Giants Of Rock 2020 Hot

Written by Central Electronic Brain     February 18, 2020    
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Giants Of Rock 2020 - Butlins, Minehead (UK) - 24-26 January 2020

Another year, another Giants Of Rock festival, where old people with old haircuts can roam in peace whilst listening to kick-ass Rock music whilst saying things like "Eee! I saw them in 1972!" or "I remember when all this was fields!"

Okay, I'm taking the piss a bit, but as an old rocker I appreciate GOR for what it is – undercover with comfy beds and a great atmosphere. This year's line-up did seem a little sparse compared to the previous two, especially after Gun and Procul Harum were removed last minute, but regardless of who is playing, a three day festival including accommodation for £50 each (and up) is a bargain, and cheaper than festivals that only have camping, less bands and no restaurants!

Butlin's is split into three stages for GOR, with the smallest, in the Jak's pub/club, being the Introducing Stage. This features four or five bands a day and punters can vote for their favourite. Each day's winner gets invited back next year to open one of the bigger stages on each day. It's a good idea that's open to abuse, but short of forcing everyone to watch all the bands and vote afterwards, it is what it is.

I don't usually frequent the Introducing stage, because it is quite cramped and hot for the most part, but I like to try out one act each year, and this time go for Verity White on the Friday. "This is my band," she says. "We're gonna play some songs." And play them they do, with vocalist Verity proving to be a bouncy, fun star in waiting who has an infectious energy and likes to talk bollocks between songs. The songs themselves are mostly bass-heavy Rock stompers, but faster tracks like 'Own Me' give the set some needed depth. Short in stature bug big in voice, Verity White may be Cheltenham's best kept secret (well, her and the satanic death cult at the vicarage).

Last year's Introducing Stage winners were parcelled out one per day, and all gave huge value whilst demonstrating that whatever the system's faults the winners were all deserved. Bristol based Sons Of Liberty had the shortest distance to travel, which may be a good thing as they all look like they've been around the block a few times. Not to be confused with the American right-wing arsehole band with the same name, the UK version of Sons Of Liberty are a very good Southern Rock band, complete with hats, Indian feathers and shouts of "Hell yeah!" whenever possible. The second stage, Reds, is rammed for them and it's apparent they have a lot of fans here. Songs like 'Up Shit Creek' and 'Rich Man, Poor Man' are raucous and energetic, with the whole atmosphere being that of a rowdy Texan bar. You know, in a good way...

Saturday's returning band were Hollowstar, and after a few songs it's apparent that the best word for them is "Solid". The songs are solid, heavy Rock, the band are solid, the presentation is solid etc. Hints of Grunge permeate their music, but with a more modern energy. Many of the songs are quite similar, and I wake up when they do a request for a fan, a song they haven't done live before. It's odd, as this song has a beautiful structure and refrain that is, for me, more entertaining than the rest. They're popular enough, with many t-shirts in evidence, and certainly worth checking out.

The last band to return was Scarlet Rebels, who won last year under their previous (terrible) name of Void, and had been billed as Void here, just so everyone is confused. They'd driven through most of the night to play at mid-day on Sunday, and boy am I glad they did! For me the best band of the three 2019 winners, Scarlet Rebels have a big energy that contains huge melody and the stage presence of a veteran band. Afterwards I bought their 2019 album and am glad I did. If you like powerful melody, a great attitude and a winning stage presence then check out Scarlet Rebels.

As well as new bands, what GOR seems to deliver in abundance is Blues. Last year it was offset by Vega, FM, Cats In Space, Dare and Sweet, but this year the line-up was VERY Blues heavy, so I ended up sampling a few over the weekend, even though I'm not a great fan of the music. Perhaps the best and most surprising act was Rob Tognoni, who calls himself The Tasmanian Devil. As he played on Saturday afternoon I literally stood there transfixed, as I've never seen anyone quite like him. An unassuming Aussie bloke, he uses basic Blues songs as a basis for him to show off his skills, and what skills they are! His hands fly round the guitar at lightning speed, pulling off some inspiring solos, even with his teeth at one point. Wonderful stuff!

Following Rob Tognoni on Saturday afternoon were the Band Of Friends, basically a tribute to the late, great Rory Gallagher, but featuring two of his long time bandmates. There's no doubting their talent and devotion, and Gallagher fans in the audience were kept very happy. Personally, I felt that they avoided too much of Gallagher's more upbeat tracks (except for closer 'Shadow Play'), and as a result the set lacked some bounce despite the talent on display. It may be just me, but Band Of Friends haven't made a new one here, purely due to the overall song choices not suiting my tastes.

Another interesting Bluesman is Pat McManus, fronting the Pat McManus Band (dur). He got Saturday's midnight spot on the main stage, which was very surprising as it meant The Quireboys were stuffed into Reds when surely a swap in locations would make much more sense. Pat, known as The Professor when he was in Mama's Boys, is a dab hand on the old Blues guitar, but even though I was looking forward to seeing him I was disappointed that the old tunes weren't brought out as much as I'd want, with his more recent Blues material taking priority. I did, however, get 'Straight Forward, No Looking Back, 'Belfast City Blues' and 'Blacklisted', and the newer stuff was entertaining enough to keep me around. Selfishly, I'd love for him to recruit a higher pitched singer (he doesn't suit the MB songs in all honestly) and do a few shows of the old material. He finished with a cracking version of 'All Along The Watchtower' and the decent sized crowd retired to their chalets and comfy beds happy enough.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Blues fans were well-served throughout the weekend, with the excellent John Verity closing Reds on Saturday, and Bernie Marsden packing it out on Saturday night with his Heritage Rock show. I caught a few songs of this and it's a shame the jammed crowd forced me to leave or risk puking on nice people, but it does mean I got to see another Blues act in the shape of Deborah Bonham in another case of acts being on the wrong stage. No disrespect to Bonham, who put on a cracking show with one of the best female vocals you could hope for in Blues, but Bernie Marsden would have made more sense on Centre Stage.

Aside from new bands and Blues, this year's festival had the usual focus on blasts from the past. Even without Procul Harum there was plenty to enjoy, with their spot being tackled by Oliver/Dawson Saxon who rarely put a foot wrong and are hugely popular wherever they go. Friday is no exception, and I stood with hundreds of others in Centre Stage as they romped through the same set list as last year (although on a bigger stage with better sound). It's a shame, really, as there's so many tracks that could be rotated, like 'The Eagle Has Landed', 'This Town Rocks', 'Power & The Glory' and many, many more that don't get a look in. The songs they played, mind, are all classics themselves, such as 'Strong Arm Of The Law', 'Denim & Leather', 'Crusader' and 'Dallas 1pm', and they pulled them off with ease. Vocalist Brian Shaughnessy is always a treat, with the hilarious bollocks he spouts between songs more akin to a pissed Johnny Vegas than Biff Byford. "That's shortened the set" he said after one impassioned rant, but I don't mind as he's a great vocalist and raconteur. The two Saxon alumni acquit themselves well, with Steve Dobby Dawson managing to move around a bit whilst Graham Oliver got on with playing the guitar with a permanent expression of "Have I left the gas on?" and very little movement. Regardless, it was a great set and so much more fun than Procul Harum would have been.

Following them at midnight was original Survivor vocalist Dave Bickler, with a backing band that included Jim Kirkpatrick from FM. I was a little worried as recent YouTube videos have shown he is not always capable of the big notes these days, but my fears were soon allayed as Bickler proved to be a very capable singer, even if he can't match the power of the old days. 'Sure Feels Like Love', 'Summer Night' and 'Hope' were all impressive, and the solid post-midnight crowd seemed to enjoy every one. He dedicated 'Burning Heart' to the late Jimi Jamison, and also tackled 'I Can't Hold Back' from his successor's era, proclaiming it as his favourite. Naturally, things ended with 'Eye Of The Tiger', and there were a lot of smiley faces afterwards.

Sunday night had its own double whammy of the "where are they now" variety, as Rock Goddess and Big Country being their conflicting styles to Butlin's. Rock Goddess, for their part, impressed me far more than they did when I saw them supporting Cats In Space last year. With a bigger stage, better sound and enthusiastic crowd they really put on a show to be proud of, taking every opportunity to get people singing and clapping. Jodie Turner delivered some kick-ass guitar throughout, with sister Julie still as adept ever behind the kit. New kid Jenny Lane did a fine job on bass, bouncing and smiling throughout, and although their aggressive, retro Heavy Metal isn't to everyone's taste they still went down a storm. This had to be in part due to Jodie's absolute joy onstage, chuffed to be playing in such a nice venue to such a nice large crowd. It lifted the performance, from beginning to the crowd singalong finish of 'Heavy Metal, Rock And Roll', and although I don't listen to them at home I can thoroughly recommend Rock Goddess as a live act.

Big Country are a band I've a real fondness for, even if they don't play anything these days from superb late albums such as 'The Buffalo Skinners' and 'Why The Long Face'. Original guitarist Bruce Watson does all the talking, his lively sense of humour infectious as ever, whilst vocalist Simon Hough did a great job throughout but never speaks to the audience! Bruce's son Jamie was by his side, and revealed that Bruce became a grandad at Christmas, which got a cheer. At the back was the other original member, Mark Brzezicki, described as the "Best drummer in this band", and the band proceeded to go through a standard set list that at fifty minutes was criminally short, especially as the next and last band were on over an hour after they finished. Despite the set length, they went down a treat, and for the first time this weekend I actually felt the floor bouncing up and down as the band delivered hits like 'In A Big Country', 'Look Away' and 'Fields Of Fire'. It all seemed so effortless, with Bruce looking like he was having the time of his life throughout, and that look mirrored on the faces of many of the crowd.

Elsewhere there was great enjoyment for fans of Hawkwind as they headlined the Saturday Night, but I just can't seem to enjoy their Psychedelic Space Rock. British Rock legends Praying Mantis and Diamond head both receive plenty of plaudits but were victims of conflict on my schedule. Malone Sibun and Tom Killner provided more Blues goodies, whilst the Introducing stage paid host to White Raven Down, Voodoo Vegas and Troyen, amongst others. All in all, over forty bands came for a holiday by the seaside, delivering something for all tastes. Next year will bring Wishbone Ash and Walter Trout and a whole host of others, so if you want something a little different at a great price you really should think about coming along.

Alan Holloway

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