at Butlins, Skegness, U.K., January 28-30, 2011

Whoever decided to arrange a 3 day Rock festival in a seaside holiday camp in the middle of winter must be barking mad, right?? The thought of Hi-De-Hi happy campers, windy chalets, duff food and knobbly knees competitions is enough to make any right-minded person head for hibernation and wait until the summer festival season hits these shores.

Well, you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.  For a start, the accommodations were immaculate, the food in the buffet area was outstanding and the bar facilities excellent.  OK, so you don’t come to a music festival for nice food, but it does half make for an enjoyable weekend when the facilities are so good and it certainly beats standing in a muddy field in the pouring rain trying to see a tiny stage a mile and a half away.

All of this would be superfluous if the musical entertainment was no good.  Fortunately, the organizers succeeded in putting on a quality bill of both Rock and Blues bands to keep the 6000 capacity crowd entertained for the whole weekend.

Lorainne CrosbyFirst up was Lorraine Crosby (a.k.a Mrs. Loud) best known for her duet with Meatloaf on the big man’s 1993 Number 1 hit single “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”, a song that was featured as the centre piece of Crosby’s mini-Meatloaf medley in the middle of her set along with a rousing take on Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”. Crosby possesses a fine, gutsy, powerful voice in the vein of Chrissy Steele and Stevie Lange, and fast-paced Rockers like “Last Train To Paradise” and the AC/DC riff-driven “Let It Roll” gave Crosby plenty of opportunity to shine. A raunchy “Sweat” raised temperatures to the boiling point, while “I Want You So Bad” showed the smoother side of Crosby’s style. Why a voice as strong as this hasn’t made Crosby a household name is a mystery, but that’s the music business for you.

The heavy Metal Kids

The great thing about festivals is the opportunity for a “long lost band” to reintroduce themselves to the punters. The Heavy Metal Kids shone brightly for a time in the mid ’70s, peddling a fired-up blend of Punk, Glam and Hard Rock’n’Roll, all wrapped up in an edgy streetwise image. Tours with the likes of Kiss, Rush and Alice Cooper brought them to a wider audience with their bad boy reputation being enhanced by getting kicked off of the Kiss tour. After the band waned, frontman Gary Holton went on to star in the classic UK comedy Auf Weidersehn Pet, but any hopes of a comeback were dashed with his untimely death in the early ’80s.

The band have reformed at various times over the years, most notably in 2002 when founder member and one-time UFO keyboardist Danny Peyronnell returned to front the band he helped co-found. Fast forward to 2010, and The Heavy Metal Kids reunited with original members Keith Boyce (drums), Cosmo (guitar) and bassist Ronnie Thomas, along with new boys guitarist Justin McConville and singer John Altman. As the band hit the stage, many in the crowd instantly recognized Altman as Nasty Nick Cotton from the long running UK soap Eastenders. Although he appeared a little nervous, Altman was the perfect replacement for Holton, having cut his acting career alongside Holton in Quadrophenia, and his style and vocals would surely have Holton’s seal of approval.

The Heavy Metal Kids

The Heavy Metal Kids ran through an energetic set of material from across their career. The gang vocals of “Chelsea Kids” and the raucous “Cops Are Coming”, whereby Altman really got into character, sat alongside newer songs like the riff heavy “Hit The Right Button” and the brand new single “Uncontrollable”, a song that captures the spirit of the old band but takes them forward into new pastures.

With “Squalliday Inn”, “She’s No Angel” and set closer “Delirious” (covered by Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks, respectively) the band left the stage confident that they were entering a new phase of their career with a bright future.

The Quireboys are regular features on the festival circuit, so it was no surprise to see the affable Geordies bringing their party-fuelled Honky Tonk Rock’n’Roll show to Butlins … and what a perfect headliner they were to end the first day.

Using an intro tape featuring Muddy Water’s down and dirty “Hoochie Coochie Man” was a great move for a Rock and Blues festival, and when the band strolled on and began playing along, the crowd became fired up right from the start.

With ringmaster Spike in fine form throughout, the Quireboys delved into their back catalogue with relish, delivering spirited versions of “There She Goes Again”, “This Is Rock’n’Roll” and an ode to Spikes home town of Newcastle, “I Love This Dirty Town”.

The QuireboysSpike, as ever, was bursting with enthusiasm on stage, so much so that guitarist Paul Guerin was caught right in the face with his swirling microphone stand, which necessitated a short departure from the stage to recover. Fortunately, no lasting damage was done other than a sore head as The Quireboys brought the first day to a close with a bang …literally!

With the Rock element scheduled for the evenings only it meant that the afternoons were perfect for a spot of Blues. Anyone expecting some nice, relaxed, laid back Blues was in for a surprise with the Australian Gwyn Ashton’s Two Man Blues Army ferocious set really setting the day off with a spark. Ashton’s fired up White Stripes meets Hendrix delivery was mesmerizing. You’d expect a two-piece band to be pretty limited visually, but with a highly animated drummer (Kev Hickman) literally hammering the living daylights out of his kit a la Keith Moon/Mitch Mitchell and Ashton’s screaming fretwork combining during songs such as “When The Levee Breaks”, there was plenty to keep everyone transfixed.

For the more traditional Blues purists in the crowd, Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes were a welcome addition to the bill. With Lamb’s rasping harmonica taking centre stage alongside the whiskey-soaked vocals of Chad Strenz, they evoked memories of the great Red Devils who flickered briefly in the early ’90s prior to the demise of frontman Lester Butler. The likes of “Born To Lose” had feet tapping as Lamb delivered a master class of passionate Blues.

John Coghlan`s Quo

Heading over to the Rock stage in the early evening was the chance to hear some old Status Quo classics performed by the original drummer himself:  John Coghlan’s Quo. Although it was great to hear the likes of Rock chestnuts such as “Caroline”, “Paper Plane” and “Roll Over Lay Down” rubbing shoulders with golden and rarely played oldies like “In My Chair”, “Backwater” and “(April), Spring, Summer and Wednesdays” from the delightfully monikered Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon album, it just didn’t seem to happen for the band on this night. Sure, Coghlan’s backbeat kept things tight, but the guitars were too weak and the guys out front just seemed to lack that sparkle and wit provided by Parfitt and Rossi. On paper, they should have triumphed, but in reality it all seemed a little under-rehearsed. Maybe this was just an off night, but a whole lot more was expected from John Coglahn’s Quo.

Monsters of British RockThe same certainly couldn’t be said for The Monsters of British Rock. Skirting over the poor choice of name is a band literally bursting with pedigree. Micky Moody and Neil Murray from the original (and best) line-up of Whitesnake, Harry James (Thunder), Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash), Michael Bramwell (Uli Jon Roth, Barclay James Harvest) and Chris Ousey (Heartland, Virginia Wolf) made up the band.

With the bulk of the set built around the early Whitesnake material, the band was onto a winner, but not quite right from the start. As Moody cranked out the main riff to “Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues”, Ousey unfortunately started to sing the first verse of “Fool For Your Loving” … Ooops!! A lesser singer may have crumbled at this point, but Ousey composed himself as the band continued to play and jumped right back in, and from then on the whole set shifted into top gear.

“Don’t Break My Heart Again”, “Ready and Willing” and “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” had the packed hall bouncing, and the epic “Crying In The Rain” was grandiose and featured a stunning vocal from Ousey, who pulled off a breathtaking performance throughout the show with his classy Paul Rodger’s style voice. For those unaware of Ousey’s past (fronting Heartland for the best part of two decades) he was something of an unknown comodity, but after the show he was the one many were talking about. Ousey was absolutely outstanding.

Monsters of British Rock“Take Me With You” from the Trouble album rocked harder than any other song during the day with its Gillan-like Punky riff, while Thunder’s “On The Radio” fit amongst the Whitesnake tunes perfectly.

“Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” had the crowd singing along, and “Here I Go Again” and “Fool For Your Loving” kept the momentum pumping right to the end.

The Monsters of British Rock certainly raised the bar for the festival with a superbly delivered set of Blues-tinged Hard Rock. It’s great to hear the early Whitesnake material delivered with such finesse and style in the way that they were originally written. It has to be said that this was a far more enjoyable show than the last time Coverdale and Co. toured the UK, and Ousey’s voice in particular suited the songs better than Coverdale’s more metallic approach these days.

On Day 3 of the Festival, “the hangover” slot was taken by Blues favorites The Hamsters, who have over the years built up a strong reputation on the live circuit with their ZZ Top and Hendrix sets mixed with their own material.

This show would be dedicated to their Hendrix side, with classics coming thick and fast such as “Stone Free”, “Voodoo Chile”, “Purple Haze” and “All Along The Watchtower” all played true to the spirit of the originals, complete with screaming, feedback-fuelled solos. The Hamsters also won the best T-shirt of the day with their Motorhead-inspired “Hamsterhead” design. Marvellous!

Having two former members of Rory Gallagher’s band on board is always going to bring something special to a group and Nine Below Zero are no exception. Gerry McAvoy (bass) and Mark Feltham (harmonica/vocals) showed their pedigree throughout the lively set, which featured some great up-tempo Rockers like “Dog House” and “Don’t Point Your Finger At the Guitar Man”. Frontman Dennis Greaves kept the crowd well and truly on their feet, while the tight harmony vocals added the icing to the Rock’n’Roll cake. Great stuff, and certainly a band well worth checking out if you get the chance.

Uriah Heep

By Sunday evening, it was time for the big guns to arrive. Uriah Heep, always a hugely popular band at festivals, were eagerly awaited by many in the packed hall and they certainly did not disappoint … heading straight out of the blocks with “Wake The Sleeper” and the epic “Overload” — two songs from their latest album, showing that there’s still plenty of life and passion firing the band into their 43rd year.

The band launched into a string of Rock classics:  “Return To Fantasy”, “The Wizard”, “Bird Of Pray” and “Look At Yourself” with energy and enthusiasm, which belies the fact that they have been playing these for years.

Heep are obviously in a rich vein of form at the moment, as guitarist Mick Box announced that a new album is due in March. If the material is as strong as the previous one, of which “Angels Walk With You” and “Only Human”, a new track from their re-recorded compilation, Celebration, were played,  fans will be in for a real treat.

Uriah Heep

Although Heep had a reputation for having a revolving door of band members in the early days, this line-up has remained unchanged for nigh on a quarter of a century, save for Russell Gilbrook who recently replaced long-time drummer Lee Kerslake. This cohesion within the band really paid dividends as the band delivered and tight and powerful set.

Lead singer Bernie Shaw was in outstanding form all night with a perfect vocal delivery and a commanding stage presence, which ensured every inch of the stage was used to the full. The ever-jovial Mick Box provided the classic riffs and wah-wah soaked solos that make the sound of Heep so unique.

“Gypsy” with its towering, heavy duty riff was immense and had a sea of heads banging in time, while the evergreen “Easy Livin'” had the place jumping.

Possibly the highlight of the set was a stunning “Sunrise” with its dramatic, multi-layered harmony vocals demonstrating what a talented and versatile band they are.

Uriah Heep

“Lady in Black”, which had the whole crowd singing along, brought the show to a close. It seemed as though the band had just come on, but an hour and a half had flown by with barely a pause, and that is always the sign of a great gig.

Uriah Heep have been round for many years and know how to put on a show, and with a collection of such great songs they came to Skegness and proved once again why they are considered one of the greatest bands to have ever come out of Britain  Uriah Heep were simply magnificent.

Following Heep’s show was not going to be easy, and Girlschool had that unenviable task, which when combined with taking the late shift when a significant number of punters had headed off to bed, it was always going to be an uphill struggle. Despite pulling out oldies such as “Let’s Go” and “Hit And Run” alongside newer material like “Never Say Never Again”, it never really seemed to take off for them.


Maybe the crowd was exhausted after 3 days of rocking and being faced with an early drive in the morning was just too much for them. Girlschool, despite a spirited attempt at lifting the crowd, just didn’t hit the spot on the day.

Overall, The Great British Rock and Blues Festival was a resounding success. Excellent accommodation, wonderful food and facilities combined with superb concert venues and top class organization really did make this a great place for a festival. Added to this the variety and quality of bands on show will surely ensure that this becomes a popular date on the British festival circuit.

Anyone out there thinking that a music festival at Butlins in Skegness in January is a no-no couldn’t be more wrong. If you’re looking for a friendly, civilized, top quality music festival to clear away the post-Christmas blues, then take a trip down to Skegness, but get in quick, they are already booking for 2012. Don’t miss out!


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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