Rockstock and barrel-of-laughs..

pylonSo we’ve just spent a splendid weekend at Rockstock & Barrel, nestled in the shadow of the cooling towers at Willington – just a short twenty minute drive up the road for me.  The atmosphere was literally electric with live power lines crackling overhead and people literally charged up with static electricity – but figuratively too with a fantastic and varied line-up of musicians and a ridiculous number of familiar faces in the crowd too.  Okay, so we weren’t brave enough to camp out in freezing October – which denied me the inevitable thick-head from the dangerous looking Scrumptiddly Cider Bar.

Paul took this awesome shot from under a pylon which you could drive under – as I discovered when moving a drunken Andy’s van from Campsite B to Campsite A as a space in the field became available thanks to the 3 Daft Monkeys electing not to stay over after their headline set.

IMG_1244Arrival time was planned after finishing up with work to take in the opening act, the very familiar Brad Dear who took to the outdoor-in-a-tent Electric Stage to kick off the festival with an acoustic set.  As noted from his support slot at The Beards the other week, Brad is a lad who is growing in confidence with his performances – he looks like he’s really enjoying performing and he’s on great form.  The news that studio time is likely to be imminent is great news for me too, looking forward to more tracks I can play on my travels – the newer songs he’s been adding to his sets recently sound great.

Then it gave us chance to catch up with the many many more hardy souls than us who had decided to brave camping – there was a campsite on ‘The Chimneys‘ site just behind the performance area but also another over t’road.  Already in position were countless familiar faces – Tim, bless him, had even provided some non-alcoholic shots so that the tee-totalers didn’t feel left out.  The sun was veritably beating down and I must confess that briefly I was a little bit sad I’d decided not to camp – that would change later when the sun went down and it was freezing!

IMG_1245Ambling back round to the Electric Tent we saw Roots Collision performing some folksy numbers – having seen the chap playing accordion arrive earlier we were expecting some kind of hair metal band member, just goes to show that you shouldn’t always leap to conclusions based on appearance.  A nice lesson for life in general, I feel, and an enjoyable performance too.  But Friday was more about socialising in truth, looking at the programme now as I type I notice how many acts we missed whilst ambling around.

IMG_1246That said, we did spend some time at the Electric Tent watching The Fabled Finks, but really the evening was all pointing towards some 3 Daft Monkeys action, something Snotty and Kev in particular were very excited about (with good reason – they’re awesome).  Tim, Athene, Lukas and Richie were on great form too – a real set of crowd-pleasers from my particular crowds’ perspective – whilst I’d happily have listened to more I wasn’t left wishing that I’d heard a particular song.

IMG_1247Waltzing to Days of the Dance, swaying to Social Vertigo or just general cavorting around to any other number of their infectious songs was the perfect way to end the evening before hitting the road (via the inevitably long round of goodbyes despite planning on returning in the morning!) into the spooky fog to retire to a nice warm bed rather than a freezing tent.  I still think I made the right decision there – maybe if I do end up succumbing to getting a van then it might be a different decision!  It even gave Snotty a chance to get her photos uploaded in the wee small hours too, which is a far superior visual record than my sketchy phone shots!

IMG_1251The big benefit to not camping was not being woken up by daylight arriving through a tent side – so it afforded us a lie in, a chance to nip to the shops to pick up supplies for Dave and Caroline and amble back to the site in time to see Paige‘s first set on the Electric Stage.  As she was playing two sets on the same day she claimed to be playing her less good songs first time, I’m not sure that’s true – she put on a typically spellbinding performance, I can’t remember who it was who summed it up for me by simply saying “Where the hell does she get that voice from, it looks so effortless” (it might’ve been Paul).

IMG_1254Then it was to inside – there’s a big ol’ event room at The Chimneys, where apparently you’re not to take talc on to the ballroom floor (lucky I resisted bringing my talc, then, hey?) – it’s a former working man’s club associated with what was once the nearby power station and is now being re-appropriated to good use for events like this!  Next up on this stage were the incredibly familiar Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican.  I feel like I’ve seen them a lot this year – but they’re highly entertaining so that’s definitely a good thing.

Probably the highlight of their set was Scott completely losing it during The Zipper.  Normally it’s the ambulance siren that gets him, and this was the case here but he was well on his way to cracking up before then – but was able to restore his composure and carry on.  A fun set culminating with Tom taking a turn on the stage in the guise of the Devil to have a fiddle-playing duel with Björn.  With a further set on t’other stage later there was more to come from the lurid knitweared Barnsley lads.

IMG_1260Outside again we caught a bit of Marlow & Smith, an acoustic folky duo which was really pleasant to listen to – I can’t find them on Facebook though which is a shame.  Essentially there was a singer with acoustic guitar and another chap playing a myriad of accompanying instruments depending on the song.  We definitely enjoyed sitting in the tent taking in their gentle folksy sound although slowly but surely hunger was starting to kick in as I noticed Dave and Caroline wandering past with big plates of nachos.

Inside there was a cracking array of reasonably priced food on offer – yesterday we’d had pork cobs, today my nacho-envy held sway and it was a good choice, as was Snotty’s jacket spud apparently.  Kev had joined us and whilst we were eating Electric Soup were providing the soundtrack with a slightly psychedelic progressive rock style soundtrack.  One of the songs went ‘Manamanam..’ a lot, which was ludicrously catchy and easily morphed into a muppets song too…

IMG_1261Which was timed perfectly to get outside ready for The Star Botherers (or Star Brothers if you paid attention to the posters!) who were on great form too – the essential favourites like Bad Guys and My National Trust were there but then it’s interesting to hear some of the new songs too.  They meld nostalgic sentimentality, cutting social commentary with humour like only they know how – I hope they get them into recording studio soon as I want to listen to ’em on demand!  A cracking set.  Glad to see Bart changed out of his crocs-n-socks when he took the stage, ha ha!

Paige was then up for her second set – having avoided being lifted up by Tim in the first one he was definitely not letting me get away with it this time.  This set included my favourite cover of hers, Home, but it was You’ve Got The Love that saw me unceremoniously lifted up on Tim’s shoulders (I’m glad I roped in Dave and others to help though – I’m a heavy bugger!).  Another lovely set that went down really well with a much bigger crowd than earlier.

paige_set

IMG_1263Next up for us were bluesy groovy rockers Blackballed – and they were bloody ace, a tight and energetic performance that dragged plenty of people in to the main stage to check them out as the set wore on, probably helped by singer Marshall dropping the c-bomb at the people opting to remain detached from the throng right at the back of the room.  I kinda wish I’d picked up a CD from them now, I’m pretty bad at doing that and hadn’t got much cash on me – I must remedy this at the next opportunity I get – I’ve enjoyed them very much every time I’ve seen them.

IMG_1265Outside again Brad Dear was performing his second set of the weekend, again as a solo-acoustic-guy, it was a similarly engaging and energetic set but this time to a bigger crowd, the curse of opening the festival I suppose – but certainly a more energetic audience culminating in a fairly well-populated conga-line for Special Brew at the end of his set.  It’s been a real pleasure to have watched Brad develop as a song-writer and performer over the last few years – and he’s such a lovely fella too.  I can’t wait to hear the fruits of his next stint in the studio.

IMG_1274The Lagan were next on the list – they’re a band I’d yet to see but plenty of people had recommended them.  My first impression was if you take Roughneck Riot and chuck in a lot more celticness you’d be somewhere close (maybe helped by the singer wearing a Roughneck Riot t-shirt), but they were bloody great.  The start of the set was beset with a few sound issues, the only I’d noticed all weekend, but they soon worked out the kinks in the sound desk and frankly blew the room away – indeed, they’ve provided the soundtrack to this blog post – I did make a point of buying a CD from them.

The best part was discovering that they’ll be providing support for Ferocious Dog in Norwich, a gig Snotty and I already have tickets for – so that’s an added bonus!  I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for these guys at festivals or gigs ongoing, a definite case of discovering an awesome new act which is of course one of the best things about attending events like Rockstock & Barrel… this album is going to get a lot of hammer over coming weeks, that’s for sure.

Waiting to buy a CD (and the couple haggling like a seen from The Life of Brian before us) meant that by the time we got outside for the second Bar-Stewards set the tent was already full, having danced about to The Lagan we were pretty content to just sit on a bench outside the tent and listen from afar whilst they did their thing in the tent – culminating in Björn taking the role of surfer to the bar at the end for Jump Arahnd. It was a lively set that saw the tent integrity threatened with a couple of poles getting knocked out – but quickly restored.

IMG_1279Then it was back inside for the headliners – Mad Dog Mcrea are awesome, so we were really looking forward to a final chance to dance and flail around, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.  Energetic, chaotic-yet-well-crafted songs of every pace were thrown at us like a machine-gun by the Guinness and Jamesons-swilling Mick and the rest of the band – I’m really looking forward to their gig with FD later this month in Bristol the day before Bostin’ Days.

Check out the amazing photos that Snotty got of Saturday (and also Friday in case you missed that link earlier) – there’s some absolute corkers in there considering the challenge of getting good shots with the lighting rig in full effect.

Reduced to an achey-legged sweaty ear-ringing mess by the end it’s a testimony to both a fantastic set but also amazing weekend over-all – hat’s off to Debs and Phil for organising such a superb little event – and to Ian and Lynne for incessantly promoting it on Facebook and essentially bullying me into going.  I’m really glad I did – once the Alternative Weekend in Butlins is done next weekend then that will officially mark the end of my festival season (but of course, the start of the tour!) which makes me sad, it’s been a bloody fantastic year so far.

The warnings from both the stage and the nice security people that the police were out and pulling people for potential drunk driving (having apparently taken number plates in the car park) didn’t transpire at all on the drive home – I was a bit disappointed, I’ve never been breathalysed before and as I hadn’t touched a drop of booze all day it would’ve been entertaining.  But then again, it was nice to get home to a nice warm bed as well so no delays on the way was a plus!

And of course, you should all be eagerly awaiting your postman come Monday for the drop of the Ferocious Dog album which have all been packed up and mailed by the lovely Gibson’s this weekend too.  I promise you that you will not be disappointed, it’s a fantastically written, recorded and produced collection of goodness that is sure to grace your CD players indefinitely in preparation for the tour kicking off in Birmingham on 15th. Can not bloody wait!

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