Back in the day the Monsters of Rock festivals were the mecca for any discerning heavy metal fan, the single day line ups, one stage and the most monstrous of rock bands was the biggest draw for fans across Europe. In recent years, since the advent of the commercialised “Download” the festivals on the hallowed turf of Donington has spread over three and four days, multiple stages and has spawned a fair ground and enough shops to start a shopping mall.
On Facebook the Donington Veterans were reminiscing over by-gone festivals; the old Monsters of Rock, its feel, its aura, the days when people came for the music rather than the thrill rides. An idea was spawned, which has grown into Stonedeaf Festival. A one-day festival with just one stage which is just about the music and ultimately the fans.
As the end of August draws near, the first edition of the Stonedeaf Festival is upon us, nine bands throughout the day on a stage with an atmosphere to match the legendary old events. It may not be as big as the old Donington festivals, but in its first year they are building foundations by doing so will be able to grow the event through 2019 and beyond.
The first band to grace the stage are Newcastle up and comers Fallen Mafia. The quintet blew away the hangovers from the early rising campers with their brand of exuberant rocking music. Hip grinding guitars, throbbing bass and pounding drums all topped off with the majestic Geordie voice of Hannah. The half hour set proves great entertainment and provides great exposure for this growing act.
The arena is filling up nicely and the crowd growing exponentially in front of the stage as Chrome Molly make an appearance. The band nearing 40 years in the industry bounce onto the stage with youthful vigour. Steve Hawkins throws everything into the performance full of energy belying his age. Hard rock riffs with a New Wave of British Heavy Metal twist has the fans dancing along to every note for a magnificent half an hour in the late summer sun.
Hand of Dimes provide the first links back to the Monsters of Rock and the spirit of which we celebrate here today. Front-man Neville MacDonald having appeared at the festival in 1994 with rock legends Skin. Taking the hard-edged rock sound from his previous outfit and expanding on it with a groove laden riffs that melt in your soul. The live performance, enhanced by the guest appearance of Bruce Dickinson (of Little Angles - not Iron Maiden!) on guitar, reminds you of those summers past in a Leicestershire field and rekindles the memories of those joyous events. With a smile on his face throughout Neville’s voice carries across the arena the signature sound of a band at the top of their game.
Not that the festival needs it, but Massive Wagons are about to light a huge fire underneath the arena and give everyone a mid-afternoon wake up call. Introduced by Krusher, escorted by two Stormtroopers, the band arrives on stage with a bang. Baz Mills a ball of energy, like a whirlwind on stage rarely still for a minute bouncing off stage walls and drum riser like a Tasmanian Devil in a bowler hat. Recently signed to Earache records and with new album Full Nelson now released, the band take the festival by storm. The young lads throwing rock, a hint of metal and the occasional punk vibe into the melting pot out of which their own style erupts. Visually stunning they produce an aural assault that leaves us mesmerised. This band are going places and this is just the start of it, for me personally they are band of the day by far!
Despite the hard act to follow, Graham Bonnet and his band step up for the challenge. The former Rainbow vocalist providing the festivals next link back to Monsters of Rock having headlined the very first one with Richie Blackmores outfit back in 1980. A lower billing today, but Bonnet again graces the stage of a festival in its infancy with a set of his own material but littered with Rainbow classics. All Night Long features early on, Bonnet showing he still has the vocal prowess of previous years, even if he is not so sprightly on his feet these days. He couldn't finish his set with anything but Since You've Been Gone proving there is plenty of life left to live in the Graham Bonnet world.
Anvil are an altogether different beast, a bizarre concoction of comedy and heavy metal from Canada. The
real life Spinal tap outfit went down a storm - the hardest rocking and happiest band on the planet. From “Lips” varying antics of using his guitar pick ups as a mic and playing with a dildo to Christopher’s bizarre facial contortions, you could not take your eyes off the band for a minute. But don’t let that take away from their performance, 45 minutes of pure unadulterated heavy metal and what a pleasure it was.
Blaze Bayley should need no introduction, and if he does where have you been? The former Iron Maiden front man now back touring and recording with Wolfsbane. They enter the stage with gusto, Blaze picking up the mic stand and throwing it into the photo pit clearing his way for the performance to come. They may all now look a little older (don’t we all?) but the band are still as they were all those years ago – Steve Danger on drums, beating away ferociously as Jeff Hateley jumps around the stage. The focus though, is all on Blaze, his voice as strong as it ever was not dropping a single note and encouraging fan participation throughout. This is up there with Massive Wagons as one of the performances of the first Stonedeaf!
As the sun starts to set, a chill blows through the site and the stage lights now highlight up the penultimate band of the day, The Quireboys. They graced the hollowed Donington stage back in 1990 and today they bring the Monstors of Rock spirit with them to Stonedeaf. Spike, the British Steven Tyler, juggles the mic stand as he prowls the stage, the band taking us through a set of their classics and Blaze returns for a cameo to round out a thoroughly enjoyable hour of rock.
Now the sun has dipped under the horizon the anticipation starts to build, Skid Row are in the vicinity about to headline the first edition of this event. Having played high up the bill twice at Monsters of Rock, it was quite the coup for the Stonedeaf organisers to bag this band. Despite parting company with Sebastian Bach many a moon ago the band have carried on and current front man, ZP Theart, shows he is more than up to the task of filling such big shoes.
As he stands atop a podium his voice reaches out across the arena, hitting those high notes in the true Skid Row style. The band rocket through some all-time classics; opening with Slave to the Grind which has even the oldest of us banging our heads, pumping our fists and enjoying every minute.
Through 18 and Life, Psycho Therapy, Quicksand Jesus and Monkey Business Rachel Bolan leading the way with the deep vibrations of his bass whilst Dave Sabo and Scott Hill follow, duelling guitars laying waste to our ear drums. An encore including Get the Fuck Out and Youth Gone Wild round out one of the best music filled days I’ve had in a long time.
It took a lot of guts for the organisers to put their money on the table and get this festival off the ground. A lot of hard work from staff and volunteers has gone into getting everything ready for today and the effort has paid off in spades. For a first-year festival I struggle to find a single thing that went wrong, or anything that wasn’t up to the highest standard. So many start-ups fail to make their live date, but the effort of everyone involved needs to be praised. Today has been a raging success and shows with the right people and a lot of blood, sweat and tears you can recreate the spirit of a monster