Stonedeaf Festival 2019
Newark Showground, Nottinghamshire, UK
Review by Paul Monkhouse
Welcome to your new favourite festival. It’s quite a bold opening statement but from the moment you step on site things are different. This truly is a festival that is all about the love of the music and the community of rock and metal fans joining together in celebration. The fact that this is only the second year and the numbers have swollen so much is testament to this. Here everyone is family.
Dublin based four-piece Samarkind kicked off the day in fine style, their bluesy hard rock fitting perfectly in with the sunshine vibe of the festival. Like a tougher version of Bad Company, they dripped cool in a set that showed just why there is such a tradition of great music from the Emerald Isles. Absolute stormers like ‘Fire and Blood’ and ‘Blue Mountain’ just scream quality and when the former slips in a snatch of ‘Heaven and Hell’ you just realise how natural these guys are. They work incredibly hard at what they do but it all pays off in no uncertain terms, making you wonder how anyone can follow such a performance.
Feral street fighting Aussie brawlers Massive followed and showed how their constant touring and never stop until you’ve given 110% attitude has won over a growing legion of fans this side of the World. There truly must be something in the water that produces such tough rock and roll bands and these guys are more akin to the incendiary Rose Tattoo than Angus and Co, glorying in the rougher edge of all out gonzo tracks like opener ‘Generation Riot’. Guaranteed to wake you up, the band ripped through a set that absolutely nailed it every time and the cover of ‘If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)’ slot perfectly in as a nice tip of the hat to their fellow countrymen. It should be pointed out that they aren’t a one note band but there’s some great songwriting with light and shade as the brilliant ‘Ghost’ proved. Set closer ‘Long Time Coming’ brought back the fire and as lead singer Brad Marr drained a can of beer and poured the last few drops over his head you just knew that you’d witnessed a band giving their all for the crowd.
Next up were The Amorettes and it was the turn for the girls to show that they can rock just as hard as the boys with a positively red-hot set that matched the rising temperature of the day. This new version of the group featuring original singer / guitarist Gill Montgomery, Tequila Mockingbird’s Jacinta Jaye and Josie O’Toole and second guitarist Laurie Buchanan (Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics) are truly firing on all cylinders. Despite one or two technical issues they powered through a set packed with great songs, melody and a snotty bubblegum rock attitude. Numbers like the pounding ‘Coming Up the Middle’ and the ridiculously catchy ‘Everything I Learned (I Learned from Rock and Roll)’ ensured that The Amorettes continue their upwards trajectory and may well be headlining festivals like this one in the future.
Very few bands can be genuinely be called ‘legendary’ but Diamond Head are rightly part of that club, founding member Brian Tatler proudly steering the band ever forward with a cracking new album in ‘The Coffin Train’ and not just happy to rest on his laurels, feeding off the past. New numbers like ‘Death by Design’, ‘Belly of the Beast’ and ‘The Messenger’ pepper the set, showing the confidence the band have with the latest material and it’s well placed. Of course, most people are waiting to hear the classics and they certainly weren’t disappointed as ‘Borrowed Time’, ‘Lightning to the Nations’, ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and ‘It’s Electric’ were greeted like old friends, this incarnation of the band brilliantly injecting new life into songs written almost forty years ago. Rasmus Bom Anderson has both the voice and stage presence to make you forget that anyone else originally sung these songs and Tatler spends the set smiling, obviously loving playing the songs whose strength brought bands like Metallica and Megadeth into being. When a World War II Dakota flew in the skies over the stage during ‘Am I Evil?’ this mix of the sight and sound of two spine tingling classics was one of the outstanding moments of the day and was one of those moments long to be remembered.
Bringing his ‘Operation Mindcrime’ show to Stonedeaf, former Queensryche front man Geoff Tate stole the show for a lot of people as he put on a peerless show, featuring some of the greatest tracks cherry-picked from his time with the Washington rockers. The time flew by from the moment that the first notes of ‘Empire’ rang out to the final seconds of ‘Eyes of a Stranger’, each song perfectly played and a testament to just how seminal the bands output was at this time. Tate seemed relaxed and happy, a tight group of musicians behind him, his voice better than ever and bringing out every nuance in the lyrics, powerful, moving and out and out jaw-dropping. Metal to stimulate your intellect as much as your eardrums, ‘Operation Mindcrime’, ‘Jet City Woman’ and an incredible rendition of ‘Silent Lucidity’ that was arguably the highlight of the whole day, all transported the audience to their own euphoric state where the only choice was to give themselves over totally to the music. Geoff Tate was utterly thrilling and untouchable.
Following almost constant touring, barring a break to record their new album, the Toby Jepson fronted Wayward Sons are quickly engendering as much love and respect as his previous outfit, Little Angels. Whilst the Scarborough outfit saw their youthful hard rock take them from Yorkshire pubs to the stage of the Royal Albert Hall, Wayward Sons channel more of a spirit of classic rock and new wave bands into an instantly likeable mix that has the energy and fire of The Who and The Clash but adds some extra weight into the mix. Always a very good songwriter, Jepson has matured into a great one and the material the band have now is some of the very strongest he’s put his name too. Blistering opener ‘Alive’ hits like a prize fighter and for the whole of the eleven-song set you can hear more and more converts being made in the crowd, Jepson the consummate front man welcoming each and every one into the Wayward Sons family. Aside from their rollicking good tunes, the key ingredient in the success of the band is the feeling that the musicians themselves are having as enjoyable a time as the audience, like Massive before them they work hard but obviously love what they are doing.
Guitarist Sam Wood and bass player Nic Wastell made the most of the stage, throwing shapes and along with Jepson, drummer Phil Martini and keys players Dave Kemp exuded effortless cool, slamming into numbers like the debut album title track ‘Ghosts of Yet to Come’ and new anthem ‘Any Other Way’. ‘Crush’ featured a snippet of the Stranglers ‘No More Heroes’ and showed that the band are proud of their influences whilst another new song ‘Little White Lies’ had a real feel of The Beatles and ELO in it’s perfect grandeur. By the time that ‘Jokes on You’, ‘Something Wrong’ and ‘Until the End’ had finished the set, despite sound issues, the band had conquered Stonedeaf and are definitely set to be future headliners.
Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons
Absolutely the only way to follow them was with the visceral thrill of Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, the long serving guitarist from the legendary Motörhead and his band truly ripping the place apart. They are without doubt the real deal and Campbell’s years with Lemmy let him shine and develop into one of the most astute musicians on the scene, never overplaying but happy to step back and make the band and the music more important than the individuals. More than any other group on the day, they captured the dangerous spirit of rock and roll, walking the fine line between euphoria, recklessness and perfect control, Campbell cool with his gold plated Gibson Flying V glinting in the sunlight whilst his three sons Todd, Tyler and Dane wreaked havoc as vocalist Neil Starr’s powerhouse voice brings everything home.
It really is a testament to the band when self-penned tracks like ‘Big Mouth’, ‘Step into the Fire’ and ‘Straight Up’ make as much of an impression as Motörhead classics like ‘Rock Out’, ‘Born to Raise Hell’ and ‘R.A.M.O.N.E.S.’. Hawkwind cover ‘Silver Machine’ was a brilliant touch but it was the almost inevitable ‘Ace of Spades’ that switched the crowd into a seething mass of flying hair, lunatic dancing and mass singing. Final number ‘High Rule’ could have proven an anti-climax after that but once again showed the band to be very much their own men and a totally formidable rock machine that absolutely took no prisoners. If you’re not for them, prepare to get crushed under their wheels.
The placing of Inglorious in the special guest slot was always a bit controversial, playing after such established artists, but the up and coming classic hard rockers rose to the challenge and won over the crowd by sheer force of personality and craftsmanship. A seismic change in line-up could have shattered the band but by sheer force of will main man Nathan James brought the band through this and they came out fighting even harder; leaner, meaner and determined to defy the odds. Opening number ‘Where Are You Now’ could have been directed to the departed members of the band as a bitter riposte but was instead a monstrous slab of hard rock, full of drama and melody.
Three albums into a career, you can’t help but wonder just how huge the band is going to get as they launch into anthemic number after anthemic number, each one perfectly suited for filling stadiums. Sure, the riff in ‘High Flying Gypsy’ owes a huge debt to ‘Kashmir’ but if you’re going to have influences make them the very best you can and ‘Read All About It’ is hard rock with a real groove and edge that most bands would give their right arms for. One thing that James shouldn’t do though is to trade in the six string wonder that is Danny Dela Cruz, considering he is only just out of his teens (having just celebrated his birthday a few days previously) the guitarist is very much a future axe hero and one to watch. Long-time drummer Phil Beaver, guitarist Dan Stevens and perfectly quiffed bassist Vinnie Colla all play their part though, making their own individual mark and certainly not being pushed into the role of sidemen. A magnificent and unexpected cover of Alanis Morrisette’s towering ‘Uninvited’ caused goosebumps but it was the punishing ‘Ride to Nowhere’ and mass singalong of ‘Holy Water’ that left the most lasting impressions, showing that the future is really what they want to make of it.
Anyone who has ever seen Glenn Hughes live will know exactly why the K.L.F. dubbed him ‘The Voice of Rock’ when they featured him on their track ‘America: What Time is Love’. The man is a giant in an industry that seldom sees talent as anything but disposable, a survivor of a decade or so of excess that would have finished off most people and someone who has never been prepared to just accept second best, always pushing forward and stretching himself. An astounding singer, brilliant bass player and songwriter, there couldn’t have been a better choice to finish of the night and his current set that focuses on Deep Purple classics. The opening salvo of ‘Stormbringer’ and ‘Might Just Take Your Life’ were thrilling and made everyone forget the technical issues that extended the wait for Hughes coming on stage in an instant and ‘You Keep on Moving’ was so scorching that it threatened to turn the already dry field into a tinderbox. Ever appreciative of those who come to see him, the singer was a true professional, talking to the audience and singing A cappella through a set plagued by equipment problems, totally free of superstar tantrums and just wanting to get on with entertaining the people. ‘Mistreated’ couldn’t have been much bigger and the pairing of DP Mk II staple ‘Smoke on the Water’ with a beautiful and heartfelt ‘Georgia on My Mind’ was an unexpected but literally show-stopping end to the main set. Whilst neither song was penned by Hughes, he very much made them both his own and the playing of guitarist Soran Anderson, keyboard player Jesper Bo Hansen and the utterly phenomenal drumming of Ash Sheenan complemented every note. For the encores, the adrenalin rush of ‘Burn’ never fails to thrill and ‘Highway Star’ closed the festival in utter triumph: a definitive classic by one of the greatest bands in rock history, sung by a true giant of the genre. Quite how the organisers will top things next year who knows, but one thing’s for certain, they’ll certainly try. Due to copyright issues the festival is having to change its name so whilst Stonedeaf may have lasted two brief but beautiful years, Stonedead will continue to grow and grow. Rock will never die.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF SIMON DUNKERLEY
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