Stonedead 2022: Festival Review
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Tim Finch
And so, my last outdoor rock shindig of the year is upon me. With the nights slowly drawing in and the spectre of September awaiting, it is one final summer hoorah before the dark days are upon us. And what a way to underline 2022’s alfresco offerings than with the Stonedead Festival?
The spirit of the old Monsters of Rock lives and is thriving in the fields of Newark Showgrounds: One day, One stage, One Monster Rock Show is what is billed and that is exactly what Stonedead delivers. Equip with camping chair and trusty notebook, your humble scribe settles in for another day in the East Midlands of some of the finest rock music the scene has to offer.
From the word go, it’s apparent there have been big changes at Stonedead this year – and not just because Tosh is promising the biggest erection yet seen at Newark. Smutty inuendo aside, he meant the introduction of a new stage for 2022: bigger than the clam-shell stage usually assembled and more in keeping with the shape – if not the proportions – of the Download main stage. There’s also an improved sound going on, making those classic notes ring even more clearly throughout the day.
First up – and beginning before I can pitch a spot for the day – are competition winner, These Wicked Rivers. This Derby four-piece give Stonedead the perfect opening with their version of the classic rock genre, infused with more than a little Southern Fried flavourings. When the War Is Won slows things down with its powerfully emotive country colourings; newbie Black Gold showcases the work on the upcoming new record is not going to disappoint the growing fanbase, and Testify plays it loose and easy, the band’s cowboys hats being put to good use as the vast deserts and mesas of the American west are evoked, a lone harmonica adding to the arid feel. The band close the set with Don’t Prey for Me. Not a Little Angels cover, rather slow opener that increases its tempo as it progresses, until it climaxes in a frenzy of Freebird-like guitar and some big drum moments. Enthusiastically received, These Wicked Rivers open Stonedead ’22 with a bang and set the benchmark for the rest to follow.
All the way from Atlanta, Georgia come Kickin’ Valentina, replacements for Thunder Mother and bearers of the bandana-clad-sleaze flame, these four lads are ardent subscribers to the Eighties Sunset Strip ethos. Heavily tattooed and oozing the kind of whiskey and tobacco-infused sound previously favoured by the Motleys and LA Guns of this world, Kickin’ Valentina take to Stonedead’s stage in glaring sunlight, rather than the usual late-night darkness. Given the prevailing conditions it seems fitting that they open with Sweat before dropping into Freakshow. Following on from These Wicked River’s classy display, Valentina dish out the kick of raucous party anthems every festival needs. Last record, The Revenge of Rock, is well represented and sees the band delivering nostalgia-fuelled tunes of excess; the title track is a warning of the dangers of the lifestyle but, let’s face it, it is likely a warning that will go unheeded.
Formed in 1978, Whitley Bay’s Tygers of Pan Tang were one of the leading charges of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement and were regularly standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Gary Moore, Twisted Sister and Iron Maiden. Barring their hiatus between 1987 and 1999, Tygers have been consistent in their work, with as many album released since the reformation as before it. Opening with a couple of oldies, Fireclown and Love Don’t Stay, might lead you to think that the Tygers are about to play it safe and go for the trip down Memory Lane. But, to their credit, they swerve the easy win and blend in some of their more contemporary numbers. Listening to the early songs it’s interesting to hear the shared DNA the Tygers have with their fellow NWoBHM survivors: Raised on Rock takes you back to an era when Saxon ruled the roost and wedgies from my older brother were a staple of life; Damn You! trades Priest licks and a Halford-scream, and Only the Brave has a flavour of Dio’s We Rock. New song, A New Heartbeat, proves the Tygers are far from a spent force and they close out their set with Suzie Smiles and the huge singalong that is the band’s cover of The Clovers’ Love Potion No.9.
Remember last year, when the land was ravaged by the plague? Heck, even Razor’s Edge Towers was brought low by the lurgy, showing even the Elites were not immune. Well, The Treatment copped it too and were forced to pull out of Stonedead 2021 at short notice. Fortunately, enough virgins and goats have been sacrificed to appease the Gods and the ‘rona is (hopefully) a historic footnote; which means The Treatment make it to Stonedead 2022. Thunderstruck and Highway to Hell warm up the PA and whet the appetite before the band hit the stage. Fourteen years and five albums sees The Treatment’s take on good time Rock N’ Roll to be appreciatively embraced by most, if not all, of the sold out crowd. There’s a commanding presence about the band, one built around a massive bass sound and clean, crisp guitars. Eyes on You is bluesy stomper, Vampress ups the pace somewhat and The Doctor from the 2011 debut features some crunching guitar that reaches the parts other tunes cannot reach. An attempt at a singalong gets a fair response and props go out to the Stonedead crew for putting it all together, before The Treatment sign off with another oldies, Shake the Mountain, which does pretty much what it says on the tin.
H.E.A.T. hit the stage to the strains of Glenn Frey’s The Heat is On from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack and set about making Stonedead their own. A few early sound gremlins be damned as returned vocalist, Kenny Leckremo, sporting a leather jacket no less, bounds about the stage like an over-excited toddler. Slotting in somewhere between hard and classic rock with a hint of European Power Metal, the Swedish quintet are efficient in their commitment to rock. Rock Your Body is a muscular, driving tune, whereas Redefined seeks more pop-oriented waters and sounds like the kind of track used on one of John Hughes’ Eighties movies. The jacket finally comes off for Hollywood from this years’ Force Majure record, a track that has H.E.A.T. making all the right moves with their chunky guitar and pounding drums following the path forged by the keyboard. Considering what was coming later in the day, there was a surprisingly solid Purple-era Coverdale vibe to some of the closing moments of the show. But, as Burn is one of the highlights of that band’s back catalogue, I couldn’t see it as anything but a positive.
Stone Broken bring a level of laconic ease to the Stonedead stage; their set being comprised of ten radio ready rock anthems, filled with big hooks and enchanting melodies. This year’s Revelation album is well represented with the title-track opening the set and Black Sunrise, Stronger and The Devil You Know flying the flag for the new material. Rich Moss announces that Stone Broken and Stonedead have been trying to get their ducks in a row for some time now and, only the alignment of the planets means the band can tread the Newark boards. A couple of deep dives into the band’s past sees Heartbeat Away and Worth Fighting For dusted off from the second album, while the remainder of the time is spent with their debut record. After spending several hours slowly roasting under a blazing sun, there’s something relaxing about spending an hour in the company of Stone Broken and, with shows like this, it’s only a matter of time before the Big Time comes a-calling.
It’s quite disconcerting when Mats Leven announces Your Love in Vain, from Vandenberg’s self-titled debut record, is forty-years old, yet was only released in 1982. A quick calculation proves Leven is right and that I am, in fact, old. The former Whitesnake man is no stranger to this kind of environment and his band lock in for an hour of guitar-frenzied rocking. The sun is starting to lose its ferocity as Hell or High Water pops its head above the parapet and Mats does a fair Dehumaniser-era Dio vocal. Elsewhere, the band concentrate on the 2020 record for the bulk of the show and with Burning Heart, again from the 1982 debut, having been re-recorded for the latest record the jury is out as to whether it’s seven or eight tracks getting aired tonight. But, clearly, Vandenberg’s past is not going to be allowed to slumber and he and Mats take to the front of the stage for an acoustic rendition of Sailing Ships from the Slip of the Tongue album. Blanking on the lyrics aside, this and the following, full-electric Judgement Day, has the crowd belting out the words, uncaring of the earlier faux pas. Ride the Wind and Light Up the Sky act as intermediaries and the set closes with a full-blooded Here I Go Again. Vandenberg are the first of today’s bands to get an encore, which they use for the aforementioned Burning Heart and Leppelin’s Rock and Roll. When you’re packing classics by Led Zeppelin and Whitesnake at a festival like Stonedead, there’s only going to be one outcome.
Replacing the on-indefinite hiatus Wildhearts, Those Damn Crows are no strangers to the big stage having staked their claim early on Download’s main stage this summer, easily holding their own with the likes of Monster Truck, Black Label Society and Shinedown as the crowd warmed up for Deftones and Iron Maiden. The Bridgend mob seem to be biding their time until they headline events like this and the proliferation of TDC merchandise on heads and backs across the site suggests those days are going to happen sooner rather than later.
Their intro tape is eerie and reminiscent of a horror movie – to the point I’m half-expecting Moira Rose to come out to reprise her role from The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening – before Send in the Reaper makes its presence felt and the capacity Stonedead crowd are reduced to putty in the band’s hands. Someone Someday segues into The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star with such consummate ease and seamless transitioning that you could reasonably suggest it was written that way.
The band themselves are a water-tight unit, playing off each other and having the, seemingly telepathic, understanding of where each other are in the music needed to make that step-up. But, every great rock band needs a charismatic frontman (or woman, don’t want to incur the Managing Editor’s ire with this one!) and in Shane Greenhall they have an affable, instantly likeable and highly talented vocalist, who shows a great sense of humour as he plays keepee-upee with a beach ball or gives a running commentary on the whereabouts of the inflatable penis and, mandatory blow-up sheep required for every Welsh band,
Don’t Give a Damn and Who Did It? are full-on rock anthems, Be You and Blink of an Eye show the band’s more vulnerable side and we even get a precursor to the new album in the form of Wake Up, which promises a continuation of Those Damn Crows onward march to global domination.
Most of the crowd would have been happy for the band to have carried on into the night but, alas, their allotted time rapidly came to an end and they closed out with Sin on Skin, Long Time Dead and the statement that is Rock N Roll Ain’t Dead. The lad’s set was an unmitigated triumph in every respect and I don’t think there’s a shred of doubt from anyone here that we are looking at the future flag-bearer’s of the British rock scene.
And so, the daylight has gone, casting Newark Showgrounds into darkness. Only the light of the stage to illuminate the crowd we patiently await the Michael Schenker Group. Stonedead loves a guitar hero and they don’t come much bigger than Mr Schenker; fifty years of six-string abuse under his belt and having slung the guitar with the Scoprions and UFO before becoming his own boss in 1980. Sail the Darkness, A King has Gone and Emergency prove that MSG can rock as hard now as they ever did, but it’s those early songs we want to hear. Into the Arena and Cry for the Nations open the show, with Looking for Love and Red Sky making up the early Eighties contingent.
Sadly, nothing from Lonesome Crow, Fly to the Rainbow or Lovedrive tonight, but you can’t have everything – I mean, where would you put it all? We do get a very big helping of UFO gems, including Rock Bottom, Let It Roll, Shoot Shoot and Light Out; there’s the obligatory Doctor Doctor, which I was sadly disappointed did not precursor the appearance of Iron Maiden to the stage, such is the Pavlovian reaction I now have to hearing that song.
The set concludes with Too Hot to Handle and so the curtain is brought down on another successful Stonedead show. Next year is the fifth anniversary for the festival and promises to be a great show, regardless of who is booked to play. Such is the appetite for this kind of event that, regardless of what may befall us all over the winter months, the prospect of another day in the company of your favourite bands means the Early Bird ticket allocation disappeared within hours.
Stonedead has now rightly become a permanent fixture on the festival calendar.