Stone Free Festival - Day One
Saturday 16th June 2018
O2 Arena, London
Festivals are many and varied these days with everything from one to five days, in fields, arenas or even whole communities. You have something for everyone. Muddy fields with hundreds of thousands of people or small intimate venues with just a handful of faithful fans. The Stone Free festival, now in its third year, boasts the prodigious O2 Arena as its home so you would imagine it is a large cavernous venue with large headline acts. Well it is. But it also boasts smaller intimate venues like the Indigo O2 which holds about 1500 people and, just for this festival, the small outside Orange Amps stage, catering for a couple of hundred.
Saturday is the first of two days and is an unashamedly Rock orientated day. Openers on the bijou Orange stage are Nitroville, a 5 piece hailing from East London. Being the Orange stage, all the bands are playing through Orange amps but, thanks to the excellent sound engineering of Vision, the sound of each band is clear and individually distinct. Fronted by a powerhouse vocalist, Nitroville open the days proceedings in fine style. Telecaster and Les Paul guitars provide a strong front line that matches vocalist Tola Lamont with a busy bass backline. And the smallest drumkit ever seen on stage. The short set is warmly received by the growing crowd, gathering under a beautiful Summer sky. It doesn't have to rain at every festival you know. One of the issues at festivals can be the potential clashes of bands. Stone Free does an impressive job of timing bands to have a minimum of time spent shuffling between stages. The Orange and Indigo stages swapped time slots with a smoothness and both finished (just) before the first act opened in the main arena. Well done to the organisers.
Staying at the Orange stage we were treated to what were arguably the best band of the day. Bold words for only the second act but London bass Killit really hit the spot. To call them London based would be unfair to their international make up. Israeli guitarist Niro Knox plays some seriously dirty Rock and Blues on a seriously dirty Les Paul. Someone lend him a wet wipe. And accompanying him on a beautiful PRS is the equally beautiful Swiss Claire Genoud. Fronted by vocalist Gaz Twist, clearly the result of a wild night involving Bruce Dickinson and Scott Weiland, the five piece play some excellent Rock Metal. Knox is an Israeli Slash who could have done with a bigger stage. Great rocking band who I will seek out again. Ones to watch.
Changing stage to the Indigo finds the more unusual duet that is The Picturebooks. The Teutonic twosome create some huge sounds with just percussion and a semi acoustic guitar. And the large sound system in the excellent Indigo venue. It's one of those venues that I go to almost regardless of who is playing. The right size, good acoustics and a large bar. And frontman Fryn Claus Grabke had his dad doing sound desk duties tonight. Bet that saved a few bob. Their clever Rock Blues set was a joy to behold, being both innovative and interesting. Dare I say, an ideal festival band.
Staying in the Indigo we were treated to the phenomenon that is Triggerfinger. A Belgian three piece, dressed in some snappy duds, you would be forgiven for thinking they were at the wrong venue. Until they hit the first chord that is. With a bassist (Paul Van Bruystegem) who looked like a bouncer, and a drummer (Mario Goosens) who was clearly Boris Johnson taking a day off from ruining the country, they looked like an 80's Pop band as frontman Ruben Block wears the sort of suit that would make ABC's Martin Fry green with envy. Or swirly red and gold in this case. Playing a single pick-up Gibson SG through a Vox amp, Block gets some quite cutting Metal tones to accompany the almost Stoner Rock tracks. Not what I was expecting. Almost quirky, I can only describe them as - well, Belgian. But as moreish as chips with mayonnaise, they were another hugely entertaining act. The incredibly minimalist 'My Baby's Got A Gun' showed how powerful a few notes can be. As was the brutal solo that followed. Finishing with Iggy Pop's 'Funtime', they left the audience with smiles on their faces.
Back to the Orange stage for the Dirty Thrills who played us some dirty Blues. The 4 piece were a slick act with the look of Gypsies and street dandies adorned with a multitude of scarves and devilish looks. An Ibanez hollowbody is the axe of choice for guitarist Jack Fawdry whilst frontman Louis James, son of Moody Blues V singer Nicky James, provides the lungpower with added swagger. Fawdry wastes no time removing his shirt to perform his rocking Blues skills whilst jumping around like an excited schoolboy. He even perched himself on the somewhat small Orange amp at one stage. Dangerous stuff. James accompanies with harmonica to a thumping bass line. We get to sing-along to a medley of tracks, including Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady' to finish an all too short set.
The bands come thick and fast now as we head back to the Indigo to see the rising Stars that are Stone Broken. Hailing from Walsall in the West Midlands, they could easily be from Birmingham AL. The four piece are the current favourite of radio friendly Rockers everywhere although that doesn't make them bland or insipid. Au contraire. Frontman Rich Moss, brandishing a beautiful Les Paul, leads the band in some memorable Rock songs. Regulars on the radio, the short set is stuffed with recognisable riffs and singable lyrics. There's a reason why they get so much airplay. They're damn good. Assisted by guitarist Chris Davis on a humbucker packed Fender, there is an almost brutal Metal edge to the Hard Rock sound. How could that be bland. Female drummer Robyn Haycock hides behind drumkit festooned with an Animal muppet - she is neither - and is pleasingly given a short drum solo which she makes interesting. An almost impossible feat when it comes to drum solos. Again, the Stone Free festival delivers the goods.
Closing the Orange stage, and vying for band of the day are Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics. The former Heaven's Basement front man has created his own band although the set contained a number of Heaven's Basement tracks. No complaints from me, I love Heaven's Basement. But this is a new animal. Aaron's sister Laurie wields a mean Fender Telecaster whilst Tom McCarthy assists with a stunning Gordon Smith Les Paul style white guitar. The short set includes a number of tracks from their delightfully named 'The Man With Stars On His Knees' album sprinkled with the aforementioned Heaven's Basement tracks - including a firm favourite, 'Fire Fire'. Aaron is known as a huge Freddie Mercury fan and the album includes a number of tracks with Queen like harmonies. Today saw a rawer approach with hard guitars and hard singing. After handing out a couple of freebie beers to members of the audience (I was lucky enough to receive one - it has in no way influenced this review.....) Aaron proceeds to draw the crowd closer into a compact mass to enable to surf his way onto their shoulders before finishing the song with a headstand whilst still perched precariously on the crowds shoulders. The rakishly thin warbler, all boots and braces, has never been known to be shy.
So back to the Indigo to see the closing act on that stage that is the brutally pleasing assault on the ears that is Orange Goblin. Not sure where the band got there name from - lead singer Ben Ward looks more like a huge black orc than an orange goblin. Maybe the (relatively) diminutive axeman Joe Hoare is the inspiration. Whilst Ward prowls the centre of the stage like the scary Tolkeinesque beast, commanding and getting the attention from the rapturous audience, the real power behind the sound is the Gibson SG Marshall amp combo of Hoare. It's real basic Hard Metal power. Their t-shirts say it all. Hoare sports a possibly ironic Kiss t-shirt, Ward drapes himself in an Entombed shirt. It was a finale of filth with some chugging rhythms and powerful wah filled leads. The band have been together as a foursome since 1995 and are as tight as a crabs bum. The crowd includes a number of Goblin faithful who delighted in bringing an unlikely Stone Free wall of death to the mix at the instigation of the man on the mike. I wouldn't disobey him. All done with great humour and fun and ended what was a fantastic set of bands and, in some ways, the festival part of the day.
What makes Stone Free different is the switch from a festival feel when the smaller stages close to a regular gig night when the main stage opens for the nights final three acts. The headliners. Hmmm, lets say big names. Openers Buckcherry are another firm favourite of yours truly but found themselves in the cavernous O2 Arena playing to a virtually empty crowd. Partly because the fantastic Orange Goblin slightly over ran although probably because the fans took the opportunity to take advantage of the many and varied eating and drinking establishments. Which was a shame because the mercurial band were on form tonight with frontman Josh Todd showing more gusto than previous gigs I have seen recently. Whilst it is good to see a great band like Buckcherry getting an outing on a large stage, i love them best in a hot sweaty club environment where you get up close and personal. They did their best, and played their hearts out with classics like 'Sorry" and 'Broken Glass', but were victims of scheduling. I would liked to have seen them play the Indigo instead.
Penultimate band of the night were Dave Mustaine's Megadeath - the ego has landed. Clearly a crowd puller, the original Thrash Metallers played to a considerably fuller arena with their brand of guitar virtuosity. It was a great set although Megadeath have always been a vehicle for Mustaine to showcase his talents whilst the band appear to be there as extras. Add into the mix the regular haranguing of the world for all it's ills and you get the Dave Mustaine show. It's great Rock, don't get me wrong, and the crowd loves it, although they were thanked for it by some personal abusing of individuals in the audience by the man himself. Not sure if it was meant in jest or not. It's difficult to tell with Mr M. The set included some classic Megadeath tracks including my favourite 'Symphony of Destruction'. They do write some bleedin' good songs.
Closers and headliners are the mighty Scorpions. One of those bands that have been around for so long that they are deemed Classic Rock although I still think of them as newer Metal. A great choice as headliners, the set includes more singalong favourites than you can shake a tail stinging arachnid at. With the recent addition of Mikkey Dee on drums we were also treated to a cover of Motorhead's 'Overkill' as well as an exquisite drum solo. It was 90 plus minutes of Classic Rock in the truest sense although Rudi Schenker and Matthias Jabs wielding their guitars with full Heavy Metal gusto and frontman Klaus Meine easily switching between bellowing Rock and romantic ballads. It was a great show and a fine way to finish off what was an excellent first day. Takeaway from day one were Killit and Aaron Buchanan. I love it when you find great new talent. What will day two hold?
Going Out With a Bang
Make It Real
Is There Anybody There?
Top of the Bill / Steamrock Fever / Speedy's Coming / Catch Your Train
We Built This House
Follow Your Heart / Eye of the Storm / Send Me an Angel
Wind Of Change
Tease Me Please Me
Overkill (Motörhead cover)
Drum Solo Mikkey Dee
Big City Nights
Still Loving You
Rock You Like a Hurricane