Words by Amy Harris-Abbott (Lounge Kittens), Richard Harris-Abbott (Alice Cooper, overview) and Max Southall (all other band reviews). Edited by Mosh. Sunday review and interviews coming soon!
Feeling like having just gone on a pilgrimage I arrive at the hallowed grounds of the very first Stone Free Festival; The O2. I am confronted by a sea of black tour shirts of years gone by. It’s all part of the fun trying to imagine that 65 year old rocking out to Black Sabbath or the 12 year old at the front of the Iron Maiden show. At first it’s just terrific to look around at all these rockers and metalheads united in one place wearing the patch jackets they save for occasions such as this, almost as if it had become an unspoken truth to show of your finest metal shirt to your fellow music (good music) lovers. The cake however goes to a Wayne’s World lookalike, to be honest it took a short while for the connection to be made (Alice Cooper of course) but when I did I’m sure they were weirded out by my grinning!
The festival, over the two days is just an incredible event, leading the way for a new era of festivals along with the likes of Ramblin’ Man with it’s themed stages, extra activities and the bringing together of the young and the old, the long haired and the err… not so long haired veterans of this music and lovers of the festival which the organisers describe as a “Beacon in the dark” and “A last stand of real people, real stories, real talk in an auto tuned-out world”. Very eloquently put I believe.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed by the festival, not because of the acts, not at all. But more due to the fact it kind of seemed like it was thrown together. The Speak Easy Lounge where some acts and meet and greets were being held was actually the third floor of a bar. As for the other stage (The Fireball stage), this was makeshift, set up outside the O2 shop. Very basic in every aspect, however the sound considering was actually not bad. It was in an area not designed to have a live band play. By that I mean it was the main concourse at the O2.
I have to report on the Alice Cooper meet and greet… although “meet and greet” is used in the loosest terms. Yes, you got to see him in a closed setting (the aforementioned third floor bar), but all that you actually got for your buck was to see him on a very small stage giving a kind of interview to the people in the room. Yes, you did get to have an autograph if you could get to that point of the… well I would say “queue” but was more of a free for all. You could not get a picture with him or get closer than about six feet. Needless to say there were a lot of very disappointed people.
What I am trying to say is that for the first year it was ok. The acts were fantastic, the spectrum of genres was varied and the main stage was awesome. But there is room for improvement and that being said I am very excited to see what they do next year!
However, on with the music!
The very first musical act to christen the festival’s birth is Jared James Nichols and I’m walking so fast it’s almost a run to catch the band I have recently come to adore. What they have is a real set of their own songs with an electric version of “Mississippi Queen” thrown in for good measure with widespread approval throughout the room. It feels so alive, so raw and what Jared says is “real” (getting the theme yet?) as he reveals in an interview later in the day. It’s hard not to love his music after touring with the fine men who brought you “Free Bird” and “Mr. Crowley” (did Zakk Wylde write that?) he has certainly honed his performance skills. They are definitely turning some heads and bringing some new life to the table.
Next I scamper to the Speak Easy Lounge where the three original members of The Darkness and new drummer Rufus Taylor are playing back some songs from their debut Permission To Land. With a lot of tangents, shenanigans and some helpful tips for new musicians including the all day breakfast cans which Justin stressed was not Heinz but rather Happy Shopper! Yes this is The Darkness as we know and love them. Whilst some technical issues with the vinyl copy of the album would usually strike panic into some bands, The Darkness take the opportunity to joke of satanic messages when reversed as we should expect from them in an ever upbeat, good-spirited manor. It is things like this that separates the Stone Free Festival from its brethren festivals, providing a clear, very human connection between the fans and the bands.
Up now are the Virginmarys who I have only heard as a name kicking around The Moshville Times Crew. All my expectations of a sappy indie band are left at the door as the missing link between AC/DC and early 90s death metal (to be as provocative as possible!) has surely been found with their chunky riffs and hard-as-nails vocals, although listening to their stuff now I’m thinking these screeching vocals are a live-only thing. This is a take no prisoners band! Granted they are sometimes vaguely reminiscent of The Arctic Monkeys this can be forgiven. After the set there were echoes of “They were bloody brilliant” around the room and I discover how unfortunately close I was to the speakers, now being partially deaf before an interview with Jared James Nichols, great. It is a blissful pain though.
“Tuneful, cheeky, glamorous and geeky!”, The Lounge Kittens are made up of Jenny Deacon, Timia Gwendoline and Zan Lawther. Jen and Timia met whilst at Southampton University and both met Zan at a rock choir run by Jen in 2012. Whilst listening to the “heavenly notes” of The Venga Bus at The Dungeon in Southampton, the idea for the Kittens was born. The Lounge Kittens sing in a three-part harmony, their influences are Richard Cheese and The Andrews sisters (“Imagine what would happen if Richard Cheese seduced all three of the Andrews sisters and each had a lounge baby!” Southampton Music 2014).
The stage the Kittens played, The Fireball Stage, was in the entrance foyer of the O2 Arena. When the Kittens walked on stage five minutes early there were around thirty people watching, by the end of the set the foyer was full. You couldn’t walk past to get to the main entrance of the arena. I think this tells you all you need to know about how great the Lounge Kittens are. They started their set with a metal medley, which got everyone singing along. We heard how Jen lost her pants that morning (no really!), how the internet world says Timia is a man (no dick pulled back in that dress I tell you! Oh, and how much Zan likes T-rex (an impromptu T-rexican wave ensued!!!).
A Metallica medley was well performed and greatly received by the eager audience. In an attempt to “rub bums” with Alice Cooper (Kittens’ words not mine!), Timia, Zan and Jen performed an amazing version of “Poison”. They followed later in their set with a rendition of “Love Is Only A Feeling”, which was fantastic. This amazing set finished with a version a Richard Cheese-esque “Lounge Against The Machine Medley”. The Kittens’ vocals, were, as always, perfection.
I can honestly say that yet again, the Kittens blew me away. I cannot wait for their first full length album Sequins and C-Bombs, an album they are releasing through a Pledge Music campaign (which is currently at 175% of their goal! Well done Kittens!). I am also very excited for their first headline tour and cannot wait to see them at The Talking Heads in Southampton on 11th October 2016.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Michael Monroe jumping off every possible ledge he can. Going through a set of classics the audience lap it all up as Monroe clambers to reach all corners of the stage. Ever the showman, he’s like a cartoon character with his various gimmicks, impressions and not to mention his very un-rockstar-like politeness! A perfect snapshot of any Monroe show is his prancing on stage, guzzling water then apologising to a woman after it spills on her when he throws the bottle out! We love him for it. His saxophone and harmonica both make an appearance in this throwback set to a time when everything sounds so happy and innocent with the likes of new numbers “’78” and “Goin’ Down With The Ship”. Plenty of kicking on stage and “HEY”‘s put us in a classic rock rebellion attitude…perfect for the run up to Alice Cooper.
The final act of The Indigo stage are bill toppers Therapy? with frontman Andy Cairn leading the band through a melodic, often eerily dark performance with heavily applied backing vocals. Their wall of sound attracts the largest audience at the Indigo today, narrowly passing Michael Monroe. “Die Laughing” is dedicated to Phil Lynott, Kurt Cobain and Amy Whinehouse which goes down a treat as does the crowd participation on “Potato Junkie” with “James Joyce Is Fucking My Sister” happily being bellowed time and time again by fans, truly a sight to behold! A great performance from the semi-veterans of rock.
Now it’s a mad dash to get to the O2 arena to be as close to the front as possible for the openers of the main stage; Blackberry Smoke. When they do arrive, it is much to our delight, with their humble but homely stage set they help us forget the aches and pains of standing around for hours with the strong succession of “Six Ways To Sunday”, “Let Me Help You Find The Door” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Again” mid-set which elicits a great reaction and gives us our feel good fix. Main man Charlie Starr’s presence is that of a true star in the making and the band are as comforting as a woodsmoke fire in a cabin in the west country (or something equally southern). Vocally there is little difference between the records and the performance which only adds to the “real” theme of the weekend and escape from the “auto tuned-out world” whilst I thoroughly enjoy sticksman Brit Turner’s relaxed but effective approach to his drumming. I probably looked like a right tart whistling the earworm that is “Six Ways To Sunday” on the London Underground, it just simply cannot be helped… don’t believe me? Go listen to it right now, I dare you!
Apocalyptica hit the stage next with a tough act to follow and as the most diverse act of the weekend they get a varied response. To be billed at a festival like this Apocalyptica need to win the crowd over, this is done most effectively by a “Master Of Puppets” and “Battery” cover getting crowd participation on their side. Their more melodic, string oriented songs did not enjoy as much approval but the novelty of the cellos was enough for others. Unfortunately with their cello approach and a lack of sound testing the sound system was not in their favour. Personal biases aside there was an undoubtable level of skill and musicianship here with a cult fan base, a surprisingly large amount of them saying they picked up the cello after becoming fans of them, few other bands can say that! Besides where else can you go to see someone play the cello to Metallica behind the back, or humping one for that matter!
Arriving delightfully next were The Darkness with Justin Hawkins uniformed in his jumpsuit launching straight into heavy album opener “Barbarian”. The antics of a wild Hawkins never gets old, from euphemisms and schoolboy humour to guessing people’s names in the audience just by their faces before finishing a song which may be annoying to a hardcore fan, on the other hand any hardcore fan should know what they’re getting into with a Darkness show. Two words. Cock Rock. Oh yes the cock rock game is true with these ones, without them, there are very few others (Steel Panther being one faithful follower) carrying the phallic torch of this beloved sub genre and this is partly what makes their appearance so enjoyable. What takes it further are the songs, beloved. The novelty seems to have worn off since the early noughties and the lovers of The Darkness are the ones that stand by them, the true fans, not those there for the hip new thing. These are the people here tonight. What takes the set to headliner status as they have for this years Steelhouse Festival is the sheer pleasure it is to sing along with these songs or at least to watch the most burly of the audience reaching the ball-destroying notes. Upon announcing there is only time for one more there is a mix of sadness and anticipation as Justin shrieks “BUT IT’S A MASSIVE FUCKING HIT”. Cue “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”. The band are as tight as ever, blitzing the set, one could easily mistake them for the headliners!
So here it is. It’s that day where Christmas, your birthday and that day when you find £20 in an old coat jacket comes at the same time. The 18th of June 2016 and I can actually tick something off my bucket list. I have always been a fan of Alice Cooper, but after watching Wayne’s World and seeing Alice Cooper perform “Feed my Frankenstein” in the movie, to see him live has been on that list for over 20 years.
Finally, it is here… at the Stone Free Festival at the O2 Arena in London.
The stage was amazing, the lights, the pyrotechnics, the sound and of course Alice Cooper. At first all you could see was a curtain of Alice’s eyes with spiders for pupils. Lights were shone on them to give that feel that he was watching you as they set up the main stage.
Then the curtain dropped, the stage started to burn (I don’t mean run run its on fire burn) and then Alice Cooper appeared singing “The Black Widow”. I had chills going down my spine. The stage hands (people dressed up not just giant hands) worked well with the scary stage sets and the whole feeling. These little extras just made the show that little bit more special. During the show there were some amazing drum and guitar solos as if dead rock stars had come on stage to rock everyone’s brains.
As I was stood there watching Alice Cooper play live in front of my eyes I have to admit I was kind of wondering two things. One, I really should have put more padding in my shoes and, two, is he going to sing “Feed my Frankenstein”??? Well are you??? Please??? Then finally after 10 songs it starts.
That beginning riff, the sound, the lights and then finally a giant floating list on a scroll appears in front of me with the title “Bucket List” and giant red tick appears next to “watch Alice Cooper live play ‘Feed my Frankenstein'”. And wow Alice Cooper did not let me down. You could literally feel the energy coming off the stage. During the show Alice sang covers from some of his fallen comrades with banners at the back of the stage, which I felt was a great touch and showed how much he missed his friends. Not many, if any, artists would do that during their big show.
Then all too soon the end of the show came to pass. But what better way to finish a show than to play “School’s Out”! There were bubbles coming off the stage, balloons with confetti in them that burst because when they came near the stage Alice would pop them. There was a really party feeling and then all too soon it was all over.
But what a show. I have worked with a number of bands, I have been backstage, on the stage, in with the crowd whilst shows were going on. But that has to be one of if not the best gig I have ever seen. What more could you want? Amazing tunes, fantastic showmanship, unbelievable musicians, great stage sets and effects. Everything you could want was there.
Basically if you get the chance go see Alice Cooper live. Not just because I am a fan (can you guess) but because the man is a true entertainer.
1. The Black Widow
2. No more Mr. Nice Guy
3. Under my Wheels
4. Public Animal #9
5. Is it my Body
6. Billion Dollar Babies
7. Long Way to Go
8. Woman of Mass Destruction
10. Halo of Flies
11. Feed my Frankenstein
12. Cold Ethyl
13. Only Woman Bleed
15. Ballard of Dwight Fry
17. I Love the Dead
18. Pinball wizard (The Who cover)
19. Fire (Jimi Hendrix cover)
20. Suffragette City (David Bowie cover)
21. Ace of Spades (Motorhead cover)
22. I’m Eighteen
23. School’s Out
Encore – Elected