Words & Pictures : Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media
Ah, the good old British Summertime! It doesn’t matter what you’ve got planned because someone, somewhere, has decided they want a BBQ and the Gods of Veganhalla have decreed “that shall not pass!” or something, and decided the only way to stop Terry from grilling 32oz of prime beef is to turn on heaven’s sprinkler system and attempt to drown us all in the process. As you can see from the picture above, the first full day of Maid of Stone Festival, the inaugural event for the new annual fixture in Maidstone’s Mote Park, by the time Glenn Hughes took to the stage, it was chucking it down.
Were spirits dampened, did people give up and go home, did Terry ever get to eat his steak in any format other than ‘rare’? Read on and you’ll see just why Maid of Stone will reign triumphant once more in its rightful place at the home of rock music in Kent.
The setup in Mote Park allowed campers in early on the Friday and as a thank you for getting in on time and not causing gridlock on the Saturday morning (yes Download, I’m looking at you!) the organisers put on a 3 band bill to kick start the event. Fury, The Hot Damn and The Treatment played to a packed ‘Maiden Stage’ situated in the top corner of the arena in a giant big-top and, from what I’m told, saw The Hot Damn garner a fair new converts to their cause. Solid sets from Fury and The Treatment also ticked several ‘welcome back rock music’ boxes as well. A couple more food \ drink vendors (and more stock) for the Friday night seems to be the key request for 2024. Not a bad way to start the weekend in that case.
Saturday (July 22nd) and the sun was shining, the clouds were blue as we travelled towards Mote Park but in this digital age, thanks to the weather apps available to all, we knew it wouldn’t last. The arena opened early to allow people to grab coffees and use the loos though so by the time the first act kicked off on the Maiden Stage, which had been sponsored by ERB (Emerging Rock Bands), they pulled a generous crowd.
Skinny Knowledge are a 4-piece rock band from the South of England, founded in late 2019 by lead singer and guitarist, Andy L Smooth. Dressed with more colour than your average Cannibal Corpse fan in a Hawaiian shirt Skinny Knowledge delivered a set of crunchy rock numbers featuring tracks from their self titled debut.
Colourful, energised, worth looking out for in the future and proof positive that you should always get there in time for the opening act (more on that point with the Sunday review as well)
Over on the Phoenix stage, Trident Waters got the ball rolling with support from several of the Total Rock DJs. Having sponsored the stage, the DJs were clearly having a blast poking fun at each other and also making the effort to drag a crowd, who were still on their first coffee of the day, onto their feet and show some enthusiasm for the band about to entertain them.
Thankfully entertain they did with a look of ZZ Top, if they’d been raised in California, the sound of Rival Sons but mixed with a dirtier blues driven vibe and a groove that ensured that anyone whose coffee had yet to kick in were suddenly paying attention. The songs drifted across the arena with a feel like someone who would surf across the Floridian swamps as opposed to using an Airboat like a sensible person would. It’s a great mix, merging blues with the carefree sunshine driven approach from the West Coast…. yet, where do these boys hail from? London! None of the grit and grime was present and the band’s sound was a great example of “anything is possible when you put your mind to it.”
A homecoming show for Kent rockers Collateral saw a great crowd drawn towards the main, Jeff Beck Memorial Stage (supported by our good friends at Mascot Label Group). The band have gone through a few changes in recent years, being a 4-piece when I first saw them, moving to a 5-piece a year or two later with Louis Sebastian Malagodi, the band’s original guitarist, returning to the fold. Performing briefly as a 6-piece complete with keyboard player, the band have now stripped back to their roots with Todd Winger departing and Louis remaining as the lead guitarist once more.
With main stage compere Paul Anthony (Planet Rock) introducing them, the energised 4-piece delivered a tougher, edgier sound and it suits their style of music well. They fly the hard rock banner with pride and on tracks like Promiseland showcase their song writing talents as well.
‘About This Boy’ got the crowd singing along showing that the band had the support they deserved. They finished the set with Angelo Tristan (decked out in full Freddie Mercury attire) leaping over bassist Jack Bentley-Smith to a huge roar from the crowd. The songs, the show and a good performance all round made for an excellent way to celebrate before the rains came and as Collateral closed, the heavens opened! Unlucky Terry!
Hunted By Elephants
Wet weather can benefit or foil a performance completely and thankfully, Hunted By Elephants was the former. Positioned neatly on the Maiden Stage, under the safety of the big top, the tent was packed by the time the band came on stage. Now to be fair to the band, the crowd could be based on reputation \ knowledge as well but for me they were a brand new act and, giving the game away here, one of the few acts that I bought a CD from over the course of the weekend.
That I did buy a CD should give you a fair indication of just what I thought of the London based outfit. Again, like Trident Waters, the look and sound like they shouldn’t being a British band and bring to the table the sort of vocal work that would see David Coverdale happily retiring knowing his songs were in safe hands as he passed the baton over.
The band are no Whitesnake clone though. They carried a sound not unlike classic Thin Lizzy, a 70s energetic rock vibe, gritty and vibrant hard rock with more than a hint of Jethro Tull thrown in for good measure once in a while. It may well be a strange combo but my CD purchase would argue I thought it worked perfectly!
If staying dry at a British festival is your thing, then don’t go out of the house during the months of June-August as you’ve got no chance. No matter what you do, there’s always a Terry’s BBQ somewhere trying to ruin your day. If however, you embody the spirit of the Scouting movement and come prepared to events like this, so watching Jordan Red was not an issue at all (as evidenced by so many in the crowd). With ponchos aplenty, we settled down to watch another act that, like Collateral, has carved its’ love of hard rock firmly into the same family tree many of the Scandinavian bands that grace modern playlists. Stunning vocals and crisp guitar work courtesy of the Dans of the band and we have another band that should’ve, could’ve, would’ve been playing arenas back in the 80s but nowadays have a harder path to follow but one, should they stick to it, that will definitely pay off in spades for them.
This was only the second time I’d seen Jordan Red live and when I dipped into the Internet for a little bit more info, my only complaint is that getting past a sea of pages dedicated to footwear was a bit of a challenge. If looking for them, just add ‘band’ and you’re there.
Musically enthralling and the first outdoor act to do their damnedest to try and disperse the rain through the power of rock. They very nearly succeeded.
Tygers of Pan Tang
Following Jordan Red on the same stage were a band who (after seeing their performance) clearly needed more attention from me over the years. I’d heard of them, I may have caught some of a set over the years but ToPT always felt like an also-ran from the late 70s , early 80s with a cover of ‘Love Potion No.9’ being my only real memory from back in the day.
Following their set at Maid of Stone, I’ve taken myself round the back and given myself a good kicking. I deserved it, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. I doubt their early albums carry as much crunch as their live set does as modern kit packs a bit more punch that the old recording methods from way back when but boy, when they hit, they hit hard.
Soaring vocals, performances that ooze professionalism, history and experience and smiles and nods all round as the Tygers showed the young upstarts just how it should be done. A perfect festival performance with original member Robb Weir finding time to pull off some amazing guitar licks as well as giving me the finger as I took pictures (all in the name of rock and roll of course!) whilst his opposite number Francesco Marras oozed youthful energy and ensures that the band have the perfect balance of talent for years to come.
Credit to all members but a major shout out to front man Jacopo “Jack” Meille whose pipes…. well… just wow!
Kris Barras Band
Just one week later and Kris Barras Band would be headlining Steelhouse Festival, the event where, in years gone by, the former Mote Park festival (that shall not be named) and the one up the side of the mountain would work together to get acts over between them to ensure that the UK festival circuit could deliver. In keeping with tradition, Maid of Stone gets Kris & Co. performing on the main stage in the public park where, for 3 years running, Kris went from playing the newcomers stage, to the Blues stage and finally to the main stage. A phenomenal leap and a hugely justified one.
Kris looks set to make the next leap in his career as he’s gone from being a bluesman to blues \ delta soul to blues rock and now to a more hard rock sound. Gone are the keys that Josiah J Manning used to play and instead Josiah now plays guitar alongside Kris with the duals that they perform captivating a willing crowd who, despite rain, have also turned out in their droves to listen to one of the great futures of British rock music.
Full credit to the rhythm section of the band as well. I’ve seen Kris play with different people on both bass and drums over the years and it’s fair to say that the current pairing of Billy Hammett (drums) and Frazer C. Kerslake (bass) is a dream to watch and listen to. The 7 string bass of Frazer’s is a work of art and to be honest had me mesmerised for about 3-4 songs just watching him play. I was vaguely aware others were on the stage at the same time. What a piece of kit and what a way to boost the sound of the band, acting at times as a guitar as much as a bass – mix it up!
It won’t be long before they’re playing bigger and better venues across the country as their star continues to ascend. I for one am really glad I was there from (almost) the off!
Next up were a band recommended to me by the team at the Rock Collective who put gigs on at Leo’s The Red Lion in Gravesend. Not only do they manage to catch some of the bigger acts like Bad Touch as they head to Dover on a European Tour, they also get to break new bands who have a new distinctive sound that somehow Kent gets to hear first before even Planet Rock has had a sniff.
Gallows Circus is one such act and I’m the proud owner of some of their early material which made seeing them at Maid of Stone a must.
Now the last time I saw the band, it’s fair to say lead singer Ian Day had more than a look of Jack Sparrow about him and gave the band a dirty Pirates of the Classic Rock scene vibe about them. As I stood in front of the Maiden Stage watching the GC of 2023, well, Ian has transformed himself. As you’ll see from the pics below, he could have fallen straight out of the pages of GQ so…. crikey.. as the late, great Steve Irwin used to say.
The music though is the key, and whilst my photos would suggest I couldn’t keep my lens off the enigmatic front man (he does look good though I’m sure you’ll agree) Gallows Circus reconfirmed why Kent is putting out some of the best emerging music our fine country has to offer.
Another band who can be relied upon on the festival circuit are Gin Annie. Tried and tested purveyors of hard rock once more, they fit into that ever decreasing category of bands that write “memorable tunes”. The pool of artists seems to grow ever wider but Gin Annie, with a song, a smile and yet another middle finger for the camera, seem to have a knack of rising to the top of the pile when it comes to delivering the goods that people might actually want to hum on the way home. I’ve reviewed plenty of artists that can play, can sing, can work together perfectly well as a band but writing a tune that sticks in the head more than ten minutes after the set ends… sadly no dice.
Gin Annie by comparison, a winning combination of tunes, songs that burrow deep and lodge in the brain and a band that genuinely looks like they’re having a good time. That’ll do nicely.
Back on the main stage, The Hunna present themselves to an audience not quite as accustomed to the indie rock style that they play, as you might expect. This for me though was a very clever addition to the bill to highlight the organiser’s willingness to adapt to all styles of rock music and appeal to all ages. It’s all well and good focussing on retro and classic rock style acts, throw in a few hard rock bands as well as the harder edged sound of say Orange Goblin and call it a festival but who does that appeal to? What do the younger rock fans listen to these days, aside from the force fed diet of “this one is a classic” that they get from their parents.
The answer is a band like The Hunna. My friend’s 25 year old daughter had them on her wish list to see on the Saturday, my own daughter, 17, would have loved to have seen the band had she not been working with the artist liaison team backstage. “You’ve got to video this song for me..” is what I got 10 minutes before the band were due on stage.
Armed with the knowledge then that this is one of those ‘watch now before they explode on the scene’ acts, The Hunna are clearly going to be going places in the next year or two. Glastonbury, Slam Dunk and more will be perfectly suitable festivals as they progress and whilst the crowd wasn’t as big as it was for say Kris Barras, it’s safe to say that those that did watch them recognised new an upcoming talent. Sadly, for my daughter at least, they didn’t play She’s Casual, but given it’s a bit of a slow ballad, mid afternoon on a rainy Saturday probably isn’t the right point in time. It’s like KISS getting a 30 minute slot and wasting 5 mins playing Beth… just no, it doesn’t work.
Instead, up-tempo, energised indie rock, and as noted a smart addition to the bill, one also reflected in the Sunday addition of Skindred who again, appeal to those coming through the ranks and not those fans who are only fit for duty with the home guard.
When it comes to Sweet Crisis, they were going to be one of the highlights of the weekend for me before a single note had been played. If Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and Free got together back stage after a gig, then Sweet Crisis would absolutely be their love child.
The band ‘s debut album, Tricks On My Mind, was released in August 2021 to rave reviews and I for one still play it on a regular basis. It’s one of those lockdown albums that really had an impact on me, gave me hope when spirits were low, gave me energy when day after day just rolled into one and most importantly entertained me when I just wanted to listen to good music.
The band carry that spirit and energy into every live show they do and if you were lucky enough to catch them at MoS then you’ll know that for a fact. The dual vocal work of Leo Robarts and Piers Mortimer gave us something new with every song played, the keys work of Dom Briggs-Fish alongside the rhythm section of Matt Duduryn and Joe Taylor ensured every song was wrapped in a layer of groove that couldn’t be penetrated by even the most hardened cynic. This was music to be enjoyed, perfect on a rainy day in the park. I’ve no idea when I’m seeing the band again but it can’t come soon enough.
As noted earlier, the Rock Cooperative introduced me to Bad Touch as well as Gallows Circus. The Kent based promoters have a knack of latching onto acts that step into the light as soon as they’ve played a gig at Leo’s.
Bad Touch are another reason lockdown wasn’t too bad for me, with them playing one of the first open air gigs in the country during the really tough COVID restrictions put in place by the Department of Health. It was a welcome event, not only for the band but also for those of us starved of live events for months on end.
Like Gallows Circus, Bad Touch have maintained that fresh enthusiasm and in Stevie Westwood they have a bona fide rock star as a front man. He oozes cool like no other and the crowd lapped up every twist, turn and pose he threw out to them during their set.
Another favourite with the Mote Park crowds and not a surprise in the least.
Orange Goblin / Cold Stares
With just a handful of bands remaining on the Saturday, I took some time out to watch Orange Goblin for a while and also take a trip to the various vendors before heading up the hill to the Phoenix stage where The Cold Stares, one of the artists working with Mascot Label Group from Western Kentucky took to the stage.
Orange Goblin I have to say aren’t a fit for me personally, I’ve always found their music a little too harsh and whilst I love heavy metal, me and the Orange G just don’t seem to gel. I am in a minority though as the stage was more than busy enough to keep the band happy and the band definitely gave it their all to keep the crowd warm in the cold, wet evening air.
The Cold Stares music was a polar opposite to that of Orange Goblin. Again though, their mix of southern blues rock, which went down well with the crowd didn’t do enough to keep me out in the rain so I headed to the bar for a pint of the rather delicious Kentish Spitfire lager.
Headliner: Glenn Hughes
And so to our headliner. I would have said that most people present would instantly know who Glenn Hughes was and those who didn’t would have been in no doubt as ‘the voice of rock’ was introduced by Planet Rock’s own Paul Anthony on the main stage.
It’s an interesting point to consider. I know Glenn, his music and his history over the last 50 years including his time with Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, The KLF (yep!), Hughes \ Thrall, Black Country Communion, The Dead Daisies and of course Glenn’s own solo band. My daughter and my friend’s daughter who knew The Hunna so well… nope, they had to look him up. That’s why the festival bill and the effort put into finding the right balance works so well. Something old, something new, something hard rock, something blues… Maid of Stone had it all over the course of the two days but for now, our Day 1 headliner fought the wind, the rain and some slight challenges with light and sound (potentially caused by everything having to be moved back 3 metres thanks to the lashing rain on the stage). It meant Glenn was often in shadow with his guitarist fully under the spotlight for the duration and people at the front of the barrier complained about low vocals but certainly further back as I was listening to the band, he sounded on fine form to me.
This set was all about Deep Purple and more specifically Glenn’s time in Deep Purple. As such we got the rather apt Stormbringer (thanks Glenn!) alongside the likes of Mistreated and of course his pièce de résistance, Burn. Along the way we also heard Highway Star, Might Just Take Your Life and Gettin’ Tighter which contained a moving tribute to the late Tommy Bolin which turned into a jam at the end of the song which the entire band seemed to enjoy.
By the end of the evening, as Glenn’s hour long set closed, it’s fair to say that the reservations, fears and worries that Mote Park couldn’t once again become a home for rock music were dispelled. Yes the weather sucked for most of the day but we still had one more day to go and the fire had once again been well and truly lit.
Our review of the Sunday can be found by clicking HERE:
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