Brofest 2 will be etched in my memory for a long time for sure. 26 bands over 3 days with a weekend ticket being a ridiculously cheap £25 and day tickets £10 for Friday and £15 each for Saturday and Sunday. I travelled up from Crewe to Newcastle on the Friday morning more or less straight from my night shift so was awake about 35 hours before sleeping but I was talking to fans at Brofest 2 who had travelled from Romania, Greece, Spain, Germany and the United States which made my journey seem like a walk to the corner shop!
So after checking in at the hotel it was off to the venue and the thought of seeing bands like Vardis, Fist and Hollow Ground after being a fan of NWOBHM from the beginning made this 50 year old feel 17 again. The venue was just opening as I got there and I had a few words with the 3 organisers Stuart Langridge, Stuart Bartlett and Martin Wolfsgard. How they got so many bands here for the ticket price is beyond me as one major UK rock festival charges £25 just to park your car for one day! Friday was wisely the shortest day of Brofest as the doors opened at 5pm with the 1st band Toledo Steel due onstage 40 minutes later. As Van Halen would say, Toledo Steel, the youngest band here, “hit the ground running” with opening number ‘Speedkiller’, it’s ‘Am I Evil’ type intro built into a solid metal song which bode well for the rest of the set. Other highlights were the chugging power metal of ‘Escape From Alcatrazz’ and a new song called ‘Children Of The Sun’.
Next up, all the way from Richmond, Virginia in the US were 5 piece band Volture. Brofest 2 was their 1st of 2 UK dates and their 40 minutes was chock full of raging metal with Jack Bauer hitting some ear piercing notes and they finished their set with a killer cover of the NWOBHM classic ‘Set The Stage Alight’ by Weapon. So 2 bands in and the bar was set high as Newcastle based legends Warrior reformed especially for Brofest 2 and the crowd lapped up their dynamic hard rock. Set highlight for me was a gritty ‘Stab You In The Back’. One of the bands I was eagerly looking forward to seeing was next on, the mighty Battleaxe! Their set was a headbanger’s heaven and was split between older material and tracks off their monstrous new album Heavy Metal Sanctuary, the title track from which was my anthem of Friday night! Vocalist Dave King stalked the stage nailing every note and the guitar tone of Mike Percy had to be heard to be believed especially on new song ‘Revolution’ which preceded a double whammy of ‘Chopper Attak’ and ‘Burn This Town’.
And so it was time for the Friday night headliners. I never saw FIST back in the day so this was another highlight for me and they did not disappoint with a rocking but melodic set full of classics which included ‘You’ll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those’, ‘Dog Soldier’, ‘SS Giro’ and a timeless ‘Name, Rank And Serial Number’ with original members Dave Irwin on guitar and Harry ‘Hiroshima’ Hill on drums grinning throughout the set with Norman Appleby on bass guitar and the charismatic 2nd guitarist and lead vocalist Glenn S Howes who took over from Keith Satchfield. I’ve waited over 30 years to see FIST and hopefully will not have till I’m 81 to see them again.
And so to Saturday, day 2 of Brofest 2 and up early with a raging hangover and a mad taxi dash to Wetherspoons for a beer and fry up before the 1st band at midday. It was a long day with 11 bands on in 11 hours which is as good a time as any to give a shout out to the road crew for a fast change over for every band all weekend! Another smart time saver was there were no backdrops to change over as the bands’ logo was projected onto a screen behind the drum kit. So on to the 1st band of the day which fell to Preston based Ascalon who provided the perfect hangover cure with a set full of melodic heavy metal. ‘Daylight Robbery’ featured some neat guitar interplay from Matt Gerrard and Chris Marsh, ‘Red Leather’ was like modern day NWOBHM and their self titled song ‘Ascalon’ came over like classic UFO. Ascalon also threw in a cover, a superb rendition of Saxon’s ‘Princess Of The Night’! Witchtower strode on next with a very heavy set with only the slow chugging of ‘Wrecking Ball’ for time to breathe before covers of ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ and ‘Angelwitch’.
Dark Forest may sound like a black metal band on paper but they were the opposite. A very tight band coming over like a heavier Queensryche with a charismatic vocalist and got the biggest crowd response of the day so far. It was only 3pm when Ruler hit the stage and things got a lot heavier. Apart from being the 1st band all weekend to wear spandex, they delivered a set of fast and heavy power metal backed by some histrionic vocals and stage moves that the Scorpions would have been proud of and one of my favourite sets of the weekend. Next up were Berlyn who returned to the stage especially for Brofest 2 since they split in 1983 and we got a set of bruising hard rock with rasping vocals similar to Angry Anderson from Rose Tattoo. Song of the set was ‘Judas’, a real slow burner in the vein of ‘Heaven And Hell’. Sparta were another band to rise from the ashes. Formed in 1979 and splitting in 1990 they were given a warm welcome at Brofest 2 and their high energy set included their classic ‘Fast Lane’.
The quality just came on coming as Damascus took their turn and yet another example of a classic band still calling the shots with their most memorable songs played were ‘Midnight Train’ and a heavy ‘Woman In Black’. Hollow Ground are mainly remembered for their classic ‘Flying High’ which they opened with thus winning the crowd over immediately but their punchy set had songs to match with ‘Rock On’, ‘Easy Action’ and ‘Fight With The Devil’ with the vocalist smiling so much he could have given himself lockjaw! Another exclusive for Brofest 2 was next as Portsmouth based Truffle laid on a storming set with a hard hitting ‘Street Fighter’ featuring some blistering twin guitar workouts. Another expectant set for me was Gaskin who also have been around a long time and have a back catalogue to fill twice their allotted stage time with ease. They opened with the melodic ‘Sweet Dream Maker’ and followed that with another oldie ‘Tomorrow Today’. The heaviest song of the set was ‘The Contract’ from their most recent release ‘Edge Of Madness’ as the set ended with a riff heavy gem of ‘I’m No Fool’. Worthy of mention is drummer David John Norman who managed to play tonight as he was involved in a serious car crash a few weeks ago. Saturday headliners were Fast Kutz, a local early 80’s band who were formed by current Black Rose guitarist Kenny Nicholson and vocalist Keith Davidson. I think Black Rose bassist Kiko Rivers was playing to but not too sure. Anyway, their set consisted of high octane heavy rock featuring tracks from Fast Kutz’s only album ‘Burnin’ and tracks from Hammer and Holland, previous bands of Kenny’s. The wise cracks and powerful vocals from Keith made this one of my performances of the day with some glorious guitar hero histrionics from Kenny at the beginning of ‘Midnight Love’ ably backed up on rhythm guitar by Ian Gillson and thundering versions of ‘Play With Fire’ and ‘Burnin’ ensured their set was well received.
Another day, another hangover which I could have done without as I was due to interview the headlining act Vardis at midday so a quick dash to town for a beer and a monster fry up stood me in good stead for the final day of Brofest 2 with yet another 11 quality bands to look forward to. So after my interview with Vardis I managed to catch half of the set by opening band Evil Blood. Formed in Croatia in 1983 but now relocated to the UK, Evil Blood, as there name would suggest, delivered some potent thrash metal. Highlights were ‘Ave Satanas’ sounding like prime Venom and the riff of ‘Countess Laura Whore’ could have stripped the paint off the walls! Another strong opening to the day. Keeping up the pace were the next band Eliminator who headed over the Pennines to deliver 40 minutes of no frills metal. With feet firmly placed on the monitors, lead vocalist Dave P gave a lung busting performance as set closer ‘Danger In The Skies’ rounded off an intense performance by Eliminator.
Another band I was looking forward to was Soldier judging by the strength of their latest album Dogs Of War and their set was split between this and earlier material. Off the latest album, highlights for me were a rampant ‘Dogs Of War’, ‘I Can’t Breathe’, ‘The Hanging Tree’ but these were surpassed by a showstopping ‘No Man’s Land’. A previously unreleased song called ‘Man From Berlin’ featured a Thin Lizzy like twin guitar intro from Miles Goodwin and Ian Dick. Ian is the founder member of Soldier and no Soldier set would be complete without their classic number ‘Sheralee’ with vocalist Richard Frost urging the crowd to sing the chorus. Lichfield based 3 piece Bashful Alley, formed in 1980,split in 1984 but gave it another go from 2013 brought an almost Status Quo type boogie tinged with early Budgie which saw them play to a full room here. Their infectious grooves came to the fore in ‘My My My’ and the classic ‘Running Blind’. Maybe this performance will lead to a long awaited debut album.
Playing Brofest for the 2nd time, Spartan Warrior were next up with brothers David and Neil Wilkinson still with the band after over 30 years. Vocalist David apart from having a fine range twirls his scarf draped mike stand like Steven Tyler only with much less of an ego. Their set consisted mainly from their first 2 albums Steel N Chains and Spartan Warrior which caused much headbanging in the front rows. It was all over too soon as they ended their set with 2 numbers from their debut album, ‘Stormer’ and ‘Cold Hearted’. Now was the time for it to get much heavier as Tony Dolan strode onstage with Rickenbacker bass in hand to front Atomkraft, the band he formed in 1979 but split in 1988. Their mission today was to play their ground breaking 1985 album Future Warriors and one of the tracks entitled ‘Total Metal’ perfectly described Atomkraft’s delivery at Brofest 2. Tony had the loudest bass sound of the weekend highlighted by the final number, the slow burning thud of ‘Heat And Pain’ featuring Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn as special guest. When the ex Venom guitarist walked on, the venue went into overdrive.
Another vintage NWOBHM band was to follow. Blitzkrieg are another local hero band . They have gained press since Metallica covered their theme song but Blitzkrieg are still recording and their latest album Back From Hell has shown there is still fire in their veins. That point is proven by original vocalist Brian Ross who had flown in on Sunday after playing a gig in Germany the night before and his son Alan plays guitar in the band alongside Ken Johnson who joined in 2002. Highlights were many but standout tracks were ‘Dark City’, a mid paced chugger with multi time changes and banshee screams from Brian. ‘Sahara’ from Back From Hell is a heavy slow burner which built and built in the vein of ‘Stargazer’ but of course the room went crazy for their self named song, the aforementioned ‘Blitzkrieg’. Canadian trio Cauldron were up next playing 1 of only 2 UK dates as part of their European tour. Formed only in 2006, Cauldron are one of the newer bands flying the flag for the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal (NWOTHM) and their delivery reminded me a lot of Raven. To end a hectic set they were joined by Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn for a blistering cover of Die Hard by Venom.
As Sunday drew to a close, penultimate and influential NWOBHM band Jaguar proved their high place on the bill with a raging new song called ‘Once And All’. ‘Connection’ fired up mass crowd headbanging but strangely enough they did not play one of their most well known numbers ‘Axe Crazy. So Brofest 2 was left with just one band to close the weekend with and the band that was my main reason for coming here. Its almost 32 years since I last saw Vardis and their set this Sunday was their 1st live gig in 27 years and I never thought I would see them again. So come showtime Gary Pearson on drums, Terry Horbury on bass guitar and lead guitarist Steve Zodiac came on following an emotional introduction by Gary’s daughter Stacey. Of course Steve does not have waist length white hair and play barefoot anymore but as he stepped up to his mikestand, shouted out “Lets Go” and hit the opening chord of that song, nothing had changed. Out of the 12 song set, 7 of those were from their debut live album 100mph and ‘Out Of The Way’, ‘Destiny’, Dirty Money’, ‘Situation Negative’, ‘The Loser’ and ‘If I Were King’ still stand the test of time. Numbers from The Worlds Insane’ ‘Quo Vardis’ and ”Vigilante” were aired also. Pick of the bunch were a bluesy ‘The Worlds Insane’ which featured a 2 minute guitar solo which showed that Steve has lost none of his speed. ‘Don’t Mess With The Best’ and ‘Learn How To Shoot Straight’ from Vigilante showed just how underrated that album was underrated back in 1986.All of the band were constantly smiling at each other and their hour set limit seemed to fly by in minutes but hopefully further UK dates will come along following the planned release of a remastered Vigilante and an album of new material.
So Brofest 2 came to a close, one of the best festivals I have attended for a long time and I will definitely be at Brofest 3 in 2015!
Special thanks go to photographers Helga Dee, Claire Frost, Lena Adamopoulou, ‘No Sleep’ Mark G and Anthony Whitehead for the use of their shots.
I award Brofest 2 an easy 10/10 \m/