Saturday started with some semi-acoustic blues from Cherry Lee Mewis, with an energetic and enjoyable set, backed by a tight band including a stand-up bass and largely acoustic guitars, followed by The Steve Boyce band, who I found a bit generic, but did have a great guitar sound.
Ebony Tower impressed me a lot. With a female lead singer who reminded me a little of a young Sonja Kristina, and electric violin as a major element of their sound, you might have expected something like Curved Air. In fact they sounded nothing like that at all, bits of prog and goth, and a lot of rock and roll. Certainly a band to watch out for in the future.
There was a lot of anticipation for Stolen Earth, formed from the ashes of the much-loved York band Breathing Space. With four members of the final incarnation of that band on board including lead singer Heidi Widdop, it was clear that a lot of the spirit of Breathing Space was still there, and to me it felt less like that debut gig of a brand new band that Heidi’s debut fronting Breathing Space did on the same stage exactly a year before. Great to see some keyboard player John Sykes with some vintage instruments on stage including a big wooden-bodied organ.
Aside from the two new songs “My Lips Are Too Dry” and “Silver Skies” which had been in the set for the short-lived final lineup of Breathing Space, all the songs were new, and suited Heidi’s soulful voice. They sounded if anything a little more proggy than Breathing Space, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Tuscany Sun”, released as a teaser on YouTube, came over very well live. Other highlights were “Unnatural Disaster” with it’s incessant bass groove, and “Perfect Wave”, backed by a huge wall of Hammond organ. Every bit as good as I’d expected them to be, and a band I’m sure we’re going to be hearing great things from in the coming months and years.
Swans in Flight were another discovery of the day, with some great melodic hard rock. They threw in a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Stone Cold” mid-set, the Hammond organ backing making it sound more like a Deep Purple song than anything else. With much of the crowd sunning themselves outside the tent, playing a familiar song was a smart move and encouraged a few more people to listen to their own songs.
What can I say about Panic Room? I’ve already seen this Swansea band five times this year, and this was well up to the very high standard of their gigs throughout the year. Opening with the as yet unrecorded prog-metal epic “Song for Tomorrow”, the played a their high-energy mix of rock, pop and prog drawing from both their albums, plus their superb swamp-blues cover of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”. With another new superb and quite epic new song “Promises” in the set, their next album is already something fans are eagerly anticipating. As I’ve said before, Yatim Halimi and Gavin Griffiths are possibly the best rhythm section in any band in their scene. Paul Davies’ plays some shredding solos and melodic fills, and his playing really seems to have come alive in the last year. Jon Edwards’ keys add swathes of colour, and frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder is a genuine star who fully deserved being voted best female vocalist last year by the readers of Classic Rock Presents Prog. They laid down the challenge to the rest of the bill, “top that”.
Aireya 51 couldn’t really follow that. I wasn’t over-impressed with them last year, and they weren’t really any better this time. Without Keith’s more famous brother Don to help them out this time, I found their set rather dull. Sure, Keith Airey is a talented guitarist who played some shredding solos, but he lacked both the songs and the charisma to stand out from the crowd.
Not so with Chantel McGregor. She’d wowed the festival last year with a slot very early on in the day. Now much higher up the bill she seemed almost overwhelmed by the huge size of the crowd, and delivered a superb set, mixing blues standards with some of the rockier songs from her debut album “Like No Other”, including her mesmerising extended take on Robin Trower’s “Daydream”. Just how does someone that young get to play guitar like that? Her playing isn’t just technically skilled, but dripping with emotion too, and she’s more than talented as a singer and songwriter too. I think she’s going to be making a big splash in the wider world in the coming years.
Larry Miller blew the roof off with one of the hardest-rocking sets I’ve ever seen from a blues artist. He was great last year, this year he was even better. The high-energy blues-rock of his opening numbers reminded me a lot of Rory Gallagher. Then he slowed things down with an extended slow-blues workout with some brain-melting soloing. Finally he ended with his take on some classic standards, a medley beginning with “All Along the Watchtower” and ending with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”.
Finally, headliners The Quireboys. Although for me at least they were nowhere near as good as Larry, Chantel or Panic Room earlier in the day, their brand of no-nonsense party rock with echoes of bands like The Faces and The Rolling Stones was still a great way to end the evening.