Abingdon Nene Park, Peterborough
Sunday 3rd September, 2023
Sadly the last day of this remarkable festival. It’s been hard work for everyone involved and my hat is off to all. As Chris and I pondered the previous morning at breakfast, our one regret is given the quantity and quality of the bands, that it wasn’t possible to see and review them all. So apologises to those bands/acts we have not been able to feature.
Considering there were 60+ bands appearing across the festival, it should be noted that the quality of the sound and lighting, which was ‘spot on’ throughout the event. If you also take into consideration the impressive turnaround time on the Swan & Heron stages, this was pretty remarkable.
Finally, must mention the dynamo who is Trevor Cotterell, who seemed to be here, there and everywhere from dawn to dusk, and later! Always with a smile on his face and nothing was too much trouble. On top of this he was invariably to be found side stage, welcoming on, and bringing the bands off stage.
For once the early morning tent is filling up nicely as Treebeard take the stage. Featuring members of Haze, Treebeard play a lively brand of Celtic rock that they call ‘Heavy Wood’. We are treated to covers from Jethro Tull, Strawbs, Peter Gabriel and Led Zeppelin – the perfect start to a Sunday morning. With a wry sense of humour the band entertain the early morning crowd – their version of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades played with an accordion and flutes was a winner.
Opening the Kingfisher stage were three piece grunge-rockers, Lilith’s Army, fronted by vocalist and guitarist Sylvie Studente, with Tommy Mayo on bass and Sam Sherwood on drums. With a fairly relentless touring schedule there was no surprise that the band were match fit. Due to the activity in the main tent there was little audience available for Sam Millar when he took to the stage, which is a shame as Sam showcased some strong material from his solo work. I have been an admirer of his since his band days with Bigfoot. All credit to Sam Millar & The Sass Bandits who still performed as if the tent were rammed. True professionals.
Just after midday, Stuckfish, who hail from our neck of the woods in the North East (Morpeth to be exact), took to the main stage. Featuring vocalist Philip Stuckey, guitarist Adrian Fisher along with Adam Sayers on drums, Phil Morey on bass and Gary Holland on keys, the band played a rousing set of melodic prog with a rocky edge.
Featuring tracks from the band’s studio albums, Adrian Fisher took the opportunity to play a blistering solo on the title track from the band’s 2019 album The Watcher. From the new album, last year’s Days of Innocence, the melodic and commercial Gamechanger, Painted Smile and, if memory serves, the title track.
Again, the afternoon is crammed with quality bands, Atlas, Beguiled, Crowbone, Ruby Dawn and Blackballed, all appearing on the Kingfisher stage. And much as the intention was to pop over to catch these acts, the day just ran away from us. And although we did manage to catch parts of some of the sets, ‘hopefully later’ was the key phrase for the day. With the Swan and Heron stages running like a well-oiled machine, there was little time to breathe, never mind take on refreshments and food.
Sometimes explanations are just not needed, as is the case with the Blues Boy Kings, who were next up on the Swan stage. Hailing from Lincoln, this great sounding quartet played an energetic set comprising of self-penned and classic tracks, fronted by Jase and Sam North, who just seemed to have a blast from start to finish.
Also having a blast were 4th Labyrinth. Led by the entertaining Marcel Kunkel (keyboards, vocals), with Andy Cross (guitar), Tom Winch on drums, and special mention for their dynamic bassist Claudia McKenzie (who never seemed to stop smiling), the quartet performed an energetic set. Not prog per se, not that it matters, more an eclectic mix of classic rock with a technical edge, neatly wrapped in ear-friendly songs. Great band and the crowd certainly enjoyed their set.
Predatür categorise themselves as “old school”, and that pretty much hits the nail on the head. Foot tapping 12-bar rock/blues/boogie, delivered with a great sense of fun and enjoyment. Great set…
As we headed into the start of the evening, a new band to me, and one who left me slack jawed; Square Wild.
This youthful and talented band won Prog Magazine‘s 2023 award for Best Unsigned Band, then a few months later they won Battle of the Bands for a spot at Bloodstock. “Prog rock with a punk attitude”; the music is tight, original and energetic. Lucy Shevchuk is a dynamo at the front of the stage, and with a voice to match. The rest of the band are no slouches either, with guitarist Mike Grubert, Benedict Rhodes on bass and Tomos Cooper on drums, giving it their all.
Their set was full of songs that were hook-laden and go to unexpected places, and yes, I bought a T-Shirt and a CD.
“Oh here we are and here we are and here we go“. Yep, another band who need no introduction, John Coghlan’s Quo Connection had us Rockin’ All Over the Park. And with Status Quo ringing in our ears, myself and Chris Simmons scurry over to the Kingfisher stage (at last) to catch the Hayley Griffiths Band, who made a welcome return to the stage after a four year hiatus.
Joining Hayley on stage are a phenomenal band with Mathieu Spaeter on guitar, Çağrı Tozluoğlu keyboards, George Price on bass and Jimmy Pallagrosi on drums. With material drawn from their Melanie album, released at the beginning of this year, Hayley immediately impresses with her commanding vocal, which soars across the band’s heavy symphonic sound. The ear friendly melodies and complex arrangements are delivered with gusto and absolute precision.
Seasoned performers Lifesigns always deliver. The brainchild of keyboardist and vocalist John Young (Asia, Strawbs, Bonnie Tyler), Jon Poole on bass & vocals (Wildhearts, Cardiacs) and joined by guitarist Dave Bainbridge (Iona), provide the perfect setting for the penultimate slot. Drawing from their three studio albums, the self titled debut, 2017’s Cardington and their most recent, and the stunning Altitude released a couple of years ago.
Unfortunately drummer Zoltán Csörsz was unable to perform at the festival, however it didn’t seem to daunt the three musicians, who not only played a blistering set, but as always delivered with a great sense of humour and a commanding stage presence. Jon Poole, as always, moves around the stage entertaining the audience, whilst his rapport with John Y draws the crowd in. Highlights included Ivory Tower and Last One Home with a scorching guitar solo from Dave Bainbridge. Really, you can’t put on a Prog event and not have these guys on – the music is clever, uplifting and flawlessly performed.
Dave Bainbridge is a wonder to behold, those who saw Dave with Iona, or more recently with Sally Minnear, will be familiar with his beautiful sonic landscapes. Delivered with passion and when he let’s rip… WOW.
Last but not least, and a fitting way to end a fantastic festival, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. As with last night’s headliners, Colosseum, age is no handicap to the seasoned performer and The God of Hellfire delivered a spell-binding set. Totally over the top, and proving he can still deliver his brand of musical theatre, with a vocal performance that belies his years – he certainly knows how to put a spell on the audience…
The band were on fire ( 🙂 ) too… talking of which, earlier in the day we had fun testing the helmet – with fire extinguishers at the ready – for the evening performance, and for me Arthur was indeed the crowning glory of the whole weekend.
Arthur is a true gentleman who loves his audience. Backstage, every performer wanted their picture with Arthur, and he willingly obliged, with a look of bemusement at his popularity.
Final thoughts. A superbly organised event – having attended many a festival over the years, I have to say that NVRF ranks as one of the best. A brilliant Festival.
Well done NVRF, please come back next year, prog/rock and blues for the people indeed!
[All live photos by Chris Simmons]