Giants of Rock has come of age now. It's blossomed into a true festival community winter weekend.... and it's excellent.
You notice this Coming Of Age with some summer festivals – if they are very very lucky, the event morphs over time from simply being a collection of bands in a field to an occasion in its own right. The attendees become a community, a family. A bond of loyalty and trust develops between the crowd and the organisers – the festival, rightly, becomes bigger than the artists it hosts. Line-ups are transitory; the vibe of a great event is not just for Christmas – it’s a lasting thing that rolls on year to year. The event itself becomes the thing, the main focus - a lovely annual meeting of the tribes where like-minded folk share collective experiences. GoR is one of the chosen now too.
It had to happen of course. It’s been developing over a few years now and GoR 2018 simply confirmed the strength of this Rock Community event. It’s a great crowd, a great location, and Butlins are, after all, rather good at this music weekend malarkey. GoR has a following. Many in the know book a year in advance, irrespective of line-up, because they trust Butlins to Get It Right. And get it right they consistently do. The facilities and organisation are on the button, with loads of accommodation and dining options, good auditoria, and the welcome prospect of a warm bed and yer own facilities. It’s a winter festival experience made in heaven.
Around 5,000 happy souls rocked up this year to enjoy some cracking music underpinned by the Butlins Minehead Resort experience. FFA found it excellent. Not only that, but it’s a lovely part of the country with the excellent Minehead town just down the Prom – just in case you need to rest those weary ears occasionally.
GoR attracts some great bands. It also attracts a knowledgeable and passionate audience who love their music. One leads to the other really. The crowd trust GoR’s music policy and they are rarely disappointed. GoR currently majors on Classic Rock / Prog headliners but with more than enough variety to satisfy most palettes. ‘Rock’ is a broad church, loved across the generations, and as the event matures and develops you can trust these guys to take you on a rather splendid musical journey each year wherever it leads. So what did the GoR 2018 incarnation have to offer …
Now then, here’s just a flavour of what acts moved FFA to words at GoR18. If you were lucky enough to be there, our favourite sets may not be yours. It’s not a list of bands – that’s a programme; so not all acts playing over the weekend made it into this review. It was a real struggle to omit some due to space constraints. Others we missed completely ‘cos we were most probably drinking. Virtually every artist performing at GoR18 was worthy of mention but just didn’t make that final cut… so here goes:
First up for FFA were the excellent Curved Air; talk about laying down a quality marker. The musical interplay between the musicians was first class with violinist Paul Sax and keyboards Robert Norton bouncing off each other throughout the set. Norton simply excelled. Kristina held the line perfectly for a wonderful ‘It Happened Today’ before a storming rendition of ‘Propositions’ absolutely nailed it. Oh Butlins, you were already onto a winner… and it just got better and better. Martin Turner Ex Wishbone Ash rocked up a storm to a packed house. Whatever your ‘Wishbone Ash’ variant preference, Turner knows how to maximise their extensive back catalogue to great effect and a cheeky morphing of ‘Warrior’ into Python’s ‘Lumberjack Song’ was a classic moment! A splendid hour. Magnum’s brief encounter with GoR18 only served to swell the Turner crowd. It was packed and a rocking atmosphere. Those Damn Crows, a worthy 2017 Introducing Stage Winner, rocked out the Reds stage into the small hours with some damned fine rock ‘n roll. A big up here for Butlins by the way; not only does the excellent Jaks Introducing Stage freshen up the weekend with young blood, but it also provides a route to stardom with a main stage slot the following year for winning bands based upon audience voting. A great GoR rock community driven tradition. Jaks offered another feast in 2018 with some cracking artists – FFA can’t wait to see the winning collection stomp the main stages in 2019! Another accolade must go to Ian Salsbury – resident JD over at Inn on the Green. Three days of wall-to-wall rock classics and the guy did not miss a trick.
Saturday early doors was dominated by one of the sets of the festival when Manfred Mann’s Earthband demolished Centre Stage with a magical set of pure musical excellence. A fabulous hour and what a finale; ‘Blinded By The Light’ got me in the solar plexus, ‘Davy’s On The Road Again’ floored me, and then the band stomped all over my mortal remains with a brilliant extended ‘Mighty Quinn’. What a way to start the day! FFA couldn’t miss a minute, but our undercover FFA Team Of Spies reliably informed us that Fran Cosmo played a blinder over in Reds. Saturday was going to be A. Good. Day. …and so it proved. Fast forward to the mighty Hawkwind. This reviewer would willingly kneel and kiss the feet of Mr Brock. The man is a hugely underrated creative influence on the British rock scene for half a century, and whose recent album releases are still feted by critics and fans alike for their invention and craft. A genuine Giant of Rock. Our last review of Hawkwind labelled their performance as ‘gloriously shambolic’ but Saturday’s set was a much more measured affair, with opener ‘Born To Go’ setting the tone for a free flowing psychedelic extravaganza. Excellent Stuff. Now FFA do have one big problem with Butlins – every time this reviewer settles on nominating a Set Of The Festival, they only go and throw yet another excellent act into to the mix to steal the show. Saturday was no exception with two of the hardest working bands in rock gracing the stages.
Let’s not mince words, Uriah Heep were magnificent. A cracking rock band still at the top of their game. Blimey those guys can play. For this reviewer’s money, Mick Box is still one of the most entertaining guitarists on the circuit, and the rest of the band excel. Long before the final chords of ‘Easy Livin’’echoed into the night, Shaw had the crowd in his pocket. You could really feel the dynamic between performer and audience. A great showband and a great crowd unified as one. Stray have gigged more times up and down the M6 than most bands half their age will ever do. Rather like Heep, Stray bring all those years of hard gigging into a performance of such effortless class that it can take the breath away. A very fine supporting cast of musicians simply lay down a pulsating backdrop for the excellent Bromham to freestyle over at will. Yet another ‘best set’ nominee. An absolutely wonderful day of music, if you knew where to be!
One beauty of GoR is the nuggets of pure excellence abounding in the early afternoon sessions. Sunday provided further evidence with two more crackers. To this reviewers lasting shame, both Chantel McGregor and Larry Carlton were unknown quantities – but not anymore - they were truly splendid. In the sometimes overtly macho world of rock guitarists, what an absolute delight, and breath of fresh air, highly talented artists like McGregor are. Bluesy home spun rock interspersed with searing song lyrics made it all rather an emotional rollercoaster. An excellent performance. Ten out of Ten for Butlins in adding Larry Carlton to the GoR mix. Luscious, velvety jazz rock with hints of Weather Report funk fusion and Steely Dan pedigree. The improv breaks by the rest of the band were stunning. Something a little different from mainstream classic rock fare – more next year please. Big Country are a promotors delight; one of those bands that you just know will add value and enthuse a crowd at any event. Their energy is infectious and the crowd feed off it to produce a great atmosphere. The excellent ‘Harvest Home’ set the tone for a set rich in early album material. They really are a great band live aren’t they? There is room for everything at GoR and the pop-rock of Slade packed out the Centre Stage. Perhaps a little frayed around the edges these days and hogging a prestigious time-slot, but good-time rock & roll will always hold a crowd, and the audience were indeed having a ball. Fun meets Rock shock! Nuff Said. Snakecharmer strut. They have attitude. They have that natural swagger of a band who just know they are good. Very good. Like many bands appearing at GoR, some of the band members read like a who’s who of the cream of rock music across the generations. A great power set and yet another class act.
Did Butlins save best until last? Maybe! A couple of years back Nazareth had a bit of a stinker at GoR, a protracted delay and ongoing sound hassles mostly stymied their truncated set. So what did they do? Well, shoulders back, brave face, and they just got on with it. A lesson for others maybe? Well, FFA are delighted to report that their 2018 return was an absolute triumph dear boy! Carl Sentance crashed the GoR stage like a man possessed with a point to prove, and the set never looked back. Indeed Sentance must be one of the best contemporary frontmen on the rock scene in this reviewers ‘umble opinion. From one of THE classic rock tracks ‘This Flight Tonight’, to the power ballad ‘Love Hurts’, the guy, and the band excelled. Agnew’s bass playing was a particular delight. Set of the festival? Yeah… but then there was Manfred Man, and Heep, and… [Your Choice HERE]. And that, me dears, speaks absolute volumes for what Butlins and the GoR Tribe have created with these wonderful Giants Of Rock weekends.
Want some of this? - then check out Giants of Rock 2019 HERE.
Article and Snaps by Barrie Dimond