Live Review: Stonedead Festival 2023

Live Review: Stonedead Festival 2023
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Tim Finch

The English outdoor festival season – the Alfesto Season, if you will – is but a short-time and, for me, lasts from the end of May to the end of August; Slam Dunk to Stonedead; from Temple Newsam in Leeds to the Showgrounds of Newark for one last Monster show of the slowly fading year.

With some big support slots under their belts, a slew of positive press and a sophomore album set to launch, Kent’s Collateral find themselves playing the biggest show of their careers, so far. The skies may be pregnant with rain, but the AOR sound of the band is closer to the wide-open spaces of the American west than the rain-threatened fields of the east midlands. The PA could do with turning up a scootch, but Collateral are generating a buzz down the front where, I’m informed, the sound is rich and lush.

Songs from the self-titled debut dominate the early parts of the show, opening with Mr Big Shot, Midnight Queen and Sin in the City before the weather breaks and a mass-cagouling event occurs. It’s a world away from 2022’s sun-soaked Costa del Newark but Collateral don’t let such trivialities derail the set, rather they power through regardless. Glass Sky is a preview of the forthcoming record, whereas Lullaby would have surely been a hit back in the genre’s glory days. The band end their set with Merry Go Round – not a cover of the Mötley Crüe song, but wholly an original number, though one would not have stood out too much from their own back catalogue. Throw in some pyros and Collateral have got Stonedead 2023 off to a reasonable start.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Having supported the likes of W.A.S.P., Those Damn Crows, Mason Hill and Wednesday 13 in the recent past, Bournemouth’s South of Salem have quickly learnt their craft and execute it to a tee. Flames rise into the air as the rain falls and Michael Myers’ theme from Halloween fills the speakers. Theirs’ is a dirtier sound than Collateral’s, taking cues from Skid Row’s early sound while going for a Rob Zombie-type of aesthetic. They tweak a soggy singalong from the crowd before the thumbing bass and raised hands of Made to be Mine finally coaxes the sun to come out.

Frontman Joey Draper is clearly a having a blast, having been waiting for a whole year to get onto this stage, and the band are going to make the most of it with their catchy choruses. Another band with an album forthcoming, that trail it with Static, a song full of late-Eighties swagger. No Plague Like Home take us back to The Sinner Takes It All record with a thundering pace and plumes of smoke blasting from the front of the stage. New album’s title track, Death of the Party sees the band appearing very much at home on such a large stage and Stonedead have been generous in providing the opportunity for the smaller bands to have effects like flames and smoke. There’re even a few lights early on, made all the more effective by the sub-optimal weather conditions; they even have their own version of Nasty Habits to supplement the show.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Well done to Krusher for the Dad Joke of the day when saying Deraps had flown all the way from Canada and their arms were tired – it’s an oldie but, hey, so are most of the audience. Launching into their set with the anthemic Sex, Drugs & Rock N’ Roll it’s clear there’s a good time vibe going on as the set opener has more than a little of the Mr Big Addicted to the Rush about it. My Side of Town is built in the vein of those Seventies rock trios and is rooted with an unstoppable bass riff. This is the band’s debut UK performance and is the kind of laconic, chilled out show that is perfect for sitting in a field with four-thousand friends and just kickin’ back.

Probably not part of the Deraps show, but we got a fly over from a Bomber – I’m hearing it was a Lancaster, but would need to take advice before committing to writing – whose pilot made three low pass overs, much to the delight of the crowd. We get the full compliment of drum, bass and guitar solos in amongst the party tracks, Make Ya Groove, Live Fast Die Slow and Fuck Off. To close out, Deraps do a triptych of covers, beginning with Highway Star, which is surprisingly faithful even though it is shorn of John Lord’s keys; Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, which underlines the band’s proximity to the sound of Eddie and the boys; finishing with The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz and being joined by troupe of dancers.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Due to the ever-present unforeseen circumstances Mason Hill were unable to make it to Newark, but their replacement, Florence Black, took Stonedead by the scruff of the neck and didn’t let it go until they had wrung the energy out of the crowd. Straight outta Merthyr, this three-piece have been playing hard-edged rock shows for some years now. When compared to the bands who have already trodden these boards this afternoon, including South of Salem, the Welshmen seem the most-fierce and up for a scrap. Zulu, On the Ropes, Black Cat and The Deep End all come from the Weight of the World record, with newbie Don’t Hold Me Down getting an airing to whet Stonedead’s appetite for some new material. Being from South Wales, Florence Black’s Budgie cover of the Metallica song, Breadfan, carries with it the power of the original and they end with Sun and Moon from the IIEP. Considering the short notice of the performance, the amount of T-shirts around the field and general goodwill toward these boys surely mean they’ll be back very soon.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Barely a stone’s throw from Stonedead, Lincoln-originating King King use Whitesnake’s Fool for Your Lovin’ as a tribute to Bernie Marsden who sadly passed away the day before. Frontman, Alan Nimmo is adorned in a kilt and gets a good few people on their feet for an early bop with the band’s infectious rhythms. The appropriately titled Dance Together makes it almost impossible not to move some part of your body along with the music. There is something exceptional about King King today and they play the show like they’re challenging the headliners to step up.

It's as though someone had sliced but versions of Whitesnake together in a Petrie dish, mixing the excess of the post-’87 era with the soulful Rock-Blues of the first records. There was an over-blown element to the performance, but it was always kept in check and never overshadowed the fragile momentum of the set. The skies were clearing as You Stopped the Rain was played and by the ending of I Will Not Fall, King King had made themselves at least one new fan: This Guy.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

There is a distinctly Northern Irish flavour to the upper part of Stonedead 2023. An Irish Invasion, perhaps, with Phase One being executed by The Answer. It’s like stepping into a time machine, back to when music was made by passionate people with skill and the creative talent to use it. It seems to be a neck and neck race early in the band’s set, as they mix and match the likes of Keep Believin’ and Under the Sky from the Rise debut, with Blood Brother and Oh, Cherry from this year’s Sundowners album. Peddling positive karma along with their Blues-based rock is The Answer’s bag and they do it with exceptional poise.

Dipping into the mid-section of their recording career, the lads break out Nowhere Freeway and Spectacular from Revival and New Horizon respectively. Frontman Cormac Neeson proposes a Belfast-Blues-Off with their upcoming countrymen, regaling Stonedead with tales told as only the Hibernians can. It’s a particularly interactive set, with calls for the front of the stage to get down on their knees at one point and general merry-making and pockets of dancing popping up all over the Showgrounds.

In my opinion, it is The Answer’s rendition of the Sundowners’ title-track that is worth the entrance fee alone. From that early harmonica and Paul Mahon’s slide guitar, ushering in a laidback percussion, gives the song a widescreen vista that evokes images and feelings of the open road and the American West. A truly majestic moment that gives me chills to recall.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Part II of the Northern Irish invasion comes in the form of Therapy?; Krusher’s comment about it being twenty-eight years to the day the band played as Metallica’s special guest at the Escape from the Studio ’95 show at Donington Park made those of us there that day feel very, very old. Still, we had a Therapy? show to look forward to, and one thing they can never be accused of is giving anything less than their best. Having played every festival this side of Fyre and Creamfields, the Ulster lads know how to wow an outdoor crowd, going straight in with Nausea, an alternative rock-cum-punk number from 1992’s Nurse. To the left of the stage is the beginnings of a rainbow for Stories and Woe is introduced by Andy telling us he’s going to follow his two passions of riffing and shouting.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Although their widest familiarity lies in 1994’s Troublegum album, which found them on the Donington bill that year too, Therapy? have been nothing but prolific in their output over the years and it’s great to hear Potato Junky, Teethgrinder and Kakistocracy among the usual tunes. Hüsker Dü’s Diane has become as much a Therapy? song as Joy Division’s Isolation. Three come from this year’s Hard Cold Fire record, the pounding Woe, the alternative stylings of Joy and the caustic Poundland of Hope and Glory, which could have leapt straight off one of the band’s early albums.

It's obvious that the Troublegum material would be left to the end, with Knives being fast and furious, Die Laughing dedicated to both Sinéad O'Connor and Bernie Marsden, Nowhere including a snippet of The Beatles’ Nowhere Man and the closing Screamanger, for everyone in the field and sounding as fresh as it did thirty years ago. Gotta love Therapy?!

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Call me Mystic Meg if you like, but back in February I suggested there might be a Black Star Riders-sized hole in the Stonedead bill and, lo and behold, there was. Although circumstances prevented them from appearing back in 2021, that the band are here is enough and there’s not many acts that can stride on stage and level the place in one opening song. But, when you’ve got All Hell Breaks Loose locked and loaded, then BSR are halfway there.

It's eleven years since the band finished being a Thin Lizzy tribute act and started writing original material – albeit in the same vein as Lizzy – and the resultant five records all get a mention as the sun slowly sets over the Showgrounds. The workload is pretty evenly spread across those years, as When the Night Comes In rubs shoulders with Another State of Grace and Soldiertown gets cozy with Testify or Say Goodbye.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Tonight the Moonlight Lets Me Down is pure Thin Lizzy and seeing Sam Wood slinging guitar, his blond-locks aflowin’, conjures images of Scott Gorham himself strutting his stuff. The third movement in the Northern Irish invasion, Ricky calls Andy Cairns out to help with Finest Hour, before the closing one-two of Kingdom of the Lost and Bound for Glory. There’s couple of covers, the obvious Jailbreak and The Osmond’s Crazy Horses, taken from the Wrong Side of Paradise record. Love the former; am ambivalent about the latter.

And, Ricky was wearing an Almighty beater, gearing up for the December shows no doubt, which will be amazing. Watch this space for an unbiased review of how brilliant that is.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Which just leaves Blue Öyster Cult to bring the day to an end. Fifty years and counting and still producing records as classy as The Symbol Remains in 2020, it is generally the early material Newark is wanting to hear tonight. Beginning with Transmaniacon MC and Before the Kiss, A Recap from the self-titled 1972 debut, BÖC had come to take Stonedead on a trip to the past.

Hot Rails to Hell, E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) and Godzilla add to the Seventies vibes, with the obligatory Burnin’ For You being the band’s only Eighties output represented. It might seem obvious to say so, but the set closed with (Don’t Fear) The Reaper and an encore taking us back to the beginning with Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll. There was a time during the day that I thought we might get another shower, but the weather settled and Stonedead remained dry for the most part.

So, that’s one more day, one more stage and one more monster rock show in the proverbial bag. Stonedead had become a must-attend festival in the UK outdoor calendar. The vibe is chilled, the crowd is manageable and the organisation is spot on with the crew being uber-helpful at every turn.

We wait with baited-breath the announcements for next year but we already know it’s going to be another great show.

Check out the rest of our Stonedead Festival coverage

Festival Preview

Stonedead 2023 Gallery

Therapy Interview
The Answer Interview

Photo credits: Tim Finch Photography

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