Rock & Metal Circus Festival

Stoke Prior Club Bromsgrove 21st September 2013.

If last night was the warm up party, then today was going to be blisteringly hot! Things got off to a promising start, with DeVIence opening proceedings. Yesterday’s teething problems persisted, with a guitar amp issue threatening to mar an otherwise strong performance, but quiff-topped singer Giovanni Spano held it together with a confident display backed up by a very strong voice. Surprise of the set, was the inclusion of a superb version of Toto’s ‘Hold The Line’.

Keeping the classic rock theme going were 3-piece, Toadstool. Bassist/vocalist, Alex Macaskill hiding behind his aviator shades, and guitarist Nick Ingram sporting a floral print shirt and knitted hair, their influences carry on beyond the music. It’s easy for a 3 piece to look lost on a bigger stage, but Ingram embraced the larger space, using every inch of the stage to twist, swoop and dive, always maintaining a far-away, dreaming look of a man lost in his music. A solid performance and a band I would really like to see again.

Anyone who had settled into the classic groove that had prevailed so far, was about to get a wake-up call in the form of a blood-curdling, Halford-esque wail! HeadrusH had just taken to the stage and they weren’t planning on taking any prisoners either as any vestige of shabbiness from the previous night’s revelries were blown clean out of the venue. HeadrusH aren’t a one-trick pony, though – Andy Law’s immense vocal talents were backed up by the equally talented, and animated Sideshow Bob impersonator, Dan Ogden (guitar) and human whirlwind, Josh Williams (bass), all held together by Tom Bevan’s tub-thumping. ‘Just Bring It On’ really stood out for me as a case of a good recorded track becoming an awesome live track!

In what became kind of a repeating theme of juxtaposition at the Rock and Metal Circus this year, HeadrusH’s wails and chugs gave way to the warmer vocal tones and guitar groove of Welsh rockers, Hangfire. Front man, Max Rhead has the look of Paul Rogers, but his sound is pure Coverdale! For the first time today, we saw some good old fashioned fun being had on stage, with banter passing between Rhead, guitarist Lee ‘Lizzie’ Evans and the crowd. The good feeling was enhanced by a collection of strong songs, all held together with the rhythmic superglue of Matt Blakout and Bobby Goo. ‘Faith In Me’, ‘Rising Sun’ and new song, ‘Hell This Time’, with their catchy hooks, bluesy riffs and soulful solos, all went down to well-deserved, emphatic applause, cheers and whistles.

The blues-influenced vibe continued with Pig Iron, a band who, I think, work well as album artists (or indeed as a full length live set), where the listener has time to soak in the groove. Today certainly wasn’t the day for that, as due to over-running timing issues, the set was unfortunately cut short. There are fair points of view from both sides but either way, a real pity.

If there’s one band who look like they know a thing or two about having a good time, it’s Knock Out Kaine! Pure Rock ‘n’ Roll of the dirty, sleazy variety! It may not be trendy, but by God it’s good! The KOK boys have been around for a while (in various incarnations), honing their skills, and it shows. Dean Foxx is almost a cliché of a rock frontman. Jet-black hair, aviators, leather strides… Every box ticked… but it’s backed it up by superb showmanship, and an equally powerful vocal performance. Almost inevitably, he broke out the acoustic guitar. It must be paint-by-numbers ballad time! But no – well, not quite yet anyway. An excellent version of Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’ was a real treat… as too, was the alluded to ballad, ‘I’m Coming Home’. You could liken it to any number of such songs that have come before it, but you know what? I couldn’t give a toss. I loved it! The tempo came back up for ‘Little Crystal’, complete with simulated drug injecting mime during the solo (in case the lyrics were a bit subtle for you).  A couple more tracks off the future classic album ‘House Of Sins’, and Dean, Danny, Jimmy and Lee were leaving the stage, the crowd well and truly rocked!

After a set of headlining calibre, I stood, almost concerned for who was to follow. but no need as Slam Cartel erupted onto the stage with just as much energy and self-assuredness, but a different sensibility. Giles Van Lane, very much the centre piece, topless, either draped over his mic, or contorting and twisting like a victim of some sort of possession! Conversely, to the left was Terence Warville, with his low slung, left-handed Les Paul, face partially obscured from the light by the brim of his hat, not moving quite so much, but making every movement count. All the classic rock god poses were wheeled out during the set! At the back, Steve Campkin had his head down, and was knocking seven shades out of his toms. Elsewhere, to the right, Marc Neudeck and Tom Hendriksen were solid in the semi-gloom and smoke.

One can hear nods to their influences throughout the set, from Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains to Nirvana and even Pink Floyd! The influences are there, but never blatantly ripped off… Except for when I heard a particular riff ring out. Cue an amazing, and much welcomed cover of The Cult’s ‘Wild Flower’. The set was (again for timing reasons) cut slightly short, and they were given a ‘last song’ warning. They didn’t mess about. They went straight into what was planned as the set closer… And what a closer! ‘Sundown’ is one of those songs with an opening which pleases, if you know it, or intrigues, if you don’t. The song builds slowly to a rousing crescendo of a chorus. Cue much singing from the fans, and jumping from the converts! Slam Cartel were new to me. Now the album, ‘Handful Of Dreams’ is on loop in the car! See them! Or at least hear them.

I don’t know who had the initial idea, but the Rock and Metal Circus organisers played the genius stroke of separating the ‘rock’ from the ‘metal’. This meant that, in effect, we were treated to two headliners. The honour of headlining the ‘rock’ aspect of Saturday’s running order was bestowed upon Jett Black. The first thing I noticed, as they took to the stage with ‘Slip It On’, was the sudden influx of attractive young ladies that seemed to fill the arena from out of nowhere! Had they been there all day and I just hadn’t noticed? Unlikely! Had they turned out specifically for these semi-naked young thrusters? Quite possibly! Whether they’re going to like the comparison, or not, Jett Black fall into the same category as Heaven’s Basement. Ballsy, well-crafted rock, heavily influenced by the days when rock and hair metal dominated the airwaves which was performed by good looking young men and based on the performance I saw tonight, Jett Black have a prosperous future ahead!

The catchy hooks and riffs came thick and fast through ‘Less Torque, More Thrust’, ‘Inbetween Lovers’ and ‘Black Gold’. Even John Dow’s amp failure (which was promptly replaced by the tireless stage crew) couldn’t taint a superb set, with Will Stapleton, Tom Wright and Matt Oliver carrying off their cover of Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ without missing a beat. ‘Motherfucker’ and ‘Prison Of Love’ followed, with all five playing as if they were entertaining Wembley stadium. Every joule of energy they expended was returned ten-fold by the singing, dancing, headbanging, horn-waving crowd. Let’s be honest, that’s all you want from a rock show, isn’t it? By the time ‘Get Your Hands Dirty’ rang out, complete with sing-a-long breakdown, everyone in the place was on the vinegar stroke! Hot, sweaty, spent, but smiling and satisfied.

Words and Photography by Rob Nankivell (Shoot Plymouth)