In some ways, Victoria Park isn’t the best site for a 2 day festival, mainly because there isn’t any provision for camping, leaving weekend punters with the option of London hotel prices or a daily commute (not very handy if you are coming from Scotland). We are bombarded with rumours before we get in, with the favourite being that you weren’t allowed to take in, well, anything at all. No food, no drink, no chairs… you get the idea. In reality there aren’t any problems, or at least not for those on a press pass anyway.
The first thing that greets us is the fact that a programme costs £10, although I will admit it’s a pretty beefy tome, made up no doubt by Classic Rock, magazine one of the Festival’s main sponsors. A nice souvenir, but ultimately giving you nothing you don’t already know. The real bone of contention is the fact that if you want to know what time bands are actually playing you have to buy a laminate for a fiver, which sucks major ass, if you ask me. Being a sensible lad, I have already printed the times off of the website, and so keep hold of my hard earned.
The gates have opened not long before the official start, and there’s plenty of people to watch the only band on, which is Touchstone over at the Prog stage. Having looked at the running order I figure that my time is going to be spent between the main stage and this one, and so sit down in the shade to enjoy a bit of prog, happy to see that Touchstone appear to take their status as opening band well in their stride. The songs are understandably proggy, but those not obsessed by the style still have some catchy numbers to amuse themselves, as well as a nice bit of eye candy in vocalist Kim Sevious, decked out in a cool flowing gown for the performance.
After they wind things up, we decide to have a wander round the site, and it’s all rather impressive. There’s shedloads of food stalls, not too scarily priced and offering a very good selection of wares. There’s a cinema, courtesy of Eagle Vision, which looks absolutely awesome from the outside, and inside features some great rock photography and a tribute to Ronnie Dio (along with a book of condolence). I’m happy, as I manage to get a live Dio DVD for four quid. There are a few fairground rides about, although no one seems that interested in them, as well as a genuine Wall Of Death show, which we consider but reject on the grounds that we are miserable bastards. There are plenty of bars for those who want refreshment, and mobile beer and cider sellers prowl the crowds as well. Perhaps the most interesting stall (for me, anyway) is one dedicated to the rockers artist of choice Rodney Matthews. Known primarily for some amazing Magnum album covers, Matthews work is represented by posters, mugs, calendars, badges and more, and I manage to spend way too much. The man himself is in attendance, and it’s nice to get my copy of “Alice In Wonderland” signed.
ext band up are the openers on the main stage, The Union. Consisting of Thunder guitarist/songwriter Luke Morley and Winterville’s Peter Shoulder on vocals. Unsurprisingly, it’s all a bit bluesy, but there’s enough hard rocking to keep Thunder fans interested if not thrilled. Songs like “Step Up” and “Easy Street” show that The Union can deliver the goods, although the giant screens at the sides of the stage give some alarming close ups of Luke Morley’s guitar gurning that makes us glad we hadn’t had a heavy lunch. They pick a perfect cover in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” and slow things down with the quite dull “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, but it’s the harder original material that really grabs hold. The jury is out, but a favourable verdict seems likely for The Union.
There’s a bit of time to scoot back to the Prog stage, and it throws up some madness in the shape of veteran loonies Focus, who are playing some totally bonkers stuff that is nonetheless a joy to listen to. The only slight drawback is that in the quieter moments we can hear Orange Goblin from the Metal stage, something that will hopefully be fixed next time, as it’s like trying to listen to Neil Diamond when your neighbour insists on playing Motorhead at brain melting volume. Focus play The One From That TV Show (you know, the theme from “Saxondale”…) and also The One From That Advert (okay, so I don’t know many Focus songs), and close with a rabble rousing rendition of “Hocus Pocus”, one of the best and maddest instrumentals ever. Odd, slightly scary and Dutch they may be, but Focus are still a live band to be reckoned with.
On the way back to the main stage we stop at the Concert Live (www.concertlive.co.uk) stall, as I have long been intrigued by what they do. They actually offer live CD’s of the concert you have just seen recorded through the mixing desk, produced 5 or 10 minutes after the final song, so you can take it home there and then. This seems pretty incredible, as long as it works, and we order CD’s of tomorrow’s Asia and ELP sets to test out the company’s claims.
Back at base camp, The Answer throw out a very impressive set of heavy blues rock, before making way for the king of the blues, Gary Moore, who I last saw rocking back in the 80’s, before he turned into a bluesman and bored the arse off me. We have been promised a return to his rocking days for this performance, and it’s great to hear him open with “Over The Hills”, showing that all that blues playing has not harmed his rock performance one bit. His vocals are still pretty good, although there are a few microphone problems, although keyboard player Neil Carter helped out a fair bit (especially in taking lead vocal duties on “Thunder Rising”).
It’s fair to say that Moore is looking old and a bit out of shape these days, but bear in mind he is 58, and if a man can’t eat a few extra pies at his age there’s something wrong with the world. Needless to say, his guitar playing hasn’t suffered, as the likes of “Out In The Fields”, “Empty Rooms” and “Walking By Myself” testify. Interestingly, we also get a couple of brand new rock tracks, a typical Celtic rocker called “Days Of Heroes”, and a pretty good ballad, “Where Are You Now”. From this evidence, it looks like the next album will be the first I have wanted to buy in a long time. I’ll admit that Moore has sounded and looked better in the past, but even so this performance was a corker, and I hope he carries on with the rock stuff for a few more years yet.
Whilst I enjoy the retro rock, my companions went off to see Asia, who played just about the whole of their debut album plus a couple more tracks. Apparently it was brilliant, and I’m glad I ordered a recording from Concert Live…
The big question now is will Foreigner push their new album or go for a more sensible “Greatest Hits” set. Well, as Kelly Hansen bounces onstage in impossibly tight white strides it’s made pretty clear that if you’ve ever heard a Foreigner single there’s a good chance you’ll hear it today. “Doouble Vision”, “Head Games” and “Cold As Ice” fly past, with Jones proving to be the best front man of the day, a ball of energy with a fantastic voice and great stage presence. He get’s the chance to sing a single non classic song, but when it’s the amazing “Can’t Slow Down” (a track that is as good as anything they’ve ever done before) there is absolutely no problem. With that, it’s back to the back catalogue, although he’s given a break when Mick Jones takes centre stage and mic stand for “Star Rider”, a beautiful track from their first album. There’s also an amazing ten minute version of “Juke Box Hero” to enjoy, although it does all end with a bit of a damp squib as they trot out a cutesy mini choir for the vomit-tastic “I Want To Know What Love Is”. This syrupy shite aside, Foreigner absolutely slay the crowd, and I don’t doubt there’s a fair few people surprised at how guitar orientated they really are.
And so to what many consider the main event, a tribute by Heaven & Hell to their late, great singer Ronnie James Dio. Today Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice and Tony Iommi are joined by the stellar Dio soundalike Jorn and ex-everybody vocalist Glenn Hughes. They get off to a perfect start with “Mob Rules”, and Jorn makes a great impression with his, erm, great impression of RJD. As shown on his Dio tribute album, Jorn is possibly the next best thing to the man himself, and those in the crowd to whom he was an unknown quantity can be seen nodding in admiration. The two vocalists basically alternate from song to song, and it has to be said that Jorn kicks Hughes’ ass at every turn, his metal god image living up to the music whilst Hughes looks more like a bad Elton John tribute. Vocally, Hughes has a great set of pipes, doing a good job with the likes of “Country Girl” and “Edge Of The World”, but he just can’t compare with Jorn singing “I” or “Turn Up The Night”. After Jorn nails “Die Young”, Ronnie’s widow Wendy Dio comes out to give an emotional tribute to her husband and to give thanks to all his fans, followed by both vocalists belting out “Heaven & Hell”, and so they should. The set is rounded off with an encore of “Neon Nights”, where Jorn and Hughes are joined inexplicably by Phil Anselmo, and it really is a perfect end toa great gig. I’m so glad they decided to do this, and join in the mass devil horn salute that seems to go on as far as the (evil) eye can see.
Having been bored by ZZ Top before, and also having to negotiate London’s public transport for some distance, we decide to call it a day, pick up our Asia CD and bugger off. I don’t really fancy their chances of following H&H, but I’m sure they’ll do what they do as well as what they do can be done. Or something. Mind you, it’s been a very satisfying experience, with High Voltage coming across as well organized as we could have hoped. Sleepy time…
Day two, we decide, is going to be more relaxed than day one. I vow not to run about half as much, and am determined to relax a bit more, enjoying the bands and the sunny weather that caused no small amount of skin burning yesterday. Instead or rushing to see everybody, it’s more of a leasurely slouch down to Victoria Park, with provisions based firmly on yesterday’s experiences. It’s pretty much main stage all the way for me, starting with The Quireboys, who run through an unexciting but competent set which consists of plenty of their classic tunes. Vocalist Spike seems a little worse for wear, either through a hangover or a liquid breakfast (allegedly), but it doesn’t effect his croaky delivery (probably helps, come to think of it). “Seven O Clock”, “There She Goes Again” and the ever singalongable (it should be a word) “Hey You” reward a happy crowd for their attendance, and although it’s nothing terribly new it’s old stuff that we all have great affection for, so The Quireboys get a big thumbs up.
My only visit to the Prog stage today involves the band I have probably seen more than any other, the seemingly immortal Magnum. A polar opposite to Foreigner yesterday, Magnum trot out a few tracks from last year’s “Into The Valley Of The Moonking” album straight off the bat, and I can almost see the reviewers shaking their heads at this audacity. I’ll freely admit that festival is not the time for new material, but the crowd certainly don’t seem to mind, and I’m perfectly happy with their track choices, especially the jaunty “All My Bridges”. Old fans are kept happier with “All England’s Eyes”, “Les Morts Dansant” and the inescapable “Kingdom Of Madness”, although I’m disappointed that Bob Catley’s favourite (or so he told me years ago) “Vigilante” doesn’t get an airing. The set is too short for a band with such a rich and varied catalogue of songs, but whether they made an error in their song choices or not, it’s always a pleasure to see Magnum. Interestingly, I have a chat with Rodney Mathews afterwards, and he tell me he’s just received details of what he has to work on for the new album cover, so that’s something else to look forward to, Magnum fans.
Back at the Main Stage, we catch the end of Bachman & Turner finishing rather unsurprisingly with “You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet”, and have a sit down to soak up some rays and await the arrival of Joe Bonamassa. I’ll freely admit that I don’t know any of his songs, mainly because I’m not that much of a blues fan, but so many people have priased him to the skies I’m definitely interested to see what all the fuss is about. Well, it seems that all the fuss is about a really talented blues guitarist, but I suppose I should really have expected that. Bonamassa creeps on stage to little fanfare, then sets about his fretboard like a man possessed, rolling off riffs, licks and solos almost as good as Gary Moore’s yesterday. I’m not overly enthused, mainly because this really is blues for bluesmen, but I can certainly appreciate his talent, especially when he closes with a masterful version of Led Zep’s “Dazed & Confused”.
Now I wasn’t all that enthused about Joe Elliot’s new side project “Down & Outz” until I listened to a free CD from Classic Rock magazine, whereby I immediately decided they were going to be a must see for me. Basically, it’s Joe Elliot and several members of the Quireboys doing Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople songs. Seems easy enough, and works well on record, but just to fuck off quite a few people in the crowd (you should have heard the disgruntled mumbling) they kick off with “Love Lies Bleeding”, one of Elton John’s more rambling, extravagant and brilliant songs from the 70s. Joe Elliot tickles the ivories (even though he has a keyboard player), and plenty of people look very bemused during the 5 minute or so opening instrumental. I like it though, so ‘nyah’ to them. So far, so good, as the band plough through several noted songs, with the highlight being their brilliant crack at “England Rocks”. All the while, however, people are shuffling their feet and waiting for Ian Hunter to arrive, as every body knows he is going to. Eventually he comes on to great (and deserved) applause, and performs “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and “Who Doi You Love” with the energy and talent of a man half his age. Then, to the bemusement of all concerned, the PA announces that the band have finished and the instruments and vocals are turned off. It’s bloody obvious that Joe Elliot is fuming at this, as they have planned three more songs, including the classics “All the Way From Memphis” and “All the Young Dudes”. The thing is, High Voltage set times have been rigorously stuck to all weekend, and the fact is Down & Outz have had their allotted 80 minutes. There are, apparently, no small amounts of fisticuffs as Elliot gets pissy over this, but ultimately he should have planned the whole thing better. Silly sod…
And so it all comes to this: a trio of rather unfashionable blokes playing arty music to headline a massive new festival. Could be tricky, to say the least. I like a bit of ELP now again (mostly when the wife is playing it too loudly), and can appreciate their overblown, creative genius, but as far as I am concerned they’re just a bonus. This attitude doesn’t last long, as ELP are really rather bloody good. The big screens help a lot, as you can see just how much work each band member puts into making the beautiful cacophony that they call music.
There’s precious few chances to singalong, but plenty to admire and enjoy as they drag out some genuine rock dinosaurs that would have Rick Wakeman peeing in his pants with joy. It’s been 12 years since they last played together, but they gel beautifully. Carl Palmer emerges as a pretty stunning drummer, whilst Keith Emerson does things with a keyboard you wouldn’t believe (including, erm, stabbing it to death at the end). Greg Lake’s vocals are rather pedestrian, but he still works his ass off guitarwise, and from start (“Karn Evil 9”) to finish (what else - “Fanfare For The Common man”) they show that dinosaur rock is far from extinct. One off 40 th anniversary show? Let’s hope not.
As they start “Fanfare…” I sneak away to queue for my live CD, as I have a feeling there will be a rather massive wait otherwise. It turns out to be a good move, and by the time the discs are ready (about 15 minutes after the set finishes) there’s a heaving mess of people. A shouty (and boy did he have to shout) steward gets things in order, and the discs are mine at last after a relatively short wait. It’s a triumphant end to a really fun weekend, one that can only get better, especially if next year’s Whitesnake rumour is true. High Voltage? Rock and Roll…
Afterward - Concert Live CD’s
Okay, as I said I have been curious about these things for a while, so this was my opportunity to try them out as a gigging punter. We picked up CD’s of Asia and ELP, and I have to say that on the whole I am very impressed. There’s a few times when the energy onstage doesn’t quite transfer over to the CD, and because of their nature there’s no fancy cover or inlays, but as a memento of a gig there’s really nothing better. Faced with the choice of a programme for a tenner or a CD for fifteen quid it’s gotta be the CD every time. I am pretty sure these are going to be worn out with overuse, especially the ELP discs, which at times really capture the brilliance of the performance. As a whole, I’d give them a good 7 out of 10, and it’s worth checking out the website to see if they have any from your own favourite band or concert (such as “War Of The Worlds”). See you at the back (I’m too old for the front).
Review by Alan Holloway
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