SOS Fest 2017 Part 1: Prestwich, UK

Friday:

SOS (Schools Out for Summer) fest 2017 was celebrating its 10th year of existence, if you’ve not heard of it then you’re probably not alone but you’re still missing out. SOS fest is the jewel in the crown of small independent family friendly festivals. This festival instantly became an annual highlight for myself and my daughter, as it’s one of few place gigs the average nine-year old can attend and properly rock out, and even practice concert photography.

Having expanded a lot over the last few years SOS now includes a Friday evening slot, for the numerous international attendees to have something to do, not a full day but a damn good blast nonetheless.

 

Kicking off the Friday evening were I Saw The World Burn who drew a respectable crowd and warmed the festival up nicely, whose chugging groove laden riffs gave the perfect platform for the remarkably animated Singer Katie Cairns, who managed to stun more than a few of the crowd with the ferocious energy of her vocals and performance. Their set drew a large number of cheers and lengthy applause.

Each year the format is the same with the main stage acts being mirrored by an acoustic stage, short sets of music which mean that once the live music starts it doesn’t stop. This year the acoustic stage was named after the recently departed Wizz Wizzard, who had been a huge friend the festival and organisers alike, and will be sadly missed.

Opening the Wizz Wizzard acoustic stage this year were Promethium who had played a much heavier electric set last year as a full band, this year they were back for a much more intimate and stripped down acoustic performance, the guitar and vocals working together beautifully, it was a radical departure from their main sound. Their acoustic set worked incredibly well indeed and I genuinely hope they do a few more of these.

On The main stage Amethyst delivered a visually less energetic show than ISTWB but more than made up for it with their music performance. Funneling all of their considerable energy into a steamroller musical performance, revolving around the sterling work of the rhythm section. Amethyst have come on considerably since winning the Metal to the Masses competition for Bloodstock Open Air last year, and it really showed tonight with a band clearly going from strength the strength. They showcased some new material tonight which hints strongly that Amethyst’s future is certainly looking bright.

Another band with M2TM pedigree are Prog-metallers Prognosis who build up a good head of steam by the end of their set, a good on stage presence, diverse sound and bags of energy meant that their set finished to a good deal of applause. Definitely worth checking out on this year’s Bloodstock New Blood stage.

It felt damn good to welcome back A Joker’s Rage, the band have been on hiatus since January to recharge their creative batteries, and it seems to have paid off. Having seen them on a few occasions their shows are genuinely something special. They seem to have an almost supernatural gift for blowing every other band off the bill. Their set consisted of fan favourites such as Bounce and Temptress, some brand new songs during which they invited some of the young kids in the audience to join them on stage to play their inflatable guitars.

A Joker’s Rage once again put on a stunning show which drew the biggest crowd of the day and one hell of a response from the crowd. A band which consistently defy expectations, looking very much like a kiss tribute, yet delivering a sound which if anything’s draw much of its influence from Michael Jackson during his rock phase. A Jokers Rage are capable of putting on a performance to match anyone, they’re a clear fan favourite and worthy of storming the biggest stages that rock has to offer. Finishing on a heartfelt rendition of ‘Cochise’, by Audioslave in tribute to Chris Cornell, their set was genuinely spectacular.

Following on from that were Kill II This, I’ll be honest they were a band which passed me by in my younger days. I had many friends who considered themselves to be one of the best metal bands going at the time: I never saw the appeal.

Tonight was the first time I’d seen them live and by the end of the first song it had all clicked into place. Suddenly I could hear that they have some bona-fide metal classics in their repertoire, and they take on a whole new energy live than they do on record. Whilst they didn’t free itself from the shadow cast by A Joker’s Rage, they delivered a genuinely enjoyable set, which had me revisiting their old albums with a new perspective for a good few days after.

With the first day over, it’s clear that SOS fest 2017 is shaping up to be one of the best yet, the sound has been incredible, and the stage lighting some of the best I’ve seen in many years of shooting shows.

Saturday

The first day proper of SOS fest 2017 was kicked into life by a literally stunning performance from the Polish shop round the corner, the paradigm shifting discovery of Chocolate flavoured wotsits (no really, they’re an actual thing) this had a paralysing effect on most of the press room, at least until all available bags had been consumed. I remember the days when it would be a badge of honour to drink a bar dry, these days eating the corner shop out of novelty snacks seemed much more metal.

Speaking of metal, the first band we caught were Vice. Vice have a good solid sound and a strong physical presence on stage, plenty of energy in the music and movement. Vice’s sound really worked with the phenomenal stage sound, every note of their blistering solos and every driving beat of the drums were crystal clear. Playing mainly from their recent debut they showcased a nice blend of galloping thrash riffs and heavy metal tone. Their energy and enthusiasm really finding their mark with the large and enthusiastic hometown crowd.

A visit to the bar was chance to marvel at the other wonders of the universe such as just how much a pint of diet coke cost, and also contemplating if the pairing up of the world’s smallest beef burgers with the world’s largest bun was intentionally done to maximise disappointment. Oh English catering you have so much to learn from the polish, speaking of which off to the shop.

After a bit of a lunchtime lull Primitai brought the energy back up, good paced hard rock with a sing along quality to it, the singer working the crowd with a charismatic performance. The combination of thundering drums and groove laden bass provide a solid framework to some fast paced hard rock riffs. One of the more impressive aspects was the way they could shift their stylistic gears without missing a beat, a genuinely great performance.

 

One of the highlights of Saturday was seeing Die No More, for my money probably the best thrash acts on the UK scene. There was a note of sadness in the rammed crowd, including myself, with this being their last show for the foreseeable future. All the more disappointing after they released such an amazing EP only last year. Simply put their performance was tighter than a gnat’s chuffbox, the energy was electric, a rollercoaster of relentless enthusiasm, manifested with thrashing riffs, blistering solo’s and catchy singalong choruses which put Metallica to shame. Indeed one of the crowd turned to me mid set to shout, ‘these sound like Metallica if they had a good drummer’. Thanks for the anecdote big sweaty bloke, can’t disagree. Come back soon Die No More, you’ll be missed.

Another musical interlude on the Wizz Wizzard stage, this time from Collibus’s Gemma Fox returning to the acoustic stage for a second year after a sterling performance last year. Playing mainly covers, such as ‘Feel like Making Love,’ ‘Damage,’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ and ‘Under Pressure’ (which apparently drew praise from Brian May himself). Simply put Gemma has one of the best voices going, powerful, soulful and passionate, coupled with some irreverent mid song banter, a class act.

Back to the main stage Pythia are a symphonic metal band, fronted by a very tiny frontwoman dressed in leather armour with a stunning operatic voice. One can’t help but feel that somewhere in the world a nerd wished extra hard for Christmas. The sound was solid as ever on a stage which wasn’t having a bad moment. The thundering drums and driving guitars providing the perfect backdrop to some excellent high operatic vocals. They put on an impressive performance which really stood out compared to the rest of today’s line-up. The only downside was that with so many on stage they did seem to be quite cramped which meant for a less visually impressive visual performance than would have been anticipated from a band clad largely in armour.

Normally a metal band Bad Pollyanna played some stripped down versions of their own songs, and covers too, including a mesmerising version of Sour times by Portishead. Vocal harmonies and powerful yet understated vocals certainly had more than a few in the audience mouthing the word Wow!

Last up the legend that is Blaze Bayley. Simply put he doesn’t put on a bad show. Sadly even in today’s crowd virtually the first thing which is brought up is Iron Maiden. What many forget though was that at one point the biggest metal band on the earth looked around the globe (sorry flat earthers) for a replacement for the irreplaceable Bruce Dickinson and he was the one deemed of sufficient calibre to be given the shot. Of course when he hits the stage all critics are duly silenced.

When you see Blaze perform on stage even many years after there’s no doubting why, a genuine rock star and to quote Wolfsbane from their video In Bed with Wolfsbane a melodramatic tit, Blaze is clearly in his element on stage. There’s a warmth and humour to the performance; an authenticity in his delivery which is often lacking in the bigger bands; a clear emotional connection to the lyrics which show a humility and at times vulnerability you don’t often see on a headliner going through the motions. His ability to control a crowd is impressive to watch.

Of course it helps considerably that he has a back catalogue featuring some genuine classics from his Solo, Maiden and Wolfsbane days, even more so that his backing band (Absolva) feature some of the best musicians going. Kind of obviously Chris Appleton gets a lot of attention by virtue of his impressive guitar skills, and on stage comedic jousting with Blaze but honestly if I could play the drums like Martin McNee I’d die a happy man indeed. Finishing the set off with the extended version of Manhunt we see Chris’s Brother Luke (Iced Earth) joining them on stage and it really pushes them over the edge tonight. I’ve never seen Blaze put on a bad show, but tonight he was on exceptionally good form.

On such a high note we ride forth to day Three.

WORDS BY RICH PRICE

PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE AND HOLLY PRICE