Wildfire Festival, previously known as Les-Fest in recent years returned in 2015 with an extra stage with over fifty bands spread out over three days, thus making the event in Wiston the place to be! The brain child of Dave Ritchie, his towering presence could be seen throughout the weekend on site and he was even manning the entrance gate, handing out the relevant wristbands required. Most bands I saw over the weekend thanked Dave and his team for the running of Wildfire from the stage. This was to be my second year there and the 2016 Wildfire is already a must.
Two hours after I finished my Thursday night shift I was on the train bound for Glasgow, a connection to Lanark and a taxi from there to Biggar got me there just in time to throw my bag into the Planetmosh log cabin and head off to the main stage to see Kaine as I did not want to miss their old school thrash delivery after seeing them in Nottingham two years ago. My first impressions then was of the hunger a young Exodus showed in 1985 at a gig in Birmingham and Kaine delivered once again at Wildfire. Fronted by Rage Sadler they took no prisoners in their six song set based on The Waystone and Falling Through Freedom albums. An unreleased track ‘Justice Injustice’ was my highlight though with some hard hitting Judas Priest like riffs and harmonies following an introduction by Rage of ” This is the most metal 3pm I’ve known”.
Other contenders were opener ‘Iron Lady’ as the triple guitar attack forged over the large crowd. ‘Champion’ saw bassist Dan Mailer take the lead vocal on this call to arms number and final track ‘Quality Of Madness’ was full of Annihilator like precision riffing with a heads down headbanging mid section to an overload of guitar finish. Next up were Worcester based Ronin, a band I had not come across before and opening number ‘In The Beginning’ won me over immediately with its stadium rock dynamics following a guitar drenched intro with frontman Kit Kinrade providing eye candy for the ladies.
This was followed by the angular riffs of ‘Aletheia’ with driving, guitar heavy choruses. A souped up cover of ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child went down well and the chart bothering melodic rock of ‘Mimi Wolfe’ contained solid riffs to keep the rockers happy. ‘Times Up’ brought to mind a beefier INXS and their all too soon ending set finished with ‘Another Song About Her’, a lengthy Wildhearts like riffathon containing their best performance and stage craft.
The quality of the bill was highlighted as Knock Out Kaine came on and laid waste to Wildfire with 40 minutes of Crue like bombast but without the posing or the backing tapes. Hilariously funny frontman Dean Foxx looked like a tattooed George Thorogood providing some classic one liners throughout their set. ‘Set The Night On Fire’ was a slice of heavy glam with some huge vocal harmonies. ‘Skin Shot’ was introduced as “A song about dwarf pornography” with the main riff knocking on the door of ‘Primal Scream’ by Motley Crue.
Set highlight for me was a barnstorming cover of Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’ which sounded massive with Dean strapping on a guitar for this number. Set closer was a Love Hate like bruiser called ‘Little Crystal’. Apologies to next band Fahran for missing their set but I was interviewing guitarists Robb Weir and Micky Crystal from Friday night headliners Tygers Of Pan Tang so next band for me was Tysondog, the 1st of three legendary NWOBHM bands on Friday night. Formed in Newcastle in 1983 they were tipped for bigger things by Sounds magazine but the music industry is a fickle business and the band have another shot of glory after being snapped up by Rocksector Records who released their latest album Cry Havoc in April this year.
Tysondog still have a lot of fire in their veins and their set based around Cry Havoc, seminal 1984 debut Beware Of The Dog and 1986 follow up Crimes Of Insanity gave lead vocalist Clutch Carruthers the perfect opportunity to vent his anger to a near full tent. Set opener ‘Hammerhead’ from said debut and the furious tempos proved how influential Tysondog were on early thrash metal bands. The crushing follower ‘Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down’ was spat out in the spirit of the title. ‘Into The Void’, the 1st new track aired was all about the Prong like heavy, industrial riffing. Set highlight for me was ‘Painted Heroes’, from their debut album. It was a bludgeoning bruiser that shifted into a Judas Priest like metal finish.
“Inside the power cage, I can feel the music of my age” and ” It’s heavy, heavy, heavy. Heavy metal mania all the way”, two couplets from ‘Heavy Metal Mania’, a stone cold classic penned by Edinburgh NWOBHM band Holocaust who were next to grace the Wildfire main stage. When the NWOBHM era was born, fans like myself had to rely on music mags like Sounds or by listening to Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on Radio 1 to find out about the music and I’ll never forget when he 1st played ‘Heavy Metal Mania’. The lyrics hit home hard as they described how much the music means and an interview I did with John Mortimer at Wildfire proved that the lyrics mean as much to him to this day.
John on lead guitar and vocals, Mark McGrath and Scott Wallace on bass guitar delivered a caustic set to huge applause from a packed out marquee with their ten songs containing four numbers from their classic 1981 debut album The Nightcomers. Prior to playing the title track, John gave a passionate speech saying this was the 1st track they had written when the band used to all plug in to one amp owned by fellow guitarist Ed Dudley. He left in 1983 and John had not heard from him until seeing a Facebook message on his page today wishing him luck and was glad to hear that Holocaust were still going. Earlier set highlights were ‘Death Or Glory’, as it’s evil riffs seemed to envelop the crowd. ‘Smokin Valves’ was another homage to the joys of playing metal with a fretboard burning guitar solo midway. A new number called ‘Expander’ reminded me of a heavier Damned . The claustrophobic menace of ‘The Small Hours’ which Metallica covered in 1987 was a lengthy slice of doom but obvious set highlight was ‘Heavy Metal Mania’, an anthem to end all anthems.
So it was time for the headliners Tygers Of Pan Tang to close an awesome 1st day of rock and metal. Formed in 1978 in Whitley Bay, they were one of my main draws of the weekend as I never saw the Tygers back in the day and their set at a festival I saw them at a few years ago was marred by a poor sound but this was redressed as they hit the stage running with a punchy ‘Gangland’ from the 1981 release Spellbound. Their set was based around the first four studio albums including one of my favourite NWOBHM albums Wild Cat from 1980. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when they played six songs from it in two sets of three. ‘Euthanasia’, ‘Killers’ and ‘Slave To Freedom’ with ‘Insanity’, ‘Suzie Smiled’ and ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ preceding a raucous run through of ‘Hellbound’. The Tygers are still touring and recording so this is no nostalgia trip as proven by ‘She’ and ‘Keeping Me Alive’ from the 2012 release of Ambush and a new album is on the cards showing this tiger has not changed it’s stripes!
The rest of the band is made up of the six string virtuosity of Micky Crystal on guitar, Craig Ellis on drums, Gavin Gray on bass guitar and the soaring vocals of Iacopo Meille, a natural born frontman who got the left and right hand sides of the crowd to test their voices against each other on ‘Rock N Roll Man’. So that was the end of a very tiring but highly entertaining 1st day so it was a short trudge back to the cabin with my girlfriend and looking forward to rock out the next day.
Photos by Neil Henderson Photography