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Nene Valley Rock Festival – Day Three

Abingdon Nene Park. Peterborough
Saturday 2nd September, 2023

No early morning trains to catch today, so a more leisurely start to the day and time for Chris and myself to reflect on yesterday’s events. And as we meander over to the festival site, we are once again struck by the friendly nature of everyone attending, ‘good mornings’ and brief chats about the previous day being the subject of many a discussion.

So day three, and the weather is once again kind to us. Considering what a miserable couple of months we have had so far, it was a blessing for this late ‘Indian Summer’ sunshine. It’s still relatively early, however as we enter the stage area there’s quite a few early birds massing…

Day two was such a fantastic day, with perhaps the only regret being that we were unable to catch all of the acts…


Genius the Fool at NVRF 2023

Genius the Fool, who started out with former members of York-based band Stolen Earth, and have lately undergone line-up changes with a new vocalist, kick-off the Saturday morning. With Emma Caplan making her debut, the band perform a very strong set. Formed by former Breathing Space’s Mark Rowen (guitar) and Barry Cassells (drums), they now include Phil Rushfirth (keyboards) and with James Peck (bass), all combining to deliver an intoxicating blend of symphonic rock, full of infectious melodies, all confidently delivered by Emma Caplan.

Genius the Fool at NVRF 2023

If we weren’t awake before, we soon would be. With Jamie Porter on guitar and vocals, Dave Paverley on bass, and Simon Waterhouse on kit, The Jamie Porter Band delivered an assured set of classic rock. The band’s debut single Feel So Good Tonight, released in May, went down a storm. So if you want to catch this trio live then they will be touring with King King in November.

The Jamie Porter Band at NVRF 2023

A quick dash over to the Kingfisher stage and a chance to catch the latter part of The Gift‘s set. Fronted by Mike Morton, the band delivered a polished set of powerful, at times kicking, ear-friendly symphonic and melodic prog. Drawing on their back catalogue, but also from forthcoming album Seven Seasons.

Next up Thr3e. Great powerhouse blues rock – loved the twin guitars.

Thr3e at NVRF 2023

More dashing about…

Back over to the main stage as Viper Soup Complex, all the way from Malta, were next up. The band are incredibly tight and extremely creative, performing an intoxicating brand of heavy jazz-tinged prog, while vocalist Anne Marie mesmerisingly acts out the song stories, performing new tracks as well as material from their debut, Red Fugue. Highly entertaining, although I have no idea what the songs are actually about, but does it matter? The crowd certainly appreciated the performance. Fellow TPA scribe Owy Thomas simply said he “bloody loved” their set! Says it all really.

Viper Soup Complex at NVRF 2023

McHale’s Permanent Brew are another new band to me. Fronted by the McHale brothers, Paul (guitar, vocals) and Frank (guitar, vocals), with Si Lomax (keyboards), Ste Houghton (drums) and Chris Orell (drums), they delivered a classy set of catchy bluesy rock, ideally suited to their mid-afternoon festival slot. They played tracks from their new album Lessons from the Darkest Storms, released just after the festival finished, and concluded their set with a track called Cracks (I think) – great song and well received by the crowd.

As we head over to the Kingfisher stage we bump into Chrissy Mostyn and Rick Pilkington of The Blackheart Orchestra. Due to their late arrival, myself, my photo-journalist colleague Chris Simmons, along with John Hackett Band guitarist Nick Fletcher (a true gentlemen) had to act as ‘roadies’ to get their gear on stage on time. I even had a stint on BHO’s merchandise stand.

 Chrissy Mostyn and Rick Pilkington of The Blackheart Orchestra with Chris Simmons TPA

Finally sound-checked and on stage, we are treated to a great set from the Blackheart Orchestra. This mesmerising duo manage to play over thirteen instruments between them. It has to said that Chrissy Mostyn has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard, and if you had to give it a comparison then think Kate Bush. The main part of the ‘orchestra’ is Rick Pilkington, who nimbly works his way though a range of vintage synthesisers, bass guitar, lead guitar and percussion. The overall effect is akin to Tangerine Dream with dream-like vocals.

The Blackheart Orchestra at NVRF 2023

In total contrast and only ten minutes after BHO, NWOBHM band Rhabstallion take the opposite stage. Remarkably still boasting all four original members, and just like that I’m transported back to being 14 years old, down at the front and banging my head as the band flirt with riffs that instantly remind you of Saxon, Diamond Head and Tygers of Pang Tang. Please don’t stop guys! This neatly brings us to Ken Pustelnik’s Groundhogs. Originally, Ken was part of the trio that formed in 1962 and has been back and forth behind the drum kit on many occasions throughout the band’s career. This new revamped version gives new energy to the classics from the Hogs’ back catalogue. Loved their extended version of Cherry Red from Split. If you are new to the band, you would be forgiven in thinking that guitar/vocalist Chris D’avoine wasn’t an original member, such is his charisma, swagger, and masterful delivery.

Groundhogs at NVRF 2023

For the first time we have a conflict as Hand of Dimes take the main Heron stage and The John Hackett Band take to the smaller Kingfisher tent. It’s settled quickly and I take on a Handful of Dimes, whilst Chris wings his way over to the other stage. Hand of Dimes is the reunion of former Skin frontman Neville Macdonald and keyboard player Neil Garland, who is a dead ringer for the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple fame. In fact, I had to do a double take on several occasions. Nev still has a powerful vocal delivery, which is ideal for this brand of melodic rock, and it’s obvious that the whole band are having fun up there on stage. We are then treated to a version of Whitesnake’s Fool For Your Loving in honour of the recently departed Bernie Marsden, and if you shut your eyes it’s the Coverdale voice of old, which Nev performs with a wry twinkle in his eye.

Hand of Dimes at NVRF 2023

I’d been wanting to catch The John Hackett Band for some time now, so was glad to be able to leg it over to the Kingfisher stage in time to catch their performance. John of course needs no introduction, a master flautist and, in the JHB band, the man behind the keyboards as well.

John Hackett at NVRF 2023

The excellent rhythm section consists of the busy and dynamic Duncan Parsons on drums, whilst the energetic Jeremy Richardson not only performed his carefully crafted bass lines, but also took on most of the vocals. Then there is Nick Fletcher on guitar. I had heard much about his fretboard wizardry, and boy did he live up to it.

Jeremy Richardson & Nick Fletcher from John Hackett Band at NVRF 2023

Also joining the band, on vocals, was the delightful Ms Amy Birks. The music is instantly accessible and this is a band that have honed their blend of music, which happily mixes prog, classical, jazz fusion and a fair few funky passages. John’s flute is sublime, whilst Nick Fletcher’s free-flowing solos are a source of wonder. Truly stunning! Not only is the music compelling, but the band are a joy to watch, and the light-hearted interactions with each other and the audience are delightful. Amy Birks’ vocals – the icing on the cake.

John Hackett Band at NVRF 2023

It’s dark now as Saturday’s headliners Colosseum take to the Swan stage. No introduction needed to this pioneering ensemble, now in their fifty-fifth year. Sadly, the founding members are no longer with us, however vocalist Chris Farlowe – now 82 years old – has clocked in more than half a century with the band, as has bassist Mark Clarke. With an even longer pedigree in the band is Dave ‘Clem’ Clemson – and as a Humble Pie fan, I was particularly excited to see him. The current line-up is completed by Kim Nishikawara (sax), Nick Steed (keyboards) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums).

The band were, as the saying goes, ‘cooking on gas’, and although they have somewhat eschewed their earlier experimental jazz-rock legacy for a more R&B boogie format, it really was the right sort of music to end the night. But I don’t want to sell the band short here, and there were some magical interludes reminding us of their heritage.

Oh, and Clem was magic, his wonderful bottle-neck solo that rounded off the evening springs to mind here. The audience agreed. Great performances from all, and despite his age, Chris Farlowe is still one hell of a powerful performer, and along with the band, kept the audience enthralled.

But is that the end?

No… and as Day 3 came to and end, there was something strange happening over on the Kingfisher stage… Yes, it’s the delightful insanity that is Papa Shango! How it’s possible to cram this many performers on one stage is itself a conundrum.

Papa Shango at NVRF 2023

It’s rock theatre, it’s circus Vaudeville, it’s Screaming Lord Sutch on steroids! With an army of voodoo masked backing singers, they take to the stage and it’s party time. Meanwhile, a 10ft T-Rex roams the tent, crashing into members of the audience, whilst guitarists leap off the stage and run through the crowd – it’s exhilarating, hilarious and most of all it’s fun. A suiting finale to a day of “serious” music.

Papa Shango at NVRF 2023

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[All live photographs by Chris Simmons]