Stonedead Festival -

Newark Showground, Newark-Upon-Trent, 27th/28th August 2021

The bat-phone rings at Stonedead HQ approximately a week before the festival is due to take place.

“We can’t play, someone’s tested positive for COVID-19 so we can’t travel.”

A muffled “Ah…bollocks” is heard throughout the office as it’s confirmed that headliners Black Star Riders are unable to perform at the festival, thanks to the thing that we were all hoping was starting to go away but seems more prevalent than ever. To be fair to BSR, they were just the latest in a list of bands that had been forced to postpone after the original line up had been announced.

 

Out went Tygers of Pan Tang, H.E.A.T., in came The Hot Damn, The Treatment (who then went out again) and Absolva who have the wonderful capability of “2 bands in one” being Blaze Bayley’s backing band as well.

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The bat-phone rings once more. “Allo Chris, it’s Mick Box, I hear you’re in a bind?”

 

Remember that moment in Blues Brothers, where Jake is stood at the back of the church and the beam of light hits him full in the face and he starts a series of back flips down the aisle before dancing with the congregation….? Now imagine Chris doing exactly the same as the light hits him square in the face and the realisation that the ‘show will go on’ can become a reality.

With Uriah Heep already having headlined Steelhouse Festival in Wales earlier in the year, a friendly agreement between the organisers of both events led to Heep not being bound to an ‘exclusive’ for the Wales show and Stonedead 2021 was green lit with a headline act celebrating 50, yep, 50 years of musical history. It was set to be something special indeed.

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Instead of ‘just’ a party on the Friday night for those with weekend camping tickets, the lack of shows, the willingness to play and the need to ‘get back out there’ saw the stage play host some excellent new music as the live events kicked off early with the mighty Krusher Joules hosting both this and the main day itself! 

Opening the event we had The Hot Damn. Mixing members from the ashes of both Tequila Mockingbyrd and The Amorettes, they did exactly what was expected of them and got the party started. A great mix of tunes with a great front woman in Gill Montgomery (The Amorettes). Laurie Buchanan (Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics) got to step out of her brother’s shadow and remind us just what a stunning guitarist she is.

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Lzi Hayes (New Device/Sophie Lloyd band) and Josie O’Toole (Tequila Mockingbyrd) brought the beat leaving us with a field full of people with huge smiles on their faces as the festival weekend kicked off.

The big surprise of the weekend came with the ozone unfriendly Stop Stop. Big hair, big makeup, leopard print and spandex. Everything that made Glam Rock great, so long as the band had the tunes and the moves.

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Thankfully the moves came with ease and the tunes… well the tunes just rolled off the band like and endless wave of stomp classics. With synchronised moves like ZZ Top at their finest, an impromptu walk through the crowd topped off a triumphant set and gained a plethora of new fans as well.

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Cats in Space followed with Wayward Sons topping the bill for the Friday night. The Cats, fronted by Damien Edwards who, like Adam Lambert and Queen, seems to have given the band a whole new lease of life, an energy that a band full of pomp and showmanship needs in spades and boy did they deliver.

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A run through the best of, with some tracks off latest release ‘Atlantis’ proved that you can’t buy talent, it comes with years of experience and like a fine wine, improves with age. A unique sound that no one else is playing right now, Cats in Space have a lengthy career ahead of them.

Wayward Sons have gone from strength to strength and it’s easy to see why front man, Toby Jepson thinks this is one of, if not the, strongest bands he’s ever been part of. People may well remember him for Little Angels and the sharper tools in the box will recall his brief tenure in Gun during their ‘Popkiller’ era but Wayward Sons have emerged in recent years to show all of the pretenders to the NWoCR crown just how it should be done.

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Whilst the band missed Dave Kemp on keys (we wish Dave well and hope to see him on stage again soon) the ever-active Nic Wastell filled every inch of the stage, never standing still for more than a few seconds before bouncing off again. It freed Toby up to focus on guitar and vocals alongside main six stringer, Sam Wood.

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At the back was the man who, if you put him in a hotel with every 80's stadium band in their heyday, would still get all of the groupies lining up at his door, one Phil Martini. Heck, even his name, let alone his powerful drumming suggests the glory years of rock music. [We’re only jealous really]

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With a happy bunch of campers left to their own devices, the party continued on Saturday morning when the doors reopened with up-and-coming Dead Man’s Whiskey. An interesting, unique blend of styles, classic rock, southern rock, a touch of metal as well thrown into the mix making them one to study in more depth away from the festival once the opportunity arises.

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What should have followed was The Treatment. But the virus won once more and unfortunately, they were unable to play. Stepping into the breach however were a band I’d first seen at Rock The Coast in Spain a couple of years ago – the incredible Absolva. Their set, pulled out of the hat at the last minute was something else. Where the band had passed me by somewhat before, they engaged the crowd at Stonedead like absolute pros and delivered a heavy, melodic metal set that will see many, me included, heading to their store to pick up copies of their albums asap.

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With Myke Gray reminding us just what a true guitar hero looks like with his run through the best of his impressive career, his band, fronted by Revival Black’s Dan Byrne (following a great festival appearance with Mark Pascal on lead vocal only a week or two earlier) helped craft a great hard rock sound. The set, crafted to allow the songs and the melodies shine as much as Gray’s guitar work, were perfect for a hot Saturday afternoon as the sun was out, the skies were clear and it would stay that way for the remainder of the day.

With Absolva saving the day and stepping in for The Treatment, they returned to the stage in their original position as Blaze Bayley’s band. The Wolfsbane and former Iron Maiden vocalist has had quite a resurgence in recent years with his solo material getting rave reviews, Wolfsbane playing together once more and his voice, well, it’s easy to see why Steve Harris and Co. called upon his services to deliver 2 woefully overlooked Iron Maiden albums.

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Thankfully, with his festival runs, Blaze has been giving us a welcome reminder of just what he did for Maiden back then and in tracks like ‘The Clansman’, it becomes immediately obvious why the current Maiden line-up still play it at their own shows. A true classic and one, along with the majority of the rest of the material on offer, Blaze should be rightly proud of.

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With clowns, giraffes, Storm Troopers, great beers, good food and a host of other attractions found around the site, not least the inclusion of genuine Motörhead beers and ciders for sale in the Guest Area which made the upgrade more than worth the extra pennies, the festival felt like a perfect reincarnation of the treasured Monsters of Rock at Donington Park back in the 80s and early 1990s. It might be smaller but Stonedead feels slicker, less chaotic and definitely better organised than the ‘flying bottles of piss’-fest that MoR was ‘fondly’ known for back in the day. Not to mention instead of having low flying Boeing 747's we are treated to a Mk 14 Spitfire that Promoter, Chris Sumby had arranged for us to enjoy during Myke Gray's set!

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The burgers have come on some since the ‘good ‘ol days’ as has much of the other food on offer and so, after some ‘Overkill’ pilsner and a bite to eat, Kris Barras provided the next tier of entertainment and perhaps the biggest change to his set is the move by Josiah J Manning from keys to rhythm guitar.

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An interesting change as it definitely takes Kris Barras Band’s sound up a notch in terms of the hard rock stakes and if Kris’s desire is to move away from the blues-tinged rock he has been known for and move towards the heavier rock edge then he’s definitely moving in the right direction. New music was aired and it sounds like the new album will provide a lot for existing and new fans alike. The set got a solid reception from the crowd, several of whom I spoke to had said they didn’t know KBBs music but were making a beeline for the store as a result of seeing them.

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The quality of music at Stonedead has never been in question but the organisers’ ability to mix the fun with the serious and with headliners, Uriah Heep, the legendary as well, is definitely to be applauded. Putting both Gun and Massive Wagons on back-to-back was a stroke of genius as both bands bring the hooks, the singalong elements and definitely up the party antics.

Massive Wagons are the perfect summer afternoon, festival party band. They mix their moments perfectly and in 'Baz' Mills we have something that’s missing from so many up and coming acts these days… a true to form front man. With the right tunes and the right push, the Wagons have a chance to truly break into the mainstream and really make waves in not just the rock scene but music generally.

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One band that’s already had that taste of mainstream success that sees them getting regular airplay to this day is Gun. Whilst not a big perhaps as they were in their heyday, the revamped, rebuilt, and reenergised Gun, like Wagons, give everyone a second wind that will see them through to the end of the festival.

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Doesn’t matter if we’ve been drinking for three all day or just need a moment after standing in the sunlight for the last few hours, by the time ‘Word Up’ and ‘Steal Your Fire’ have done their thing, and Dante’s emotional recognition of what it means to be back had been reciprocated by the crowd, we were on the home straight and going for gold.

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Whilst ‘Going For Gold’ might have been a staple song in Shed Seven’s set back in the 90s, another contender to the Brit Rock crown, Terrorvision, brought an interesting set of ingredients into the mix. After all, who else can sing about Tequila, Whales and Dolphins during a set and be taken seriously by a typically hard rock crowd? Well, it seems Terrorvision can do it with ease.

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Like 'Baz' Mills, Tony Wright has ants in his pants and can’t stand still for a second. He worked the stage and the crowd like a boss leaving the crowd desperate for more.

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Whilst we may have started the day a tad late due to the usual ‘festival technical difficulties’ the day and the weekend closed triumphantly with a ‘sharp as a tack’ performance from Uriah Heep. It doesn’t matter if you know their material or not. There’s a reason the British outfit have been going for 50 years and it was a genuine pleasure to be part of their Golden Jubilee celebrations.

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A collective best of that will also be out shortly as a celebratory box set was run through in the hour on stage and the band were as polished as the finest cut De Beers diamond. ‘Gypsy’, ‘Lady in Black’ were genuine highlights with Mick Box’s guitar work alongside Bernie Shaw’s voice reaffirming the definition of quality.

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They closed with, as expected, ‘Easy Livin’. What more could we ask for? How about the same again in 2022? Yes please!

By Adrian Hextall