The Kaiser Bill musical extravaganza is now in it’s fifth year and 2019’s event featured 6 great bands over 2 nights that were all destined to entertain those that had made the trip to the far east of Kent on two cold and wet October nights.
Friday night saw Kent rockers Gallows Circus kick off the proceedings before London based Dead Man’s Whiskey and then the returning Walkway who had made the trip down from East Anglia to fill the evenings headline slot.
Saturday saw Southampton act The Smokin Prophets kickstart the evenings entertainment, followed by Midlands based These Wicked Rivers who had arrived at the venue via a gig in Southampton the night before and then the events final act Twisted Illusion who had travelled down from Manchester to bring the weekends festivities to a close. With that line up it was surely going to be loud, entertaining and like in previous years, two nights not to be missed.
To give you a bit of background on the Kaiser Bill event, organiser Michael Craddock ran a monthly rock night back in 2012 called Bombs Away at an East End pub called the Zeppelin Shelter.
The pub was hit by a Zeppelin bomb in World War One and the German leader at the time was Kaiser Willhelm II, which along with Michaels Dad being called Bill gave the idea for the name Kaiser Bill. Bands such as Walkway, The Alchemy, Dark Forest UK, Wytchhazel and Gwyn Ashton played at those early events that he organised.
Michael says “I started this because I was fed up with the attitude towards bands in Camden, Shoreditch and London as a whole. It was a pay to play basis in many venues with awful sound and the bands were being exploited I felt. My idea was if you treat the musicians well, pay their expenses and a bit over they would be happy to come and play. This worked but the punters were not tempted away from the usual much more publicised events and venues.
It got wound up by the pubs landlords because it wasn’t making them enough over the bar. That was my first failure but I was not to be deterred. I was living in Wapping London then and still frequenting lots of gigs.
I was a big fan of The Burning Crows at that time when the Smokin’ Prophets supported them at The Borderline, their first ever gig. In 2015 I moved to Ramsgate full time and quickly got bored with the cover band scene in Thanet so thought lets have an annual bash and call it Kaiser Bills Birthday Rock n Roll Extravaganza. I dropped most of that mouthful after year one and here we are after the 5th event, which are put on each year to celebrate my own October birthday.
Over the course of those previous four Kaiser Bill events, the crowds have been entertained by The Smokin Prophets (every year), The Alchemy, Dirty Thrills, Texas Flood, SKAM, Walkway (at every event bar the first), Desert Planes, Salvation Jayne, Melonhead Man, Bad Touch, Wicked Stone, Hollowstar, Kaine and Those Damn Crows. This years line up just adds to the growing list of great bands that Michael has put on in Ramsgate to bring a bit of quality rock n roll to the Kent coast in October.
Gallows Circus are a band I have fallen in love with so to speak after catching them at the Harp Restrung in Folkestone earlier this year. Since that chance meeting I have seen them a number of times and they never ever fail to impress me.
This year has seen them undergo a couple of changes as they moved from a four piece to a five piece with the addition of Ben Attwood as a second guitarist, only to then drop back to a four piece when they unfortunately lost original guitarist Jim Rycroft from their line up. I had never seen this particular version of the band so was intrigued to see if the dynamics of the band had changed.
True to form, the band put on an absorbing show, even on the tiny and cramped stage in the Ramsgate Music Hall. Playing all five tracks from their self titled EP plus the two singles they have released since then, a brand new track, getting it’s first live airing and a wonderful cover, the band got the weekend off to a blistering start.
Game On”, “Shotgun With The Devil” and “Bones To Pick” really did get the party started. A crowd packed with fans wearing Gallows Tees were lapping this up and you could tell that Ian Day, Ben Attwood, Richard Tunbridge and Steve Kitchener were enjoying their time on stage. Next up was that live exclusive, “Hells Whiskey”, which at the moment is just a working title for the track.
The band have a distinctive sound and this, another dirty blues based rocker fits their sound perfectly. “Good For My Fever”, a rip snorting cover of “Oh Well”, the majestic ballad “Holding My Breath” follow before they close out with “Above Snakes” and “Faith To Believe”.
Their 45 minute set flew past and I have to say the new look outfit is still a scintillating live act. It is different as Ben’s style of guitar work is in some ways a contrast to Jim’s but they have counteracted that with Ian playing some fabulous parts on the harmonica which actually adds to the feel and vibe of the bands presence and chemistry on stage.
I really look forward to seeing them develop and hope to catch them again soon.
Next up was the more straight ahead heavy rock from Dead Man’s Whiskey. They are another band that I have a real likeness for, not just their music, which in my opinion is exemplary, but as people. They are always happy to chat and mingle with fans and gig goers and here in Ramsgate, they did that all night long.
The first thing I noticed as the band tore into “Live Loud and Ready” was that the volume in the PA system seemed to have gone up a notch or two. This was going to really test out my ear plugs but did I care, did I hell. A roof raising version of “Raising Hell” followed, with frontman Nico prowling every bit of available space on the stage.
The intimate venue, with it’s low ceiling, and not much more floor space than half a badminton court is packed to the hilt. You get the impression that this is the band everybody has come to see and the atmosphere the band and crowd are creating together is electric.
With a successful Download performance behind them and a Kiss Cruise soon to be embarked on, “My Year” is quite a relevant track to continue with. It is clearly noticeable how tight the band are and how they have really stepped up a level in the last 12 months.
This Fight”, “War Machine” and their latest release “Last Train” take us through the halfway point in in the set. Billy Kons get to show us what an undeniable talent he is and in the dimly lit area of the stage he occupies and with the way he holds his beloved six string, you could at times be mistaken into thinking that Slash had turned up minus the hat. Yes, this lad really is that good.
A resoundingly brilliant cover of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose”, which gives the band a chance to show their versatility takes us into a barn storming version of “Hoe Street”, complete with mass crowd sing-a-long. Now if ever a song was written, that could bring a tear to your eye, it has to be “Make You Proud”, which Nico wrote for his Mum after she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
You can see the emotion in his face and eyes as he sings this wonderfully poignant track and it definitely brings a lump to the throat so see him perform it. “Racing Bullet”, which is from the Reloaded version of their Under The Gun album takes the tempo right back up again before one of the best versions of “Highway To Hell” I have heard in a long time.
Every man and woman were singing along and it provided an exhilarating end to a great hour. Dead Man’s Whiskey left the stage to huge roars and cries for more and why not they had probably just put in the performance of the night, if not the weekend.
So, how do Walkway follow that I asked myself as I waited for them to take the stage.
Well, follow it they did, with a set of top quality rock tunes, some of them originals and some of them covers. They are a very good band Walkway, one I have seen before and was blown away by and one I was looking forward to seeing again this weekend. I have got to be honest though and say on this occasion, however good they were, and they were good, it felt like an anti-climax after that set from Dead Man’s Whiskey which unquestionably blew the roof of the venue.
The crowd was definitely thinner than it had been all night, which obviously had an effect on the atmosphere but the band played a masterful set that was compiled to entertain anybody looking for a good time, rock fan or not.
As I said, this was a set built to entertain and alternating their set list between originals and covers meant that anybody who was not familiar with the band could at least get into their set when they ripped through a cover version.
One Touch Too Much” and “Step One”, opened the set up before a crowd pleasing cover of Queens’ “Tie Your Mother Down”. Frontman and rhythm guitarist Chris Ready along with his lead guitarist brother James are a captivating and formidable pairing.
They are full of bundles of energy on stage and have smiles on their faces throughout. “Same Old Situation” and “Overrated” are followed by a hair raising version of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” and then more originals in “Leap of Faith” and “Stutter”.
I found it hard to take my eyes off James Ready as he played some exquisite guitar parts throughout the tracks, much like the first time I saw them at Hard Rock Hell. Status Quo’s “Rain”, which is a bonus track on their third album is very well received before “Streetwise”, the title track to their second album closes out the bands originals for the night.
The final track of their set is a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” which once again gets all those in the crowd singing along before chants for one more are cut short when it is made clear that curfew time has been reached.
So that was that that then, day one of Kaiser Bill 5 done and dusted. After a bit of a catch up with some gig going friends and a few thank you’s to band members and organisers I made my way home along the coast, confident in the fact that the night had been a success for Michael Craddock and that I had witnessed one of the sets of the weekend from Dead Man’s Whiskey.
I arrived in Ramsgate for Day Two, full of excitement for another great evening. After a quick couple of pints to wet my appetite for what lay ahead I arrived at the venue with plenty of time to spare.
Now, the host for the weekend Michael Craddock, knows how to throw together an event to not only help promote the bands but also make sure everybody in attendance has a great time.
This is after all his birthday present to himself so to speak, so not only are tickets free as he wants the venue full but he lays on a very tasty curry before the bands start playing. Beer, curry and rock music all under the same roof….couldn’t not be a great night could it.
First band up were The Smokin’ Prophets, definitely a favourite of our host as they have played at the event every year. I caught them last year for the first time but arriving as they had gone onstage I wasn’t fully “up” for their performance. Tonight, was the perfect chance for me to take them in properly and really get a feel for a band that Michael raves about.
In their band bio they describe themselves as “swaggering punk n roll, like a high octane blend of Hanoi Rocks style sleaze rock and the glam chops of NY Dolls” and they are not wrong. Since performing last year they have added a second guitarist but tonight perform as a three piece as said guitarist couldn’t make travel connections to get to the venue in time.
It doesn’t deter from what is a very assured performance from the band in the opening slot of the evening. The Smokin’ Prophets run through a sizzling 13 track set in their hour slot that just cannot fail to get your blood pumping. Loud, frenetic, dirty, sleazy and full of attitude, the band set the benchmark for what was going to be another great night.
Mr Rock n Roll”, “You Better Run”, “Lost Hope”, “Pretty Sexy Thing”, “Human Rights” and “Do You Believe” got the night off to a sensational start and there was plenty more to follow. “Gonna Make It”, “Pumped Up”, Trade The World”, “The Innocent” and “Liability” led us into an astounding version of Johnny Thunders “Wanna Be Loved” before they bowed out with “Don’t Hold Back”.
For what ever reason, I found this performance completely absorbing compared to what I had witnessed 12 months ago. Maybe that was down to me, maybe it was down to them, I don’t know, maybe it was a bit of both, but on the back of that I will definitely be going to see them again whenever I can.
These Wicked Rivers were next up on the night and I am going to plead absolute ignorance and say I had never heard anything by them before they took to the stage. What I am wondering after watching them is how have they passed me by.
They put in an absolutely breathtaking performance on the night that showed a band that have truly captured the heart and soul of what music is about. The ten song set that they played in their hour on stage, was captivating, spellbinding and to sum it up, unmissable.
This was guitar driven rock in the vein of Black Stone Cherry and it was being laid down in front of me in sublime fashion by the Midlands based four-piece.
Between John Hartwell (vocals / guitar) and Arran Day (guitar / vocals) they create a sound that is just sensational to listen to and watch being played.
When you add in the powerhouse rhythm section of Sam Williams (bass) and Dan Southall (drums) you have a band that, on the back of what I witnessed in Ramsgate, are heading on to much bigger and better things.
I have to pass congratulations on to Michael Craddock here for securing the band to play this weekend as they were truly something special and he has enabled me to add another fantastic band to the ever growing list on “ones to watch out for” that gets longer and longer each month.
Their set itself was predominantly taken from the EP’s they have released so far with three songs from their album Eden, which is due out in 2020. “Should Have Known Better”, “That Girl”, “When The War Is Won” and “Stones Painted Gold” were all EP tracks that got their outstanding set underway.
World in Chains”, “Evergreen” and “Floyd” from that upcoming debut album with “Testify” played between the first two followed before they ended their set with dynamic performances of “The Enemy” and “Don’t Pray For Me”. Anybody that was there will know that they witnessed something special between 9.15 and 10.15 that night, I know I did.
I really hope that it is not too long before These Wicked Rivers find themselves back down in this corner of England as I for one can’t wait to catch them again, and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
So we have finally reached the last band of the weekend and the overall Kaiser Bill 5 headline act. Last year this spot was occupied by the incredible Those Damn Crows who have gone on to have an amazing 12 months.
This year, Michael has secured the services of a band who he openly admits thinks are one of the best bands to appear in the UK in the last 10 years, fronted by one of the best songwriters in Matt Jones. Twisted Illusion took to the stage without any big fanfares but with undoubtedly the loudest sound of the weekend.
I thought Dead Man’s Whiskey were loud last night but somebody had turned the dial even further for this set. This was going to be ear crunching loud! Over the next hour or so, Twisted Illusion treat those in attendance to a gargantuan set of some of the finest Prog Metal you will hear outside of the big venues.
Matt Jones vocals are just sublime throughout and the guitar work that himself and the understated talent of Saxon Davids put on display tonight should be witnessed on much bigger stages and in front of larger audiences.
As “Apathy Killed The Artist” kicks in, it gives you no doubt as to what you are about to witness. A flurry of guitars, keyboards, soaring vocals from Jones and a heavy but tight rhythm section this is a phenomenal start to the set.
Extrovert” and “A Moment of Lucidity”, which is full of mouth watering time changes follow and this really is a treat for fans of bands like Dream Theatre, Symphony X and Rush. Twisted Illusion are rocking the venue to the core and the volume and power of the music will surely have shaken any loose brickwork out.
Apocalypse” leads into “Online and In Line”, the band are on fire. The crowd are singing along and loving the onstage banter they are getting from the larger than life frontman.
“No Compromise”, a number that builds from a slow moody start into a track of epic proportions full of wizardly keyboards from Andy Gotteri and sensational guitar work from Davids and Jones, is dedicated to organiser Michael Craddock . “Imitate Me” and then the beautifully haunting and emotive “Nobody’s Child” lead us towards the end of the set and two days of top quality music.
There is time though for three more numbers, the heavy, thrashy prog of “Hatred is a Virtue” is a complete contrast to the delicate and mesmerising “Night Light”. There is something so beautiful in the way this song is sung and played that keeps you transfixed on Matt Jones throughout as he and Saxon Davids, who perform the song unaccompanied by the rhythm section, fill the air in the Ramsgate venue with gorgeous vocals and graceful guitar parts.
Tomorrow”, which is a heavenly slab of Prog Metal, brings their set to a close and closes out a great weekend. This has been a triumphant return to Kent for this group of talented musicians from Manchester, they have played a set that has shown how diverse their music is and I am sure won over some new fans.
So that was Kaiser Bill 5 then. A resounding success for the organiser and a true celebration of live music that can only have enhanced the growing reputations of the bands that played.
All six bands fall readily into the growing New Wave Of Classic Rock scene that is building rapidly around the UK and people like Michael Craddock need to be celebrated and congratulated for helping push these bands forward.
Seeing live music played to this standard in small venues takes me back to being a teenager when I saw so many of the bands that I love, starting out on their own successful careers in venues like this as they made their journey to headlining large theatres, arena’s and stadiums.
You never know, one of these bands tonight might just be staring out on that same journey, with the same result. Weekends like this are needed to help keep the live music scene going in this country as venues close down and bands struggle to find places to perform outside of the big cities.
Thank you Michael Craddock for supporting these bands, live music in general and for hosting a superbly run weekend.
Review & Photography by Darren Smith for metalplanetmusic