Paul Rule reports on Cambridge Rock Festival – The Kings Bush Centre, Godmanchester, 16-19 August 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Previously known at the Rockinbeerfest, the Cambridge Rock Festival may have changed its name but the beer is still here, in fact according to the program there are 56 real ales available, to go along with 60+ bands.

Four days of rock n' roll and an endless supply of ale may give the impression that this is a festival for men of a certain age with large beer bellies, but in truth it is far from that. The festival attracts nearly as many women as men, and there are plenty of young people in attendance, as well as a lot of families - and even the odd dog. The atmosphere reminds me of the Cambridge Folk Festival, but even more laid back. The main arena is the venue for the main stage, and is big enough to accommodate a big audience as well as the bar. With the heavy rain experienced on Saturday and Sunday, this proved invaluable, as everyone could stay dry without a major crush. Stage 2 was located in the next door caf? so flitting between to two was a mud free experience. Stage 3 and the camping area were not quite so lucky as the path leading to it did end up getting very muddy so campers could not escape it entirely.

I arrived late on Friday evening just in time to see the final two acts on the main stage. The first of these was Eddie & the Hot Rods. The program said ‘expect a super-tight, high energy performance' and boy, did they live up to that. To add a bit more energy, a third guitarist (Danny Kustow) was added to the line-up to rip through Do Anything You Wanna Do, Gloria and Born to be Wild, with enthusiastic vocal support in the choruses from the audience. The Hot Rods must be a difficult act to have to follow on stage, but this was no problem for Dr Feelgood, who completed a perfect start to the weekend, with 90 minutes of glorious R&B based rock.

I was looking forward to seeing Kyrb Grinder and the Bluehorses, but unfortunately I had to be elsewhere on Saturday afternoon so missed both sets, and had salt rubbed into the wounds by people who kept telling me how good they were. I arrived just in time to see Mindflow, a five-piece band with their Brazilian brand of prog rock. Being a bit of an old prog-head myself I was looking forward to this, but the cacophony of noise they produced was more Megadeath than Genesis or Yes.

The area was now starting to fill up with people wearing Pink Floyd T-shirts, so there was little trouble guessing who they had come to see - but before we got the two sets from the Aussie facsimile Floyd, it was time for 90 minutes of high energy R & B from the wonderful Nine Below Zero.

During this set I took a quick dash to the café for a cup of coffee. The café doubles as stage 2, and the next act was setting up on the tiny stage, so rather than return to the main stage I decided to see what they had to offer. With the vast majority of punters either in, or heading to, the main arena this left 25 Yard Screamer with an audience of about 20. This did not put off this three-piece prog outfit from Wales putting everything into their set, and by the end they had dragged enough passing stragglers into stage 2 too increase the audience four fold - no mean feat considering what was going on next door.

The Australian Pink Floyd Show completed Saturday's show with two sets, the first being a complete performance of Dark Side of the Moon, followed by a 'best of' set. These guys do everything to make the concert as near to the real thing as possible, and they do it well, but I can't help wondering what the point of it all is. Doing a cover of a song is fine (and often better than the original), but to reproduce a facsimile of the original just left me cold - but no doubt this was a minority opinion judging by the size of the audience these guys attract.

The A14 did its very best to make me miss the fabulous John Otway on Sunday, but I got there with a couple of minutes to spare. John has got to be the funniest guy on the circuit, and is probably the only person on the planet who could get away with a set that contains a cover of Delilah and the Osmond's Crazy Horses (with theremin replacing synthesiser). The audience was split between his fans and those wondering who this guy was - but by the end everyone's a fan.

At 5 o'clock Karnataka took the stage. This Welsh five-piece band play a blend of melodic Celtic influenced progressive rock, sort of Marillion meets Clannad, with gorgeous vocals provided the wonderful Lisa Fury.

Hazel O' Conner and her band the Subterraneans followed. I thought we might be getting a gentle Irish folk influenced set, but this being a rock festival Hazel gave us a more punky performance, including Eighth Day, Blackman and the spine tingling Will You.

Next we were treated to one of the best female vocalists in rock as Deborah Bonham (younger sister of legendary Led Zep drummer John Bonham) and her band took to the stage, with a set of original songs and some outstanding covers, including Stay With Me Baby, and duetting with her keyboard player, Gerard Louis on Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore.

The penultimate band up were Wishbone Ash, and having been around 35 years there has been a lot of changes since I saw them back in the early 70's. Founder member Andy Powell and his famous Gibson Flying V guitar are the two remaining fixtures from the original set-up. The music still sounds good though, and I particularly enjoyed hearing Throw Down the Sword and Phoenix again.

Judging by the large number of Thunder T-shirts worn in arena it was obvious that many had come to see the closing headline act. I had never listened to any of their work previous to this, but I now know why they have such a strong following, and why they were an excellent choice to wrap up the festival - upbeat, hard rock, and in Danny Bowes one of the finest singers in rock.

I will be back next year - but this time I plan to clear the decks so I don't miss so much...

Writer and photographer: Paul Rule