LIVE: Bulldog Bash 2011 – Shakespeare County Raceway, Warwickshire
On arriving at the 25th Anniversary Bulldog Bash, the first thing that struck me was no “big tent”. In past years the main stage and bar had been housed in a huge marquee capable of housing several thousand people, which also provided a focal point for the event. This year the main stage was open air and the bars hundreds of metres away.
Having rained quite heavily the previous year, the big tent had always been quite full and the bands there had played to large audiences. This year, apart from the headline acts and the main supports, audiences were sadly thin on the ground for many bands. The second stage, the Area 81 Rock Club, also suffered from a lack of a near-by bar unlike previous years. I know some bikers like to repeat the refrain of “it’s a biker event not a fucking music festival”, but none-the-less, if you’re going to the trouble and expense of having two sound stages and 30 bands, the least you can do is to have a set up that allows them to play to decent sized audiences.
As with past Bashes, the emphasis of the music tended toward heavy rock and metal, with a few “novelty” acts thrown in. Friday saw London based rockers Virginia Flint opening up the Area 81 stage, followed by The Self Titled, Empire of Fools and Liberty Lies before The Urban Voodoo Machine, a sleazy rockabilly gypsy blues and punk-folk band, opened on the main stage.
Back at Area 81 those people milling around the tents selling army surplus supplies, biker gear and the like were treated to glam metal band Livin in a Valvestate, followed by Riot Noise (the name tells you all you need to know). On the main stage by now, music was courtesy of Andy Sharrocks and The Smoking Jackets, who play what can only be described as “dirty blues and country with menaces” Good stuff it was too.
Following on from them were The Virginmarys, a band I had previously seen supporting Skunk Anansie late last year. Their raucous, grimy rock felt right at home amongst all the bikers. Frontman Ally Dickaty has a strong, growling, vocal presence (if he were 30 years older you’d think it was down to drinking gallons of Bourbon and smoking 40 Marlboros a day) while drummer Danny Dolan constantly jumps off his stool and beats his drums and gong to within an inch of their lives. Bassist Mat Rose is no slouch either, keeping the rhythm section nice and tight whilst supplying some crashing riffs. This is a band definitely on the up and up… although they’ve only been around a few years, they already own the stage.
Back at Area 81 alternative blues/roots duo Henry’s Funeral Shoe were doing a good job trying to keep the crowd interested before handing over to The Stone Kings, whose raw energetic rock (influenced by Guns n’ Roses, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains) started drawing ever increasing numbers around the stage. Then it was time for Godsized to close proceedings on the second stage. A band I can never tire of seeing, Godsized are a blend of duelling guitar solos, heavy riffs and raw power.
It was left to Pig Iron and GUN to start to lift the spirits on the main stage ahead of the two main acts. Guitarist Dan Edwards (Sons of Merrick) having recently joined Pig Iron, he now offers a more rounded and mature edge to their crushingly heavy biker metal sound. Glasgow rockers GUN supplied a tight set of their old songs and a few covers and by now the press pit was filling up with everyone who had an Artist, AAA or VIP badge in readiness for the main acts of the evening.
The roar that greeted Buster Bloodvessel and Bad Manners was more than I was expecting from a predominantly biker audience, but then their 2Tone ska is infectious. Looking like Uncle Fester on acid, Buster had the whole crowd dancing along to hits such as Special Brew, Just a Feeling, My Girl Lollipop, Lip Up Fatty and ending with Can Can. The crowd were truly warmed up.
Three chords and that’s your lot… we all know what to expect from Status Quo. The tempo may hardly have changed from one song to another (notable exceptions being In The Army Now and Living on an Island) but their boogie rock style is one that has sold over 118 million albums worldwide. Interspersed amongst classic hits like Caroline, Whatever You Want, Rockin’ All Over The World, Something About You Baby I Like and Down Down were songs from their new album Quid Pro Quo. Rossi had previously said how much the band enjoy playing the Bulldog Bash, and it showed. This was the tightest, most enjoyable of the five performances I have witnessed from them.
There was a slightly earlier start to the Saturday with Eye for an Eye kicking things off at 11.30am with their take on grunge rock. Maybe a little too early and too loud for those still nursing hangovers from the previous night perhaps? Rapcore/new metal band BoneMud, who followed them, didn’t help anyone who still had a headache. Slightly more melodic were post punk and bluesy rock band Tequila Dealer from Wales who preceded perennial Bash favourites The Snorting Dogs who offered us some stonkingly good dirty, grimy blues.
Warming up the main stage by this time were The Hovercraft Pirates with their passionate, punk-edged pop rock. Rumour has it that this may well have been their last ever live performance. Let’s hope not. Back at Area 81 glam rockers Blackwolf were keeping the crowds at the far end entertained before another Bash favourite, Hellbound took to the stage. This alcohol-fuelled metal foursome are held in high regard by Bash regulars and it can’t be long before they get their chance of playing the main stage. Talking of which, Imicus had just started their set their. Big on emotion, they draw comparisons with Tool, Alice in Chains and Deftones… an eclectic range but none the worse for it.
The next band due on stage at Area 81 were The Ram Raid, but they pulled out, at least allowing me time to grab a sandwich before the Buffalo Kings’ set was hastily brought forward to close what would otherwise have been an hour gap with no music.
They were followed by another band I always look forward to seeing, The Gentlemen of Distorted Sound. GODS are not only blessed with raw talent, but also the swagger on stage to create memorable performances. Although softly spoken when addressing the crowd, vocalist Gareth Nugent’s voice really comes alive when he roars into his microphone, yet never overshadows the melodies being played behind him.
Meanwhile on the main stage Neck, a north London based Irish band who claim to be the bastard child of Joe Strummer and Shane McGowan were coming to the end of their punk ceilidh set.
After them came Simon McBride, a northern Irish guitar virtuoso. It’s unfair to make the obvious comparisons with Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher, but McBride is a strong songwriter, a magnificent guitarist and not a bad vocalist either. It’s easy to see the influence of Free, Jimmy Page, Hendrix, and even Robert Johnson, in his music and he played a selection of songs from his two albums Rich Man Falling and Since Then. British blues rock at its best with Take My Hand being the standout song of the set.
Could the next act, Nico’s Alchemy, top Simon McBride? Well, yes they could, as it happens. Some have described Nico Tamburella’s guitar playing to “Richie Blackmore on steroids” and with a slightly different line-up to the one that provided main support to Motorhead at BB23, the whole was more rounded and tighter than ever. Kicking off with No Time For Sadness from the Fundamental Darkness album, Nico treated the crown to a mix of old and new songs… She is a Killer from the forthcoming album being a particular highlight… before finishing off with a cover of Highway Star, followed by the new single Live Until We Die then Dawnie’s Blues (a glorious jam session enjoyed by musicians and crowd alike) and Far Beyond The Sun. For those who like their rock with both feet firmly planted in the 70s, this was a joy to behold.
Finally came the headline act, the original gothic punk rockers that are The Damned. Dave Vanian’s crooner-like vocals and Captain Sensible’s soaring guitar playing were ably backed by Monty Oxy Moron (keyboards), Pinch (drums) and Stu West (bass) and they treated the crowd to old favourites such as Elouise, Disco Man and Grimly Fiendish before ending with Happy Talk.
Highlights for me were Livin in a Valvestate, The Virginmarys, Pig Iron, Godsized and the Quo on Friday, and Hellbound, Gentlemen of Distorted Sound, Simon McBride and Nico’s Alchemy on the Saturday. Roll on BB 26. The lows included the earlier mentioned lack of audiences for some of the bands, and the overly noisy and poorly performed sets of Eye for an Eye and BoneMud at far too early an hour of the day on Saturday.
All pictures and words – Copyright Bob Singleton/Rock Gig Photos 2011 – All Rights Reserved – www.rockgigphotos.co.uk