Stormbreakers – taking place at the Dreadnought on Fri 18th August, the premise is simple. Four bands, half an hour each to fight for a main stage spot at this year’s Winter Storm festival in Troon? Who decides? The panel of judges, which includes Wildfire man-in-chief Dave Ritchie.
AudioRayz start the proceedings taking no prisoners. They don't take things slowly. 30 minutes to do battle and they dived in head first. With the first guitar solo in Modern Prophet strong enough to make your eyes water. Although playing to a somewhat depleted crowd, they give it all they've got.
The second song, Straight Shooter, begins with another facemelter. Literally, my eyeliner was melting off by this point.
It seems guitar solos are the bedrock of this band, with a little bit of funk thrown in for good measure. You can see how this band would please a Winter Storm audience, and you’d never have guessed it was a new line-up, with one of the members only having 3 rehearsals prior to this event.
Vanity presents us with an almost twin guitar sound and has the catchy lyrics of, "Look at me, look at me, yeah, everything is vanity." Followed by a distorted circus-esque sounding breakdown. The band then give us the first cover of the evening, in the form of The Cult, She Sells Sanctuary - I’m a big bit in.
Turn Up The Audio is a bit of a bizarre one, not in an unpleasing way, but leaves you somewhere between Tom Morello and Ritchie Sambora in terms of its guitar work. High horses is the strongest original track of the set, and the band ooze a level of refinement that only comes with maturity. With a ZZ Top feel to it, this is set to be a hit with future audiences. The band then end their half hour all out with a blazing version of Voodoo Child – complete with behind the head guitar playing. AudioRayz set the bar high for the rest of the night.
The next band up is Gordon's Alive. Well, this band bring out the phunk – with a ph – quite quickly! With dual vocals, bouncy basslines there’s a noticeable difference in their energy and delivery from the AudioRays style. Hell To Pay sees the Dreadnought begin to fill up with its Friday night regular clientele. Soul Stealer has a good groove with a nice squeal to it and allows the bass to take the focal point at times, which is nice. Burned By Your Cross is the pick of the set for me. It’s got a definite 80s vibe to it but similar in a way that Crazy Lixx deliver it. With the vocal line reminiscent of Crystal Eyes by L.A. Guns, it’s most definitely a ballad with a searcher feel to it. A little bit of ooh’s and aah’s in the background wouldn’t go amiss here.
Going Crazy is a cock-thrusting bass led song. There are no two-ways about it. With a nice shuffle beat on the drums and the guitar work almost serenading the bass work, it has a nice tasty build up which the band seem to get into. Bleed All Your Money Dry presents the audience with a fast-driving paced song. As an audience member, I’m beginning to wonder is this Guitar Star rather than a slot at Winter Storm on offer? Because these bands are knocking it out the park guitar work wise. The guys end their set with single, All These Days, which is a positive, upbeat, Ratt-esque summertime track. You can just imagine driving down an empty highway to this song. Very radio friendly and the solo just makes you smile.
As soon as Stoneface take to the stage it’s clear the vibe has changed. The band adorned all in black (or shades of it) marks the subtle change to a heavier style. Their first song, Breathe, demonstrates that the band have a bass tone that Lemmy would be proud of. In fact, at points, it sounds like there might even be two bass players. Clean vocals hold the melody well, and their singer has the best stage presence of the night. It seems Stoneface have a loyal following and already the phones are out to capture the moment.
On second track, Pressing Down, you can’t help but wonder if this would offer something different to the WinterStorm crowd? The vocals are raw and exposed on this track and you can feel the snaps of sticks on the skins during the first verse. If you watch them on the various TVs dotted around the venue, you can actually easily imagine this being a big festival performance due to their interaction with the cameras. Catchy and easily pick-up-able, with nice echoey guitars in outro. But perhaps maybe more suited to Bloodstock?
Spitting Blood is a great fast paced track and you can easily imagine a pit opening up for the intro of this track if we weren't in the Dreadnought wherein pit space isn’t a luxury we are afforded. Tonight’s crowd also don’t seem like the pitting type. The solo provides great technical guitar work once again, noodling away until your heart is content. The one thing that really sticks with this band is that their braw Scottish accents seem almost contradictory to their American like presence on stage.
Prey presents us with a little touch of Faith No More from the band and singer, Stewart Storrie embodies a cult leader throughout. In fact, if the whole rock’n’roll thing doesn’t work out for him, he could easily look to this as his next vocation as he seems to summon a bit of Jim Jones and Jim Morrison simultaneously.
Bleed seems like it could absolutely be a wrestling theme song, and again we feel those strong slaps on the toms accent the heaviness. The last song of the set, Fight, the band declare they dedicated it to Rock Radio around this time last year. Now with the successful resurgence of this station due later this year, this time around they dedicate it to all and anyone in rock and who wants to keep it alive. Nice touch guys.
The room noticeably swells for Anchor Lane taking the stage and you suddenly notice the people standing next to you are all a little closer. The favourites from the outset and having just played with Mason Hill at the Garage as well as the Nordoff Robbin’s event – it’s fair to say these guys are well and truly warmed up for this gig.
The band kick off with Twenty Sixteen - the first thing that hits you is how loud they are, the second is how tight they are. At this point, the band are note perfect. It's also the first time this evening that the judges have had to stand up to see the band over the audience who are clapping along by the end of the first track.
Singer Connor Gaffney then checks in on his captive audience at the beginning of Hunters Heart – yet again another track the band welly into full force. This is followed swiftly by Annie - they're ferociously tearing through their set, trying to cram in as much as possible to make their half hour count and you can hear the accents of the bass and how well they complement the vocals.
The band then pause for a moment -allowing the audience to graciously catch their breath to thank all the other bands playing this evening and to wish them all the best of luck, and that they too are thankful to compete.
Next track, Eclipse. The band burn at a nice even pace. This is somewhat unlike their previous show supporting Mason Hill at The Garage, which seemed somewhat more of a spitfire type of affair. This demonstrates how adaptive and responsive they are as band by being able to successfully play to different sizes of crowds; amping it up or making it more intimate when needed.
The band then beautifully navigate the audience through end of their set by informing us that they'll take it down with a ballad then bring it back up to how they started. Good move. On Take Some Time (said ballad) you can really hear the delicate guitar work in this size of venue, but unfortunately, the later slot sees a few jackets on and some goodbyes during their set.
The band then bring it back up with Runaway and feel good tune Finished For Twelve – this song is a groove shaker and the room bops along throughout. It’s the hit of the set and audience sing the words back to the band. Singer, Connor, takes to the audience for the last solo and plays the cameras and videographers dotted around the room and makes it all the way out to the judge's table for that little extra spark. This reviewer’s prediction is that we won't be seeing Anchor Lane in such luxuriously intimate shows in the near future.
The room explodes with applause and cheers and the judges take a moment to go off and ruminate to choose their winner.
And the winner is? Anchor Lane. Not only this but it was also Sticksman-In-Chief Scott’s birthday, A cake was brought forward in the aftermath and chaos of it all, the crowd bellows a rendition of Happy Birthday and Scott gets to make a wish – but by the looks of it it’s already come true.
**PHOTOGRAPHS MAY ONLY BE USED WITH PRIOR CONSENT FROM MB Photos Scotland / DOWN THE FRONT MEDIA**