Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Saturday dawned bright and breezy; the Newark showground campsite tranquil and peaceful as the slumbering masses slept off their respective hangovers.
The party of the night before would ensure, in the main, that, at this relatively early hour, the only signs of life was those of the very hardy and industrious team of Stonedead volunteers setting about getting all ship-shape for the day’s main event.
Yesterday evening’s rock n’ roll ‘buffet’ had surely whetted the appetite for today’s main course proclaiming nine most individual and fine sittings. Atop the main table, overseeing the day’s feasting, will sit the Emperor, the Stonedead Lord of Rock, cloaked in shimmering silken robes with the rocking dragons, his fiery offspring that number nine, depicted upon the material.
One remaining hidden in deference to the spirits. These offspring can also be discovered upon banners around the arena; the rocking equivalent of the fabled and revered Nine-Dragon Wall. The scene is set.
A good sized crowd have gathered to witness the first of the Lord Emperor’s hard rocking brood landing upon the Newark stage, slightly later than planned, at the stroke of noon.
The midday sun beating down upon its youthful, exuberent bulk. With more than a dash of NWOBHM wrapped about a southern-infused core capital-city based Dead Man’s Whiskey hit the boards at terminal velocity hitting ‘Live, Loud & Ready’ hard and heavy in an explosive start complete with precision six-stringing from Billy Kons and Elliott D’Alvarez.
Affable frontman Nico Rogers exclaims “Oh it’s good to be back!” at song end as the Stonedead crowd show their appreciation for the winners of the fans’ vote for Stonedead’s opening act.
Latest single ‘Breakout’, the title track of the forthcoming EP, is harkened in with a reassuring chug from the guitar section whilst the drumming of Charlie Gray and bass notes of James Titley provide an unshakable bedrock. It’s catchy and infectious with Nico singing “Waiting all week for the rock n’ roll” as the hooks are sent into the heart of the Newark crowd.
DMW’s may be just seven tracks long but it’s one that will sit long in the memory banks; from the southern grooves of ‘This Fight’ to the galloping pulse of 2019s single ‘Last Train’ it’s evident that this quintet has emerged from lockdown tighter than ever with a renewed energy and an enhanced maturity to slot in alongside their clear potential.
The affectional ‘Make You Proud’ is turned up several notches in the emotional stakes as Nico, battling the tears, makes a double dedication to not only his mother but MMH Morning DJ the legendary Tony Heare both of whom are battling cancer with the latter, tragically, given just weeks to live. If a pin had dropped it would have been deafening such is the respect paid herein. The rock family cares for its own; the Lord Emperor nods with satisfaction. Stonedead 2021 is underway.
The organisers of the festivities have encountered and overcome many challenges to get Stondead 2021 to the starting gates. From rolling over from 2020 to bands having to withdraw their services through the ravages of the pandemic through to the late arrival of the stage itself.
However, none would have hit so hard as the notification of The Treatment’s late, but completely justified, notification of being unable to play due to their ranks being struck with Covid as the clock neared 12 on the eve of the show.
Undaunted boss Chris Sumby and his team pulled yet another dragon from the hat and to the delight of the gathered throng Mancunian metallers Absolva strode out on to stage; their darkened metallic wings fully outstretched as they roar into furiously paced set-opener ‘Life On The Edge’.
There’s a super-charged Iron Maiden feel with the guitar prowess of the Appleton brothers – Chris (vocals / lead) and Luke (rhythm) – leading out front constructed upon the powerhouse skinspounding of drummer Martin ‘The Machine’ McNee and the rugged bass notes of Karl Schramm quarried from the hard rocks of the upland moors.
This is no one-trick dragon for sure as the beautifully synched six-strings of ‘Rise Again’ are redolent of Thin Lizzy whilst Chris’ vocals draw comparisions to not only Bruce Dickinson but Helloween’s Michael Kiske. Theirs is an incendiary alloy melded from several metalliferous elements with the melody of the twin lead the perfect contraposition to the hard-raging maelstrom.
The fists punch the air to the furiously heavy intro of ‘Never A Good Day To Die’; the replacement has conquered with panache as elder brother Chris implores “Stonedead scream for me!”. The note-precise solos continue through the contagious riffing of ‘Defiance’ and accuately entwined twin guitars that intro ‘No Tomorrow’. There’s a knowledgeable touch of Satriani and Vai within.
This is classic metal with a present-day twist and is going down a storm out in the arena. The Dragon-lord looks about with approval as Stondead is encouraged to ‘Never Back Down’ before Absolva thunderously explode into a triumphant ‘Code Red’. An excellent metal masterclass as the quartet complete half of their day’s work prior to returning later with the metal-titan that is Blaze Bayley.
A veteran dragon is next to stride onto the Stonedead stage – 81 black scales and 36 white. Wielding a brilliant white Flying V Myke Gray flies headlong into the rip-roaring power riffs of ‘Stand Up For Rock n’ Roll’; a rallying call that one and all most happily comply with. Myke has a particular ear for talented vocalists having recently worked with Kim Jennett (Voodoo Blood) and Mark Pascall (Departed, Cats in Space, Kingdom of Madness).
His latest frontman, Dan Byrne (Revival Black), is one of the finest in the current NWOCR scene. Based upon this showing – his Stonedead debut – coupled with his lockdown videos and output with Revival Black there isn’t anything this incredibly modest gent can’t belt out!
This is a glance back to Paul Rodgers in his prime as Myke sizzles alongside as Jagged Edge’s ‘Trouble’ is powered out. With Neil Ogden behind the drum-kit and former Inglorious bassist Colin Parkinson in the ranks there is solidity throughout.
Dan absolutely nails Skin singalong classic ‘House Of Love’ before a balls-out ‘Raised On Radio’ heads skywards. One more Jagged Edge song in the swaggering form of ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore’ is given an outing before matters hit the outer atmosphere with a fine, fine quartet of tracks from the Skin back catalogue.
As the Thunder-tinged ‘Take Me Down To The River’ blasts out over the Notts countryside a solitary Spitfire takes a shine to proceedings and circles three times over the Showground; a quirky parallel reprise of the DC-3 that buzzed Diamond Head’s set here in 2019. It’s a goosebump moment for sure.
‘Tower of Strength’ is a moment of gentleness with it’s Aerosmith fueled undercurrents that gets the amassed multitude responding in fine voice before a high-energy ‘Shine Your Light’, complete with rumbling bass, closes the set. Strike three! Another success, all the more commendable given that Myke and his musical cohorts had agreed to move their set to accommodate Absolva upon the bill so as they weren’t faced with two sets on the bounce. Co-operation within the rock family at its best.
Following on Stonedead bore witness to a second successive dragon that shone brightly with experience. Treading in the footprints left by Myke Gray is Blaze Bayley; a bona fide rock n’ roll renegade who has brought along younger charges in the form of Absolva. After their well-received set, that ended just 90 minutes before, they could be forgiven for any signs of being jaded.
However they’re on fire once again giving fantastic shape alongside Blaze. He’s a metallurgical businessman with a career spanning across five decades. An igneous highway that has charted the rise of midland rockers Wolfsbane, borne witness to fronting the downright legendary Iron Maiden and a subsequent expansive solo career.
This afternoon, with the sun beating down on the Newark arena, we’re in for a retrospective set from the middle five years of so of Blaze’s career; an oft-overlooked and underrated segment of Maiden’s history.
The bulk of the seven track set is drawn from ‘The X-Factor’; the set kicking off with a triple volley from this 1995 long-player commencing with a gloriously rich ‘Lord of The Flies’ which gets fists and horns, alike, aloft. A brief pause as Blaze takes in the adoration leads into the atmospheric intro of ‘Sign Of The Cross’; the grumbling bass rolling into a tender guitar before the drums crash in with military-esque beat.
The ethereal mid-song section is worked well; this is a well-drilled outfit. At the end of ‘Judgement Of Heaven’ Blaze exclaims “Thanks for being warriors and believing” before adding “This is the 25th anniversary of my joining Iron Maiden.” One wonders where over two decades have gone.
Non studio album track and top 20 single ‘Virus’ has a cognitive meaning today as it did back in ’96. “A menace to society, a social disease”; resonant lyrics for sure. This is an unstoppable express train to hell coming through.
A recollective eye is cast upon ’98s ‘Virtual XI’ with the outstanding ‘The Clansman’ taken out of the drawer labeled ‘EPIC’. Behind the backstage area a murder of crows whirl and circle as echoes of ‘Infinte Dreams’ shine through the intro. Wondrous twin guitars elevate the atmosphere; this is stirring and evocative.
A frenetically stampeding “Man On The Edge’, a top 10 singe back in 1995, rolls into the ‘Futurereal’ the last song of a intense and entertaining set. On the strength of this showing, there is plenty in the tank of this high-octane v8 rock-titan.
The stage is set for the middle dragon of the day and what a magnificent beast we are given. A finely sculpted body; full of muscle and brawn it’s scales intricately decorated with vivid engraved patterns. This is festival favourite Kris Barras who, on the back of a triumphant post-lockdown return with a headlining slot at Love Rocks and further glory at last month’s Steelhouse, burns iridescent from the very off.
The appropriately combustible ‘Ignite (Light It Up)’ before hitting up a rocking rendition of ‘Counterfeit People’. Gone are the swirling hammond notes replaced with a harder driving edge as keyboardist Josiah J. Manning has shifted, seamlessly, over to rhythm guitar duties. The southern-inculated bluesy ‘Rock n’ Roll Running Through My Veins’ is blasted out across Newark and surround areas before the doctor prescribes a dose of new material with the new single, due out on Friday 3rd September, ‘Dead Horses’. We will keep on riding for sure.
The thumpingly good ‘What You Get’ and ‘Lovers or Losers’ are given a workout with the latter absolutely oozing total southern blues rock. ‘Not Fading’ is rocked up with Kris noting “Haven’t played that one for a while!”; no cobwebs detected.
The Alabama State Troupers blues classic ‘Going Down’ is given an excellent re-working complete with a gunslinger of a solo with Kris standing at that proverbial dusty crossroad being joined by Josiah for a memorable six-string interchange. Sandwiched amongst all this tasty goodness is the delicious new track ‘My Parade’ which eliicits a cracking crowd response; such is the power of quality music.
Signature tune ‘Hail Mary’ wraps up proceedings in trademark fashion with a broadly smiling Kris clearly enjoying the feedback from the Stonedead audience; it’s sing-a-long time Barras style as he enquires “Are you ready to sing?” All the correct words and in the right order to boot. Simply a classic rocking tune that leaves all about joyous; Kris and compadres wouldn’t have been allowed to leave without playing it! Goosebumps are guaranteed.
One by one the dragons circling overheading are coming to ground in their designated order as instructed by the Lord Emperor. Next in line is a magnificent bright red beast, glinting in the evening sunshine. The red rose of Lancaster borne upon both of it’s outstretched wings; clearly visible as it steadies itself atop the rigging. NWOCR leading lights Massive Wagons are in town and have brought a carousing, carnival ambiance along for the rollercoaster ride ahead!
A furiously paced ‘Pressure’ sets a frenetic pace with it’s nitrous-fuelled Quo-styled riffs married with the super-charged punk energy of The Ramones. The Wagons are in determined mood and with enigmatic frontman whirling about in his flame-edge suit there is little time to draw breath. The biggest showing of giraffes thus far is going totally nuts!
The rumbustious muster-call ‘In It Together’ whips up the crowd to fever together. This is the rock n’ roll family’s call to arms; the crush is palpable, energy crackles in the evening skies. The unrelenting momentum continues with ‘Bangin’ In Your Stereo’, given a Stonesey swagger for the evening, the third song to be lifted from last year’s ‘House of Noise’. Middle fingers are raised to salute the Wagons at the appropriate moment.
If there is ever a hard-rocking tune that sums up the efforts of Stonedead 2021’s organisers then ‘Nails’ is surely it. Baz barks the resonant chorus as the crowd punch the air.
“Never give it up, always be on top, always have enough, always looking up.
Show ’em who you are, what you do, never ever be afraid to be you.”
The giraffes are flying as Adam Thistlethwaite marches forward to offer some crunching riffs from his Flying V. Baz checks in with the Newark faithful “Are you having a great weekend Stondead” before dedicating the two fingered salute to the system “Ratio” to MMH’s fabled DJ Tony Heare. The rock n’ roll family raises their glasses as one.
Having heard how ‘Curry Song’ went down an absolute storm at the Download pilot event earlier in the summer I was braced for a force 10 riot but even as Baz whipped up the crowd into a complete frenzy it was evident I was wholly unprepared. “I say Stone, you say …..” quips Baz before the crowd instantly respond as one “Dead”. New, wark; Massive, Wagons; Curry, Song” you get the idea and the crowd are warped into overdrive.
Utter mayhem ensues; giraffes, inflatable balls and lord knows what else heads skywards! And we haven’t yet ordered the rogan mosh. This is how comedy should be done hard-rock style! The recently released single “Changes’, a biographical slant on the Wagons’ last ten years or so, stampedes across the arena before affairs are further ratcheted up will a closing quartet that will take a Herculean effort to overhaul.
The pyromaniacal ‘Tokyo’ with it’s belt-fed machine-gun rapid-fire lyrics sets the place on fire before the ever-so slightly eccentric ‘Billy Balloon Head’ brings the place down. With it’s sideways exploration of 21st Century social media ‘China Plates’ will long be a crowd favourite; I’m sure there’s more than a handful amongst the horde that would actually like to see a picture of Baz in his pants.
Until that moment the throng are more than delighted to see the affable frontman take to the crowd atop the shoulders of a willing ‘volunteer’; bringing the party to the masses in the only way the Wagons know. “Houston we have a problem!” remarks Baz as he realises the stage is too tall for even his ambitions as he returns to the ranks for the anthemic set-closer ‘Back To The Stack’. As a long-serving Quo fan it’s a great way to pay tribute to Rick Parfitt, a rock n’ roll legend up there with the best. The Wagons are heading out of lockdown all guns blazing in a determined mood serving up a dozen tracks in just over 50 quality hard rocking minutes.
Out of the evening sky, with the sun dipping towards the horizon to the west, comes a Braveheart warrior call as the seventh dragon comes in for landing. This is fearsome, well respected Scottish beast proudly sporting it’s clan’s own tartan. Vastly experienced Glaswegian rockers Gun have the job no-one wants; the unenviable task of following on from Massive Wagons. The Lancastrians have left one hell of a mess in their wake but in my book Gun are the perfect band to take this head on. With over 30 years in the industry – seriously it’s been this long since they supported fellow Scots on their ‘Southside’ tour – the quintet are well set.
However this wouldn’t be Stonedead ’21 without a couple of swerveballs thrown in. Sadly drummer Paul McManus contracted the dreaded Covid a matter of days before the gig so the talents of 19 year old Nick Georgiou are drafted in. And boy what a job this lad does! It’s all the more remarkable as bassist Andy Carr has had, due to a family emergency, very little time to connect with the rejigged band. However the show goes on and after an hour of hit after hit; nine of the band’s 14 singles that have tasted chart success hit the speakers this evening.
Set-opener ‘She Knows’, off 2017s top 20 album ‘Favourite Pleasures’, sets a blisteringly high bar. There’s no sign of being ring rusty here. Jools Gizzi hits the riffs of ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ – reminiscent of Quo’s ’86 ‘Red Sky’ – before brother Dante’s vocals send the epic chorus soaring heavenwards. Those delicious riffs come in wave after wave as guitarist Tommy Gentry and bassist Andy Carr bounce around like there’s no tomorrow. Suddenly it’s 1994 once more and the masses are deliriously bouncing around to the wonderful cross-over re-imagining of Cameo’s ‘Word Up’. In unison fists pump the dusk in time with “W.O.R.D. Up”. One word … sublime.
1989s ‘Money (Everybody Loves Her)’ continues applying the polish to the Newark showground with Jools laying down a solo that could feed the ravenous of hungers. Rolling right into ‘Welcome To The Real World’ Gun continue to roll back the years; this is an entity in complete control. The crowd are in raptures as they deliver ‘Taking On The World’ in consumate fashion. The eternal live favourite ‘Inside Out’ with it’s heartfelt lyrics are sung right back at the band with a genuine passion; Dante, clearly moved, comments “It feels like it’s ’89” as the Saltire flies proudly.
With the sun easing it’s passage ever lower towards the horizon, a couple of contrails seemingly heading sunwards set the scene as Gun embark on the final ramp up as they hurtle towards the closing chapters of their hour long masterclass.
Much like their version of ‘Word Up’ Gun’s imagination knows little in the way of boundaries as they ramp up the atmosphere with their cover of the Beastie Boys ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) that rocks the heck out of Stonedead leaving only one direction to head and that’s back to 1989 for their debut single ‘Better Days’ with it’s hooking chorus that will bounce around inside many heads for many days. This has been the perfect festival set with hit after hit and sing-a-long chorus hitting in a seemingly endless torrent. Gun will head back northwards for the Glasgow derby in knowledge of a job done to their very best; slightly eclipsing the rest of the day to hit my personal high-spot of the day.
The Yorkshire rose emblazoned upon the fanning wings of the penultimate dragon of the day shines bright white under the Stonedead lights. Nearly all the Emperor’s offspring have come to roost, just one remains circling high above. Bradford’s finest Terrorvision have announced their arrival. Blasting right off with the punk-edged ‘Discotheque Wreck’ they have the crowd onside in an instant. Following on from Gun this is another demonstration of festival etiquette taken from the top drawer. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall hits aside from the likes of ska-drenched vibes of ‘Go Jerry’ and the bands homage to one of rock’s finest ‘The Night That Lemmy Died’.
From the catchy strains of the volcanic ‘Pretend Best Friend’ and it’s rapidly delivered lyrics right through to top 5 hit ‘Perseverance’, a fitting finale to well-recieved set, it’s a strap yourself in kind of a ride.
Boom! With it’s fire-starting punk attitude ‘Alice, What’s The Matter?’ has the Stonedead gathering singing in fine, voice under the starlit Nottinghamshire skies before vocalist Tony Wright offers ‘Tequila’ to the masses; the party is ensured to carry into the wee hours.
The trio of founding members – Tony Wright (vocals), Mark Yates (guitars) and the well tailored Leigh Mathews (bass) – are well-balanced with the new members – namely Cameron Greenwood (drums) and Milton Evans (keyboards/trumpet) and they rampage through ‘D’Ya Wanna Go Faster’ even with the gremlins deciding to have a ‘nibble’ at the lighting rig. Who fed the blighters after midnight? Tony lights up his phone with the crowd right onside before he quips “I think that happened as we said it’s better when it gets dark”.
With “Ooh wop bop ba doo wop” aplenty Tony poses the question in the live bastion that is ‘Oblivion’ as to choices made “If all the people in the world camped out in your back garden”. Well the reply from the Stondead organisers is they would not only grab a tent they would put on a cracking yearly festival and then join the buggers! With a whole lot of effort and a little bit of ‘Perseverance’ Terrorvision have torn up Stondead 2021 with a rugged Yorkshire approach.
The final dragon offspring to make it’s Stonedead appearance is a grand, wizardly but powerful, thaumaturgical creature with a knowing, experienced eye. The last chapter of Stonedead 2021 and the trials and tribulations are in full force.
Well loved British rock veterans Uriah Heep, hot on the heels of a storming Steelhouse set, are late replacements for Black Star Riders who succumbed to the pandemic in the days leading up to the festival.
However the technical gremlins that have persisted have, despite the very best efforts of the stage crew, meant that the overrun hasn’t been caught up. The consequence is that, due to the strict 11pm curfew, their set is curtailed by 30 minutes.
Undaunted Heep take to the stage and their professionalism shines through; the experience of 50 years and 24 studio albums illuminate the dark skies above the showground. Mick Box, 74 years young, is a magical talisman as his hands dance over his guitar whilst his ‘partner-in-crime’ out front Canadian born vocalist Bernie Shaw is utterly timeless. The highly polished ranks are completed by keyboardist Phil Lanzon, drummer Russell Gilbrook and bassist Dave Rimmer; all consummate showmen in their own right.
Commencing with ‘Grazed By Heaven’ off the latest offering ‘Living The Dream’ ably demonstrates that Heep’s current output can stand shoulder to shoulder as equals alongside classics such as 1970s prog-tastic ‘Gypsy’ and the enigmatic charms of the atmospheric ‘July Morning’.
The starlit clear skies above partner ‘Lady In Black’ perfectly before return to the Stonedead stage for a two-song encore featuring ‘Sunrise’ and the Heep classic that is the galloping ‘Easy Livin’. It’s a shame that their set has been cut short as their 90 minutes at Steelhouse felt a degree or so more balanced with ample time to accomodate the solos. Still, this is rock n’ roll and the show must go on. Which to Heep’s and the Stonedead’ team’s credit it did.
As the notes of ‘Hope and Glory’ reverberate around the Newark showground so Chris Sumby and his working team of organisers right across the board deserve a massive round of applause for their, often unnoticed, efforts throughout the weekend. Here’s to another spectacular weekend in 2022. As Baz wondered did you sell your soul in exchange for the perfect festival weather?
Photography by Lindsay Smith for MPM -– Copyright to all Images Lindzrs Media – Full Gallery Below