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Gig Reviews...High Voltage (July 25)

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HIGH VOLTAGE
Victoria Park, London July 24-25 2010

Photo Gallery (July 25) by Lee Millward

Day 1 Photo Gallery/Review

One of this year's much-awaited events and billed as "custom built by rock fans, for rock fans"

How was it for GRTR!?

Our reviewers Jim Rowland and Andy Nathan give their definitive verdict on Day 2...

With the first day of the inaugural High Voltage festival having received a universal thumbs up from the punters, thanks to the glorious sunshine and fantastic music on offer, would Sunday match up and send us all home satisfied? With the sun turning up for a second day, things were looking good.

Andy Nathan reports

I would never count myself a progger, and yet most of my preferred action on the Sunday was at the undersized prog stage, beginning with MARTIN TURNER'S WISHBONE ASH

The constant battles over whether he or Andy Powell are the real keepers of the Wishbone light were laid to one side as MTWA played the whole of the all-time classic 'Argus', a concept in danger of over use but the perfect choice for a festival rather than a gig for diehards like me.

Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash, photo by Lee Millward

His band did full justice to the classics from 'Time Was' through to 'Throw Down the Sword' - indeed Ray Hatfield won a huge round of applause after his immaculate closing solo to 'Sometime World', and Danny Willson's wah wah infused solo to 'The King Will Come' was equally impressive (as a ‘comedian' I was less impressed with him though).

Talking of which Martin has ensured his outfit do not take things too seriously, quipping that 'Leaf and Stream' was this time accompanied by a thrash metal backing as the sound wafted over from the next stage, and slipping a touch of Monty Python's Lumberjack song into 'The Warrior'.

The big draw for me was the promise of original Wishbone member Ted Turner and I was a bit disappointed he arrived relatively late, to add his trademark lap steel to a slightly chaotic but well-received 'Blowin Free'.

Somehow looking younger than when he recorded it over 20 years ago, he sang 'Why Don't We' and produced a marvellously fluid extended solo to remind us Wishbone-ites what we have missed before leading a singalong during 'Jailbait' to end a well received set.

Jim Rowland reports

One of the major successes of the inaugural High Voltage Festival this year was the Prog Stage. Apart from being the best looking stage, it played host to many performances that audience members cited as amongst their favourites of the whole weekend.

The names of Focus, Argent, Asia and Transatlantic cropped up time and time again as people feverishly swapped battle stories of the weekend.

Steve Hackett, photo by Lee Millward

One of my personal favourite performances of the weekend was Steve Hackett's all too brief 40 minute set in the blazing sun on Sunday afternoon. With a stage dedicated to Progressive Rock at a major festival, and with ELP reforming at the end of the day, it was appropriate to have one of the godfathers of Progressive Rock perform, and here he was.

With a repertoire as large as Steve Hackett now has, it must have been very difficult to narrow that down to a 40 minute set, but the band whittled it down to just five songs that fitted the occasion perfectly.

Steve Hackett, photo by Lee Millward

'Everyday', a song familiar to most from the 'Spectral Mornings' album, kicks the set off in fine style. The sound is crisp and loud, and the band in great form. Next up is 'Fire On The Moon', the outstanding track from the latest album 'Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth', a powerful light and shade track every bit as good as anything from the Hackett's back catalogue.

Back to another classic with 'Ace Of Wands' from the first solo album, an instrumental featuring some fantastic bass work from Nick Beggs.

'Sleepers' gives the audience another taste of the 'Tunnel's Mouth' album, and those less familiar with the recent stuff were not disappointed.

Finally, an explosive and quite brilliant version of the Genesis classic 'Los Endos' brings the set to a close to an extremely warm reception from the crowd. Forty minutes well spent, and a major contribution to the success of the Prog Stage at the festival over the entire weekend.
 

Magnum, photo by Lee Millward

Andy Nathan reports

I realised, in conversation with a friend, that despite seeing them every tour this was the first time I'd seen MAGNUM at a festival since 1987!

They majored on their recent albums, with a trio from latest offering 'Valley of the Moon King' - and while undoubtedly proud of them, it was a brave, even foolhardy, move to buck festival convention and not focus on their best known songs.

'Les Morts Dansants' had Bob Catley conducting his trademark hand waving, while 'All England's Eyes' with its pomptastic keyboards, and the marvellously olde-worlde 'Kingdom of Madness' were an all too short finale.

Uriah Heep, photo by Lee Millward

URIAH HEEP gave their fans something different from the norm with a rendition of their classic Demons and Wizards album - also from 1972 - was that classic rock's creative peak?

That meant several changes with 'The Wizard', with Mick Box strumming his acoustic, opening the set, and usual set closer 'Easy Livin' placed third, in between 'Traveller in Time' and 'Poets Justice', with the trademark Heep heavy Hammond organ sound.

Uriah Heep, photo by Lee Millward

'Rainbow Demon' was a delight to hear, but unexpectedly stepping off the sub's bench to win my man of the match was Micky Moody whose trademark slide guitar added a totally new dimension to 'Circle of Hands', 'All My Life' and the multi-faceted epic 'Paradise/The Spell'.

26 years into my gigging career, there aren't many bands I've yet to see (yes, fellow GRTR! scribe Mr Taylor, I know Led Zeppelin are one!), but you would need to be from a previous generation to have seen ARGENT before, as the festival persuaded them to play their first gig together in 37 years.

After opening with a sprawling 'Its Only Money', 'Keep on Rollin' was a showcase both for Rod Argent to sing and tinkle the ivories (from a huge bank of keyboards and towering over the rest of the band), and 'Liar' demonstrated Russ Ballard's songwriting abilities, but in both cases just as impressive was the interplay between the whole band and their subtle, sometimes almost jazzy, ensemble playing.

The set also dipped into the members' back catalogues with Rod singing the Zombies No 1 'She's Not There', and Russ delivering a refreshingly rocky version of 'Since You Been Gone', which has made him a cool fortune over the years.

Inevitably, they finished with 'Hold Your Head Up', with those great vocal harmonies and Rod's trademark Hammond, and for the second time in two months I was part of a crowd swaying along to 'God Gave Rock n Roll to You', only this time - as Rod was quick to point out - to a song that Argent originally wrote.

Incidentally I could not help but admire the way Argent and Ballard, just like the bouffantly coiffed Turners from Wishbone, still have such luxuriant heads of hair well into their sixties! Leaving that aside, they were a delight to watch and I hope this means a further tour.

Darius Drewe Shimon reports

Arriving onstage late due to technical difficulties, some of which continued into the performance, might have inspired an insipid performance in some bands, but not in Marillion. The tension only served - from the opening thuds and rattles of 15-minute opener 'The Invisible Man'  - to highlight the dormant aggression implicit in their otherwise reflective, ambient alt-prog, particularly in bassist Pete Trewavas who thrashed at his instrument like a schoolmaster punishing an errant schoolboy.

Steve Hogarth looked the most cheerful of the troupe, unable to contain his penchant for leaping, flailing and fluttering every time the tempo switched into first gear, as on their most blatantly commercial offering 'Cover My Eyes' and, bloody hell, 'Slainte Mtath' (the first Fish-era cut I've seen them perform live since about 1997) but even he seemed like a man with a point to prove.

Not surprising really, when you consider that this was the band's first high-profile appearance at a British festival since headlining Cumbria Rocks 1991, and they'd be damned if they were going to let anyone - or anything - take it from them.

'King' 'This Strange Engine' and 'Afraid Of Sunlight' all rumbled and rippled like slow, angry oceans, not so much rock behemoths but statements of intent from wise old professors whose proclamations fell for aeons on deaf ears until belated acknowledgement proved them right.

'Neverland' - probably their defining late-career moment - united the audience, comprised of young converts from heavier tastes as well as the usual Marilliheads who were there to see them and only them, under Hackney Wick's fading twilight embers, and provided a perfect swansong to the prog stage's many highlights, its echoes lingering as many of us (unfortunately) were forced to turn our backs and head to the main arena for ELP, only to find they were on about 20 minutes late and we probably could have stayed after all. Bugger.

Jim Rowland reports

The Quireboys are the kind of band you would want to kick start a party, and this they did. It's only lunchtime, but Spike sounds like he's had a few too many already.

Their good time rock'n'roll goes down well with the early risers and the first few beers of the day seem to be going down a treat.

Down 'N' Outz, photo by Lee Millward

Spike dedicates a song to Alex Hurricane Higgins, who passed away the previous day, and rockers such as 'Tramps And Thieves' and 'Hey You' get the crowd raising a toast. Even original guitarist Guy Bailey joins in the party for the final fling of '7 O'clock'. A good start to the main stage proceedings.

Meanwhile on the Metal Hammer stage, young Powerage signings Lethargy and Norway's Audrey Horne are finding things a bit tougher going as they toil away to a pretty sparse crowd, which appeared to be a bit of a problem for this stage during the first half of both days.

That's taking nothing away from the bands themselves though. Lethargy's 70's flavoured stoner sound goes down well with those in attendance. They are tight, together, have some good songs and are laying down some solid foundations for better things to come.

Considering Audrey Horne have close connections with more aggressive bands such as Enslaved, their post-grunge sound is surprisingly melodic yet still packs a punch, as tracks like 'Down Like Suicide' and 'Blaze Of Ashes' reveal.

Andy Nathan reports

A quick rush to the main stage ensued for one of my other all-time favourites, UFO, but disaster struck when after 'Savin Me', Vinny Moore's guitar packed up.

Ironically, given that his drunken patter usually annoys me at UFO gigs, Phil Mogg saved the day with his laconic but cutting ad libs for a good five minutes before power was restored with a trio of classics in 'Only You Can Rock Me', 'Lights Out' and 'Love to Love'.

After a reasonably enjoyable newie in 'Hell Driver', Phil wryly said he had ignored festival etiquette and should play the ‘hits' so the epic 'Rock Bottom' and 'Doctor Doctor', with pockets of air guitar-ing breaking out, ended a frustratingly short set.

He was on decent vocal form and Vinny Moore is a technically skilled, if at times soulless, guitarist, but while some bands improve with age, I'm afraid for me UFO are stuck in a bit of a rut despite a back catalogue to rank with any band all weekend.

Jim Rowland reports

On the main stage, Bachman Turner prove to be one of the surprise hits of the day, keeping the party going from where The Quireboys and UFO kicked off.

Classic BTO tracks like 'Takin Care Of Business' mix seamlessly with new barnstormers like Rollin Along, from the forthcoming new album, and go down a storm with youngsters and oldies alike.

This is simple, well crafted good rocking music, perfect for an event like this. Apparently, this was the first time Randy Bachman and Fred Turner have appeared in this country together since 1976, and although they're no spring chickens they still know how win a crowd over.

The set inevitably finishes with their most famous track, a storming 'You Aint Seen Nothin' Yet', giving everyone a chance to dig out their best Smashy and Nicey impressions - Let's Rock! They certainly did.

Over on the Metal Hammer stage, the appearance of Clutch finally pulls a decent sized crowd together. Clutch are an extremely highly respected and talented band who's reputation has been enhanced by their last two albums, particularly 2007's 'From Beale Street To Oblivion'.

Their infectious, funky grooves , and classy rock riffs bring this stage to life. Neil Fallon is a great frontman, combining a great voice with an attitude to match, and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster gives any drummer here this weekend a run for their money, Carl Palmer included.

'Power Player', 'Mice & Gods' and 'Profits Of Doom' get the place rocking before Opeth's keyboard wizard Per Wiberg joins the band on stage for the last three tracks, the highlight of which is the classic twisted blues rocker, 'Electric Worry', fast becoming the band's anthem.

Just as some of the older bands on the main stage are picking up new younger admirers, this is a band that appeals to a younger audience that could just have picked up a few new older admirers today.

Joe Bonamassa, photo by Christie Goodwin
Photo: © Christie Goodwin

Joe Bonamassa, on the main stage, doesn't mess about as he kicks straight into one of his strongest songs, 'The Ballad Of John Henry'. His classy blues goes down a treat with the crowd, and there is no doubting the quality of his performance. A great guitar player, this man is a blues hero for a new generation. Finishing with a corking run though Zep's 'Dazed and Confused', he can only have enhanced his growing reputation today.

As the sun gives up for the day, the skies darken appropriately for the appearance of Stockholm's death metal proggers Opeth, themselves a band with a fearsome reputation.

A few technical hitches delay the start of the set, reducing their set time to just under the hour allocated. Time for five songs then - yes their songs are quite lengthy.

The set features one track from each of the last five albums, kicking off in gentle style with the quite beautiful and very prog-flavoured 'Windowpane' from the 'Damnation' album. 'Ghost Reveries' epic 'Grand Conjuration' and 'Blackwater Park''s 'The Drapery Falls' twist and turn between lightness and darkness.

'Watershed', the latest album, and in my opinion quite possibly the best so far, is represented by 'The Lotus Eater', and the band finish on a high with 'Deliverance'.

Despite the serious and dark nature of the music, frontman Michael Akerfeldt still finds time for a few jokes to lighten the mood between songs, introducing the band as ‘We are Poison from Los Angeles, and here's one from our album Look What the Cat Dragged In!'

Opeth sound is quite unique, and it is fair to call them a progressive rock band in a new era. Frontman Michael Akerfeldt's vocals, alternating from a quite beautiful clean style to the death metal ‘cookie monster' growl add to this uniqueness, but can split opinion and confuse the uninitiated.

An event like this was a good chance for the older, more traditional prog fans to take a look at what the fuss is about with this band, and I think opinions were still split after the event, but there is no doubting the quality of Opeth.

Back on the main stage, and its time for probably the most controversial moment of the entire weekend.

Down 'N' Outz, photo by Lee Millward

Joe Elliot's Down 'n' Outz surprisingly open up with an epic Elton John tune, 'Love Lies Bleedin', before working their way through a set of songs from the archives of Ian Hunter, Mott The Hoople and the post-Hunter Mott incarnation, which the majority of the crowd are not so familiar with.

These are good songs and Elliot is passionate about introducing them to a wider audience, and good luck to him.

'Storm', 'Shouting And Pointing', 'England Rocks', 'By Tonight' and 'Rock 'n' Roll Queen' are all well received, but something doesn't seem quite right. Firstly, Joe's voice is not quite up to par and it cracks on a few occasions.

Secondly, Ian Hunter is billed as a special guest, and time is ticking away, with no sign of the man. The crowd is starting to get a bit restless, and people are calling for Hunter to appear.

The allocated time for this set is 1 hour 20minutes, and with just ten minutes to go Hunter finally does appear for 'Once Bitten Twice Shy' and 'Who do You Love'.

Suddenly a voice bellows out from the PA, ‘a big hand for the Down'n'Outz' and the plug has been pulled. Time has run out and ELP waits for no man.

The band look stunned, and so do the audience as they've only had 2 songs from Hunter. I know for a fact that 'All The Way From Memphis', 'Roll Away The Stone', and 'All The Young Dudes' were to be included in the set, but the fact remains that the band were out of time.

Whether this was due to Hunter arriving late or the band misjudging the amount of time they had remains a mystery at this stage, but I'm sorry to say it all ended in a bit of a shambles. Hunter threw his guitar at someone, and Elliot was allegedly restrained off stage after throwing a few punches. Not a highlight of the weekend.

I caught about half of the Down and Outz set, the tribute to lesser known Ian Hunter and Mott songs put together by Def Leppard's Joe Elliott and sundry Quireboys, including guitarist Paul Guerin whose Thin Lizzy-esque tones suited the music perfectly.

I'd already seen their warm up at the Borderline earlier in the week and definitely got the better of the deal. Unfortunately, Joe Elliott's voice was audibly getting croakier, and promised special guest Ian Hunter took an eternity to arrive.

The septuagenarian joined them for lively renditions of Once Bitten Twice Shy (as my GRTR colleague Jim Rowland said, ironic as the Quireboys have made a living off variants of that song) and Who Do You Love. But the plug was unceremoniously pulled on the band due to time restraints before they could get to any of the Mott the Hoople hits. (Andy Nathan)

A quick dash back to the Metal Hammer stage sees Down delivering some seriously heavy psychedelic stoner riffs, and as ever, Phil Anselmo bellowing about the delights of marijuana, and how he was impressed with the quality of stash he scored in the UK this time.

You have to hand it to Anselmo, he certainly knows how to work a crowd, whipping them up into a frenzy for 'New Orleans is a Dying Whore'. Down seemed like they gave a performance worthy of the final slot on the Metal Hammer stage of the weekend.

ELP, photo by Lee Millward

It was a brave move of the High Voltage organisers to put ELP back on the stage after all these years, as a headline act for their first festival. Chronically out of vogue for many years, perhaps this was just the right time and occasion for them to return. This was the band that a lot of people had travelled from overseas to see.

It takes ELP the first few songs to get fully into their stride tonight, but seeing as this is their first show together in 12 years, that's not too surprising.

Traditional opener 'Karn Evil 9' kicks off proceedings, leading into 'The Barbarian', going all the way back to the first album. The set relies heavily on the earlier classic material with no less than four tracks featuring from that first album during the course of the evening.

In fact barring two tracks - 'Touch and Go' from the Cozy Powell era and 'Farewell To Arms' from 92's 'Black Moon' - all the material played tonight comes from ELP's 70's heyday.

As the set progresses and night time falls, this concert gets better and better. 'Bitches Crystal', 'Knife Edge' and 'Take a Pebble' - all very early gems - go down well, but it's when the band launch into the lengthy epics that they really excel.

A large chunk of 71's classic 'Tarkus' delivers the goods as the band head towards the grand finale. And quite a finale it was. 'Lucky Man a song that most of the crowd are familiar with leads into the big epic of the night, a sizable medley of material from the 'Pictures At An Exhibition' album, clocking in at an impressive 15 minutes!

One track to go and ELP save the best to last. 'Fanfare For The Common Man' is a tune that everybody is familiar with, and this rendition was quite literally explosive.

ELP, photo by Lee Millward

We get a masterclass in drum soloing from Carl Palmer before Keith Emerson finally gives the crowd his trademark keyboard abuse routine. The Hammond organ is kicked and thrown around the stage before the knives come out for the dagger attack. Fireworks and explosions go off all around and the band finally leave the stage triumphantly.

ELP's indulgent, grandiose act won't appeal to everyone at this festival, and its fair to say that some audience members were left a bit bewildered by their set.

It probably didn't appeal to those that had attended for the likes of Foreigner, ZZ Top and Bachman Turner's good time rock'n'roll, but the Prog Stage hardcores would certainly have filled their boots.

ELP, photo by Lee Millward

Greg Lake's voice is not quite as strong as it used to be, but both Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer certainly proved they still have the chops. Although this was advertised as a one-off 40th anniversary celebration, I suspect ELP have regained a taste for it, and this isn't the last we've seen of them.

So there you have it, the very first High Voltage Festival draws to a close. In my book, it can only be described as a resounding success.

The glorious sunshine undoubtedly contributed to the feel good factor, but it was an extremely well organised festival, packed full of great music from start to finish.

The site was a real treat, full of things to keep the discerning rock fan occupied. Steve Hackett described it as a big Rock theme park, and I would have to agree with that.

The Prog stage was a big hit throughout the weekend, and the main stage arena was very well put together. The calibre of bands on the main stage was highly impressive and the sound quality on all stages was excellent, although none of us would have grumbled if they had turned up the volume a little bit. It could be argued that the Metal Hammer stage was the weakest link, but it still very much had it's moments.

As for the common grumbles, the ticket price was a bit on the high side for a non-camping festival, and £4 for a can of Tuborg? Come on!

The Prog and Metal Hammer stages were a bit too close to each other, so there was a bit of overspill with the sound there. I never thought I'd be in a situation where Opeth, in a mellower moment, were actually getting drowned out by Argent!

The atmosphere and friendliness of all those in attendance was noticeable and it felt like a gathering of the rock tribes.

It was great to see a lot of older rock fans there who may not these days be bothered with the likes of Download or Sonisphere, and it was also great to see plenty of younger faces there, lapping up a bit of rock history.

Hopefully, some of the older generation discovered some new acts to check out, and some of the younger generation discover some older bands they can go away and explore.

It was a great chance for everyone to check out some bands that they may never have seen before, and found a few surprises along the way.

On the Saturday, my other half dragged me away, kicking and screaming, from Zappa Plays Zappa to go and watch Foreigner of all bands! And you know what? I thought they were excellent. But that's what this festival was all about. See you next year.

And some final thoughts from Andy Nathan...

Beforehand there were a lot of gripes about ticket prices, and poor ticket sales and choice of bands, so I fully expected the festival to be full of grumpy people - especially as most of us are men of a certain age, set in our ways and into our music, be it metal, AOR or prog, that is either ridiculed or ignored by the mainstream in the UK.

However in my view the festival was decently organised and on a spacious site, and with food above normal festival quality.

The bands were excellent - often the most unexpected stealing the day (Foreigner for many, Argent for me) - and I and many others had the chance to mingle with current friends, old fans we hadn't seen in a while and like minded fans generally.

Gripes: a few of course. £5 for a lanyard that had misleading stage times. Failing to keep the sound separate from the prog and metal stages. Beer running out. The intrusive official camera crews at the front. Cutting bands off unceremoniously when their time was up.

That said it was a thoroughly enjoyable, even memorable festival. I have had to travel to the USA for ten years to witness festivals that major on classic rock, so it is high time that the UK had an equivalent and this was a good start.

 

The Photographer's View...

Musically excellent apart from Joe Elliot's lacklustre bunch ... during their set the crowd was as flat as a week old pint of lager...

The Prog stage was worth the price of the ticket alone... ELP, while not on top form were great and I'm glad to say I saw them at what may be their final performance...

Lee Millward

One of the few big events I've been to where security used a lot of common sense.

For example, on the main stage, photographers were meant to enter and exit stage left - which was quite a walk -however security on stage right let me and a couple of others nip in this side...excellent.

Surprise of the weekend ... Dweezil Zappa, best band ... Foreigner ... biggest disappointment ... ZZ Top.

Noel Buckley

 

And the intrepid Joe Geesin...

Disappointment of the two main stage's main acts aside, the festival was largely well organised and most of the bands performing well.

There will be the usual complaints of band overlaps, but with 3 stages that is unavoidable. The sound was largely excellent if, as Biff pointed out, a little quiet.

Sadly the funfair got in the way, and while the Prog and Metal Hammer stages may have been a little close, the Main stage was too far away.

In the main I was pleased and impressed, although talking to other fans there seems to be a common view that Foreigner and Saxon would have made better headliners on the Saturday.

 


Photo Gallery (July 25) by Lee Millward

All images © Lee Millward/GRTR!.  All rights reserved.

Day 1 Photo Gallery/Review

Additional reporting: Darius Drewe Shimon


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