Brofest (UK) 6 – Day 2 @Newcastle University Students Union, Newcastle upon Tyne, February 29, 2020
If the first night at Brofest (UK) 6 focused on upcoming acts, Britain’s rock and metal heritage was firmly in the spotlight during Saturday’s event – although there was still plenty of room for young bands carrying the NWOBHM torch into the 2020s.
Rich Holmes has all the action from Day 2 in Newcastle.
Reaching for the sky
They look like a lorryload of paint has detonated in a spandex factory. They’re partial to a bit of goofing around. But Newcastle/Durham boys Skyryder are deadly serious about pushing Maiden, Priest and Helloween into hyperpseed and having a whole lot of fun with the results.
Midday isn’t exactly a dream slot for any band, but the quintet tore through Invaders and Sentinel (Of The Spaceways) to quickly banish any sore heads from Friday’s partying. New tune Virtual Humanity dragged Brofest out of its morning slumber and by the time Skyryder were covering Angel Witch, fists were pumping and throats were roaring.
The Magnificent Seven
If departing Seven Sisters sticksman Steve Loftin wanted a good send-off, then this show was it. The young West London outfit – currently on tour with their buddies Haunt – are one of the UK’s finest exponents of Maiden-inspired, ‘true’ heavy metal, the sort of band who would have sold out the Marquee several times over in NWOBHM’s halcyon days.
Their Brofest set, boasting twin axe barnstormers like Once And Future King and Lost In Time, was one of the weekend’s highlights, sending fans into ecstasy as every scorching lead thrust out from the PA. And it takes a supremely talented act to even attempt an epic such as The Cauldron And The Cross in a live setting, let alone deliver it with such confidence and panache.
Loftin will be missed, but Seven Sisters will not be stopped.
NWOBHM was a broad movement – and while some bands enjoyed major label success, others weren’t so lucky. Brofest, however, has long given a platform to bands who played a part in shaping the scene.
Edinburgh’s Medusa Touch, who formed in 1983, didn’t even release a record back in NWOBHM’s heyday – now however, thanks to Greek label ONR, they have an anthology, Terror Eyes, in their armoury. Their Brofest slot brought long forgotten gems such as Get Ready Babe, Man In Black and the excellent Terror Eyes itself back to life on Tyneside – and justified founder Gordon ‘Goggsy’ Sinclair’s decision to reignite Medusa Touch.
Rhabstallion didn’t get past demo stage in the early 80s, but Yorkshiremen’s recent revival has led to the recording of a new album, Back In The Saddle – and to shows like Brofest. Stranger, Stranger and Driving Seat were among a slew of songs delivered with polish and panache, while singer/guitarist Andy Wood lit up Newcastle with a vocal masterclass.
Some sound demons nibbled around the edges of their set, robbing Abbott’s guitar of some bite: thankfully, though, 999 and Resistance 77 drummer Stu Meadows was there to pummel seven shades out of his kit, so all wasn’t lost as the quartet hit Brofest with Nightmare, Diamonds and Pearls and Nuclear Bomb.
Two extra-terrestrial themed acts, two very different approaches…
Denmark’s Alien Force, who reunited for Germany’ Keep It True festival in 2017, play raw, unfettered heavy rock that’s underscored by guitarist Henrik Rasmussen’s metallic crunch: Get It Out, their Brofest opener, being a prime example.
Yes, their set – the band’s first in the UK – drew heavily from 1985’s Hell Or High Water, with Night Of Glory and the title track belted out by imperious vocalist Peter Svale Anderson, but the quartet aren’t simply trading on past glories. New single Rebellions hit Newcastle hard… and there’s more to come this year in the form of a new album.
In contrast to the Danes’ grit and groove performance, Sacred Alien took Brofest into the cosmos: a backdrop showing the mind-bending scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, vocalist Sean Canning shooting green lasers from his fingertips (while sporting a third eye in his forehead)… the Manchester quartet touched down at Brofest and brought some theatre with them.
Want a reminder of just how underrated the 80s UK thrash scene was? Saturday night at Brofest would have been a good start.
Hydra Vein, playing together for the first time in more than 32 years, ripped into Rabid like the past three decades never happened, and their vicious take on 1988’s Crucifier was a lesson in violence that won’t be forgotten by anyone who had the pleasure to witness it.
Founders Nathan and Damon Maddison were joined by Hydra alumni Stephen Davis, Dan Ranger and Paul Bate for this one-off reunion, with Viking-like frontman James Manley-Bird roaring out Rather Death Than False Of Faith like he’d always been a part of the Brighton outfit.
And despite little rehearsal time together, the sextet weren’t afraid of the turn on a dime tempo changes of After The Dream or Born Through Ignorance. Blending technicality with raw aggression, Hydra Vein went for the jugular at Brofest and were rewarded with a joyous reception.
Bittersweet? Yes, as there are no plans for a follow-up. But for the clearly ecstatic Maddison brothers and the rest of their bandmates, this was a night to remember.
Neat Records alumni Saracen always stood apart from the rest of the NWOBHM movement, with their prog rock leanings and a far more melodic, keyboard-infused sound.
Indeed, as a regular feature on classic metal festival across the UK and Europe (including Brofest), the quintet know how to enrapture an audience more used to blistering fretwork than symphonic synths. They have it down to a tee. Part of that magic formula is the talismanic Steve Bettney, a livewire showman with a voice that makes aspiring singers green with envy. And another ingredient is songs like We Have Arrived and Ready To Fly, as anthemic at Brofest 2020 as they were back in 1981.
Saracen showed their class… and one again proved they deserved their high billing.
For three bands at this year’s Brofest, there was extra poignancy to their performances.
Mike Woods, guitarist with Manchester’s Heavy Sentence, passed away in October 2019, leaving a huge void not just within the band, but in the UK’s underground metal scene.
Vocalist Gareth Howells paid tribute to his fallen brother during his band’s emotional Brofest show. And while it may have been difficult for the quintet (Heavy Sentence had been booked to play before Woods’ death), they powered through high octane ragers Edge Of The Knife, Medusa and Protector with all the passion and verve that this exceptional band are renowned for, bolstered by the potent axework of Eliminator shredder Jack MacMichael.
Hydra Vein’s set was also played in memory of fallen comrades. Manley-Bird dedicated Turning Point to guitarist Jon Balfour, who played on 1989’s After The Dream and tragically passed away in 1992, and the band’s original singer, Mike Keen, who sadly died in 2003.
And Lancashire NWOBHM pioneers Stormchild, who brought Brofest to a rapturous close on Saturday, remembered legendary rock producer Chris Tsangarides with Dreamer. Tsangarides, who left us in 2018, helped the band resurrect their career with 2019’s Lightning Never Strikes Twice: Dreamer was one of his favourite songs.
Stormchild frontman Ian Bridge touched many a heart with his performance and his voice ached with emotion – Tsangarides would surely have been proud of what the band have become.
Check out the pre-show review featuring Witchfynde, Stormchild and Blind Haze here.
Check out the review of Day One at Brofest (UK) 6 here.