Cambridge Rock Festival. 2-5 August 2012

This was the 9th festival, run by Dave Roberts, and we have been to 7. A four day fest, nowadays starting on Thursday with a mainly ‘copy’ group night. Not good for me and her Ladyship, as we don’t like what the ‘tribute’ industry has become, but it is effectively free for full ticket holders  so …

Thursday. First up are You-Two. Apparently ‘From the right instruments and authentic sounds to the right outfits and on-stage presence, we are truly a look-alike and sound-alike band’. Obviously a blurb penned by themselves, I tended to lean towards her Ladyship’s slightly less verbose summary…’These are crap’,  Went to watch Tu Amore, along with what seemed to be their parents and friends. Haven’t got the space to repeat their preposterous statement from the programme, but it would go down well in Pseuds Corner in Private Eye. Caught 20 minutes of the Cattle Barons, including playful renditions of ’20 Flight Rock’ and ‘Nadine’ , before  checking out 925s. They seemed to be playing Foo Fighters B-sides.  Went back to Main Stage for the much-lauded Buster James Band. Seemed to be original blues-rock fare, competently played, but why do we have to put our hands in the air and sing to every bloody song (which we don’t know!). It’s YOUR job , mate, get on with it! And, of course, we get bloody ‘Wishing Well’!  Then it’s the Ultimate Eagles. Don’t look like or really sound like the Eagles, but the notes seem to be in the right order. (Wow!! How impressive!)  Last up are ZZ Tops, who I will concede were good!! Great look, excellent take-off of Billy Gibbons verbals, silly names and a pretty decent rendition of their songs. A decent end to the night but I am left wondering who would want to buy a ZZ Tops or Ultimate Eagles cd, when you can buy the originals !? (More cheaply nowadays). And there were their t-shirts around the site, plus Illegal Eagles, Aussie Floyd and (the ultimate nightmare for me), Rhodes Rock. All the way to Rhodes for a weekend of copy groups! Oh well, we can’t all like the same stuff.

Friday. Caught a bit of Sterling‘s anthemic U2-ish stuff, before Paradise 9 assaulted us with some very Hawkwindy numbers. Her Ladyship ‘quite liked them’, good early afternoon entertainment. Then it’s Virgil and the Accelerators, when we seemingly have to ‘prepare to be amazed’. I wasn’t amazed at Skeggy , but gave them another try. Maybe I’ve grown out of the whole ‘fret-thrash’ genre, but not for me. And why is it that because a bloke is young he is somehow wonderful? Free were all teenagers when they made their first LP, and Michael Schenker was in his teens when he joined UFO. Next was Twelve Clay Feet. OK, but can’t really see them being much beyond a Cambridge pub group. (But anything rather than watch Heather Findlay or any of the many groups with Mostly Autumn connections). Then we get the first genuine class act that is OTWAY!  What can you say about him? If you’ve never seen him, it’s difficult to describe, but once seen you won’t forget him! As usual, starting out with ‘the hit’ and the ‘b-side’, it is the usual well-rehearsed chaos. We even get the Hot Rods ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’, and end up with ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’. A must-see. Next up are Remus Down Boulevard, featuring Dennis (Iron Maiden) Stratton. We get the perennial Radio Caroline dwarf telling us to come inside. No, idiot, we are sitting outside because chairs are not allowed inside ! And we are too old to stand up for 12 hours!, Straight away I remembered why I wasn’t impressed last year, too funky. Iffy version of ‘Southern Man’ followed and I was nodding off so went to the tent for a tactical kip. So missed most of Tygers of Pang Tang, who definitely sounded a few notches up on RDB. 80s one-hit wonders, the reformed It Bites were on next. Very AOR-ish, well-executed , but would I buy a cd or a concert ticket? That’s 2 x ‘No thanks’.  Had the misfortune to walk past Stage 2 a couple of times, where Winter in Eden were doing their ‘Tonight Matthew, we are going to be Mostly Autumn’ act, in front of lots of sad men ogling the female singer. This distracts them from the music, which is crap. So we took a punt on Pearl Handled Revolver. A decent acoustic set from this well-regarded 5-piece, which was so popular that Dave Roberts told them to carry on with their electric set. Interference from nearby Stage 2 was annoying, with Kyrbgrinder’s very ‘self-confident’ drummer/vocalist seemingly thinking he was playing for people in Peterborough. However, PHR gave us what her Ladyship and I agreed to be the ‘best at fest’ so far, with some at times Creedence- type riffs. So only caught last 10 minutes of Focus. Thijs now looking like some boffin from Time Team, but a very energetic ‘Hocus Pocus’ went down well.

Saturday. Her Ladyship went off to watch the QuireBoys-influenced Silverjet, I gave Will Johns a go. Pleasant bluesy stuff, but Will, I am not ready to bloody ‘party’! It’s 11.27am , and I, like most near me. am 60 years old! Anyway, the heavens opened, so took refuge in Stage 3, where Rich Young‘s  acoustic stuff was definitely more appropriate. In between showers, caught a glimpse of Stolen Earth (ex MA), a glimpse was enough. Stage 2 had the Fat Penguins. ‘Tore Down’, ‘I can tell’ and other R N B standards from a good quality pub group. Sidewinder were on next, and I didn’t mind their playing Robin Trower as Mr T didn’t feature at Durham Blues. Rory Gallagher stuff too. I was never a Rory Fan, but can listen to it as long as no one tries to convert me. Didn’t last long with Panic Room, they might as well have been Stolen Earth. But soon it was to be Stray. Stalwarts of CRF (and other fests), Del Bromham always puts on a decent show. Sadly, I missed most of it as I seemed to have a ‘hypo’ and came round with her Ladyship plying me with a sugary drink! Honest! So sorry Del for missing you.  I’d come round enough for Chantelle McGregor, another CRF favourite. She seemed to play more of her own numbers this year , along with ‘Voodoo Chile’. Very good guitarist, vocals maybe not her strong point. Got a good reception.  X-UFO were next on the Main Stage, and seemed to do pretty much what it says on the can. Not long before we got ‘Only you can rock me’, and we got some new stuff as well as ‘Lights Out’, ‘Rock Bottom’ and ‘Doctor Doctor’. UFO passed me by in the 70s, they seemed to be in that bunch of groups (like Focus, Stray,Mott and Caravan) who never quite made the big jump into the top flight. Don’t know if Mssrs Way and Mogg have given their approval, but I have no problem with their airing their body of work.  Mott’s Verden Allen, with Soft Ground, were on next. Like many my age, my knowledge of MTH in the early 70s was down to the Island Record samplers, and Verden Allen didn’t last long after their free transfer to CBS. (My mate Bob thinks he went to work at Bulmer’s). Current group very much dominated by Allen’s Hammond and vocals, Her Ladyship wasn’t the only one to think them a bit bland. (Better than being told to put my bloody hands in the air!). Eventually got ‘All the young dudes’ and ‘Roll away the stone’ (didn’t that one come out long after he’d left?!). ‘Rock and Roll Queen’ dedicated to Mick Ralphs, and it was over. OK, but not memorable. Had a go with Bonafide, high-energy young Swedes with good reviews , but a bit too young for me. Checked out Del Bromham’s Blues Devils, who looked remarkably similar to Stray! ‘Rambling on my Mind’, followed by basic blues stuff. Give Del his due, he always seems enthusiastic. So then tonight’s headliners, Caravan , were on. Starting with a couple from ‘Girls who grow plump…’ , the set was very much entrenched in the 70s, with ‘Why Why Why’, ‘Golf Girl’, ‘The Dog, the dog…’ (for Dave Roberts), ‘Grey and Pink’ and ‘9 Feet Underground’. Some newer stuff too, they are a class act.

Sunday. Sonic Blue, and for a change, reasonably accurate programme notes. Funky blues, bass player has apparently backed Graham Bond (how old was he?!), fairly unobtrusive start to the final day. Made a policy decision to set up camp at Stage 2, as Stage 1 seemed to have at least 75% Mostly Autumn-type outfits, which is 74% too much for my personnel taste.  Adrian Nation (is there a fest he doesn’t appear at?!) had been on at 10 am, and the rain forced us into Stage 3 to watch Tommy Jones. The woman in front of us took offence at people having the temerity to speak. Looked on my ticket, doesn’t say anything about talking not being allowed. Obviously, she didn’t have a ticket which said that sour-faced, ugly woman weren’t allowed. Blackwebb next, again as per programme. High-paced rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly stuff, lots of Dr Feelgood. Good stuff. Ben Poole had the programme notes back to going overboard. ‘This is something VERY VERY special’. Why? Because he’s young? (See Virgil comments from earlier). ‘Losin’ you’, ‘Have you ever loved a woman’  plus other bluesy stuff. A good version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I don’t know why’ was best bit for me. The walking into audience with guitar and playing on the bar is old hat now, Stan Webb was doing it 40 years ago , with an actual lead! And why does compere Sue Marchant (did she tell you she has a radio show?!) have to give these American ‘whoos’ into the mic all the time? Is there someone pinching her backside? Next on Main Stage are Stampede so we tentatively transferred to the MA zone! Similar era to Tygers and Dennis Stratton, generic ‘rock’ revealing they why they never quite got to Def Leppard’s level (and it was puzzling how THEY got so big). They’ll always get a mid-afternoon fest spot or a support to a U.S. touring rock band though.Touchstone came on to the afore-mentioned bunch of sad, ogling males. Whoever told the girl she was a singer must be the same person who told Eddie the Eagle he was a ski-jumper. Very ordinary indeed.  Snakewater gave us some Gary Moore, ‘Thrill is Gone’ and showed themselves to be a competent pub rock outfit, but there must be hundreds like them a lot nearer than Manchester?! Mucked up ‘Sunshine of your Love’ but at least played some originals.  Some country rock followed in the guise of Roscoe Levee. Hats gave away a definite affinity to Dickey Betts/Allmans stuff. Decent enough original stuff but not quite enough to really grab you. CRF prides itself on a variety of rock genres, but there is very little Skynyrd/Allmans stuff (ok, they have had Skynyrd tribute ). But CRF certainly can’t be accused of neglecting the 5-piece keyboards, bass, drums, guitar and female vocalist genre, and you will have gathered it is not my cup of tea at all! Hence there will not be a review of the PUB rock phenomenon (Pompous / Up their own backside / Boring rock) that is Mostly Autumn. And contrary to what all their fans think, I am not alone.  Stage 2 had Marcus Malone. From Detroit, he’s not the only run-of-the-mill U.S. blueser (cf Mud Morganfield) making a living round the Euro-fest circuit. He wouldn’t get a gig in the U.S.A! Ok bluesy start, then he slaughtered the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’. He bashes out chords while a young, bearded, long-haired white bloke thrashes the lead guitar fretboard. Average. Main Stage headliners next, Snakecharmer. Having had changes of name, mainly thanks to Coverdale’s lawyers, Moody and Murray’s lot come back to CRF. Having seen Martin Turner in the crowd over the weekend, we were hopeful he was going to get up and join former bandmate Laurie Wisefield but it was not to be. Nice to hear ‘Ain’t no love in the heart of the city’, even though I was never a big Whitesnake fan.’Here I go again’ and ‘Fool for your loving’ were never far away and the crowd were well-pleased. Having grown up in Teesside , I ‘ve followed Micky Moody from Tramline, Juicy Lucy, SNAFU to Whitesnake and beyond and while his teenage bandmate Paul Rodgers may be Teesside’s greatest export, Moody can’t be far behind Coverdale in the medals positions. I enjoyed them more than last year, they seem to be coming into their own and relying less on Whitesnake, although Moody’s slide guitar spot is somewhat self-indulgent.

And that was it. Usual thanks to and from Dave Roberts, who at least had the sense to allow some of us (The Saga Set!), to pitch a chair at the back. A good little fest, Dave deserves every success and although the line-up is at times a bit thin (and top heavy with certain genres!) we’ll continue to go.(Full marks to Dave and his team for coping with the appalling weather too.)

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