Time for one of the highlights of my year, the rather excellent SOS festival. A festival envisioned 12 years ago by Lynne Hampson of Rocksector Records as an antidote to the plethora of family un-friendly festivals around at the time.
With a somewhat bloated festival circuit, these days, where festivals come and go and the term family-friendly is a common marketing term, SOS fest has managed the rare feat of not only setting the trend but has also stood the test of time, and continues to define just how family-friendly festivals should be.
Spending pretty much all of Friday at work, trying to figure out how to sneak out early so as not to miss the first acts on a Friday, this has over the years provided me with some of my absolute favourite discovery bands over the years.
The festivities start off on the Dean Hocking Stage with the low-key dirty blues-rock of Manchester three-piece Snakewater, who is returning from a 16-month hiatus with a new line-up. They pack in a decent amount of groove, centred around some good driving bass lines mixed with some elements of country.
Not my usual cup of tea, to be honest, I generally appreciate higher energy stuff, but you must appreciate the performance as something to be savoured, especially the soulful elements to the vocals which were at times reminiscent of Joe Cocker.
Their performance sets the scene for the festival quite well in that the lighting, the sound and the performances are all invariably top-notch.
Newcastle based Fallen Mafia looked a little cramped on the small Wizz Acoustic stage, normally a higher energy punk-tinged dirty rock band instead they treated us to two quite nice, chilled out sets, the powerful idiosyncratic vocals of Hannah Neil belted out Staccato style. Not their usual style, but quite a nice departure which works very well as an interlude
The Howling Tides bring up the energy levels with a confident and enjoyable performance, they have a good hard rock sound with touches of funk in their catchy sound, their songs have a bit more about them than normal longer more winding riffs than many contemporaries. Some strong vocals and a solid performance from frontman Rob Baynes elicit an enthusiastic crowd response. Nice Ideas, good energy to them, they’re a band I’d like to see again.
After a second, slightly grungier set from Fallen Mafia comes my highlight of the Friday an impressive set from the up and coming Witch Tripper. A band who don’t seem to know the meaning of the phrase ‘having a day off’ and their considerable stage experience and hard work ethos shines through as they absolutely own the stage. I’ve been looking forward to seeing them again and they don’t disappoint, Bag of energy, and full of Sabbathy goodness, Witch Tripper has bags of raw energy to them, throwing shapes, and dripping with sweat and intensity they impress everyone who watches them. The groove, oh god the groove, these basslines would have Geezer Butler himself shaking his backside. Witch Trippers set is pretty much the stuff that metal is made of, and they are leagues ahead of many of their contemporaries.
Another two acoustic sets from Sons of Liberty UK sandwich around The King Lot’s set. Sons Of Liberty are all a bit yee-haw for me, Cowboy hats, fake cowboy accents, they fully encompass the act of Southern Country rock. They clearly love what they do, and their enthusiasm was appreciated by the crowd gathered to watch them, my Son even spending his merch allowance on their T-shirts, but not my cup of tea.
Scottish group The King Lot were good, I genuinely enjoyed the set, not much of a show but entertaining. They are playing to one of the bigger crowds of the festival who are loving their stuff. Good powerful rock, good vocals they have a good vibe to them. The crowd are quite definitely enjoying it, indeed in a sure-fire sign of how the festival is going from strength to strength, this is by far the biggest crowd Fridays have seen after it was originally added to the two dayer a few years back to entertain those who’d travelled from abroad.
Bringing the Friday to an end are The Quireboys, a band that were one of the very first to get me into rock and ultimately Metal. My love of the more extreme stuff almost made me not want to like them, a throwback to days of old. Fortunately for all concerned, The Quireboys gave no shits whatsoever about how relevant they are to my modern tastes or extreme metals and post-rock and just came out and delivered. Singer Spike comes out dripping charisma and sweating booze in a captivating mix of rock star and shambolic that would have Keith Richards tipping his hat and saying ‘good effort dear boy!’.
A good show, a huge crowd pull, and certainly not a disappointment. After going through songs earlier from their new album which Spike informs us has hit #1 in the rock charts and may or may not be available on Vinyl. When of course their set turns towards songs such as ‘& O’clock’, ‘Hey You’, and ‘Sex Party’ it’s difficult not to be transported way back to those early days of the 90’s when my feet and back didn’t hurt as much as they do right now, and think to yourself, A) how the hell is Spike still alive after all that Partying and B) how has he managed to keep his voice after all these years.
After a musically slightly slower start to SOS than normal, yet thanks to The Quireboys to bigger crowds it’s clear that SOS fests star continues its ascendancy. The Announcement of 13 bands for next year including Hands Off Gretel, Ethyrfield, Hell’s Addiction amongst quite a few others, only seeks to cement that.
On paper day two of SOS Festival XII was going to be my favourite by far. Bands I’ve seen before who have impressed before in the past are Hells Gazelles, Cadence Noir, Metaprism, Florence Black, Collibus, and A Jokers Rage.
Unfortunately, traffic and parking issues meant that I arrived just in time to catch the last notes of Hell’s Gazelles, on the Dean Hocking Stage which was a real shame as by all accounts they’d put on an excellent set to start the day in style.
On the Wizz Acoustic Stage were personal favourites Cadence Noir who are resplendent with gothic joy, sartorial elegance and a lovely brand of folk with a toe-tapping catchiness, delivered with understated self-deprecating humour. There really aren’t many like Cadence Noir, and the crowd know that they’re enjoying something unique, responding to songs of sex, drugs and hangovers, highly profane and immature sing-alongs of FFBB, and even an AC/DC cover the crowd responded with a big cheer of approval.
In between the two sets from Cadence Noir were Melodic Hard rockers, Beth Blade and The Beautiful Disasters. I was expecting a bit more by the name. Beth herself has plenty of presence and a good voice, but the rest of the band are a bit static on stage.
One of the more obvious parts of the performance was working the crowd well. Which they did with Rock and Roll Cliché’s galore, Jack and Cokes being dedicated to Lemmy, Spinal tap turning things up to 11, and for some reason a borderline pathological hatred of Grimsby on a Tuesday.
Beth has a good voice, and they have nice songs, spending plenty of time working the crowd, and working them well. They were quite open about their role being to warm the crowd up, and whilst it did take them a little while to break into their stride they were very good indeed when they did.
Next up on the Dean Hocking Stage are Toledo Steel, a pretty traditional NWOBHM band, who musically take most of their influences from Iron Maiden, but with more of a Rob Halford style to the vocals. They had a smaller crowd, but with the musicianship and energy on stage, they really deserved a bigger crowd. As only the second Metal band on so far though I really did enjoy them.
On the Wizz acoustic stage was Empyre but I chose to miss their first set in the interests of finding some decent Vegan food before the local shops closed. This was found courtesy of Greggs and the fruit and nuts section of the local Quality Save. Despite a full and satisfied belly, I would later regret this decision.
Tomorrow is Lost on the Dean Hocking Stage were not bad at all, plenty of energy from everyone on stage. A good sound, they deliver some good powerful rock with a bouncy vibe to it. Cass King was belting out the vocals, but they weren’t spectacularly clear, and that was a little disappointing as they’re a captivating highlight of what I’ve heard from their recordings.
They’ve definitely got a mind for the visuals, and put on a performance, playing to the camera at every opportunity and very interactive with the audience. They’re making a conscious effort to work on the rapport and connection with the audience, albeit a very technological audience as so many in the first few rows were looking through the viewfinder of the camera, it became difficult to differentiate if the band were playing to the crowd or youtube.
That’s not a slight on the band, more an observation of the changing nature of audiences. Difficult not to get caught up in the energy of their show, but I’m hoping the vocals come through better when I see them in august at Bloodstock.
Following from that was the second set from Empyre and I was immediately filled with regret from missing the first set as they were amazing a definite discovery. Their hard rock in an acoustic setting took on a more atmospheric sound bordering on post-rock soundscapes, and Quite frankly stunning vocals, they had plenty of depth to their performance, and they got the biggest crowd response I’d seen so far that day.
Irish Rockers Samarkind are very good and definitely keeping the show moving with an upward trajectory. They have a NWOCR vibe ala Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, Singer David Byrne has studied hard at the school of Robert Plant rock star shapes, and tbh he’s got the voice to carry it off. Not quite as connected with the audience as some of the earlier bands, there’s a rock star aloofness. Their set was all held together with a very driving beat, the drummer is hitting the drums with such power and precision to the point in other rooms it sounds like industrial machinery.
Metaprism bring the modern metal, and by heck they bring it. Dual beauty and the beast style vocals. Excellent modern metal, technical, chugging with plenty of bite and energy. They’re very at home on the stage and know exactly how to work a crowd. Interaction is good, clear and doesn’t meander, they do what is needed to build the energy and not detract from what they’re delivering on stage. An excellent show all round, but once again not the crowd that I’d have expected, it’s clear that today’s audience is more appreciative of the Rock than the metal acts.
Spires on the Wizz stage was a little confusing, after the band themselves called it a day earlier in the year and cancelled gigs, I was surprised to still see them on the bill. Instead we’re treated to Guitarist Paul Sadler showcasing some of his original compositions accompanied, by another singer and Cellist, and much like spires were before it was sublime.
Paul had a very nervous energy, which leant itself to the fragility of the compositions. Honestly, it’s great stuff, he’s a great guitarist and singer, the cello is new and a nice touch. I really enjoyed it, beautiful and at time haunting it grabbed the audience and myself. I’m really glad that Paul is carrying on and I’m really looking forward to hearing more from this project, whatever it may actually be called, hopefully later in the year.
GIO is apparently Some dude from the x-factor, a show which continues to elude me. Given his background it’s fairly obvious he’s going to be a bit of a showman, Looking strangely like Lee Evans in a wig, he has a similar energy on stage. His band clearly have a lot of talent, and seemed almost the personification of Rock Stars, I have the distinct feeling I’ve photographed them before in other bands.
Fantasist on the Dean Hocking Stage blew me away, a one-off reunion which I think everyone in attendance is hoping becomes less ‘one-off’ and much more reunion. Groove Galore, they brought a wow factor and supplied so much fun(k) on stage, another biggest crowd yet.
Quite splendid musicians, they displayed the kind of mastery on stage that’s usually reserved for viral reaction videos to something by Devin Townsend. Great stage presence, catchy choruses and riffs, quite technical drumming and vocals from all three members provided some incredible range and depth. This is some seriously impressive stuff, and the crowd reacts accordingly, the six string slap bass and OTT tapping makes the song Thump especially good for dancing to.
Between the next few acts Luke Appleton (Iced Earth/Absolva/Blaze Bayley) plays not two but three sets to the biggest crowd on the acoustic stage, he plays what he calls acoustic metal, it’s quite powerful for acoustic and it’s great to see over the years just how much his singing has developed. Playing the sets with Rishi Mehta, Brother Chris and Theresa Smith from Metaprism, it all worked very well together, playing Songs from his latest Album ‘Snake Eyes’, Some Iced Earth tracks and some written with the late Wizz Beauprez whom the stage is named in honour of.
In between these we had Florence Black and Collibus on the main stage. I’d been looking forward to Florence Black since they were announced having been blown away by their performance a couple of years ago at Bloodstock on the Sophie Lancaster stage, and they didn’t disappoint my high expectations.
Collibus, heck! Collibus played a blinder, to a big crowd. SOS regulars will know Gemma Fox as she’s played the Acoustic stage in previous years, I’ve made no secret that I think she has one of the best voices going. It was great seeing them return for the first time in five years, and they’ve definitely improved in the gap. The crowd loved them and there was plenty of headbanging going on, there was even danger of a pit breaking out, which generally doesn’t happen in order to make the environment better for the abundance of kids. Tonight the vocals were a little muddy in the mix, a rare moment for the excellent sound at SOS but with a voice as powerful as Gemma Fox it’s not going to let something like that stop it impressing.
After a fair delay setting everything up A Joker’s Rage do their customary act of blowing the roof of the venue. Honestly, this band put on easily one of the best shows you’re likely to see. They could make a shed in Grimsby on a Tuesday look like Wembley arena. I just love it when a band really puts thought into their show, not just the songs, or the performance but the show itself. Guitarist Adam coming out with selective atmospheric lighting, Lights, flash bangs, confetti canons, just so much effort has gone into their stage show and it’s rewarded in spades by the full-on party which breaks out in the venue.
The songs owe so much from the Michael Jackson school of Rock, So much presence, the songs are pop-rock anthems which are destined for greatness. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing A Jokers Rage several times, a few of those have been at SOS and every time they come back bigger and better. Tonight it has to be said that it felt like I was witnessing something truly special, a band on the cusp of breaking out big time. Mixing up their own anthems such as ‘Temptress’, ‘Bounce’ with a medley including The Prodigy, Michael Jackson, AC/DC, even including a cover of Proud Mary with Gemma from Collibus, ending up with a cover of I am the Walrus before the encore ‘Bounce’. There’s nobody quite like A Jokers Rage around at the moment, and I honestly think they’re on the verge of genuine greatness.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE.