There are plenty of smaller music festivals around the country now and one of those, Croydon Rocks, entered its third year at a new venue and aiming to build on the success of the previous 2 years. Founder Richie Hudson moved the festival to the newly redeveloped Fairfield Halls for 2019 to increase capacity and grow the event, the previous events having been 2–day affairs, but this year Richie settled on a single day format with 10 bands over 9 hours.
Kicking off proceedings at 2.30 in the afternoon was Bexatron, with lead singer Bexx in her shocking green skin-tight trousers grabbing everyone’s attention as she broke into ‘Hexx Your Ex’ then ‘Out Of My Tree’ with her powerful vocal over a punk influenced sound
Those that turned up early showed their appreciation as the band then gave us ‘Take Me Back To Jo-Jo’s’ before slowing it down a little with ‘I’m Trash’ followed by the first single off their debut album ‘Dirty Disco’. This is a solid 4 piece band with a superb sound and Bexx has the same kind of appeal I remember from seeing Wendy James and Debbie Harry back in the day, mixed with more energy and a great voice, so let’s hope we see more of them. The band then gave us a superb cover version of The Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ before wrapping up their 30 minute set with the very catchy ‘Sex, Drugs & Sausage Rolls’.
Second on stage were the experienced old hands of Soho Dukes, whose origins can be traced back to the 1980’s and with their brand of pub rock mixed with punk, they opened with ‘Angel Walk’, with yet again some very strong vocals, this time from Johnny Barracuda, before moving swiftly into ‘England’. A great bit of bass opened up their third offering ‘Analogue Man’ as the five piece from London gave us some nice licks and an embarrassment of riches when it came to hat styles, with a top hat, bowler, flat cap and 2 Trilby’s at the last count.
The band, who also rocked Croydon in 2018 took a minute or two to enjoy a drink before breaking into ‘Viva La Revolucion’, but left the best until last as they played us out with ‘Bovver Boys’ and ‘Excited’. This was a set of great fun and rocking tunes from a band still enjoying the journey, which the crowd really appreciated.
At The Sun are one of the most exciting new bands on the scene so I was really looking forward to seeing them, having bought their album some months ago and played it over and over. The volume immediately increased, as did that of the audience as they burst into ‘Breathe’ then straight into ‘Walk On Over’ and they were obviously going to use their half hour set wisely as without a gap to speak off they launched into a thunderous version of ‘Lay It On Me’ with some superb lead guitar from Chet Jogia.
This is a standout track from the album for me and they certainly did it justice in the live setting as well, which is not surprising as this is a band who are seriously on top of their game. Lead vocalist, Harry Dale, warmed up the crowds’ vocal chords with a short singalong before ‘Bite Your Tongue’ which had them dancing as well, before the inevitable sight of a sea of pint glasses being held aloft as then band ran through ‘Raise Your Glass’. The party atmosphere had now seriously started in earnest and the audience was up for it as we were treated to an unaccompanied opening verse from Dale, before the band cranked it up for a big finish with ‘Devil In Your Eyes’. All of the tracks they had played were from their debut album and if that performance didn’t see the assembled masses make a beeline for the merch table, I’m not sure what would have.
Trident Waters took to the stage next with Andrew Knightley ripping a series of guitar riffs from his guitar before being joined by a pounding beat to set us up for a string of heavy blues rock tracks. This power trio from London didn’t mess about as they gave a series of grinding tunes in the form of ‘Firecracker’ ‘Be So Bad’ and ‘Eva Lane’ before we had time to take a breath.
I haven’t seen these boys before but on the evidence of this set I want to see them again and soon. Knightley, in his heavy Jeff Lynne-esque shades and an air of Lenny Kravitz, knows his way around an axe and gave us another strong yet distinctive vocal performance, ably backed up by Wilson Zaidan on bass and Greg Zaka on drums . ‘Who’s In Love’ followed as the band dispensed with the chat in order to get more music into their set. As they closed the set with ‘Desert Soul’ and ‘Gallows’, we were treated to elements of Southern Rock and even a whiff of Country, whilst still maintaining that Blues Rock sound that had been consistent throughout the set.
After 4 bands the one thing that struck me was the quality of the vocals from each of the lead singers, as this is often what lets a band down for me, yet here I was still not having heard a poor performance. For the record, none of the remaining bands let us down either.
Punk rock band The Idol Dead took to the stage next, bringing their brand of loud and relentless rock to the Croydon faithful with a high energy opening that got the crowd pumped before Polly climbed the rigging at the rear of the stage and egged on by the crowd, launched himself back onto the stage and I don’t think he stopped moving after that until they walked off stage at the end.
They bounced into ‘Infected’ before introducing a new track – ‘You Made It, I made It’ – as they encouraged the crowd to raise their hands and give a big cheer to Richie for organising the festival, which they duly obliged with. ‘Christopher Hitchens’ from their 2017 album ‘Tension & Release’ was up next, the crowd enjoying a punk anthem that I haven’t heard done so well since the genre’s heyday. Before the last track, Polly wanted the obligatory photo with the crowd in the backdrop for Instagram as he dedicated ‘Bones Of You’ to “anyone that comes to a gig to watch prats like us jump around on stage” before encouraging the audience to join in the song, which they did.
We were now halfway through the roster and the first 5 bands had given us not only a mixture of styles, but also a consistent quality. I had only ever heard material from At The Sun prior to today and that was recorded, so to be standing here impressed by each of them, was testament to the work Richie Hudson had carried out in putting together a great line up.
Rich Ragany & The Digressions kicked off with ‘Little Let Down’ and ‘Like We’ll Never Make It’ as the frontman of the London based The Role Models, put together a 6 piece band to back him on his solo projects, which subsequently became this band. They are a tight unit and showcased the work from his debut solo outing which was released in April 2019, as well as some earlier songs.
There was a strong Americana vibe running through the set as they worked their way through ‘That World’ and ‘Love With Me’ before Rich gave us a story of drinking with a friend who is no longer with us as they broke into ‘Scotty Thompson’. Unfortunately, the audience had thinned out for the set but the band continued to give their all as they ran through the ‘One Last Thing’, ‘The Man Who’ and final track ‘Gypsy’.
Blind River, who formed in 2017 are a band giving us hard riff driven rock and they started out with ‘Going Nowhere’, which was well received by the now swollen numbers in the audience, in fact it turned out to be the biggest crowd of the day. Lead vocalist Harry Armstrong then endeared himself to the crowd by revealing himself as a Croydon native, as he told a story of a mis-spent youth outside the Fairfield Halls, going up and down on his skateboard before being chased off by the stewards. ‘Made Of Dirt’ was next up with the heavily AC/DC influenced ‘Resurrection Sister’ following it.
The band supported Inglorious on their UK tour, earlier this year with an acoustic set, but seeing them rocking at full pelt is something else and the audience were loving it. They dedicated ‘Bonehouse’ to a local DJ who used to play the pubs in Croydon in days past and then played ‘Freedom Dealer’ from their eponymous titled album from 2018, which is a driving heavy rock track full of riffs and Armstrong’s screaming vocals. The crowd were shaking their heads, fist pumping and cheering as they rocked into the last track ‘Can’t Sleep Sober’. Armstrong thanked the crowd for supporting live music and the band left the stage to the loudest applause of the day.
It was noticeable that the next band drew in quite a few more younger punters, either that or they were left behind as the older audience members went off in search of a drink, having drunk the bar inside the hall dry. Saint Agnes gave us our second female lead of the day in the form of the outstanding ball of energy that is Arabella Austen, who stormed out of the blocks with ‘Welcome To Silvertown’ before ‘The Death Or Glory Gang’ – only by the latter to find itself competing with the filler music, that someone had forgotten to turn off when the band entered the stage.
A few choice expletives from Arabella and the issue was promptly resolved! The four–piece from East London then gave us ‘This Is My Family, This Is, This Is’ then ‘Merry Mother Of God Go Round’ with its distorted guitars and feedback, but also some nice harmonica in there from lead guitarist Jon James Tuffnell. This is a band with a whole load of raw energy and with Arabella’s outfit showing the number 666 on the front, it was no wonder that she finished the set like something possessed as the band moved into ‘Diablo, Take Me Home’ before managing the unenviable task of getting most of the crowd to kneel for the start of ‘Brother’, before jumping up and dancing through the final number. A great ballsy set full of energy, anger & excitement but most importantly hugely enjoyable.
At this point it’s worth just mentioning that one of the most impressive things throughout the day was the fast turnaround of the bands. Up to this point each band had been given a 30 minute slot and there was roughly a 20 minute gap between the bands, so hats off to the crew who kept everything running smoothly throughout the day as it was a tough schedule, but they nailed it.
The first of our headline acts was Oslo based The Cruel Intentions, who are one of Scandanavia’s finest, having formed in 2015. The four–piece band lead by former Vains of Jenna frontman, Lizzy Devine, hit the stage with their hard rock sound and soon had the crowd bouncing with their thumping beat and grinding guitars.
We were soon into 2016’s ‘Accidentally Intoxicated’ and ‘Reckoning’ despite the fact the Robin Nilsson on drums was having some technical difficulties and couldn’t hear a thing! However, this was soon overcome and the fun continued as the band started up ‘Genie’s Got A Problem’ which was initially a single released in 2015 before being included in their 2018 album ‘No Sign Of Relief’.
With its searing guitar played expertly by Kristian Solhaug, there was no surprise that this was obviously a favourite with the audience and they soon found their voices too, as we moved into ‘Chaos In A Bombshell’ and ‘White Pony’. Needless to say, having found their voices and with the next track called ‘Go F**k Yourself’, they didn’t need a second invitation and along with the band seemed to turn the volume up a notch or two for this hard rocking track, which is full of some great riffs.
The crowd by now were really having a great time and there was some serious headbanging down the front as the band hit the home stretch including ‘Borderline Crazy’ and ‘Sick Adrenaline’ along the way. The Cruel Intentions are a seriously tight unit with a hard–working rhythm section driving the band along, Solhaug giving the crowd the guitar solos they crave and Devine as the frontman, we are going to hear a lot more from this band.
Our final act of the day were the New Roses who had flown in especially from Germany for the gig and were flying straight back home afterwards, none of which was helped, when it was found that the hi-hat on the drum kit was broken and a new one had to be couriered across London at 10pm on a Saturday night. However, the whole situation was dealt with superbly once again by the crew, and meant only a modest 25 minute delay before The New Roses were ripping into their set intent on giving everyone a great send off to what had been a superb day of music.
Formed in 2007 and with four albums worth of material since 2013, this is a band who have been around a while and are now getting the plaudits they deserve having supported The Dead Daisies, ZZ Top, Black Stone Cherry, Y&T and Saxon amongst others in recent years. By the time they broke into the country tinged ‘Life Ain’t Easy (For A Boy With Long Hair)’ lead singer Timmy Rough had already warmed himself to the swollen crowd with his rasping rock voice, alongside Norman Bites on his flying V lead guitar who looks like a proper God of Rock if ever I saw one! These boys have got an excellent arena sound of grinding guitars and pounding drums with touches of country & southern rock and they were soon into the harder sounding ‘Whiskey Nightmare’ from their 2012 self–titled EP, which kept the Croydon crowd rocking and encouraged more crowd participation with the old school sound of ‘It’s A Long Way’.
Unfortunately, the audience numbers dwindled a little towards the end of the set but were urged by Rough to purchase from the merchandise stand, even though there was little on offer as most had been stolen during their last tour. However, on the evidence of tonight’s performance, their CD sales for the new album ‘Nothing But Wild’ which was released in August, should go through the roof. Those who left early missed a massive ending that would have convinced any remaining doubters that this is a band going places as they ripped into ‘One More For the Road’ from their 2017 album of the same name and then realising they had time for one more, gave us ‘Down By The River’ which had the crowd jumping, singing, dancing and cheering and The New Roses had bought Croydon Rocks 2019 to a thundering finale, before heading to the back of the hall to meet fans and sign autographs.
It was a long but hugely enjoyable day but Croydon Rocks had bought us 10 bands over 9 hours, from around the corner and around Europe and had very successfully bought rock back to the Cronx.
Review by Howard Whitelaw for MetalPlanetMusic.com
Photography by Darren Smith for MetalPlanetMusic.com