We slept like logs on Friday night – probably not a surprise after the drive down, setting up the tent, and everything! So when Saturday morning arrived we wasted no time in grabbing Steen some coffee (crucial) and downing some breakfast. By the time we were done with that, the sun was out from between the clouds again. So much for the weather forecast, which had foretold rain all weekend…
So it was straight off to the main stage, where we found Silverjet roughly halfway through their set. Silverjet deal in straightforward, no-nonsense hard rock, and it has to be said they’re extremely good at it. Whilst they didn’t quite possess the whirlwind energy of Friday’s surprise Winter In Eden, they got stuck in and delivered a fast-paced set of riff-based rock that stayed the right side of authentic, not drifting into 80s-influenced poodle rock as some of their contemporaries are wont to do. Their lead guitarist/vocalist was especially impressive, as was the economy of their drummer who scarcely seemed to move but nonetheless made a hell of a racket with a comparatively small kit. Always good to see a female guitarist in this type of band as well: and that’s not a sexist comment so much as an observation about the typical gender make-up of yer average hard rock band. Considering neither Steen or I had ever heard of them before, we were pleasantly surprised and will definitely be keeping an eye on what they get up to.
Next up were York-based band Stolen Earth. Two years ago we had seen the majority of Stolen Earth take to the Cambridge Rock Festival main stage as Breathing Space (only the keyboardist was different) and deliver a fantastically powerful set. Now regrouped as Stolen Earth and with an excellent debut album (A Far Cry From Home) under their belt, I had high expectations for their set, and I was not to be disappointed. There were a few sound problems early in the set, but they set out their stall right from the off, the strident Unnatural Disaster providing a powerful opening salvo, before they showed their more atmospheric side with the slightly celtic-flavoured Soul In A Jar. Vocalist Heidi Widdop was in great form, as was guitarist Adam Dawson, who was given plenty of space to show off his Gilmour-esque chops, notably in a jaw-dropping extended solo spot on the song Silver Skies. Closing with the ear-splitting and brilliantly anthemic Perfect Wave – undoubtedly the loudest thing I heard all weekend – Stolen Earth were definite one of my weekend favourites, as I suspected they would be even before we arrived. I will confess that I was a tiny bit disappointed not to hear them play album highlight Mirror Mirror, but I suppose its gentle Floydian atmospherics didn’t make it ideal festival fare. Still, it’s yet another good reason to get out there and catch one of their headline shows.
Then it was time for personal favourites Panic Room. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I just don’t stop going on about these guys, and their set was ample evidence of why this is the case. Effortlessly charming, they captured the crowd right from the off – and I was pleased to see a somewhat larger audience than they had gathered in 2010, last time I saw them at the festival. Come to think of it, I am truly baffled as to why they were so low down the bill: they had been third band on in 2010 as well, and they’ve made such emphatic progress since then that I find it hard to countenance them not being given a later slot. Further evidence of their confidence was the composition of their set, which was culled almost exclusively from their new album Skin, with only the anthemic Reborn, a rockin’ Freedom To Breathe and their lounge-rock reinvention of ELP’s Bitches Crystal representing their previous work. They clearly believe in their new record, and their confidence was rewarded with a loud and enthusiastic response from the audience, some of whom were clearly very familiar with the new record.
Having missed their recent album launch shows due to being under the weather, I was wondering how the new material would work live, as a fair amount of it is low-key and augmented by strings, but I should have known that they’d got it sussed. Opener Song For Tomorrow kicked all kinds of arse, and even the gentle acoustics of Freefall and the eerie Eastern-influences of Tightrope Walking came across crackling with energy and were deeply atmospheric: you could almost hear a pin drop during Tightrope Walking, which is no mean feat at a festival, in front of a non-partisan crowd. Closing with new songs Skin and heads-down rocker Hiding The World, their whole set was a triumph and a vindication of their decision not to take the easy way out and play the “old favourites”. Needless to say, we were treated to another audience invasion by their bassist Yatim, who seems physically incapable of remaining on the stage for the duration of a show :-).
After a brief chat with some of the members of Stolen Earth and Panic Room to congratulate them on a job well done, we went in search of sustenance, before returning in time to see Chantel McGregor‘s set. Chantel has been playing guitar practically since she started primary school, and boy, does it ever show. I’d heard a lot of good things about Chantel from a variety of people, but had only managed to catch a song and a half from her previous Cambridge performance, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch a full set and see what the fuss was about.
We were not to be disappointed. Chantel’s quietly spoken persona and sly, gentle humour are almost totally at odds with her playing, which is truly formidable. It takes guts to launch into a cover of Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile at the best of times, but to carry it off so well that you could watch it being performed and almost forget that it was a cover version… now that’s real talent. Better yet, Chantel’s own songs are memorable and full of great playing (and singing, from the lady herself). So much so that before her set had finished, I was inside the tent checking out her merchandise. A few minutes after she closed her set to wild applause from a sizeable audience, Steen had me return to the merchandise table to snap up a copy of Chantel’s debut album, Like No Other, which we’ve very much enjoyed listening to since we got home. I can’t recommend it enough: if you like blues rock, or blues-influenced rock akin to the Led Zeppelin or Hendrix school, you really should go and check this lady out at your earliest convenience. And buy her album whilst you’re at it.
Alas, the rest of the day couldn’t live up to the standards of what we had already seen: X-UFO were up next on the main stage, and they seemed lethargic and scandalously under-rehearsed compared with the bands that had preceded them. After a desultory glance at the other stages to see what else was happening, we decided to grab dinner and return to our tent – upon which we happened across our friend Alexis and indulged in that other festival tradition, a good old-fashioned chin-wag. After all, whilst the music is the reason we as music fans gather at these events, it’s not only about the music :-). Before we knew it, Alexis’s husband Rob had returned to the campsite, and the sky grew steadily darker as we set the world to rights. Realising that Saturday’s headliners held little appeal and that Sunday was starting to look like a bit of a music marathon, we elected to get an early night.
As it happens, it’s a good job we did. Around 2am, some of our neighbours returned to their tent, and started playing Zeppelin’s Four Symbols album very loudly on their car stereo. “OK,” we thought, “this is festival life. It happens. They’ll turn in in a while.” Four Symbols played through in full. Then it started again. And ended again. And started again… I was starting to get properly annoyed, when I heard some of the party announce that they were off to sleep… just as Four Symbols began afresh for the fifth time…
We made it through to the end of Misty Mountain Hop for the fifth time before finally our neighbours gave up and called it a night. Still tired, we managed to sleep in until nearly 9am! The real tragedy of all this is that having heard Four Symbols once, I had hatched a plan to come home and stick it on my phone for the walk to and from work – “Hey, that’s cool, I haven’t heard that in full for ages”, you know how these things strike you. But after hearing it five times in a row, the novelty had worn off a bit. Consequently, I haven’t felt the urge to listen to the album again since I got home. Proof, were it needed, that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing :-).
Thought on Sunday to follow…