Giants of Rock, Day Three

It's the final furlong at Butlins: Manfred Mann, Climax Blues Band, Roger Chapman, Bernie Marsden and more...

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In the wake of those scenes of excess witnessed in the bars and at different stages on Saturday night – Classic Rock photographer Kevin Nixon later uses the word “carnage” – the smooth sounds of the Climax Blues Band provide a formidable hangover cure.

Their mix of jazz, blues, and soft-rock is warm, smooth and, yes… let’s say it how it is… undemanding, but the likes of I’m Ready, Last Chance Saloon and the 1976 hit Couldn’t Get It Right contrive to massage away those tight knots, reminding us that it might okay to start all over again.

Roger Chapman is without doubt the most fascinating character of the whole weekend. Having tumbled out of bed mere hours earlier following the previous night’s appearance with Family, he’s back with many of the same musicians in the guise of the Shortlist. Talk about yin and yang; the singer is actually chirpy. “I love this room, there are bars everywhere!” he booms, before realising time is running out. “We’ve only got a fucking hour – it’s ridiculous!” The only solution is to keep on playing till the plug is pulled.

Just like the Shortlist’s musicianship, the quality of the songs is plain outstanding, the dramatic balladry of Moth To A Flame registering among numerous highlights. Chapman finishes with Shadow On The Wall, a single he voiced for Mike Oldfield back in 1983, but the audience refuse to let him leave, so he returns to pick things up right where they left off – the first time in this writer’s 36 years of gig-going that he has seen a band encore with the same song that they closed their set with.

On the way to our evening meal Classic Rock takes a quick peek at Albany Down on the Introducing Stage just as the Scottish minnows play their “most famous song”, You Ain’t Coming Home, as heard on Radio 2. They’re competent enough, but at this point star quality seems in short supply.

Virgil & The Accelerators are striding steadily away from the blues that gave them such early momentum. Frontman/guitarist Virgil McMahon now sports leather strides and a crucifix hangs from an open-necked shirt, suggesting that he seeks a career in a harder and perhaps more glamorous sphere of music. Alas, Take Me Higher and Blow To The Head, both from their Chris Tsangarides-produced second album, Army Of Three, are not blessed with sufficiently strong hooks, though Give It Up and All Night Long suggest that there’s still hope.

Bernie Marsden is no fool, and over on the Reds Stage the guitarist’s Whitesnake years provide the focal point of a cheery, breezily executed solo spot. He’s a passable vocalist, but the audience takes charge of Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues, Ready An’ Willing, Fool For Your Loving, Here I Go Again and, of course, Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City. It’s a shame that in a rush to celebrate the glory years, 2014’s special guest-enhanced Shine is almost completely overlooked.

As the Quireboys and Magnum had proved, it’s tough to blow the late night spot on the Reds Stage. The crowd have been fed and watered – and watered and watered again! – and excitement reaches boiling point. Give the people what they want and gladiatorial rewards are a foregone conclusion. Sadly, however, the theory doesn’t apply to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. 1972’s Captain Bobby Stout is a terrific opener and the impish Robert Hart (Bad Company, Company Of Snakes, the Distance) an accomplished singer, but they shoot themselves in the foot by following it with a seven-minute reworking of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. For You, Blinded By The Light and Davy’s On The Road Again all set the place bouncing, but keyboardist Mann’s early hits Do Wah Diddy Diddy and Mighty Quinn seem never-ending, the latter lasting for 11 minutes! Regrettably, MMEB are just a wee bit too smug for their own good.

On the whole, though, Giants Of Rock 2.0 can be adjudged a massive success. Despite an improved attendance and the continued, sometimes exasperating presence of stag and hen weekends at the park, actual trouble between the rival factions – rockers and those that didn’t give a tinker’s toss about the music – seems limited.

The biggest complaint that Classic Rock heard was the sheer amount of inter-stage clashes, some of which could have been avoided by applying common sense. Why on earth would Family play at the same time as Focus? Slade versus Manfred Mann? Should we really have to choose between the show’s marquee act, Black Star Riders, and a band that we are unlikely to see again, namely Colosseum? It’s plain crazy.

Older music fans are connoisseurs and simply won’t stand for being short changed. If the event is to thrive – and rest assured the organisers have big, big plans – this situation must be addressed as a matter of urgency. As the team behind Sonisphere (cancelled in 2012, ’13 and ’15) will attest, it’s a competitive ol’ world out there!

Talking of which, the 2015 line-up wasn’t as quite strong as its predecessor, lacking a long-absent attraction such as Blue Öyster Cult. There are also a handful of less significant niggles such as the lack of free wifi… why must we pay to use our laptops? But chalets are warm and grub is tasty and plentiful and on the whole, this fantastic weekend still comes highly recommended.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.