Now in its 11th year, Manchester’s SOS Fest is going from strength to strength and firmly establishing itself as one of the very best small festivals going. The key to the festival is family, the whole thing is family run, and has the kids firmly at its heart. For every parent wondering if it’s time to start their kids at a festival then this is the one for you. There are kids everywhere, from playing happily in the kids’ area, performing sets on the acoustic stage, doing press, and generally rocking out it’s clear from the atmosphere that SOS really is THE family festival.
Stormrider frontman Mike Coyle is pretty much part of the furniture in the Manchester metal scene and his love of death metal is known far and wide, so it came as quite a surprise first thing on a Friday to see his band weren’t a death metal band as I’d expected, but a good old-fashioned NWOBHM style band. The surprise was compounded by the fact that instead of the expected death metal grunts he’s actually got a damn decent set of pipes on him.
The band themselves are still relatively young as noted by the relatively static amount of stage movement, but they still managed to get the crowd chanting their name within minutes. Nice rattling bass lines, rock-solid drumming, and some good solo’s cemented Stormrider’s name amongst the crowd tonight and marks them as a definite band to watch develop.
Doomsday Outlaw, Sound like they should be a biker rock band. Instead, we were treated (and I really do mean treated) to some excellent Black Crowes style bluesy hard rock with a sartorial elegance. Solid rock guitar with a slide blues style; animated and groove-laden Bass courtesy of Indy, and by far one of the best frontmen of the weekend in the shape of Phil Poole, who was channelling his inner Jarvis Cocker with his stage moves, mesmerising to watch he gets the crowd going with ease.
The third band on were Edinburgh’s King Witch with a show-stealing performance, a good mix of Sabbath-style heavy metal and 70’s classic rock they had a very full sound. A fantastic rhythm section with big galloping riffs and terrific drums, which provided the backdrop for some stunning vocals in an impassioned and animated performance from Laura Donnelly. Their set was so good that my son who normally isn’t impressed by such things spent his pocket money on one of their t-shirts and hasn’t taken it off yet.
Next up on main stage were Gorilla Riot, who unfortunately found themselves overshadowed by the undercard. A fairly static stage presence which suited their laid back grungy southern rock wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but following on from three excellent performances so far, did manage to lose some of the well-built momentum, which was a shame, slightly lower down the bill they would have been a much better fit.
Headliners Bigfoot were putting on a rather unique show, having recently lost their singer, they decided to proceed with tonight’s show featuring not just one replacement singer but seven. Assembling talent such as Craig Wells from Atlas UK, Phil Poole from Doomsday Outlaw, Cass King from Tomorrow is Lost, Ashley Edison from Powerquest/Dendera, Craig Cairns from Midnight Prophecy, and Barry Mills from Massive Wagons there was no shortage of talent rocking the mic tonight. As was inevitable some of these worked better than others. The sheer chemistry of Phil Poole performing ‘Prisoner of War’ and ‘Forever Alone’ was spellbinding as the onstage chemistry was electric, Ashley Edison’s powerful vocals on ‘Tell Me A Lie’, ‘Bitch Killer’ and ‘The Fear’ was amazing given his vocal prowess and ability to perform, Barry Mills on ‘Karma’, ‘Blame It on the Dog’, and ‘Uninvited’ was… well the legend that is Barry Mills.
Day one over and it’s already shaping up to be one hell of a weekend, some great performances so far, with the definite highlight for me being King Witch’s epic performance. Time to get the kids in bed, offload photos and get ready for the Saturday
The first full day of the festival, started off with Red Spektor whose melancholic stoner blues, low intense tones, and great riffs were a great way to start the day, mesmerising and magnetic performance which had me drifting away in a sea of tone, munching away on the by now traditional chocolate flavoured wotsits from the Polish shop over the road.
Following this on the acoustic stage was the cutest thing you’ll ever see, KIDZ, a trio of well, kids. Playing an eclectic collection of covers to a supportive crowd of rockers all grinning from ear to ear and whispering aww to each other at the sheer joy of it all. They may be performing covers now, but experiences like this will no doubt cement the careers of the next generation of rock stars. It’s heart-warming to see a festival really investing in any way it can at fostering new talent at such a young age.
Back on the main stage Joan Ov Arc played a set of rock and roll which whilst not my particular cup of tea succeeded in winning me over with the charisma of their stage performance. Solid bass grooved with just the right amount of rattles, guitar solo’s delivered with an Angus Young enthusiasm it was impossible not to get caught up in their set. Sharing vocal duties amongst the members the vocals and vocal harmonies were incredibly well done as was showcased with a beautiful rendition of The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ in honour of Dolores O`Riordan.
on the main stage played an enjoyable style of heavy metal, very animated on stage they clearly have great charisma with each other and the band chemistry was just oozing off-stage, they were clearly confident in their performance and loving every second. A very animated bass player narrowly avoiding taking out the cameras in the photo pit as he ran around the stage like a man possessed, decent guitar work and nice earthy rock vocals made this an enjoyable set.
Häxan from south wales showed themselves as being a band to look out for, and definitely the best band on the main stage so far. Very lively on stage with some great songs, driving rhythm, catchy choruses and plenty of hooks, they certainly have plenty going for them. They have definitely got the knack of writing rock songs with a pop sensibility that I would expect will get them substantial airplay on the radio.
Kikamora started off a bit slow for me, they have a big bluesy rock sound and it was generally quite enjoyable, but nothing really to distinguish them as being particularly unique, and festivals can make it difficult for bands to stand out. Although tbf my daughter thought they were amazing, and one of the standout sets of the festival, even if they had ran out of small T-shirts when she asked for one. Towards the end of their set things changed significantly when they brought out their sixth member on saxophone. They already had a big sound on stage but the inclusion of saxophone really helped push their sound over the top and they finished their set in bloody awesome style.
Gin Annie is a terrible name for a decent band, they play rock and they play it well, it’s not particularly original or ground-breaking but it’s tight as hell and they’re very good at it. Plenty of movement on stage they’re clearly good performers and they worked the dancing crowd well. If you want a good standard rock band to get a crowd going then these will do the trick, a damn good pub rock band, I doubt I’d go out of my way to catch them live but I’d grateful to see them on a line-up.
Make no bones about it Ramage Inc are probably the best band you’ve never heard of, admittedly it probably doesn’t help that the name does make them sound like a Metallica tribute act. If you want a metal band that brings everything then this is the one you want. Both complex and dynamic they weave genres and styles together seamlessly into something potent. They are just stunning live, delivering an epic undulating multi-layered sound where chugging riffs, glorious solo’s meet lush soundscapes and a full choir atmosphere which is at times on par with Devin Townsend Project (who is essentially the god of music at this point as far as I’m concerned).
I’ve been looking forward to Bad Pollyanna since catching their acoustic set at the last year’s festival. Another band with the ability to write a catchy chorus and litter their songs with more hooks than a fishing tackle shop. If I had to sum up their performance with one word it would be passion. Sing-along pop sensibilities which at times reminded me in equal parts of Blondie and Marilyn Manson, passionate vocals and thought-provoking lyrics of love and acceptance, especially their Sophie foundation tribute define me. A sublime performance from them bristling with a fuck you energy which was downright infectious.
Dendera are another band to keep an eye on, featuring Ashley Edison of Powerquest (who headlined last year) and who played an absolutely storming set at last year’s Bloodstock they’re a band which always delivers live. Playing heavy metal in the maiden vein they put on a tight commanding performance. The crowd was well into it too, raunchy guitar riffs, great bass they played fast and fluid and the solo’s had more noodley appendages than the flying spaghetti monster himself. If you get the chance to check them out then you won’t be disappointed.
Finishing off the Saturday are one of the very best straight-up heavy metal bands on the touring circuit today, Absolva. Another classic metal band firmly in the strongly influenced by Iron Maiden camp, but in a way that it sounds fresh and vital which a lot of bands can miss. It’s no mere imitation though they’re one of the very few that make you feel as though it was back in the day and this whole metal thing was kicking off for the first time. It’s clear that frontman guitarist Chris Appleton lives to be on stage, he lights up on stage with a vitality which is infectious.
It’s pretty clear as they race through song after song that their back catalogue of hits is actually pretty outstanding at this point, having only played their first gig six years ago, the fact they can just rattle off anthem after anthem is nothing short of impressive. The packed out crowd singing along to every word is demonstrative of just how much their hometown crowd adores them. Particularly impressive was the twin guitar gymnastics with Tom Atkinson of Vice who was standing in for Chris’s brother Luke Appleton who’s currently on tour with Iced Earth.
Day two is over and despite Saturday being on paper the slightly weaker of the two days, a fantastic time has been had by all, Ramage Inc. and Absolva, in particular, being absolutely stunning live, supported by the likes of Bad Pollyanna and Dendera a great time has been had by all today. Even the chips weren’t all that bad, although after last year we did avoid the burgers.
WORDS BY RICH PRICE
PHOTOS BY RICH, HOLLY AND DAN PRICE