Home Gigs Gig Review : Day One – HRH NWOCR 1 – O2 Academy, Leicester Saturday 22 January 2022

Gig Review : Day One – HRH NWOCR 1 – O2 Academy, Leicester Saturday 22 January 2022

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

Five years ago no-one would have dared to imagine that this point in time would occur. For sure the green shoots of an underground rock revival were there to be seen.

Bands of the ilk of The Amorettes, Screaming Eagles, Those Damn Crows and Massive Wagons were taking the word out to the four corners of the UK but it was an undercurrent that was akin to a well kept secret. Those that knew were aware of a storm brewing; those that didn’t would soon catch up.

A community began to grow in numbers bringing musicians and fans, alike, close together. The word spread and before long festivals such as Steelhouse, Rambling Man along with Planet Rock and this weekend’s hosts HRH’s various weekender’s were booking NWOCR bands in ever growing numbers.

Forward wind and it’s apparent, today, that we’re on the tangible cusp of something amazing. Here we stand as independent record labels such as Earache are working their proverbial off in the name of the cause and harvesting chart success with these bands. The very hard-rocking outfits that are most noticeably beginning to ascend the festival billings.

HRH have been at the front the vanguard and have played their part in the elevation of NWOCR so it seems appropriate that HRH have taken the plunge and added a NWOCR weekend to their expansive roster of festivals.

Featuring a grand total of 25 bands across 2 stages over the course of the weekend’s festivities it’s proven a major draw with a crowd that has sold out the 1400 capacity O2 Academy in Leicester; all this whilst going head-to-head with the established ‘Giants of Rock’ down in Minehead. Indeed, with the aforementioned ‘Giants’ in its final incarnation it’s clear to see where the future lies.

White spots burn brightly onto a darkened stage as a drum beat thunders. Thus, at the hour of three, on Saturday afternoon, the ‘future’ begins as highly polished rockers Bastette tread the boards. Hotfooting it from their North-West base as a late replacement for the Covid-stricken Empyre this sublime quintet arestraight into their collective groove with the sultry ‘Talk About It’.

With the healthy early-doors crowd firmly onside Bastette continue to please with the likes of ‘Lover’ and ‘Sick & Twisted’. Complete control is theirs with the ability to slow the pace but not drop the momentum as the emotive ‘Sunglass’ ably demonstrates.

Beams of white light train down upon vocalist Caroline Kenyon as her stunning vocals are layered upon a gentle electric acoustic vibe – the heavy rock Stevie Nicks, a heavy metal lioness for sure. Alongside Kenyon, an obvious focal point, is a tight, cohesive unit who lay down a sumptuous precise riffage atop bank-vault solid rhythms throughout. Pen in Bastette as ones to watch in ’22.

Another last minute call-up follows in the hard-hitting form of Essex-metallers White Raven Down whosnap smartly at the heels of Bastette. Such are the current times we live in; learning to ‘live with’ is the order of the day.

Within current regulations festival lineups are going to be subject to these short-notice alterations but with quick reactive energies then all isn’t lost. Indeed, WRD, having played in Minehead the previous night at Giants of Rock, have taken a massive detour on their return leg home.

The extra miles expended are well worth it as the incendiary quartet deliver a 40 minute, 7 track set that does its very best to engage structural demolition.

It’s fast, it’s frenetic and with the likes of anthemic ‘Broken Door’ and bone-crunching ‘Take Me’ lifted from their 2018 EP ‘Conspiracy’ it’s a beautiful bludgeoning. The latter sees the strong house outfit pay homage to Sabbath by inserting ‘Iron Man’ into the proceedings.

Such is the intensity of this quartet’s delivery there’s a constant lookout for a fifth member; make no bones about it these guys kick out one heck of an output. In a touch of irony a well-meaning wag in the sizeable crowd calls out “Turn it up Stu!” Latest single ‘Price You Pay’ is an absolute demon of a riffer with a pounding bassline that crushes even the most tortured of souls.

This unkindness of ravens flex their darkened feathers as they harness the power from within to great effect.

Running alongside the main arena is a second, smaller, stage which does force choices to be made. As the darkness closes in outside, so I’m drawn, magnetically, to the second stage to catch slick-as-you-like southern-edged merchants These Wicked Rivers.

The room is packed and an expectant atmosphere swirls about well before the Derby rock n’ rollers hit the stage; capacity has been reached. It’s pretty much home turf here. Today we are treated to a stripped back quadrivium whose ranks have been recently bolstered, in the bass department, by the addition of Dale Bollard Tonks.

Following the tragic loss of Dale’s long-time musical brother-in-arms Tom Leighton it’s simply fantastic to see this ever-popular musician back on stage smiling from ear to ear.

With a packed to the gills audience gently steaming like hearthside labradors TWR waste no time in ensuring this is a “I was there” moment. Eight years in the making via two top-notch Eps and, released in the height of the pandemic, 2020s highly acclaimed debut long-player ‘Eden’ this 40 minute set will be firmly set in the file labeled ‘Memorable’. Constructed from the aforementioned album and the second of the eps this is seven spell-binding tracks.

Kicking off with blues-edged swagger of ‘Shine On’ the bar is set high with an almighty ‘hell yeah!’. There’s a Zep feel with delicious exuberant lead guitar atop a phenomenal rhythm. An off the emotional scale ‘When The War Is Won’ sets Leicester on fire.

Therein is an undercurrent of Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’ but make no mistakes this is destined to be entitled to be a ‘classic’. Blues-laden riffing ‘Evergreen’ is an absolute V-twin of a hog of a rocker whilst ‘Testify’ ably demonstrates the beautiful result when Zeppelin and Creedance Clearwater Revival are alloyed.

Someone pass the holy water. The wholly sublime ‘Don’t You Prey For Me’ sends shockwaves throughout Leicestershire as it explodes with magmatic force releasing a tsunami of powerful, raw emotions to bring the curtain down on a truly memorable set.

Suitably filled with southern blues riffing it’s most appropriate that the Stateside swagger of Gorilla Riot, back on stage one, keeps the groove going oh-so-sweetly along the tracks. Alongside Scarlet Rebels and Colateral these affable Mancunians possess a triple six-string frontal assault which is set to maximum stun.

Placing a marker in the arenaceous sand Gorilla Riot engage the southern-blues sashay with opener ‘Kerosene Clown’. Think Zeppelin taking the Stones by the scruff of the neck and hitting up with the Quireboys way down in the swamplands to neck neat moonshine by the full moon and you’re on the right path.

Never afraid to dip into their back catalog GR mosey along with the sumptuous slide six-string of 2013s ‘Most Wanted’ before taking AC/DC into the delta and hooking them up with Blackberry Smoke in ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’. Man that’s some mellow herbage.

Unashamedly wearing their influences upon their sleeves Gorilla Riot have, nonetheless, created their own identity; stoner gunslingers from the grey ol’ city taking the rock n’ roll gospel to the masses.

The bad ass groove of ‘Last Hymn’ is followed up by a double helping of brand-new material with the rifftastic ‘Molotov Sister’ replete with a dash of Quo leading up to a slowing of mood with the raw gravelly blues of ‘Blush’.

2018 single ‘Bad Son’ is completely on point with the stage one crowd loudly cheering their appreciation; frontman Arjun Bhishma encouraging them to “Keep going!” at song end. Grungy, gritty blues-laden riffer ‘Dirty’ elicits an even louder roar of approval with a sea of hands raised as one. Most wanted for certain.

Staffordshire quartet Ryders Creed are cruelly beset with technical difficulties during their changeover and with time ebbing away they eventually take to the stage over 20 minutes late.

As a result their allocated 50 minutes is virtually cut in half with three tracks consequently being trimmed from their intended set list.

Regrouping in stoical fashion they belt out a heavy punching set. It’s swiftly evident that the Creed are embarking upon a journey with a different direction to that which they began back in 2018 with their eponymous debut lp. Darker, brooding shades dominate and hard riffing is the order of the day.

Opener ‘Chasing Dreams’ is a rough-edged rocker that soars effortlessly yet somehow seems to be a little adrift of the recorded sparkle.

A theme echoed throughout their truncated set; as a collective they work hard throughout but it’s sadly not quite the usual highly polished product that is associated with this outfit. It’s a given that on another day with the tech firing on all cylinders in harmony no prisoners would have been taken.

Hand In Hand With The Devil’ snarls and champs at the bit with a growling guitar and pounding beat as RC bring their set to a close. The crowd are fair and show their sympathy to the band’s struggles with loud roars. There will be better days at the office for sure.

Stampeding out of Merthyr Tydfil like a trio of howling banshees Florence Black storm the O2 arena and claim it for their own. These three fiercely proud Welshman don’t pull any punches; there are no airs and graces with their performance. None are required and this goes hand in hand with their gritty, honesty born of their hard-working Merthyr roots. Alongside fellow countryman Scarlet Rebels and Those Damn Crows they proudly fly the Red Dragon from upon high.

Belting out ‘Zulu’ sees the pacled crowd, the largest thus far, quite literally erupt with volcanic force with guitarist / vocalist Tristan Thomas encouraging “Get those fucking hands in the air!” before rattling headlong into ‘Inside Out’.

Debut lp ‘Weight Of The World’ set a high benchmark during 2020 and Florence Black would be forgiven for weighting their set towards this fine metallic offering. However they have a more than decent raft of tracks within their back catalog and a track apiece from their three Eps along with two standalone singles are given an in your facing airing during a barnstorming 50 minute set.

It’s great to hear the wildly conflagrant ‘Bird On A Chain’ and the rich, searing tones of ‘Pierrepoint’. In between which ‘Ghost’ registers high on the Richter scale before Planet Rock favoured ‘Sun and Moon’ neatly changes the pace. A total anthem with the crowd singing each and every last word.

Breadfan’ is saved as their finale and after raising a bottle in memory of Budgie’s Burke Shell Tristan hammers his Gibson Les Paul as his rocking cohorts Jordan Evans and Perry Davies (bass and drums respectively) hit a ferocious beat.

Following this Welsh invasion is going to no mean feat; a Herculean task awaits. There is, however, no better band out there at the moment to accomplish this than Norfolk’s very own bourbon-fuelled southern rockers Bad Touch.

Four cracking albums into their career there are few that come close to their bar. The large numbers rammed into the arena are a barometer that adds further evidence. Strong arcane forces are at industrious levels herein; such is the power to hand.

Captivating vocalist Stevie Westwood sooths the inner soul with a strong Americana-infused affection which reflects brightly off his natty silver jacket. Alongside the guitar slinging from twin six-string banditos Rob Glendinning and Daniel Seekings entwines, in a rare fashion, evoking Free, Skynyrd and the Black Crowes.

Whilst the strong-as-an-ox rhythm pairing of bassist Michael Bailey and the veritable ‘Beast from the East’ tubthumping George Drewry lay such a solid foundation upon which a strutting sashay of a groove upon that swaggers more than Joe Perry and Mick Jagger combined is constructed.

A totally compelling set that clocks in at the 70 minutes mark travels across all of their long-players with ‘Lift Your Head Up’, from 2018s ‘Shake A Leg’, serving a serious notice of intent to get proceedings underway.

Stevie is most definitely ‘Dressed To Kill’ as his glistening attire gleamingly testifies. Hitting stratospheric heights the uplifting ‘Skyman’ is paired neatly with a rabble rousing ‘Heartbreaker, Soulshaker’ midset. Seamlessly segueing you could be mistaken that these two tracks are musical relatives from the same album; however they are drawn from different releases.

BT’s stupendously sublime cover of Alanis Morisette’s ‘Hand In My Pocket’ is now firmly established as part of their repertoire with the entire crowd singing every last word back to them. The country-edged ‘Outlaw’ has me reaching for my ‘six-shot’ in readiness for the coming duel out there on the dusty street before the anthemic showstopper ‘99%’ brings the veritable house down.

Bringing their full headline set to HRH NWOCR the four wandering minstrels that comprise the delectable Wayward Sons bring Day 1 to a close in their own indomitable style. Clocking in at close to the 90 minute mark there is no finer way to celebrate all that is good with the world of emerging rock.

Rock n’ roll troubadour Toby Jepson hits the initial sandpaper rough riffs of 2019s ‘Any Other Way’ before being joined by every ready energetic Mexican jumping bean bassist Nic Wastell, the ever dapper tubthumping Phil Martini and the sublime Gibson Les Paul slinging talents of Sam Wood.

Wastell, in his native Leicester, gets ‘Don’t Wanna Go’ underway with a structurally damaging bass growl that reverberates widely whilst former Little Angel Jepson declares “To be a rock n’ roller’ from under his fetching head attire. Evergreen live favourite ‘Ghost’ is, naturally, well received as Jepson works the late night crowd with aplomb.

Lifting his cap he wryly notes “See I’ve still got some hair!”. Martini’s pounding drum output brings in the heavy rocking overtures of ‘Even Up The Score’ as the broadly beaming Wood crafts subtle licks that perfectly balance Jepson’s buzzsaw riffs.

Jepson is clearly an admirer of Wood’s six-string talents and smiles as the Huddersfield axe-wielder lifts his gleamingly white Les Paul nigh on vertical to send searing notes across the arena during ‘Alive’. The hugely contagious ‘Bloody Typical’ with its hooky chorus is a winner before the lavishly melodious ‘Crush’ lifts the bar yet higher.

The Sons set an unrelenting pace gathering momentum with each track as they rip through ‘Small Talk’ and the 70s driven ‘Big Day’ before winding up the main set with ‘Jokes On You’.

A triple blast encore tears Leicester a brand new one as the resonance of ‘Until The End’ rallies all those seeking a light for justice by defending, at all cost, from those devoid of worthy virtues. It’s been a masterclass without compare and a befitting way to close an excellent first day of HRH NWOCR here in the grounds of Leicester University; there is much to look forward to on day two.

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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