Reviews 2016 - Fabrications HQ
Online review from Fabrications HQ
Hot and heavy on the cold Ayrshire coast
WinterStorm Festival – Troon Concert Hall, 25th & 26th November 2016
Fife based Concrete Kingdoms’ impressive wall of heavy rock sound didn’t get heard by a wall of heavy rock fans at the first ever WinterStorm weekend in Troon, but that’s the downside to starting an event in the late afternoon of a Friday when most attendees are still working, en-route or wondering if they’ll make it in time for the second band, let alone the opening act.
The good news was the relatively small crowd gave the set delivered by Concrete Kingdoms a solid reception (and the Indie vibe of 'Suffer in Silence' pointed to a band that should have more to say in the future) before the increasing audience numbers gave The King Lot a warm Ayrshire welcome.
The hard melodic rock trio from West Lothian have already built up a fairly strong fan-base and caught some attention with their self-titled 2015 debut album, but the band are a far weightier and meatier proposition live than in the studio.
That said 'As They Burn' carries nearly as much studio kick as it did during the live set, driven by lead vocalist Jason Sweeney’s punchy bass lines, the gritty six-string deliveries of Michael Fairbairn (who also produced some tasty lead work throughout) and the big-beat punch employed by drummer Chris Gillon.
The melodically infectious Tyketto cover 'Wings' (a Charity Single in aid of MS Society and a genuine contender to be in the audio mix come Christmas time) and a further taster of new material were strong signs that it should be an onward and upward trajectory for The King Lot.
Festival or weekend events seldom go to plan and the Tygers of Pan Tang were the unfortunate recipients of heavy traffic and motorway delays as they made their way to the west coast of Ayrshire.
The upshot was their feisty set featuring both old and new Tygers (from NWOBHM era 'Gangland' to current album cut 'Only the Brave') had to be trimmed to a half hour in an attempt to get back on scheduled timing track.
Praying Mantis fans in the audience would be aware the band cut their set one song short to help pull back the lost time, but it certainly didn’t stop the group (still led some four decades on by the Troy brothers, Tino and Chris) delivering one of the strongest and best sounding sets of the day, from the hard melodic power rock of opening number 'Fight For Your Honour' (a stand out from their latest album Legacy) to Mantis classics such as 'Children of the Earth.'
Both songs showcased the power and range of the band’s Dutch singer John Cuijpers, who joined in 2013.
Toseland, on the back of solid debut Renegade, their excellent current release Cradle the Rage and the between albums EP Heart and Bones, delivered a belting set.
Front man and ex World Superbike two time champion James Toseland, in fine voice throughout, was backed by an equally fine band that had one of the beefiest sounds of the day courtesy of bass player Roger Davis who underpinned the songs with a monster low end that both powered the numbers and filled the main hall.
Following a closing sequence that featured the keyboards up front, semi-anthemic 'We’ll Stop at Nothing' and a rollickin’ 'Singer in a Band' would be tricky for many a similarly themed act but FM are thirty year veterans at the melodic and classic rock game and showed exactly why they were Friday’s headliners.
Their top drawer set opened with the swaggering 'Digging Up the Dirt' (from last year’s Heroes and Villains) but went on to feature many a classic from their Indiscreet debut (including 'That Girl,' 'Other Side of Midnight' and 'American Girls'), beefed up with a sound that matched the recent Indiscreet 30 re-recording.
For all the hard rock and melodic roll of the WinterStorm Friday the song of the first day may well have been FM's encore number 'Story of My Life,' a song that showcased the vocal talents of Steve Overland.
Always a good singer, the younger Overland voice and back in the day highs have been replaced by a more complete, slightly lower ranged and far stronger vocalist.
Hyena Kill suffered an even worse fate than Concrete Kingdoms.
The Manchester duo’s early Saturday afternoon start was caught by only the first three dozen or so WinterStormers to arrive, bolstered to around fifty by the end of their sonically intense (forget 11, turn it up to 12) brand of drums-guitar-vocal alt metal and a set based around recent debut album Atomise.
But all credit to Lorna Blundell (drums) and Steven Dobb (guitars, vocal) for giving 100% and not dialling in the set to a small audience; Dobb was particularly animated both within the songs and his ferocity of stage attack.
The third of the five Scottish bands to grace WinterStorm, Bloodlines, had better luck with a by then three figure and still growing crowd during a hard Indie rock set that swung between the power of Ayrshire’s greatest rock export Biffy Clyro ('Skeletons' being an edgy, pedal down case in point) and more melodically introspective moments.
But even they had to bow to the ever swelling audience number that seemed to appear from nowhere in anticipation of the band that was up next.
Off stage the members of Mason Hill are a personable and unassuming bunch of young, music loving Scottish lads but on stage, led by audience engaging lead vocalist Scott Taylor (who carries a quiet but clear charisma), the quintet become a modern-meets-classic rock force to be reckoned with, whether through the pile-driving 'Survive' or the slow building and genuinely powerful 'Where I Belong' (both feature on the band’s self-titled four track EP released at the end of 2015).
How good was their performance and how well was their set received?
The only difference, on the day, between Mason Hill and Inglorious (unarguably one of the best hard rock bands to emerge in recent years with a critically acclaimed debut under their belts) were the slots that separated them on the bill.
Before Inglorious made their not insignificant mark on WinterStorm however Vega’s quality brand of melodic rock kept the audience more than happy; the quintet physically and musically jumping in time between newer tracks such as the AOR’d to the hilt 'White Flags' from current release Who We Are to earlier material (including the fist pumping, shout-it-out title track of What The Hell) in highly polished and impressive style.
Derivative of the melodic rock genre? Perhaps, but Vega also supply a fair few definitive examples.
By contrast to Vega’s full, melodically bodied five piece sound The Amorettes put their female heavy rock trio meets AC/DC on full throttle delivery on WinterStormin’ alert from opening song 'Stealing Thunder' (from the Luke Morley produced White Hot Heat) to closing number 'Hot and Heavy;' the latter summed up both the sweat drenched situation of the previous forty-five minutes and the thunderous appeal of the girls’ set.
Inglorious, fronted by the dynamic rock tenor voice of Nathan James, made such an impact with their debut album earlier in the year that nine months on the band’s set is still built around the best it has to offer, including the greatest song mid-era Bad Company never wrote, 'Holy Water,' and the powerfully melodic (but carrying a grungy underbelly) 'Unaware.'
A vibrant, five-voice chorus cover of Rainbow’s famous version of 'I Surrender' also featured (as did Whitesnake’s 'Fool For Your Lovin’), while new number 'Taking the Blame' pointed to the forthcoming second album catching as much acclaim and attention as the debut.
Some would make an argument for Last in Line, born as a tribute to the late great Ronnie James Dio (the band feature Dio band originals Vinny Appice, Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell and originally Jimmy Bain, who sadly passed away earlier this year) and now a fully-fledged band in their own right, as headliners but Ricky Warwick’s lengthy and celebrated career with first The Almighty, then as a solo artist and more lately as front man with both the Black Star Riders and the reimagined Thin Lizzy deserved top billing.
Suffice to say both bands played a blinder.
Last in Line, who played to a noticeably larger crowd (band times were running slightly late so Public Transport beckoned for some by half-way through Ricky Warwick’s set), mixed early Dio numbers including 'Holy Diver,' 'Last in Line' and set closer 'We Rock' (delivered in big-voiced fashion by Andrew Freeman) with material from their debut album Heavy Crown (the pulsating 'Starmaker' was and is the equal of many of the Dio classics). The results were the loudest cheers of the two day event.
Not to be outdone Ricky Warwick and The Fighting Hearts delivered an across the boards set that nodded to his Almighty past (five songs from the successful Scottish band’s catalogue featured including set opener 'Do You Understand') and his own Celtic-tinged material (the rattlin’ folk inspired, heavy rock of 'The Arms of Belfast Town' went down a storm).
There was also a showing for the Black Star Riders ('Finest Hour') and classic era Thin Lizzy ('Jailbreak' featuring Vivian Campbell) before The Clash cover 'Tommy Gun' and The Almighty pairing of 'Free 'N' Easy' and 'Jonestown Mind' brought the stage curtain down on an event that proved Troon can rock as well as it can host major golf championships.
For a debut outing WinterStorm Troon did very well, thank you very much and goodnight, but if it is to return and grow in stature early "band on" times will have to be rethought and audience numbers will have to increase from well-attended to close to full house (you have to wonder how many more rock fans would have been present on the Friday if not for Black Stone Cherry’s gig just up the road in Glasgow the same day).
But as every band was applauded for their efforts so too should there be a round of applause and nod of thanks to Ian McCaig, who organised the event, and heartfelt slaps on the back to Plan B Scotland and all the staff and helpers who made WinterStorm a success and not just another pin on an event map.
Nor was it just about the main stage music; the WinterStorm experience was enhanced by a large Merchandise and Acoustic Sessions hall (with great food from a non-stop Kitchen team) where fans could meet and chat to the various bands.
There was also MC Tom Russell (Scotland’s Godfather of rock radio DJ’ing and champion of all things rock), Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Scotland, master guitar maker Mark Bailey and his team at Bailey Guitars (a world class guitar maker, Mark Bailey has been based in Ayrshire for thirteen years) and an upstairs after show party both nights, attended by many of the bands.
Yet for all the above the star of the WinterStorm 2016 was nine year old Eve Newcomb from North Ayrshire, a wee lass who loves her rock music and played her inflatable guitar throughout just about every band’s set, across both days, and endeared herself to everyone in attendance – to the degree that Ricky Warwick has invited her to next year's Black Star Riders Glasgow show.
And no one in attendance is going to quickly forget the front line of some of the bands (including Toseland and Last in Line) turning to acknowledge, and rock out with, little Miss Newcomb during their sets.
Given a fair wind across what can be unpredictable musical seas and a healthy slice of the luck that’s needed these days to succeed, Scotland’s rock and roll future is in safe hands with events such as WinterStorm and classic rock inspired bands such as Mason Hill.
Indeed, if WinterStorm can make it to a celebratory 10th Anniversary show in a decade’s time I don’t doubt Mason Hill could, by then, be a three or four album success story and Special Guests on the bill behind the headliner – who will clearly be The Eve Newcomb Band.
Who’ll play the inflatable guitar though?
Mark Bailey is between a rock (and acoustic) guitar and a hard place as regards efforts to stay in South Ayrshire – Mark and his Bailey Guitars team have an opportunity to remain where they would dearly love to stay, in their workshop in South Ayrshire, but need financial help to do so.
It would be seriously blot on the South Ayrshire landscape if circumstances dictated that a true artisan and craftsman has to leave an area he loves and ends up producing his world class wares elsewhere – the good news is you can help by contributing to the funding campaign over at Indiegogo to help keep Mark Bailey and his skills exactly where they should be:
'Wings' by The King Lot (ft. The Jollyboys) is a Charity Single in aid of MS Society; it can be pre-ordered now and will be available on the 16th of December. To order: http://smarturl.it/MSWings