Waking up on the Sunday morning at Wildfire Festival, after an amazing day of music on the Saturday, you would be pushed to expect it to be topped, but I had been looking forward to today for some time. There was a whole host of amazing talent I had either seen before, or have been dying to see live, so I was up early, fed, watered, and good to go. Even when the rain started (drizzle really, and it stayed on the whole day) my mood could not be dampened.
First up for me today was Wretched Soul, and I am sure this was a stroke of genius from Wildfire organiser Dave Ritchie, as anyone trying to sleep in a bit later had no chance. The guys were as loud as hell, and twice as slippery. Their brand of thrash and NWOBHM took me back to the 80s, and you have to be impressed at the range vocalist Chris Simmons has. He soars from screams, melodic, and guttural with ease, none of which is more noticeable on the amazing “Veronica”. Every member was dressed in black and full of typecast poses, but they were an excellent start to the day, and worthy of a slot much further up the bill.
The Alt Rockers Black Nevada were up next, and opened with the catchy “Not Your Enemy” which I have to admit is still bouncing around my head, days later. They were a complete contrast to the openers, with Jordan Bailey’s melodic vocals throughout, and the far more structured and production-led songs. The surprise on this one was the teeny, tiny Sarah Davies on drums. She can hammer those skins, and was the first lady of the day to showcase some mighty feminine talent. This band are sitting in a very popular genre, and going by this performance, they are going to do very well for themselves. The music was slick, catchy, and had us all bopping along. They definitely won over a whole host of new fans, and quite rightly so.
Scottish band Excellent Cadaver went for the jugular from the off. The tent may not have been as busy as for some other bands, but that did not stop vocalist Andrew Downie from taking free reign of the venue. This band gave it their all today and their in-your-face metal went down a treat. Check them out if you veer to the heaviest of metal. I can assure you you will not be disappointed.
All Consumed were going to kept the heavy vibe going. These death thrashers flew through their set, with Rob Thomas looking like an extra from Prison Break, and sounding like the gates of hell. Brutality and ferocious guitars were the backbone of their set, and the audience lapped them up. Just like the previous band, they are ones to look out for if you haven’t heard them before… especially if you want to bleed from every orifice due to the pounding force they are live.
Now to the fist band of the day I have really been looking forward to for some time. Firstly, as I have never seen a hell kitten before, and the thought kind of confuses me, and secondly, this band are ace. I am sure many haven’t heard of Sky Valley Mistress before, but Kayley Davies was not going to let you forget the name today (as it was mentioned about 100 times ha). The band strolled out in a very relaxed mode (Facebook says they were hungover) and they took off into “Hit”. The fist thing that does hit you is the guitar, as it is more fuzzy than fuzzy felt (kids, ask your parents). In a world that is overflowing in genres, this band stand alone like a lighthouse in the darkest and stormiest of nights. They are a breath of fresh air in the rock work, as their version of ‘Paranoid’ goes to prove (Please go on YouTube and check it out). The first time I heard it I was just confused and perplexed. I did not know what I had just listened to, as it is so unrecognisable from the original, and all the hundreds of covers I have heard over the years. I can honestly say this is one of the most unusual and original covers I have ever heard, but after a few listens, you will agree with me, it took balls to take such a classic and twist it beyond recognition. It is a work of genius. The band had also just celebrated their 300th gig, and the hard work showed in the polished performance. Sky Valley Mistress are going to go far, as the clamour for classic rock bands is very healthy, and with this band’s take on the old school sound, you can bet they will be a name we will all know. They blew me away today and surpassed all hopes I had for them.
Now for a surprise, not just the performance, but Avenford were not on one flier or bill poster! I have no idea where this one came from, but it was delightful find. The moment the intro tape started for “Guiding Light” we just knew we were in for some guitar frenzy. This Hungarian band (now based in London) are not scared to hide their influences, and the first thing you will notice, as the sound pumps out of the speakers, is a certain Mr Malmsteen, and do you know what? The guitar playing is just as good (really, I mean it). The opener was filled with guitar break outs and solos, but it is the body of the song that got me. It had a great chorus, and unlike Yngvie, the guitars didn’t overtake the song completely. The songs are more rounded without that egotistical indulgence. I would seriously recommend the album ‘Mortal Price’, which I purchased along with a t-shirt (for less than £20… no rip off festival prices at Wildfire). This will show you that these guys are not a one trick pony. They have a mass of different sounds and influences, but the quality is never anything but top drawer. “Blade In The Moonlight” is a case in point, as it veered towards an almost pop feel, but the guitars metal this up enough for any rocker to accept into their heart. The set closer, “Hunter Trail” came at us like a Scorpions classic. The vocals are brilliant, and it has that original Schenker feel. As someone brought up on 80s metal, I was in hog heaven. This band is far too talented to go unnoticed, so check them out right now!
One Last run were another of the bands I was looking forward to. I got a hold of their album “Unbreakable” when it came out, and it is a little bit special. This female fronted band from Manchester is only three years old, but their sound belays that fact. They are a good old classic rock band in Alterbridge fashion, but Becky Roberts’ vocals give it a whole new feel. Her voice is powerful, melodic, and almost anthemic. They do have a little alt rock thrown in to keep you paying attention, and today they were on fire. With songs like “Tell Me” touching on the pop punk, and with an out-and-out, ass-kicking metal track like “Unbreakable”, you are going to sit up and notice. The debut album is brilliant, as was this performance… go see them, buy the album, and just enjoy a brilliant young band at the start of what I hope is a glittering career.
Soldier are up next after some rescheduling of set times. Can you believe this band has been going since 1978? They may have had an extended break in amongst that, but these guys can party like the youngsters (after they have gotten their breath back). Right at the front of the stage we had probably the two biggest (and oldest) Soldier fans you could find. They kept us amused throughout with their banter with the band, which was duly passed back, as we are informed the band only sold two copies of their album and these were the guys who bought them! This set up the party feel of the set, and alongside songs stretching throughout their career, it was a joy to watch. The veterans run through the likes of “Bedlam”, “Leaving”, and, with the introduction of some barking, “Dogs Of War”. Now talking of the band name, a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger has done his fair share of war movies over the years, but times are obviously tough when he has to resort to drumming with Soldier, but I have to say he is ripped, and I am not going to argue with him. These guys have seen and done it all, and they are still out there putting on performances like this, so hats off guys, and thank you for your contribution to Wildfire and metal.
Hell’s Addiction is a new found band for me, since I reviewed their new album ‘Broken’. Go check out my review as this is an incredible release that swaggers and struts back to the dark side of the 80s. There was no way I was missing these guys live, and they turned heads as soon as “Backs To The Wall” came on. There were a fair few old heads in the crowd, and this band took them straight down nostalgia avenue. Now, if there is one thing that will get you onside in Scotland it’s a filthy mouth and someone who can hold their drink (and I do not mean in their hands), so when you come to a festival loaded with songs like “Get The Fuck” and “Alcohol” there is no way you can fail to go down a storm. Although it was fun listening to a tent full of Scots singing “we need alcohol”, it was kind of ironic, as almost every single hand in that crowd had a glass (yes, even on a Sunday). Unfortunately the guys had to cut a song out of the set due to running times, but as they finished on the glorious “Blue Lights” I didn’t take it too badly. Hell’s Addiction lived up to my expectations, and then some. This cheeky bunch of guys can rest in our hearts like a British version of Airbourne. They have the drink, the patter, and a bunch full of hard-arsed rocking tunes. Please make your way back up north soon with a headline gig guys… I will buy the shots.
Welsh rockers Kane’d were the discovery of the weekend for me. This is what I love about festivals, and I just do not understand those people who plonk themselves in front of a main stage and never move. For me, a festival is like a scouting mission for my new favourite bands and Kane’d stood head and shoulders above the masses for me. Now, there will be a few people who will state there was ulterior motives, and I will get this out there early… the three sisters are stunning. As a photographer as well, it does make a pleasant change from shooting sweaty, hairy men, but this was not about the cover of the book, it was more about the content. They started off with the almost punky “So Lonely”. The stage is full to bursting with six members, one of whom was drafted in at the last minute (well done sir). On record, you are kind of left in the dark as to who is singing, but with a live show, each and every one of the sisters cover the work, and at times it is like a rap face off, as they jump between each other all to come back together in harmony. The stage was buzzing with activity and kept your attention throughout. With “Wasted” we found out these are no clean living girls, more like the ones your mother warned you about. They are in full control of their sexuality, and they can cuss and drink like that uncle you find at every wedding. This song also showed the talents of guitarist Harry Scott Elliot (a pretty one in his own right…well, you have to have something for the ladies) as he pumped out some excellent solos and riffs. The set was made up of the band’s two albums, and we got to hear a story that I am sure many bands are familiar with, where they got so frustrated with external pressures on the first album that they gave in and walked away, only to say “sod it” and return with the fantastic “Rise”, an album they were determined to do their own way. How many bands have fallen by the wayside due to this? So kudos to the band for fighting for what they believe in. The major highlights for me in an extremely impressive set were the closing cover of “Highway To Hell” and the frantic, yet touching,”Hero”. They had the whole crowd bouncing up and down and screaming ” you are, you are my Hero”. My opinion may only be one, but if you tried to meet the band afterwards to get merch (all bands set up their own stall after the set so you got to meet, get photos and autographs) you had a throng to deal with. It was packed, and I had to move on to the next band, but they were still there after that set was done, so I gladly got to say hello and buy both albums. Roll on September when they are back in Glasgow in the small and sweaty Audio. That is one not to be missed.
I caught Dendera last year, as support to the ever present Anvil, and as much as they impressed me that night, today they blew that performance away with ease. I do not know if it was playing up to the much larger crowd but they definitely kicked ass. Their latest album “Pillars Of Creation” is an excellent album, and the tracks are even better live. Ashley Edison’s vocals are really strong, and anyone who listen’s to him will always mention the “Air Raid Siren” himself. Their brand of metal is made for a festival and the lovers of Maiden and Priest were in their element with these guys.
Stone Broken are my latest thing, and a band that I will happily put on paper saying they will break, and break big. So confident of this am I, I will bet money… my mortgage… even a testicle! Their debut “All In Time” is one of the best first releases I have heard, and it is only over a week ago I saw them blow the roof off at The Hard Rock Cafe in Glasgow. Festivals are a funny thing, as you usually have to juggle due to clashes, and for me, when it comes down to it, I usually pick the band I have not seen, or skip the band I had witnessed most recently…That was never going to be the case with Stone Broken. This group of youngsters have way too much talent for their ages. The songs are southern-steeped rock that also has no damned right to come from the midlands of the UK (I bet there isn’t even one porch in a 100 mile radius). If you want to look for a comparison and why I think they will be huge, think Black Stone Cherry. Although this may make Rich and the boys blush a little, I think “All In Time” is actually better than Cherry’s self titled debut… and I fucking love that album. Today they kicked off with the hormone pleading “Stay All night” and just like last week the crowd took notice quickly. it was followed up quickly with “Better” and the band were letting loose and enjoying the moment, none more so than Robyn on drums, who smiles from start to finish, all the while beating the crap out of the skins. Obviously, this was a festival set, so some songs were going to get cut, and there were a few ladies who were extremely disappointed they would not be singing Backstreet boys again tonight. The band’s medley was also missing, which for me, was probably the only thing I would have changed. I know that they wanted to get their own songs out there, but that would have been perfect for a festival. This band is one I am glad I caught at the beginning of their career as the small venues will be a forgotten memory soon and I can hang onto my old bastard “I was there” comments.
Now for surprise number two of the day. When you know a band hails from Cumbria like Thirteen Stars, the last thing you expect to stroll onto the stage is a bunch of guys in stetsons who then proceed to blow you away with a bourbon-steeped southern rock masterclass. They definitely deserved their place so high up the bill as their quality shone through and they had a packed tent to play to. I hadn’t seen these guys perform before, but I can assure you I will not be missing them again. They sang song after song of southern blues and a hint of country, and it hit the spot for this crowd. The festival was in its last throes, and this let us catch our breath and just enjoy music played impeccably by four guys at the top of their game. Personally, I do not think there is enough music in this vein played in the UK, but that should help these boys all the more. Please check out this band as I promise it will be worth your while.
I wonder how many festivals Vardis have played? it has got to be in the hundreds (I am sure someone out there can tell me), and it shows. I remember when this band first came out (yes, I am that old). There weren’t that many trios, and especially not playing like Vardis. Unfortunately, they didn’t really break out of the NWOBHM scene, but in hindsight, they were an influence to many a band that followed. It is great to see them still going today. Both the band and I may have aged, but their performance was just as crisp and professional as my first viewing of them live in the 80s. Checking the recent revival of denim cut off jackets, I saw many Vardis patches, both new and old, so I know there were a lot of happy people in the crowd. I also hope that there were plenty of the younger bands watching, as this was a lesson in excellence.
I am sure I do not need to introduce most of you to Dorje, as they have been making waves for some time. You will either love or hate their laid back, heavily bass-laden progish sound. This band was another that was thrown on as the headline act in this tent, and they stepped up to the plate and knocked the ball right out of the park. They may not have too much material to work with, but what they do have went down a storm. The band were technically excellent, and you could spend a set watching the individuals on their own merit, as they know their instruments inside out. For me, songs such as the Prog laden “Catalyst”, and the full on rocker “White Dove” showed their wares and diversity. I look forward to catching them live again.
Last band of the night (and festival) for me were the future superstars Colour Of Noise. Like last night’s headliners Inglorious, this band are really only at the embryonic stage, yet here they were headlining a festival. Having two upcoming bands headline was a big gamble for Wildfire, but it paid off in spades. Once again the tent was packed out and there was a huge buzz before they took to the stage. Although the band is only a fledgling, the members are far from that. A certain Mr Dickinson and myself go a long way back… anyone too posh to mosh out there? I was a seriously big Little Angels fan. I travelled the country to see them, so you can imagine I was gutted when they split. I have followed what Bruce has done over the years (which was few and far between), but I never got that buzz back until I first caught Colour Of Noise live. The two bands are completely different in every way, which I am glad about, but you do have to ask why the projects after Little Angels didn’t make it, and I can tell you now, it was because of the rest of the band, and that is where this group of guys will make it to the top. They have each had their musical journeys, some measure of failure and success that brought them together, and like a special dose of perfect karma, wham! You have Colour Of Noise.
Their brand of rock is turned back through the decades, no frills, no tricks… they just don’t need them, ’cause they kick ass. The band connection is easy to spot, as is the respect they obviously have for each other. There is a special bond (did someone say bromance?) between Bruce and vocalist Matt Mitchell (of Furyon fame). When I heard these two were working together (before I had heard them) I did wonder if it would work, as I have followed Furyon for some time, but hey, what the hell do I know? Once again the guys played a blinding set, and even dropped in a new song, but I was here for “Can You Hear Me”, “Head On” and set closer (and best track by a mile), “Heavy”. I just love these guys and what they are doing. They will spearhead the resurgence of good old classic rock, and it could very well be much larger festivals they will be headlining in the future.
So that’s Wildfire 2016 all wrapped up, and what a festival it was. As I sit here after the event, it is hard not to measure it against all the festivals I have attended here in the UK and abroad, so sod it I will. The organisation is absolutely top notch, from Dave Ritchie and the whole Wildfire crew. They are so accessible, and I got to know each and every one of them, so thank you guys. It is really family orientated, with kids made more welcome than I have seen at any other festival (I even had the little blighters sitting next to me in the photo pit with their VIP passes on). The bands also made the kids very welcome, with some even taking the stage with them. I have never attended a more friendly festival in all my days. My Facebook friends list expanded massively after Wildfire, and I have already met up with some people at gigs since then. There were no police, no fighting, no arseholes… just a good time had by all, and every single person I met could not speak too highly of it. A huge thank you must also go to the bands, as they came and did exactly what they were paid to do… entertain. More than that, they were all to be found strolling around the grounds and had time to stop and speak to everyone. I may have partaken in a few too many beers with The Demons Of Old Metal, but I will say that it was to save my soul. There were no egos, or airs and graces from any of the bands I encountered at the venue, and you cannot say that about any other festival so in summary, I can only conclude this is the best damned festival I have ever been to and I will not miss out on it again.
Wildfire 2017 hurry the fuck up!
Images and review Ritchie Birnie
Full Wildfire Festival: Day Three Flickr pics HERE