What could be more inviting than a trip to Blackpool on a Bank Holiday weekend, to witness the inaugural ROCKFORCE Festival. Held at the fabulous WATERLOO MUSIC BAR, this 2 day event is in aid of the Children’s Hospice Arts Charity, all proceeds going to this worthy cause. I started out early from the Midlands , it was an easy train ride and I managed to be in time for the off. Pete K Mally, the compere for the weekend, got the festival going bang on time.
Coming up from South Wales to start it all were THE SCARLET REBELS. It takes a class act to get the ball rolling and these guys are just the band to do it. I first saw them at HRH AOR earlier this year and they were amazing. Getting more confident with every show, I am so impressed with how they are progressing. ‘Let Me In’ is a classy rocker from when they were called VOID, easy to sing along with its adhering lyrics, ‘Take me High, Take me Low, Take me anywhere you wanna go’. Wayne Doyle on vocals and guitar, has an immense voice and the ballad ‘Heal’ is completely mesmerising, such a captivating song. The other guitarists are also great viewing, Josh Townsend has a unique style, slapping his 6 string into order and Chris Jones is highly competent and delivers some awesome solos, the three combined enrich the melodic sound that give SR an edge. Their 45 minutes is over far too quick, I could watch them all day!
From Liverpool, MIDNIGHT PROPHECY are a five piece, describing themselves as British Heavy Metal. With influences listed as Dio, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, they are fast becoming favourites with everyone, as they do sound like a metal band from that 80s era. Formed in 2015 they have already supported Anvil and will appear at this years Amplified Festival. Craig Cairns has an astounding voice, similar to Bruce Dickinson in part, I wondered if he had had some classical training like Ronnie James Dio, who must also be a hero of his. ’Trapped In Space’ and ‘Obsidian’ from the self titled debut album that came out in September last year, are first this afternoon. The twin guitars of Christopher Dixon and Danny Quayle are outstanding, fast and loud. I like the way they stand together with bass player Peter Mansfield to rock it up, a trio in alliance, pounding our eardrums with ’Seas Of Eternity’ and its dramatic beginning. The numbers swiftly roll into each other, ’Roanoke’ and ‘The Ridge’ also from the album, building up the performance before they end on ‘Alexander The Great’. Yes they nailed it, for such a young bunch they do sound the business.
STORMRIDER are only 2 years in the making and have already opened for Diamond Head. A rapid rise for these Manchester Thrash Metallers, who also brought out a 4 track EP ‘Heavy Metal Machine’ last year. It’s the title song that delves us straight into the set and we are faced with Mike Coyle’s menacing and I would say Nordic type singing. In fact Stormrider could be mistaken for a Scandinavian band, they have that characteristic violent way of getting their message across. It is only softened by Cristiano Lopes on lead guitar, he performs some incredible licks and adds rich interludes, between the battle cries. The power pedal remains on top notch for ‘Fire and Fury’ and ‘Spirit of the Wind’, with steady skin beating from Robert Benton and bass player Przemyslaw Przytulo adding quite fearsome backing vocals. Also from the EP ‘The Patroller’ is a little more melodic, with a chorus of ‘Whoas’. Again Lopes is in his element, delivering some very fine fret work. ’Made of Metal’ is an anthem, ‘We are men, made of metal’ is repeated until it is embedded in our heads. If it was Saxon or Manowar it would be one of their epics, it does lead me to think it’s Stormrider’s appreciation of ‘Wheels of Steel’ or ‘Kings of Metal’. With a few gigs coming up, they are worth checking out.
Back in the 70s, bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention bridged that divide between folk and rock. In the 90s the term Folk Metal was first coined, Skyclad being pioneers. So it is interesting to see CADENCE NOIR for the first time as they describe themselves as ‘UK Goth/Folk Rock n Roll’. This Nottingham/Salford band feature Lady E on Electric Violin and Mr Noir on vocals and guitar, who put the emphasis more on the rock/metal than the folk. So we have a head-banging violinist and a mixture of tartan kilts and leather clad personnel. Mr Noir shouts and protests in folk music fashion, but the songs kick arse. They list Tom Waits, John Martyn, Korn and The Deftones as favourites, a combination you won’t find anywhere else. I don’t think there is another band out there that come close to mixing the styles with such an audacity. Shame the legendary violinist Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention is no longer with us, I think he would have approved. I will be seeing Cadence Noir again soon at The Breaking Bands festival near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, which is over 23/27 May, they also play HRH in Great Yarmouth, held 7/10 November.
Its 5.30pm and the Rockforce festival is proving a success already, everything has gone to plan from what I can see, the crowd are in good spirits and there’s a really friendly atmosphere. BLACK KING COBRA from North of the border are up next, late entries due to another band pulling out in March, this is only their second show in England. The 4 guys are led by Callum Moran on bluesy, soulful vocals, he has a great stage presence, humorous with a cheeky grin, so affectionate. Chucking out some groove in mild melodic fashion, BKC are instantly likeable, nice warm tones from the guitars as well as songs that are rewarding and appealing. Since they got together in 2016, the band have gone from strength to strength, a lot of praise from the media, picked to play at ‘Winterfest’ in Troon, supported Raveneye and are at this years ‘Call Of The Wild Festival’ on May 24th. The debut 4 track EP ‘Law of Attraction’ is a great introduction, to these Glaswegians. I think we will be hearing a lot more from them, an effortless and stunning set, destiny calls.
The SWAMP BORN ASSASSINS are another Scottish crew to hit the Rockforce stage today. Ok, I think the image is cool, frontman Li’l Charlie Moffat looks the part, top hat, dark glasses with waistcoat and chain, straight from a card game on a Mississippi steamboat. The flow is sleazy and steady, swamp rock induced, while the guitars almost crunch under the force of the heavy riffs. ‘Crank It Up’ is followed by ‘Crawl’ from the ‘Smell The Mud’ album and the excellent new single ‘Weeping Tree’ is given an airing. ’Better Off Dead’ is more of a jaunt while ‘Dead Man Walking’ also from the aforementioned LP, is another steady ride. First time I’ve seen the SBA and I should be liking it, everything about them says they are my kind of band, however you can spend too much time in the swamp and sink up to your neck. The desire seems a bit lacking today, I would have liked to have seen the Assassins carry out a more dangerous attack. However regardless of what I think, they have a massive fan base, including Chris Glen, bass player of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band/ Michael Schenker, who featured on a track from the last album, by all accounts it’s a pretty fine piece. I will give it a listen, it might lift them out of the mire for me. They also have a new album to be released in June called ‘Dead Mans Train’.
You don’t mess with the next band, WITCH TRIPPER a three piece from Mansfield Nottingham, are brutal rockers. ‘Chills to the Bone’ from the self titled 2016 album, launches the party. Plenty of Tripper T-Shirts in the audience confirm their popularity, I’m even wearing mine ! Plenty more from the same album and ‘I, Of The Storm’ which came out last year. They formed in 2014 and haven’t stopped since, no wonder they are often described as the ‘UK’s Hardest Working Band’. Listing Clutch, Black Sabbath, Cream and Orange Goblin as their main influences, the performance tonight is as energetic and power driven as most of those combined. Richie Barlow on lead guitar and punishing vocals, rips it, such a phenomenal frontman. The sound is spot on, drummer Gary-Eric Evans is a dynamic new addition to the band and Chris Stoff on bass completes the line-up. Blistering, grunge fuelled and mind destroying, WT never let up for a second. They are one of the best bands around right now and already have a sack full of gigs lined up this year.
No dispute about GIN ANNIE being the band to watch right now. The West Midlands outfit are NWOBCR favourites, melodic rock with singalong lyrics and a visually glowing attitude on stage, they are incredibly infectious. The last 18 months or so have been turbulent, winning awards, a record deal, amazing support slots and headline gigs have come thick and fast, a rollercoaster of a ride for the boys and their ever growing multitude of fans. It was the decision to remodel, adding Brian Green on guitar and Phill ‘Hammer’ Burrows on bass, that proved a success. This mark 2 version, which already had the strong partnership of Byron Garbett on guitar and his cousin Dave Foster on vocals, together with Jack Ryland-Smith on drums, are now a force to be reckoned with. A lot roll off from the debut ‘100% Proof’ long player tonight, including ’Fallin’, ‘Chains’ and Damage is Done’. Also a cover version of The Cult’s ‘Sanctuary’ which is a surprise, but it adds a familiar song to the evening, for those who haven’t seen or heard Gin Annie before. They are in their element up on the Waterloo stage, energetic and engaging, each of them being so at ease up there and giving it 100% (!). Already a brilliant band, however they get even better with every show, growing and becoming ever more competent. The Blackpool crowd loved them of course.
It’s 10pm and time to unleash the headliners. VICIOUS NATURE formed in 2012 and comprise of Ex Marshall Law comrades Andy Pyke on vocals and Andy Southwell on guitar. Drummer Jon ‘JB’ Brown, ex Cloven Hoof and Paddy on bass, complete the squad. The Waterloo audience, including those in Marshall Law T-shirts are bracing themselves, why? Because years of experience in producing awesome power metal, means these guys are capable of blasting you into oblivion. The potent ‘Fight For your Life’ gets us underway, the title track from the debut EP in 2013. It’s a mix of Southwell’s rapid shredding and Pyke’s amazing ability to turn from raging to melodic vocals, in an instant. ‘Dream Stealer’ pulverises us further and Pyke stalks across the stage to deliver ‘Bleeding’ which is a beautifully intense number. Off the 2014 EP ‘Salvation’ is extremely severe, slower and probably one of their finest, with a killer riff from Andy Southwell, undoubtably a master of his trade. Continuing to show us why they are top of the bill here at Rockforce, VN are taking no prisoners, the second half of the set comes from last years highly praised V11 EP. ’System of Disorder’ has a building chant of a chorus and sounds shockingly good tonight. I love ‘When the Devil Calls’ with its thumping drums and melodic strings midway. The enthralling ’Twisted Psychotic’ starts off heavily mournful, before breaking into a pounding rhythm, so well compiled. Vicious Nature end on ‘Rise Up’ its brain penetrating stuff and Andy Pyke dominates the place, his voice has remaining sharp throughout. VN were on excellent form and the sound was bang on. Arguably one of best performances of the day.
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Thanks to all those involved in organising and looking after us at this brilliant festival. Especially Martin Short, Ian Fletcher and all the Crew.