FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Stonedead Festival 2023

FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Stonedead Festival 2023
Words: Dan Barnes

Firmly ensconced on the August Bank Holiday weekend, Stonedead is now the coda to the UK’s brief outdoor festival season and a final time for rock fans to get together before the year pulls on its autumn finery and leads us into the darkening evenings of the ‘bers.

Hitting its fifth birthday – less Covid disruption of course – and with the festival going from strength to strength, it’s hardly surprising that the Stonedead team are constantly upping the stakes and unveiling increasingly stronger bills, year after year.

As I write, social media is awash with the news of 2023 now being a sell-out. But here is the spirit of those old Monsters of Rock shows from back in the day. It’s no random occurrence that the mission statement of Stonedead is: “One Day, One Stage, One Monster Rock Show!” as those of us old enough to remember the Eighties can pull up a chair and relive the nostalgia of it all.

Pulling off a huge coup, Stonedead have booked legends Blue Öyster Cult as our headliner this time around. Having been active in one form or another since 1967, the core of Buck Dhama and Eric Bloom have been flying the ‘Cult flag through an ever-changing musical landscape; issuing fifteen studio albums between 1972’s self-titled and 2020’s well-received The Symbol Remains.

Listening back to those initial albums and you can hear the forward-thinking from the songwriters woven through every riff. From the self-titled’s weighty stomp, to Tyranny & Mutation’s pre-punk snarls, through to Secret Treaties’ funk-infusion. And this is before Agents of Fortune appeared with its Reaper-repelling game-changer.

The band might not have captured lightning in a bottle (or the Zeitgeist) again in the quite the same manner, but they continued to produce a steady array of records, each of which represented the time in which it was created. This is especially true of the Eighties records, from Fire of Unknown Origin to Imaginos which saw the band adapting their sound to the changing times.

There was a nineteen-year gap between Curse of the Hidden Mirror and the release of The Symbol Remains but that didn’t mean there was a drop in quality from Buck and Eric, with the latest record having a fatter sound but no less Blue Öyster Cult.

When you consider the number of bands who cite BÖC as an influence, from Iron Maiden and Metallica to Body Count and Queens of the Stone Age, it adds even more anticipation for the band to step on the stage as the sun’s final rays give way to a Newark night.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

I covered Black Star Ridersgig at Manchester’s Ritz back in February and ended that piece with an observation of there being a Black Star Riders sized hole on the Stonedead bill. Now, I’d like to point out that I was not a party to any insider information, nor was I possessed by the spirit of either Nostradamus or Baba Vanga, it just seemed the most logical fit for a band that had been booked to headline in 2021 but – reasons – meant they couldn’t.

This year’s Wrong Side of Paradise album marked BSR’s decade and maintains the high quality set you the three previous records. Their ability to deliver a stonking live show is unquestioned and when they hit the stage they are likely to tear the Showgrounds a new one.

Then, when you factor in the connect to a certain Thin Lizzy and the inclusion of host of Lizzy classics, then the scene is set for one of the Special Guest performances of the ages.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Hailing from Northern Ireland, Therapy? is a band who need no introduction and probably a white board and hand gestures to fully encapsulate the scope of their musical output. A quick look at some

of the festivals they’ve appeared on is a hint to the eclectic nature of the three-piece. From Reading to Donington; or Ozzfest to Bloodstock, Therapy? is a band that can be accommodated on almost any bill.

But you don’t get that kind of exposure over a thirty-year-plus career without having the chops to back it up and Therapy? have those by the cartload. Since 1991 they have been releasing some of the most interesting and indefinable musical collections of most bands of their era. Taking influences from bands like Sonic Youth, Helmet, Killing Joke and more and merging it with the idiosyncrasies of Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan’s lyrical and musical perspective, means each of Therapy?’s sixteen albums has had a unique voice, with this season’s Hard Cold Fire being no exception.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Also from the great country of Northern Ireland come The Answer, whose stage-sharing role-call over the course of their close to quarter of a century reads like a who’s-who of rock legends. Aerosmith, Whitesnake and Rose Hill Drive; and there was the little matter of being the global support for AC/DC’s Black Ice tour in 2008 and 2009.

Since those hectic days, The Answer have found themselves treading calmer waters, concentrating on writing and recording six further albums since 2009’s Everyday Demons up to and including this year’s Sundowners record. The experience gained has been invaluable and can be heard through every part of their recordings. Even though Stonedead 2023 represents the strongest top trio of bands, none can take their status for granted with The Answer chomping at their heels. For here is a band custom-made for this festival.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Taking their name from the ill-fated Los Angeles club, Lincoln-based King King can almost roll out of bed and onto the Newark stage. With fifteen years and five albums worth of blues-rock to fall back on, it’s a safe bet that the five-piece will hit Stonedead with a set of epic Skynrd-vibe tunes, heavy on the organ and with Alan Nimmo’s countrified pipes bringing the emotion, like a Stetson-wearing Coverdale.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Coming down from Scotland will be Mason Hill, the Glaswegian quintet’s solitary album to date, Against the Wall from 2021, is a fine example of a hungry young band ready to take their shot. Rather than throw the kitchen sink at it, the debut is a study in restraint, with the riffs and licks brimming with energy and ready to be unleashed through a massive PA system.

Gathering from all corners of the Commonwealth, Deraps is a power trio who began making waves through playing cover versions of those late-seventies and early-eighties rock classics. But that soon morphed into writing their own material in the style of all your favourite bands, without becoming a parody of the sound. The debut record even earning the comment of being the “eight best songs of right now” from the UK’s very own Classic Rock Magazine. Contained within are the Mr Big sounding, Sex, Drugs & Rock N’ Roll, the punk-influenced Fuck Off and a cover of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz, which is bound to get the early afternoon crowd suitably warmed up.

Without wanting to sound oxymoronic, Bournemouth natives, South of Salem bring a modern twist to the Classic Rock genre. Taking the image and some of their vibes from the likes of Rob Zombie, these lads dropped the impressive The Sinner Takes it All debut back in 2020, which adds an industrial slant to the tongue-in-cheek titled No Plague Like Home, to go with the array of catchy hook and infectious melodies of the equally whimsically monikered Demons are Forever, Pretty Like Nightmare and the bombastic Cold Day in Hell.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Although opening proceedings this year, Collateral already have an impressive pedigree of achievements including beating twenty thousand bands to play Camden Rocks in 2019, to being selected as one of forty bands to play Ramblin’ Man Fair’s Rising Stage to winning a competition to support Bon Jovi on the Runaway to Paradise cruise ahead of a couple of hundred thousand entrants. No mean feat considering the band’s debut album hadn’t even been released at that time. Now that it has Collateral’s full force rockin credentials shine forth, meaning Stonedead will have as explosive an opening as it will an end.

No disrespect to any of the previous line ups put together by the Stonedead team, but 2023 is something special from start to finish and there is not a single ounce of fat on this bill whatsoever. A lean, mean rocking machine that is the perfect way to say fare-thee-well to 2023 outdoor shenanigans and to savour what the autumn will bring

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