Home Gigs Gig Review : Massive Wagons with support from GUN, Scarlet Rebels and Atack Castell Roc, Chepstow Castle

Gig Review : Massive Wagons with support from GUN, Scarlet Rebels and Atack Castell Roc, Chepstow Castle

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

As soon as I learn, as soon as I learn to fly

I’ll get us out of here, out of here

We’ll go to a place where the beer is cheap

The craic is good and the jukebox is free

As soon as I learn, as soon as I learn to fly

I’ll get us out of here, out of here

We’ll go to a place where everybody sings

Where Buddy Holly’s alive and Elvis is King

Ratio – Massive Wagons

It’s not an everyday occurrence to discover a national border dividing a festival’s campsite from its stage. However, here in Chepstow, the easternmost town in Wales, this is very much the case.

The Castell Roc festival effectively straddles the Welsh-English border with the camping on one side and the stage the opposite. The border here is delineated by the River Wye, a role which it performs for a good percentage of its length.

From the camping it’s a short walk, over the Old Wye Bridge, to gain access to the southern banks and Wales. Here one will discover this evening’s venue, Chepstow Castle nestling atop a limestone ridge, one that drops sharply away into the Wye.

An imposing arrangement with four-side and circular towers its crenelated walls contain over 900 years of history. Entering through the gatehouse, into the lower of the three baileys, is a veritable step back in time but however, somebody has – at great effort – placed a covered stage complete with all the trimmings in there. Everything that is required for an evening’s entertainment is right here all under the watchful gaze of the monumentally imposing Marten’s Tower; it’s one heck of a backdrop!

This evening is one of thirteen shows, across a near three-week period, that comprises Castell Roc; an annual event that this year features the likes of Midge Ure, Cardinal Black, Hawkwind and Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. It’s an undertaking that’s as every bit impressive as its setting with a collaboration of local promoters coming together. Tonight, it’s the turn of our good friends the highly experienced Swansea-based Big Day Pro Live who are well known throughout South Wales, putting on shows from Narbeth and Tenby out in the west to here in the easternmost reaches.

This evening’s headliners Lancashire’s Massive Wagons have a bit of a history of their very own. Perhaps not quite the centuries of our ruined surrounds but six albums spanning nigh on a decade and a half place this northern quintet firmly at the forefront of this latest surge of the ever-eternal rock n’ roll. Any doubt of it? Then the charting of the last three studio offerings, including the most recent ‘Triggered’ at number 6, so dispel any spurious aspersions. They’re a band of the people who dispatch an instantly relatable message for the people rallying the underdog and the oppressed. There’s a seriousness in their craft but it’s employed with more than a touch of irony and humour plus the all-important smile upon one’s face.

Opening proceedings are Atack the eponymously titled project of renown session guitarist Keith Atack. From late 70’s stint with Child via session work with the likes of Bonnie Tyler, David Cassidy, Shakin’ Stevens, and Rick Astley Atack has forged a career spanning several decades. Speaking to me prior to soundcheck Keith noted “[It’s] first time I’ve got a set of original material. All my own tunes and the band’s interpretation. [I’ve] mainly been a hired gun so this represents a milestone.”

The castle’s inner is filling nicely as Atack file on stage, greeting the early door’s gathering Keith enquires, in time honoured fashion, “How are you alright?” before continuing “This is our first one, gonna be special.” The spinetingling Hammond of the highly regarded Nick Foley (I recommend checking out his videos) drives hard entwining with the coruscant Strat shouldered by Keith as their set kicks off with the classic rock-based tones of ‘Nine Lives’. Deep Purple and Whitesnake embrace in the baronial environs.

There’s a high degree of quality throughout the ranks with drummer Bob Richards (Buck & Evans, Man), something a local legend having depped for none other than AC/DC on the 2014 video shoots for ‘Play Ball’ and ‘Rock or Bust’, partnering Thunder’s bassist Chris Childs in a fearsome low-end battering ram whilst out front it’s Dan Byrne on mic duties, a firm favourite of the Welsh rock contingent. A temporary slot filling in for the unavailable talents of Lee Small (SHY, Lionheart, Sweet) comes as an unexpected surprise for a large number of us who are unaware.

The luxuriant ‘My New Addition’ casts a polished hook, loading with a mellifluous bait, into the waters and a good number are already under the control of the incantations afoot. Down and dirty ‘Dead Man’s Boots’ comes right out of the 70s but with a crystalline 21st century framing. Foley has his Hammond quite literally rocking in the velvety blues rock of ‘Poison Water’ eliciting a great approving response. There’s a welcome touch of Thunder too which further enhances.

The Jon Lord-esque flexuous organ weaves together with the wailing Stratocaster across the stage in ‘Stone Cold’ before Child’s reverberating bass takes the spot in the set-closing ‘Twister’. Richards hammers the life out of his kit as Foley steers his Hammond into stellar overdrive. It’s glorious in its majesty and wraps a scintillating half hour that has served as a potent introduction. The band can travel northwards to tomorrow’s FireVolt Festival safe in the knowledge that they’re on to something with their collective enterprise.

Taking a swift break from the songwriting process for their next album Llanelli’s history making Scarlet Rebels truck into Chepstow for their first Welsh show since mid-April’s Swansea gig. Absence does indeed make the heart grow even fonder and this evening, along with last week’s set at Just Push Play, prove quality opportunities to blow away the cobwebs ahead of a couple of supports to Ugly Kid Joe. A new bassist in the shape of Carl Oag (Cancel The Transmission) is welcomed as keystone member Pablo Pricey takes time out due to personal circumstances.

With band mascot Lamb Chop pride of place atop the Marshall cabs the Rebels storm through a lightning quick 30 minutes squeezing in Wayne’s, as always, aimable chatter amongst a half dozen track romp. A proud trek through both albums recorded under the Rebels’ banner plus a most welcome journey back into the V0id catalogue. It’s most certainly a case of what must be omitted not how does the allotted time get filled these days.

A swiftly executed exchange of amp head behind flamboyant six-stringer Chris Jones doesn’t faze. Taking his first opportunity to speak Wayne greets the castle ensemble “Whilst we’re having the usual Rebel tech difficulties, I thought I’d say hello!” Back to business and I’ll never tire of those Poison-infused licks laid down by Chris, flicking his blonde hair and stomping his trademark red leather boots as ‘I’m Alive’ detonates energetically.

Wayne motions two-handed to the crowd following a blistering solo from CJ’s upright Les Paul. Behind it all percussive powerhouse Gary Doyle is seemingly hellbent in hammering his kit not just through the stage but beneath the castle and down to river level. The quartet appear cohesive and freight-train headlong into the rousing rallying call of ‘Take You Home’; a veritable crowd-pleaser in which the mid-section doffs a cap to The Automatic’s ‘Monster’ goes down a storm searing forth a conflagrant entity.

A hat-trick from the top ten ‘See Through Blue’ is rounded off with a bouncing ‘These Days’ with Wayne, left foot tapping, venting an impassioned poke in the direction of the now disgraced (in most quarters) and most definitely former PM Boris Johnson. V0id’s arena ready ‘Let Me In’ is a Welsh anthem in my book right alongside the likes of Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonic; this evening it forms the delightful filling in a bracketing sandwich from ‘Show Your Colours’.

CJ whirls as Wayne, with a swift ‘1-2-3-4’, counts in the chorus of ‘Save Me’. The ‘rules’ of Rebel Club are recounted – quite a few in the crowd are unashamedly ‘double parked’ and ready for admission into the esteemed ranks of Gold Level Rebel. Gary and Carl thunder along, no need for brakes herein as the party is ratcheted up with a dip into AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll). There’s time for the crowd to receive a cheeky double thumbs down from behind the drums for their vocal efforts; spurred on they rattle the ramparts.

Quietly I choke back a tear as silently an atmospheric ‘Heal’, in my mind, is dedicated to Pricey. Wayne is chockful of emotion in a spellbinding curtain call that has come all too quickly. Make no bones about it this is a band upon a continuing ascent. As the eagle soars above the mountain peaks so the Rebels promise much with their much anticipated follow up to ‘See Through Blue’. With a most supportive team around them including their record label Earache further success surely beckons.

Ageless Glaswegian rockers GUN are deservedly handed this evening’s Special Guests slot. Over 30 years in the industry and this band who have toured with such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Texas are not only still going strong but pumping out new material. It was on the Texas tour, back in the late 80’s on what was then referred to as the ‘University circuit’, that I first encountered this proud Scottish outfit. Family connections had been applied as the then vocalist Mark Rankin’s cousin was Sharleen Spitari, his counterpart in Texas.

Original guitarist Davie Aitken has recently returned to the fold, having left back in 1988 as the band signed to A&M Records, as GUN continue to ceaselessly graft. Such is their ethic that they’ve travelled southwards to hit Chepstow with all they have before returning north of the border; an incredible 700 miles plus roundtrip for just over 40 minutes on stage. Did someone mention that rock n’ roll is all glamour and glitz?

Chepstow Castle are served up a set of seven track, each of them hit singles in their own right and representing precisely 50 percent of GUN’s charting achievements through the 80s into the 90s. The rocking carousing commences with top 20 single ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ and it’s ZZ Top fuelled express wrapped about a Quo-themed boogie rapturously received. Think the latter’s ‘Red Sky’ and you’re heading in the correct direction.

Frontman Dante Gizzi bounds about alongside his guitarist brother Jools who’s quietly understated out stage left. Four letters are all that are required as matter of introduction. W. O. R. D. Lob in an ‘Up’ and the maelstromic recipe is complete. A top ten hit this unlikely of cover versions whips a localised storm as hands, in unison, wave side to side throughout the inner confines of the castle. Dante enthuses “What a lovely turnout, what a lovely venue. It’s great to be back!”

With right hand raised Jools nails the intro notes of ‘Money (Everybody Loves Her)’ to fevered reaction. Astoundingly it’s the best part of 34 years since this and the anthemic ‘Better Days’ along with the hard rocking ‘Inside Out’ – with a touch of the Ramones in Andy Carr’s bass – all dented the lower reaches of the singles charts thereby spawning a lengthy career. It’s phenomenal to bear witness to the presence of Paul McManus upon the drum stool, a brave and ultimately successful fight against cancer (announced back at the end of March the drummer had been given the ‘all clear’) has been endured.

‘Steal Your Fire’ is roughened up a touch as they fall one by one whilst Dante confirms a new lp for next year before ‘Shame On You’ is enthusiastically despatched with Jools and Davie facing off for some primetime U2-themed riffing. The crowd heartily singalong as Dante offers his mic on outstretched hand. Wall to wall anthems bounce about the castle’s lower bailey as the quintet take a deserved moment to savour the crowd’s applause. Here’s to many more years!

Well, ‘it’s one for the money and two for the show’ – as the back of several t-shirts in the crowd proclaim – as the dusk continues to darken as nightfall rapidly approaches, the summer solstice seems but a distant memory even though it was just a couple of months prior. In the reverse of what Atack are undertaking tonight’s headliners Massive Wagons have headed into South Wales having co-headlined FireVolt’s Friday with Sweden’s Royal Republic the previous day.

We’re grabbed firmly by the hand by the Wagons as they storm the castle, and the darkened stage is lit in a blaze of back lighting. Right hand aloft for the initial lines of ‘Gone Are The Days’ affable vocalist Baz Mills holds the crowd in his palm from the very start. Hi-kicking his way through the set-opener, the first of seven from last year’s ‘Triggered’, he’s a blur afront his four compatriots.

The, by now, totally packed crowd sing vicariously to the ever effervescent ‘Tokyo’, the castle fortifications quake at their foundations. “We love all your faces, you’re the fucking greatest” sings Baz; you feel he means it this not from just himself but, most sincerely and genuinely, from the whole band. Cheekily he inspects the crowd “Do we have any Boris’s?” before dedicating ‘Germ’ to the one-time UK prime minister. It’s classic Wagons’ tongue in cheek and the crowd love it. Lapping up every slapped back insult including the utterly memorable put-down “I’d rather be a germ than a total waste of sperm!”

We’re taken back to ‘school’ for a seven-letter spelling lesson with an unseen stage tech upon the receiving end of Baz’s middle digit. It’s a wholly rumbustious despatch with the public service announcement of Baz informing “News just in you’re a bit of a wanker!” Quickfire lyrics are machine-gun despatched – Baz surely the hard rocking genius of Ronnie Barker. The band love it just as much as the crowd quite evidently do! With a slice of punked up angst the crowd is divided into two for the – cough, cough – ‘spelling lesson’. There’s fist pumping aplenty as ever-smiling guitarist Stevie Holl bounces side to side like an adrenalized frog.

‘Sunshine Smile’, recently re-introduced into the Wagons’ set, brings a Led Zep infused hip shaking groove that’s notched up several rungs prior to the wondrous intro strains of ‘Hero’ – harking back to ‘House Of Noise’ album – invoking memories of ZZ Top’s ‘Rough Boy’ afore careering wildly off piste into an AC/DC realm. The mic-stand whirling antics of Baz mercifully don’t connect with any object in his radius as the crowd are then eyeballed by the angled frontman.

From the shadows a drum appears, and it’s pounced upon by Baz with all the vigour of a starving lion upon its prey. The band gleefully gambol through Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ – something I’ve not heard them cover before – ahead of the riotous awakening of ‘Fuck The Haters’. In defiance of the conforming expectations of the so-called mainstream middle fingers are well and truly raised at the apt juncture. No persuasion is necessary, the drill is known and applied in perfection.

With more energy than a highly reputed rabbit endorsed battery brand Baz continues to high kick through ‘Skateboard’ – remember folks this is what occurs when mogwai are fed in the post-midnight hours! ‘Please Stay Calm’, with its undertow of The Police, is dedicated to stalwart Wagons fans Morag and Charley upon their wedding anniversary.

The hard rock / reggae crossover of ‘Generation Prime’ is powerful in its very essence, shirts are waved above heads in the crowd. Benji would, no doubt of it, approve of the Chepstow helicopter!

The crowd lustily sing ‘Happy birthday’ to Adam Thistlewaite, the maestro on the flying V, after a detonative ‘Bangin in Your Stereo’. You can sense a definite ramping up off matters with multi-hued riot of ‘Billy Balloon Head’ being coupled with the equally tempestuous ‘China Plates’. The latter tumbling into, most unexpectedly, into Judas Priest’s classic ‘Breaking The Law’. Surely, I’m not alone in reprising the original video with Halford et al in that classic open top car bombing along the A40 post bank raid. The ultimate party band as Baz skitters along the barrier.

Glasses are raised in memory of Quo’s Rick Parfitt during the 12-bar boogie salute of ‘Back To The Stack’; may this remain in the set for ever more gents please. The set closing balls to the wall ‘Nails’ brings the curtain down on a no-nonsense 75-minute masterclass. It’s real deal, real feel, real steel. If there’s any justice, then world domination awaits The Wagons!

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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