Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
It’s just over a year ago that the green shoots of resurgence in the live music industry began to poke up through the sadly desperate soils of lockdown.
Whilst Download and Glastonbury, amongst many, were busy reassessing and rescheduling a beautifully intimate festival in the South of Dorset stole the show.
Taking up the role of leading torchbearers the organising team stepped bravely into the ‘new normal’ to become the first UK festival since lockdown.
The year’s estival solstice has just passed, the Northern pole at its maximum tilt towards the sun and so the gathering of like-minded souls is upon us once more. Major festivals like Glastonbury and stadium sized shows across the UK, including British Summer Time at Hyde Park, take the weekend’s headlines but Love Rocks has sold out once again. Attracting its devotees for a weekend of celebrating all that is good in the grassroots rock and blues scene. It’s a family affair plain and simple; bands and punters alike together as one.
The short journey down the lane to St. Leonard’s Farm, for the Love Rocks faithful, their equivalent of Alice’s rabbit hole. Leaving the A31 abaft, the outside world fading in the rear-view mirror and the humdrum of daily routine behind enhances the magic of descending into this Leporidae burrow. Here the bright and vividly hued entwine, comfortably, with the uniformity of black; the modern-day gig-going Alice will encounter no King or Queen of Hearts herein. However, there’s a broad spectrum of mellifluous entertainment to be enchanted by with The Ace of Spades to round off proceedings in suitably heavy fashion. A sea of Cheshire Cat proportioned beaming smiles as each of the weekend’s acts delivers their contribution to the musical banquet relates the narrative without the necessity for words.
Thursday 23 June 2022
Last year’s successful trialling of a warm-up session on the Thursday evening has been expanded upon in this year’s incarnation of Love Rocks with three bands rocking the pre-festival shindig. Kicking off the weekend is highly respected blues vocalist Rebecca Downes bringing her stripped back collective into the laid-back Love Rocks surroundings. It’s a set lifted from last year’s well-received ‘Stripped Back’ album. A stunning selection that took tracks from ‘Believe’ and ‘More Sinner Than Saint’ and journeyed them into a bare-to-the-bones environ.
Rebecca, accompanied by guitarist Steve Birkett and drummer Neil Ablard, steps on to the amiable cosy surrounds of the second stage. “Are you lovers ready to rock?” she enquires as she shoulders her acoustic six-string continuing “I dunno if ya know but we’re the peaky blinders” in her warm Brummie accent.
Set opener ‘Take Me Higher’ appropriately achieves a successful lift-off with a laid-back approach that packs a raw punch. Becca’s vocals soar effortlessly into the grey skies above with the affable Midlander looking skywards at song end commenting “It’s stopped raining! I looked at the forecast and thought it had followed me from Birmingham!”
The steadily growing crowd are clearly enjoying the rough-hewn vibes as ‘Wave Them Goodbye’ mixes a primal blues undercurrent with a rocking edge. Following this opening brace, originally housed on the aforementioned ‘More Sinner’ long-player, Becca and her musical ‘babbies’ cast an eye further back into the discography reworking an ensorcelled draft off 2016s ‘Believe’.
A quartet, including a gritty ‘Night Train’ and a sultry up-tempo ‘Long, Long Time’, that wrap themselves about a rocked-up blues infused rendition of Terence Trent D’Arby’s late 80s smash-hit ‘Wishing Well’. A swerve ball selection that had the surprised ensemble singing along before ‘Believe’ is brought in by Birkett’s sumptuous slide guitar. Bringing the Midlands delta lands to Dorset Becca’s soaring vocals begin to chase the clouds northwards. The slender sparking fireflies of Rebecca’s blues-rock has got Love Rocks underway in exquisitely refined mien.
A complete change of tack is thrown into the mix by the Love Rocks schedulers as bad-arsed Brighton-based metallers Amongst Liars land with a Krakatoa proportioned explosion. The hard-working crew from Sound Perspective continue to construct the main stage; their professionalism ensuring that the evening’s proceedings are not intruded upon. Complete focus from the Love Rocks gathering is upon these four young lads from along the South coast.
With their eponymously titled debut lp due out in a couple of weeks’ time they, naturally centre their 50 minutes set with all bar one track from it.
The quartet freight train headlong as the Dorset sun sets out to the west; the heavyweight beast ‘Black Days’, as dark as coal, sets the tone from the very off. With the deep resonating bass of Ross Towner and Leo Burdett’s growling guitar atop skinsman Chris Phillips’ pounding groove; the latter depping for the unavailable Adam Oarton and learning eleven songs in a single rehearsal.
All this entwined with a Rage Against The Machine vibe and the powerage is beyond question. The furiously meaty ‘Over and Over’, the filling in an opening triple blast, bounces along with an alternative nu-metal edge.
Burdett wastes no time to get up close and personal with the crowd out front; hopping off the stage to get involved with an appreciative ensemble. Current single ‘All Over Now’ casts a collective eye towards the darkened depths to complete the initial hat-trick.
It’s all action with vocalist Ian George stalking stage front whist Burdett clambers atop Chris Phillips’ bass drum. Whilst this is a band in its infancy it’s clear that there’s experience aplenty within the ranks; the coming together of the remnants of Katalina Kicks and Saint Apache in early 2019.
In the shadows of the towering skyscrapers city-dwelling demons stalk the concrete centre; announced as the next single ‘Reign’ generates urban imagery completely juxtaposing the gentle Dorset heathland that the festival site nestles amongst. This is band that can generate rapid metalliferous offerings such as ‘Cut It’ that ride the storm waves whilst a maelstrom rages within ‘Money.’
‘Burn The Vision’ is a dark thundering track with white-hot lightening splitting the atmosphere with searing electricity before George announces ‘Without Grace’ stating “Written about the shit of war, this goes out to all those who are suffering.” Its punchy lyrics striking the most resonant of chords. Total headbanger ‘Tick The Box’ wraps up the set with a stoner doom fringe that sets off car alarms for fun. This is a pedigree beast that rampages with aplomb, be sure to grab them in action or a copy of their forthcoming release.
Having starred at last year’s Love Rocks firebrand guitarist Troy Redfern returns in 2022 to headline the Thursday night for a compelling stripped back to basics set taking the warm-up evening up through the metaphorical scale. Meritoriously entitled ‘The King of Slide Guitar’ Redfern, currently working towards a new album, is a crowd favourite, delivering a 40-minute set chockful of conflagrant sparks and incendiary licks.
‘Scorpio, the opening track from Troy’s most recent long-player the highly-lauded ‘The Fire Cosmic’, burns rubber along the expressway. A blistering hi-octane V8 rockabilly beat lavished lovingly atop a blues-rocking rhythm. The perfect animal to have under the hood when heading southwards to the border with those blue lights on your tail. A captivating set is underway as Troy snarls “All those lessons you should have learned, now the tables are turned.
A swift “Thankyou” and it’s onwards with the firestorm. Fiery sparks fly from the furnace that is Troy’s fully loaded fretboard. Pyrotechnical slide guitar from the depths of the underworld; somewhere on a desolate, isolated crossroads a deal has surely been struck. Harvested from 2020s ‘Island’, Troy’s Aerosmith meets The Doors fuelled rendition of the traditional gospel call and response song ‘John The Revelator’ keeps the hearth stoked.
After thanking the festival organisers and stating, with reference to the Love Rocks, “This is one of the best around” the swashbuckling blues boogie of ‘Waiting For Your Love’ is treated to an all teeth bared, raw and bleeding reworking. With his left foot tapping furiously Troy launches into anarchic six-stringing of ‘Sanctify’. His growling vocals perfectly complementing the raw tones that carome about the festival site with an underpinning current of San Diego alt-rockers Rocket From The Crypt.
With the tendrils of dusk creeping across the land the latest single ‘Come On’, only released the previous day, stomps about with the splendid slide guitar dispatching fireworks to the heavens.
Troy growls “You give me fever when the sun goes down” a line which seems most appropriate with the sizeable crowd under the Welsh Marches wizard’s incantation as the sun dips further towards the horizon. Looking out from beneath his trademark hat Troy comments “Here’s something you might know.
The stage is set perfectly for a magmatic searing slide version of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile. We’re presented with a super-extended journey through Troy’s appreciation of Hendrix in stopwatch-busting fashion. This is unlike any other rendition of this classic I’ve heard, Troy completely ‘owns it’ with Cajun-soaked Americana entwined around psyche-blues atop which rasping vocals are layered; a befitting way to close the warm-up evening and to whet the whistle for the two days ahead.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM