17 February 2019

Review: Giants Of Rock – Butlin’s Minehead 25th – 27th January 2019

Before we begin, I’d like to take you back to the first week of December. My wife and I went to New York for four days, it was a bucket list thing tbh. We had a wonderful time and during our stay we took a few open-top bus tours, which were very informative. On the last one, we had a superb guide and as we drove past Madison Square Gardens, he mentioned that Billy Joel has a contract to play there every month as long as he sells it out – which he does, all 20,000 seats !! I think it’s safe to say, he won’t need to go busking any time soon. Now the reason I mention this is that, apparently, somebody once asked him why he doesn’t write any new songs and his answer was “What’s the point, the fans only want to hear the old stuff”……….

The other point I want to cover is the concept of “tribute bands”. Now I know some of you maybe cast a harsh light on the very idea, but please bear with me. Over the weekend of “Giants Of Rock 2019”, we had Brian Downey’s Alive And Dangerous, The Chris Slade Timeline, The Bon Jovi Experience, Oliver/Dawson Saxon and Clearwater Creedence Revival (standing in for Magnum tribute “Kingdom Of Madness”). No new material here, but faithfully reproduced classic tracks from the bands you all know and love from a band that MAY feature one or two of the original members. In addition we had Atomic Rooster (two original members), Martin Barre (original guitarist with Jethro Tull who, by his own admission are one step up from a tribute band), Sweet (one original member), Geordie (two original members) and so on…. So, what’s my point ??

You could argue that a tribute band to a band still performing will only ever be a pale shadow of the original and on a positive note you could say that a tribute band to a classic band who are no longer performing or in existence at least keeps the music alive and let’s face it, if it’s what fans want, who are we to argue that Tribute bands are simply giving fans what they want – to hear their favourite music performed live at a fraction of the cost of seeing the original.
Whilst on site at Butlin’s Minehead, I came across a flier for a Status Quo weekend, which featured six tribute bands (Stated Quo, State Of Quo, Status Quotes and so on), needless to say, fans of “The Quo” will no doubt be in raptures at the thought of a whole weekend of Quo tunes and I say “fair enough”…. Personally, you’d have to drag me kickin’ ‘n screaming to such an event, but I’m well onboard for the concept.

I suppose it all comes down to entertainment and pleasing the ticket-buying public, is it not !! So don’t knock ’em. While some may say it stifles creativity and new material, if it gives fans what they want, who can argue. In fact, I can think of a great number of tribute bands who have gone on to bring out original material, so maybe next time, be a bit more tolerant…….

Anyway, I digress (sorry). Let’s take a look at the very recent “Giants Of Rock” at the magnificent Butlin’s, Minehead. Now in its fifth year, the festival is going from strength to strength and with next year’s event already booked for January (admittedly, they only have The Quireboys on the bill at the moment), I reckon it’s safe to say it is now well established. At this point, I’m gonna jump the gun and say “it’s not for everyone”, let me explain………..

We got there on the Friday, mid afternoon and after checking out the roster for the weekend (42 bands in total boys ‘n girls), planned our strategy for the coming onslaught !! Spread over three stages, as anyone will know who is a seasoned festival goer, unless you can clone yourself, it is bloody impossible to check out EVERY band from start to finish, unless the set is a band you know and love or find suitably impressive, you tend to do a “pick ‘n mix” kinda thing, shuffling from one stage to another to get a “feel” for the band, the evening, the weekend. To say we had a varied and eclectic mix of bands is somewhat of a major understatement and whereas I mentioned earlier that it’s not for everyone, ironically, there is something for everyone (unless you’re a full-on Goth Lord looking for the next big Death Metal band, then I reckon you may come away feeling short-changed, or you’re into country and western, ballet, reggae, folk or classical etc, in which case you’d have to be dragged there by a pack of rabid wolves. Let’s face it – the name says it all – “Giants Of ROCK”, bit of a give-away if you ask me. So, we’ve established you’re a rock fan, but as you know, rock covers a multitude of sins and over the weekend we had Soft Rock, Melodic Rock, AOR, Prog Rock, Power Pop, Heavy Metal, Glam Rock, Blues Rock, Hard Rock and everything in-between . You have to keep an open mind at events such as these and be prepared to cast off the shackles of your blinkered attitude………….we’re here for a good time baby and you’d better believe it, no chin stroking here thank you very much !!!

With a VERY diverse age difference, on one hand you have Dan Aston (drummer with Ethyrfield) at the tender age of 15 and on the other, the likes of World -Class musicians Roger Chapman (76), Martin Barre (72), Thijs Van Leer (70) plus a selection of veteran drummers – Carl Palmer (68), Chris Slade (72), Brian Downey ( 68), how varied and interesting do you want it ???

So much to choose from, so many musical styles, it’s the closest you’ll get to a tin of “Celebrations” – “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what genre you’re gonna get” !! I suppose you expect that there will be a number of bands you’re not familiar with, but at the same time, not prepared to invest any time in.

I have to admit, being a total Proghead, there were a number of bands I’d not come across before – Cats In Space (supported the likes of Deep Purple, Phil Collins, Status Quo and headed by Paul Manzi who also played with SWEET on the Saturday night – bought their CD for a tenner (fully signed) before they came on stage, not knowing a thing about them, but as I mentioned to my lady, who had accompanied me for the weekend – “You can normally suss a band out and if you like them during the first few numbers”. Great band, very professional, look good, put on a good show and what looked like a very avid fanbase complete with ladies wearing cat ears headbands, but with a heavy emphasis toward what has been branded “Power Pop”, we beat a hasty retreat to another stage after their first number !!) and on the subject of SWEET – (Saw them for the very first time supporting Ritchie Blackmore and they had everyone on their feet singing along to their Chinn-Chapman Choonz – “Blockbuster”, “Little Willy” (oo, errr missus), “Teenage Rampage” and so on – tonight was no different, the spirit of Billy Joel was strong with this band LOL. Needless to say, they went down a storm, but a bit too predictable for me, shame they couldn’t focus more on their “B-Sides” and later material, which kicked ass tbh !! Never mind, gotta keep the masses entertained eh ??), U.D.O. (German band fronted by Udo Dirkschneider (66) who was the original lead vocalist in Accept). With a huge following on the continent and an extensive array of merch to match, interesting to note that this was their ONLY live date at the moment due to a nasty knee injury incurred by Udo, which forced them to leave the stage in-between numbers so he could recover. Staying centre stage, it was down to the younger more agile band members to do the jumping around. Full on, heavy as fuck and LOUD !! With a voice that sounds like it was dragged from the bottom of a gravel pit, these guys know who to ROCK. Dare (With their 11th album well on the way for release later this year, having been around since 1985, they came about after Phil Lynott dissolved Thin Lizzy by the then keyboard player Darren Wharton, who still runs the band today. Very much in a similar vein to TL and Black Star Riders, in fact the Thin Lizzy contingent was very well catered for over the weekend with Dare, The Eric Bell Band and Brian Downey’s Alive And Dangerous. Classic Rock with a good time to be had by all, Zal Cleminson’s Sin Dogs (69, looking like an extra off the set of Mad Max or Blade Runner and STILL giving it large – what a bloke. First time I saw this guy was, like many I hasten to suggest, when he donned the clown make-up for Alex Harvey (RIP) back in the 80s. They actually supported YES at Stoke City Football Ground in 1975 – I was there folks. Both lead vocalist/guitarist and all-round funny bloke, you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Good times rock’n roll was very much the order of the day, superb interaction with the audience and not frightened to “say it like it is”, brill), Rob Tognoni (Australian Blues man, also known as “The Tasmanian Devil”) – a small but eager audience was in attendance to check out this 58 year old from down under, aided and abetted by a bassist and drummer , this was standard, get down ‘n dirty blues rock- a mere youth compared to some of the artists performing over the weekend !! A substantial back catalogue of albums to sift thru and a well blanced set that was well in line for lovers of BB King, Cream, Clapton etc – such a shame more people couldn’t uproot themselves from their seats in the Center Stage to dig what he was putting over, a blues tinted rock extravaganza, brilliant), H.E.A.T. (hailing from Sweden, this lot could well be Europe’s answer to Whitesnake !! A relative newcomer (they were formed in 2007), but over the course of 1 live and 5 studio albums, they have cemented themselves a place at the Rock Buffet on offer here today. A kick ass performance with shitloads of energy and an enthusiastic and energetic audience rapport. Kick yourself firmly in the ass if you missed these guys, energy to spare in an explosion of to-die-for riffs and raucous energy) and so it went on – FM (well established kings of AOR who are regular festival attendees with a well polished sound and great on-stage presence from leader Steve Overland, considering they’ve been around since the mid-80s, they have evolved to be one of the pioneers of the AOR genre in the UK, particularly loved Jem Davis’ Keyboard setup, well cool, even if he does use a keytar LOL !!). Festival highlights for me were: Focus – What can you say about the boys from Holland, sporting the ubiquitous Thijs Van Leer and the original drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, new boys Udo Pannekeet and Menno Gootjes have brought a renewed vitality to the Focus sound, but with a reputation for blasting out extended versions of their classic tracks Hocus Pocus, Sylvia and Harem Scarem, the one hour set forced them to be rather more concise so with a whistle-stop tour of their classic material they managed to squeeze in Eruption (classic track from their second album), a track from their latest release Focus 11 and the aforementioned singles, the set got off to a confusing start as they seemed to go from sound-check to set with no announcement – “Have they started ?” – apparently so !! We even had some audience interaction from Thijs where we all had to mimic his jazz babbling, brilliant. Superb band. Martin Barre – The legend himself. This was not “Martin Barre’s Jethro Tull” as billed, that show is geared up for later in the year and features ex-member of “the Tull” plus backing singers etc. No, today we had a performance from The Martin Barre Band, who are currently on tour. I had previously caught this set earlier in the month when they visited Robin 2 in Bilston and Martin also played an acoustic set the following night in our nearby Stourport PLUS he was at last November’s HRH Prog, this guy gets around fer sure !! With the rather superb front man Dan Crisp on vocals and guitar (a budding Ian Anderson if you ask me, complete with vocal mannerisms and facial expression to suit. All we needed was a cod piece, a pair of thigh-length boots and a flute and we’d have been well away). With a mix of tracks from his latest album “Roads Less Travelled”, plus Tull classics (he finished with Aqualung, say no more), fans were well catered for here, Must say at this point, kudos to the bass player (didn’t catch his name) as he’d only been with the band three days, but totally nailed it, even though he was working from a music stand, nice one guy. Atomic Rooster – Dead in the water for decades, the band was resurrected in 2016 and is fronted by Pete French, who originally fronted the band back in 1971 and guitarist Steve Bolton , who was with the band around the same time – they have aged well and along with a new rhythm section and keys player have faithfully reinvigorated the Atomic Rooster sound with some rather excellent instrumentals featuring crazy Hammond from Adrian Gautrey, it’s great to have the boys back in town. Along with the classic single “Tomorrow Night” the set kicked along at a good ol’ rate and I think it’s safe to say – “Welcome Back lads” They went down a storm on the “Reds” stage, superb. Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy – How ironic that the original line-up of Atomic Rooster featured a very young Carl Palmer, who later joined the mega successful Emerson, Lake and Palmer along with the mighty Keith Emerson and awesome Greg Lake, both now sadly departed. As the sole member of ELP, Carl has been out on the road keeping the music of ELP alive for well over a decade, but with a major difference – no vocal and no synths/organ. Instead we have a 3-piece band with Carl centre stage on a mighty drum kit plus incredibly gifted guitarists and bassists, with the guitar taking the place of keys. Have seen the band a few time and the line up has changed regularly, the current line-up includes Paul Bielatowicz on guitar and vocoder (I have to admit, this guy is fuckin’ AWESOME, I was totally blown away when I looked up how old he is, I could swear he is in his mid 20s, he was born in 1978 FFS !!) and Simon Fitzpatrick on Bass and Chapman Stick. We had all the ELP classics including an incredible drum solo (why would it be anything less) during Fanfare For The Comman Man !! Trilogy, Knife Edge, Lucky Man they were all here plus their interpretation of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” complete with commentary from Carl between songs, this was a major highlight of the weekend for me (especially as I was a MAD ELP hound back in the day !!) Brilliant

Vega were great, much in a similar vein to Def Leppard if you ask me. Very polished sound and with a superb front man by way of Nick Workman, a good looking guy with a more than capable set of pipes and charisma to boot. I’ve always maintained that a band can live or die by the front man and Nick is MORE than capable of handling this role moving around the stage like a panther and addressing the audience every opportunity. The band are having a great time – and you can tell, plenty of smiles and a set that ticked all the boxes, keep an eye on these guys…

Geordie – Was never that enamoured first time around for this band, but we can’t deny that the band gave us Brian Johnson who later moved to the Globe Shattering AC/DC. Well, they’re back and having recently reformed it’s great to see them on top form, with only two of the original line-up they ripped thru’ a Greatest Hits set that rocked the shit out of the stage – a powerhouse indeed…

Skid Row – Very much the major act of the weekend, having been around since the 80s, the lads totally blew the fucking stage away. Very professional, totally in command of the audience, these guys know how to put on a show and like U.D.O. – bloody LOUD, good job I had my earplugs !! Not familiar with their material, but based on the reaction they got, playing to an audience who were very familiar with the set. Plenty of posturing, gurning at the cameras and full on power metal, they know how to entertain and put on a good show, outstanding performance, if a little clichéd !!! As far as I’m concerned they should have been the last act of the day, I felt sorry for Bad Touch having to follow them, bad planning if you ask me. Not that there was anything wrong with Bad Touch’s set, but to follow a major band like Skid Row is no mean feat. I reckon everyone who was left were probably running on empty, especially as it was now gone 11.30pm and we’d been rockin’ since early afternoon…..

I have to say the power, enthusiasm and vitality of the younger bands kept it fresh for me, with up ‘n coming bands such as Haxan, Hollowstar, Iconic Eye, Prymal Vinyl, Void and The Miser playing the Introducing Stage vying for votes to play the main stage next year (Ethyrfield played the main stage Friday night being one of the three bands voted for last year and shit, did they kick ass). A very young band, been around for 4 years, with two 16-year old brothers taking on front of stage, they did a number of original songs (available on their EP – which we bought – we were THAT impressed) plus they did a superb cover of the Rush classic “Tom Sawyer”, superb. With Departed and Black Whiskey joining them over the next two days, the energy on the Centre Stage was tangible and started proceedings well over the weekend. I liked the fact the “Introducing Stage” held sway late afternoon after the Reds and Centre Stage had closed, awaiting the evening event. Admittedly, it was a convenient time to go get some scran, but the die-hard music lovers packed out the place giving support to what might possibly be “the next big thing”…. A brilliant way for new bands to get recognition among the more discerning audience looking for fresh meat. At the end of each session you are given a blue plastic token where you then get chance to place your vote in the appropriate slot. The one with the most tokens gets to play the main stage the following year, brilliant concept.
On the subject of food and drink – WOW !! Unless you’re a right fussy git, there was plenty on offer, from burgers to fish ‘n chips, Pizzas to Sunday roast and if you prefer the “all-inclusive” route you can upgrade which gives you access to the main restaurant where you have a buffet breakfast and evening meal, the selection and quality of the food was superb, totally and utterly recommended, although I was rather tempted by a rather humungous sausage roll from the bakehouse, which could have quite happily fed a family of six I reckon….. Needless to say I resisted the temptation to pig out on pork LOL.

A late night well-stocked supermarket , a wealth of traders selling everything from decorated glass bottles to funky gear, from music cd’s to cool jewellery, numerous arcade machines to play on, a full-on bowling alley, a separate bar where you could check out the latest football game on humungous tv screens, the site pool (which opened for 5 hours on the Sunday – even though the wicked slides weren’t in use – bummer), a mini golf, the list goes on and on. This was festival going in STYLE. You can keep camping in a bloody muddy field eating yesterday’s cold left-overs, sleeping on the floor and no showers, us older folk prefer the more civilised way of checking out our live tuneage.

On a final note – One thing I found fascinating, being the second time we’d attended, I’m always amused how people queue for ages to get into the night session on the Centre Stage. When the doors open, there’s a mad rush to get the best tables and once implanted there they stay, not even contemplating checking out the other two stages – sorry guys, there’s WAY too much going on to plant yourself firmly in one seat (between taking a piss and fetching beers). Open your eyes and ears to the wealth of music around you, get down the front, have a bop and immerse yourself in the atmosphere………

Giants Of Rock at Butlin’s Minehead, long may it reign, what a superb concept – see you next year for another rock ‘n rollin’ weekend, you will NOT regret it !!!

Many thanks to Rob Billingham for his stunning pictures, click here for access to a full gallery of all 42 bands !!