Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
2022’s incarnation of the long-running and well-respected SOS Festival is here but it’s been a long and winding road to journey to this point in time.
One suffused of portentous signs and challenges to overcome. Fully a thousand days in the advent since the last festival back in 2019.
The monks responsible for the calendar foresaw 2020; 13 full moons. A year torn asunder, and the ripples grew from the point of impact. Ramifications of which felt for some time thereafter. The rock n’ roll almanac shredded into pieces upon the chill wind which blew.
The gods, this weekend, look down and smile knowingly. Herein lies a beating heart of strength. Precious few would have overcome and succeeded. Thirteen, the sixth prime, the smallest emirp has thrown its lot into the ring and tried its damndest to apply a halt. The loss of venue is bad enough, but this summated with the loss of all three headliners is sufficient to induce capitulation.
However, here we are on a warm Friday evening on the eastern fringes of Oldham town centre receiving a warm greeting from the SOS family. A brand-new venue in the excellent form of Whittles@Tokyo and a cracking line-up awaits.
Friday’s motorway traffic has added a further two hours on to our journey northwards and sadly we miss opening act Fiefdom as a consequence, but we soon get our bearings prior to the next act. Whittles offers two stages, one inside (Skull) and the other (Viking) in a large courtyard outside. It’s a great set up that works an absolute treat throughout with seamless back-to-back sets.
The Viking stage is opened by Blackburn-based alt-rock quartet Novustory. Fronted by the stunning Imogen Rosemary they set about harnessing the raging storm they possess.
A storming set includes latest single ‘I’m Never Gonna Fit In (With These Kids)’ which, in a perfect nutshell, exemplifies the collective pride in their sense of identity. A rip-roaring version of Girls Aloud’s debut smash hit ‘Sound of the Underground’ sees the band ‘owning’ the track as we all sing along.
Ripping through their allotted 40 minutes they track most of the nine singles they’ve released since 2019. Debut single ‘Denial’ is replaced this evening by forthcoming release ‘Give Me Fire’ and slots in well in a powerful, energetic set.
From moments of sheer power to gentler interludes Novustory have it all in overflowing bags; this is a band that are going to fly.
Switching inside the Luke Appleton Trio are smashing up Whittles with a headbanging wrecking-ball approach. One of the key components of the SOS organising team Luke is an accomplished musician too starring in the likes of Iced Earth, Absolva and former Maiden vocalist Blaze Bayley’s band.
Encouraging everyone to take three steps forward they set a course hard and heavy. The Skull is packed and readily soak up the Maiden-esque ‘Medusa’ and the trad NWOBHM leanings of ‘Inside Out’ lifted off the trio’s debut LP.
‘Forever Viking’ is, emotionally, dedicated to the lasting memory of Luke’s good friend Wayne Turnball. Known as ‘The Viking’ Luke describes him as “A gentle giant with a massive heart. A tragic loss.” With a metalliferous alloying of Maiden and Marillion this beast of sensitivity has the crowd chanting and pumping their fists in full respect of The Viking.
Amongst the hardest-gigging outfits of the current underground scene are heavyweight trio White Raven Down who have headed up from the Essex headquarters. The Conspiracy has landed and with a ‘Roll Of The Dice’ they roar, loudly, into action.
Newly ensconced in his vocal duties Stu Bailey takes to stage front for some mean son-of-a-gun riffage whipping up a frenzy. The crowd is swiftly onside afront the Viking stage; a cross of Mad Max meets The Walking Dead in construction and totally in keeping with the weekend’s thread.
Heads nod in time and feet collectively pound the tarmacked surface whilst early arrivals Sons Of Liberty bounce about in appreciation. Nice meaty powerage backs up Bailey’s promise of some heavy riffs.
We like a bit of girth!” he wryly notes. Exuding pleasure and pride in balanced measured WRD deliver a storm. Anthemic ‘Salvation’ pummels before the Sabbath-moulded ‘Silence’ leads, most appropriately into ‘Iron Man’. Excellent stuff.
Back in the hot, sweaty environs of the Skull stage West Midland metallers Fury are star tripping into Oldham. It’s fast and furious within Whittles’ innards as Fury wanna ‘Breakout’ before they breakdown. Frontman Julian Jenkins is an affable character rattling the rafters with his Flying V whilst the ranks of his band surround him with monster moves in ‘Hell Of A Night.
They remind me of Swedish metal outfit Bullet in not only their audible output but their approach of being deadly serious about having a fun time rocking out on stage.
‘Dragon’s Song’ is crafted in the very crucible of the Gods atop their mountain peak with its symphonic strains blending well in a metalliferous vein. There is no doubt that ‘Rock Lives In My Soul’ with latest band member Nyah Ifill take the lead vocal duties with major impact. A rock n’ roll meteorite for sure.
With echoes of the Thunderdome ‘Road Warrior’ is a gloriously rumbustious heavy metal romp. The a cappella segment between Julian, Nyah and bassist supreme and ‘pigeon whisperer’ Becky Baldwin (last seen on the south coast depping in Rews) is, simply put, stunning. ‘Casino Soleil’ with its Motley Crue-infused r n’ r shuffle notches up through the gears to bring a cracking set to a fine crescendo. A most enjoyable introduction to a band I’ll certainly be exploring further.
Highly polished and equally industrious Cambridgeshire rockers Hollowstar wrap up day one’s proceedings outside.
This is to be their final show until December with the band turning their focus to recording their much-awaited follow up to their sublime self-titled 2019 debut long-player.
From glorious sets at Cambridge Rock, Station 18, Winterstorm, Love Rocks and Call Of The Wild festivals amongst many this four-piece have rocked the length and breadth of the UK since lockdown came to an end and this evening is absolutely no different.
Virtually the entirety of the aforementioned album is given an airing in their finely-honed style. Joe Bonson, out front, delivers voraciously gravelly vocals that grab at your innermost soul whilst alongside his basslines his brother Jack lays down a thunderous yet sensitive beat.
To either side of Joe the twin six-string talents of Phil Haines and Carl Ledger entwine with seemingly consummate ease. From the opening notes of a rip snorting ‘Take It All’ to the moment the last components of ‘All I Gotta Say’ it’s captivating in the extreme.
The prospect of a new album is salivating and given the delivery of such well-refined tracks at ‘Invincible’ and ‘Money’ you just know it’s going to deliver. The lads re-work a couple of covers in the form of The Proclaimers ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ and Free’s ‘Wishing Well’ to great effect before rattling in ‘Overrated’, the ever-emotional ‘Good Man Gone’ and ‘All I Gotta Say’ to bring the curtain down on a memorable set and a fine opening day of SOS Festival 2022.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM