This was my first time at Stone Free Festival, which is a well thought out two-day event. Day 2 was billed as Prog and Blues, but there was enough variety to keep everyone entertained.
The whole of the O2 venue is used, from the undercover Orange Amp stage (which is outside near the entrance) to Indigo at the O2 (a smaller venue inside with a great stage plus plenty of room to move around). The main arena also comes into play later in the day.
When I arrived, I caught a few minutes of StoneWire, with a female singer, Sky Hunter, who really impressed me and made me wish I was there a bit earlier to hear the whole of their set. They had a great groove going on from the two guitarists, Gaz Annable and Duncan Greenway plus solid bass lines from Steve Briggs. The drumming was provided by Rob Glasner. They’re a band I really want to hear more of as they are vibrant with a blues-rock vibe that reminds me slightly of Blues Pills.
Then it was off to Indigo to see Jared James Nichols who’s a very impressive guitarist, ably supported by Dennis Holm on drums and Gregg Cash on bass. For a three-piece this band really know how to produce a huge amount of sound. Jared was full of blues swagger, looking every bit the front man, with his flowing blonde hair whipping about, while he creates the most sublime riffs. The crowd really grew and I could see loads of people dancing along.
Gregg provides thundering bass which works really well in adding contrast between the rising licks that Jared produces effortlessly. It’s really fun to watch the interplay between the two musicians, especially when they do their mock guitar battles. The crowd were willing participants when asked, very nicely, by Jared to sing along during Baby Can You Feel It, eventually winding them up to “Scream that shit with me!” A great set that delighted the crowd although it was over too quickly.
Back outside at the Orange Amp stage I heard a couple of songs by Vambo, a four-piece rock band who seem to me to be influenced by a number of ‘70s bands. This is not a bad thing as they provided music that felt comfortable, allowing you to nod your head along to the rhythm. The riffs were plentiful with precision drumming and bass grooves that really stood out.
Next up were The Rising Souls. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of their set, which was a real shame as they sounded fantastic. They’re a combination of Rival Sons and The Temperance Movement, with rich, sonorous vocals that pack a real punch. They drew a large crowd and it wasn’t hard to see why: they had an infectious groove going on that was putting a smile on many faces. I definitely want to see more of this band as theirs is feel good music played extremely well.
Back to the Indigo for Tyketto who drew a large crowd. Lead vocalist Danny Vaughn really interacted with the crowd, who loved him for it. There was great camaraderie on stage between all the band members, with nodding smiles, some laughs, and everyone having their moment to shine.
The precision playing was top notch, combining soaring vocals and elegant guitars. Danny quipped that he was “not doing his best Michael Jackson” impression and explained that they played a gig the night before in Switzerland, got three hours’ sleep, and that his underwear “was a bit loose as a result”. It’s nearly the 25th anniversary of their second album Strength In Numbers and so they played Rescue Me, a song inspired by a letter the band received from a fan.
This is a band who know that chugging bass lines, fluid riffs, and great vocals will win over an audience. Getting the crowd involved was also a large part of their set, encouraging them to sing along to Lay Your Body Down.
It’s back outside to see the band closing the Orange Amp stage, after their endorsement by Orange earlier this year: The Bad Flowers. This was a personal highlight for me as I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this band grow both in stature and ability over the years I’ve been following them. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen them that their deep, funky basslines, precise and vibrant riffs, plus the throbbing drums went down really well with the crowd. The Bad Flowers drew people to them like moths to a flame, seducing them with the infectious sound they create, combined with lyrics you can sing along to, and melodies that make your toes tap and head nod.
From the starting track of Lions Blood to the closing of City Lights, this was a set that delighted and hit the crowd hard. The thunderous riffs made Tom Leighton’s hat fly off, whilst Dale Tonks’ basslines were so deep and funk-filled that he got his own moment in the spotlight. Not hard to see why when he plays his bass like a lead guitar. There was stick twirling aplenty from Karl Selickis, who managed to combine precision with intensity and did more than just keep time. Hurricane kept the howling wind at bay and even brought out the sun for a few moments. Tom thanked everyone for coming to see them, outlining just what a huge year this has already been, acknowledging everyone from Planet Rock to the audience in a voice that could barely contain his emotion. This was a blistering finale to the Orange Amps stage and one that will not be forgotten for a long time.
The next act I got to see was Roger Hodgson of Supertramp in the main O2 Arena. The beautifully crafted Take The Long Way Home, which took me right back to childhood holidays, featured really strong vocals and was the perfect opener to a pretty perfect set. Roger, looking resplendent in his white suit and deep blue shirt, gave a heartfelt introduction, saying how emotional he was and how glad he was to be in the UK.
He moved effortlessly from keys to piano and guitar, playing all the hits you would want including School and Breakfast in America, which Roger joked that only the UK audiences get. Logical Song, featuring extremely sultry sax playing, was perfect for me, being Father’s Day, as my dad loved this track.
The band were impeccably tight, each knowing precisely what was required of them. As Roger raised his tea cup to the audience, he said the UK tugs at his heart strings as the tracks were mainly written here, and he was grateful to have touched so many people. Fool’s Overture was moving and hauntingly beautiful, Give A Little Bit got the crowd singing and clapping along while Roger played acoustic guitar, and set finale It’s Raining Again sounded perfect and far too cheerful for the lyrics.
The crowd adored him, giving rapturous applause and it was very easy to understand why: his was a perfect performance, very tight and beautifully executed.
To round off the night we got to see a very small part of the set by Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. With Rick wearing his red, sequined cape looking like a mighty wizard and Jon in a silver suit, they kicked off with Cinema. This again promised to be another slick set, the music wrapping you up in clouds of cotton wool. The mesmeric beauty of Hold On was next up, with Jon hitting even the highest notes, backed up by first-class playing from the rest of the band.
They sounded so good, I’d have loved to stay for the entire performance. But, as an amazing rendition of Perpetual Change began ringing out, I had to start making my way home, unfortunately cutting short a full day of excellent music and performances. I’m sure I’ll be back next year.
Stone Free Festival, 16th June 2018, London O2 Arena
Review by Samantha Lamb and Photography by Edyta K of Stone Free Festival, 16th June 2018, London O2 Arena