Thursday, 9 March 2017

Live Review: Brofest #5 at Northumbria University Students Union, Newcastle

Brofest #5 Burns This Town



Day 1
As I make my way up to Newcastle on the 24th of February, the only thing that keeps me going throughout the nine hour bus ride is the prospect of two days of heavy metal heaven up in the Toon. It's that time of year again, when fans make the pilgrimage across country and continents (in some cases quite literally) to the home of Brofest.

After a harrowing journey north, it's an absolute relief to finally get to the venue. The student union is a stone's throw away from Newcastle City Centre, with the nearest Wetherspoons being only a few minutes' walk away.  

Five years running, Brofest is still going strong and the family vibe is immediate as old friends greet each other. Music really does bring people together and it's a beautiful thing to witness. The bar at the back of the hall is heaving, with ales and lagers being poured left, right and centre. Time to get a nice cold bottle of 'broon' in before the madness begins.

In the past, Brofest has boasted line-ups that mix fresh younger bands with veteran ones, with the aim to keep the spirit alive. This year is no different, as Southampton's Toledo Steel open the weekend's festivities with harmonised dual guitar attacks topped with operatic vocals.  Since their debut self-titled EP, released in 2013, followed by 2015's Zero Hour, the band already has a fair few gigs under their belts and take to the stage with full confidence.  They even throw in an cover of Grim Reaper's 'See You In Hell' as a penultimate number, setting the stage for London's Berlyn.


Toledo Steel (Photo by Liadh Ní Chéilleachair)

Back after a triumphant reunion show at 2014's Brofest, Berlyn commence with the frankly titled 'Don't Ever Laugh In My Face', encapsulating that cool, laid back sound of the era. Making sure they include all the songs from their 1982 demo, they also add later tracks like the rockin' 'Gonna Be Somebody'.
Mythra back in the day (Photo from nwobhm.com)

Another returning act is Mythra, coming a few miles down the road from South Sheilds. They've been playing shows across Europe since their 2015 reunion at Brofest, mixing in classic tracks such as 'Death and Destiny' and 'UFO' with more recently recorded ones. With a determination to continue their musical legacy, Mythra give us a taster of their anticipated new album due for release this April by High Roller Records, proving that they are Still Burning.

Mythra Live At Brofest

Battleaxe single 
(Photo from nwobhm.com)
The crowd has built up respectably by the time Sunderland's Battleaxe are 'Ready To Deliver'. Opening with 'Battleaxe', they are no strangers to the Brofest stage, having played twice before there.  They make sure to include songs from Burn This Town and Power from The Universe, with frontman Dave King anchoring the band with his formidable presence.

Friday's headliners Oliver/Dawson Saxon end the night with an absolute blinder of a set, performing all the classic Saxon tunes that the audience know and love including 'Denim And Leather'. Luckily there is no sign of any 'Nursery Crimes' as the hall is filled with the pure sounds of heavy metal. Original Saxon members, Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson appear to be in their element as the crowd sing along to 'Motorcycle Man' and 'Wheels of Steel'.  Seventh Son's Bri O'Shaughnessy delivers strident vocals.  

Graham Oliver at Brofest

Day 2
Festival regular Bob Moon was in attandence, bringing
his Red Moon Sales merchandise stall to the fest.
After a night of head banging followed by some questionable dance moves to Status Quo and Rainbow at the previous night's after party, returning to the venue in time for Saturday's openers Starborn is no mean feat.  The talented local youngsters draw inspiration from bands such as Blind Guardian to create a modern power metal sound.

As the hall fills up, the first reunion band of Brofest #5 to make an appearance is Blackmayne.  Known to have only recorded one album in 1985, the Kent based band warmed up for the show by playing a gig several days before at a local music pub in Gravesend. Making sure to include the title track as well as 'Twilight of Lear' and 'Hot Blooded Woman', new vocalist Jay Duke roared out the lyrics to these original tracks, as well as Saxon and Thin Lizzy covers. With the only founding members, Phil McDermott and Julian 'Sack' Sackett there for the reunion, Blackmayne go down very well, ending their set with the newer 'Chosen Few'. 

Stormtrooper single
Stormtrooper are the wonder of this festival, personally speaking. They're joined by original singer Nigel Lloyd.  This is a pleasant surprise as he had left the band prior to the recording of their first single.  For a band that has not played live together for a long time, everything is spot on. Colin 'Boggy' Bond works double duty, handling bass guitar as well as Moog Taurus pedals. With the new record Pride Before A Fall (The Lost Album) having been recently released on High Roller Records, fans are treated to several lost gems. Paul Merrell (later of Jaguar fame) sang on the original recordings, but this didn't matter on the day as Nigel Lloyd sang with such self assurance that he slots perfectly back in to his old band. They made sure to play both songs from their 1980 single; 'Pride Before A Fall' and the Deep Purpleesque 'Still Comin' Home'. Guitarist Bob Starling later states that this has been their first show in 35 years, much to our amazement.   

Stormtrooper live at Brofest.  Nigel “I ain’t dressing up like a f*ckin’ Christmas tree for no c*nt” Lloyd was right at home on stage supping on a can of Guinness.

The entire Mk.III line-up were present on
the day 

(Photo from Traitors Gate Official)
Halfway through Saturday, the thirsty heavy metal punters have depleted the venue's bottled ale supply, but the lack of this certain beverage doesn't dampen the mood. Long before the eagerly awaited Traitors Gate charge the stage, a line of front row bangers has formed, waiting at the barrier for a reunion show that many NWOBHM fans have been longing for. The lads from Pontypool get the crowd riled up with a couple of newer tracks. When they play 'Shoot To Kill' and the time-honoured 'The Devil Takes The High Road', the entire audience erupts into a sing along, encouraged to participate in the choruses by front man Dave Mclean.

Traitors Gate live at Brofest

Saracen single
Having postponed by one year, Saracen are another of Brofest #5's favourites. A five year gap in live shows, meant that the taster fans had gotten earlier at such festivals as British Steel (UK) and Keep It True (Germany) left them wanting more. Vocalist and front man Steve Bettney shows off superb vocals throughout the set, as they open with Change Of Hearts' 'We Have Arrived' and include tracks from the masterpiece Heroes, Saints and Fools. With a voice like that, and such lyrical mastery, it's no wonder they caught the ear of veteran rock DJ Tommy Vance back in the 80s, recording a session for the Friday Rock Show.

Some may have wondered about the placement on the bill of the next band Demon, having been a NWOBHM band that has been very active throughout the past decades.  Despite this, fans are ready to have 'One Helluva' Night', and it's clear that the band are one of the favourites, as everyone sings along with Dave Hill to class tracks such as 'Night Of the Demon', 'Don't Break The Circle', 'Liar' and 'Sign Of A Madman'. There is no doubt that they will continue to delight fans for as long as they continue to play.

Demon live at Brofest
Before Saturday's headlining band takes centre stage, the event gets an injection of something new in the form of Ghoul and High Spirits. Both on current UK tours at the time, it seems a strange choice to include Ghoul in the lineup. The comedy gore splatterthrash metal receive a luke warm reception initially which gradually increases as more people get into them. Spectators near the front should have brought a change of clothes with them as they are drenched in fake blood during the band's performance. High Spirits are more of a fit for the festival having played there before. One for fans of the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal sound, their new album Motivator hits the spot as they open with 'Flying High'. 

The penultimate band's set has left people literally in high spirits, ready to enjoy the final band of the festival, Tokyo Blade. They are one of the more well known NWOBHM acts, and having been re-joined with original singer Alan Marsh back in April 2016, Andy Boulton and co put on nothing less than a killer show. They get the crowd pumped with hits including 'Lightning Strikes' and 'If Heaven Is Hell', bringing Brofest #5 to a thundering close.

Tokyo Blade live at Brofest
Well, what can we say, except that it's been an absolute success of a festival.  A big applause to the Brofest lads for organising this classic event, five years in a row....bring on #6!  

Want to reminisce on Brofest memories?  Check out John Tucker's new book '5 Years of Brofest (UK)'



Score: 5/5


Writer: Michelle Godding

Photos By: Michelle Godding unless otherwise stated

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