Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Where in January could you arrive to the blistering cries Iron Maiden's Flight of Icarus, while simultaneously freezing your socks off? It can only mean one thing: Butlin's Giants of Rock is back. Three days of beer and wall to wall rock. And what better way to blow away those January blues by going to a rock festival. GOR is one of the friendliest festivals, and as most hardened rock fans know despite the tattooed, hairy appearance, they are one the nicest bunch of people to spend a weekend with. As traditional adult weekend breaks go, it's pretty tame, but what it lacks in fancy dress and hen parties it makes up for in booze and headbanging.
Friday night eases us into the swing with the gentle rock tones of a double Thin Lizzy extravaganza with Eric Bell's blues-based set followed by Brian Downey's Alive and Dangerous which were essentially a Lizzy tribute act trading off the glories of a bygone age. Roger Chapman's Family and Friends was a highlight, with Chapman's distinctive warble soaring alongside some seasoned musicians including one time Family member Poli Palmer. Despite Friday's tribute feel, The Bon Jovi Experience made a popular choice for a sing-along session paving the way for the fellow New Jersey natives, Skid Row on Sunday.
However, not all the bands were dusting off old material on Friday night. Metal machine's U.D.O were a solid choice for those who like their rock more hard-boiled. Udo Dirkschneider's saber rattling with classics like They Want War alongside material from them latest album, Steelfactory, was a brain-shattering reminder of the diversity of acts that play across the weekend.
Saturday got off to a shaky start with Kingdom of Madness: Classic Magnum being replaced by worthy CCR cover band, Creedence Clearwater Revival at the last minute, which disappointed the army of Magnum fans. The Departed, last year's Introducing Stage winner's, got a chance to strut their stuff in on the second stage, Reds. They've built quite a following since last year with many on-site wearing their t-shirts to show support. Which is one great thing about these festivals is the chance for new bands to grow their fanbase and get their voices heard. Unfortunately, they struggled with sound quality – a common problem this year for many acts, leading to a massive case of 'just turn up the sound desk' which often lead to deafening arena levels, rather than fix the monitors and output. It might be a rock festival, but that's no reason to trash the hearing, of an already follically challenged audience.
The Chris Slade Timeline was another act that struggled with monitor problems. His set was essentially another look back of his illustrious career from the Earth Band to Asia, sadly his band lacked the spark to carry off the material he was playing.
Martin Barre's tenure with Jethro Tull was covered with his slot over on Reds but just steered clear from being another 'best of set' by interspersing classic Tull tracks like Teacher and Steel Monkey, with material from his latest album Road Less Travelled. Dan Crisp's vocals are tailor made for Tull's material, but despite the stellar set and music on offer, the poor sound quality let down an otherwise enjoyable folk/rock set.
Another Thin Lizzy connection this weekend was in the form of keyboard player Darren Wharton's Dare. Their Celtic rock sound complimented Barre's set before things became heavyweight as night falls.
Status Quo bass player Rhino Edwards and his band Rhino's Revenge – including the first moonlighting from the weekend with FM's Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar. Their set added some humour with, three-chord, blues-based numbers that delivered with a nod and wink that he's picked up from his long tenure with the Quo.
Atomic Rooster is debatably one of the 70s most underrated bands forging a progressive, yet ferocious sound before eventually progressing a to more soul/funk sound and back again. Having reformed in 2016 with one time lead singer Pete French and guitarist Steve Bolton they were joined by newcomers Adrian Gautrey (keyboards), Shug Millidge (bass) and Bo Walsh (drums), who filled some big shoes – this is the band that featured Carl Palmer and Vincent – but they come up to the mark to offer some notable prog rock synergy. Their set is mostly made up from Rooster's third album (which both French and Bolton appeared on) but hits Tomorrow Night, Devil's Answer, of course, essential features of their set.
Zal Cleminson's Sin' Dogs prove a popular choice for Saturday, with many queuing to get in the way before dinner had even finished being served – now that's rock and roll. The former Sensational Alex Harvey Band member put on a blistering theatrical performance dedicating Faith Healer to the sad and sudden passing of fellow SAHB member Ted McKenna.
Hard, heavy, brutally theatrical and one of the most captivating performances over the weekend. It's no surprise that given the stable from which Cleminson bolted, that the Sin' Dogs are perhaps the most progressive, in terms of genre mould-breaking, of all the acts on offer. 70s glam rock heroes Sweet seemed a little incongruently placed to follow the massive sound of the Dogz. Still, their hit focussed set made for the perfect sing along come down. Cats in Space frontman Paul Manzi also guested on guitar, keys and vocals making a welcome addition to the lineup.
Wille and the Bandits rounded up Saturday night on the main stage. Billing themselves as influenced by 70s blues rock, akin to Hendrix and Cream, it took a while for them to get into their stride – perhaps because they hadn't performed live in some time.
Wille Edwards' impassioned performance on lap steel and an average cover of Black Magic Woman failed to show the band at their best early on, but it was well worth sticking around and not heading back to the chalet for a nightcap; these guys are really worth the hype. During the latter part of the set, they really took flight with Angel being an impressive demonstration of their musicianship, versatility and zeal.
Forget having a lazy Sunday, it was time to put hangovers aside and head out to listen to Black Whisky, another of last years Introducing Stage winners. As the single from their latest album suggests, they were indeed Raising Hell on the main stage. If your head was pounding a little too much for Black Whisky's tubthumping, the laid back tonality of Welsh rockers, Man, may have been a better choice with Spunk Rock being a highlight of their set.
AOR stalwarts, Vega, powered through their back catalogue to an enthusiastic crowd who were in fine singing voice for 1.30 on a Sunday afternoon.
Nick Workman was also in fine fettle; don't let his pseudo boy band looks fool you, he's got a mighty set of lungs and enough effervescence to clear away any detritus from the night before.
Ex Steely Dan guitarist, Elliot Randall's set in Reds was lacklustre, the only highlight being Reeling in the Years. His disappointing and mediocre set failed to hit the highs fans had hoped for and had many hopping over to center stage to catch prog legends and festival staples Focus. Characteristically bonkers and brilliant in equal measure Van Leer and co can always be trusted to deliver the goods as they take us through their hits Sylvia, Hocus Pocus and even treating us to material from their latest record.
FM made a welcome return to GOR after playing last year. Concentrating on their meaty back catalogue, they offered an enjoyable, inoffensive power rock – no wonder they have become GOR staples.
Carl Palmer's monster set in Reds was one of the best of the entire weekend – and even the sound held up. If his rendition of King Crimsons 21st Century Schizoid Man didn't wow you, then his drum solo would leave you aghast and he didn't even have to take off his shirt. Palmer is a showman on the kit, but he's also a master of technique and precision and watching him up close, and personal should leave you in no doubt why he is the best drummer alive.
Paul Manzi returned on Sunday in full Cats in Space mode. The power rock band
morphed their influences from glam rock, 10CC, ELO and Queen, into a modern sonic sound. Their riff-heavy tunes, crazy, self-reflexive lyrics and irresistible harmonies have made them gather popularity since their debut in 2015 with Mr Heartache, Thunder In The Night and Five Minute Celebrity showcasing reasons for their ever-increasing fanbase.
Headliners Skid Row stopped off at the coastal resort on the last leg of their UK tour. New singer ZP Theart has been embraced by the band and fans since joining in 2016. His proficiency with the classic material such as 18 and Life and Monkey Business makes the band's resurgence and the promise of a new album a very welcome return to form.
Bad Touch round the weekend off with some impressive flourishes of blues rock. Despite his very different vocal style, frontman Stevie Westwood's modelling on Robert Plant is apparent in stage persona, dress, and looks, but an incendiary cover of Whole Lotta Love cements his homage to Led Zep and ends GOR on a high.
There's also a dedicated 'Introducing' stage to chart rock's new voices. Sons of Liberty and Radio 2 rock show faves Hollowstar being popular choices. Luke Doherty Band, Acts of Vengeance and Haxan – the only female musos at the festival, are all new talents that are worth giving some support too.
Despite a few grumblings about timing slots, too many 'covers' bands and inconsistent sound, Butlin's do a great job of putting on an indoor festival. Accommodation, security and food are top notch, and it's one of the most welcoming and friendly atmospheres, with a good-natured bunch of rock fans all there to have a good time. Like larger festivals, they also manage to have a right balance of old and new artists to appeal to a variety of musical tastes.
So as Monday rolls in and we depart from Minehead and head back home preparing to hibernate from the Beast from the East until the summer festival season starts, rock fans can rest assured that come next January, Butlin's has your winter rock withdrawal covered.