03 February 2020

Review: Giants Of Rock 2020 with Steve Gould

Butlins, Minehead   24th – 26th Jan 2020

This was the third time we’ve attended this annual Rock Fest in (probably) one of the most unlikeliest venues you’d ever think of to hold a rock festival, but I can assure you – not only does it work, it works VERY well !! With 41 bands on offer over a 2 1/2 day period, I think it’s safe to say there was something for everyone (as long as you dig Rock Music I suppose).

Let’s start with a general overview of the weekend, the ethos and venue – Butlins’ Live Weekends are held regularly at one of three sites – Skegness, Bognor Regis and (of course) Minehead. Now in its seventh year, GOR goes from strength to strength with a growing number of very satisfied punters spreading the word.

So, what are the origins of a Rock Festival – The Monterey Pop Festival was a three day music festival which took place on June 16-18, 1967. This was considered to be the first major rock festival and it served as a template for future rock festivals such as Woodstock – 53 years on and I think it’s safe to say, things have moved on considerably.

Back in the day, when you were young, free and single, spending 3-4 days in a tiny, damp tent with no running water, shower facilities or decent food, you didn’t give a shit !! It was all part of the fun, the experience and I suggest most of you seasoned festival goers have got a wealth of stories (both good and bad) about the “good ol’ days” eh ??

Welcome to 2020 and you’ve moved on a bit and got to that point in life where you start expecting and enjoying the, how shall I say, finer things in life like: a warm bed, decent food and drink, plenty of merch, courteous and polite staff and most importantly, a damn good selection of bands – all housed inside with a wonderful PA, lighting and not a hint of rain. Have I piqued your interest ???

I’m talking about 21st Century festivals people !!! Welcome to the future.

I reckon I’m quite safe by saying those of you reading who are over 45, will know exactly where I’m coming from and with several thousand rock fans descending on Minehead, I’m hopefully preaching to the converted, let’s dive in:

Firstly, I’ll give you a broad overview of the site and facilities, then we’ll take a whistle stop tour of the highlights and finally, my comments and feedback.

Butlin’s Minehead is very well kept site with a wealth of facilities all kept spotlessly clean – indoor swimming pool (open 10-2 on the Saturday), a sports bar showing all the latest football games, a bowling alley, a well stocked amusement arcade, bingo on the morning run by a group of enthusiastic regulars, more bars than the West End and on-site shops, all run by the nicest, most courteous staff you could wish to meet. Nothing is too much trouble and if you go away disappointed or disgruntled, you only have yourself to blame as customer service is impeccable. The accompanying welcome pack you are given on booking in, is full of information, with a map of the site, welcome letter and a booklet showing the running times/order day by day. Accommodation is superb and, dependant on the package you select (there are a number of accommodation and eating options, based on your affordability), plenty of places to eat and drink, even though a number of outlets remain closed during the weekend or if you want to prepare your own food (Minehead Town Centre is literally a 10-15 minute walk) there is ample cooking equipment and cutlery provided. Beds, shower, lounge and kitchen areas are 1st class and all add to making your stay most comfortable – a far cry from an old blanket draped over a clothes horse in the middle of  field….

If you CAN afford the top package, which includes access to The Yacht Club, you can choose to eat twice a day (breakfast and evening meal) from a superb range of dishes, most of it hand-prepared in front of you – give the washing up a break for a few days !!

So, I think we’ve established that the site is most welcoming, let’s check out the bands. (NB. Can I just say at this point that Gun and Procol Harum did NOT appear due to accidents/illness within the band, I’m lead to believe…

Felix Rabin

Kicking off at 16.00 hours in “Jak’s”, we have the first round of the “Introducing” stage. Four bands every day, the object is to vote for your favourite band of the day and the three winners get to play the main stage next year. As you enter you are given a blue plastic token, which you can use to cast a vote in one of four boxes as you leave, one for each band. The band with the most tokens at the end of each day go forward to GOR 2021 – the winners this year were: Felix Rabin (a young guitarist from Switzerland who totally blew us away with technical skills and stage presence), Crow Black Chicken (a 3-piece band from Ireland

Crow Black Chicken

complete with full on beards and a wicked dry sense of humour, part of their appeal I hasten to add and probably a qualifying factor for their pole position, southern rock from the south of the Emerald Isle. By the way, I’ll never look at a deer in the same way again…..you’d have had to be there LOL) and White Raven Down (a kick-ass 4 piece who totally blew the stage away. Bags of energy and already have a number of superb videos under their belt, going places ?? You’d better believe it !!) – all very worthy of moving onto the main stage in 2021( I voted for 2 out of the 3 that won it btw !!). At this year’s fest, we had last year’s winners – Void (who have changed their name to Scarlet Rebels), Hollowstar and Sons Of Liberty ( Southern Rock, UK style). All totally and utterly relishing the opportunity to hit a decent size stage and did they lap it up or what ??? The lead guitarist(s) were running around like a demented thing, totally owning the front of the stage and with a solid band on

Scarlet Rebels

tow, I have to admit that the young bands did it for me – so much energy, enthusiasm and bravado, they all deserve to do well and make waves. Cold Silver, the last band on the Introducing stage on the Saturday – the drummer was playing with one hand (one arm was in a sling !!) now THAT’S determination. I was quite impressed how up front, open and honest these young bands were – very brave. I wish them all the best as they head out on what will hopefully be a long and prosperous career.

With 41 bands on offer, it was bloody tiring considering things kicked off at midday and ran straight thru’ until around 1.30 the following morning, especially if you were trying to get more “bands for your buck”. I suppose it pays to be a bit discerning, especially when you have to navigate between three stages. Looking at the queue to get in the main stage (Centre Stage) I suspect many people simply homed in on a table and set up camp for the rest of the day, quite happy to take onboard what the day threw at them, rather than

Hollowstar

prioritise the listening experience. With a humongous selection of bands to choose from and three stages, everyone’s agenda is different – some people prefer the well established bands, some like the tribute acts, some like the new up ‘n coming acts – literally something for everyone BUT I do feel there was maybe a leaning more toward the “Blues Rock” oriented bands, especially as a number of bands had played the Blues Festival in Skegness the previous weekend….

In fact there were quite a number of “familiar faces” – Deborah Bonham (younger sister of the late John Bonham), returning for the fifth time I believe (!!), John Verity Band (living it up with some excellent covers including “Cocaine” and the Argent hit “Hold Your Head Up”), Rob Tognoni Band (3-piece who played the main stage having paid their dues on the Reds Stage last year – great interplay between the man himself and Gaz Rackham on bass, awesome guitar work and tight rhythm section, always a pleasure

John Verity Band

with this guy !!), Tom Killner Band (tight and well delivered 4-piece (including a keys player, nice change) blues oriented rock that went down well – if the queue at the merch desk was anything to go by), Bernie Marsden’s Heritage Rock Show ( nice line-up which included two girl backing singers to add to the authenticity,  one of the greats and went down a storm in Reds, with a special mention for his rather wonderful take on the classic Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well”…). It’s always a voyage of discovery for me at these events as many times, along with the fresh new talent of the “Introducing ” stage, it’s refreshing and invigorating to see so many classic bands still going even though they may be lacking a number of original members (in fact, one could almost dismiss them as glorified tribute acts) – Big Country, Oliver/Dawson Saxon (Classic Saxon delivered in a respectful and rocking style – the band were on last year’s bill, but stepped in at the last minute to replace Procol Harum), Praying

Bernie Marsden’s Heritage Rock Show

Mantis, Diamond Head (still fronted by the remarkable Brian Tatler), Stray (Del Bromham, at 68 surely one of the great frontmen, still kicking ass with a good audience rapport and sense of humour sadly lacking (and yet so essential in these dark days) in some bands and hanging his guitar from a hook at the front of the stage to good effect – nice to see Simon Rinaldo from Pearl Handled Revolver on keys – I’d like to see them on the bill for 2021 for sure !!), Les Binks’ Priesthood (only with Judas Priest for a couple of years back in the 70s, but like many bands from that era – probably their most creative and productive – we had some classic Priest tunes at GOR 2020 !!) and let’s not forget the headliners on the main stage on Saturday – Hawkwind. Been around for 50 years (as the various flags festooned around the stage proudly displayed), but I’ll be honest – These guys were the first band I ever saw

Hawkwind

back in 1972 and went on to follow them religiously throughout the 70s. I have probably seen them about 20 times over the years in one form or another, but tonight’s set (even though it featured some classic ‘Wind tracks like Born To Go, Masters Of The Universe, Silver Machine etc etc) was half-hearted and lacked initiative, creativity and originality. Still fronted by Dave Brock (approaching 80 but still out there, even though he had his slippers on for tonight’s set ffs), down to a four piece I miss the theatrics and electronics I so loved back in the day, along with the poetry and stories. More like an aging punk band than galactic warriors, I was woefully underwhelmed. Unlike The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown – 78 years of

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown

age, from the same era as Mr Brock, but did he put on a show OR WHAT. Band dressed in gimp suits and various headgear, a costume change after every song, large video screen in the centre of the stage, a rather pleasing to the eye lady parading around in various skin tight costumes and that voice – jeez, the man is a minor legend, one of the highlights of the weekend for me tbh, awesome and entertaining, plus I bumped into him over breakfast the following morning, such a lovely guy and very grateful to be there, a much needed, refreshing and original respite….

Anchor Lane

At the other end of the scale, early on Sunday’s roster we had a young band from Glasgow called Anchor Lane and with their debut album “Casino” due out about now (we had to be reminded a number of times during their set LOL) up there with Hollowstar and Scarlet Rebels as part of the new wave of 21st Century Classic Rock – and quite a refreshing change to see the two guitarists parading (sprinting ??) up and down the stage in true metal posturing, a far cry from the static presence of so many bands on offer this weekend, I felt energised by their enthusiastic performance.

To see every band’s set from start to finish is not only a challenge it is downright impossible, as there were clashes throughout the weekend and unless you were quite happy to stay in one venue for the entire day, there was a fair amount of walking and traversing stairs – fortunately there are adequate facilities for the less able bodied. Come the end of the day, I felt quite drained, which didn’t bode well for the last band of

The Quireboys

the evening that took to the stage after midnight – The Quireboys (a modern day rock ‘n roll band with an enigmatic and entertaining front man by way of Spike – Rod Stewart and The Faces revisited !!), Justice (2 piece techno pop/rock combo – the very last act of the weekend taking us into the early hours of Monday morning) and Pat McManus. Managed to catch maybe the first few numbers, but having been on my feet for the best part of 12 hours – man, I’d had enough, wonderfully entertaining though it was LOL. So what about the rest…..

Rock Goddess

Rock Goddess – The only all-female band on stage this weekend. Having been around since the 70s’ (formed by two sisters Jody and Julie Turner who are still with the band along with relative newcomer Jenny Lane (nor related to Penny in any way shape or form)). Nice to see the girls still rocking the stage despite a lengthy hiatus and a 32 year gap (!!) between the last album and the one prior – a good solid performance with no frills.

There were a number of bands I’d not come across before, which was both enlightening and unexpected – Miguel Montalban & The Southern Vultures (good to see a female drummer and guitar/keys player on stage for what is historically  an “all male” domain and did they kick ass). Nice to see that every member of the band got a chance to shine – you go girls. Solid rocking style with a strong rhythm section, well worth checking out. Dave Bickler (ex-Survivor vocalist) – Nothing wrong with a bit of AOR !!!

Vambo

At 66 – brilliant voice, solid backing band with a selection of Survivor numbers and the obligatory “Eye Of The Tiger” (he sang on the original) – Great set and a lot of sing-along moments. Melvin Hancox Band and Malone Sibun Band – conflicted with other bands, so unable to comment. Vambo – Caught the last half of their set. A solid 4 piece pulling on classic bands. They looked good, sounded fantastic, interacted with the audience well (with a little explanation of the band’s name, which was originally stole from the B-side of a Mud record apparently and NOT a song by Alex Harvey !!) and ended with a superb cover of “Burn” by Deep Purple, what more can you say ??? Excellent (and we’ll even let the lead vocalist off as his Dad was the original bass player in Mud LOL )

To sum up – I have to admit, I thought the line-up at last year’s event was more diverse and interesting as we had Focus, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, Martin Barre’s Jethro Tull, Man and Atomic Rooster to break it up a bit, but that’s just me. This year, there were no BAD bands, but maybe too many of the 3-piece Blues Oriented variety  – it all started to pail after a while.

2021 will be the 8th year for this ever growing rock weekend at the start of the year – there’s more black leather than an S & M convention, more slap-heads than a Right Said Fred reunion, black band t-shirts everywhere you looked and not a hint of a mosh pit (I hasten to suggest that a good number of the wonderful people who attend probably don’t even know what one is anyway) – unless you include the guys on mobility scooters popping donuts in the middle of the dance floor !! This is festival life took to another level  – a gathering of like-minded rockers with one common goal, to have a kick-ass, rock ‘ n roll weekend where you can forget the problems back home and immerse yourself in the total vibe. Superb venue and food, incredible facilities, extremely friendly and courteous staff and not a red blazer in site, but what a way to spend a damp weekend away at the end of January – beats sitting at home in front of the box moaning about the weather – long may it reign (not rain LOL)

Check out Rob Billingham‘s Gallery for full picture overview. January 24th. January 25th & January 26th 2020

 

Review by Steve Gould (aka Progmeister UK). All pics courtesy of Billibee Creative.