Live Review : SOS Festival, Prestwich on July 14th 2019

Day 3 starts with a stonking set from Atlas. I reviewed them at some length fairly recently so I won’t bore on about them too much. Suffice to say they were just as good as last time, Craig still has a fabulous voice, I still think they would be improved with more backing vocals and I enjoyed them very much. My friend said that although their songs are good they have not yet written their That Song, and I kind of agree. I think getting the right song could really move them to the next level. Oh and guys – we’re enjoying you so smile eh? That about sums it up I think!

Over on the acoustic stage we meet Stonewire. They hail from Kent and today we had 3 members present, 2 guitarists and singer Sky. The music was bluesy, with some nice duelling guitar touches, but the real star of the show is Sky. She has a powerful voice with great range, and just a hint of roughness at the bottom. The comparisons to Ann Wilson of Heart are probably old hat to her by now, but I mean them as a sincere compliment. This is another band who I would like to see play a full electric set.

Next band up gave me my goosebump moment. You know when you go along to a festival and see that one band you’re not familiar with who totally blow you away? Well let me introduce you to my Band Of The Weekend, Scarlet Rebels. They play hard rock that is catchy and poppy but also sleazy and rough at the same time. There are low-slung guitars, 3 of them, which give a full rich sound. There are powerful vocals with great harmonies. But most of all there are songs. Earworms of songs that burrow into your brain and stay there so you find yourself still humming them hours later. They used to be called VOID until fairly recently, and will have a brand new album out in August. I intend to be right at the front of the queue to buy it! Genre-wise, imagine if you can a band that merges early Stereophonics (when they were good) with early Guns N Roses (when they were good)? Well that’s Scarlet Rebels. My new favourite band – go and check them out, I think you’ll be impressed too.

Another set from Stonewire and the main stage was handed to Gang. Gang are a French/Belgian band and they are old(er) blokes playing traditional old-skool metal. Hard and heavy, fast and loud, twin guitars, vibrato vocals. They were really enjoying themselves and that enjoyment was infectious because I enjoyed them too. A word of warning thoughm if you are going to google them for background info make sure you type in “Gang BAND” because otherwise……erm….. yeah, just be careful out there!

Just a little tiny rant here though. I mentioned in the intro to this set of reviews that SOS is a family-friendly festival and indeed it is. Children are not just welcome but encouraged, and it’s great to see the next generation getting to hear some great rock music and having fun. BUT. As mentioned above, some of these bands are seriously loud, so if you’re bringing your kids along please make sure you bring adequate ear protection for them too. Hearing loss is no joke, and subjecting your child to this level of decibels without ear defenders or ear plugs is both reckless and cruel. OK, rant over, back to the music!

Promethium are now on the acoustic stage, or as I like to call them “Hipster and The Beard”. Sorry Dan! Anyhow they play doomy metal with clean vocals. Their stuff lends itself surprisingly well to an acoustic strip-down, quite a contrast to their full electric style. There is a slight erm technical hitch? No, lets be honest, band member fuck-up, when Dan kind of forgets what he’s supposed to be playing but hey we’re all friends here right? So let’s just concentrate on the rest of the sets being really cool and forget that even happened shall we?

Back to the main stage and we have something totally different. Ward XVI are an experience. Not so much a band as a musical theatre production they bring us a concept show involving a serial killer, some gory special effects and a piano accordion. The music is slightly off-beam too, with hints of electronica as well as big guitar riffs, female vocals, and the aforementioned hurdy-gurdy. There’s also a bloke whose purpose I couldn’t quite grasp, he’s kind of a shock-rock Bez who is just hanging around for decoration and to add to the story. I heard on the grapevine that some of the effects were somewhat muted due to their van having been broken into the night before, but they still managed to put on a hell of a show. I’m not sure about the longevity of it though, unless they maybe change the story every so often? Because after all once you’ve seen it you know exactly what it’s going to be like next time. Still, they managed to get the crowd into a sort of hokey-cokey situation so kudos to them, very entertaining and a little bit “follow that” for the next band up.

Said next band up were Kane’d, a hard rock band with no less than 3 vocalists who also happen to be sisters. They ran through a set of future classic songs, jiggled about a lot to the delight of the front row, and were very popular. I was feeling a little rocked out by this point so I didn’t catch the whole set, but friends told me that they played well and got a great response and lots of crowd feedback.

The next acoustic act didn’t turn up so Black Whiskey followed Kane’d on the main stage with no acoustic break in between. Unfortunately I missed a good proportion of their set too due to being out on a food break but what I caught was more Southern-style heavy blues played really well. There’s a bit of early ZZ Top about them, and I found myself wishing I’d eaten my sandwich a bit quicker and caught the whole set. Next time guys, OK?

Tequila Mockingbyrd were up on the main stage next. They started out as an Australian female power trio and I really liked their first album. Since then they’ve had a couple of lineup changes and have now incorporated Gill from the Amorettes on guitar and lead vocals. For this show they also had Laurie Buchannon (sister and bandmate of Aaron Buchannon of Aaron Buchannon And The Cult Classics) as an extra guitarist and backing vocals. This combination worked well, and they gave us an upbeat set that had everyone up and dancing. This is bubblegum rock, it’s light and frothy, but the band are having a ball and so are the crowd. They play happy rock.

In between the next couple of bands we have acoustic headliner Chris Appleton, but I’ll come back to him in a moment. First I need to tell you about Skam. Skam are another 3 piece band, and they play accessible hard rock. They are competent and solid and I want to like them as the music is good but I really struggle with the vocals. I find them a bit nails-on-blackboard, they just grate on me. It’s a thing that is obviously personal to me though as everyone else is bouncing about and raising horns etc so ignore me and give them a listen.

Going back a step, in between the final bands we have 3 acoustic sets from Chris Appleton. Well, they are billed as Chris but actually rather than a solo act they are duets with brother Luke. Admittedly these two do play very well together, and I bet they spent hours at home trying to outplay each other when they were younger! I also have a sneaking suspicion that Chris, being the oldest, was the one who always had to share his toys and sweets with his younger siblings. Sympathy Chris, I too am the eldest child and I know what it’s like! Anyhow, we get some of Chris’s solo stuff from his acoustic album “Restless”, and a couple of Absolva songs where he gets to finally outshone his brother and show off some very impressive virtuoso guitar playing. We also get a fabulous version of the Dio/Sabbath “Children Of The Sea”, and finish with what is now an SOS standard – Ozzy’s “Mama I’m Coming Home” with a massive singalong ending. Highly enjoyable and has put everyone in the mood for the headliners.

This year’s closers are manic Australians Massive. They bill themselves as beer drinking rock & roll, and that fits them perfectly. They are a bar band who have outgrown bars but still have the party ethic and the did-you-spill-my-pint attitude. They are way too good-natured to actually start a fight, but as they spit and snarl out the words you get the feeling that you probably shouldn’t mess with them just in case. They play straight-ahead no messing rock, it’s simple but effective. It makes you smile, it makes you join in. Yes the AC/DC influences are inevitable but again this is a band who don’t play by the rules and they can and do step neatly outside that box on occasion. There is hair flying and arms waving. Audience members get on stage. Band members get in the audience. It’s all one big mix-up and it’s great. There are jokes, there are songs. Songs about drinking, songs about women, songs about touring. All the clichés are there but they are done with such good humour, such passion that they sound fresh and new.

It's a great way to end the weekend, and as we all troop out into the Manchester night we are happy in the knowledge that this year was as good as last year, and next year will be too. The dates and first batch of bands have already been announced for SOS XIII and I am looking forward to it already!

Words by Jo Crosby
Photography by Jo Crosby and Johann Wierzbicki