Friday, 21 July 2017

Concert Review: STONE FREE FESTIVAL at O2 Arena London

Photo: P.G. Brunelli

O2 Arena || London, UK || 17 June 2017

Review by Alan Savill || Photos by P.G. Brunelli

Stone Free Festival
Photo: P.G. Brunelli

Walking into the O2 Arena on the hottest day of the year, I was dripping with sweat before setting foot in the iconic big top dominating this part of London’s skyline. All I wanted was a beer and the ability to see some great bands. It was billed and advertised for around seven months and the promoters took ages to confirm anyone other than Rainbow, losing valuable ground to Guns N’ Roses who had set up camp a few miles away.

There were three advertised areas for bands The Orange Amps Stage, Indigo and the massive Arena. After getting through a professional security system, understaffed but vigilant after recent events, I noticed the Orange Amp stage was in a public area available for anyone coming for the cinema and food outlets. Odd considering it was a paid event. I watched some of Tequila Mockingbird who are a female-only band. They gave it their all, in front of a half-interested crowd of a few hundred. Throughout the day we popped by to see others on the stage, of note were Massive Wagons, who know how to please a crowd with their brand of metal, Death Valley Knights are a good time metal band fronted by an amiable American, Jake, who lives and breathes metal. We had the opportunity to watch a little of Evil Blizzard, who had two bass players and all were wearing bizarre masks. They didn’t need two bass players, it was a gimmick as was the whole set. An appalling sound didn’t help, it was metal by numbers. The crowd watched purely out of interest, rather like watching a freak at the circus. Surely, the organisers could’ve got someone better to headline the stage.

We had a wander about, the advertised massive record fair was no bigger than a Saturday in the village hall, was very disappointing and crowded. This was partly due to the merch stand being right next door, but even that wasn’t ready for the opening of the event and nothing was on sale for hours.

We went into the rather lovely Indigo arena, a purpose-built venue holding around 3500, which considering the event could have sold out a 17000-seat main arena meant that punters were queuing to get into bands they had paid to see but couldn’t due to the numbers inside. Not looking too good, one stage free to all and the majority not being able to see Blue Oyster Cult either, making the hours until Sweet very long as there was nothing to do.

Stone Free Festival
Photo: P.G. Brunelli

However, we saw the last part of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and we had the full show. We had great costume changes, sultry dancers and Arthur being simply Arthur. His sound, which is driven by a brilliant organ sound is like something you could imagine fitting in at a 1960’s festival and it was an entertaining 40 minutes. It was a shame the powers that be decided to pull the plug when Arthur encored with “Fire”, his best-known hit. Arthur wished us well and said he hoped to see us again if he didn’t die of old age before.

Gun entertained with their generic but trusted heavy rock-based music. The new material aired for the first time seemed pretty cool. I’m looking forward to the album coming out. The biggest cheers came from the two covers Cameo’s “Word Up” and the Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right”. Dependable but entertaining.

The Answer were a revelation. I see them as one of the best live bands out there, with a new sound slightly Celtic, but with a bluesy hard rock edge. They were blessed with a brilliant sound in an air conditioned room. Cormac laughed and said, “Trust the paddies to do all the festivals but leave it to the hottest day of the year to play inside.” The highlight to me were the tracks from the latest album, but when Cormac sang “Thief of Light” as an almost solo song, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was stunningly beautiful, rather like a gospel song, they went straight into “Spectacular”, which summed up for me the best band of the day. We popped out to get much needed food and when we wanted to return to see Blue Oyster Cult we were too late and stood around with the 1000’s disappointed wondering what to do. By that time the comedy slots had finished although God knows where they were, the rock cinema had lowered its curtains earlier so we just…stood…there. Bizarre.

The main event was held in the Arena which sadly, even at its busiest, was no more than 2/3 full. The top sections were curtained over and the seats in the third blocks back on the floor were empty.

It is rumoured that Ritchie B asked for The Sweet to play. Fair enough, but to put BOC on in The Indigo and to give these guys nearly an hour was another ridiculous idea. The Sweet, with only Andy Taylor the original member, were okay. To see grown adults still getting excited and singing “Little Will” and “Wig Wam Bam” was slightly odd. They won the crowd over but I feel they would’ve cheered at anything at this point.

Stone Free Festival
Photo: P.G. Brunelli

Rainbow I’ve seen way over twenty times. Blackmore is a hero to me, we saw them last year from the front row at Birmingham and loved it.

Starting with “Land of Hope and Glory,” the band went into the Wizard of Oz-inspired “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” but in a subdued manner. The stage was oddly set out. The bass and organ player were bunched up to stage left and Ritchie was fairly static in front of the drum riser leaving Ronnie Romero to work the stage alone and it looked too big for him. All the hits were played and the emphasis was on Rainbow opposed to Purple this time. The band, dare I say it, appeared under rehearsed and not too interested, which was the opposite to Birmingham a few weeks later. Romero’s voice is brilliant. He can sing Dio, Gillan, Turner, Coverdale and Bonnet, and came over well again.

I heard people moaning that the man in black was messing about with solos. I heard a “It’s not like that on the record.” Well, he wrote the things and for me it’s nice to see something different. Was his playing as good as thirty years ago? Of course not, but boy can he still play.

When “Since You’ve Been Gone” was played, the writer Russ Ballard came on. The roadie was not ready for his guitar, so he kind of stood there. He couldn’t be heard on the mic either, so it was a bit embarrassing to watch.

We had a majestic “Mistreated”, “Child In Time”, “Stargazer”, “Man on the Silver Mountain” too. There were more highlights than low lights, but it needs to be said that I witnessed the worst organ solo ever, how I missed seeing Airey or the wonderful Jon Lord actually trying to do something. No wonder it saw a mass run to the toilets.

Stone Free Festival
Photo: P.G. Brunelli

Catch The Rainbow” was as subtle as ever, but then we had Smoke on the Bloody Water. Why? Surely something other than that tune. I was saddened to see that after the tragedy of Grenfell Towers a few days before we had a backdrop projection of flames during “Burn” and smoke rising at the end. Not the greatest idea. It was a shame to see that there were no big screens either making anyone near the back unable to see the great man at work.

I had a nice day but it could’ve been so much better, I think the organisers gave up when they found out about Axl and Co across the way, promises were broken regarding the record fair, the majority missed Blue Oyster Cult through no fault of their own, and the Orange Stage wasn’t even exclusive for those paying guests.

Stone Free 2018……I doubt it, sadly.

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AntiHero Magazine is made up of a staff of enthusiastic music journalists and photographers that offer the latest metal/rock related music news, exclusive interviews, album reviews, show reviews, Film and DVD reviews, concert photography, as well as information on music gear, festivals, tours, culture, booze and more! - Author: AntiHero Magazine

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