Festival Review – Stone Free Festival (Part II) – Sunday 19th June 2016

Like the day before, due to limited access to the festival’s entirety I got to see the Fireball Stage on and off throughout the day before I and many others, media, guest list attendees and fans alike were allowed to queue for the main arena later on, and this time, to a seated arena.

Once again due to wanting to see what was going on, as unlike the previous day a market had been opened up in the place of the vinyl fair, which featured artists Isabelle Davis (Drakhenlicht) and Jane Cameron and the work of Roger Dean, who opened up an exhibition at the Speak Easy Lounge called Myths and Legends; I only got to see two out of the highlighted bands on the Fireball Stage, Broken Witt and Rebels and Vambo. Because I came early, before everything had properly set up, I got to witness Broken Witt Rebel rehearse, and from that alone I could hear blues, psychedelic, folk and classic rock influences in their work; with Britpop thrown in the mix. Danny Core, the vocalist had a captivating soulful voice, with a country rock slant, carrying a roughened edge to its delivery. Vambo, which came on an hour or so before the main arena opened had an antique present of 70s rock, mixing classic rock with glam and metal in not only their sound, but their appearance and stage presence.

It was while I was having a break from roaming around as my feet ached, stopping to have a sit down near entrance H & G, that I caught sight of Steve Hogarth, vocalist of progressive rock band Marillion making his way to the arena; let’s just say that it took me a couple of minutes for the dots to connect up on who I was looking at. For the first couple of seconds, all my mind could think was ‘cool shirt’ and ‘oh, he’s very pretty’, and for the rest of the time, looking like a deer in headlights and goofily smiling my way out of an embarrassing encounter with a childhood hero. I could’ve made so much more of it, but alas…there’s always a next time.

Fast forward half an hour, and everyone was lining up to be let in. It was while I was having my belongings checked that I realized it was the same security people at the doors, and the person who had ‘branded’ me with the neon bracelet the night before, in turn recognized me as the person ‘who was here to see Alice Cooper’, that I ‘was the person who came to see Alice Cooper’, before wishing me and others a good night. I was shown to my seat, and once sat I got to watch the setup of the first act of the evening; Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Symphonic (also known as Symphonic Floyd), which would be performed by The London Orion Orchestra, a tribute super group featuring The En-suite Electric Band, and the guitarists of the Australian Pink Floyd, who like Keith Emerson for his Three Fate’s tour last year at The Barbican, incorporated orchestra and classical music into the mix. They and the rest of the four remaining three participants would be introduced by a representative of Prog Magazine (sponsored by Team Rock). Remarkably, the tribute album itself featured Alice Cooper as the vocalist, and Rick Wakeman, that night’s headliner on keyboards on one of the tracks. That night, they were performing established tracks such as Welcome to the Machine, and Wish You Were Here, Shine on You Crazy Diamond Part I & II, and Have a Cigar. Symphonic Floyd’s performance as a whole was so beautifully accomplished, that you would think you were listening and watching Pink Floyd, they were so on point.

When Steve Hackett was introduced on stage, the audience began to wake up as this was the first of a more acknowledged figures materializing. It was exciting for me, because it would’ve been my second time seeing Hackett performing in six years (the last time was at the High Voltage Festival in 2010) – the review of his performance at the Albert Hall from 2014 for his Genesis Revisited II tour which can be found on Relive the Music was written on behalf of my aunt. Accompanying him was Nad Sylvan, who was guest vocalist on the Genesis Revisited II album and the subsequent tour I’ve just mentioned. Together, they performed Dance on a Volcano, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Firth of Fith; and very similar to Symphonic Floyd before them, there was this strange essence of familiarity, you felt like you were observing the original performers, and in this moment, Sylvan stepped into the shoes of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel combined. During Hackett’s solo moments, he covered his earlier works, such as Every Day from Spectral Mornings (1979), A Tower Struck Down and Shadow of the Hierophant from Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) and lastly Loving Sea, from his current album release Wolflight (2015); his appearance at the festival being connected to his current tour Acolyte to Wolflight.

Unexpectedly, when his set finished to make way for Marillion, the third to the last act of the evening, Hackett, Sylvan and others connected to his performance traipsed up the steps along between the isles I happened to be sitting within; attendees sitting directly on the end of each row were applauding him and had the honour of shaking his hand, whilst he silently acknowledging them. From the two sets alone, there was a different kind of atmosphere compared to the previous evening, and how they showed their admiration for the bands as they came in the same proximity to you differed; it was like watching a classical performance, it was both an enthralling and relaxing sensation. Even as Marillion was introduced, and with Hogarth’s subsequent spirited stage performance, we just watched fixated, enamored. Example of his youthful, theatric engagement was during Kayleigh, Power and Neverland, where at points, he was coming to each end of the stage, throwing himself to the floor, reaching out to the audience before recoiling into giving himself an embrace. There was also frequent costume changes; reminiscent of Genesis, and Cooper. Other songs that were covered were from Marbles (2004) (The Invisible Man, You’re Gone), Easter (Seasons End, 1989), and Heart of Liothan (also Misplaced Childhood, 1985). It was during their slot that Hogarth apologized for such a short tracklisting (in comparison to what they would do normally, perhaps) because of Wakeman’s planned arrangement, describing the stage as “compressed”.

Now, with Rick Wakeman, I almost screwed up my timing as I had gone out to get something to eat, not having eaten in a few hours and because the food took longer than expected (not their fault, I will add), I almost missed the introduction of Wakeman and just about sat down (at first in the wrong seat, miscalculating my seat number) as he and his associates were setting up and starting. That night was actually a pleasure to witness, because as it was introduced, the O2 arena was the first of the many venues Rick Wakeman would visit for his tour of his remastered concept album Myths and Legends of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table (1974), and it would be the first time in 41 years he has performed it, this being the fourth time performing this album in the UK. In the midst of its established track listing, Wakeman had also introduced bonus tracks and voiced intervals, on top of numerous choir members, two main vocalists, electronic guitars, keyboards and orchestra. Despite the arrangement of the stage being static, Wakeman stuck at the top them all, almost like an overseeing person of higher power (in this case, Merlin); it was so enthrallingly dynamic, inspiring and the narrative just sucked you right in. In one person, I could hear the late Keith Emerson, electronic ambient duo Deep Forest (they not coming into significant fame until two decades later), and of course, it was a very similar to the later conceptual album, which came out in 1978 and stage performance of Jeff Wayne’s War of the World which began decades later in 2006.

Like the previous night, I came out of the venue with a high, as did many others, and as I left, I got thanked for attending the last two days. I really appreciate getting given this opportunity to review such an extraordinary event, and getting the chance to see people I have wanted to see in so many years crammed into one place. I will never forget the experience, either; it’ll be one performance I’ll remember, until the next time.

*Photo by Sandra Sorenson, 2016

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