Due to Amy suffering a leg injury courtesy of some f*ckstain kicking her in the knee trying to get to the front for Alice Cooper the previous evening (don’t worry, several audience members and her husband ensured he ended up significantly further back in the venue than he’d have wished), Max was our lone staff member present on the Sunday. As such, we’ve got a little less coverage than we’d have hoped for. Blame the jackass who thinks it’s OK to push women around. Rant over, take it away Max!
Running on three hours sleep, I’m ready for round two a little wiser than yesterday with a phone charger, more food and more knowledge on how to be at all the places I need to be for this spectacular second day. There are fewer bands I would really go out of my way to see, the highlights of the whole weekend being Jared James Nichols (the last two songs at least), The Darkness album playback and Alice Cooper. Although I do find quite a lot of new talent. In fact, I deliberately make sure I am around The Fireball Stage more often than not in order to catch these young bands. Perhaps today’s best moment is a band I’ve never heard of before, the first band of the day; Cats In Space who I’m going to sell to you first!
I probably wasn’t going to see them, I may have just ambled round the O2 for a while but with a lot of leaflets being handed around about them I was convinced otherwise to catch them. I will admit I was basing a lot of this decision on their long hair (I know I’m just that guy I suppose). But you know what they say, go for the looks, stay for the… Cats?… In Space?
As the first band of the day they are to set the bar. They do this very riskily by beginning with a cheesy vocal synth counting down from ten in a very vintage fashion. Thankfully it doesn’t remain at this level of cringiness (with all due respect), it crashes into a kick ass 70’s classic rock with a particularly incredible backing vocals. Without exaggeration I can easily say that this is the greatest backing vocals I’ve ever heard from any band, particularly from the bassist who may as well have been Van Halen heritage for all I know! Now that is quite a claim, but after learning they are a supergroup comprised of members from Gillan, Sweet and the like, it’s put into perspective. A killer set is delivered where they may as well have been playing for thousands of people, these guys are clearly doing this because they genuinely love it, that much is clear! Had they been around in the 70’s I have no doubt, firstly they would have a different name but secondly that they would be a classic act. As mentioned earlier, they are my favourite band of the day despite the questionable name, this is perhaps a band I may keep to myself though. I may not be bragging them to my friends although I shall be listening to them!
The second band I see today is Bad Touch, second on The Fireball Stage by the entrance for all, including non-festival goers to watch. What really strikes me about this band is that for such a new band they are very gelled and their playing is tight with formidable showmanship present. They attract a large audience from people who may just be visiting the O2 today who stick around with the band for their set. All the places at the front, designated for photographers is taken up which is unseen at any other point of the day at this stage. If nothing else, this is classic southern rock played well.
Vambo are on The Fireball stage next. Throughout most of their set I am up at the Tesco’s down the road but when I hear an eccentric version of Deep Purple’s “Burn” (solos included!) from a hundred meters or so down the road, I hurry back along with casual visitors of London who flock to see where this is coming from. What was funny to me was how proud it seemed the older generation were who are probably reminiscing back to the first time they heard this classic on the 1974 album and then fast-forwarding 40 years on to see this generation pacing through such an alive rendition. Excellent vocal range here which is an obvious necessity when covering Deep Purple! Along with skilled musicianship which shines through this song, I regret not seeing the whole set, maybe next time… I hope there is a next time!
Up next on this stage is Colour Of Noise who I missed on their last tour that came to Brighton with Toseland. I only knew one song, the single “Can You Hear Me” but the whole set went down very well and as the penultimate band on The Fireball Stage they were very interactive with the audience. Combined with the strengths of the front man this is a good act and the last one I see in the lobby of the O2.
Everyone knows what to do now. The headliners of the second stage, The Indigo, is Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood. Now we all know the deal with Wilko gurning over his guitar as he frantically fires out early rock ‘n’ roll licks as if he were having a fit. The catch for me at this show after they launch into the first song is how well the bassist fits in to this category also. I figured there was going to be a very mellow backing band behind Wilko as he carried out his crazy-man performance, particularly with his machine gun guitaring. I was very wrong. Bassist Norman Watt-Roy is stomping all over the place as if the ground is to warm to stand on! With both of these two going nuts and gems in the set with classics like “She Does It Right” and new song “Going Back Home” slotting very nicely together, this is another favourite set (along with Cats In Space).
By the time Wilko’s set has finished, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Symphonic Live are gracing the main stage. I arrive quite late due to being glued to the fantastic Wilko Johnson set but I am seated to see the climax of their performance; “Wish You Were Here” which is a sobering moment, especially with poignant lyrics “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl” as powerful as they were 40 years ago upon initial release. The layering and counterpointing makes the music feel like a body, something physical which floats dreamily around the venue. Classic tracks of a terrific record are played, a particularly hypnotic “Welcome To The Machine” is delivered which I had previously never listened to, really got me. Powerful stuff as relevant today as it was in the 70’s.
Steve Hackett is billed next. I, being a bit less proggy than what this second day offers, know very little about Steve Hackett’s music but it is just the kind of music that is needed after anything remotely Pink Floydish! His set is mellow and measured which is great after songs like “Welcome To The Machine”, preventing any existential life crises tonight! Steve Hackett is also very humble tonight, after a grandiose introduction, he seems to just wander up on stage to do his thing. I was surprised to see him as mic shy as he seemed to be between songs, leaving large silent gaps between songs where he just tampered with equipment while the masses watched in adoration. His humility is also reflected in his exit. I cannot comprehend how he got where he did but about 10 minutes after his set we see “Humble Hackett” (if you will) amble past our seats, bearing in mind we’re about twenty metres up from the stage and at least 100 metres away. It elicits a few murmurs of disbelief as the king walks among the commoners if I were to use headliner Rick Wakeman’s terminology. I don’t know what is usually expected from a Steve Hackett show, what I got from it was that it was actually rather… nice. Quite unlike the other acts over the weekend, it is a pleasant wind down on a Sunday evening.
This is all thrown into upheaval as Marillion, introduced as “Genuine Prog Rock royalty” hit the stage. They are by nature edgier than Hackett in a way only a prog band can be. They aren’t edgy as you would describe other Stone Free bands like Alice Cooper or Teeth Of The Sea, rather they are quite unsettling with controversial topics of existence in their music. Front man Steve Hogarth is unlike any other front man of a progressive rock band. He sings frantically in attempts to portray non-existence and an inability to do anything about it. He keeps the audience on their toes/ the edge of their seat with his seeming inability to stay in one place whilst singing which is also uncommon in Prog Rock, along with an immensely powerful voice, he is something I never thought this sub genre ever could be. The highlight of the set is a heartfelt dedication of the classic “Easter” to Syria, the Republic Of Ireland and Ukraine. His voice is projected impossibly well and the whole performance is one of virtuosity and intellect. Not to mention a terrific one for me to part ways with.
So, just as it has begun it is over. A brilliant weekend of music, many bands I thought I would never see, was dying to see or had simply never heard of provided the attendees with ample entertainment. It seems to be a place of solitude among the festival giants like Download, who bill over 300 bands. It is a bit mind boggling and a little intimidating (no offence to Download, I hope to go one year!) however Stone Free seems like a throwback of a festival with a small collection of bands appearing on a few stages, vaguely reminiscent of simpler days like the legendary Monsters Of Rock. It would be nice to see future festivals take a leaf out of the Stone Free Festivals book. Bringing things down to earth and making them more accessible to the fan base.
I certainly enjoy the novelty at least that Ramblin’ Man also seems to have picked up on. It is difficult to sum a whole weekend up like this, so I’m going to try and keep it simple. What a great weekend, very hospitable, a lot of talent and some very able organisers who only have our best interests at heart. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience but for now it’s a dreamy skip to catch the last train home. I suppose now is pondering on next year’s lineup… Rush would be an absolute dream! What about Thunder? Or perhaps ZZ Top? Whatever it may be, here’s to the next one!