I was surprised at how early many on the campsite were rising, given that I had hit the airbed past 3am and those that had gone to enjoy the DJ sets seemed to be coming back even later. It was a warm Saturday morning and most of us were chilling by our tents and gearing up for main days festivities. Like Friday, this was going to be a long one and the main concern was leaving something in the tank for Sunday.
Like the previous day, I was aiming to stage hop and then end up at Bella for some intriguing acts into the early hours. The action on the main stage was going to be predominantly a mix of Punk and strong all female bands, and things were likely to get heavy.
In the run up to the business end of the bill on the main stage, I first caught Vigilantes, an Indie band from Boston, who have been championed by Hew Stephens on BBC Radio. There was a hint of Emo in a lot of their songs of which Fairweather Friends was the stand out number.
Bilk were a complete contrast and had a style of their own. They fused Hip-Hop with Punk to generate an their own sound. The catchy CM2, which refers to their postcode in Chelmsford was full of energy and got some sore heads bobbing. Frontman, Sol Abrahams had a lot of swagger but the songs were about ordinary life and had a lot of humour in them. I really liked Bilk and their original take on the mundane.
Honey Lung, a four piece from London re-inforced that today was going to be a varied with their mix of Grunge and Shoegaze. Nice fuzzy guitars and lengthy numbers were perfect to sit on a comfy sofa and relax.
Feeling adventurous I decided to have an explore of the site and went through a tunnel from the main arena to Berry’s Wood, a small clearing with a small elevated stage. This is where the acoustic bands were playing.
It was close to the Main stage, so there was the inevitable bleed across with the heavier and louder sound system which was a shame, as I felt that the acoustic artists were battling against it. Oceanback, a local duo comprising Grace Mcguigan and Mark Punter were playing. The Indie Folk was a light contrast and Grace’s vocal control was exceptional, especially in Ocean Romance and The Drift.
The Bella stage, had just about survived the previous nights carnage and at this early stage of Saturday was relatively spacious. Wiink, a three piece Indie band from St Albans were playing their melodic Indie. Grassman had some really catchy riffs and rhythmic percussion.
In keeping with showcasing local bands, Zen are another band from St Albans were next on in the Bella Stage. They describe themselves as an experimental rock band, and played some very politically charged songs.
There were another two bands local bands that I wanted to check out on the Bella Stage before the late session after the Main Stage ended. The first of these were The Hats, a three piece Garage Rock band from Hatfield. They took to the stage wearing black and red, my favourite colour combo. The pick of their set was their latest single Idiot.
Sourdough were the second of the bands I wanted to catch, and are a four piece Post Punk band from Dunstable, just across the county border. They were certainly loud and had some rib cage vibrating bass lines. It seems as if they have built up a sizable following as the Bella was more packed for their set.
It was all about the Main Stage now, as The Pearl Harts were one of the bands that caught my eye when I first saw the line up for Wilkestock. Last year I had reviewed Glitter And Spit, their debut album and what an album it is. They have received critical acclaim from better writers than me and how two petite women can make so much noise is beyond me. I was looking forward to seeing them live and to see if they could make as much noise at a festival. The answer was yes they can, and some!
As they were introduced we were informed that one of their songs would feature in the next episode of the blockbusting series Peaky Blinders. Black Blood was indeed used, and fitted in perfectly. Kirsty was dressed all in black and Sara was pounding the drums in white. They opened with their latest release, Suck It Up. It was obvious that their performance would be as visceral as I had imagined. The skins got a pounding for Pullin’ My Brains Out and the sofas were being vacated at a rate now.
Just before Lara, Kirsty said ‘this is for our best friend Dom!’, who has been getting a lot of mentions this summer. In a moment that showed what real Girl Power is Kirsty said ‘This is for girls in bands, girls who see girls in bands and girls that support girls in bands. Girls are Badass!’ just before launching into Different Kinda Girl. Sara was standing up playing the drums now. When they closed with Black Blood, my suspicions were confirmed. The Pearl Harts are badass!
Rews are about to embark on a tour supporting The Darkness, which is a pretty good bill to be fair. Dressed all in black, they gave a high energy performance of their Alt Rock. For the first time at the festival, the drifting dark clouds decided to let go of some liquid sunshine. Some took cover, others went down to the front of the stage. Rip Up My Heart was a pounding rouser.
The whole set was faultlessly executed and the anthemic, Can You Feel It, was epic.The rain was short lived, thankfully and the sofas were returned to their upright positions just in time for the more chilled vibe of Miss You In The Dark. Shauna Tohill’s vocal delivery was powerful and controlled, and really shone through in Shake Shake. All in all this performance was infectious and if anyone in the crowd failed to move to it, their pulse would need checking. I have to agree with Kirsty, Girls are badass, or at least were on the Main stage at Wilkestock.
The girls had thrown down the gauntlet on the main stage, so Lady Bird who are on Slaves record label, picked it up, and oh how they ran with it. They were the perfect warm up for Slaves and were far enough down the bill to get us in the mood. Sam Cox was soon in the middle of the crowd during a frantic performance of Boot Fillers, which was quite a feet considering that he did not have a radio mic but a corded one. Both Sam and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Once back on stage Sam noted that the crowd looked after him and had his back and ‘that is how it should be, it’s a good cause.’
In a frenetic set Lady Bird delivered their usual mix of rapid Punk full of social comment. Sam Cox interacted with the crowd like a wise sage passing on his nuggets of wisdom. All the standards were there such as LOVE and Leave Me Alone. Towards the end Sam said ‘Lets hurry up, we have a couple more’. The BPM escalated with Social Potions. I am sure that, for those like me that had not seen Lady Bird before, their affability along with the clever lyrics won them some more followers.
With their second album, Picture Of Good Health, due out soon Life took to the main stage. The Punks from Hull, well we know they are from Hull because Mez Green told us a few times, are a similar vein to Lady Bird inasmuch as their music is about the trials and tribulations of real life. Mez said he was pleased to see so many young people as ‘Young people are the greatest resource the Earth has to offer’, as a rallying call for In Your Hands.
Life performed a track from their forthcoming album, Half Pint Fatherhood, Mez is a single Dad and his young son was in the audience. With such a quirky frontman, it is sometimes easy not to notice the rest of the band, and how well they are working together. Mez jumped into the photo pit and fitting I suppose had a few cheeky sips of punters half pints. He went a stage further when Life played their standard, Popular Music, by going into the crowd and singing it to them directly. Life put on a good performance throughout and they are from Hull, just in case you don’t know.
Given the high energy previously in the bill, the next artist to grace the main stage raised few eyebrows. The Oxfordshire troubadour Willie J Healey came on with a back drop image of famous gardener and pensioner pin up, Monty Don. I cannot say for certain, but I think that Willie was wearing the same clothes.
I can see why he was a good choice though as his laid back Americana infused pop offered some lightness against what had been a heavy line up. His set allowed us to chill, conserve energy and prepare for the headliners, Slaves. His set was accomplished and the interactions were humorous and understated.
There was a major reset of the stage for headliners, Slaves, the stage was pretty barren apart from a massive stack of amps and Issac Holman’s impressive drum set. All the bigger because he stands up to ensure he can pound them within an inch of their lives. The front of the stage was packed out now as smoke enveloped the expectant crowd.
Slaves opened with The Lives They Wish They Had, and everyone reacted. Magnolia followed and I must admit after the first line I did question the décor of my own home. Surely there is nothing wrong with neutral colours. The band were silhouettes against the harsh white back lights and strobes were making the crowd look like a heaving mass.
Five songs into their set and a disaster almost occurred. Issac said ‘we are a two piece boy band’. He explained that it was not supposed to be like that, but no one wanted to join them. He went on to explain that everyone said ‘Where’s your bassist and where’s your hi hat?’. He kicked a cymbol, and much to his horror it flew off towards the crowd. Luckily no one was injured. Issac was very apologetic, but we knew what was coming and everyone went wild for Fuck The Hi-Hat.
I think most of the festival goers were glad of the little respite before Slaves entered the affray, because they were putting on a highly charged performance, with Issac’s drumming and Laurie Vincent’s heavy riffs. For the rest of the set it was positively feral, and that is what true Punk should be, sub 3 minutes of frantic mayhem. There was humour to lighten the mood, such as Slaves first single, Where’s Your Car Debbie, which always reminds me of one of my favourite new wave bands, Sham 69.
Their fourteen song set represented Slaves career up to now very well and it is fitting that they closed with one of their standards, the practically pedestrian, The Hunter. Halfway through the confetti cannons released paper over everyone. Slaves left the stage ‘You keep it, we don’t want it’. All that was left was reverb. As headliners go, that was special.
As with Friday, the night was still young, even after the energy expended on the main stage, so it was off to Bella Stage again for a few more bands, and it promised to be pretty special. First up were another Scottish band, The Dunts from Glasgow. We were not to know that this would result in the second drum related mishap of the day! The crowds flocked in like survivors in a post apocalyptic world. The Dunts have appeared at many a festival, most recently Reading and Leeds.
The Dunts drummer, Kyle McGhee, is mesmerising and his percussion drives the band. There is a vibrant Scottish scene at the moment, and I would not be surprised if we hear a lot more of The Dunts in the near future. The stand out for me from their set was Bad Decisions. Back to the drums, halfway through one of the early numbers, the skin on the tom tom ruptured. Apart from the initial stop as the band looked in disbelief, The Dunts carried on with their high velocity Punk regardless.
I was looking forward to the next band due to the reputation of their live performances, and their charismatic frontman, Bobby Bentham. Strange Bones, from Blackpool, say the best way to experience them is live and loud. It was surreal from the start with Judy Garland singing Over The Rainbow, then came the sirens, loud and menacing. Enter stage left, Bobby in bleached jeans and a long coat. He strode to the front of the stage, bent over the crowd, who were close due to the lack of barriers and launched himself into it. Now that is one hell of an entrance, for Snakepit.
During the first number, Bobby donned his famous gas mask. Strange Bones played a hectic and incendiary set. The crowd undulated and often fell onto the stage. Bobby hurled himself in now and again. As I have said before, the mics, were wired, so the technicians were having to work overtime as Bobby barely remained on the stage as he spun like a whirling dervish. At one stage he climbed the lighting rig, and catapulted himself from the top of the tent into the crowd!
Strange Bones combine a lot of influences, obviously hard core Punk and Rock, but there were Bluesy riffs and hooks. One of the highlights was when Will Bentham, started playing an unmistakeable bass line of Breathe and Strange Bones launched into a brilliant cover of The Prodigy’s hit. The final number was the gloriously irreverent God Save The Teen, Bobby high fived the crowd and the band walked off to “Na Na Na’s”. I am not sure what had just happened, but I liked it.
There are not many bands that could follow that, but Avalanche Party are probably one of the few that would give it a go. The crowd was sweaty, dishevelled and exhausted. Visually the band are stunning, the sort of characters you would find in a fantasy horror, all edgy and mesmerising. Their sound is their own too, a fusion of Psych Rock and Punk. I have not heard a band like them before.
The tent was full of smoke and the stage bathed in red, the band entered like they were coming out of the gates of Hell and right away you knew that visually as well as aurally you were going to have a visceral experience. The sound is layered and rich, oh and very loud. I could not help thinking that if the Damned had formed a few years ago, they would resemble Avalanche party. In fact Jared Thorpe, reminded me of Dave Vanian.
Jared took the performance to the crowd at one stage quite literally. Carrying the mic stand into the middle of the crowd, returning to the stage, only to return back and perform in the middle of the crowd. The exhausted crowd could only look on almost hypnotised by him, the sound cascading over them.
If Friday had been an experience, then Saturday had been carnage, with all the senses attacked. I knew that there would be some poor souls that would not make it to Sunday.
Live Review by Tony Creek & Photography by Paul Lyme at Wilkestock Festival 31st August 2019.