This was my first time at Stone Free Festival and for those who have not been it is a well thought out 2 day festival. Day 2 was billed as Prog and Blues but there was enough variety to keep everyone entertained. The whole of the 02 venue is used, from the Orange Amp stage which is outside but undercover, near the entrance to Indigo at the 02, a smaller venue inside but with a great stage plus plenty of room to move around. The main arena is also used later in the day.
When I arrived, I caught a few minutes of StoneWire, with a female singer, Sky Hunter who really impressed me and made me wish I was there a bit earlier to hear the whole of their set. They had a great groove going on from the 2 guitars, Gaz Annable and Duncan Greenway plus a solid bass line from Steve Briggs. The drumming was provided by Rob Glasner. They are a band I am really wanting to hear more of as they were vibrant with a blues, rock vibe, that reminded me slightly of Blues Pills.
Then it was off to Indigo to see Jared James Nichols who is a very impressive guitarist, ably supported by Dennis Holm on drums and Gregg Cash on bass. For a 3 piece this band really know how to produce a huge amount of sound. Jared was full of blues swagger, looking every bit the front man with his flowing blonde hair whipping about whilst creating the most sublime riffs. The crowd really filled up and I could see loads of people dancing along. Gregg provides a thundering bass line which works really well in adding contrast between the rising licks that Jared produces effortlessly. It is really fun to watch the interplay between n Gregg and Jared on stages, especially when the do their mock guitar battles. The crowd were willing participants when asked, very nicely by Jared to sing along during “Baby can you feel it”, eventually winding them up to “Scream that shit with me!” A great set which delighted the crowd although it was over too quickly.
Back outside at the Orange Amp stage I heard a couple of songs of Vambo, a 4 piece rock band who seemed to me to be influenced by a number of 70’s bands. This is not a bad thing as they provided music that felt comfortable, allowing you to nod your head along to the rhythm. The riffs were plentiful with precising drumming and a bass line that really stood out.
Next up were The Rising Souls who unfortunately I did not hear much of, which was a real shame as they sounded fantastic. They were a combination of Rival Sons and The Temperance Movement, with rich, sonorous vocals that packed a real punch. They drew a large crowd and it was not hard to see why as they had an infectious grove going on that was putting a smile on many faces. They are a band that is high on my radar to see more of as this was feel good music played extremely well.
Back to the Indigo for Tyketto who drew a large crowd. Lead vocalist, Danny Vaughn, had great interaction with the crowd, how loved him for it. There was great camaraderie on stage between all of the band members, nodding smiles, some laughs and everyone having their moment to shine. The precision of the playing was top notch combining soaring vocals and elegant guitars. Danny quipped about the fact that he was “not doing his best Michael Jackson” impression but that that they “finished a gig the night before in Switzerland, got 3 hours sleep and that his underwear was a bit loose as a result!”. It is nearly the 25th anniversary of “Strength in numbers” and so they played “Rescue Me” a song inspired by a letter the band received from a fan, filled with funky groove and classic guitar riffs as well as some enormous drumming. This is a band who knows that chugging bass lines, fluid riffs and great vocals will win over an audience. Getting the audience involved was also a large part of their set, encouraging the crowd to sing along to “Lay your body down” after being told by Danny that the song “started with the drums, as without them it would be shit!”
Back outside to see the band closing the Orange Amp stage, after their endorsement by Orange earlier this year, The Bad Flowers. This was a personal highlight for me as I have had the pleasure of seeing this band grow both in stature and ability over the years I have been following them. It will come as no surprise to anyone that has seen them that their deep, funky bassline, precise and vibrant riffs plus the throbbing drums went down really well with the crowd. The Bad Flowers drew people to them like a moth to a flame, seducing them with the infectious sound that they create, combined with lyrics that you can sing a long to and melodies that make your toes tap and head nod. From the starting track of “Lions Blood” to the closing of “City Lights” this was a set that delighted and hit the crowd hard. The thunderous riffs made Tom Leightons hat fly off, whilst Dale Tonks bass line was so deep and filled with funk that he got his own moment in the spotlight, not hard to see why when he plays his bass like a lead! There was stick twirling a plenty from Karl Selickis who managed to combine precision with intensity and did more than just keep time. “Hurricane” kept the howling wind at bay and even bought out the sun for a few moments. Tom thanked everyone for coming to see them, outlining just what a huge year this has been already, thanking everyone from Planet Rock to the audience in a voice that could barely contain his emotion. This was a blistering finale to the Orange Amps stage and one that will not be forgotten for a long time.
The next band I got to see was in the main 02 arena, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp and boy oh boy was this a fine set. Roger Hodgson came onto the announcement that he is going to play the Royal Albert Hall on May 23rd and 24th 2019, which delighted the audience. Starting with “Take the long way home” this beautifully crafted song took me right back to childhood holidays, the vocals were really strong and it was the perfect opener to a pretty perfect set. Roger gave a great introduction, saying how emotional he was and how glad he was to be in the UK. He looks resplendent in his white suit and deep, blue shirt. Roger moved effortlessly from keys to piano and guitar playing all the hits you would want, School, Breakfast in America, which Roger joked that only the UK audiences get, Logical Song, which featured extremely sultry sax playing and was perfect for me, being Father’s Day as my Dad loved this track. The band were impeccably tight, each knowing precisely what was required of them. As Roger Hodgson raised his tea cup to the audience he said “how the UK tugs at his heart strings as the tracks were mainly written in the UK and he was grateful to have touched so many people”. “Fools Overture” was moving and hauntingly beautiful, “Give a little bit” got the crowd singing and clapping along whilst Roger Hodgson played acoustic guitar, “Its raining again” was to be the set finale, sounding perfect and far too cheerful for the lyrics. The crowd adored him, giving rapturous applause and it was very easy to understand why, it was a perfect set, very tight snd beautifully executed.
To round off the event we got to see a very small part of the set from Yes, featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. They kicked off the set with “Cinema” with Rick Wakeman wearing his red, sequin cape looking like a mighty wizard and Jon Anderson in his silver suit. This again was another slick set, the music wrapping you up in clouds of cotton wool. “Hold On” was next up which had a mesmeric beauty, the vocals delivered, even the higher notes and the playing from the rest of the band was first class. I then had to leave and heard “Perpetual Change” ringing out and sounding amazing.