FOUR STICKS CLASSIC ROCK WEEKENDER 2018 Day 2 - New Cross Inn, London 06.10.18
PHOTO CREDITS: JON THEOBALD PHOTOGRAPHY
If there was one negative from the first day it was the somewhat chaotic and ramshackle organisation, the worry was that on day two - with twice the amount of bands - that chaos could wreck what was a frankly stunning lineup.
For openers DERECHO it was something far more prosaic that threatened to scupper their set: London’s traffic. With half the band not even at the venue by the start time, the decision was made that the others would crack on without them. Fortunately, lead singer Jo Ash also releases her own solo music so they slipped into that with ease. Atmospheric, piano-led and gothic-tinged, it probably wouldn’t have sat well on the bill in other circumstances but a sympathetic and attentive crowd and Ash’s arresting, crystal clear voice combined to mean it exceeded expectations. As first drummer, and then bassist, eventually made it on stage, they morphed into DERECHO proper and launched into some good old fashioned hard rock. With no soundcheck or preparation time, it meant the vocals were a little drowned in the mix, which is a shame because you feel they’d probably be the band’s strongest asset, but in the face of adversity it was a fine effort by all concerned.
Following DERECHO was Newcastle based TOMORROW IS LOST. Cool, beautiful and impossibly youthful they blast out a set of metal-edged hard rock that is lapped up by an already good-sized crowd. It’s sad that in this day and age it still feels like a brave move to have two female-fronted bands in a row at a rock show, but only a dyed-in-the-wool sexist would be able to object to TOMORROW IS LOST being on this bill. In fact, the only question is whether they should be higher up.
They receive a rapturous response to their arena-sized sound, and singer Cass King has a stage presence that belies her age, making it feel like she’s singing directly to you. Behind her, the drums pound relentlessly and the guitarists throw rock star shapes as they deal out an impressive array of solos within their solid rock sound. The band perhaps lack one big anthemic number that would have been the icing on the cake, and there’s little in the way of audience interaction but it’s an otherwise confident and impressive showing from the band on only their second London show. Big things beckon.
Next up is BLACK WHISKEY, whose members’ age is a little closer to the crowd demographic but that doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm or appeal. “We’re here to play some Rock n Roll” they state, and that’s exactly what they do. There’s a classic late seventies groove to their music and it hits a sweet spot with the audience.
The band themselves are relaxed and share a nice camaraderie with each other and they play a set full of good quality songs, delivered with a swagger. The venue is already a good two-thirds full and the goodwill and excitement built up by the first two bands is only added to as BLACK WHISKEY launch into another big riff. The day already feels like it’s going to be something special and it’s still only the afternoon.
The buzz in the room is palpable as THESE WICKED RIVERS take the stage, the short turnaround times helping to maintain the atmosphere rather than plunging the day into organisational chaos. THESE WICKED RIVERS serve up a nice bit of variety to the full-on nature of the previous bands, providing a fine slice of more laid back southern rock with a hint of American Gothic about it, but that’s not to say they can’t rock out when they need to, in fact, they deliver both styles with aplomb. Sitting somewhere between Black Stone Cherry, The Black Crowes and The Dust Coda they are a perfect example of why the current British rock scene is so exciting. Although the weekend is billed as “classic rock” the bands on show all have a different interpretation of that broad genre and draw influences from outside its boundaries to create fresh and exciting music.
TWR are also the first band of the day to throw in a slower number and again it adds a welcome variety to proceedings. As their cool-as-you-like guitarists caress the notes from their instruments they mix it up perfectly adding foot-stomping rock to the blend before ending with the extended jam of ‘Don’t Pray For Me’. This is music designed for wide open spaces but still hits home in more intimate surroundings. Another triumph.
Surely after so many great sets, one is bound to fall flat at some point? Well not if RYDERS CREED have any say in the matter, it won’t. The immediately grab the gig by the throat and they don’t let go for even a second of their 30-minute set. They play loud, hard and fast. Heavy enough to bang your head to and catchy enough to sing along with even if you’ve never heard the songs before. The crowd feed off their energy and the band, in turn, feed off the crowds. They add to the growing list of Saturday’s bands that seem ready-made for bigger stages, it seems ludicrous that they only formed in 2017.
The jewel in the crown is singer Ryan Hulme, who is a true star in the making. He has charm, charisma and the ability to own both the stage and the crowd, he chats happily between songs, reiterating one punter’s war cry that “New Wave is alive!” And while RYDERS CREED are on stage it really feels like this is a scene that is on verge of breaking through to the mainstream. And I’d be willing to bet RYDERS CREED will be riding the wave right to the very top if it does. They have the songs, the image and the star quality and when they throw a little Jimi Hendrix into the mix at the end of their set you get the feeling there’s nothing this band can’t achieve.
HOLLOWSTAR are left with the difficult task of following that, but one of the notable things about the whole weekend is how little rivalry there is with the bands. Each seems genuinely pleased that the others are going down so well and uses the last act to inspire them. HOLLOWSTAR launch into their set with gusto, playing their own brand of straight ahead, no-nonsense rock. It’s heavier than some of the previous bands but they display a fine knack for a hook. Having happily melted faces for the first part of the set they slow things down with ‘Feel the Burn’ alongside a passionate message about depression and hidden illnesses. Having motored through the first few songs it seems the verbal floodgates have opened and frontman Joe Bonson becomes quite the motormouth, joking about being described as ‘a shit Stone Broken’ which he disputes; “if anything we’re a shit Thunder”, he laughs. But in truth they’re neither, they’re simply a very good HOLLOWSTAR and they have the songs to back it up too.
The next to take the stage are DEVILFIRE, a band who it’s difficult to know what to expect from based on looks alone, there’s a bit of glam, some old school thrash and a touch goth in the various bandmate’s attire and although the weekend is billed as classic rock perhaps the amalgamation of styles is what really makes this new breed of rock bands stand out. And DEVILFIRE certainly stands out. The singer looks like a Hollywood casting director’s idea of a rock star, all dark gold looks and eyeliner but each individual brings their own unique flavour to the band as well.
They play a supremely confident set full of big singalongs, power anthems and crisply sung, dramatic rock music leaving no one in any doubt that their assertions that ‘rock is alive’ is the most accurate statement you’ll hear all night.
Judging by the number of t-shirts in the crowd there are a lot of people here to see Northern Ireland’s BALEFUL CREED. Although that might be as much a testament to guitarist John Allen - dubbed Del Boy by frontman, Fin Finlay - and his aggressive marketing tactics rather than anything else. That said it’s clear the audience also appreciate the music as the band are cheered like returning heroes as they launch into their set. And there’s no one lingering around the edges for BALEFUL CREED’s visceral, full force rock n roll. Probably the heaviest band of the night they add a healthy dose of grit to proceedings after the polished, pristine rock of DEVILFIRE. And for anyone who thought the night was just lacking a harmonica solo they chuck one of those in too. Never let it be said you don’t get your money’s worth with BALEFUL CREED! They’d won the crowd over before they’d played a note and they only go on to increase the adoration by the time they finish. They came as heroes, they leave as legends.
And so, on to BIGFOOT, and any lingering doubts that they’re still bedding in new singer Sean Seabrook are blown out of the water almost immediately - after they overcome a brief power fail just as they start playing. 50p is added to the meter and they get going again. They don’t let the minor setback faze them as they launch back into their set. From there on in its plain sailing for the band who prove exactly why they’re already one of the biggest bands on the scene at the moment.
Combining classic rock with a metal crunch they really are the complete package and in pure songwriting terms, they have the strongest set of the day. The likes of ‘Freak Show’, ‘Tell Me a Lie’ and ‘The Fear’ are as good as anything you’ll hear at any £100-a-ticket stadium gig and crowd-pleasing ‘Blame It on the Dog’ brings a sense of fun to proceedings too. They allow space in their songs for improvisation but don’t become self-indulgent at any point and considering their set is 15 minutes longer than the preceding bands it absolutely flies by, leaving you wanting more. Dynamic, devastating and now, hopefully, with a settled line up it’s hard to see what could stop these boys from going all the way.
Bringing an incredible day to a close are PRAYING MANTIS. True old-school NWOBHM survivors they feel a little out of place after what amount to a day showcasing the best new talent the U.K. has to offer but any doubts are quickly dispelled. Still displaying an admirable energy and clearly having a great time on stage the crowd get into it immediately. And they deliver a set of classic AOR-tinged metal laced with power pipe vocals to finish the night in style. Whether they do enough to convince the younger element in the crowd who had clearly come to see the newer bands is debatable but there are more than enough there who remember them in their prime and lap up each song. In fact so familiar are some the faces in the crowd to the band that at times it feels like they’re playing a party at a mate’s house rather than headlining a festival. There is still a buzz around the place as they end a fine set, beers are finished up and it’s clear a good day was had by all. The crowd disperse ready to do it all again tomorrow.
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