Festival Review: Bradstock 2023 – Nightrain, Bradford (29th April 2023)

Since opening its doors a few years ago, Bradford’s Nightrain has quickly established itself as one of the country’s best independent rock venues. Regularly playing host to some of the finest names on the DIY/unsigned scene, you’d be hard pressed to find a better venue in Yorkshire. And with Bradstock 2022 kicking off their first all-dayer festival, 2023 looked to be bigger and better.

Boasting a mighty ten bands and doors opening at noon, it worked out at £3.50 per band – or another way to look at it: less than the price of a pint per band. Whilst Buck and Evans sadly dropped out a couple of days beforehand, even nine bands for that price is practically impossible to argue with. But it did allow for a slightly later start and bands in the middle of the pack to add in a couple of extra songs. Add in that their drinks are exceptionally well priced, friendly staff, great atmosphere and acoustics (our own Sheggs remarked it was a little loud but you know what they say if it’s too loud…) and bands up and down the country have always commented on how well they’re treated here, this was a no-brainer.

Indeed, by the time the doors opened at their new time of 12:30, it’s not long before there’s already a good 100 people through the door, the beer’s flowing, shots are being thrown back and there’s a sea of various t-shirts – bands who feature on today’s bill but also adjacent and even a couple of different independent venues such as Bathgate’s Dreadnought. Local lads Dead Demons have the unenviable task of kicking off the day but they seize the moment and go for it. Battering through a tight set of hard rock with a metal edge, there’s a slight reunion as they’re re-joined for one night (well, afternoon) by the original drummer, Chris Jackson. There’s not a sense that he’s filling in and the four-piece play as if this is always the line-up. But when you bring back an original member, most of the time, there will always be a good bit of built-in chemistry.

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Edenthorn roll with the punches and are the second band of the day to have an absent drummer. Instead of bowing out or nabbing a last-minute replacement, they decide to run with an acoustic set. The trio on-stage have to be commended for the last-minute improvisation and as someone that’s never heard their material previously, it makes for a good first impression as they run through a very grungy set akin to Pearl Jam or early Stone Temple Pilots. With fat bass lines bouncing off the acoustic twanging, the people at the back are less enthused going by the fact full-blown conversations are taking place around me. The band acknowledge that acoustic sets, especially in this context, aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and play to the enraptured people amassed at the front.

Taking the day in a more metal-based route, Unknown Refuge are one of the heaviest bands of the day. There’s a solid groove to their sound but with cleaner vocals and melodies, there’s not going to be many comparisons to Lamb of God. That said, they still know how to get the crowd going, throwing in a few rockier numbers, and ending with a thrashy one to act as a great segue into the next band. It’s the blend of alternative and metal which makes them one of the most unique and interesting bands of the day.

King Kraken appear to be a band of few words, allowing the music do the talking for them. It shows that even for a band unknown to him, my friend remarked “They look like they mean business!” Which is exactly what they do in their performance, sitting right on that fence between rock and metal, many of their songs blend from one into the next to maximise their time onstage. It’s a big, bold, hairy sound by big, bold, hairy guys. If you added in some fuzz and stoner elements, they could be Wales’ answer to Clutch. However, their own straightforward approach allows for an old-school approach in a modern presentation as they bring power, fury and bombast to the afternoon.

Much like Unknown Refuge, A’priori bring their own unique element to the day. Eschewing bass guitar in favour of keys, along with an interesting name and you’d be expecting a more prog-based sound for their set. But not quite, this is a chunky rock tone in the vein of Black Stone Cherry with an alternative flavouring. They’re a tight trio who don’t mess around and acting as the halfway point of the day, their position in the bill is a perfect one with all the different sounds of their predecessors and successors represented here. The alternative and heavier elements on the bill may be less prevalent in their sound but it’s still there and if you want a familiar chunky hard rock sound with a new spin on it, you can’t go wrong with this lot.

Food time between changeovers and by the time I’m back in the venue, there’s a Bon Jovi tribue onstage. Or as they prefer to be called: Collateral. It’s mum rock at its finest, rivalling Daughtry (Lois Griffin had a point) or their very obvious biggest influence. Other than a change of guitarist, there’s no real difference in them since they opened for Skid Row. It’s the token dose of cheese for the day but this isn’t like Massive Wagons covering “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on their recent UK tour where it’s some harmless fun which raises a grin, this is the bad kind of cheese. As stomach-turning as some of the most saccharine pop songs of the 2000s, there’s not much to redeem them other than the the people at the front being well entertained.

The Fallen State act as a welcome palate cleanser and with it being a few years since I last saw the metal quartet, they’ve had a hell of a glow-up as the trendy people say. With a powerful performance and their first of the year, it’s gritty yet melodic, allowing them to be accessible for those who aren’t into the heavier end of the spectrum. It’s unsurprising why they’ve spent years supporting some of the biggest rock and metal acts of the modern age. As levelling up goes, they show other bands how to enhance what was already a good band and it wouldn’t be at all surprising that they’re the best band of the day for some people judging by the reaction of the crowd.

Fresh from supporting Massive Wagons all over the country for the past couple of weeks, The Virginmarys hit the ground running for the first of many festival appearances this Summer. With a longer set afforded to them, they hit all the songs from that all-too-short forty minute set for a solid hour this time, allowing them to bring out some long-time favourites like “1000 Times” and “Off to Another Land”. Playing to one of the biggest crowds of the day, the power duo have the gathered audience in a frenzy by the end of the first song, showing off their visceral and unique sound. Indeed, Ally Dickaty’s screams are feral and sound as if they’re coming from his toes rather than his lungs. Elsewhere, Danny Dolan has his trademark vicious drumming on full display, his minimal kit put through its paces and then some. Whilst there’s been plenty of their shirts in the crowd today, they’re intent to leave their mark for newcomers, putting in one of the best performances I’ve seen from them. By the time they sign off with “Bang Bang Bang”, there’s a sense that there’s still plenty in the tank, the couple of days off from the tour allowing them to refuel for their latest assault.

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Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons are determined to keep the momentum going and despite an hour changeover, by the time their traditional intro of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”, the audience are still up for a great night. Really, finales to an overall great day don’t come much better. If you want no-nonsense hard rock, you can’t do much better than Campbell and his band. Back to a five-piece after their recent tour supporting Black Star Riders had them as a four piece, Todd Campbell is back to handle the six strings in tandem with his dad. However, there’s still a Bastard Son missing in action as drummer Dane Campbell has recently become a father (does this now mean there’s a Bastard Grandchild?) and he’s ably filled in for by Paul White who handles the material as if it’s his own and slots in effortlessly.

There’s only a handful of Bastard Sons songs played, as well as a solitary number from Campbell’s solo record. Instead, they go hard on the Motörhead songs which the crowd lap up – it’s frankly an inspired move for tonight. With plenty of jokes, the usual splitting of the crowd (this time on “Born to Raise Hell”) and simply paying tribute to the art of the riff, it’s the band at their hard-charging best, intent on entertaining and leaving everything they have on stage. Indeed, the only breather to be found is the halfway point of the sludgy “Dark Days” and once that’s over, they somehow kick it up a notch or ten as it’s immediately followed by Motörhead’s most infamous song and their own take on Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” (let’s face it, no Hawkwind, no “Silver Machine”, no Motörhead – and it’s a great version to boot). And as for the encore? It’s a full-on quartet of some of Lemmy and co.’s best songs. Seeing the band back to a five-piece, it feels right and there’s more energy brought to it. The songs are fuller and richer and finds them more focused without being turgid and despite the lack of usual personnel, it’s been well enough rehearsed that it’s another blinder of a set from the band.

So there you have it, Bradstock done and dusted for this year and kicking off festival season in style with a dry day which meant the mud was kept at bay and the poncho and wellies can stay in storage for just a little longer. It’s an excellent day with some new discoveries made, a reminder of why Nightrain is one of the best venues in the country and you don’t need to break the bank to see an excellent bill of bands. Now, here’s to Bradstock 2024!

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