GIANTS OF ROCK
26-28 January 2018
Butlin’s, Minehead, England
Words: TK Smith
It’s exciting when a music festival actually lives up to its name. GIANTS OF ROCK, a three-day event, hosted by Butlin’s Holiday Resort in Minehead, England, did just that. Billed as an adult getaway, the festival drew from England’s rich Rock royalty to provide top class music acts in the comfort of premier accommodations. Leading the charge were headliners FM, Magnum, Hawkwind and Nazareth but also included legacy acts Curved Air, Chicken Shack, Slade and Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash among others. Two main stages and staggered time slots allowed attendees to pick and choose which bands to see throughout the day and evening. An added treat was the inclusion of a club stage for up and coming bands, the winner of which would be invited back the next year to play the main stage. It was the strength and diversity of the lineup that attracted us to the festival aside from the fact that many of the groups rarely, if ever, tour the States.
Regarding the resort and venue for our US readers: In England, Butlin’s is a series of large properties dedicated to family holiday camps or getaways. Founded by amusement park entrepreneur Billy Butlin, the first resort was built in 1936 and others continued after WWII expanding to Wales and Ireland. They usually included restaurants, gaming centers and close proximity to the beach. They became a household name in post war Britain with family entertainment and activities available for the equivalent of a week’s pay. The sea-side Minehead location was built in 1962, however the question became what to do with the property during the slower winter months. The logical answer came about when they opened for music festival weekends. Hence the birth of Giants of Rock in 2014.
The 2018 Weekend Lineup:
Friday: FM, Curved Air, Magnum, Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, The Brew, Those Damn Crows. Jaks (club stage) Ethyrfield, Scarlet Castles, Kikamora, JoanOvArc.
Saturday: Clearwater Creedence Revival, John Verity (ex-Argent), Marc O’Reilly, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Fran Cosmos (ex-Boston), The Hiding Magpies, Rews, Hawkwind, Uriah Heep, Bobby Kimball (ex-Toto), Stray. Jaks (club stage) Straightshooter, Departed, Hell’s Gazelles, Piston.
Sunday: Kilit, Roscoe Levee & Walrus, Chantel McGregor, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack, Larry Carlton, Limehouse Lizzy, Big Country, Deborah Bonham, Slade, Snakecharmer, Nazareth, Bon Performs AC/DC Powerage, Jaks (club stage) Black Whiskey, Mohawk Radio, Anonymous, Tear It Down.
FRIDAY’s hot ticket was the mighty FM. Formed in 1984, they are one of the few UK bands that began their career with what I would consider a set of perfect albums their debut Indiscreet (1986) and Tough It Out (1989. And that is what the majority of their set was filled with. As difficult as it was to pull off live, they sounded studio polished with every nuance worked out to perfection. Vocalist Steve Overland soared hitting some impossibly high notes. Energetic and fueled by the crowd, they opened the festival in splendid style. The challenge for the weekend was catching as many acts as possible while negotiating the staggered stage times. Often times I would watch half of one set then hustle off to watch the second half of another band’s set. This was the case with Curved Air, one of the first rock bands to incorporate the violin. Singer Sonja Kristina has led the London-based five-piece since its inception in 1970. Their show was elegantly laced with elements of folk, classical, prog and rock and featured standout songs ‘It Happened Today’, ‘Propositions’ and ‘Metamorphosis’. Kristina was hypnotic to watch dancing under the spotlight while guitarist Kirby Gregory gave spiritual meaning to each electric note.
Magnum, a true rock icon, merited full attention. With 20 albums to their name, the core group of vocalist Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin have fine-tuned their unique English rock sound with masterful craft. As they launched into “When We Were Younger” we noticed Clarkin frustrated with his guitar sound still the band cooked along. “Sacred Blood ‘Divine’ Lies” kept the heat on but midway through “Peaches and Cream” the group had to leave the stage to sort out a faulty cord. After an extended break they stormed the stage with “Crazy Old Mothers”, “Les Morts Dansant” and new pieces “Lost on the Road to Eternity” and “Show Me Your Hands” from their latest release. Old favorites “All England’s Eyes” and “Vigilante” ended the short but inspiring set. Having met original Wishbone Ash vocalist Martin Turner briefly before his show, we were keen to hear the band’s many classics brought to life. Turner was in fine form as he took us down memory lane with “Runaway”, “Front Page News” and “The Pilgrim”. The twin guitar element injected renewed passion in “Time Was”, “Warrior” and “Blowin’ Free” for a stellar end. The Brew closed the night with pub swagger and memorable licks causing a stampede at the merch booth.
SATURDAY had its many high points and couple lows. The surprise of the day was Clearwater Creedence Revived, a tribute band led by powerhouse singer Peter Barton. At half past noon, the joint was packed to the rafters as the band played a range of material from the CCR catalog including many of their big hits. Argent’s John Verity opened the main stage playing an hours’ worth of tasteful rock blues. Cover tunes ‘Cocaine’, ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and ‘Purple Haze’ mixed with a few originals including ‘This Dog Ain’t Done Yet’ made for a well-rounded showing that ended with the classic Argent hit ‘Hold Your Head Up’. It was wonderful to hear his voice still strong and his playing adventurous. British mainstay Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Fran Cosmo’s Boston were unfortunately overlapping time slots. Cosmo’s band was struggling with technical issues, so Manfred Mann got most of our attention. Their singer, ex-Bad Company’s (1995-99) Robert Hart was a man about town all grown up from his reckless youth and looking quite dapper in a blue suit. The group were in fighting shape as Hart’s pipes held the audience captive from ‘Captain Bobby Stout’ to the Springsteen cover ‘Blinded by the Light’. A fitting homage to their 77-year old band leader who strutted center stage with his keytar. Cosmo did finally get his band on track and the seven-piece blazed away with ‘Rock n Roll Band’, ‘Cool the Engines’ and the timeless ‘Foreplay/Long Time’.
While the main stages prepped for the evening performances, Jaks, the club stage, opened for some fresh-faced talent working for their shot at next year’s event. A plastic coin voting system was in place to choose among the four bands scheduled each day. The Departed took our vote as a well-seasoned, professional outfit capable of handling the main stage. Guitarist Ben Brookland has already seen successful as a member of The Treatment. Hawkwind led the evening performances. A long-time favorite, nothing could remove us from front and center. The full experience was on display with cosmic lighting and laden feedback, Guitarist Dave Brock piled up stoner riffs with spaced out psychedelic reverb. The set dripped with old school standards ‘Born to Go’, ‘Brainbox Pollution’ and ‘Damnation Alley’ while ‘Have You Seen Them’ shined from new LP Into the Woods. Uriah Heep happily boasted starting a proper world tour in the UK. The hall was wall-to-wall with a line out the door when “Gypsy’, ‘Look at Yourself’, Lady in Black’ and ‘Easy Livin’ filled the moon-lit night sky. Sadly, Bobby Kimball of Toto was a bit of a mess, but Del Bromham’s Stray was the perfect nightcap with hook-laden hard rock and natural charm.
SUNDAY began with a traditional English breakfast. Butlin’s has a wonderful meal plan as part of the weekend package. First band of the day for us was Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack. Part comedy part tough blues made this a highly enjoyable set. ‘Tell Me’, ‘Daughter of the Hillside’ and ‘Reconsider Baby’ were dusted off and showcased but it was the ferocious unleashing of ‘Poor Boy’ that set the place on fire. What seemed like an odd addition to the festival, fusion jazz guitarist Larry Carlton was a surprise wonder. Standards ‘West Coast’ and ‘Friday Night Shuffle’ were mixed with Dobbie Brother’s cover ‘Minute by Minute’ and Steely Dan’s ‘Josie’ representing his session days with both bands. Limehouse Lizzy was the most talked about tribute band of the weekend. Presenting a raucous march through Thin Lizzy’s greatest hits had the walls literally dripping with sweat. Easily the closest you’re ever going to get to a Live and Dangerous set bassist Wayne Ellis and guitarist Greg Alcock not only pay homage but live and breathe the emerald isle’s greatest rock export.
Though ‘80s Scottish band Big Country was playing on the larger stage, we opted to check out Deborah Bonham jamming next door. The younger sister to legendary Zeppelin drummer John Bonham has been essential part of the English rock circuit since recording her first demos at Robert Plant’s home studio in 1979. Today she bears a close resemblance to Janis Joplin with a bit of Stevie Nicks tossed in for good measure. Emotional versions of ‘No Angel’ and ‘Devil’s in New Orleans’ brought the house down. Slade is always entertaining as every member of the band is a character unto themselves, Guitarist Dave Hill pranced and danced his way through ‘Gudbuy t’Jane’, ‘Take Me Bak ‘Ome’ and the group’s first charting single ‘Coz I Love You’ (1971). A national treasure, the group can still sweep the stage and stoke the flame. A super group of sorts Snakecharmer, original formed by members of Whitesnake have penned a few of their own originals. Ex-Heartland vocalist Chris Ousey led the group through a retro set of ‘70s blues-based hard rock from their latest disc Second Skin. An aging Nazareth had more than enough left in the tank to celebrate their 50-year career. ‘Beggars Day’, ‘Miss Misery’ and ‘Love Hurts’ all came rumbling from the speakers, but it was ‘Hair of the Dog’ that had us singing “Now your messing with a son a bitch” all night long.
*A very special thanks to Andrew French and Jill Thomas for their kindness and generous hospitality.
Website: Giants of Rock