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Stone Free festival 2016 – Sunday

Today at Stone Free was all about Prog on the IndigO2 and arena stages.  Sadly travel problems meant I arrived late and missed the first bands on the entrance and IndigO2 stages (Broken Witt Rebels and Cats in space), and arrived in time to see Knifeworld who had been recommended to me.  Well, I’ll certainly take recommendations from that person with a pinch of salt in future as Knifeworld live did not impress.  The saxophones just drowned out the rest of the music too much, so while they might work well on CD, live they really didnt sound good in my opinion.

Happily the entrance stage came to the rescue with Bad Touch who put in an excellent set before they had to jump in the van to drive to Southampton for the start of their tour with Jared James Nichols.

Back in the IndigO2, one of the bands I’d been looking forward to, Messenger, had cancelled, and replaced with Teeth of the Sea.  Maybe hardcore prog fans like them, but several of us made a hasty exit after a couple of “songs”. Nothing about them makes me want to ever hear them again.

Once again the entrance stage saved the day with more great rock music, this time from Vambo.  The beer garden stage also had some good acts on – Goldbirds put in a very good acoustic set, and the singer/guitarist who came on after them had a great voice – very similar to Neil Diamond.

Haken were the only band I enjoyed on the IndigO2 stage, being more Prog rock/metal than abstract weird Prog, and it was a shame they clashed with a band I wanted to see on the entrance stage – Colour of noise.
Colour of noise feature a former member of Little Angels (Bruce John Dickinson) as well as Furyon’s singer Matt Mitchell.  Matt is a great metal vocalist, and it’s clear from today’s set that he’s jsut as good singing classic rock.  Colour of Noise were a real highlight of the day for me.

I skipped the great Wilko Johnson in order to leave the O2 to go and get some reasonably priced food as I’d seen him perform at a festival just a few weeks earlier, and since a tribute band even with an orchestra holds no appeal for me, I skipped the opening act in the arena.
After a nice meal I was back in time for Prog guitar legend Steve Hackett, formerly of Genesis but now a solo musician.  His set got off to a bad start due to the lack of a soundcheck – the keyboards drowned out his guitar which ruined the first song, but by the end of the first song the sound issues were sorted and we were able to enjoy some superb music.  He really is an amazing guitar player, and we were treated to some technically brilliant and absolutely beautiful music.  The vocals were fairly sparse, with lots of long instrumental bits but when the playing is this good then thats no bad thing.  A great performance.

Next up were Marillion, whose kit was being manouvered on stage even as Steve Hackett was walking off, such was the desire to get a quick changeover between bands, but they still started a few minutes late.  While I normally enjoy hearing them live, tonight Steve Hogarth’s vocals sound bad – I think it was sound issues again as they seemed painfully loud at times, which took a lot of the enjoyment out of their set for me.  Despite this they played a great set although shorter than planned due to the need to be off stage on time.  With the set including classics such as “Easter”, “Lavender” and “Kayleigh” there was plenty to enjoy – Marillion really do have a great back catalogue to choose from.  A great set.

Finally it was time for the headliner – Rick Wakeman.  Being known for long keyboard solos and over the top prog rock, he seems an obvious choice to headline, bit tonight is extra special.  Not only has he got an orchestra and a choir as well as his band on stage with him, he’s also performing his album “The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” in full.  Released in 1975 he’s only ever played it live 3 times, so that makes tonight special for his fans, but to make it even more special, tonight is the first time he’s ever played the newly extended version (extended from the original release of 46 minutes to a new length of 88 minutes).
As you’d expect, it’s a fantastic set with the orchestra and choir giving the music a really rich epic sound, and the time flew past.  An excellent end to a fairly mixed day.

One serious omission with this event was the lack of video screens in the arena.  Fans toward the back get to see tiny figures in the distance and screens are essential if they are to get a good view and feel their money was well spent.

Will the festival be back next year?  Personally I hope it does, but doubt it will – it’s clearly failed to attract enough fans, and has plenty of issues to overcome, but on the other hand they’ve put on a lineup with a load of great bands.  If it does come back I’d like to see them drop the Prog day in favour of two rock days which would boost the appeal to fans significantly since it’s clear that Prog just doesnt attract enough fans for an event like this. Another Prog day would struggle far worse than this year – people who paid full price for tickets were not happy to find they could have got tickets for just £2 as the promoters desperately tried to boost numbers, so in future I can see people not buying tickets in the hope they can get them for rock bottom prices at the last minute – and with a venue the size of the O2 there’s no danger of a Prog day selling out.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.