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  • Melanie Henderson

New Wave of Classic Rock Webfest 4: Part 1

It’s true that rock never dies. And it definitely never goes quiet. But with mainstream media ever more stuck in its ways, it falls to internet radio and online community groups to spread the word about a genre that’s chockfull of undiscovered talent. In fact, to say that grass roots rock is reasonably healthy is like saying Sir Mo Farah’s lungs are passably functional. On the evidence of this marathon event, the fourth New Wave of Classic Rock Webfest, the genre is not only alive and well but in peak condition and more eager than ever to flex its impressive biceps even in these gig-starved times.

With donations and T-shirt profits going to the musicians and nine hours of quality entertainment for viewers, what’s not to like?

Exposure is certainly the name of the game during the first part of the afternoon, with several bands from the Forge AMP Initiative – aimed at raising the profiles of talented artists – showcasing their wares. What’s clear from the outset is that ‘classic rock’ is no one-dimensional style: here we have everything from the super-crunchy metal of Blame the Sacred to the confident, bluesy vibe of Yesterday’s Gone to the hard-nosed drive of 28 Double. And then there’s powerhouse trio A Joker Among Thieves, bonkers noise-mongers Sour Tusk and Stellaris - the writhing deranged love child of Pearl Jam and Led Zep. As warm-ups go, it’s more than enough to get up a good honest sweat.

Next up are Staffordshire’s The Howling Tides, masters of warm and swaggering riff-mongery built on the soul of Deep Purple but with steely shades of Sabbath sewn in. Frontman Rob Baynes has a big, capable rock voice while drummer Steven Herbert not only boasts excellent hair but has the might to match the scale and scope of the ambitious numbers. Surely an outfit with great things ahead.

If, by this time you’re listening to rain battering the windows, it’s just as well East Midlands ‘unashamed song band’ The Nile Deltas are on offer. This is a band that brings to mind the very best boozy afternoons spent in the sun. The set, highlighting prime cuts from their Life EP – including school-of-Free rockers like Dust Me Down – layers lashings of Hammond with good-time slide guitar, underneath the meltingly melodic tones of Craig Blencowe. Really, you’d have to be a cold-hearted sort not to fall for these guys at first listen.

From that to proper hard rock from Cambridge’s False Hearts, frontwoman Emma Hodgson ably marshalling this band’s firepower and encouraging the invisible audience ‘to be there for each other, to talk and to listen.’ When gigs are back on the agenda, here’s an outfit that can really connect with an audience while at the same time knocking them for six.

And then, with little time to gather yourself after that impressive onslaught, there’s Austin Gold, a moreish blend of melody and might if ever there was one, with more than a hint of ZZ Top blues. Vocalist and guitarist David James Smith has it all – with the look of a bad boy Bryan Adams and versatile vocal chords that can handle smooth-toned tunefulness as well as ragged-edged rebellion. Not to mention his obvious skill on the fretboard.

Bournemouth’s Black Tree Vultures, meanwhile, display personality in spades. Theirs is a serious, attack that sparks with Metallica-esque energy along with a grungy, groovy darkness. They’re one of the bands that manage to create a truly live feel.

White Raven Down, meanwhile, somehow conjure an atmospheric set of cinematic-style metal that seems to take us on a journey through kaleidoscopic landscapes and brooding skies. And that’s quite something given that they seem to be playing in a room the size of the average lift. It might come as a surprise that such a heavy-sounding band cite Rush as an influence – but not when you consider the complexity of some of the material. It’s a hell of a noise and it’s ear-bleedingly good.

Peddling timeless tales of heartache and redemption, along come hard-edged cowboys Doomsday Outlaw, showcasing a new line-up yet making the whole thing look pretty much effortless. This is a bludgeoning brand of pure rock n’ roll with a belly of fire, a gutsy, bluesy brew that really gets under your skin. Vocalist Phil Poole has hints of Eddie Vedder, but with a more flexible range. He has great delivery, too, often moving more like an indie-rock frontman who would rather just feel the music than over-state himself. It’s a slick set that really underscores an interesting, original sound. And a great piece of filming too: extra points for the shot of the blood ox Doc on the pedals.

The New Wave of Classic Rock Webfest 4 is still available to watch here

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