2017 is the tenth year of SOS Festival, an annual affair organised by the team behind Rocksector Records. They showcase not only their own label acts but also some European bands that you might otherwise not get to see and they also give a platform to a whole host of local talent too.
Friday evening therefore saw me heading up the M60 after work. I was willing the roadworks traffic to move just a little bit faster, but to no avail. This was irritating as it meant I missed the first band, and arrived just in time to catch the end of Amethyst. Amethyst are loud and fast, with growly vocals and a bass guitar with so many strings on it that I lost count. Kudos to the bass player though, as he used every one of them and had possibly the most impressive beard of the weekend to boot.
The venue once again was the Longfield Suite in Prestwich. It’s an ideal location with ample free parking at the back. The internal layout is good too – big stage at one end, smaller acoustic stage opposite it with the sound desk in the middle. There are also traders down one side and merch tables down the other. As if that wasn’t enough, behind the merch is some seating and the bar and food service. Everything you need right there!
First up on the acoustic stage (named in honour of the late Phillipe “Wizz Wizzard” Beauprez) were Promethium. I’m not familiar with them, but they played a set with just guitar and some very haunting vocals. They were followed on the main stage by Prognosis, who I was relieved to find were not at all proggy. In fact they were more epic, in a megariffy kind of way. Again the vocals were a bit too shouty for my personal taste but some excellent guitar solos pretty much made up for it.
The second acoustic band was Go Primitive, a young four-piece from Rugby. Only 2 of them played, and I enjoyed them very much. They played original songs that were catchy and made me smile. I grabbed a copy of their ep before they left as I’m keen to see if they play as well plugged in as they do unplugged. It’s always nice when you find a “new” band at a festival that blow you away, and these guys did just that for me. I’m looking forward to seeing more of them in the future.
After a recent hiatus A Jokers Rage were back with a vengeance. Featuring stand-in bass player Dox Docherty, they started with possibly their most well-known song “Bounce” and sure enough pretty soon the whole room bounced with them. It seems that this will be their only live appearance this year but fans will be pleased to know that this is because they are working on a new album so it looks like they are back to stay. A couple of new songs got played and they are similar in vein to the older stuff, easy to remember and fun, whilst also showing a little more complexity and maturity. They finished with a cover of Audioslave’s “Cochise” which they dedicated to the late Chris Cornell, a nice touch.
Headliners Kill II This were also a new name to me although a little research told me that they are local lads (from Stockport) and actually date back to 1996. They too started off in a bit of a bouncy way, but a more aggressive stomping kind of bounce. They are fierce and loud, and a bit off my normal taste radar but the musicianship was excellent and the crowd were soon stomping along with them. So much so in fact that from the back both band and crowd were so in time with each other it was like watching a Mexican wave. On the slower numbers the vocals became a little gentler with overtones of Hetfield and the complex guitar melodies were really impressive. If you like your music with a nod to nu-metal and a hint of industrial then this band is well worth a watch.
Saturday kicked off with Crowsaw, a heavy blues trio from South Wales. Unfortunately due to the **!@* M60 being a car park again I only caught the very end of their set but the enthusiastic applause so early in the day led me to believe that they were good!
They were followed by Core Of Nation, a Swedish band who I also wasn’t familiar with. They started off quite slow and doomy, but quickly moved on to some hard-hitting trad metal in the vein of early Sabbath. There were lots of big riffs, clean vocals and technical time changes, and despite them being older gents there were also some rather nice Rock Star Pants involved. Recommended, although a little more audience interaction between songs would have made them even better.
John Doyle on the acoustic stage was a slightly scruffy ginger guy with an excellent voice, a guitar and some effects pedals which he made full use of. He ripped through a varied selection of covers and was most enjoyable. Just think, a couple of his own songs and he has the potential to headline Glastonbury in the future!
Vice are another local band, and this time one I had actually heard of and seen previously. They play original material in a similar style and with similar energy to an early Metallica, with a hint of Maiden thrown in for good measure. Songs are fast and furious, and to my great joy they have lots of swishy hair. Perhaps they can come across as a little bit clichéd, doing all the trad metal moves, but at the same time they have so much enthusiasm and obvious love for the genre that you can’t help warming to them. Again not my personal favourite style of music but I was soon down at the front with my “horns up” with the rest! I would go out of my way to catch them again as they put on a great show.
After another short but fabulous set from John Doyle we had Damaj. Although their set was original material I found it a little unoriginal in terms of style. They are very young, and I think perhaps they need a little more time to fully develop their own style. They certainly have the talent, they just need to find their own niche instead of relying on tried and tested formulas.
Over on the acoustic stage again we had a surprise in the form of Luke Appleton. He had managed to fly back from Europe where he is on tour with Iced Earth to surprise both us and his family (his parents Mark and Lynne run Rocksector and are the driving force behind SOS). As the billed band had unfortunately broken down somewhere between Sheffield and Manchester Luke stepped in to give us an impromptu and excellent set. Featuring songs from Iced Earth, Absolva (where he plays guitar alongside his brother Chris), a song he wrote with and dedicated to the late Wizz Wizzard and a cracking cover of Dio’s “Last In Line” Luke showed that despite usually being a bit in the background he actually has a cracking voice and can bang out a tune on the guitar to boot. There are rumours of a solo acoustic album in the pipeline and based on this performance I think that would be a marvellous idea.
Next band Sister Rose were much more my kind of thing. I would describe them as being Classic Rock, a very 80s british sound with a singer who looks like the bastard son of Bon Scott and Paul Rodgers and can scream like Coverdale. Driving beats from a drummer with a cool hat, excellent catchy easy to dance to songs and some nice guitar work meant I enjoyed them very much. They have a new album out soon and if this performance was anything to go on it’ll be well worth checking out. Oh and best of all, there was cowbell – yee-ha!
Primitai, a five-piece band from Berkshire, were yet another new name to me; I was obviously a bit out of my comfort zone with the bands playing this weekend. Anyhow they started off being a bit sword-and-sorcery with a very traditional metal sound. Oh no I thought, more same old same old but I was VERY wrong. The frontman was excellent, very hi-energy, and I quickly found myself warming to the whole band. There were definite influences from Priest, Maiden and the like but they put their own spin on it and I enjoyed them very much – probably band of the day for me. They have just released their 3rd album “Night Brings Insanity” and I was so impressed with them that I didn’t just buy that one I got all 3! Definitely one to watch.
I missed quite a lot of Gemma Fox unfortunately as even the most dedicated reviewer needs an occasional short break! Gemma is the singer in Collibus where she is quite in-your-face and shouty so it was nice to catch her doing acoustic covers that allowed her to channel the power in her voice and produce a more soulful sound.
Sadly, earlier this year Cumbrian band Die No More decided to call it a day but they agreed to re-form and honour their booking to play at SOS as they have a history with Rocksector. It’s a shame, as this performance showcased just what an excellent band they are and what a shame it was that this was likely to be their last ever performance. Their songs are loud and fast, yet still accessible. They have energy, they have fun, they are the kind of band that draw you in and make you feel like part of something without you even realising. The Metalica comparisons are there as always, but Die No More are so much more than just another clone band. They have their own style and sound, and if this was to be their last ever performance they I have to say – what a way to go!
Next up were Pythia. They have a lady singer, and the whole band wear leather shoulder armour. Well I suppose some bits of Prestwich can get a bit rough! They play symphonic metal, fast (double bass drum) and hard with vocals that are almost operatic. The sound was rich, with twin guitars and one of those keyboards that you wear like a guitar, and the crowd loved them.
Bad Pollyanna were another new bad to me (where have I been?) and another that I enjoyed very much. Their sound was obviously stripped down to suit the acoustic stage but Olivia has an amazing vocal range and the harmonies from bandmate Nikki were also superb. Another band added to the “must see again” list!
Vying for my Band of The Day award were Belfast band Screaming Eagles. I’ve seen them several times before, and as usual they put on a high-octane classic rock performance that shakes the building to its very foundations. You just can’t stand still when these guys play, and sure enough the whole room was on its feet singing along, maybe dancing a little, definitely tapping toes and nodding heads. They are infectious, the sort of band that just make you smile because they are having so much fun and so are you. There’s a hint of the AC/DCs in the music and indeed the penultimate song played is a cover of “It’s A Long way To The Top”. There are bluesy bits, and funky bits, and there’s a lot of shape-throwing going on too. Superb band – if you’ve not seen them yet you really are missing out.
Finally it was time for the Saturday headliner. Blaze Bayley is a name that surely needs no introduction to rock fans. We all know of his early days with Wolfsbane, his dream-come-true spotlight moment when he was picked to replace Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden, his dignified retreat when Bruce came back. Alongside all that there have been other collaborations, solo projects, and he now seems to have settled down nicely with ¾ of Absolva as his backing band. His set started with some of that solo stuff, including a couple of new songs “Messiah” and “Fight Back”. Right from the start the crowd were in the palm of his hand, singing along and feeding back their sheer joy in the occasion. Chris Appleton showed again just how under-rated a guitarist he is with some soaring solos and grinding riffs. A couple of Maiden songs, some more solo stuff, even the very first song he wrote with Wolfsbane followed. Blaze puts his heart and soul into every performance and the audience love him for it. 90 minutes of pure aural rock pleasure later, a drum solo, a bass solo, more virtuoso guitar from Chris, a guest appearance from Luke for the encore and it’s all over. For rock entertainment Blaze really is up there with the best of them.
You would think I would have learned my lesson about the M60 by Sunday but no, despite an earlier start I still only managed to catch the final “thank you and goodbye!” from openers Resin. Which is a shame because everyone I asked said they were very good. Ah well, next time?
Next up were Faith In Glory, another young local band. They play alt.rock with clean vocals and show promise. One to watch out for I think.
As the first acoustic act also didn’t make it we then had Eternal Breath on the main stage. They are an established and accomplished hard rock outfit from Belgium. The sound is classic metal, the vocals are clean and a little bit screamy, the drums are in double-time, the guitars are loud and pointy. They take a lot of familiar metal elements and manage to kind of merge them together – this could result in a turgid mass of noise but actually you get an original yet also familiar sound that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. Recommended.
Over on the second stage Harriet has now been joined by Neil (formerly in Steel Threads) to form a duo which is still, somewhat confusingly, called Harriet. Neil does some percussion as well as providing a second guitar and vocals, and this gives Harriet’s songs a much fuller, richer sound. The comparison with Stevie Nicks in both looks and sound is still the easy option, but by choosing to cover Skunk Anansie’s “Weak” she proves that she has the power and range to tackle a varied selections of songs and the obvious isn’t really all that obvious after all.
The Deep want to be Iron Maiden. They don’t look like Iron Maiden but they do very much sound like them. The vocals are excellent, the instruments are well-played and the whole set is kind of like being wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket. It’s not very original but it’s familiar and easy to enjoy.
Next act Kill Or Cure are also not a new name to me as I’ve seen them play this very festival before. This band are a power four-piece who again have a very trad metal sound. They have matured a lot since last time I caught them, and their stage presence has also improved. It’s worth mentioning that bar a couple of hasty rehearsals they hadn’t actually played live together since their last appearance at SOS 2 years ago but to be fair there was no sign of that and they sounded great.
The acoustic stage then played host to Dorja, an all-female and international 5-piece. They hadn’t really got the hang of “acoustic” as they added electric guitar, bass and a sit-on beat box thing to the acoustic guitar and vocals. The sound is bluesy and at times a little funky. The raspy lead vocals remind me a lot of Janis Joplin are enhanced by all of the rest of the band providing backing vocals. All the songs they played were originals and they were very very good indeed. I’m not the biggest fan of female vocals in rock (just my personal taste) but I think I’ll be checking these ladies out again before too much longer.
According to the notes I took, Fire Red Empress were LOUD! They are female-fronted band, with a singer who looks like Debbie Harry but can scream and shout with the best of them. Musically they were very tight indeed, with overtones of doom and blues that contrasted nicely with the vocals. They weren’t really my cup of tea but everyone else seemed to love them so I’ll assume that in their case I am in the minority.
Fahran are another young band who play old-school classic rock, and I love them to bits. They do big riffs, clean vocals, harmonies, blistering guitar solos and thundering bass. Best of all they do it with swirling hair and big big smiles. They are infectious, another of those bands that you can’t help becoming a part of as you dance, sing and clap along even to songs you’ve never heard before. There is speed and power as well as melody. This is how hard rock should be! The set includes a couple of new songs that contain the same drive, energy and bounce as their earlier stuff. I found them really hard to review as I was carried along with the rest of the crowd on a tide of love for them. Band of The Day without a doubt!
Chris Appleton on the acoustic stage turned into Chris And Luke which was great as they play and sing so well together. It was rather poignant seeing them in front of the poster of Wizz on the stage that bore his name and him not being there though. The brothers paid a little homage to him by performing a couple of songs from Chris’s solo acoustic album that he was involved with writing and performing on. There was an acoustic version of the brand new Absolva song “Rise Again” which sounded great; the set finished with a rousing cover of Ozzy’s “Mama I’m Coming Home” that saw the whole room singing along. Excellent stuff.
Triaxis are back! They had a quiet period this year. Bass player Becky explored some other projects (including being part of Dorja who played earlier). As previous singer Krissie left at in 2016they also needed to find a replacement singer. This was therefore one of their first performances with new girl Angel Wolf-Black. She doesn’t quite have the range and power of their previous singer but she does a good job. Highlight of the set for me was a cover of Dio’s “Don’t Talk To Strangers” which really suited her voice. Not sure where the band will go to next as having gained Angel they are now about to lose guitarist Glynn to tonight’s headliners Powerquest. I’m sure they will bounce back as strong as ever though.
Final band of the weekend Powerquest really suited their name. A big pompy keyboard intro boomed into a set of fast powerful metal with soaring vocals. They remind me very much of Dragonforce, who I believe they are going out on tour with later in the year. Despite the speed there is a lot of melody in their songs too. There were even a couple of keyboard parts which varied the pace a little and kept my interest right to the end. Typically for a Sunday nnight in the suburbs a lot of the crowd had left before they finished due to public transport issues, but I thought they were well worth watching and enjoyed them very much.
Another SOS over then, and despite rumours that this might be the last one the dates for XI next year have been finalised. This means we can all look forward to yet another weekend of great rock and metal in 2018. To sum up in just a few words this is a well-organised little shindig in a great venue that features some fantastic music. Do come and see for yourselves next year, you won’t regret it! You can find up-to-date information on the official festival website: http://www.mwaweb.com/sos_home_2017.html