Photo Credits: Linda Flynn
Tucked away in the small Welsh town of Ebbw Vale is the EVi, home to Viking Fest. In its fifth year, this small, friendly festival had an outstanding line up which I had been looking forward to for weeks. The venue itself doesn’t strike you as a typical festival location at first glance, but as time went on this actually became part of the festival’s charm. It had great facilities and a very reasonably priced bar; that’s always a bonus. Also, due to the very high ceiling in the main hall, the sound quality was superb throughout the 2 days.
It took a little while for the festival to get a head of steam together, but that’s to be expected with a late afternoon start on a Friday. The first band on the bill were Reece, a 3-piece from south Wales who entertained those who had come out early with their mix of rock/blues, consisting of rhythmic guitar and solid bass line. Most tracks played were from their forthcoming album due to be released in September; however they also played their most recent single, Fear. Opening a festival is a thankless task, but these guys were certainly up for it.
A crowd had gathered by the time Crowsaw took to the stage. This is a band I have heard lots of good things about but never had a chance to see live; and they certainly lived up to the hype. The 3-piece from south Wales belt out hefty, gritty guitar riffs, thumping bass and drums, and powerful yet melodic vocals, and had me hooked from the start. The growing crowd were enjoying the set as much as I was, even if they were a little too shy to move up the floor to front of stage. This is a band with attitude and one that I will certainly be making an effort to see again.
After a close call with a broken down van, SKAM were up next and the SKAM Massive had made the trip to Ebbw Vale to support them. SKAM, a 3-piece from Leicester always put on a polished performance and tonight was no exception, playing a selection of hard-hitting rock songs from their back catalogue along with some tracks from the new album which is slated for release in November. By this stage in the evening, the festival had taken on a party like atmosphere, with people dancing to The Wire and the crowd needing no encouragement to join in with a rendition of War Pigs.
Another band I had been looking forward to seeing live were up next, Screaming Eagles. The guys from Belfast had to deal with a few sound issues early on, but this in no way impacted on the performance. They belted out catchy, foot-tapping, hip-shaking rock that is totally infectious; think a modern take on AD/DC with a bit of sass thrown in for good measure. They are also as good to watch as they are to listen to and are a band who would play with the same energy whether they were playing to 20 or 20,000 people. They truly worked the crowd up into full festival spirits and local vocalist Katy Dear needed no encouragement to join in when the mic was pointed to the crowd.
The Friday night headliners were Bigfoot, a 5-piece from Wigan. They came out all guns blazing before being struck by a technical hitch in the shape of a faulty guitar lead but the band and crowd handled it with good humour. As soon as the fault was rectified, those guns were blazing once more. Bigfoot are a band that has more energy than the national grid and they know how to use it. Vocalist Antony Ellis is one of the most entrancing frontmen I have come across, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of him and his vocals were flawless throughout the set. If you like to dance to your rock music, then this is definitely a band for you. To my mind, they have taken 1980’s rock and brought it bang up to date; it’s fun and playful and catchy and just fantastic.
Day 2 saw a change around to the schedule due to band commitments so Haxan, a 3-piece girl band were up first. This was a shame as being on early meant they didn’t get the audience they deserved. Although they seemed a little nervous to start off with, it didn’t take long for them to get into their stride. These girls play good old-fashioned rock and roll and they do it well. The stand-out song from their set for me was ‘Runaway’ and if they continue to produce songs like this and get given the right opportunities, they will go places.
Next to take to the stage were local covers band, Kill 66. I’m not a huge fan of cover bands, but judging by the number of band tees in the room, I’m definitely in the minority. They blasted out a range of numbers from Saxon to Motorhead to Sabbath, choosing less well-known tracks which sounded similar, but not identical to the original. The crowd were lively and loud, unexpected for so early in the day, but silence fell in the middle of the set for a rendition of Black Hole Sun in tribute to Chris Cornell. I had my doubts over whether there should be a place for a cover band on a festival line up, but if they are as good as these guys and have a large, loyal fan base, then I fail to see how this can be a negative thing.
There was still a buzz among the crowd when Conspiracy of Kings took to the stage. This 3- piece from Hereford play heavy, melodic rock with endless energy. The drummer hits those skins with such ferocity I’m amazed that they (and the sticks) remain intact, yet doesn’t appear to lose timing once. The bass player does an exceptional impression of Tigger, bouncing around the stage and even down into the crowd at one point, much to their delight. The guitar work from Richard Gardner was quick and his vocals never faltered during the set. Highlight of their set for me was their upcoming single, “Until The End Of The Day”, which will be released in July. The watching crowd thoroughly enjoyed the set, as did I!
During stage changeover the crowd seemed to go into a mid evening slump, which was hardly surprising given the amount of energy the hard expelled during the previous sets. This was a shame for the next band, Everyday Heroes, who didn’t get the full crowd participation element that other bands received. This young band opened Steelhouse Festival last year after winning the battle of the bands in Cardiff and it’s easy to see why. They produce music consisting of heavy, bluesy riffs and gritty vocals akin to Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge. “Honey” had the crowd bopping away and was my personal favourite from the set.
The crowd had regained some of their mojo by the time tonight’s sub-headliners Beautiful Strangers shimmied onto the stage. Yes, I did say shimmied. This sassy Swansea 5-piece treated us to a set full of sexy, sensual rock and roll with a hard edge. If you crossed Aerosmith with early GnR and added a bit of Jim Morrison, these guys would be the result. Not only were they good to listen to, they were fantastic to watch and totally engaged with the crowd throughout the whole set. Stuart Dade Davies is a fantastic vocalist and a superb showman; turning the stage fans into wind machines, his long locks flowing in the breeze. The venue filled up significantly during their performance and I don’t think there was anyone who wasn’t dancing towards the end of their set. These guys are appearing at Wildfire Festival and I certainly won’t be missing them.
Having played Camden Rocks earlier in the day, the Saturday night headliners Bad Touch would have been forgiven for being a little tired, but playing 2 shows in one day seems to suit these guys. You never get anything less than a professional performance from these guys and tonight was no exception. As a long-time fan of this band, it was nice to see the return of original lead guitarist, Rob Glendinning. Considering Rob hadn’t picked up his guitar in months he was faultless and treated us to an amusing solo at the end of Sweet Little Secret, teasing vocalist Stevie Westwood. Bad Touch are masters of feel-good rock and roll and the crowd did not keep still throughout the set and cried out for more after they finished the set with The Mountain. There was a lot of love in the room for this band and they were the perfect choice to close the festival.
The final note I wrote on that Saturday night was “Fantastic festival, definitely should have had more people in attendance” and looking back, my thoughts have not changed. The organisation was brilliant, the line up was fantastic and the ticket price was unbelievably cheap (less than most gigs). On top of that the festival goers were great fun. There was ballroom dancing to hard rock, a guy who swapped shoes with his female friend which resulted in him dancing in knee high stiletto boots for the rest of the night (he even found a Pepper Pig cap to complete the outfit), and a group rendition of Wuthering Heights during stage changeover. The whole festival experience was fantastic and if you are a lover of smaller festival like I am, this is one that should be on your list for next year.