Rockwich @ Witton Albion FC, Northwich on August 24-25th 2019

Rockwich Saturday is a bit of a strange beast. Technically Rockwich was (is?) a one-day festival, The first one was part of a town-wide initiative and was intended to be very much a one-off event. But organisers Promethius Promotions had other ideas and having secured themselves a venue they set about organising a few years of what have turned into killer line-ups. This meant that, as word got around, people from far afield wanted to travel to attend, so to ease their travelling woes the campsite was opened on a Saturday evening and it kind of grew from there. This year they have moved to a new, better venue with much better facilities and more space for camping so once the local football team have trounced their opposition and gone home we start to get pitched up and begin the rock takeover.

Saturday is still a chilled-out evening, and a lot less frantic than the electric rock of Sunday. It’s all about friends getting together for a drink and catch-up and it’s held together by a handful of excellent bands performing some great acoustic sets.

First up this year are Promethium who, despite being a pretty heavy band in “real life”, have got a real handle on stripping their music down to the bone. So much so that vocalist Steven Graham and guitarist Dan Lovett-Horn have recently released an acoustic album under the Promethium banner. “Revisions” is available now, and it’ll give you an idea of the range and talent that these two chaps share between them. The sound is gentle and soulful but still packs a punch, Dan plays all the right notes in the right order this time, and it’s a perfect start to a laid-back summer evening.

Next up are Jesse’s Divide, a new name to me. They start with a cover of Kings Of Leon’s “Molly’s Chambers” and it’s OK, upbeat and cheerful. A song of their own has hints of The Darkness, especially around the vocals, and a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘N.I.B’ is also done well, if in a surprising key. There’s a bit of banter between songs, which is fine, then unfortunately (for me) it all goes a bit Rush. Now Rush are a great band, but I don’t like them and I find my interest quickly dissipating. It’s exponential – the more the vocals start to sound like Geddy the more I find myself distracted by my phone, or my friends, and when they cover ‘Tom Sawyer’ (and cover it well I have to grudgingly admit!) I discover a pressing need to go to the loo, or the van, or pretty much anywhere where I don’t actually have to listen to it. So if you like Rush, check these guys out. They have a great sense of humour and they’re good at what they do but they are just a touch too Rushy for my taste.

They are followed by Colina Pearl, who have travelled all the way from Essex to play for us. They play country-inspired catchy songs with a hint of funk, and I like them. But. There’s always a but, isn’t there? They are just a little bit muzak. I enjoyed them but it seems in this respect I wasn’t picking up the general mood as there was a fair bit of talking over them going on and at times it felt a little like they were singing into a void. Their music is nice but not really memorable. I’d still like to see them do their full set, though.

Last band this evening is Ryders Creed, who are very much on the rise at the moment and have carved themselves a well-earned reputation within the low-to-middle tiers of the current rock scene. They too are laid-back country-inspired rock and even when they play acoustic you can practically hear the clip clop of hooves. There’s a nice vocal break in the middle of the set which just aches with heartbreak and loss and minor chords. They are now bona fide tv stars, having appeared on Dragons Den recently in support of the makers of Cloven Hoof rum, but it hasn’t gone to their heads. Or so they say! They do treat us to a Bon Jovi-inspired version of ‘Raise The Hoof!’ though, and dedicate the upbeat and catchy ‘My Life’ to the lovely ladies at RPM who manage them. The final song of the night crashes in with an intro that puts me in mind of Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’ then it’s time to return to our tents and campers ready for a day of full-on rock on the Sunday.

First Sunday band are Black Star Bullet, a hard rock band from Coventry with a cheerful classic rock vibe. They are heavy with a hint of blues but sharp and punchy enough to not get too bogged down. They’re far from easy listening, but they ARE easy to listen to, and I like them very much.

The Autumn Killers on the other hand are a new 3-piece band from South Wales who’ve only recently got together and I think this may be one of their first (if not THE first) gigs. They play heavy blues with big riffs, then surprise the hell out of everyone with a deep, riffy cover of Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer’. I really wasn’t expecting that! They were good, but not really my thing.

Sister Rose follow. They come from deepest Lancashire – Ramsbottom to be precise. They play proper trad metal, total NWOBHM and their vocalist is absolutely awesome. He doesn’t look like a rock god, more like he’s just wandered aimlessly in off the street, but my goodness what a voice he has. There’s a bit of an issue with the sound, as the bass feedback seems to be making an attempt to bring fracking to Northwich and vibrate us all out of our shoes, but it’s soon fixed. If I close my eyes, I could be back in a number of the pubs I used to frequent in 1981 listening to any of a number of bands I used to watch, and this is a Good Thing. There’s nothing particularly original going on here but they do what they do exceptionally well and I really enjoyed them despite them being somewhat outside my usual musical comfort zone.

The next band are totally my thing though. Blackpool’s Takeaway Thieves are a band I have seen several times now and always enjoy watching. Suddenly the room is full to bursting and the fact that this year’s Rockwich is sold out becomes apparent as I struggle to find somewhere I can actually see the band from! They play their usual blend of hard rock with a dirty groove and something of a smug swagger. Smug because to paraphrase their set closer ‘This Is Rock N Roll’ and this band lives and breathes it. The energy is high, the crowd participation is immense. Singer Peter throws his Jaggeresque shapes all over the stage whilst the music picks you up, swirls you around and leaves you breathless. They are like a gooey chocolate cake – you take a tentative bite and find it’s nice, then the further in you go the better it gets. They bounce, we bounce, they sing, we sing, they dance, we dance and without a doubt they get my Band Of The Weekend award. Superb.

This means that unfortunately The Howling Tides find themselves in a bit of a “follow that” situation. That’s OK though, because their sound is retro for the modern generation. They are a young band with an ageless sound. They mix the best of the likes of Zep, Cream and Hendrix with some modern funk rock and blend the whole thing into a mishmash of blues, fuzzy bass and howling guitars. It’s good. It’s groovy. It’s not as frantic as the band before, and at times it almost touches on a bit of freeform jazz rock, but it’s refreshing and fun and I’d go to see them again in a heartbeat.

Samarkind also have a retro sound. They have come over from Dublin for the weekend, which means they are a little rushed as they have to dash to the ferry terminal pretty much as soon as they finish playing. When I saw them at SOS Festival last month I described them as “Led Zep for millennials” and I still stand by that. Their singer David is like a darker, eviler Plant and his vocal range is immense. They finish with a Dio cover again and that makes me smile because a Dio song covered by a band who are good enough to do it justice is indeed a thing of beauty.

Theia (no I still don’t know how to pronounce it. They-a. Thee-ar? The-iyar?) bounce on in their usual upbeat happy style. They are Rockwich stalwarts now, having played here many times before, so they’re a very popular choice with the crowd. They introduce us to their brand new drummer, Ash Lamley, and he seems a perfect fit for their bouncy sound and attitude. I’d still keep him away from explosives for the time being though lads, we don’t want any Spinal Tap moments thank you very much! There is air-punching, and clapping, and singback, and the whole set is filled with joy. It’s also very hot! But Theia perform their classic ‘Whoop-De-Fucking-Do’ set closer in a flail of sweat and definitely no tears or blood so it’s all good.

The King Lot’s set is a bit emotional today, as this is scheduled to be their last ever gig before they go on an indefinite hiatus. Their lightweight, AOR-inspired rock with heavenly harmonies and big power chords leaves us with happy faces and happy feet and although we will always have the legacy of their recorded material, it’s a real shame that we won’t get to see their infectious live performance again. I’m kind of hoping that they are much worse at spitting up than they are at being a really cool and talented band with some very good songwriting skills. Fingers crossed they will reconsider and reform at some point down the road!

Manchester’s Gorilla Riot aren’t particularly emotional today, but after watching them I am. They are dirty, sleazy and absolutely awesome. They only fail to get band of the weekend due to some fairly un-rock-n-roll footwear choices really. Gritty, oozing blues rock and flipflops? Nooooo! But apart from that the triple guitar sound and Arjun’s gravelly voice grab something deep down inside me and make me shiver. I heard a couple of people complain that they find some of their songs a bit same-y but for me that doesn’t really resonate as their music hits me at such a primal level that I get totally lost in it, and the end of the set is like waking from a feverish dream. While there are some influences (and guitarist Liam still looks like Andy McCoy!) their sound is original and, for me at least, compelling. They may well take over the world in the future. I won’t mind if they do!

Tequila Mockinbyrd on the other hand are a bit safe. A bit more commercial, a bit more standard. Not in a bad way, they just don’t pull on my heartstrings quite so much! The addition of Laurie Buchannon on guitar and vocals has really fleshed out their sound and their poppy, punky, happy bubblegum rock is a nice antidote and a pleasant way to spend an hour on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Highlight of the set for me is still their cover of the Ramones’ ‘Somebody Put Something In My Drink’ which they totally make their own and belt out with enthusiasm and panache.

I have to take a food break at this point, so I only see a bit of Skam. They bring their brand of hard rock to the stage, and again I find that their music is great but I’m not keen on Steve’s voice. They do a wonderful cover of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ though and I have to admit that I could probably get used to it given time!

Australians Massive are minus their drummer who had to fly home early for personal reasons. They were ably assisted by Josie from Tequila Mockingbyrd but I believe this did lead to the set being somewhat different (shorter) to the one I saw earlier in the week. They still play classic AC/DC-inspired pub rock though, they are still party monsters, and they still have fun and create fun with every note they play. The set is fast and furious and the dance floor is full of flying bodies as the crowd totally get them and join the party in style.

Closers Wolf Jaw are a surprise to me. I’d seen them before in a previous incarnation and not been impressed, finding them a bit of a dull, plodding, heavy blues outfit. But tonight, we got a new name and a new attitude. They are still heavy blues but it’s somehow more aggressive, more accessible, more (whispers) mainstream. There’s a bit of a progressive twist but it’s all bundled into a more commercial sound with an edge that isn’t just harder, it’s also sharper. They seem to have better tunes that are a bit less technical and a bit more singalongable, and I liked them much more than I thought I would. They’re still not really my favourite genre but I didn’t slope off early because they kept my interest engaged right to the end of the set and I’d definitely go and see them again.

So there we go. 1.5 days, 17 bands watched and your correspondent totally rocked out. Again! Rockwich really is a cracking little festival, and it comes highly recommended by me. The dates for next year have already been confirmed as 29th and 30th August and tickets are on sale now. There are rumours that there is a plan in place with the venue owners to provide something a bit bigger and more special next year so do join the Rockwich facebook page and keep an eye out for future announcements, and I’ll see you there!

Words by Jo Crosby