Stone Free Festival
Saturday 17th June 2017
O2 Arena, London
All roads led to London last Saturday for this year's Stone Free Festival, Kilimanjaro Live and O2 extravaganza. With doors opening at midday and on a sweltering hot day - the omens were good as I walked through North Greenwich tube station and bumped into a guy wearing an identical Porcupine Tree Albert Hall t-shirt like mine. You couldn't make it up. After we got through security at the O2 Arena entrance we were immediately greeted by the sound of some Rock 'n' Roll with some high energy punch from Melbourne all girl three-piece Tequila Mockinbyrd on the Big Entrance Stage. Unfortunately we missed the first band Bang Bang Romeo - but that would turn out to be just the norm on a day with so much to do and such little time to do it all in.
As for Aussie Rockers Tequila Mockingbyrd - their storming set was taken, other than newbie 'Tell Me', from their recently released worldwide debut album 'Fight and Flight' - which was actually released down under a year ago. 'Money Tree', 'Never Go Home', 'This Ain't Dead', 'Good Time' and 'So Not Me' easily demonstrated why the band have received such great reviews from both Planet Rock and Classic Rock. The stand outs for mine though were their cover of Richie Ramone's 'Somebody Put Something In My Drink' plus their brilliantly entitled finale 'I Smell Rock 'n' Roll which has received a lot of well deserved worldwide airplay over the last year. What we didn't realise at the time of the set - was that lead singer/guitarist Estelle Artois and bass guitarist Jess Reilly had recently left the band for personal reasons and had been speedily replaced by Brit singer/guitarist Louisa Baker plus another Aussie bassist Jacinta Jaye. Tthat the made set even more unbelievable but more about that later.
Anyway, it was time we grabbed our first beer courtesy of The Slug and we then headed over to The Indigo to see The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Despite the band being tagged with being a one hit wonder - is there a more iconic song from the '60s than 'Fire'? Based unfairly on the principle that it would probably be the last song in their set - we arrived late - only for us to be entranced by some really outstanding Prog Rock including both 'Time Captives' and 'Sunrise' from 'Kingdom Come'. "We're not crazy" - declared Arthur as he stood there during the mesmerising 'Touched By All' in his illuminated jacket and tailcoat with trademark face paint - let's beg to differ on that one Arthur. Indeed a curtailed version of 'Fire' - because they were running over time - was another classic off of my bucket list. And on the subject of bucket lists - Arthur's departing words were: "I'm 75 in a couple of days - make sure you come and see me again before I drop dead on stage". Think I will definitely take you up on that one Arthur.
It was becoming very hot work - so there was another lager pit stop before we went to interview both Tequila Mockinbyrd and their fellow Melbourne Rockers in crime - Massive - in the hard to access Amex Lounge (it's a long story). The delightful Josie O'Toole (drums) was understandably the spokesperson for TM - as she dropped the Estelle/Jess bombshell during our audio interview whilst Massive were represented by singer/guitarist Brad Marr - what a nice guy - who reaffirmed the accuracy of the band's reputation as riot-starting, fist swinging road dogs fuelled on adrenaline, lager and a determination to party hard. They were both great audio interviews so watch out for them shortly - but just to prove that perhaps we can drink as well as Massive - we headed back to The Slug for a refill.
One of the great things about the day was a definitive gathering of like minded people who all love their music. So a big hello to Tony (the one with the grey hair ha ha) and his mate who we were chatting to in The Slug plus a another fellow Porcupine Tree fan I was talking to at the bar. Anyway, it was now time for Massive on the Big Entrance Stage and we managed to get up close and personal at the side of the stage. Typical Aussies - these guys are on a perpetual world tour following the release of their critically acclaimed 'Destination Somewhere' album last year - with even Kerrang saying that they were following in the footsteps of Guns 'N Roses. With the return of former band members the Laguda brothers, namely lead guitarist Ben and Aaron on bass, the four piece was completed by Jarrod Edwin (drums) and Marr on vocals, Massive definitely cranked up the tempo as they weaved around the small stage wringing every possible sinew out of their performance with their full frontal Aussie Rock including fans favourite ' Blood Money Blues' (check out the video) and their new single 'Calm Before The Storm' from their forthcoming album. One of the highlights of the day - make sure you catch them at London's Proud on Friday 14th July.
You've guessed it - back to The Slug and some more banter with some great young guys who had travelled down from Preston by coach earlier. The long queue outside The Indigo for iconic New York Hard Rockers Blue Oyster Cult was clearly visible from where we were sitting, and our hearts sank when we heard that the venue was packed and that they were now only letting in people as people came out. Time to use our press passes which thankfully gave us access to upstairs at The Indigo, although we had to sit right down the front on the left hand side of the stairs which was a pretty surreal view overlooking the stage - although we were not complaining. We were fortunate to catch most of their full headline set which ultimately closed the afternoon festivities at this smaller but excellent venue. Throughout their four-decade career, Blue Oyster Cult have garnered huge critical acclaim and were returning to London after a triumphant sold-out show at London’s Forum last Summer. The band's current lineup is Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser (lead guitar, vocals), Eric Bloom (lead vocals, "stun guitar"), Jules Radino (drums, percussion), Richie Castellano (keyboard, rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and former bassist Danny Miranda. From our vantage point not only did the enthusiasm of the band bely their fifty years of existence, but also the packed audience - young and old - were as one enjoying a band that is music history. Fan favourites included ‘Burnin' For You' and ‘Godzilla’ - the latter including a Zep 'Heartbreaker' snippet. They closed their set by dedicating their iconic hit single ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ to Messrs. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (another one off of the bucket list) before they returned for their well deserved encore of 'TattooVampire' and 'Hot Rails To Hell' featuring Castellano on vocals. Awesome.
As we said in the Slug after BOC, if we had actually gone home there and then - we would have accepted that we had already had had our money's worth! No time unfortunately to visit the Speak Easy Lounge, the Beer Garden or the Classic Rock Vinyl Fair - it was now time for the O2 Arena main event of Sweet and Richie Blackmore's Rainbow. Legendary British Glam Rock giants Sweet, had thirteen Top 20 hits during the '70s. A bit like trigger's broom - Sweet guitarist Andy Scott is the only 'original' from their line up. Believe it or not, Andy and The Sweet did an American tour with Blackmore and Rainbow forty years ago. We all liked The Sweet in the '70's but no one would ever admit to it and you certainly wouldn't go along to one of their gigs. Despite us all getting older - nostalgia is a wonderful thing as Planet Rock introduced the band and then they proceeded to transport us back to that halcyon Top Of The Pops era with '(Piece Of The) Action', a cover of Hello's 'New York Groove' and then the clincher - the unmistakeable intro to 'Hell Raiser' - brilliant. 'The Six Teens', 'AC/DC' and 'Set Me Free' were followed by cries of "We Want Sweet" - yes it was time for a 'Teenage Rampage' - if only. We were now in classic gold territory now: a medley of 'Wig-Wam Bam' and 'Little Willy' before, poignantly, 'Love Is Like Oxygen', with its superb ELP 'Fanfare For The Common Man' twist, was dedicated to former singer Brian Connelly who unbelievably died twenty years ago. The home run of 'Fox On The Run', the sirens heralding 'Blockbuster' and finally the immortal line "Are You Ready Steve?" from the evergreen feel-good anthem ‘The Ballroom Blitz’, literally brought tears of joy to our eyes. On this evidence - I definitely want to see these guys again. Sweet!
Of all the people we met on the day, the geezer from Durham who was so pissed during the intermission that he needed our help getting his brand new Rainbow t-shirt over his head, will always be an abiding memory for me! Cue the main O2 Arena headliners Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow to end a memorable day with the Classic Rock anthems of Rainbow and Deep Purple! A bit like Scott, Blackmore was unsurprisingly the only member in this particular Rainbow project from their purple era, with Chilean singer Ronnie Romero, keyboardist Jens Johansson, bassist Bob Nouveau (formerly of Blackmore's Night) and drummer David Keith (also from Blackmore's Night). I must admit that I was never a huge Deep Purple fan and even less of a Rainbow fan. Not that I didn't like them, it was just that at that particular time I was listening to other music and I suppose I also resented the fact that Rainbow's biggest hit was actually a cover of one of my all time favourite songwriters song's - Russ Ballard of Argent fame. Despite all this, I was really looking forward to Blackmore's 'greatest hits' set and as it turned out, I was not to be disappointed. Backing tapes of 'Land Of Hope And Glory' and naturally 'Over The Rainbow' heralded the five piece's arrival as they opened with a Rainbow loosener 'Spotlight Kid' from their '81 album 'Difficult To Cure'. Deep Purple's 'Mistreated' was sandwiched in between - would you believe it - two Russ Ballard covers - namely 'I Surrender' and 'Since You Been Gone' - and generally I don't believe in miracles, but for the latter, when Romero invited my idol Ballard to join them on stage - well God well and truly gave Rock 'n Roll to me. You couldn't make it up part deux!
Rainbow's first ever single from their very first album 'Man On The Silver Mountain' included a snippet of 'Women From Tokyo' before the band launched into Deep Purple's classic 'Soldier Of Fortune' which included Blackmore's classy baroque/flamenco/acoustic intro. 'Down To Earth's 'All Night Long' was evidence, if you needed it, that Rainbow could go toe to toe with Deep Purple as far as Hard Rock was concerned, however, I'm afraid Blackmore's classical opening to the title track of 'Difficult To Cure' was the equivalent of a drum solo for mine - cue bog break. Upon my return, Johansson's amazing keyboards on Purple's 'Child In Time' also saw a stunning vocal from Romero. And talking of drums solo's, Keith's opener on 'Stargazer' I'm reliably informed was a first, but if you wanted a bit of audience participation, then Romero invited the Rainbow faithful to handclap along to a cover of The Yardbirds 'Still I'm Sad' which was rounded off by another DK drum solo. Rainbow's classic 'Long Live Rock 'n' Roll' sparkled as much as Nouveau's red shoes whilst Blackmore's lack of rapport with the crowd on the night was all forgotten as the guitar legend finished a great set with Rainbow's 'Catch The Rainbow' plus a Deep Purple Holy Trinity: Black Night, Burn (with its amazing backdrop) and Smoke On The Water - cue mandatory air guitars. What a way to end the day. Proof, if you needed it, that there was indeed a pot of gold at the end of this Rainbow. Anyway, despite the heat and difficulty of getting on a Jubilee Line train home (they were rammed full of Guns 'N Roses fans on their way back from their Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park gig) it could no way detract from what was a brilliantly organised day with so much on offer. Stone Free left no stone turned and was awesome. Bring on next year!