Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Planet Rock’s now-annual honouring of the meteorological debarkation of spring is upon us. From its usual southern base, on the Dorset coast, it has trundled northwards – lock, stock and twenty-five smoking barrels – to the very heart of well-heeled Warwickshire.
Make absolutely no bones about it Leamington Spa is up-market – round these parts one doesn’t simply eat; one ‘does lunch darling’ – but look beyond its regal, ornate facade and there lies, in wait, a dark surreptitious recondite secret.
Shadowy figures, a blurring grey, flit furtively between the Regency architecture. Acolytes faces obscured by cowled wraps, tightly clutch arcane scrolls upon which pagan script wrestle with the parchment upon which they have been scribed. Polemically sent, the spirit of the occultic self-styled laird, beloved of Page and Osbourne, makes his entrance upon a gleaming white stallion.
Traversing the River Leam via Victoria Bridge he knows his destiny for this is his birthplace. His bony hands grasp a dusty leather-bound grimoire, a spiderweb of cracks crisscrossing its ancient cover. He nods, this is to be where the magical ritual will be undertaken.
Under the gaze of a statue, mounted atop the apex of the facade of the Red Flemish bricked building, depicting a classically draped woman the laird dismounts. Most appropriately it’s one of the nine Greek Muses, Terpsichore the patron of lyrics and dancing. Astral constellations align harmoniously.
Reaching into his deep pockets Crowley extracts two dice, carved from the bone of a long slain dragon, and exclaims “let the date be set.” Tumbling and rolling, throwing conflagrant sparks, the dice eventually settle. Upon the uppermost side tiny piercing eyes open; four diamond blue on the first die and three burning ochre on the second. “So it is decided. Let this magic commence on the fourth day of the third month.”
Day 1 – Friday 4th March 2022 – The Assembly, Royal Leamington Spa
The business end of proceedings gets underway with a burst of light and a deafening intro from Planet Rock DJ Paul Anthony that simultaneously grabs the attention of the Winter’s End crowd and jolts them into action.
Stampeding southwards across the border thundering Glaswegian rockers Anchor Lane hit the Assembly stage at full tilt. No prisoners taken as they launch headlong into ‘Dead Run’; a hard hitter co-written with Ricky Warwick (The Almighty, Black Star Riders, Thin Lizzy).
Frontman Connor Gaffney explains that this is their first gig of the year and the very first as a three-piece following the amicable departure of bassist Matthew Quigley just a few weeks previously. “Gotta admit it’s terrifying” Gaffney adds; seriously it doesn’t show from where we’re stood.
The tribal tubthumping laid down by sticksman Graeme Newbury brings in ‘Honey’ as Gaffney and lead six-stringer Lawrence O’Brien hit an Iron Maiden-ish groove before giving brand new track ‘Ministry’ a confident airing in which a heavied up undercurrent of fellow Scottish rockers Big Country is subtly woven into the darkened fabric.
Gaffney wishes Becki a happy birthday and then promptly apologises if he’s embarrassed her before they rattle off ‘Blood & Irony’ and Stooges-esque ‘Fame Shame’ – lifted from their successful 2020 debut lp ‘Casino’. A pairing which neatly sandwiches another new one in the explosive shape of ‘Nitroglycerin’. Thunder rolls from the towering cumulonimbus clouds.
It’s an opening set that is well received by the Planet Rock faithful; there’s much that 2022 promises much for this likeable trio. Touring slots with the likes of Ricky Warwick and Wayward Sons before festival appearances at Call Of The Wild and Download come knocking.
Rising like a brightly tie-dyed phoenix from the flames The Hot Damn! bring their vividly bright take on rock to Winter’s End. With a couple of very catchy singles under their collective belt and hard-edged touring with fellow Winter’s Enders The Dust Coda and These Wicked Rivers, this punchy quartet is building strongly upon a solid foundation going into this new year. Introduced by Paul Anthony as “the band with the loudest merch range” the DJ seemed particularly taken with the grow your own aubergine pack. “Who knew?” he cheekily observed.
As time progresses so there’s less and less focus on the past on more on the present for these hard-rocking and grafting ladies. In fact, tonight is the first time that their set hasn’t drawn at least one track from The Amorettes’ impressive back catalogue.
There’s just one Tequila Mockingbyrd number during their hugely enjoyable 30 minutes set; the highly contagious ‘Enjoy The Ride’. A track which was released during 2019; the year when the Mockingbyrds and Amorettes joined forces before establishing a forward drive into tie-dye nirvana.
Fronted by the hard riffs and soaring vocals of former Amorette Gill Montgomery The Hot Damn! mean serious business. Set opener ‘Catch Me If You Can’ has the enigmatic keystone Laurie Buchanan searing notes from her smoking fretboard whilst drummer Josie O’Toole does her absolute best to pound her kit into downstairs. A heavyweight beat that dynamically pink-suited bassist Lzi Hayes complements perfectly. It’s a veritable rock n’ roll league of nations.
It’s a quickfire set that trucks along at a hard-driving pace with brand-new number ‘Figure It Out’ heading in the direction of The Runaways crossed with The Go-Go’s sort of thing.
The Hot Damn! bring their set to an incendiary crescendo that coats one and all, along with the fine art deco interior of this grade II listed building, in a rainbow splatter-gun delivery. The highly enzootic coupling of the Planet Rock approved singles ‘I Didn’t Like You Anyway’ and ‘Dance Around’ applying the technicolour assault. Lawrence Llewellyn-Jones – who designed the redevelopment of this award-winning venue – would, no doubt, have shuddered. The Winter’s End assemblage, however, clearly approve highly.
Highly polished capital city rockers Vambo have hot-footed it up the M40 northwards from their London base to bring their ferocious blend of rock n’ roll to the cosy environs of Leamington.
The igneous melting crucible blend of Pete Lance’s howling guitars and engine-room beats from rhythm pairing drummer Steve Price and bassist James Scott that hit with avalanche strength are a force de majeure. Coupled with the expansive banshees from the underworld vocals of super-chilled singer Jack Stiles ratchets matters up further notches.
A cranked-up version of The Hollies’ chart-denting rocker ‘Hey Willy’ complete with a blues-edged Led Zeppelin style has the Winter’s End gathering onside from the very off. The feelgood American vibe of the recent single ‘This Is Your Life’ follows with an Aerosmith swagger as Stiles howls “You gotta start living” to the midnight desert moon.
Without drawing breath Vambo roll right into the frenetically paced intro of ‘Paradise’ with Lance furiously buzz sawing as Stiles pleads emotively “Pull me out of this hell I live in”. This is classic 80s metal that goes down a storm.
The tempo is slowed a bit for the utterly divine ‘Running In Circles’ that harbours elements of Magnum and Dio in their respective prime. This soulful balladic rocker evolves as it soars spacewards. A rocking satellite that transcends galaxies.
Vambo is a multi-faceted beast and through in a swerve ball with a dark, brooding moody rocker Lance’s Gibson Les Paul snarls and growls whilst entwining with Stiles’ screeching masterfully controlled vocals. “We’re Not The Same muthafuckers!” he cries.
As effortlessly as flicking a light-switch Vambo select another gear and head down the freeway. Hood down and V8 melting the black-top beneath Boston-bound with free and easy rocker ‘Fast Car’ before book-ending their set with a mesmerising rendition of Purple’s ‘Burn’ that outros with Stiles sliding his mic stand down the fret of Lance’s Les Paul in consummate metallic fashion to bring down the house.
Currently on tour supporting the mighty Quo Liverpool-born blues-drenched rock guitarist Laurence Jones headed to Winter’s End for what is effectively a triumphant homecoming. Jones’ family having relocated to nearby Shipston-on-Stour when he was aged eight.
His burgeoning career continues to go from strength to strength; an unstoppable driving energy. If there were any lingering doubts about how this down-to-earth six-string blues-wizard would go down on a predominately rock bill they were extinguished with in the first few bars of searing blues-rocker ‘What’s It Gonna Be’.
With the uplifting Hammond of one-time King King keyboardist Bennett Holland segueing sweetly into Jones’ gritty riffing the Winter’s End crowd are captivated in an instant; taking this uber-talented bluesman to their very hearts. Jones’ seemingly effortless blues-drenched soul-baring mid-song solo from his green and white Strat is intricate yet immediately accessible and elicits a loud roar.
With an inner confidence Jones’ injects a couple of new tracks into the set early doors with the deep-down dirty blues-soaked rocker ‘Anywhere With Me’ which is surely destined to be a crowd-pleaser followed by those gravelly blues riffs, beloved of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, that lead us into driving-on-the-edge rocker ‘Can’t Keep From Loving You’.
Dropping the tempo for the slick blues of ‘Down & Blue’ gives all herein a much-needed chance to catch their breath; such is the on-stage intensity that is being witnessed. The pulverant propulsive blues-steeped rock of new number ‘In Too Deep’ further projects the direction Jones is heading in; musical compatriots Kris Barras and Jack J. Hutchinson are working in similar areas of this foundry alloying an edgy blues with a high-grade rock.
The metaphorical spot is struck in a heaven-sent manner with ‘Foolin’ Me’; a veritable head-nodding number that rolls directly into a scintillating refulgent take on Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’. Holland’s swirling Hammond keys abut neatly with Jones’ screeching six-stringing ensuring further structural damage as a 40 minutes set is brought to a rousing finale with a dental-defying solo. Orthognathic surgeons are on standby.
Exiting stage left following a well-deserved crowd photo the band surprised a good percentage of the gathered by returning for one last track. It’s a further new one and a near ten minute melodious bluesy balladic epic with Jones setting fire to his fretboard with a fiery raging solo that resonates around the domed venue. Jones and his band have produced a truly memorable set that will live long in the memory banks.
The heavyweight pugilistic tendencies of Welsh trio Florence Black are ensuring a second rising out of their hometown Merthyr Tydfil. Mercifully none of the bloodshed of the 1831 uprising but there’s a definite pride and sense of working-class resonating within this striking valley trio.
Following supports slots with Those Damn Crows and Reef alongside performances at Steelhouse and several other festivals this is a band rapidly ascending a steep upwards curve. A near-sellout show at Cardiff’s Tramshed next month follows a prestigious tour slot with Kris Barras.
Shortly after the hour of nine, a loud roar greets the arrival of three shadowed figures taking to the Winter’s End boards. Efficacious drummer Perry Davies stands behind his kit, raising his sticks as frontman Tristan Thomas raises his right fist to salute the large assemblage.
Are you ready Winter’s End” enquires Thomas; a low rumbling bass is delivered by Jordan Evans accompanied by Davies before Thomas forcefully hammers the opening riffs of ‘Zulu’. Boom! No messing, most certainly no-frills; the pack drill is on point as Winter’s End volcanically erupts. A scorching Thomas solo dwells amongst machine-gun riffage and artillery barrage of rhythms and beats.
Inside Out’ is heralded by a hoarsely whispered vocal before the hellbound train departs full and heading to a glorious inferno. Davies rasps the chorus whilst keeping the stage crew busy as they try, in vain, to keep his kit together.
Fuck yeah! I wanna see you fuckers move!” instructs drillmaster Thomas before launching with breakneck energy into ‘Bird On A Chain’ enquiring of the crowd “Are you with me?” The answer is affirmative as the crowd bounce and party as one unified entity.
Growling, snarling vocals are the order of the day reacting nascently with thunderous, bludgeoning metalliferous riffage and metamorphic rhythms. No punches are pulled as they rattle like an out of control freight train through ‘Ghost’, ‘The Deep End’ and ‘Pierrepoint’.
Thomas brings in their now time-honoured version of Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ with a soulful, bluesy intro before exclaiming “I wanna hear you Winter’s End!” Raising the ante with riffage of volcanic fortitude dovetailing with a beat of igneous proportions Thomas, Evans and Davies set about literally melting not just the venue but a good-sized area of Leamington itself! Evans raises the ‘horns’ as he thanks the crowd
Whilst ‘Breadfan’ is often a set-closer this is not the case this evening as ‘The Ride’ lifts the roof before brickwork is reduced to a granular level with the distinctive tone of the Plant Rock listed single ‘Sun And Moon’.
There’s a good chunk of Pink Floyd in here from Evans pulsating bass along with Thomas’ Gilmour-esque precision guitaring. This is the stuff that raises hairs on the back of the neck. Memorable.
Leaving the stage to a deservedly loud ovation; Florance Black are drenched in sweat whilst safe in the knowledge of an exceptional job done once again.
Following on from the efforts of the Welsh trio is going to be no simple task. Pretty sure something very similar was written on day one of HRH’s NWOCR weekender in Leicester just a matter of a few weeks ago. A mighty effort is going to be required but it’s one headliners Wayward Sons will rise to by ratcheting up the rock n’ roll party with a 19 track masterclass that nudges the hour and a half mark.
Fronted by Planet Rock DJ Toby Jepson ‘The Sons’ boast a three-album back catalogue which they set about in a rumbustious fashion. Jepson shreds the caustic riffs of set-opener ‘Any Other Way’ before the ever-bouncing bassist Nic Wastell, slick-as-you-like skinsman Phil Martini and the Les Paul slinging delights of the broad-smiling Sam Wood combining forces with the former Little Angel.
Wastell and Martini lay down a reverberating rhythm that registers on the Richter scale to herald ‘Don’t Wanna Go’. There’s lyrical genius woven with slick wit in the words as Jepson notes “Gotta get my boots on.” Wood whittles out the notes from his gleaming Gibson in the manner of a master woodcarver; there’s not a millimetre of the fretboard wasted. The Winter’s End crowd, partying to the very end, clap along as Jepson powers the ‘Rock n’ Roiller’ segment to universal enjoyment.
“Look at you beautiful people!” observes Jepson “A great bunch of bands. I’m feeling the community. One great big family” he continues. You won’t find dissent in any quarter with these sentiments.
An ocean of hands wave side to side for the evergreen crowd favourite ‘Ghost’ – our second consecutive spectral offering of the evening – which rolls right into ‘Even Up The Score’ with Martini’s thumping beat bringing in those heavy rocking overtures with Wood crafting those subtle trademark licks juxtapose Jepson’s frenetic riffing.
Jepson’s humour shines through “All the right notes not necessarily in the right order. But do I give a fuck?” he quips. There’s a clear identity abounding; a defined edge with subtle nuances. ‘Faith In Fools’ and ‘Alive’ are given a punchy workout that raises the collective heart rate.
The scorching six-stringing of ‘Fake’ blaze a trail atop the track’s resounding beats before the contagious wit of ‘Bloody Typical’ and its hooky chorus maintains an unrelenting momentum. Off the latest LP ‘Even Up The Score’ the Motley Crue undercurrent of ‘Downfall’ marries well with a Primal Scream sort of an edge.
Whilst Wood’s lavish melodies in the timeless ‘Crush’ take proceedings to a higher level before Jepson sagely musing that ‘In The Land Of The Blind’ the one-eyed man is indeed king. The 70s infused ‘Big Day’ is coupled together with ‘Joke’s On You’ to bring the main set to a crushing finale.
The Winter’s End stage is bathed in a deep blue light as what sounds like a 21st Century ‘War of the Worlds’ eerily echoes about the salubrious environs of The Assembly.
To a loud, loud cheer The Sons return to the stage. There’s time for a triple measure encore with ‘Feel Good Hit’ being followed by ‘Fade Away. The latter being dedicated to Dave Evans (of the Just Chopsing podcast – highly recommended!) upon the milestone of his 50th birthday.
Firmly ensconced as set-closer ‘Until The End’ rallies all who seek a redressing of the balance of what is fair and worthy by defending at all costs. Resonant lyrics that strike a chord given the troubles of current times.
Six excellent bands across eight hours of Day One of Planet Rock presents Winter’s End have ensured a great occasion with appetites fully whetted for a further two days of mayhem to follow!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM