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Gig Review : AmpliYuletide Festival Gloucester Guildhall

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

There’s just one choice to be made today. Shall it be diving headlong into the annual festive of last-minute retail panic or shall we indulge in the diversity and splendour of an eight-band selection from the finest pick n’ mix that the underground rock scene can offer? Well, it’s not a difficult one to be honest and one that we don’t apply much time to.

The second AmpliYuletide festival, brought to us by the team behind the Amplified festivals, offers much for the discerning rock fan. From the precisions of prog metal to the consummate charms of good ol’ Southern rock n’ roll it’s all in here. Via melodious arena-ready rock and a tasty slice of sombrero waving punk there’s no doubting the ability of the festival organisers to put on variety that is more than a match for those seasonal tins of chocolates. Overall, a damn fine reason to eschew the consumerism in full swing on the high street and slip on down the mellifluous rabbit hole for a few hours’ respite.

There’s just one slight ‘problem’ however. It appears Gloucester has somehow hidden its Guildhall, the venue for today’s extravaganza. Google maps shows us precisely where it is but nope all we can find is the Salvation Army band blasting out a choice selection of Christmas offerings! Following a considerable amount of scratching of one’s cranium and several ‘up and downs’ of the main street it finally dawns upon us! Upon conversion, in the mid-80s, of the Guildhall into the present-day arts centre the building’s ground floor was converted into offices and a branch of a national bank. The venue’s entrance, whilst clearly marked, is a rather unobtrusive – hidden-in-plain-view – door to the side of the bank.

Once through the ‘wardrobe door’ there’s a Narnia of sorts to discover in the grade II listed Guildhall’s interior. Recently re-opened following a refurbishment during which a beautiful Victorian tiled floor was uncovered, and restored, in the concourse.

Via a grandiose staircase that possesses an art-deco feel we’re led into the grand hall which retains, impressively, its original joinery and plasterwork. For a moment I feel a bit underdressed for the surroundings.

Organising a festival is a challenging matter and the original planned line-up has suffered a number of withdrawals and alterations. Sadly, Piston have folded whilst Ryders Creed guitarist Myles has suffered a serious hand injury just a few weeks prior. Like these two outfits I was also looking forward to seeing Dead Man’s Whiskey following them suitably impressing opening Stonedead ’21. However, it’s not to be as vocalist Nico is blighted with illness and the band are, understandably, forced to withdraw just 24 hours beforehand.

With a bit of restructuring, an hour later than intended, the festival is ready to hurtle out of the blocks. Bounding onto the stage wide-ranging lead singer Damon Morey hollers “We’re 50 Year Storm, up from Cornwall. Gonna lube yas up!” Having ‘escaped’ the snowy clutches of their adopted homelands the day’s first band bring us their tempestuous melding of filthy blues synth rock in typical uncompromising fashion.

This energetic alt-rock trio have been steadily building up a reputation, since formation in 2016, for delivering something tastily a wee bit different. Not content to slot comfortably into one genre the ‘Cornish Undefinables’ push the boundaries as furnace-dwelling guitarist Andy Limn propels his six-strings through a bass cab in addition to the standard one producing a defining identity. One which is further enhanced with Emma Limn’s kerosene fuelled percussions; taking the fire she licks it and then unleashes the resulting fury.

From smashing it up with howling opening track ‘Cold Teeth’ – highly appropriate given that the snowfall of a week previous persists in stubborn patches all around the city – to closing matters with snarling hound-dog ‘Grace’ the Storm deliver a memorable half hour set.

Their ever-progressing evolution sees highly promising new material ‘Doldrums’ – Numan-esque in its marauding keys – and ‘Autumn Song’ delivering a Depeche Mode-like vibe entwine about live favourites ‘We The Brave’ and ‘Sweet Lou’ most favourably.

The southern trio theme continues, most agreeably, with a whooping and kick-ass ‘Hell yeah! in the Cajun seasoned flavourings of Hampshire’s delta land dwellers The Outlaw Orchestra. Invoking the spirits of Lead Belly and Robert Johnson the Outlaws are in determined mood belting out ‘Hangman Jury’ before rolling right into the invitational ‘See You In Hell.’

The whiskey may well be running low but the one-way tickets to the underworld are being snapped right up. Conflagrant banjo despatched by the ever-smiling Pete Briley and sizzling drumming of Ryan ‘The Prince of Pound’ Smith complement Rocker Dave’s rumbustious guitaring.

With a twinkle in his eye Dave leads his colleagues into a raucous ‘I Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ to round off their opening salvo. The southern hillbilly groove continues with ‘Back To Georgia’ complete with guitar and banjo facing off in time-honoured gun-slinging manner. Along with a slice of bovine-based advice of how to ‘Milk My Cow’ the party is in full swing.

By the time Rocker Dave’s sumptuous slide in set-closer ‘Chicken Fried Snake’ brings the house down we’ve been slapped most pleasantly around the metaphorical chops with Motorhead’s ‘Iron Fist’ – rabble rousing Outlaw style naturally – and the first festive track of the day in the seasonal form of ‘Outlaw This Christmas.’ Nothing is merely standard with the Outlaws and long may it remain as such.

The rock n’ roll compass swings to the North-West for the third band of the day with late, but most welcome, additions Takeaway Thieves bringing their hi-kinetic ballistic sleazy rock n’ roll to the proceedings. With swaggering low-slung guitars, the Blackpool-based quintet emphatically set about tearing Gloucester a brand-new one.

Remarkably they’ve got a couple of stand-ins this afternoon with Paul James and Rokket R Rik, from Towers Of London and Last Great Dreamers respectively, on bass and drums. To everyone’s absolute credit this doesn’t show and in a set clocking in at just under 35 minutes eight tracks are faultlessly dispensed with copious amounts of trademark energy.

Of the eight numbers the seven are lifted from their debut long-player ‘9’ with opening track ‘13 Feathers’ a gutter-ridden pleasure chockful of appetising dishevelment. With ‘Snakes and Daggers,’ redolent of a punked up Quireboys, is an earthy offering that goes down a treat.

“Merry Christmas to you all, let’s get wrecked!” offers enthusiastic frontman Peter McLoughlin before putting his arm around guitarist Ben Gibson during ‘Soothe Me’ as his and Neil Harding’s twin Les Pauls howl and scratch at the door. Following the script of ‘9’ the rocking ‘Big Mistake’ burns out into a flame with Stones tendencies.

Accelerating over the precipice ‘Lose It’ is hotly pursued by the coupling of the rooftop prowling of ‘Hot Cat’ and the frantic ‘Spider.’ Finishing up the Thieves veer away from the album to draw the curtains with strident glorious dissonance of ‘This is RocknRoll.’ First time seeing these guys live and they live up to their deserved reputation as entertainers. Rock n’ roll to the max!

Having headed south on the short journey along the M5 Brummie rockers Devilfire aren’t about to turn the dial down as they follow on. Not having seen them live in over four years expectations run high with the five-piece garnering rave reviews and a loyal following in the following years.

With a crashing of cymbals and roar of guitars the Midland quintet strike an assured presence from the very off. With dry ice swirling vocalist Alex Cooper, at a glance it could be primetime Ian Astbury, is the final member to enter the fray.

Their 40-minute set sparkles with five tracks craned in from their 2017 debut album ‘Dark Manoeuvres’ bracketing matters. In between the ‘Black Soul Vendetta’ pairing of highly polished ‘Sell My Soul’ and the gravelly melodious tones of ‘Chasing The Pain’ providing a dream-like filling.

Having released this album in lockdown times it’s clearly apparent the collective hunger in being able to finally play these tracks live. “We wanted to play every venue we could. It means a lot to see you all here” emotes Cooper. It’s been a challenging time during the last few years but hopefully a redressing balance is being struck.

Cooper’s stunning wide-ranging vocals are reminiscent of Coverdale and Gillan during especially during set-opener ‘A Thousand Times’ whilst the ghost of Dio is enlivened within ‘(You Gotta) Revolution.’ It’s classic to the core and goes down a storm.

The crowd respond well to ‘She’s Like Fire’ with the guitars of Baz Blackett and Keiran Topp providing a Cult-like fringe prior to the Nickelback-infused ‘Waiting for a Rockstar’ cranks it right up to the top of the scale. Devilfire have certainly lived up to expectations and it’s with expectancy that our paths cross again in the new year.

Hurtling down south from their Newcastle headquarters affable rockers Twister take to the Guildhall stage for the first of their two shows. Having supported Vega at Bilston’s Robin 2 the previous night these lads certain know the mean and ethics of pure hard graft. Never shy of putting in the miles for a gig this quartet of Geordies have built up quite a following since winning HRH’s Highway to Hell in Sheffield back in 2019.

Little did we know that as we watched Twister tear into ‘Secrets,’ off the new EP, with frontman Stevie Stoker singing “We dodge the bullets, only the strong survive” that this would prove to be one of the last times we’d see the six-string talents of Jake Grimes in the ranks. Sadly, just a couple of weeks later, early in the new year an amicable announcement was made detailing his departure from the band. Here at MPM we wish Jake well with his future endeavours and wish him, along with Twister, the absolute best.

Having been in the live set for about a year ‘Don’t Play Nice’ has settled in high-kicks and all. A dangerously contagious chorus and laden with infectious hooks along with a tangible nitrous-fuelled power this is trademark Twister.

Their ground-breaking 2020 album ‘Cursed & Corrected’ is well represented in a neatly balanced set with the rallying ‘Call To Arms’ and rebellious ‘Fist Fight By The Waterside’ ratcheting upwards. Latest single ‘Favourite Underdog’ is as arena ready as a track as we’ve heard during ’22 before the epic multi-layered melodies of ‘64 White Lies’ takes the curtain bow with a flourish. “We came and we conquered” roars Stevie in apt summary.

Worcester’s sleazy punk rockers Gypsy Pistoleros is as about a local band on the AmpliYuletide line-up. Their quirky brand of rocking mayhem, whilst taking some by surprise, is a congenial curveball that is well received. Immersing their Peaky Blinders imagery into a Latino-infused environ has some incredulous results!

A single white spotlight illuminates guitarist Pistolero Pete as he nails the Latin-inspired intro of ‘Duende A Go Go’ before main man Gypsy Lee bounces wish one and all a “Happy Fucking Christmas Gloucester!” Bassist Kerry White along with drummer Craig Sharpe bring in the hip-swaying rhythms. Off the forthcoming album this new track continues the bands’ theme for the off-kilter and most unique flamenco punk take on matters musical.

Down to the barrier Gypsy Lee enquires ‘What’s It Like To Be A Girl?’ as Pete’s Strat wails and sparks. The wistful, melancholic opening strains of ‘Bandido’ soon accelerate rapidly as the Pistolero’s cosmopolitan flamenco punk rolls thunderously across the Mojave desert. Effervescent ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ features a stunning guitar solo atop machine-gun drumming with Lee, in self-deprecating tones, humorously noting “We’ve got some great bands to come, just got to get through this bit!”

With a frenetic Dropkick Murphys themed riot ‘Ballad of Tommy Shelby’ bursts into colourful life following the faux-Elvis intro before the roof is lifted with an inspired rendition of Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca.’ Good times indeed and a veritable breath of fresh air.

With an expansive back catalogue encompassing 5 EPs and a brace of fine albums North Devon prog-metallers The Fallen State have established themselves, since their 2013 formation, as a leading light of the NWOCR scene. Incredibly during a highly accomplished 50 minute long set the quintet manage to embrace all releases other than their debut EP.

Released in March ’22 their second album ‘Between Hope & Disillusion’ proved a worthy succession to their well-received debut ‘A Deadset Endeavour.’ Tracks such as the hugely resonant ‘Knives,’ with its darkened, brooding tones, and ‘Standing Tall,’ that possesses a shimmering intro that unleashes powerage, dovetail with precision amongst the live favourites such as anthemic rousing set-closing ballad ‘Nova.’ Dedicated to a close friend of the band who passed recently it’s an emotional moment.

Having been at the vocal helm for well over two years now Adam Methven has proven an astute replacement for former singer Ben Stenning. On the older material Adam serves justice with the uplifting opening track ‘For My Sorrow’ proving no further evidence is required.

The band’s fourth EP ‘Crown Your Shadows’ is visited for the pairing of the stomping ‘Sinner’ and the majestic ‘Sons Of Avarice’; the latter featuring the utterly sublime guitaring of Jon Price. A sheer avalanche of metallic licks that could more than adequately feed the hungriest of hordes.

Latest single ‘Mirror’ is the prog-metal monster that many have dreamt of having written. Its kaleidoscope of multi-hued facets sweeps all before it with regal forces. The flame of optimism burns brightly going into 2023 for The Fallen State based on the strength of this one track alone.

Further reflection to their back catalogue is deservedly given with ‘Torn’ stampeding along its course before leading into the battle charge of heavyweight ‘Lost Cause.’ Taken from their second EP ‘Burn It To The Ground’ snarls and takes no prisoners. Hard to think that this highly combustible track was recorded well over eight years ago as we sing along. Clenched fists punch the air as the rallying call is answered. The Fallen State have much to look forward to.

Thus, with the merest blink of an eye so we await the headline slot of what has been an excellent day with an impressive depth and breadth of variety. Far from an identikit line-up AmpliYuletide has, in my humblest opinion, been vastly deserving of a larger attendance. Whilst not a disastrous number the ranks should, given the quality on offer, have been greater. It’s a symptomatic snapshot of how crowded and congested the calendar has become. In not too wide a radius, in travel terms, there’s Florence Black and Cardinal Black headlining shows in South Wales, South Of Salem topping a hometown gig in Bournemouth and Volbeat tearing up the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff all on the very same date.

Regardless of whether it’s a sell-out gig or not there’s one thing that is 100% guaranteed with this evening’s headliners Bad Touch; everyone is going to navigate homewards with a headful of high-quality earworms having been treated to the very best set by the very best exponents of good time southern-drenched rock n’ roll.

Norfolk’s Bad Touch have been rocking up and down the highways and byways since 2010. Having supported the likes of The Quireboys, Tyketto, Jared James Nichols and King King they are, nowadays. amongst the elite of NWOCR; one of the go-to bands when looking for a bonafide headliner.

This evening’s set is well-constructed, one that takes a balanced look at their catalogue. With four albums under their collective belt, it’s a tricky task to get a balance. Of the baker’s dozen selected this evening just a slither under half are chiselled from their last studio recording, 2020s ‘Kiss The Sky.’ The remainder are shared amongst the other albums plus a crowd-pleasing cover and an equally engaging festive song.

Their infectious southern-doused brand has one reaching for a bourbon, it’s a natural combination. A potent one for sure as every time I see these guys the smell of the Glastonbury campfires pervades my nostrils and I’m contently watching The Black Crowes.

Stevie Westwood’s captivating vocals sooth even the most troubled of inner souls and wrap about the killer guitaring laid down by the sharp-shooting duo of Daniel ‘Seeks’ Seeking and Rob Glendinning. All atop the earthquake proof foundation most ably constructed by bassist Michael Bailey and percussive force George ‘Beast From The East’ Drewry. With more swagger than the Stones and Aerosmith, combined, can muster and the southern evocation of Free, Skynyrd et al Bad Touch are a force majeure.

The cover of Alanis Morisette’s hit single ‘Hand In My Pocket’ is firmly ensconced in the set, a perennial crowd pleaser for sure. The entire selection is designed with that in mind from the smoking gun of ‘Lift Your Head Up’ right through to the evergreen party anthem and mathematically enquiring ‘99%’ it’s non-stop wall-to-wall rock n’ roll.

Most certainly ‘Dressed To Kill,’ as Stevie’s sparkling silver jacket attests, Norfolk’s bayou rockers lay down a denim-based question within ‘Good On Me.’ These are sharp tailored chaps ya know. All the while we can ‘Strut’ with more than a degree of hip swaying with the on-stage quintet leading the way like some demented delta land pied piper.

Released a couple of years ago the festive ‘A Gift For You’ is given a rare live outing with the relevant headwear donned. In reflection with the likes of the graceful meandering of ‘I Get High’ and the golden ‘Come A Little Closer’ the entire set has been a gift from band to the AmpliYuletide gathering. Once again Bad Touch have proven to be at the very pinnacle of their game.

It’s been a cracking day here in the city and we depart looking forward to 2023’s instalment.

Early-bird Advance Tickets for AmpliYuletide 2023 – Saturday 16 December, Gloucester Guildhall – are on sale at the link below. Featuring Electric Black, Loz Campbell, and Giant Walker with plenty more to be announced these advance tickets are £18.50 plus booking fee.

WeGotTickets | Simple, honest ticketing | AMPLIYULETIDE 2023

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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