and highly emotional.  Set closer “Questioning Eyes” really brought a lump to the throat.  The huge crowd round the merch stand as soon as they’d finished said it all.

Touchstone too have come on in leaps and bounds since their appearance a year ago, playing another a really tight and high energy set drawn largely from their recent album “Wintercoast”.  The transformation of this band since I first saw them support The Reasoning in Crewe a couple of years ago is nothing short of phenomenal, especially singer Kim Servoir’s growing confidence as a frontwoman.  This band are going places.

I’d been very much looking forward to seeing Karnataka.  But as soon as I saw Ian Jones near the bar, the expression on his face told me something was wrong. He told me that the band would not be playing due to problems with the PA. It eventually transpired that Asia and Focus had demanded that they use their own PA and crew (and given the problems Mostly Autumn and Uriah Heep had suffered, I can hardly blame them). The changeover meant that the main stage needed to be shut down for two hours, and two bands had to be dropped, one of them being Karnataka. Bluesman Simon McBride moved to the blues tent, but unfortunately Karnataka’s stage gear was more than the smaller stage PA and mixing desk could have coped with.  So I got to meet the band, who were all very disappointed not to be playing, but didn’t get to see them perform.

Asia’s Geoff Downes

The weekend ended with Focus and Asia.  Focus took a long time to get going, with a couple of false starts while Thijs van Leer vainly tried to get his monitor to work, but ended with rousing versions of their hits, “Sylvia” and a manic “Hocus Pocus”, with Thijs conducting the audience for the falsetto parts.  The prog behemoth of Asia closed proceedings, with OTT amounts of drums and keyboards, and a rocking set drawn from “Asia” and “Alpha” plus a version of ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. Steve Howe doesn’t half look old now, but he can still cut in on the guitar.

A great festival which survived the best attempts of the weather and the PA company to ruin things. There were many great bands, some very familiar to me, others completely new. But ultimately any festival is about more than just the bands; those people who came just to see one band are really missing the point of what festivals are about.  Assuming they fix the problems with the PA, I’ll be back next year for more.

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Memories of Woodstock collapses in a Heep

The Memories of Woodstock festival scheduled for next weekend in Shrewsbury has been cancelled.  The promoter had put together a very strong bill for lovers of progressive and classic rock, including Asia, Uriah Heep, Barclay James Harvest, Jethro Tull, Mostly Autumn, Wishbone Ash, Jefferson Starship and Curved Air. Unfortunately the chosen weekend clashed with both the Cambridge Rock Festival and Fish’s fan convention in Leamington Spa.

Some people had doubts about the promoter after another event at the same venue headlined by Fairport Convention was cancelled at very short notice due to poor ticket sales. Things started looking dicey when a number of bands pulled out a couple of weeks ago, most citing “circumstances beyond our control”.  Uriah Heep were a little more forthright.

Uriah Heep has withdrawn from headlining the Memories of Woodstock festival, 7 August 2009, after concerns emerged about the intent and the ability of the festival to deliver public safety, financial viability or the basic logistics needed to present a festival of lofty ambition.

We are advised that all ticket purchasers are entitled to a refund as the festival terms and conditions do not allow for changes of artists.

This led to a war of words in the press, with the promoter complaining about false accusations and threatening legal action. Since that quote is still on front page of Uriah Heep’s website, I can assume that no legal action has materialised, so it’s safe to reproduce it here.

Uriah Heep have since been added to the bill for the Cambridge Rock Festival, replacing Jefferson Starship, who’d also withdrawn from MoW, and whose UK visit was no longer financially viable for only one appearance.

On Friday, Jethro Tull and Mostly Autumn both pulled out. An email from Jethro Tull’s management circulated widely on the forums of various bands pulled no punches.

“Tull are now officially out of the MOW festival due to the promoter being 2 months late with the deposit (not to mention the balance)! Despite many extensions of payment dates from our end and the offer to reduce the artist fee this week, Brian Davies (promoter) has just told me that he cannot pay. I believe that it is due to terrible sales and his lack of financial planning.

Please can you pass this e-mail onto anyone that you think might benefit from knowing. He assures me that he will reimburse buyers back if they so wish. His phone number is on his New Dawn Events website.

We at the Tull camp are very angry at Brian Davies for stringing this along for so long. We are sorry for all those fans who were expecting a whole weekend of great bands, most of whom, have now pulled out for the same reasons”.

By now the writing was pretty much on the wall, so it was hardly surprising when this appeared on the New Dawn Events website

Its with a very heavy and sad heart that due to certain people telling blatant lies these festivals have been cancelled. It is a sad case of affairs when people think of money before love and peace” – Brian Davies

It is with huge regret that we have to notify that the Memories of Woodstock event and Crathes Castle event are now Cancelled.

The Memories of Woodstock  project  was the brainchild of Mr Brian Davies who wanted to celebrate the 40 years anniversary of the best music festival in history. Unfortunately there are people in this world who do not share this vision.

Rumours that had been put out and circulating regarding this festival were completly fabricated and scurrilous which resulted in poor ticket sales and eventually led to the cancelling of this great event.

During the current economic climate we felt that we should give the public a festival that would give absolute value for money, however, it  is obvious there are people out there who do not wish this to happen, but we will strive forward on a mission to give the public what they should always have and that is…   “Great music at a great price with no hidden extras”.

I don’t think there are any winners in this sorry tale, with the possible exception of the Cambridge Rock Festival, who are now offering discounted entry for holders of MoW tickets.

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Sunday at the Cambridge Rock Festival

The Cambridge Rock Festival (formerly the Rock and Beer Festival) took place in the unlikely venue of the Wood Green Animal Shelter in Godmanchester, just outside Huntingdon. Given the vagaries of the British excuse for a summer, this one took place in an indoor arena. That turned out to be a large cow-shed like building, whose acoustics were actually a lot better than you’d expect.

With both Mostly Autumn and Breathing Space on Sunday’s bill, along with The Reasoning, whose fan base has a big overlap, the festival saw the biggest gathering of Mostly Autumn fans since the convention last March; an awful lot of familiar faces there, far too many to name, and apologies to anyone I didn’t get the chance to say hello to. Add to that a bar with an extremely large selection of real ales, most of which I’d never heard of, so ordering a beer was a matter of choosing something at random.

Local blues band Taildragger opened the proceedings; competent and tight but rather generic; as a friend of mine remarked, blues bands all tend to sound the same. Bijoumiyo were rather better; a mix of funk and reggae basslines with psychedelic guitar, quite unlike anything else on the bill.

The first two acts played to a largely empty hall; clearly the prog fans had time their arrival to get there in time for Touchstone’s set. I’d seen them a year and a bit ago supporting The Reasoning; frontwoman Kim Seviour’s first ever gig, and that was a somewhat nervous performance. Today they played a confident and energetic set, mostly drawn from their album Discordant Dreams. Probably the proggiest band of the day, but with a hard-rock edge. You could tell they were clearly enjoying their time on stage, and went down well with the growing crowd. I think this performance probably earned them quite a few new fans.

Breathing Space played an absolute blinder. For the biggest gig of their career so far, they rose to the occasion with a superbly tight set, the best band of the first half of the day, helped by having just about the best sound of any band at the festival. There’s little I can say about Breathing Space I haven’t said before; a bit poppy for some tastes, perhaps, showcasing Livvy Sparnenn’s fantastic lead vocals, but there’s still enough instrumental depth to keep prog fans interested. Aside from Livvy, the rest of the band shone too, especially guitarist Mark Rowan. Livvy’s striking mermaid costume was definitely the stage outfit of the day.

John Otway’s pub-rock meets standup comedy shtick isn’t really my cup of tea, I’m afraid, and I missed part of his set in search of food. But I have to say his set closer of The Osmond’s “Crazy Horses” with the theramin solo was entertaining.

The Reasoning’s set was one of the most eagerly awaited of the day’s lineup, their first gig with their new guitarist Owain Roberts. They played strong hard rocking set, mixing favourites from “Awakening”, a great version of the Karnataka oldie “Talk to Me” with several songs from the forthcoming “Dark Angel”, including the prog-metal masterpiece of the title track, and the live debut of one called ‘Call Me God?’. Marillion’s Steve Rothery guested with them for “Within Cold Glass”. They did suffer from more than a few technical glitches and sound mix problems, which took the edge off things slightly, which meant they didn’t quite top Breathing Space’s earlier set.

I felt sorry for Jim and Geoffrey. As an acoustic duo (guitar and violin) they struggled to hold the attention of an audience that had been rocked out by the previous band, and despite being quite good, they died horribly. I’d love to see them in a small club venue, where might make more of an impression.

If the number of t-shirts was anything to go by, Mostly Autumn had the greatest fan support of any band on the bill. So many people were seriously annoyed when they got half-an-hour lopped off their set because the following band apparently insisted on having a whole hour to set up rather than the half-hour everyone else had. To make matters worse, problems with Bryan’s guitar setup delayed the start, so the band ended up playing for just 40 minutes or so, to the intense disappointment of both the band and their legion of fans. But for that short set the band were absolutely on fire; a storming ‘Fading Colours’, a really intense ‘Unoriginal Sin’ and a fantastic ‘Heroes’. Heather’s stage outfit certainly caused one or two jaws to drop; wearing a catsuit when seven month’s pregnant took some courage. Had they had the opportunity to play their originally planned setlist they would have been the band of the day without question.

In contrast, Andy Fairweather Low was the nadir of the day. As someone who’s had a few hits aeons ago, and had since been an anonymous sidesman of other people, he had neither the charisma nor the material to play such a long set this high on the bill. His interminably long set seemed to consist mainly of 50s and 60s covers, with perfunctory takes on his few hits. As someone it’s probably better not to name said “Who wants to listen to this wank? Just because he’s been on Later with Jools Holland”. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Music for chin-stroking Mojo readers perhaps, not not music for the sort of Rock fans who made up this audience.

And so, headliners Marillion. A band I’ve been a fan of for longer than members of some bands lower down the bill have been alive, playing a 90-minute festival set. To be truthful this wasn’t in the same league as the two awe-inspiring shows I saw in 2007; still good, but lacking the sort of intensity I’ve seen in past gigs. H was on fine form despite evident lack of sleep due to being the father of a five week old baby. “Sleepless nights, very rock and roll”, as he said. I’d love to have seen Heather’s and Ian’s reaction to that line! They played what amounted to a greatest hits set of the post-Fish era, favourites like ‘Easter’, their recent hit ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, ‘King’ and the encore ‘Neverland’. Still very good, but for me at least failed to top the Mostlies, despite their truncated set.

While what happened to the Mostlies put a bit of a damper on an otherwise great day, in the end the event was bigger than any individual band. The whole festival had a relaxed air, members of many of the bands mingling with fans throughout the day, helped by the fact that there was no backstage bar. And there seemed to be no egos involved, with one possible exception. That laid-back approach probably would not have worked at a bigger festival, but here it added to atmosphere; the whole thing felt like a fan convention of sorts. It made me wish I’d camped and made a weekend of it.

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