Words and Photos – Lucy Heffer
On the weekend of the 26th and 27th November 2021, Storm Arwen arrived in Scotland and with it the never more aptly named, WinterStorm Festival in Troon.
FRIDAY 26TH – DAY ONE
Kicking off the festival on the Saturday were StormBreaker Showcase winners Bad Actress. Clad in sunglasses, bandanas, and animal prints, they brought high energy and sleazy glam to the main stage – named the Steve Strange Stage, and they dedicated Outta My Head to “Everyone that has already started drinking!” An impressive 300 people were already in attendance by this point and were clearly excited to be back at their beloved festival. Merthyr Tydfil three piece Florence Black kept the crowd enthused by opening with Zulu from their recent release Weight of The World and kept heads nodding and grins wide as singer Tristan Thomas asked “Does anyone know a band called Budgie?” before ploughing through their cover of Breadfan.
The second stage (Sessions Stage) was opened by Glasgow blues band Rigid Soul who kept the audience’s feet tapping throughout their set. Highlights were Misread, introduced as “Our next single when it eventually happens”, followed by the first song they ever wrote – Floating Around. As their name suggests, they were soulful but with a side order of blues. An energetic performance by Hollowstar followed back on the main stage despite frontman Joe Bonson explaining that he had recently fallen down the stairs, else he would have been moving around more! There were multiple crowd sing-a-longs, a cover of the Free song Wishing Well and a dedication of Good Man Gone to “All those people that can no longer come to gigs anymore due to anxiety and health problems”.
A brief glimpse of the Edinburgh outfit Battalion of Flies and a set that was a heavier interlude before returning to the main stage for the announcement that Scotland had been drawn against Ukraine for the World Cup play-off semi-finals, to the delights of the audience. Geordie appeared to be playing during the dinner time slot as the audience was a little depleted as they took to the stage. Delivering, as expected, an AC/DC influenced sound, Brian Johnson’s former band included the song House of the Rising Sun as a nod to lead guitarist Steve Dawson’s five year stint with The Animals.
She Burns Red filled the second stage with dry ice and a packed crowd. Wearing his signature swathe of red face paint, frontman James McCulloch bounced through the storming set and even heckled with the crowd. The main stage then welcomed the high notes and harmonies of Cats in Space. Damien Edwards led from the front in a rhinestone bedecked tuxedo proclaiming “It was worth the drive!” The epic show tune I Fell Out of Love With Rock ’n’ Roll was a definite highlight. Jason Sweeney had the stage two audience nodding and bopping and enjoying tracks including She’s a Fighter and brand new release Drinking for the Weekend. Seeing a child in the front row, Jason explained the song was about Coca-Cola but the audience wasn’t convinced!
The biggest crowd of the day was for the performance by Mason Hill and the fans gave a rousing reaction to DNA. “My face hurts from smiling”, singer Scott Taylor announced as the audience was chanting “Ma-son Hill, Ma-son Hill”. A heartfelt dedication of the song We Pray was made to recognise the contributions of drummer Craig McFetridge’s dad over the years. This preceded a unique version of Broken Son where Scott and Craig were lightheartedly blaming each other for missing sections of the song, then Best of You by the Foo Fighters was played “For one of the last times”, according to Scott. Had the audience not have already been standing, there would have been a standing ovation for this emotionally charged set.
A quick dash to stage two for Fallen Mafia who played an impassioned set despite experiencing sound issues before Inglorious took to the main stage. Tracks include set opener She Won’t Let You Go and a cover of the Miley Cyrus song Midnight Sky. At one point Nathan James’ microphone emitted strange noises which he was informed was because someone was on the same channel as the wireless mic, but he continued with “One of the highest songs I have ever sung” – a cover of Barracuda by Heart.
It sounded like the Sessions Stage closers were introduced as Sons of Anarchy by host Tom Russell, but it was definitely Sons of Liberty that took to the tech-troubled stage. As they battled through issues during Rich Man Poor Man, the full crowd sang along in fine voice. The enthusiasm continued as front man Rob Cooksley retrieved It sounded like the Sessions Stage closers were introduced as Sons of Anarchy by host Tom Russell, but it was definitely Sons of Liberty that took to the tech-troubled stage. As they battled through issues during Rich Man Poor Man, the full crowd sang along in fine voice. The enthusiasm continued as front man Rob Cooksley retrieved a bag of beef jerky from under his hat and threw it into the audience before starting Beef Jerky Boogie which created a real party atmosphere. The packed first day drew to a close with Gun and their atmospherically lit set on the main stage, backed by a video screen playing archive sports clips. As expected the crowd pleaser was Word Up and the audience didn’t disappoint when singer Dante Gizzi said “I wanna see everyone’s hands in the air!”
SATURDAY 27TH – DAY TWO
On day two, Gin Annie opened the main stage like it was Saturday night rather than lunchtime but the crowd On day two, Gin Annie opened the main stage like it was Saturday night rather than lunchtime but the crowd was on the same page. “It’s fucking hot in here, almost as hot as the front row”, declared Guitarist Brian Green with frontman Dave Foster later adding “We are staying at the local hotel if anyone wants to come back”. The flirtatious performance was met with a pair of red knickers thrown onto the stage but aside from the friskiness the set was slick, full of energy and well received. The latter can also be said for Kent band Collateral who had experienced a 15 hour journey to get to Troon. With Will Richards deputising on drums after just one rehearsal, they opened with Lullaby. During Mr Big Shot Vocalist Angelo Tristan said “I want everyone jumping up and knocking off the chandeliers”. The audience did their best to please him and Angelo celebrated with what later transpired to be his first ever knee slide and Guitarist Todd Winger showed his appreciation for the audience with an attempt at a Scottish accent during Merry Go Round!
Chantel McGregor was next on the main stage, performing in bare feet to rapturous applause for every song. After two heavier openers she said “I will chill it out now with a prog instrumental one. This is April”. Her eyes rolled back in her head as she looked like she was taking out months of frustration on the guitar strings but she ended the song with a massive grin! Another epic performance was the song she wrote about Jeff Buckley – Eternal Dream. Upstairs on stage two, host Pete K Mally introduced White Raven Down explaining it was Guitarist Stu Bailey’s birthday. The crowd demanded that the guitars be turned up after the first track and continued with shouts of ‘Happy Birthday’ and other banter throughout the set. Both Stu and vocalist Will Taylor came out into the energetic audience to interact and the crowd were rewarded with the first play of the single Price You Pay which was released the previous day. The band appeared to be having the time of their lives!
After a brief glimpse of Weapon on the main stage, playing to a largely depleted audience, it was time for Chantel McGregor to recreate her acoustic Shed Sessions vibe on stage two. The room was silent for the first time all weekend as she played I’m No Good For You. As she finished the song, the audience erupted with cheering and whistling. She responded to requests by playing covers of Nothing Else Matters (Metallica) and Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac) and again the absolute silences were book ended with almost deafening applause.
The main stage next welcomed Anchor Lane who performed a sing-a-long set with the crowd enjoying joining in whilst watching Guitarist Lawrence O’Brien pogo-ing and Frontman Connor Gaffney dancing and high-kicking. The mostly green lighting was superb for the set and new song Nitroglycerin was delivered with passion. The illumination was equally as important on stage two as Empyre graced the stage with an extremely dark blue lighting which later was interspersed with red lights and strobes. Vocalist Henrik Steenholdt greeted the audience after the second song and later noted that he could see that they were following their rules of “no smiling, no clapping and no singing along!” The crowd were rewarded with Relentless, a track from the new album due out in 2022 and at this point ditched the rules with enthusiastic clapping.
Girlschool meanwhile brought tartan trousers, glamour and energy to the main stage and wowed the crowd with pleasers including Race With The Devil, Bomber and Emergency. At one point the mic was held in to the audience and whilst most people quickly backed away, one lady rushed forward and delivered a pitch perfect line, generating gasps both on and off stage. The glamour continued on stage two as Bastette vocalist Caroline Eve Kenyon spun and danced across the whole stage in her PVC catsuit, without missing a note. The lights were brightened as she slowed down her dancing to sing crowd favourite Sunglass before delivering “A brand new song about falling in love with a rockstar – Fiction”. As bassist Paddy Duffy introduced the band, we learnt that Eoin Kelly (rhythm guitar) has the biggest ever collection of novelty socks and lead guitarist Sam Newiss was to be auctioned to the highest bidder!
There was time for a quick visit to the main stage for Alcatrazz before the second stage was brought back to life by Daxx & Roxane. They opened with Ticket to Rock and continued the party vibe with Strange Woman. Technical issues continued to plague this stage as guitarist Simon Golaz informed the sound engineer that he could hear someone else’s music playing through his monitor but this was soon forgotten as they played well received songs including Superstitious (Stevie Wonder) and recent release Fast Lane. Lead guitarist Cal Wymann’s leapfrog was more successful than his attempt to catch Simon’s hat and the audience was left with smiles as wide as vocalist Cedric Pfister’s.
The penultimate act on the main stage was the melodic five piece Hardline from which the crowd pleaser was Everything, before Beth Blade and the Beautiful Disasters closed the second stage. Resplendent in a tartan dress, Beth dedicated On and On to Tony Heare, Tom Leighton, Steve Strange and Malcolm Maggs, all much loved members of the music scene that had recently passed. Brand new song Tonight I’m With You was well received and I Ain’t Got Nothing (If I Ain’t Got Rock And Roll) had the crowd singing along.
The main festival drew to a close with an impressive set from the Glaswegian blues outfit King King. Frontman Alan Nimmo wore his trademark red tartan kilt and like the sometimes similarly dressed Axl Rose, they started the set late. It was only a 20 minute delay, however and was definitely worth the wait as they opened with (She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ and delivered a polished performance that also included Rush Hour and the rather indulgent A Long History of Love.
Featuring 28 bands across two stages, it was an extremely welcoming and organised festival with a relaxed atmosphere. A much needed cloakroom was hosted by the local RNLI, there were hot meals for sale and an adjacent seating area for consuming them. The bars were well run and there were minimal queues. In the main stage hall there wFeaturing 28 bands across two stages, it was an extremely welcoming and organised festival with a relaxed atmosphere. A much needed cloakroom was hosted by the local RNLI, there were hot meals for sale and an adjacent seating area for consuming them. The bars were well run and there were minimal queues. In the main stage hall there was a seated balcony along three sides and an immersive feeling was created by giant banners along the walls featuring some of the WinterStorm artist alumni.
WinterStorm Festival: https://www.winterstorm.co.uk