Bloodstock 2021: Sunday Review
Words: Dan Barnes, Neil Bolton, Tim Finch, Paul Hutchings, Richard Oliver
Photos: Tim Finch
A lack of festival fitness and the extra day is beginning to have a negative effect on the bodies of Bloodstockians everywhere. Livers are glowing as much as the sun-kissed flesh and the promise of true legends treading the boards tonight fill the air with a sense of heightened anticipation
Seidrblot begin proceedings with a literal folk performance. Robed like SunnO))) the three piece are seated at the front of the stage playing traditional Viking folk music on traditional Viking folk instruments in the vein of Wardruna. A couple of fire-dancers add to the performance, but this is an interesting way to open the main stage. [DB]
Bloodshot Dawn’s last appearance at Bloodstock had been in 2018 when they’d played the Thursday night in the Sophie Tent. Having debuted forlorn World on Thursday, Josh McMorran was back on the main stage reminding us of what his day job looks like. A strong performance with support from guitarist Charlie Michael (Woe Betide) and drummer Ben Adcroft (This is Turin) who had also helped during the Forlorn World set saw Bloodshot play a range of tracks from their three albums, the pick being ‘Survival Evolved’ from ‘Reanimation’. Aggressive and explosive, Bloodshot Dawn may be a bit of an acquired taste but for those who like them, this was another fine performance from a band who were in essence bolted together at short notice. [PH]
It’s no secret that NWOBHM stalwarts Diamond Head wouldn’t be as popular if it wasn’t for a certain American band who used to play a lot of thrash metal. It was unsurprising then that the veteran outfit chose to play three tracks which Metallica had made famous. Diamond Head’s line-up has been stable for a few years now and it shows with the confident Rasmus Bon Andersen maintaining his high-quality delivery. Wisely Diamond Head picked three solid rockers for the rest of their set, with ‘Belly of the Beast’ and ‘The Messenger’ from 2019’s ‘The Coffin Train’ standing alongside ‘Bones’ from the self-titled 2016 release. Brian Tatler always looks pleased to be on stage and he was seen in the arena for ages later talking to fans. His guitar work is exceptional, and solo after solo was thrown out with ease. Of course, it’s always ‘Am I Evil?’ that gets the arena bouncing and this was no exception. It may be a song that we get tired of hearing on the radio but when that riff kicks in and you have a beer in your hand surrounded by thousands of metal brothers and sisters, it’s impossible not to sing along. This was a triumphant performance from a band who rolled back time. With a bit more guile in the past, Diamond Head would have been much higher up the bill. [PH]
Scotland’s Bleed From Within have a crack at the Ronnie James Dio stage after their appearance on the S.O.P.H.I.E. stage back in 2018. No disrespect to Diamond Head, but Bleed From Within must have thought Bloodstock 2021 was a breeze as, this year, they weren’t having to follow Suicidal Tendencies. Mainstays Scott Kennedy, Ali Richardson and Craig Gowns focus their set on the band’s later material, going no further back into their catalogue than 2018’s Era and basing it mostly on last year’s excellent Fracture album. As the performance goes on the band get more and more confident and appear completely at home on such a big stage. Their modern metallic hardcore pummelling is a hit with the gathered masses and any post-Suicidal PTSD seems to have been laid to rest. [DB]
“Let’s get this party started” roared Orange Goblin frontman Ben Ward. Given that he’s been at the site since Friday it’s a bit of a conundrum of a statement, since the party started about 12:00pm on Wednesday but I know what he means. My second viewing of OFGB in a fortnight and once more they bring the goods. It’s incredibly unusual to see a below par Goblin show and this one was another fine one to add to the list. Harry Armstrong now looks comfortably in place, his on-stage banter coming to the fore as befits a frontman. Joe Hoare always surprises me with his superb playing whilst Chris Turner is one hell of a drummer. Ben roars around the stage, his enthusiasm as always infectious. Being on the live stage is certainly as beneficial for the bands as being in the arena is for the fans and OFGB are one band who live for the live shows. Another solid set of heavy metal anthems included tracks from all nine of their albums. The blasting Devil’s Whip, the old school psychedelia of Scorpionica and the finale of Red Tide Rising were all fist pumpers, the large crowd enjoying the band’s sheer energy and enthusiasm. I’ll never tire of seeing this magical band, and with a December tour in the diary, it won’t be too long before that is reality.
I feel I’d lost touch with Therapy? over the years until I saw them in 2018 supporting The Stranglers and it was like bumping into an old friend that night. Since that time I’d been refamiliarizing myself with the Northern Irish trio’s extensive back-catalogue and their late inclusion on the Sunday bill served to take the sting out of losing Life of Agony from the day. Understandably, the set was put together around the still-amazing Troublegum record, with Knives, Screamager, Die Laughing, Trigger Inside, Turn and Nowhere still sounding as vibrant now as they did back at Donington in 1994. Isolation can now be seen as a having joint custody between Therapy? and Joy Division and bassist, Michael McKeegan’s attempt at a Judas Priest style introduction to Teethgrinder – grinding the what? – takes a little prompting but we get there in the end. Andy Cairns wears his heart on his sleeve and revels himself to be no fan of the Prime Minister during the intro to Success? Success is Survival. [DB]
Due to one of the many line up shifts throughout the weekend, Ghosts Of Atlantis found themselves bumped up from the New Blood Stage to a late afternoon slot on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Pretty sweet for the debut show from a band. Formed by Colin Parks of Devilment, Ghosts Of Atlantis perform a symphonic melodic death metal in a very epic and grandiose way. Thanks to a positive covid test from one of the guitarists the band found themselves a man down but this did not deter them in the slightest and they performed a huge, sweeping and epic set with bags of confidence and this in no way came across as the first ever show performed by the band. A very impressive set and I look forward to being able to see the band perform at full power in the near future. [RO]
There’s always one band at Bloodstock that you are determined to see. This year it was London’s occult doom proto-rockers Green Lung, whose debut album Woodland Rites is amongst the best first records I’ve ever heard. The band drew a healthy crowd, the clash with Gloryhammer certainly working in the favour of those of us who enjoy something a bit more cultured, and we were rewarded by the most spellbinding set of the weekend. There’s something quite intoxicating about Tom Templar’s vocal delivery and the band’s music is simply enchanting. Heavy as a bag of anvils at times, the delightful retro feel with a contemporary twist is magical. The use of the organ adds that authenticity and John Wright plays it with style. Opening with ‘Call of the Coven’, Green Lung added the two singles from the forthcoming ‘Black Harvest’ album,’ Leaders of the Blind’ and ‘Reaper’s Scythe’. Both are already gaining traction and as Tom and bassist Joseph Ghast told me later, people were already singing the lyrics back to them. Finishing with the anthemic ‘Let the Spirit In’, one could only reflect on a peerless performance that will stand out as one of the great Bloodstock debuts. [PH]
Luckily I’d had my cholesterol checked a couple of weeks before Bloodstock as the cheese on offer from Gloryhammer is enough to set your levels rocketing. Walking on to the site earlier than morning you might have been forgiven for thinking Gloryhammer were actually headlining tonight, such was the prevalence of the band’s shirts about Catton Park. This is the fayre upon which the Bloodstock brand was built – pumping power metal with hooky singalong choruses, custom-made to wave a plastic sword in the air. Clad in green, lead singer Thomas Winkler looks like Timothy Dalton’s portrayal as Prince Barin in the camper-than-a-row-of-pink-tents 1980’s sci-fi classic Flash Gordon; this is made all the more pertinent a while later when Vultan himself, Brian Blessed, shows up to introduce Saxon. [DB]
40 years of glorious heavy metal thunder and those Yorkshire tykes Saxon are back on fire. It’s been a rough couple of years for frontman Biff, with his heart bypass causing the postponement of the 40th anniversary shows in 2019. So technically, this was 42 years, but we’ll let that pass. Looking healthy and fit, Biff led his troops through a classic roll call of tracks from eight of their albums, focusing very much on those songs that fans would call anthems. Before the band arrived on stage though, a real treat as Rob Bannister led the legendary Brian Blessed onto the stage. “Gordon’s Alive!” he roared to some of the loudest cheers of the entire weekend. A sonnet from Shakespeare followed, before he was reminded to introduce Saxon. “They are from where I was born” he told us (twice)!
With a constantly changing digital display at the back of the stage, Saxon’s intro was accompanied by a montage of press cuttings and still pictures that raced through the history of the band before they roared onto the stage and into ‘Motorcycle Man’, the first of 15 songs in a glorious set which also featured ‘Thunderbolt’, ‘And the Bands Played On’, ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ and an emotional ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. At the start of ‘Wheels of Steel’ a bit of cabaret as Biff ‘tussled’ with the sound engineer about volume levels, then took a video which he magically uploaded to Facebook there and then. Given the quality of the signal all weekend, most around me merely muttered “he’ll be lucky” but there it was a few minutes later, as the band hit the anthem that is ‘Wheels of Steel’.
Saxon do classic British Heavy metal better than most. Hard and heavy but with a standard format, they are majestic live, with the rest of the band tighter than a ball of elastic bands. Biff has always been an excellent frontman, but as he reaches the elder statesman status, he simply oozes class. His voice seemed strong, despite the odd warble. Closing with the standard ‘Princess of the Night’, one was left with marvellous memories of those 40 years (my first time seeing them was only 39 years ago) and the hope that come January, we may finally get to use those Hammersmith tickets. [PH]
2018 had seen Judas Priest in imperious form as they headlined Bloodstock. Three years later, they surpassed that effort with ease with probably the most eclectic setlist of the entire weekend. The strains of Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ rang out across the arena, signalling the arrival of real rock legends. The assembled crowd gasped in awe as the Priest shaped Trident lighting rig slowing rose into position. The stage set resembled a giant Metal Works, with drummer Scott Travis seemingly built into the wall at the rear.
One of the big questions during the day was which song they would open with. No-one in the entire event predicted that it would be the debut of ‘One Shot of Glory’, the final track on 1990’s ‘Painkiller’. It was the start of nearly two hours of superb entertainment which roller-coastered from fan favourites to rich rarities that were unlocked from the Priest back catalogue. All eyes were on Rob Halford, the metal god himself. He rarely moves that much these days, fixed centre stage and concentrating on hitting those incredible high notes which he still does with some ease, drawing applause from the crowd several times through the show. The lightshow and backdrops were stunning, the set moving with a giant chimney rising midway through the set. Guitarist Ritchie Faulkner is a phenomenal player and was intent on adopting every heavy metal pose in the book whilst Andy Sneap and Ian Hill remain the unsung heroes of the band.
As for the setlist, Priest drew deep from 14 of their 18 albums and introduced the first playing of ‘Rocka Rolla’ since 1976 much to this writer’s excitement. Second live debut was ‘Invaders’ from 1978’s ‘Stained Class’, whilst there were also fresh outings for ‘Exciter’, ‘Hell Patrol’, ‘Desert Plains’, ‘Dissident Aggressor’ and ‘Blood red Skies’. It was quite the mix and maintained the anticipation and excitement. As the band arrived at the final three songs, there was hardly a dry eye in the arena as Glenn Tipton returned for the first time since that headline set three years ago. Looking frail but determined, the original guitarist stood at the front of the stage as Sneap moved to the rear alongside Hill. ‘Metal Gods’, ‘Breaking the Law’ and the finale of ‘Living After Midnight’ were roared by everyone as Tipton ripped out a couple of the solos and riffed along. It was an amazing sight, uniting the entire crowd and proving once again that heavy metal is something special. Judas Priest look strong and ready to continue – if they do then it’s likely that even after 50 years of recording they’ll have picked up some new fans on this showing. [PH]
Weary legs and an aching back carry me over to see the final live performance at Bloodstock 2021. There is no more fitting a band to receive this accolade than Evil Scarecrow, a band considered by many as the Bloodstock house band. As the band take to the stage pyros burn the air of the Sophie Lancaster stage and all thoughts of my painful body parts soak into the ground below.
We are on for a show tonight!
Small video panels are strategically placed on and around the stage adding more colour and light to the stage. It is not long before we get Vicky Hungerford and Simon Hall dressed as unicorns carrying out a battle of mythical creatures. We all knew this would be a silly evening and Evil Scarecrow do not disappoint. But take heed dear reader, yes this band are silly and entertaining certainly, but also contained in their locker is a very musically proficient collective. It is a difficult job to write a song that is both funny and able to make the screaming hordes bang their heads and circle pit.
We are introduced to new band members on guitar and keyboards. In fact, the latter we are told is not only performing for the first time but also attending her first gig. She needs to be warned that the excellent security at this festival is not always the norm elsewhere, and squeezing them into the show while forcing them to pirouette certainly is a new one. The mass of fans has no need for any instructions to carry out the robotic dancing required in Robotitron, in fact I am sure many have been practicing for months in the mirror. After an internal snow fall in the tent the crowd raises its crab pincers to the sky and demand Crabulon. The band oblige, the crowd scuttle left, scuttle right and and scream the word “egg” . An inflatable crab reminiscent of the Somewhere on Tour Eddie rises to the rear of the stage before the band is joined by the festival crew who have clocked off and can indulge in the celebrations that us punters have been doing for five days. Live music is now over, the festival is not; it’s time for chips. [NB]
As the main area empties and the capacity crowd head to cars, tents, bars or Evil Scarecrow, thoughts inevitably turn to 2022. On Friday, the organisers dropped seventeen confirmed bookings for next year, including bands unable to make it this year like Mercyful Fate, Dimmu Borgir, Vio-Lence and more, alongside unexpected names like Exodus, Testament, GWAR and surprise headliner, Lamb of God.
Bloodstock 2021 will go down in the annals of the festival’s history as being the one that shouldn’t have been. The line-up might not have been as stellar as 2015 or 2018 but for a show forged in the fires of adversity, with bands pulling out at the last minute due to COVID and reactionary billing reorganisations, 2021 was an unmitigated triumph.
Drawing people back together after the sixteen months or so we’ve all had and putting on a five-day show takes some testicular fortitude. That it was managed at all is amazing; that it drew the sizable crowd it did is testimony to the power of the music and the camaraderie felt by we, the faithful.
Thank you Bloodstock organisers – it was just what we needed.