So, another year, another Z Rock (pronounced “Zed” not “Zee” for those who give any sort of a toss), but for me it’s the first time at this particular shindig, so I’m looking forward to, if nothing else, a new experience (and plenty of beer). One thing that I did know about Z Rock us that it is shrouded in controversy, lies, truths, insinuations and every other thing that causes people to hurl their opinions onto the internet. Although I know a few things, and don’t know many more, I’m gonna keep my nose out of that particular trough, because the only reason I’m here is for the music. Oh, and the beer, if I hadn’t already mentioned that.
So, Friday early evening and it’s time to leave the hotel and check out JB’s, a name I have seen on many a gig list but never visited before. The first thing I notice is three girls waiting outside, along with about ten others. I notice them primarily because they were the only ones queuing about an hour ago when I passed by. By the looks of them they must be Wig Wam fans, but I reckon they must feel a bit silly, realising that they could have come at any time and beat the nonexistent rush, instead of sweltering outside for over an hour. Anyway, Wig Wam aren’t on for ages yet, and there’s plenty of other bands to hopefully enjoy beforehand.
When we’re let in, I get my first look at JB’s, and I like it. It’s pretty big, with a decent sized raised stage, and the flooring is on two tiers so those further back can get a good view. Legend has it that it gets pretty hot, which is a pain, but to offset that the booze prices are excellent, so cooling down will at least be much cheaper than in any London venue. Looking round, I’m a bit surprised that there’s really not very many people in, but hopefully it will fill up later.
First band of the whole shebang are local trio Angel House. My mind is odd at the best of times, so it’s no real surprise that I keep thinking of them as Angel Mouse, after the kids cartoon. Must be the heat. Despite my delusions and the lack of people (there’s probably about 50 watching), Angel House prove to be worthy openers, delivering traditional hard rock/metal tunes such as “Hit the Target” and “World On Fire”, and getting a good round of applause as a result. They may be a bit of a mouse in world rock terms, but I have a feeling that these guys could be a mouse that roars. Hear that roar at www.myspace.com/angelhouserock.
Even as I enjoy the music (and the beer), I can’t help but be drawn once again to our three mystery ladies, who have camped themselves at the front and in the middle, as if there’s an invisible crowd keeping them in place. They are each armed with a bottle of water and look determined to stay there for the rest of the night. At the moment they are the only people actually on the lower floor, and I’m not the only one to point and giggle a bit, and some of us make bets on which one will break ranks first for a piss break. I reckon the blonde, but only because she’s got the tightest trousers.
Anyway, back to the music, and the next band to try their luck is Redline, a UK band who have shown a lot of promise with their self released debut album a couple of years ago. They follow on pretty well from Angel House, with a sound that’s not a million miles away, although the certainly benefit from having an extra guitarist over the openers. They have a very good front man in Kez Taylor, a lively bloke with a powerful voice, and seem very together as a band in general. The music is upbeat and melodic, yet hard and heavy when it needs to be, with their official Isle Of man TT anthem “King of The Mountain” standing out especially. A small step up from Angel House, Redline are certainly worth investigating, at www.redlinerock.com.
Third on the bill whichever way you hold it are veteran UK rockers Stampede. I’ll admit to some trepidation here, as these guys haven’t been around for twenty six years, and even then didn’t exactly set the world alight, so why come back now? It’s all a bit Strange Fruit to be honest, but despite this they’re the first band that gets a few onlookers to brave the lower area before they get on, so there must be something special about them. As it turns out, Stampede may well be one of the unsung heroes of the early 80s, as although they play pretty basic Brit rock from the time, they definitely have the spark that can turn an average band into something more special. Their music is very UFO (they even do a UFO cover) with nods to the likes of Bad Company, with a smattering of Whitesnake. In fact, vocalist Reuben Archer seems to have gone to the David Coverdale school of microphone posing (it’s a still of the night school, natch) and must have passed his exams with flying colours, such is his prowess. I wasn’t expecting much from Stampede, but I enjoy every single track, as do the rest of the growing crowd, which now includes a few Wig Wam fans with absolutely no shame and too much of a fondness for spandex. Definitely the best band so far, check them out at www.myspace.com/stampedeofficial if you feel like a bit of retro rockin!
For those still following the story, our three mystery ladies are still glued to the spot, so I decide to find out a bit more. Turns out they’re from Liverpool and are massive Wig Wam fans. I ask why they haven’t been so much as tapping a foot to any of the band so far and am informed that they are conserving their energy for the headliners. Sounds like these ladies explode at the sight of a catsuit, and I resolve to stand well back and enjoy the madness.
Before that, however, Metal stalwart Steve Grimmett and his band make their way onstage and proceed to give us the biggest guitars of the day, probably the weekend. Grimmett himself is draped in a leather trench coat that looks undeniably cool but must be stupidly hot in the sweltering club. Just looking him makes me thirsty, so I get another beer. As I sup, I listen, and it’s immediately obvious that he has lost none of the power he demonstrated way back in his days with Onslaught. Fans are happy with the setlist, which contains solo stuff as well as tracks from Grim Reaper and Lionheart, but non aficionados of his output seem to be a little put off by the heaviness at what is, after all, a melodic rock festival. It’s a professional, entertaining set, showcasing just why Grimmett has had such longevity in the business, but I can’t help feel that a lighter band would have suited the slot better.
And so the moment finally arrives, as at least seventy per cent of the crowd make their way nearer to the stage and the three Scouse girls may or may not wet themselves with excitement. As usual, Wig Wam almost explode onto the stage, challenging anyone not to have a good time. Singer Glam is dressed in a horrendous red catsuit, topped off with what looks like my nan’s dressing gown, with the rest of the band almost normal in comparison. It all adds to the fun, though, as they deliver an absolutely brilliant set that is only marred by some dodgy sound. Most people in attendance seem to know all the words, and joyously sing along to fan favourites like “Bless The Night”, “Crazy Things” and the Eurovision entry “In My Dreams”. In fairness, I’m there with them, making myself hoarse and having a whale of a time in the process. I can’t think of a more perfect closer to the day, and it’s no surprise that the band are scheduled to headline what is likely to be just a one day event next year. Even a dodgy version of “Wild Thing” as their final encore can’t dampen the spirits, and everyone leaves having had a fun time with one of the best live acts out there at the moment. It’s about time they did a proper UK tour and shared the madness, so here’s hoping.
So that’s day one over and done with, and it’s been lots of fun, if I’m honest. The turnout couldn’t have been want was hoped for, but the bands all played their arses off and did a good job. It’s nice to go to one of these things and not feel ripped off by the venue at the end of the day. JB’s started serving burgers and chips at some point, and even though they had a pretty much captive audience only charged normal prices, which warmed them to me immensely. There’s no getting pissed with Wig Wam back at the hotel as they have to get a plane back home, but there’s enough time to thank them for coming, and sometimes that’s all a band needs. Well, that and groupies…
Bugger all sleep and too much fried food for breakfast later, I’m back at JB’s about an hour too early and pass the time by chatting with Austrian openers Cornerstone. This isn’t exactly a hardship, as they’re great people. If anything, it predisposes me towards enjoying their set. As the come on, it’s apparent that the early bands are once again going to have to play to a crowd that wouldn’t fill the small room downstairs, let alone the main club. In fairness to the band, the overcome a few sound niggles (such as losing the lead guitar for most of a song) to deliver a good set of hard rock tinged with hints of Indie and Pop. Singer Carina has only been with the band five months and I hope they keep hold of her, because not only is she cute as hell she’s got a brilliant voice that could take them to the next level given the right material. There’s a spirited cover of Blondie’s “Dreamin” that gives off a few nice sparks, and overall Cornerstone can be proud of their effort. My only real criticism is that Carina has little or no stage presence between songs, although she is fine when she’s singing. If she and the band are to reach their full potential this really has to be worked on - maybe a trip to see Doro and learn from the master (or Mistress). To hear some of their stuff, go to www.myspace.com/cornerstoneaustria
Anyway, I’m pretty happy once more with the fact that the opening band showed promise, and it’s good to see Hungarian melodic crew H.A.R.D setting up keyboards. Up to now no one else has had them, which is pretty odd for a melodic rock festival! It’s a funny name, H.A.R.D, and apparently it may or may not stand for Hungarians Are Rockin’ Dudes, although yesterday photographer Sonia Waterfield made a bit of a tit of herself when she asked the promoter if “The Hard guys have arrived yet”, to which Michael Shotton of Von Groove (who was nearby) replied “A hard guy is good to find”. Well, I found it funny, you can all please yourselves.
Back to H.A.R.D, and it’s quite clear from the start that these guys play what you could call pretty generic melodic rock. Mind you, although they start off slow, as the set progresses and they hit their stride the audience really starts to come on side, and by the end there’s no doubt that they’ve won a few more fans. I certainly enjoyed them and will be keeping an ear out, as like Cornerstone I’m sure the best is yet to come. Mind you, their current stuff is still pretty good, so check it out at www.myspace.com/hardhungary
Lec Zorn isn’t here for whatever reason, and it’s down to Newman to raise the roof for the first time today. Steve Newman is one of the UK’s better melodic rock exports, and I’m pretty excited to be seeing him for the first time. Apparently he doesn’t go out that much with a full band, and there’s enough interest to ensure that he’s the winner of the “get the punters to the stage area” award for the day. Those that stagger bleary eyed to the front are glad they did so (me included), as hangovers are forgotten when Newman put their collective foot down. As a front man, Steve does everything right, coaxing a reaction out of the crowd and encouraging as many singalongs as he thinks he can get away with. The music is just right, with enough guitar to keep the shred heads happy, plus melody all over the place for the purists. Put simply, this is just the sort of performance that the Z Rock festival was made for. There’s a great new song debuted, “Stay With Me”, plus old favourites such as “One Step Closer”. My favourite of the day is “Coming Home Tonight”, from the recent “Decade” collection, which has a chorus that just won’t get out of your brain. Definitely the second best performance so far (behind Wig Wam), if you haven’t heard Newman you really should catch up (at www.newmansound.com if you didn’t know).
With Newman raising the stakes, it’s not going to be easy for Eden, as they play a very similar style of melodic rock. Although I’m not familiar with the band at all, I do recognise vocalist Nick Workman (pictured above on the right, next to the Newman photos), who used to be in the excellent Kick, and it’s good to see him onstage again. He’s a talented, charismatic bloke, and comes across well onstage as he and the band crank out punchy melodic rock with some great pop hooks. The set goes down well, but I’m sticking with Newman as the better act, mainly because his songs have a bit more punch to them. Even so, I’ll be checking out Eden a bit more closely in the future, and so can you at www.edentheband.co.uk
There’s a sense that everything up to now has, regardless of the quality, been a warm up for the next guy. There’s no fanfare as Dan Reed comes onstage with his acoustic guitar and starts to sing. After four accomplished guitar heavy bands it’s a real jolt to the system, but a welcome one. As he cronns his way through a track there is chatter going on around me, and I wonder if this is such a good idea after all, but when he stops the place erupts into the biggest applause of the day so far, and from that moment Mr Reed gas us in the palm of his hand. With just himself and a guitar, it’s like watching the world’s best busker, and I reckon he would have doubled his fee had he put a cap in front of him and a sign saying “% Ex Bandmates to support” or something. The set is a great fan pleaser, with terrific songs like “Lover” and “Rainbow Child”, both of which have Dan going “La La La” where the guitar should be and amazingly not sounding like an arse at all. He moves to the keyboard for a beautiful version of “Stronger Than Steel” which has all the loved up couples weeping at each other, and even has time to do one of my favourite songs “Long Way To Go”. All in all, this was a superb performance, showcasing what a talented, charismatic guy he is. At one point he even sang the theme tune from “The Wombles” to keep a fan happy, and there’s not many who would do that with a smile on their face.
Everything’s running a bit late by now, as a band that can sort of be described as Von Groove take the stage. It’s actually vocalist Mike Shotton and three other fill in guys including the talented Vince O’Regan from Eden on guitar. Shotton is very casual in jeans and t-shirt, and the band is admirably tight considering the very short space of time in which they have had to learn the set. The problem here is with the sound. I’ve avoided this mostly, but several bands have had sound issues here and there, but with Von Groove it really comes to the fore. It seems to be down to the drums, which are so fucking loud they just put me off the rest of the instruments. When you concentrate on him, it’s obvious that Shotton is a very good singer and a good front man to boot, but I just find the poor mix too much to bear and spend half of their set getting some fresh air and apologising to my ears. I drag myself back in at the end for a fun version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” that seems pretty much on the spot improvised, but I don’t think I’ll be remembering Von Groove for much more than that drumbeat, more’s the pity.
We’re getting pretty close to the main event now, as everyone’s favourite Tigger impersonator Ted Poley bounces onstage. Right from the beginning, however, there’s a massive echo on his voice that completely bollocks up the performance. Poley gamely does his best, and there’s a big sigh of relief when, halfway through “Bang Bang”, some bright spark behind the desk realises that perhaps the echo is up a bit too high. From here on it’s plain sailing, as Poley brings out some gems, mixing solo and Danger Danger tracks with Poley/Rivera stuff. This is appropriate as Vic Revera is to his left playing some cool guitar. There’s just something about Ted Poley that challenges the audience not to have a good time, as he stands there with an ‘I’ve just humped the neighbours cat‘ grin plastered on his face. He plays with the audience like a cat with a ball of wool, and the atmosphere is almost as good as it was for Wig Wam last night. It’s very very hard not to enjoy a Ted Poley show, and it seems that everyone has a great time at this one - I know I certainly do, so thanks to Ted for coming all this way to entertain us. Consider your job well done, sir.
Well, it’s been a long time coming, and the end is finally nigh. We’re about an hour behind schedule which means that John Waite and his band don’t get to the stage until after midnight. Those that have been here for both days are predictably knackered, but it’s my first time with this guy so I don’t mind a little delay. The first thing I notice about John Waite is that he’s the only performer who has decided to wear a suit, and it does give him that little extra bit of class that his stature demands. Nice touch. It’s the music that counts, however, and John has more than enough experience in classic bands to deliver some classic tunes. I was always a bit of a Bad English fan, and predictably get all excited over the likes of “Straight To Your Heart”, “Best Of What I‘ve Got” and the world’s bestest ballad “When I See You Smile”. We also get some great older songs, including the excellent “Back On My Feet Again”, and the inevitable airing of Waite’s biggest hit “Missing You”, which is still a great song even after hearing it a billion times over the years. Vocally, the man is indeed the master, with a storming performance that really breathes life into the songs. Sadly, the sound problems are back, as he is often so far back in the mix I have to strain to pick him out at times, which is a bit of a crime in my book. Not as flamboyant as some of the other acts, John Waite nonetheless delivers exactly what he is supposed to, helped by a band whose talents on their instruments match his with the vocals. The man seriously rocks, and does it with an air of cool that is hard to fake. Maybe some would have preferred a more typical melodic rock act to headline, but I am grateful for the chance to see John Waite, something a little different to the normal acts that permeate these festivals. A great act to round off what has been a fun couple of days, all those of you who missed it missed out. Maybe next year…
Review by Alan Holloway, alan "at" rockunited.com