I’m on the train. Barrelling up the east coast mainline from Kings Cross. My destination is Bradford and specifically, to Bradstock, a one-day music festival held at Nightrain, a venue that is a magnet to up and coming new artists and established tribute bands in that part of the world. It’s a journey of 250 miles and getting there and back on the train is going to take 11 hours door to door, which is (checks notes) 15 minutes longer than the event itself. I’ve taken two days off work for it.
There must be a good reason for making this trip. If I’m being brutally honest, it was initially to see a specific band in the line-up, South Wales ‘rock ‘n’ soul’ four-piece Buck & Evans. They’re a band I’ve loved since the day I first saw them a few years ago occupying a nondescript mid-afternoon slot on a lesser stage at a festival that no longer exists. I’d never heard of them and wasn’t expecting much; a brief pitstop to shoot a few pictures before heading into more fertile pastures elsewhere. They blew my mind and I’ve seen them dozens of times since.
They’ve got a formidable rhythm section in Dominic Hill (bass) and Bob Richards (drums). They’ve got an incredible vocalist in Sally Ann-Evans and a guitarist that makes your jaw go slack in Chris Buck. Buck really has carved out a reputation as one of the very finest guitar players of his generation, anywhere. His YouTube channel mops up subscribers more effectively than a lint roller picks up cat hairs and his other band, Cardinal Black attract increasingly large audiences wherever they play.
The last time I saw Buck & Evans play was in 2019BC (Before Covid). To be honest, it feels that long ago, it could easily be the other 2019BC. So, I was really looking forward to this one.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll have picked up I’m using past tense. Sadly, the band posted on their socials a couple of days before the event that they wouldn’t be performing. Sally Ann-Evans had picked up a chest infection following an encounter with Covid and needed to convalesce. I really hope she gets better soon. Obviously, I’m gutted for me, but I’m really gutted for them. With Buck’s commitments to Cardinal Black, opportunities for the band to perform aren’t quite what they were.
But, with every door that closes, another opens and now I’m viewing my trip to Bradstock through very different eyes. Less an excuse to wallow in the comfort of something I know very well; and more, multiple opportunities to check out something new. Of course, that does bring an excitement all of its own. Who knows, perhaps my next Buck & Evans type of discovery are in today’s line-up?
Upon arriving in Bradford, there’s not long to find out. I arrive with time to find my hotel, dump a bag and then go straight to the venue. It might be tucked down a narrow side-street, but Nightrain isn’t hard to find. Bradstock’s first band are sound checking and I can hear them echoing off the flags and cobbles outside long before I turn the corner.
That first band are Dead Demons, a four-piece from South Yorkshire who have played plenty of headline shows and on 13th May appear in the Nottingham semi-final of Metal 2 The Masses, the competition promoting and bringing new acts to Bloodstock Festival later in the summer. They’re fronted by Mark Hale, who soon proves himself to be extremely engaging and entertaining before what is already an impressive crowd. You’d be forgiven for thinking that as it’s barely lunchtime at an all-day event there might only be a smattering of people here, but not a bit of it.
Hale explains that drummer Jon Booth is indisposed and that the band’s original drummer Chris Jackson has stepped up to the plate. He lavishes thanks and praise for the short notice call up, before saying: “He’s learned none of it!” I like his style. There are only six songs on the setlist. They close with obvious crowd pleaser Overload, or as Hale puts it: “A song about punching your boss in the nose because he’s a fucking tit”. I really do like his style.
It’s a song with plenty of opportunities for guitarist Chris Weatherall to do pick slides down the neck of his flying V and there’s time for some great call and response action with the crowd. All up, Dead Demons are a really good fun, entertaining opening act.
Today’s second artist is Newcastle’s Edenthorn. They’re another band I’ve not heard before, but did check out ahead of jumping on the train. They’ve two albums in the back catalogue, The Maze from 2015 and Exist from 2018. They’re both excellent, if slightly tricky to categorise. Whilst Edenthorn do have some of the hard rock DNA that coursed through the veins of Dead Demons, they also touch base with more progressive music, some grunge and even a little anthemic alt-rock. It’s a potent mix that I like, a lot. It reminds me of 1990’s Rush, from about the time Geddy Lee finally worked out having fewer keyboards obscuring Alex Lifeson’s magic might be a good thing.
There’s a communal drum kit in use today, which means swap overs on the stage are quite swift. Just 20 minutes separates Dead Demons from Edenthorn, though the latter don’t need the drums at all. The band’s original drummer Mark Tague is now sadly unable to play owing to diagnosis of a heart condition in 2020. It’s been a long search for a replacement with Edenthorn using deputies in the meantime. None were available for Bradstock, so rather than follow Buck & Evans into the ‘where have they gone?’ file, they’ve come as a three-piece to play a stripped back, acoustic set.
They’re a close-knit band. Kyle Tague (brother of Mark) fronts the operation and he is flanked this afternoon by guitarist Dylan Gardner on his left and bassist Faiba Gardner on his right. Dylan and Faiba are also siblings. It’s sort of like watching The Black Crowes, only without the added jeopardy that they might all deck each other at a moment’s notice.
I think I’m probably in agreement with most people here that we’d have preferred it if Edenthorn had been able to threaten the plasterwork with a fully amplified set, but even in this guise the band confirm that they’ve got excellent songs and in Kyle, a really fine vocalist. In Cortisol and A Matter Of Opinion, he combines with Fabia and they sing some sweet harmonies. They finish with Power, a really anthemic tune with a great guitar hook, but my favourite moment is 1993, where the band channel their inner Pearl Jam and Tague brings his very best Eddie Vedder to the table.
There was a danger that an acoustic set so early in the afternoon might have brought the crowd down a bit, but that doesn’t happen and Edenthorn rightly make a lot of friends in their thirty-minute appearance. I conclude I really want to see this band again, only next time I’d like it to be the version that makes your trousers flap. They don’t seem to play the south’s gig circuit. If that doesn’t change sometime soon, I might find myself back on the east coast mainline.
Two bands follow: Unknown Refuge and King Kraken. They take things up a gear, and then some. The former is a young band from Bolton, clearly of great talent. Unknown Refuge play uncompromising metal. It’s fast and very loud. The guitars are pointy and the communal drum kit seems to have developed a second kick drum pedal.
Front man and bassist Alex Mancini belts out the words and lead guitarist Jack Tracey plays extremely rapid, technical stuff that ought not to be possible in one so young.
King Kraken are another band from the South Wales valleys. They are equally uncompromising, albeit with a more traditional heavy rock sound than the more technical metal that has just gone before. They’re a little older and inclined perhaps not to take themselves quite so seriously; singer Mark Donoghue showing me the sign of the horns with a raised eyebrow that would shame Roger Moore.
Neither of these bands greatly light my fire if I’m honest, but they both go down a storm with the Nightrain crowd; and remember, I’m not really the target audience. You’ll recall I’m the old wheezer who booked a train for some rock ‘n’ soul.
The weather has been fabulous today. I’m in shorts and there hasn’t been a hint of the rain that was initially in the forecast. The sun is just starting to give off that beautiful golden light that gives way to sunset and then to darkness, and at this point in the afternoon the musicians are afforded an extra ten minutes of stage time.
The first to take advantage of it is A’Priori, who are a band with an unusual name. I had to look it up. Derived from Latin, a priori means: “relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience”. And that makes a lot of sense in the context of this band, who are a power trio; except where the bass guitarist ought to be, Mark Wilson stands behind a pair of synths and a vocoder.
This makes A’Priori a really interesting proposition. Obviously, most of the bass parts are picked up by those keys, but they also allow the band to tap into a wider spread of the audio spectrum through multiple layers and textures. Wilson has neatly coiffured hair and a silk shirt and aside from his tattooed sleeves, would not look out of place in an eighties new romantic band.
That definitely cannot be said of Mouse (drums) and Tony Lang (vocals/guitar), who more traditionally for a hard rock band perform their parts from beneath mountains of flailing hair. A’Priori play a seven-song set with a spread of songs from their two albums to date, 2019’s Black Church and 2022’s House Of Cards. The music has hooks to reel you in and some of Lang’s lead guitar parts are sublime; fast and technical yes, but melodic too.
The last two songs on the list, Nah Nah Nah Nah and Wasted Years are especially catchy and the riff from the latter becomes a firmly established earworm during the next interval. A’Priori are another band who pull an increasingly swelling crowd and garner a great reception at the end. I’d definitely see them again and would encourage anybody who sees their name pasted on a local wall to go and check them out.
So far in the day there have been five bands, all of which have personally been a new quantity to me. That’s about to change. Of the four artists left, I’ve already seen and photographed three and the remaining one was at least known to me in advance. The first of these is Collateral. They’re one of the ones I’ve seen and snapped. They’re fronted by the effortlessly charismatic Angelo Tristan, who alternates between singing and throwing shapes with a mic and stand and singing whilst playing and throwing shapes with an electro acoustic guitar.
They’re a band with a lot of hair and by far the most commercial look and sound of anyone performing today. As a result, they’ve picked up many headline shows, plus supports with the likes of Jared James Nichols, John Bon Jovi, Skid Row and H.E.A.T. among others.
It’s a fun set list. Promiseland kicks arse. Merry Go Round and Mr Big Shot sport obvious Aerosmith pretentions. Midnight Queen is the closest to a southern country rock tune anyone is going to hear today and closing song Lullaby is anything but. It motors along, loud and proud with a huge chorus that just begs for audience participation.
Collateral is another highlight in an afternoon that, despite the absence of my favoured band, has in fact proved to be quite excellent.
The Fallen State are up next. It’s their first gig this year, but you wouldn’t know it; the band are as tight as Lance Armstrong’s undergarments. Last time I saw them vocalist Ben Stenning fronted the band. Adam Methven now holds the tiller and he manages a very steady ship.
There’s time at this point in the evening for the band to stretch their legs with a decent set of ten songs. Like a number of the atrists here, they have a brace of full-length albums to draw from, A Deadset Endeavour from 2019 and Between Hope And Delusion from 2022. They also dig deep into the archive, playing Sinner and Sons Of Avarice from their 2016 EP, Crown Your Shadows.
The material follows a familiar but perfectly executed formula for a hard rock band. The songs start loud and go flat out for three and a half to four minutes and then end; and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is one song that breaks the mould. Mirror is a much longer tune with real prog rock sentiments; wild changes in tempo and dynamic range. It comes as something of a shock – to all of us it seems. Methven explains the band have only ever played it twice before and bizarrely both the other times were in Yorkshire too. There must be something in the water.
The Fallen State finish with two big hitters: Burn It To The Ground and Nova. Both have giant choruses and both encourage community singing. The Nightrain audience oblige.
There’s a longer changeover this time around and I nip out for a bite to eat. When I get outside, I find that half the roads are closed and barriers have been erected all over town because tomorrow Bradford is hosting its annual soapbox derby. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun but it turns out it’s caused mayhem at Nightrain today. Loading in and out has become a yomp across a couple of postcodes rather than stepping out of a transit directly outside. You have to feel for the majority of the bands, who do not have a succession of roadies to do the heavy lifting.
When I get back, I find that the ubiquitous shared drum kit is no more. The Virginmarys are next and anyone who has seen them will know that drummer Danny Dolan’s performance is very much front and centre. Accordingly, his own kit sits proud at the front of the stage. I haven’t seen them before, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Dolan walks out with the only other member of the band, vocalist and guitarist Ally Dickaty; for The Virginmarys are a guitar drums duo in the same vein as Slaves, or Soft Play as they are now known. And just as Isaac Holman smashes the shit out of his kit during a Soft Play gig, so does Dolan for The Virginmarys.
They open with The Meds. It’s music of the very highest intensity. Dickaty screams the words over a scratchy guitar and Dolan hits the skins with strokes that start with arms at the vertical. Portrait Of Red follows. There’s seemingly not enough purchase for battering his cymbals from a seated position, so Dolan stands up for this one. He’s wearing long sleeves so I can’t be sure, but I’d bet he has forearms like Popeye.
Nine more songs of angst-ridden punk unfurl. It’s frankly a bit mad; at one both seemingly chaotic and yet every break, every tempo change, every false ending is timed to absolute perfection and the audience lap up every bit of it. Dickaty and Dolan finish with Bang Bang Bang, possibly the most onomatopoeic song title in the history of music.
I briefly got to see Ally in the next break and thanked him for what was an electrifying performance. After close to an hour of intense screaming through grimaces, he looked at me, smiled, and in the softest Northern voice you’ll ever hear he said: “Ahh, thanks a lot mate. We really appreciate that!”
Whilst we have that exchange, the stage is being set for tonight’s headline act Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons. It’s another slightly longer break because the Virginmarys drums need to be replaced with the kit played by Dane Campbell, one of the aforementioned sons. For the first time today, we see a pair of kick drums, just as God intended for all metal bands. Bizarrely, shortly before the Bastard Sons come out, Nightrain’s DJ plays Walk Of Life by Dire Straits, surely one of the worst pieces of music ever committed to history. The audience who have all just been screaming along to The Virginmarys have great fun joining in with the “Woo Hoo!”s. To be fair, some of them have drinking solidly since lunchtime.
As well as Dane, the other sons are Todd Campbell (guitar) and Tyla Campbell (bass). The band is an entire Campbell family affair with the exception of vocalist Joel Peters. Peters does a grand job of fronting the collective but it’s the Motörhead long time guitarist stage right who rightly draws much of the attention.
The band have a few of their own songs on offer, but who are we kidding here, the crowd know what they want to hear, and so do Phil and the offspring. Accordingly, it’s not long before the Motörhead tunes come out. Rock Out, Going To Brazil and Born To Raise Hell are from Phil’s time with the band; the latter song expertly weaved by Peters into an audience sing-off. A short while later, he asks: “Who wants a fast one? Who wants a heavy one?” It’s a mildly ironic question given that the entire back catalogue is almost exclusively both.
There’s time for Silver Machine, a tune associated with Lemmy’s other band, Hawkwind, but the real Motörhead barnstormers come near the end. Ace Of Spades, Bomber, Killed By Death and Overkill close out the show and the audience, having now snapped out of their Walk Of Life phase, absolutely lap up the nostalgia. Whilst Campbell would obviously have played these tunes hundreds of times during his 21-year tenure with the band, there is a mild irony that these bangers come from a time before he joined them. The ‘classic’ line up of Lemmy, Phil ‘Filthy Animal’ Taylor and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke lasted from 1976 to 1982, though as all three of them are sadly no longer with us, Phil Campbell has just about the best claim to play the songs as anyone alive.
And with that, my day at Bradstock and at Nightrain is over. I’d be lying if I said that the whole Buck & Evans thing hadn’t been a disappointment, but there will be other days. I have got to see a new city, a fine new venue and nine excellent bands, three of which really were great discoveries that I’d very much like to check out again. The people who hosted me have been fantastic; thank you, and so were the audience. It’s an experience I’d happily repeat.
Review of Bradstock at Nightrain, Bradford on 29th April 2023 by Simon Reed. Photography by Musical Pictures.