Maid Of Stone Festival Day 2
Saturday 22nd July 2023
Mote Park, Maidstone
There was a genuine sense of anticipation as well as curiosity about this new festival, which after a four-year break thankfully filled the large gap in the musical calendar left by the fondly remembered Ramblin’ Man Fair, which sadly fell victim financially to the enforced break from live music caused by Covid restrictions. Those are big shoes to follow and while not exactly advertising itself as Ramblin’ Man The Sequel, it was clear from the line up that the festival was ploughing the same furrow as its predecessor, even if it wasn’t exactly the same sort of seeds being sown. In view of the large number of folk sporting Ramblin’ Man T shirts from different years, as well as a few festival RIP T shirts, it was also apparent that the new festival attracted a lot of visitors used to heading down to Maidstone to show off their tattoos and vintage tour T shirts.
The weather outlook wasn’t great but looked ok in the morning. Predictably the first drops of rain started falling as soon as I departed for the festival and continued to do so with various degrees of intensity, with the result that by the early afternoon the festival goers were festooned in all manner of wet weather gear like the seasoned English weather pros they were. The grey skies definitely took the sheen off of things but didn’t really dampen the festival spirit. It has to be said that the main musical emphasis of the festival was on crunchy Rock, with a thankful smattering of Blues/Blues Rock acts to introduce some variety. Ramblin’ Man provided stages for a wide range of acts, including a lot of Prog acts to chill out to, as well as some punchy Country acts. MoS was confined to a smaller physical area and maybe in future (fingers crossed that the festival returns next year and beyond) there will be space as well as willingness to accommodate some different acts. One of the disadvantages of the layout was that the two larger of the three stages directly faced off each other across the site, albeit with a healthy distance in between. This led to a bit of a sonic battle at times that was reminiscent of being in a rehearsal room back in the day when it would frequently be the case that, pausing in between songs, you’d be confronted with a bunch of would be Metal muthas in the next room blasting away at a disconcerting volume.
I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the acts appearing and, despite listening beforehand to as many of the acts as possible, there wasn’t a lot of material that stood out or made me prick up my ears. This feeling didn’t change much for some of the acts even after I’d seen them, which is understandable. It’s hard to immediately fall in love with music that is unfamiliar, although that isn’t always the case. The trouble with some of the bands at MoS is that they had a numbing homogeneity, which made it difficult to spot any distinguishing characteristics, although it has to be said that some did it better than others; the general approach could be summed up, screaming singer up front, furiously delivering incomprehensible lyrics while two guitars and bass collectively hammered out unoriginal riffs and power chords, backed by a sweaty drummer, that was all power and no glory. That’s not to say that they weren’t for the most part highly enjoyable to watch! Most of the acts delivered great, high-energy performances that went down really well with an appreciative crowd, and were generally good fun in a moody way. What makes a successful festival band isn’t always the same as what makes for a good studio band. It didn’t help also that in quite a few instances it was a case of having to move on to catch the start of a band on another stage, which meant missing most of the set of the band you’d started watching.
The first band I caught was Kira Mac who have been mentioned favourably in dispatches a few times. Rhiannon Kira Hill has a strong image as a stage striding frontwoman and matches this with a powerful set of lungs. The band have been lumped into the Blues Rock category by some commentators but, judging from this display, and despite playing a song titled ‘Mississippi Swinging’ in their set, they are firmly in the muscular Rock school. Troy Redfern would certainly be quids in if he could collect points for road miles travelled as he seems to be everywhere. I don’t know whether it’s a deliberate thing, or a sub-conscious yearning for the shadows, but what with his wide brimmed hat and oft repeated stage stance that resulted in his long hair hanging over his face, he can be an elusive figure for the photographer. It doesn’t help that he seems to find the non-sweet spot on the stage for the snappers, on this occasion his mic was placed in a gloomy region on the Maiden stage while his charming bassist was beautifully lit stage right. I personally think that playing as a three piece he tries too hard to create a heavy sound, with the result that his slide playing gets drowned out. His songs need a bit of space to breathe. Having seen him a few times I could pick out live favourite ‘Scorpio’ from the ‘The Cosmic Fire’ and ‘Sweet Carolina’ (only one vowel away from a massive sing-a-long) from last year’s ‘The Wings of Salvation’. He included some new numbers, one of which was titled ‘Elated’, which, as can often be the case with new material, did not bring about the same feeling listening to it as the sensation described in the title, but which will no doubt prove its worth in stereo.
Tygers of Pan Tang are a blast from the past, one of the leading lights of the Metal revival in the 80s. I imagined they’d be good and they were! Super tight, controlled riffing that didn’t overpower the songs; a definite swagger and lots of well-worn stagecraft. The one remaining original Tyger, guitarist Robb Weir, played with a twinkle in his eye and long-time vocalist Jacopo Meille commanded the stage with a relaxed ease, sporting a hair-style that would have brought a nostalgic tear to the eye for more mature barbers in the audience. Song titles I caught were old fave ‘Love Don’t Stay’ from way back (on 1981’s ‘Crazy Nights’ album) and ‘Edge Of The World’ from new album ‘Bloodlines’. Both ends of the spectrum!
In order to avoid any nasty meeting of water and electricity, the mic stands were placed well back on the main stage, the Jeff Beck Memorial stage, by the time Kris Barras performed mid-afternoon. He was dependably good, no real surprises, but by comparison, his songs like ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Light Up’ stood out as even more belting bangers than usual. Another band that stood out were Sweet Crisis, playing under cover on the Maiden stage, benefitting no doubt from a crowd boosted by folk sheltering from the rain. Their track ‘Ain’t Got Soul’ was instantly memorable and to quote my brief note at the time, “proper Blues guitar and harmonies!”. They were excellent, allowing space in their songs and retaining dynamics in their music without resorting to a full out aural onslaught. It’s ironic, given the number of posturing guitar players there were over the weekend with lord knows how many effects pedals between them, that there was very little memorable guitar playing.
Sweet Crisis were not in that category; neither was Chilean guitarist Miguel Montalban playing the same stage later. He was distinctive in managing to both play some vibrant solos and also get his sound right so that his soloing could be heard. Gin Annie, playing on the Phoenix stage (a name not synonymous with Kent) were good fun, playing tight, punchy Rock. Cousins David Foster on vocals and Byron “Beej” (no surprise he adopted a different moniker with that handle) Garbett on guitar were engaging front men, with a tiny hint of vaudeville thrown in.
Equally engaging visually were Orange Goblin on the main stage. They created a massive wall of sound and are definitely at the heavy end of Metal. Front man Ben Ward had the look of someone who wouldn’t look out of place in a slasher movie - not playing one of the good guys - and stood in the calm centre of the electric storm being whipped up around him. As much as their power was really impressive, they appeared to be completely lacking in any kind of musicality.
Before them on the main stage was one of the more interesting acts of the day, The Hunna. Described as an Indie Rock band, hailing from Watford (you can’t have everything), this outfit gave off an alternative vibe while still giving it large in terms of onstage energy. Charismatic singer and guitarist Ryan Potter, AKA ‘Tino’, proved to be a magnet for a much younger crowd down the front as well as causing a flutter or two. Their more melodic sound was a welcome change. Earlier, Bad Touch were pretty good. I didn’t see much of their set but liked what I saw. Steve Westwood is an imposing looking front man and sported a pair of larger than life sun glasses that were rather rubbing it in considering the weather. They have made some cracking recordings but nothing stood out from their set.
The Cold Stares were a very refreshing change when they appeared as the last act on the Phoenix stage. I’d seen them the night before for the first time, supporting The Damn Truth (who would have been sensational at the festival) and hadn’t thought much of them. In the festival setting the trio’s pared down Blues came over as a welcome reminder that song writing skills count for something and it's not just enough to lay down a riff and bash away. They don’t exactly put on a visual show, even if the bassist shakes a few moves, but it was a case of the music doing the talking. They were great. Songs like low key classic ‘Two Keys And A Good Book’; ‘Anyway The Wind Blows’, ‘I Was A Fool’ and ‘Going Down Easy’ from 2019 album ‘Ways’; ‘Waiting For The Rain Again’ from current release ‘Voices’; single ‘Mojo Hand’ (not sure if that’s a euphemism…) and new songs ‘Giving It Up’ and ‘Blow Wind Blow’, featured in a set that revived spirits as the weather showed no sign of a final reprieve .
They were one of the highlights of the day and set things up nicely for the grand finale of Glenn Hughes on the main stage. It wasn’t his fault but this turned out to be something of a damp squib. As usual, the atmosphere was a little more charged, it was the last act of the day, it was someone good; the remaining hardcore crowd had been chasing the weather away at the beer tents and anticipation was high. The photographers in the pit were joking among themselves, checking settings and not entirely unhappy that the day was coming to a close.
Unfortunately, the rain really started chucking it down as the bass playing singer strode out onto a pitch black section of the stage, made darker by the spotlight focused on the guitar player (superbly lit) and one elsewhere lighting nobody. The music started and what was being played you may ask? Who knows, the vocals were non-existent and the sound was muddy. It could have been the ‘Macarena’ for all we knew.
It was so wet that fingers were sliding off of camera switches as frantic changes were attempted to find a magic setting that would reveal all. It was all a bit sad. Sometimes you have to know when to call it a day, so dragging a pair of wet and tired feet away into the dark, wet surrounding streets, it was time to reflect on the way home that, all things considered, the organisers had done a really good job (apart from maybe getting a hearing test for the guy on duty on the sound desk at the end) and say a small prayer to the weather Gods for the following day.