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    ROCKIN’ THE BOWL FESTIVAL | Review September 11 & 12 2021, Don Valley Bowl, Sheffield UK

    Another festival, that, thanks to glut of bands being available because, well, ‘No Gigs for 18 months,’ has expanded from a Version 1.0 single-day affair to a full Version 2.5 running from Friday to Sunday.  Organised by Steve and Zhany Hughes with Geno De Lora (Stage Manager). Spending weeks looking forward to, seeing so much on social media it started to feel a little surreal, but it was finally here- cameras charged and I’m on my way. A pleasant drive from Birmingham to Sheffield only taking a couple of hours, very well signposted, orgainised parking seriously putting some larger festivals to shame.

    First up to kick this festival off was Bastette, fronted by the powerful vocals of Caroline Kenyon. Performing tracks such as ‘Sick and Twisted, Hunter and Rollercoaster’ from their EP ‘Exposed’- These festival openers received a great response from crowd.

    Daxx and Roxane, bluesy hard rockers a fantastic band based in London originating from Switzerland, immediately started as they mean to go on- an energetic live performance, belting out tracks from their self named and funded EP including ‘Fast Lane, Strange Woman’ and ‘Without You’ Definitely a band to watch out for.

    Unfortunately Liberty Lies had to pull out at the last minute, being replaced by The City Kids, being a mix of several groups such as Tigertailz, Warrior Soul, The Main Grains and Falling Red, made a great combination to a group that gave us a wild, energy filled sleaze rock performance.

    Sheffields very own Steal the City graced the stage next, making the most of the stage space with their entertaining and energetic antics, great vocals and rifts, playing tracks such as ‘Know it All, Wallflower and Beating Heart. A big band with a big future.

     The Outlaw Orchestra, having had a great run so far, seeing out the rest of the year on tour, played at 2019 RTB, and yet again, they bring their country/folk styled rock music with a bit of an American deep south twist to the stage. Quite a unique sound which shows off the raw talent of each of the band members  which consists of a banjo, double bass and percussion as well as drums and guitars. Playing tracks of their latest EP ‘The Devil Made Me Do It and a track that got everone marching on the spot- The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles- a great crowd pleaser, warming them up for the headliner.

    ….And the final group of Day 1 was Cats in Space. Having played a great set at Stonedead, they were here to  do it again… Playing songs from a 16 track set list, they performed tracks from their previous albums such as ‘September Rain’ and ‘Too Many Gods’ on top form and were a great closing act to RTB 2021.

     

    With so many bands and so little time afforded to us, the Saturday line up began just before I arrived with Lowdrive getting things warmed up for the eager crowd in the fresh morning sun. Shortly after they had played, my first band of the weekend commenced with the new line up of JoanOvArc taking to the stage. With Ellie Daymond on drums and Keira Kenworthy on bass now joining mainstay lead guitarist Shelley Walker, the biggest change was the introduction of Hazel Jade Rogers as the new lead vocalist, replacing Laura Ozholl front and centre. The new line up works well, Rogers is clearly comfortable in the driving seat and her tight leather outfit, accentuated with a pair of wicked coloured sunglasses gave the band a snappy look and edge. Kudos as ever to Ellie who drums like the Muppets’ Animal on speed!

    One neat touch at the festival which saw bands like Firegarden play on the Steel City Stage whilst the main Mikey Lawless (the bass player from Falling Red who sadly lost his battle with cancer in January 2020) Stage was prepped for the next act. Firegarden were good fun, but serious questions have to be asked about their bassist’s dodgy footwear!

    Back on the main stage, a band looking to make the jump to the next level, Florence Black ticked all the right boxes with a solid performance that ably supports the release of their debut album (that seems to have taken an age to arrive) Weight Of The World. At times it has felt a though the band were truly carrying the weight of the world on their backs as the struggle to get this album out has definitely felt like a case of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’. It is however here and now the weight has been lifted and the world is a better place for it. One to watch in 2021 and beyond.

    For the first time, despite multiple opportunities to see them previously, I finally get to write about Empyre. “You need to watch them,” “you missed them again !?!,” “you don’t know what you’re missing” and so on from so many. Well calm yourselves folks because having seen them I can safely say I’m hanging my head in shame. A great show and a front man that reminds me very much of Richard Ashcroft. Henrik Steenholdt has got that pure rock star cool vibe going on when he’s onstage and he also knows he looks and sounds good, as do the rest of the band. Dark and moody and a great mid afternoon set to mix things up a bit.

    The afternoon continued with a stunning set from Hell’s Addiction, definitely providing a highlight of the day for me with yet again another energetic front man in the shape of Ben Sargent helping the band push up and away from the many, many generic and faceless bands that are spread thickly over the road like black ice in winter. You don’t want to come across them but sometimes you have no choice but to carefully navigate to get past the spot before reaching the correct destination and that destination is Hell’s Addiction.

    With Bad Touch and Gin Annie reminding us just why they constantly sit high on festival bills, their music being slick, loud, engaging and the sort of thing to keep the most ardent festival goer happy whatever the weather, it fell to the little-known Shanghai Treason on the Steel City Stage to provide the most unexpected highlight of the day, if not the entire weekend.

     

    Shanghai Treason, a Celtic Punk inspired band from Sheffield/Barnsley, haven’t been playing together long, even less when you factor in Covid. Somehow,they managed to bag a support slot for Buzzcocks in Manchester, put out some original music of their own and the end result is \ was nothing short of spectacular. The music is energetic shambolic Celtic pop punk, very much in the style of Dropkick Murphys or Ferocious Dog. Sam Christie is a born frontman and oozes the style and charm that’s absolutely required for a band like Shanghai Treason. Guitars, bass, drums, banjo, accordion, it all got used during the short (way too short) set from the band, but they did what they set out to do and convince everyone in the packed tent that they needed to see the band again to truly experience Shanghai Treason in all their glory. Band of the weekend and no mistake!

    Having grinned my way through Shanghai Treason and thoroughly enjoyed the ever-reliable Gin Annie and Bad Touch, all that remained was for the Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch to arrive and preside over the strong audience of rockers.
    An interesting choice when looking at the lower acts on the bill as Doro definitely ticks the ‘metal’ box, hence the moniker she’s carried for the past few decades. The rest of the bill, more hard and classic rock than a metal line up so the question was ‘would it work?’
    In part yes. There’s no doubting that most of the tracks in a Doro set-list are stone cold metal classics. I personally had a blast, jumping and singing along to ‘East Meets West,’ ‘I Rule The Ruins,’ ‘All For Metal’ and of course the classic, that she could play a dozen times in succession and I’d still go home happy, ‘All We Are.’ Others next to me, muttered about how it just wasn’t doing anything for them and how they’d be off before the end of the set.
    Well, they missed out. The encore included a special guest appearance from Saxon’s Paul Quinn. Then it got a bit surreal. We have on stage a German metal legend, a member of one of Britain’s greatest metal bands in Saxon who then decided to play a cover of…. Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking The Law.’ Doro + Saxon = Priest…. Go figure. Still… I’m not complaining, the version Doro did with Udo Dirkschneider is a blinder as well and this version set the night on fire as well.

    As Doro finished and I returned to the pub with a gibbet hanging outside to remind us that highway robbery is a bad thing (Motorway Service Stations take note please!) preparations began for the next and final day of the festival.

    And so to Sunday, where The Dukes of Bordello got the day off to a moonshine fuelled start. Regardless of what they say, you can’t tell me that was water in the slightly battered bottle that vocalist Andy Barrot kept at the side of his mic stand. Whatever rocket fuel he was drinking that morning (it was still morning!), he, Chip Waite on double bass and drummer Craz Taylor got the day off to what felt like the perfect hangover driven start that it deserved. For an early kick off there were a lot of people sporting sunglasses when they weren’t really needed and a lot of cups of coffee being drunk whilst the band were playing. Slackers… honestly, have a pint, let the hangover take care of itself and enjoy the music!

    Having cleared out the cobwebs and the picked up the first cold one of the day, next up were Black Whiskey who I’d had the pleasure of seeing a while ago at Leo’s in Gravesend before the untimely death from cancer of founder and guitarist Kev Ingles. Vocalist Simon Gordon took a moment to talk about Kev and also pointed out that the set was a commitment made and one that would be kept in honour of Kev, as is only right. Of course this also means that the gig might be the band’s last which is a shame although not altogether unexpected when you’ve lost someone who was so integral to the foundation of the 4-piece. Standing in on lead guitar and playing Kev’s old Les Paul was Son’s Of Liberty’s Fred Hale. Speaking to Fred before Black Whiskey’s set he explained how he’d acquired most of Kev’s old guitars from his widow and wanted to ensure that she was happy that he was doing everything right by the late musician. I can’t think of a better way to give Kev a send-off and if this was Black Whiskey’s final show then they did him proud!

    The aforementioned Sons of Liberty then took to the stage and what we have is the UK’s best answer to a true southern hard rock band. It seems to have been quite a theme on the Sunday with the opening acts all sharing something that linked them all in some way. If Black Whiskey was a drink then it’s pretty clear Sons of Liberty would have polished off the case before going on stage. Their set comprises southern styled hard rock tunes that hit home just at the right spot. Dripping in style both musically and visually, you’d never think the lads were from Bristol, swearing blind they were from the deepest South in the U.S. Nothing wrong with that as it’s clear the band will gather fans from both sides of the Atlantic with performances like the one they put on in Sheffield.
    Now if we take another approach to the American way of life and instead of heading South, look to the Wild West. Imagine then if you mixed a band from Worcester with Clint Eastwood and ummm… Steel Panther. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the Bootyard Bandits. They’re fun, take the piss out of themselves, the crowd, and the material they sing about. Heck they even have a song called M.I.L.F. which apparently was written about one of my fellow photographers (she knows who she is…) It’s entirely possible the song ‘Shirt Potatoes’ was also written about her but I’m just speculating! Either way, their set was pure fun, Country Rock Alestorm if you will. Pirates are nowhere to be found but cow skulls, cowboy boots and more are everywhere. Huge fun and another highlight of the weekend.

    Keeping with the hard rock vibe (albeit without the Clint Eastwood footprint), Collateral put on a show and a half. A perfect festival band with the moves and attitude of an outfit on the cusp of moving it all up to the next level. Whilst lead singer Angelo Tristan may well seek to become the next Jon Bon Jovi of the rock world, he is ably supported by Kent’s answer to Phil Collen and Steve Clark in Todd Winger and Louis Sebastian Malagodi. Ben Atkinson does his very best Tico Torres impressions behind the scenes and Rob Fenning and David Bryan also have a lot in common so there a definite feel of where the band’s sound should be heading. The difference though comes from Jack Bentley-Smith. Playing like Nikki Sixx rather than Rick Savage, his depth and presence on stage gives Collateral a slighter darker tone at the bottom end and that gives them a much fuller sound than some of their contemporaries. A full, hugely enjoyable set, and one that should have taken us straight into SKAM who, sadly, couldn’t play as a result of positive Covid tests within the band. Instead we got a band that felt like a natural connection to Collateral and that was..

    The Wicked Jackyls. A great substitute for SKAM, stepping in at the 11th hour and playing an absolute blinder. With a guitarist who’s modelled himself on Slash and a lead singer who plays (but sings better IMHO) like Dave Mustaine, TWJ have a recipe for success.

    With the weekend drawing to a close, just Hollowstar who never fail to shine, and reminded us with ease just why they’d been placed on the bill just behind the headliners, and Massive Wagons left to play, we took a final wander round the arena, to get a final cold one before heading home, grabbing some cheesy fries (delish!) and taking the opportunity for a well-earned breather before we headed into the home straight.

    Hollowstar did what all main supports should and warmed us up for the main attraction. Tight, precise, all of the cliches that apply to a good performance can be used at this point as they didn’t put a foot wrong. Working the crowd, getting everyone going, when it comes to the end of a festival weekend, I’d want Hollowstar on before any headline act. Reenergised and ready for the last hurrah, the lights dimmed and after a pre-warning by fire and safety wardens about the pyro and effects in use during Massive Wagons set, I got ready for the sort of visuals usually reserved for a Manowar show.
    “For Those About To Rock… We Salute You….” started coming out of the speakers… Blimey what was going to happen when the cannons went off, we all wondered as one… well, the short answer is “not as much as was hyped”. There was a pop, there was a bang, it really should have been during the AC/DC track and not afterwards but when the Wagons hit the stage, the fireworks did commence and they really brought the show with them.
    Massive Wagons are the ultimate party band. A stark contrast to the metal anthems from 24 hours previously, Massive Wagons setlist was as varied in style as it was lyrically. There seems to be nothing they can’t sing about and in Adam Thistlethwaite and Baz Mills you have what every great band needs; a cocky lead singer and a lead guitarist that can hold his own on stage against his front man. You only have to look at the greats to see how well it works, DLR and Eddie VH, Sambora and Bon Jovi, Tyler and Perry, the need for the 2-pronged combo out front is a given. Massive Wagons manage that and have the tunes to support it. They brought ‘Rockin’ The Bowl – Forged in Fire, Set in Steel’ to give it its full name, to a close and ended what was truly a great weekend.

    Festivals are always about enjoying the bands you know and discovering the ones you don’t. Of the latter, Bootyard Bandits and Shanghai Treason were clear winners for me. Never heard of either before, desperate to see them both again. Just how it should be.

    As with every festival, a great team organising the bands, the security, medics and the vendors- and then theres those who make it all worthwhile- the festival goers… So lhorns up to those that attended…..

    An excellent weekend and credit to the organisers for pulling it all together under difficult circumstances at the tail end (hopefully) of the pandemic. Roll on 2022 when we see Orange Goblin and Jack J Hutchinson to name but two confirmed artists.

    See you all in 2022….

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