Stone Free Festival - Day Two
Sunday 17th June 2018
O2 Arena, London
So day two followed the form of day one, with the same festival/gig split, although the emphasis today was more towards Prog as the headliners later will show. But the day started again with a choice of the Orange Amps and Indigo stages with a range of sumptuous delights to enjoy. Being a Sunday, and Father's Day, the North Greenwich peninsula was busier than ever with visitors enjoying the varied local attractions mingling with the festival goers. Being outside, the Orange stage attracted a number of day trippers looking to see what all the fuss was about, and some of whom seemed to really enjoy the show. Says something about the quality of the acts that they can entertain an audience which contained a number of non-musos. Or maybe they were just trying to avoid being dragged around the shops. Or they preferred the excellent choices of beer on offer.
Anyhow, openers on the Orange stage are StoneWire, a five piece seeped in Blues, Rock and Country vibes. Fronted by the powerful vocals of Sky Hunter, the short set showcases a mix of riffy Rock and melodic Bluesy sounds that delights the small but growing audience. Again, they are another band who would have no trouble filling the Indigo - both audibly and literally - and are sure to be at a venue near you soon. If you like your Zeppelin, give them a listen.
Following on are what can best be described as the explosion that is Vambo. The Epsom four-piece have exploded onto the scene with airplay on Planet Rock and shows both home and abroad. Indeed, following the set, the band are off to Hungary to do a couple of shows in the homeland of guitarist Pete Lance. Vambo are a great young band influenced by the Rock bands of the seventies. Lance's searing guitar goodness - a Les Paul through a fantastic Kemper modelling amp - are pure rocky filth and goodness and he show some considerable skills up and down the fretboard. Vocalist Jack Stiles, taking his looks and styling from 70's legend Roy Wood of Wizard, has an extremely powerful voice. Their closing track - a copy of Deep Purple's 'Burn' - showcases what final vocal talents he has. You don't cover such iconic Rock tracks like that lightly and he nailed it. I would have been happy just to have seen that but their short set was full of their own excellent material, including 'Fast Car' and their new single 'Why, Why, Why' which is getting some considerable radio airplay. With bassist James Scott completing the DM booted front of stage and drummer Steve Price driving the whole ensemble from behind the kit, they are an excellent addition to the festival and, probably the best band of the two stages today. Yes, they are that good. Another of my must see again bands.
Next up on the Orange stage are Fire Red Empress, another up and coming band that radio stations are showing an interest in. Fronted by the delightful Jennifer Diehl, wearing a black floppy hat, dark glasses and shawl, she looks like a grieving girl next door. But when she sings, it's all happiness in the world. The five-piece play chunky sludgy Stoner Rock with the Gethin brothers guitars providing the growling backline to Diehl's cutting voice. She reminded me a little of Geddy Lee's Anthem in her pitch and tone but was versatile enough to go from low and powerful to haunting and screamy. An absorbing band.
Off to the Indigo stage to catch the tail end of Ginger Wildheart's acoustic set. Ginger is a man of many acts, fronting the rocking Wildhearts but also championing a circus of assorted talents. Today sees him at his most stripped down with just an accompanying acoustic guitarist, percussionist and female co-vocalist. Watching him at ease on stage is like watching a street troubadour entertain with jokes and singalongs. His closing track 'Geordie In Wonderland' aptly describes the dreadlocked Ginger's show. Again, another excellent choice of act for this wonderful festival.
Staying at the Indigo stage, we are treated by the appearance of Tyketto, the five-piece Rock band from New York. Fronted by former Waysted singer Danny Vaughan, they are another extremely professional act entertaining the crowd with what was, by their standards, a far more funky set than you would expect. As Vaughan quips during one of the funkier jams between bassist Chris Childs and guitarist Chris Green, "This has turned into a Barry White medley!" Vaughan is another hugely entertaining front man and the band seem to just be the most relaxed people having a good time playing what they love. Which pervades to the growing audience, Finishing with their anthemic 'Forever Young' the crowd warmly applaud them off the stage before rushing to see the closing act on the Orange stage, The Bad Flowers.
I say rushing, most are happy to stop for beers along the way, but still ensure the Black Country trio get a lot of love. Frontman and guitarist Tom Leighton provides the front line alone whilst bassist Dale Tonks, complete with Monster Truck t-shirt, takes centre stage, albeit a small one, showing that bassists need love too. Making up the naughty blooms is drummer Karl Selickis doing a fine job of keeping the two frontmen in their rhythmic place. As a trio, they work damn hard, with Leighton's Les Paul and wah pedal getting some mileage and Tonks bass solo showing a commendable work ethic. With tracks like 'Thunder Child' in their repertoire, they show they are a force to be reckoned with. Showing an emotional thanks to the audience for the support they have received the set closes the excellent Orange stage for the day and the festival. The Bad Flowers - a great bunch.
Back to the Indigo for the final act on that stage - the iconic guitarists guitarist, Richie Kotzen. I think it sums up how appreciated Mr. K. is by other musicians that, standing next to me in the Indigo were Joanne Shaw Taylor and bassist Luigi Cassanova. Just hours before her own performance in the arena, JST took the time to see a master at work. Because a master he is. Or maestro. Although not classical, Kotzen has reinvented himself a number of times so that it is hard to pigeonhole him in any one genre. The once Glam Hair Metal guitarist of Poison enters the stage wearing a floppy broad brimmed hat and loose casual shirt more akin to Bill and Ben than Bret and CC. Because the man is comfortable in himself and his abilities. Playing his signature Telecaster through his signature Victory amp, Kotzen takes us through every guitar trick and nuance, utilising assorted effects and pedals, but always with the music as the focus, not the performance. And for pure guitar skills he is breath-taking. Stand out track for me was 'Love Is Blind'. It was a great way to end what was the 'festival' part of the day and had the adoring audience calling for more.
And so to the O2 Arena and the start of the 'gig' part of the day. This is where the Prog part of the day kicked in with the atmospheric Anathema playing to a completely seated arena. Is this some indication as to the age of the audience that they are expecting? Anathema are not an anathema to me but are a more experimental young Progressive Rock band with symphonic qualities that contrasted sharply with the bands we had seen during the day. I say young, they have been around since the early 90's but it's all relative. The Liverpudlian five-piece produced some extensive electronic Rock consisting of assorted keys, double drums and exquisite guitars. With female vocalist Lee Douglas providing the focus, the Cavanagh siblings concentrated on producing some epic Progressive Rock music but with a more modern slant than the following acts. With influences from past members who have played with, the likes of Cradle of Filth and My Dying Bride, they have a unique slant on Prog that is refreshing. They were certainly appreciated by the admittedly older audience.
Following Anathema, and in no way proof at all, is the aforementioned Joanne Shaw Taylor. A rocking Blues guitarist, influenced heavily by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix, Prog she is not. She does however Rock. Those who know my words will know that i have seen JST many times and cannot rate her highly enough. Opening up with her trusty blond Telecaster with 'Dyin' To Know', the trusty blond launches into a fine set. Only a few years ago JST was doing the rounds of the pubs and clubs, but you would think she had been playing arenas all her life. Having toured with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, she is no stranger to larger venues - I saw her recently at The Royal Festival Hall. One of the things i love to see when watching the Black Country lass is her beaming smile as she loses herself in the power of her own brand of Blues Rock. She is a genius guitarist who has learned much from her love of SRV and Mr. Kotzen. With newer tracks like 'Dyin To Know' and 'Wrecking Ball' mixed with classics like 'Diamonds In The Dirt', the all too short set was excellent. Switching between the Tele and the Les Paul (such a beautiful combination to behold) the audience had a Prog free 45 minutes of spectacular Blues guitar and soulful singing. Closing with the ever present classic 'Going Home' she signed of in style. But I wasn't going anywhere just yet.
Now everyone has a guilty pleasure and Supertramp are mine. Although they are a pleasure that I am in no way guilty of. Just don't tell my Rock mates. The arguably Prog band have had a number of radio hits of many years that have graced many a pop station. Roger Hodgson, vocalist and all round musician from the band, treated us tonight to what was a near note perfect rendition of their greatest hits. Hodgson, dressed in a crisp white suit is the consummate humble gentleman who still has an astonishingly good voice. Backed by a collection of extremely talented backing musicians, Hodgson absolutely enthralled with a set that truly blew me away. Switching between instruments he sang 'Take The Long Way Home' (keyboard), 'School' (guitar), 'Breakfast in America' (keys), 'Hiding In My Shell' (keys), 'Logical Song' (keys), 'Lord Is It Mine' (piano), 'Dreamer' (keys), 'Fools Overture' (piano), 'Give A Little Bit' (12 string acoustic) and 'It's Raining Again' (keys). And all the way through his voice was as it had been all those years ago. I contrast to the power of previous acts, the music was almost a lullaby in comparison but had me singing loudly along to every track. Guilty pleasure? Nobody should feel guilty at experiencing such pleasure. Mr Hodgson I salute you, and I will be first in the queue when tickets go on sale for his shows at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2019.
Closing and headline act, and the most Progressive of Prog bands are the mighty Yes. And this time it includes the trio of Rick Wakeman, Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson. Celebrating 50 years of Yes, the three musicians, who represent the purist Prog years of the seventies and the 'mainstream' 80's incarnation presented an affirmation of their finest tracks. Anderson, holding centre stage still has a phenomenal voice. So specific to the Yes sound, his voice carried across the cavernous arena and carried the faithful to years gone by and memories half remembered. Wakeman, adorned in his trademark cloak, stood in the middle of a round of keyboards tinkling the ivories with his trademark grumpy old git look. But he certainly was enjoying himself. And Rabin cavorted around getting some iconic sounds out of his heavily decorated Strat. With supporting musicians including the happiest drummer in the world - who wouldn't smile like that getting the chance to play such gloriously intricate drum tracks - the three headliners showed what craftsmen they are. Each made their way into the audience who delighted in being up close and personal with their heroes. With a spectacular lighting show the performance was a visual and audio delight. The crowd delighted in what was a masterpiece of Progressive music. A great way to end a great festival.
As the crowds drift away into a warm Summer's night, I am left to reflect what has been another great day at a great festival. Act of the day for me has to be Roger Hodgson for sheer enjoyment although JST and Richie Kotzen could have easily been contenders. For a relatively new festival Stone Free really have got the mix right. Great sounds, great location, I urge you to go next year. Greenwich is famous as being the home of the Greenwich meridian - the centre of the world in time terms if you like. This weekend, it has been the centre of my music world.
I've Seen All Good People
And You and I
Rhythm of Love
I Am Waiting
Heart of the Sunrise
Owner of a Lonely Heart (with 'Sunshine of Your Love' by Cream snippet)