Having been home and dried out at the end of Saturday I returned for the third and final day of Maid Of Stone hoping that the weather might improve and the early signs were promising as the day had started much brighter.
By the time Brave Rival took to the Phoenix stage we were being bathed in glorious sunshine and the heavy rain of the day before was soon forgotten. The 5 piece band from Portsmouth are apparently one of Joe Bonnamassa’s favourite new bands so that made them worth a listen to start with, but as soon as they started up with their punchy rock and blues sound, I knew I’d made a good choice.
The twin vocals of Chloe Josephine and Lindsey Bonnick give the band a refreshingly different sound which when matched with the superb guitar work of Ed Clarke sets them apart from their peers.
They worked through ‘Guilty Love’, ‘Secrets’, ‘Heart Attack and a new song ‘Bad Choices’ to the delight of the crowd and in return very happy to see the turnout multiply with each song. Clarke excelled himself with his bluesy solo on ‘Come Down’ and he is an rising star in the making. ‘Whats Your Name Again?’ wrapped up the set and was followed by extended applause from the appreciative gathered masses.
A quick spot of breakfast/lunch from one of the many food outlets on site set me up nicely for the rest of the day at the Jeff Beck stage which had a Welsh vibe going on for most of Sunday.
First up was Florence Black, the powerful 3 piece band from Merthyr Tydfil who immediately launched into ‘Zulu’ and ‘On The Ropes’ as the crowd roared them on. If the punters thought they were in for a snooze after Sunday lunch then they had another thing coming. These boys weren’t messing about as they blasted their way through track after track.
The horns were up and the headbangers were out in earnest for ‘The Deep End’ and then ‘Start Again’, the first single off the much anticipated new album. It was great to see younger kids (complete with ear defenders) on the shoulders of parents being given a proper education too and hopefully they will continue to support the Maid in Stone Festival as they get older.
A cover of the Budgie track ‘Breadfan’ got a great response especially in the small but perfectly formed mosh pit and they finished with ‘The Ride’ and ‘The Sun And The Moon’, leaving the stage with deafening roars or approval from the very happy crowd.
The afternoon got a little quieter then when Elles Bailey (well she’s Bristol based which is almost Wales!) took to the stage in her sparkling silver outfit and brand new silver boots, which were almost as bright as her smile.
Her performances and mix of Blues and Americana have been well received over the past few years as her music has reached a wider audience and her popularity has grown and there were plenty of cheers as she worked her way through what is already turning into an extensive body of work. ‘Help Somebody’ was followed by ‘Perfect Storm’ which also included some impressive backing vocals from Debbie Mariner, who as well as being in Elle’s band has just released an album in her own right.
It was maybe a tough gig being sandwiched between Florence Black and Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons on the main stage and this lead to a luke warm reception at times, which was harsh on Elle and her band as they played some great songs. A cover version of Delaney & Bonnie’s ‘Long Road Ahead’ was well received before ‘The Devil Claims His Prize’ and ‘Sunshine City’ closed out the set.
When I looked at the lineup for the weekend, my highlight was that I was going to see Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons live for the first time. I had been due to see them in 2020 at this very place, but Covid struck and it was postponed each year, but finally today was the day. The bonus was that they were playing a Motorhead set as well.
The set was loud and fast (was it ever going to be anything else?) with Joel Peters vocals strong and perfectly suited as they raced through ‘Damaged Case’, ‘Rock Out’ and ‘Stay Clean’ before fully engaging the crowd with a sing-a-long on ‘Born To Raise Hell’.
There was a sizeable mosh pit going on who were being whipped up by the relentless high tempo set into a frenzy, when the familiar bass line of ‘Ace Of Spades’ started up. Don’t ask me why but I thought they may have held it back until the last song of the set, but it didn’t make it any less enjoyable for being played now. This was followed by a rip roaring cover of Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’.
Looking around this was the biggest crowd of the weekend by far and they certainly enjoyed the 14 song set which reached its finale with ‘Killed By Death’ and ‘Overkill’. My 4 year wait had been worth it and I won’t wait as long next time to see the band again.
The final Welsh offering of the day was genre crossing Skindred with their larger than life lead singer Benji. The man has bags of enthusiasm and has the charisma of the best front men that there has ever been.
Having worked straight through a couple of songs at the start of the set he announced “We are Skindred and you are f****in’ lovely!” in his best Welsh tones which received the biggest cheer of the day so far.
The fusion of reggae, dub, electro & rock amongst other genres is not to everyone’s taste but it went down well with the masses at Maid Of Stone along with Benji’s infectious humour and playfulness. Whether it be leading the crowd up a dead end when starting Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ and then telling them to shut up or by donning huge BOOM sunglasses when performing ‘Gimme That Boom’ from the imminent new album, this was all about having a good time.
The headliner for Sunday and the final act of the weekend was Australian rockers Airbourne, who also know how to have a good time and in Joel O’Keeffe have a front man who is unique. Opening with quite possibly the understatement of the weekend in ‘Are You Ready To Rock’, Airbourne have 2 speeds – stop and 200 miles per hour and tonight they weren’t slowing down for anyone!
It wasn’t long before O’Keeffe was on the shoulders of a roadie and being carried through the audience whilst still playing as we rattled through tracks from the bands back catalogue; ‘Back In The Game’ and ‘Breaking Outta Hell’ amongst others.
Two thirds of the way through the set the drinks bar was wheeled on stage and O’Keeffe poured a series of Jack & Cokes before leading a tribute chant “for Lemmy”, before the band joined him down the front to raise glasses and have a drink.
Fully refreshed (or topped up) we continued with ‘Stand Up For Rock n Roll’ and ‘Live It Up’ to a crowd who were loving every second, especially when towards the end of the latter O’Keeffe encouraged fans to climb on their mates shoulders and he share a beer with them.
One by one they appeared as filled plastic beakers were launched from the stage, most of which fell short but a few of which were caught by their intended target before being downed to huge cheers from everyone else. This was pure rock n roll theatre.
Once those close enough to the stage had either had beer spilled over them or had been lucky enough to catch and drink one, we moved onto the final banger of the night in ‘Living Wild’. The final act of a stunning weekend in Kent was over and it was time to go home.
The first Maid Of Stone festival had taken place and was by and large a huge success with some minor technical hitches and probably a few lessons learned. However, it was great to see a rock and blues festival returning to Mote Park and hopefully it will be back next year and many years after that.
Reviewed for MPM by Howard Whitelaw
Photography by Paul Sabin for MPM