Saturday 22 July 2017

LIVE REVIEW: SOS Festival, Manchester, July15th 2017 Blaze Bayley Headlining

By: Richard Maw

As many readers of the blog will know, Blaze Bayley has featured twice recently; first for a review of his two latest (superb) albums and again for an interesting and detailed interview about his creative process and touring plans. As Blaze was headlining the tenth anniversary of the independent SOS Festival in Manchester, I thought I would go along and complete our series of features with a live review. With a day ticket at only £10, and three days for only £15, the festival represents serious value for money. Unfortunately I could only make the middle date- so it was off to Manchester once family commitments were completed to catch as many bands as I could.

After I had bought my ticket and completed the interview with Blaze I was offered a press pass to complete some interviews to really get a flavour of the festival from both a fan and band perspective. Blaze's manager Mark Appleton is the head honcho at Rocksector Records and he and the team had put together a strong and cohesive bill for each day.

Housed this year at The Longfield Suite in Prestwich, Manchester, travel was easy; straight off the motorway and free parking! The venue itself was excellent- great sound, decent bar, good food, a selection of merch stalls... all boxes ticked. Even the toilets were clean. The atmosphere and vibe was friendly- clearly there were a lot of folks who knew each other, but that is not a bad thing; no trouble here, that was for sure.

Well, on to the music: I arrived just in time to watch Primitai after being given my press pass by the very hard working Heather, who was running interview slots and generally shepherding people around. Primitai delivered- new rhythm section in place- a tight and focused set which was not dissimilar to the energetic performance I watched the band turn in at High Voltage Festival in London, 2011. Front man Guy Miller worked the crowd with aplomb, a muscular vocal and physical presence. Three albums in, the band are back and revitalised. I spoke to Primitai's Tipton/Downing (or in this case Srjdan and Sergio) team about where the band have been and where they are headed to now, along with their thoughts on the day:

What's your experience been like of SOS Festival today?

Srdjan: Yeah, it's been excellent. We always appreciate playing a festival which gives bands a chance to play. There are some big guns headlining and it has been a great experience so far: really well run, really good sound guys and stage hands. It's world class!

With three albums under your belts, how do you choose the set list?!

Srdjan: When you have released an album you establish pretty quickly the sort of “hits” if you like. We throw in album tracks, sometimes. At a festival, we try to hand out the hits- I say that in inverted commas! We're an underground band.

Sergio: A good thing is most of the songs, the audience really liked, so...

Album number four, can you give us a glimmer of when it might get here?

Sergio: Well, one thing we have realised over the years is that you have to keep up the momentum. We have booked the mastering for January, so we have a pretty tight deadline. If all goes to plan it should be out in May next year.

Last time I saw you guys was at High Voltage in 2011.  What are the difference between playing a big commercial festival like that and an underground festival like this?

Srdjan: It has been top notch here. This is no difference in terms of efficiency of running things. The sound was actually better here! The only difference was that it was bigger and we had to get taken to the stage in golf buggies.

Sergio: For me this has been the best time!

What are your touring  plans for next year?

Sergio: We are going to try to get on bills like this a couple of times a month. It's hard to schedule a week long tour.

Any bands left to play with who you haven't? A wish list is fine!

Sergio: For me, Symphony X

Srdjan: The legends: Accept, Saxon, well we have already played with them but I'd love to do it again!

Highlight gigs of this year?

Srdjan: We did a headline gig in Reading where I grew up. A pretty full venue and the crowd were great. Coming back ten years later was great. SOS festival has been great too.
Sergio: I really like festivals. I think for me, when we released the album the crowd was close- really close to us and I really liked it. After what the band had been through- we made the album!


Next up was Die No More, straight out of the metal Mecca of... Cumbria. I enjoyed their set hugely; turning is as they did a set of thrash/trad metal; mid-way between Priest and early Metallica/Testament. The band played hard and really won the crowd over, whose volume increased as their set went on. I must admit to never having heard the band prior to this gig, but I was impressed. Their closing self titled anthem was a festival highlight for me as the band got the crowd going and fully involved. Band's like Die No More are around in the UK underground- you just have to hear about them and a festival is the perfect way of doing so.

I caught up with bass player Martyn Simpson and lead guitarist Kev Smith after their set about the band's journey:

What has your experience been like!

KS: Hot. Hot and awesome!

MS: Very good crowd. Very receptive- a lot of fun.

KS: We played two years ago and we got a great response. This one was a great show. I think it got better as it went along.

Explain a bit about what the band is about, what genre you are operating in and what your inspiration is for doing it?

KS: A lot of people have labelled us thrash, but we are kind of between...

MS: Not everything is full tilt. There is a lot of stuff in between. With the EP we did there is a lot of melody and choruses.

KS: We got into the melodic side of it. Now we still have that thrash side, but we always had in the back of our mind to have catchy parts.

MS: It went away from “right we have a riff” to “How do we build around this?”

KS: We have the heavy side and the melodic edge.

What is next for the band?

KS: Well it's funny you should say that, because this is our last gig for a while! We have been at this for five years non stop and we need a break from the band. There have been times... how many times have holidays with family and this and that been put aside?!

MS: It's one of those never say never things. We're not going to stop playing music.

KS: We think we have written some great songs with the band and we don't want to lose that. We have built up over years of hard work. We just need some time to re-charge the batteries. We can count on one hand how many times we have cancelled a gig- really!

How did you move out of Cumbria to playing elsewhere?

KS: Well, Cumbria is one of the places where we least play! We went to Manchester a lot. We have been all over the place; Europe, down south, Wales, Scotland. If you can meet another band that likes you- we met Absolva. They took us under their wing and took us to Europe. Getting help like that is a massive boost.

MS: Great bunch of guys. Had a lot of good times.

Dream gigs: who would you play with?

KS: It could never happen for obvious reasons, but Pantera! I used to love that band and I still do.

MS: For me it would be Maiden!

Tough support gig there!

KS/MS: Oh yeah!

Are there any bands out there that you could recommend to readers of SLUDGELORD?

MS: Hellion Rising from Newcastle. Groove based, but a lot of Sabbath in there. They are on it every gig.

KS: A Jokers Rage and Massive Wagons.

Thanks guys.

Next up were Pythia, who I missed  most of  due to interviewing (from what I saw, they were professional and theatrical symphonic metal), so it was time for food and a patient wait for Northern Ireland's Screaming Eagles. Bearing in mind that Blaze Bayley was headlining and Primitai and Die No More are at the, shall we say, start of  the harder edge of the metal spectrum it was an excellent change of sound to hear these Norn Iron lads crank out some no frills hard rock. Coming on string with a mix of AC/DC and G 'n' R, these boys played an energetic set of world class sounding songs. From opener “Ready For The Fall” to the excerpt of “It's a Long Way To The Top”, they didn't put a foot wrong. Why they aren't up there with countrymen The Answer and the likes of Airbourne, I have no idea.

In between bands the festival has a second stage at the back of the hall, featuring acoustic acts only. What a great idea! I caught Gemma Fox and Bad Pollyanna who turned in entertaining short sets and kept the crowd's attention, armed with nothing more than acoustic guitar and voice. Credit to them.


Finally, the headliner was set to take the stage. Come 9.30pm, Blaze's side men (made up of members of Absolva) blasted into the title track from “Endure and Survive”. Blaze made a dramatic entrance, announcing his intentions to kill with metal in menacing style, before working the crowd with all the energy of a man who has fronted the greatest band in metal. From there, there was no let up; “Escape Velocity”, “Fight Back” and “Dark Energy” all featured. Blaze's era of Maiden was very well represented by “Futurereal”, “The Clansman”, “Man on the Edge” and “Lord of The Flies” (which closed the show). The band played the songs with bags of energy and quickened the tempos here and there to keep the momentum of the show going. Martin Mcnee played an engaging drum solo, while Karl Schramm handled bass parts very solidly indeed. Chris Appleton, the band's not so secret weapon shredded for all he was worth and was joined by brother Luke (also of Iced Earth) for the show's final songs.

Blaze himself was in full voice, entertaining the crowd and offering up some very heartfelt thank yous in between songs. Wolfsbane'sManhunt” even made its way into the set. With thirty years of songs under his belt, the set list was very well paced and cherry picked much of the best of his work; “Silicon Messiah” was represented, but notable for its absence was anything from “The Man Who Would Not Die” (one of his finest records). Frankly, though, to nit pick about a set list for a one and a half hour headline show would be ridiculous. The set was a triumph and I did not hear one word of dissent from people after- all enthusiastically agreeing that that it had been a triumph. Blaze immediately came out to the merch booth after playing- not so much as a breather- and began signing records, taking photos with fans and generally being an all around nice guy.

To sum up then, for £10 I got to see four and a bit bands, two acoustic acts and had a great day out. I was actually very kindly placed on the guest list for all three days, but I just could not do the Friday or Sunday; it's my loss, as I would love to have soaked up more of what the festival had to offer. This was undoubtedly the best independent festival I have attended in the UK and represented absolutely superb value for money.

If you fancy a metal fest next year and you don't fancy paying silly money to get piss wet through in a field in the Midlands, then get yourself to Manchester and try out bands in a friendly setting for true fans. Highly recommended.