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Swedish Rock Festival, 5-8 June 2003, Solvesborg, Sweden.

Our second visit to this fine festival, having discovered it last year thanks to Magnum performing there. Travelled over with a bit more planning this time, arriving in time to get a decent spot on the campsite and time to get some beer stocked up for the weekend.

This has to be the best-organised festival I have ever been to and also a great line-up of bands across the 4 stages that they use. You could have 15 hours of continuous live music a day, for 3 days, if you wanted to. Set in a large open area on the Swedish east coast, there is plenty of room to wander around, visit the various merchandise stalls or signing tent, or just chill out over a beer with friends.

I’ll just give a quick rundown on the bands that we saw, as remembering all the set-lists would be impossible (as would seeing all 51 bands on the bill).

Thursday 5th June, warm-up party.

Stopped by the marquee where this was taking place to check out the Swedish band Locomotive Breath. Run-of-the-mill hard rock in truth, and not particularly inspiring until they introduced their special guest - Nicky Moore of ‘Samson’ fame. 3 or 4 songs of classic hard blues-rock followed with Nicky delivering the vocals in style. After he left, they finished with a cover of “Crazy Train”. Not too bad, and broke up the monotony of the first evening’s beer drinking.

Friday 6th June.

Our Swedish friend Micke and his good lady treated us to a BBQ in the morning, a welcome change from the diet of ‘moose kebab’ that dominated the weekend (although we did have barbecued moose).

After this it was a trip into the local town by bus to re-stock the beer supply, so we missed a couple of the opening bands. Arrived back to the sounds of local favourites Spearfish doing a cover version of Chris De Burgh’s “Don’t Pay The Ferryman” which didn’t sound half bad. Didn’t catch a lot more of Spearfish, but their much publicised ‘very special guest’ turned out to be a Swedish guitar maestro who I’d never heard of - still, he seemed to be popular with the locals J

Next band we checked out was Finntroll, having been enticed by the website description of Extreme metal mixed with Finnish humppa music (a variety of polka) and with Swedish lyrics about evil trolls beating people up... “ Well, extreme it was, and after 20 minutes I felt like I’d been beaten up by an evil troll and retired hurt to the sanctity of the tent (and beer).

Suitably refreshed, we returned to the fray for UK based melodic power metal band Dragonforce. Unfortunately they were dogged by technical problems throughout their set, but what we could hear was excellent. A bit of a downer as I had really been looking forward to seeing this band following their excellent debut on CD.

Next up were Swedish 3-piece Sky High playing some very good straight ahead classic blues-rock of their own, interspersed with a few very well performed Hendrix covers. My Swedish tour guide informed me that their guitarist, Clas Yngstrom, is generally regarded as the best in Sweden (Mr Malmsteen’s ego is not too popular it would seem).

Had a bit of a break before returning to the main stage of the day (only 2 of the 4 in use today) for the 70’s UK rockers Demon. Getting on a bit they may be, but they turned back the sands of time to produce a stunning 2 hour set of classics complete with Dave Hill squeezing back in to his 20-year old stage costumes for ‘Night Of The Demon’ and ‘Father Of Time’. What was probably their finest album. ‘The Plague’ was well represented in the set, and also a couple of more recent tracks which, to be honest, were nowhere near in the same league as the older material. A fine way to round off the opening day, and we returned to tent at around 2am suitably satisfied both musically and alcoholically (is that a real word?).

Saturday 7th June.

Now the fun starts in earnest, with all 4 stages in operation, and 2 bands performing at any one time, so decisions had to be made….

First up, I decided on Brazilian melodic metallers Angra over Paul Dianno’s Killers, and I was not disappointed. This band were even better live than they sound on CD, the absolute highlight being ‘Heroes Of Sand’. A great way to kick off a long day, even if the vocalist Eduardo Falaschi did appear to have been watching a few too many Iron Maiden videos for his stage moves. Still, he lists Bruce as his main influence, so who can complain, and his voice is damn good as well.

No contest for the next decision, as Kamelot (like Dream Theater, only slightly less progressive) were on the biggest stage. I’ve been waiting a while to see these guys live and they were superb. Roy Khan managing to re-create the excellent vocals that he has brought to the band on the live stage. Most of the set was culled from their 2 most recent albums ‘Karma’ and ‘Epica’. If you haven’t got these albums - get them!

Now a real dilemma, 3 good bands on at the same time - Budgie, ACT, and Sonata Arctica. Decided on the Scandinavian option again as they are the least likely to frequent the UK. Unfortunately, Sonata Arctica were a little disappointing live - they just didn’t have the same breadth of sound as they do on CD. Still very good songs, but missing something in the live mix.

Back to the main stage for a group of young chaps going by the name of Jethro Tull. When you can open a set with ‘Living in the Past’, it speaks volumes for what is available in the back catalogue. Flute, mandolin and various other uncommon instruments (at a rock festival anyway), combined with Ian Anderson’s “I don’t care what you think, I’m having fun” attitude, building up to the gut wrenching finale of ‘Aqualung’ meant for an extremely entertaining 90 minutes. Some of the more extreme metal lovers in the crowd seemed to be wandering around in a bewildered state by the end, not being entirely sure what had just happened J

Time for a break, as nothing that excited me was on for the next slot, and we weren’t even half way through the day - so a seat in the beer tent and a moose kebab were in order before returning to the thick of the action with Geoff Tate and the Queensryche boys. Another strong contender for the top vocalist award, and he led the band through a ‘best of’ set from their 20 year career. The highlight was undoubtedly ‘Revolution Calling’ from the ‘Operation Mindcrime’ album, proving he’s lost none of the vocal power. Awesome performance, and the best band of the day IMO.

Not wanting to risk bleeding ears courtesy of Lemmy & Co, it was suggested that I check out Danko Jones - a Canadian gentleman who plays fast-paced blues rock with attitude, in the vein of Bon Scott era ACDC. Having never heard any of his music before, I was pleasantly surprised with the punchy delivery and good-time feel of the music. Thoroughly enjoyed the set, despite still being able to hear the delicate strains of ‘Ace Of Spades’ from the other stage. I strongly suggest checking out Danko Jones, and catch them live if you get a chance - the man has attitude and stage presence in abundance.

Back (with 17,000 others) to the main stage for the headline act - Whitesnake (or what should really be called David Coverdale and friends playing post 1986 Whitesnake material). Good, as you’d expect from DC, but not quite as good as they were at Wembley 3 weeks earlier. Only 2 songs from the pre-1987 albums, those being the fantastic ‘Slow and Easy’ with Doug Aldrich admirably handling the slide guitar, and ‘Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City’ with the glorious feel of close to 17,000 people singing along for the choruses. An acceptable headline performance from a band who are perfect to play at big festivals. Close to 2am finish again, and we’ve got it all to do again tomorrow.

Sunday 8th June.

Well, another kindly soul who we met last year at SRF, and lives about 50km from the festival invited us back to her house for lunch and a shower (which, believe me, after 3 days travelling and festivalling was desperately required). So 7 of us piled into Micke’s car and headed off for this brief reunion with civilisation. We decided there were no bands requiring our urgent attention in the earlier part of the day, so had a leisurely time, returning to the festival just in time for Y&T’s set.

Having been briefly (40 minutes) re-acquainted with Y&T on the Monsters of Rock bill a few weeks earlier, I was really looking forward to a 90 minute set from them - and I was not to be disappointed. To put it quite simply and basically - they kicked ass big time. Heavy rock as it should be played, oozing with melody and great riffs in abundance. Superb set including ‘Rescue Me’, ‘I Believe In You’, and ‘Summertime Girls’. Top of them all though, and worth the flight and ticket price on it’s own, was ‘Barroom Boogie’ from the Black Tiger album. OK, I’m running out of superlatives here, but suffice to say - I rather enjoyed the set J

Follow that Blind Guardian (some of our little group went off to see Wishbone Ash, but the German opera appealed to me). Follow, they just about managed to do. First time seeing this band, having missed Bloodstock last year, and I have to say that I was amazed to find that they could reproduce their very complex studio sound on a live stage. Top marks for musicianship, and Hansi Kursch gets my vote for best vocalist of the festival. The full rendition of their 14 minute, number 1 single ‘And Then There Was Silence’ was spot on to the CD version, and an incredible performance to watch.

After 3 hours of excellent rock, it was time for a nice sit down in the beer tent to watch and listen from afar to Yes. Great band, loved them on the orchestra tour in 2001, but this was a case of wrong time, wrong place I’m afraid. Yes could never be described as the ideal band to get a festival crowd going. Their extended instrumental breaks and solos just do not fit the environment. They seemed to go down quite well, but I don’t know when they last played in this part of the world. For my part, I found the 2 hours they were on slowly dragged by, as I was waiting for the highlight of the weekend (for me at least)…..

Uriah Heep! 35 years in the business, and that experience showed as they dished out a lesson in keeping an audience captivated. Still, that can’t be too difficult with a back catalogue of the calibre of theirs. They just kept on rolling them out… ‘Gypsy’, July Morning’, ‘The Wizard’, ‘The Magicians Birthday’, ‘Easy Living’ all delivered with precision and enthusiasm. Mick Box in particular looked to be really enjoying himself (both he and Bernie Shaw were also celebrating their birthdays). All too soon it was over, but the encore became the best 15 minutes of the festival… A rousing version of Stealin’, followed by the internationally friendly audience participation number ‘Lady In Black’ - it doesn’t matter what language you speak “na na na na” is pretty global, and judging by the noise the crowd made they all agreed with me. The guys then left the stage with ‘Land Of Hope and Glory’ pumping over the PA. Nice touch. Joint best performance of the weekend (with Y&T).

Final act time, so 17,000 people trotted off to the main stage for Twisted Sister. I’m told that they were huge in Sweden when they first found success in the 80’s, which is why they had been selected as headliners on their reformation. I was never a big fan, but had enjoyed the couple of hits they’d had in the UK. Sadly, tonight they didn’t come anywhere close to making me want to go and dig out some of their music. The big hair and outrageous dress sense were there, and Dee Snider was stomping about the stage as if he’d never been away, but the music(?) was bland beyond compare, and there seemed to be an in-band competition going to see who could get the most f-words in between songs. A steady stream of people began leaving the arena, including some die-hard TS fans of years gone by, obviously disappointed with what they had witnessed.

A bit of a damp squib to finish what had been an excellent weekend. Monday was spent travelling and recovering, and when we finally arrived home around midnight, Clare (my wife) captured what is so good about these festivals. She said “I’ve had a fantastic weekend and would love to have been there longer, but it’s also really great to be home again and get to sleep in a real bed.”

Clear your diaries for 10th-12th June 2004, and get your tickets and flights booked early. This festival gets bigger every year, and with 51 bands this year there was more than enough to satisfy all aspects of the rock spectrum.

See you all at SRF2004!

Text © 2003 Ian Pollard

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