Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
The first segment of the incantation has worked incredibly well; the dark laird cracks a thin smile in reflection of a job well done. Terpsichore, atop her breezy vantage point, is a little bit frazzled around the edges and, like many, is a little worse for wear.
Strike one but more is required, the dice are rolled, by skeletal hands, once again. Five icy blue followed by a flaming three. The astral powers have decreed that the second part shall follow immediately.
There is just one thing to adjust; the strength requires increasing. Ten smoking barrels are to be fired today; therein lies a mammoth musical marathon. A near 12 hour spectacular with plenty for all.
Day 2 – Saturday 5th March 2022 – The Assembly, Royal Leamington Spa
First to stride on to the boards of The Assembly’s apsidal stage are the finest moonshining rock n roller’s Bristol’s very own Sons Of Liberty. With an almighty ‘Hell Yeah!” the Sons set a course for the deep south. Since formation in 2014 this hard grafting quintet have set venues ablaze up and down and across the full breadth of the UK. It’s instantly clear why as a high benchmark is set with a triple broadside that clears the fuzziness left from last night.
With the deliciously rough southern blues-edged Planet Rock play-listed ‘Damaged Reputation’ being adeptly followed by singalong crowd favourite ‘Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief’ and the humoursly-tinged ‘Up Shit Creek’.
Enigmatic frontman Rob Cooksley sways side to side as he prowls stage-front whilst a fearsome growl is unleashed from the twin Gibson Les Pauls of six-string slingers Andy Muse and Fred Hale. Cooksley springs into a fine harmonica solo in the third of their opening salvo as his musical compatriots answer the question of what the offspring of Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC would actually sound like.
The remaining four tracks are all drawn from The Sons’ highly acclaimed ‘Aces & Eights’ long-player. The fiercely searing ‘Don’t Hide Behind Your Weakness’ is announced as ‘Beef Jerky Boogie’ by Cooksley who, in his enthusiasm for his favourite food, has got all steamed up! Tearing through the former the Sons are swiftly back on track and chuckling away.
Launching into the utterly riotous foot-stomper ‘Beef Jerky Boogie’ with the song subject being, in what is surely a Winter’s End first, thrown into the crowd. We’re off to Rosedale as the Sons pay their respect to Cream; you see it’s all about that crossroads.
A stellar coupling of the igneous ‘Fire & Gasoline’ along with respectful ‘Ruby Starr; the latter a heartfelt tribute to the later singer of Black Oak Arkansas wrap up a sterling set. The Sons are on fire having produced a highly polished set that is in keeping with the grandeur of the Assembly’s fine LLB-designed interior. That’s a big ‘Hell Yeah’ from a very healthy early-doors crowd. Just one complaint …. 30 minutes was not nearly enough!
Following in the Westcountry footsteps of the Sons come talented Devonian alt-rockers Firekind; a trio who have been getting richly deserved notice through supporting Jack J. Hutchinson and Kris Barras towards the tail end of 2021. Energetic alt-rocker ‘Adrenalin’ is heralded by a crashing riff from guitarist Jas Morris before his brother Dan, on bass, and powerhouse drummer Mitch Pike get in on the track. Think Muse crossed with Stereophonics and you’re heading off to the glorious technical arena these gents inhabit.
The high-end riffage of wildly-fizzing fusewire ‘Defend’ attacks the nerve endings in a tingling fashion. On the cusp of an upwards curve Firekind are, no doubt, a largely unknown to the majority of the Winter’s End crowd but this doesn’t deter these affable Devonians from inserting a couple of new tracks they’ve recorded with Josiah Manning (Kris Barras Band) for their forthcoming new release. ‘Living Days’ is a cracking alt-rocker with soaring heartfelt vocals with ‘Ego’ stampeding into Leamington like a herd of thundering elephants with a heavy, jabbing chorus.
As the set progresses so the ever-growing assembly warms to the talented triumvirate with the emotional delivery of the anthemic arena-ready ‘Sound Of Rain’ garnering a great response. The grandiose of the art-deco surrounds are mirrored well in the technical alt-rock of set-closer ‘Desolate’ through which it’s clear to see there’s a genuine chemisty between this trio. They have captivated the early afternoon crowd with their half hour set.
Fronted by prowling rock n’ roll lioness Caroline Kenyon north-west quintet Bastette are a searing firebrand that outputs a sumptuous delivery. Whilst Kenyon’s fine vocals – redolant of a silken heavy metal version of Stevie Nicks – and expressive stage presence are an obvious focal point there’s a tight-knit, cohesive unit right alongside.
Drummer Rob Hirst lays down a tribal beat which brings in set-opener ‘Talk About It’ a fearless track about sleeping with the enemy and taking back control. Guitarists Sam Newiss and Eoin Kelly punch out meaty riff upon meaty riff alongside heavenly twin harmonies whilst affable bassist Paddy Duffy is perfectly meshed with his rhythm partner Hirst.
‘Primal’ is a smoking stalker of a rocker with Kenyon intently searching her prey; there’s power and subtly of vocals herein whilst a wild yet intensely focused storm rages about her. The twin guitars of Newiss and Kelly seek connection upon a lunar landscape.
Recent performances at HRH and HRH’s NWOCR weekender have certainly raised an already burgeoning reputation and this afternoon’s showing will surely raise the level even further. The emotion of ‘Sunglass’ drops the tempo but not the collective momentum with the semi-acoustic tones marrying Kenyon’s stunning vocals perfectly.
It’s refreshing to see so many of the Winter’s End acts electing to perform new numbers and Bastette continue this form with the polished ‘Physco’; the future is indeed bright. The utterly relentless ‘Rip Me To Shreds’ is followed up by ‘Rollercoaster’ drawing upon such influences as The Dirty Youth and Halestorm. It brings a dynamic half hour to a fine conclusion atop a lofty pinacle. It’s one that will live long in the memory banks and will ensure these Lancashire rockers are at the forefront of the promise of 2022.
There’s absolutely no contest! With a stupendous hat-trick of standard lamps and a wonderful array of tie-dye drapes that hark back to a physcedilic bygone Derby’s These Wicked Rivers have won, hands down, the stage set-up of the weekend. Running the exuberent outfits Planet Rock DJ Darren Redick to a photo-finish this is what hard rock in the 21st century needs more of! Assembly designer LLB would, no doubt, approve of their harmonising and capturing of the internal art-deco ambience.
Following on from a brace of Eps These Wicked Rivers have been catapulted into the NWOCR spotlight by their 2020 debut album ‘Eden’. A recent slot in Leicester at the HRH NWOCR weekender saw The Rivers absolute ram pack the second stage to complete capacity. Such is the voracity and appetite for what these humble chaps bring.
The untamed lead guitar of Arran Day scorches the dried earth with searingly hot licks that entwine wonderously with the effortless keys that further expand an already incredible sound of first number ‘Shine On’. Vocalist John Hartwell gritty tones dwell comfortably in the overall southern feel that overlaps with a Led Zep vibrancy.
Hyenas cry across the arenaceous plains to distant kindred spirits as the Skynyrd-forged ‘Force’ is sharpened by a finely honed physcedilic edge. The gritty blues-laden riffing of ‘Evergreen’ snarls furiously as it’s poured magmatically from the crucible with this fine quintet holding the Winter’s End ensemble in their collective palm.
Aching for more it’s a total shock when Hartwell announces that ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ is the final track of a spell-binding set. This wholly sublime number registers high on the Richter scale with seismographs being sent wild as a shockwave of raw emotions reverberates from the on-stage epicentre.
The answer to ‘Whatever happened to Buffalo Summer?’ is presented as one-time Buffalo vocalist Andrew Hunt takes to The Assembly stage with his new outfit Valhalla Awaits. Via a stint guesting with Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons last year Hunt has always been right in the centre of all that’s good about Welsh rock music over the last decade or so. It’s no different with this current project either; from the very off it’s evident the high level of quality on offer here.
As hard as steel and as dark as coal set-opener ‘Dying Inside’ – a 2019 single release – is a heads down, pedal to the metal roaring V8 beast which comes complete with a hooky chorus that is a recurrent theme of the Welsh scene. These valley boys know a thing or two when it comes to penning a bloody decent rock song!
The cobra strikes with balls out no-nonsense number ‘Where Do We Go?’ before the riotous groove of ‘Slave’ and the destructive forces of ‘Black Waters’, both off the first EP ‘Condemned’, see VA shift up through the metaphorical gears.
Hunt gives Planet Rock DJ Wyatt a shout-out for playing the piledriving sledgehammer ‘Skin & Bone’, their latest single, a doom-fringed Sabbath-esque monster. Hunt, so redolant of Myles Kennedy, chuckles about their “Matinee Metal session” as he announces the imminent release of their new EP ‘Reckoning’ before the dark, brooding heavyweight riffs of ‘Digging The Grave’ calls the masses to worship at the rock temple.
Much awaits these Welsh lads with a support slot to Florence Black on a near sold-out Steelhouse Awayday III at Cardiff’s Tramshed and a most-coveted spot of the Steelhouse festival this summer.
With touring slots with the likes of Reef, Collateral and Dan Reed there’s a high degree of expectancy surrounding Midland metallers King Herd.
Vocalist Dave Taylor presents the stunning revelation that Winter’s End is their very first live performance partway through a hard uncompromising set that showcases their potential well.
Buzzsaw rich opening track ‘Remedy’ and the heavyweight ‘Medicine’ – both of which have the seal of approval from Planet Rock – both engage the tea-time crowd. Whilst ‘Halo’ summons the dark spawn of the underworld to join the party. Definitely in ‘The ones to watch’ category in the coming months.
Hot on the heels of right royally gatecrashing the Top 10 of the Official UK Album charts with ‘See Through Blue’ – their debut release for revered label Earache Records – just a few weeks ago Llanelli’s Scarlet Rebels take to the Winter’s End stage in celebratory mood.
Their early evening 8 track set is chock full of emotion throughout. This has been a long time coming for frontman Wayne Doyle and his powerful tubthumping brother Gary along with their long-time musical brother-in-arm and bassist Wayne ‘Pricey’ Esmonde. A couple of decades booting about as V0id the long desired-for success has only come in the last couple of years following the recruitment of guitarists Chris ‘CJ’ Jones and Josh Townsend and a change of band name. It’s richly deserved.
The Assembly is rammed as CJ nailing the swaggering intro to album opener ‘I’m Alive’ which introduces the brash glam of LA to the Southern vibe of the deltaland. Swiftly stirring from a slumber the audience bounce along in time with the hyper-energetic Esmonde.
The whirling dervish that is CJ leads his compatriots ias Wayne instructs “Let’s get a ‘Storm’ going!” as The Rebels roll, seamlessly, right into the first single off ‘See Through Blue’. Brother Gary thunders a pounding beat as he does battle with the riser in a valiant attempt to batter through into downstairs. It’s a stunning crowd response as they sing and clap along as a unified entity. Plectrum aloft CJ salutes the crowd at song end to a loud roar.
Chants of ‘Seven’ emanate clearly from the front rows of the crowd as Wayne thanks everyone for the support with the album. “It’s all down to you guys!” he exclaims.
‘Take You Home’ muscles in on the action; a rallying call of sizeable proportions with hands raised throughout the capacity crowd. Under yellow and blue lights – which are prominent throughout the weekend – Wayne, raising his right hand, states “We’ve been locked up for two years. Let it all go!” The crowd love it and go ‘ape’ “They’re the rebels on their way” is resonant and relevant right at this moment.
Hitting the back catalogue the Rebels engage with Stereophonic-esque ‘Let Me In’ before returning to the current long-player with the passionate ballad ‘I Can Sleep Now’. On bended knee CJ hits the searing solo before the track builds up to the roaring outro.
Both crowd and band are full of vigour feeding off one another’s energies. Wayne hugs CJ during his solo in ‘Save Me’ before Gary hammers the legendary beat to AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’. It’s kind of a biographical reflection.
A truly triumphant set is rounded off with the anthemic single ‘These Days’ complete with lyrical adaption “Boris didn’t feed his kids” reminding one and all of the incompentance of parliament.
To everyone’s delight there is time for one more as the AC/DC-ish ‘Take My Breath Away’ is swiftly added to bring a stunning 40 minute end to a befitting finale.
Through the current emerging rock scene Scarlet Rebels have found somewhere they belong; an audience having found them in the process. Here at Winter’s End everything has aligned; crowd and band together.
Leicester triumvirate SKAM have been striking their trademark power chords and rock solid rhythms for over 10 years now following their formation back in 2011. Reknown for their hard-gigging ethic and much loved by their loyal fanbase the SKAM Massive their time in the spotlight is surely overdue. They have all the components for success but for some unfathomable reason they have remained, shamefully, vastly underated even after four studio albums. The sense they are turning the corner has come in the form of the success of recent EP ‘Venous’ which bulldozed its way to number 6 in the Rock and Metal Album Chart.
Based on the set delivered in their typical unabashed manner here at Winter’s End it’s transparently obvious that this instantly aimiable trio have the ability in their craft to ‘live with’ those of their peers that have gained the attentions of record labels. Taking to the stage right after Scarlet Rebels tearing up The Assembly SKAM don’t try to outdo their Welsh cousins instead, respectfully, they do what they do best – their own brand of no thrills, balls to the wall hard rock. It’s a formula that has served them well and doesn’t fail here in Leamington.
By the time sinous bassist Matt Gilmore raises his bass aloft at the finishing of the scorching twists and turns of ‘Iron Cross’ faces have been suitably melted precisely as the doctor requested. A shot of rock n’ roll has been adminstered down at the SKAM surgery.
Breaking away from his mic stand frontman Steve Hill shreds a solo from his Gibson SG during ‘One Track Mind’ before taking a breath and announcing “We’re gonna slow things down a lot, gonna get it funky!” before going to declare “That was a powerful beginning!”
Dedicated to the loyal SKAM Massive – out in force judging the amount of band merch in the arena – ‘The Wire’ sees Matt and Steve join forces for the obligatory tongue poking midsong.
Thumpingly good honest-rocker ‘Bring The Rain’ soars effortlessly as Steve’s ‘baby brother’ Neil ‘The Hammer’ Hill outputs a stampeding beat. Infectious track ‘Take It Or Leave It’ leaves us in conclusion we will most certainly take it.
Matt’s rumbling bass is in synch with Neil’s pounding of his kit before Steve hits the opening rifftastic notes of ‘Massacre’. The crowd know are expectant, knowing what’s coming as they ready themselves for a inch perfect singalong of ‘War Pigs’. A goosebumps standout moment for sure.
An all-conquering set is rounded off as the trio tear into ‘No Lies’ with gusto. This has been a consumate performance which will serve SKAM so well as a springboard for further success in 2022.
From selling out venues across the UK last December to currently supporting this evening’s legendary headliners Smith and Kotzen London-based silken rockers The Dust Coda are a band heading rapidly in an upwards direction. Based upon this evening’s faultless performance there can be absolutley no doubts regarding this. Like there fellow Earache Records stable-mates Scarlet Rebels they have a loyal and loving following. The genuine affection radiating from the Assembly crowd during their sublime 10 track set is genuinely warming.
From the very off The Dust Coda mean business, serious business. Heading off the starting-blocks with the anthemic ‘Jimmy 2 Times’ has the very rafters reverberating with the highly mellifluous delivery. The barnstorming intricate six-stringing of Adam Mackie during ‘Breakdown’ brings the Winter’s End house down before this impressive quartet bring the tempo down a controlled notch with the slow, sultry blues intro of ‘Sweet Love Is Gone’.
A number that strikes a redolent chord with the classic early 80s Whitesnake. John Drakes wide-ranging vocals are finely controlled and captivate the Winter’s End audience as the track builds up in intensity as it effortlessly progresses. Seamlessly, to the Assembly’s raucous approval, they roll into the meaty, chopping riffing of ‘I’ve Been Waiting’.
The edgy blue-laden overtures of ‘Rolling’ bring a dirty, growling vibe to proceedings that ensures an incredible connectivity with the enraptured crowd. There’s hints of Bad Company and AC/DC herein but they’ve been brought firmly forward into the 21st century. This is neat trick that nestles in the Coda’s arsenal; one which the employ so well.
Infectious hard-driving rocker ‘Down In The Valley’ melts the blacktop beneath it’s screeching wheels; it’s a relentless, top gear pursuit. There’s time to slot in a tribute to The Doors with a mid-song segment neatly dedicated to the classic ‘LA Woman’. They’re a talented bunch these Coda lads; Drake and Mackie have traded lead solos throughout the set and come the end of this extended rendition bassist Tony Ho takes on the lead vocals.
‘Best Believe It’ bears witness to the four-piece dipping back into their AC/DC-inspired realms to great effect The capacity crowd are right into this with Drake’s snarling and gnashing vocals setting the place alight.
‘It’s A Jam’ brings a spot of boogie to RLS with a tangible Quo rhythm (think 74s ‘Just Take Me’ off the Quo lp and you’ll see what I mean). The searing ‘Limbo Man’ wraps up a snake-hip swaggering performance ensuring one final roof-lifting roar from the Winter’s End faithful.
There’s one last shot of rock n’ roll to be injected into the Planet Rock faithful and it’s down to Iron Maiden legendary guitarist Adrian Smith and his partner-in-crime Richie Kotzen of Winery Dogs, Mr Big and Poison repute to entertain the masses with their slick bluesy rock that they shoot from the hip under the banner of Smith & Kotzen. Their debut album released a year ago which was followed by the ‘Better Days’ EP in November caused a stir both sides of the Atlantic with the USA first to see live what all the fuss was about.
Now firmly on this side of the water for a short while this closely pair of statesman rockers are kicking up a storm with tonight’s performance the fifth instalment of this leg of the tour. ‘Taking My Chances’ is a tidy dirty driving slab of blues-rock featuring a barking at the midnight moon solo from Smith before he hands the reins to Kotzen.
The inter-play between the pair is slick and isn’t restricted to purely their gritty six-stringing; they, seamlessly, take stints on the mic too. It’s instantly accessible and the crowd lap it up as they roll right into ‘Better Days’ a howling blues-laced number carved from solid rock. At the end of the shadowy tones of ‘Some People’ Smith, grinning, from ear to ear shouts “Good evening Leamington Spa!” before remarking “I’ve always wanted to say that!”
‘Glory Road’ has a gravelly edge beloved of ZZ Top whilst deep down and dirty ‘You Don’t Know Me’ possesses a freight-train beat supporting honey-sweet vocal harmonies alongside an eagle in full flight solo from Smith. Six tracks in and this is truly the premium headline performance Winter’s End has expected.
‘Hate and Love’ keeps the fires burning wildly before the blues-saturated licks of ‘I Wanna Stay’ fan the wildfires further. Sadly at this point, through absolutely no fault of the on-stage performance, the toll of a near twelve hour day at the notepad takes its effect and the call of refreshment requires answering.
Though the temptation of seeing ‘Wasted Years’ played live is strong and revitalises tired limbs for one last time, A note perfect rendition of this Maiden classic takes me back to the last time I saw them live back in Leicester on the Tailgunner tour some 30 plus years ago. Timeless indeed.
It’s been a extraordinary day of music featuring ten superb bands who have all contributed to ripping Leamington Spa a brand spanking gleaming new one!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM