“A Switched On Weekend” - The Second High Voltage Festival reviewed by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt.
We liked it so much last year that we decided to go back again this year! The
“we” being myself and three friends who had made the trek to London’s
Victoria Park for the inaugural event last year. As festivals go, this one simply
had it all. And even more attention to detail had been made this time round.
With another varied line up spread over two days and three stages it was simply
too hard to resist.
Having warmed myself up nicely by seeing Face Value’s debut gig at The Cavern the night before (see review elsewhere in this edition), it was an exhausted editor that set off too meet the rest of our travelling posse for the trip down to London. Arriving at our accommodation after a hassle free trip we were soon queuing and eager with anticipation for what was to follow.
With three stages to choose from, it was always going to be a difficult decision about which acts to catch and which to miss but that choice had been made even more difficult this year by the decision of the organisers to have a folk/acoustic stage set up within the real ale tent. Two more temptations for yours truly; some excellent acoustic music and over thirty real ales - heaven!
First day up and decisions already made about which bands to check out, our merry band went our separate ways and I found myself in the real ale tent (surprise, surprise!) checking out the sounds. The two groups I heard while waiting for the first of the day’s main events were John McIvor and Joe Goode with Sophie Kelly both of whom made a good impression with some fine playing. Additional entertainment between acts was provided by The Bogart’s Breakfast, a group of Heavy Rock Morris Men (and Women) and believe it or not they too, were very entertaining!
Caravan were the first band I checked out on the Prog stage and what a treat they were too. Plenty of time signatures and all the usual paraphernalia associated with Prog and enough excellent musicianship to get the juices flowing. Sadly, the conflict of interests between acts meant that I missed our very own Anathema in favour of seeing Queensryche but I didn’t regret the decision. As metal acts go, this band are as thrilling musically as they are visually and they gave their fans a real treat on both counts today. Staying at the main stage to see the revamped Thin Lizzy, I was not disappointed. New singer and former Almighty vocalist, Ricky Warwick managed to fill the legendary Mr Lynott’s shoes more than adequately, despite the disparaging comment from a disgruntled fan stood next to me “only a tribute band”. Not as far as I was concerned. The greatest tribute they could have played was by being convincing and as someone who loved Thin Lizzy, this is exactly what they were as far as I was concerned! Hey, TWR’s editor likes to rock ‘n’ roll too, you know!
As if that wasn’t enough there were even treats at the Ace Café Stage and none more so than The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Yes, the god of hellfire is alive and kicking and still putting in great performances such as this one!
Back to the Prog stage for what was definitely the highlight of the Saturday for me, and John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest. Sadly I have only even managed to see this band a couple of times but each one was magical and tonight was no exception. With a set drawn from vintage early BJH material alongside Berlin and Hymn which nicely book ended the set, this was pure magic all the way through.
Then it was time to worship at the altar of Judas Priest to round off the Saturday night in suitably dramatic fashion. The Priest certainly haven’t lost their ability to entertain in a suitably over the top way. Rob Halford is still one of the finest front men that this country has ever produced and he certainly didn’t disappoint tonight I can tell you!
One day down and another still to go. The weather gods certainly favoured us on the second day with brilliant sunshine throughout. Today there were no hesitations about where I was going to be. After warming up with War Elephant (that’s a band NOT a real ale!) at the acoustic stage, the Prog stage had my undivided attention from the opening act the majestic Pallas, who, despite technical problems (why do the opening acts on the prog stage always have their sets spoilt by such things?!). Anyway, the band managed to cram in about half of their new magnum opus XXV and set the standard for the rest of the day.
I had heard what was planned by the next act; The Enid but couldn’t believe that they would pull it off. Land Of Hope & Glory AND The Dambuster’s March at a rock festival? Surely not?! Well yes, actually, along with some more typical pieces which were greeted with enthusiasm by the crowd. I was even pleasantly surprised by having the chance to say hello to Robert John Godfrey afterwards and what a nice chap he is!
Curved Air put in another sterling set and this was followed by Mostly Autumn, a band who previously I have struggled to really appreciate. Today’s performance with new vocalist, Olivia Sparnenn, taking over from Heather Findlay, there were no such problems and I can see that I shall have to invest in the albums by the band that I have so far missed out on!
Having only seen the next act as support for tonight’s main stage headliner; Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard were one band that I was really geared up for. This was even before the prospect of their reunion with former front man, Neal Morse became a possibility. Sure enough, his arrival on stage was greeted with ecstatic cheers from the crowd and the band put in an incredibly energetic performance which sent shivers up and down my spine - another back catalogue to explore, methinks!
Then the main event (for me at least) and a prime vantage point right at the front for my all-time favourite band: Jethro Tull. Sad to say, over the last few years, Tull have appeared to be a pale shadow of the glories that had gone before but tonight, a suitably energised band took to the stage for a rousing set, with the emphasis firmly (but not exclusively) on the Aqualung album from 1971. Ian Anderson is one of a handful of performers who simply has to appear on stage to command the attention of the audience in front of him and tonight was no exception. Classic followed classic before Ian announced on stage the new “legend” that is Joe Bonamassa to perform with the band on one Tull classic. Sadly my camera’s battery had run out by then but the memory is ingrained on my brain forever - superb stuff.
Grudgingly, I then made my way back to the Rock Stage to take in the latter
part of Dream Theater’s set. Sadly, their performance simply reinforced
my original opinion. Overblown and definitely overrated, this was mediocre stuff
for a headlining act in my opinion.
Then it really was over. If anything, this year’s event was far better than the inaugural one last year. Many of the problems which had dogged last year’s event had been ironed out and with the welcome addition of the acoustic stage/real ale tent, this is just about as perfect an event as you could wish for. Not quite perfect though. One major problem remains; I was horrified to see the organiser come on stage before BJH’s encore and instruct them to stay on stage and get on with it rather than come back on! In fact, the attitude of the organisers towards the prog acts in general leaves a lot to be desired (ask Steve Hackett!), that and the fact that sound problems still dogged many of the prog acts over the two days was an irritation. Irritating but not enough to spoil the fact that there is simply no other festival here in the UK which caters for as broad a church of music fans as the High Voltage Festival - here’s to next year if the bloody Olympics don’t scupper things!
Barclay James Harvest
The Bogart's Breakfast