Stone Free Festival 2016 – live review
Venue: The 02, London
Glam metal, southern rock, straitjackets and wizard capes – we bring you the highlights from Stone Free, the capital’s new (mud-free) festival
It’s a rock festival, Jim, but not as we know it. For a start it’s indoors, so there’s no rain or mud. The loos are pristine. And the various stages are as close together as you can get without noise bleeding from one to the other. Although, to retain that authentic festival vibe, you still have to remortgage your house to buy a plate of food.
Comestible costs aside, it’s compact, it’s clean and it’s conceptual: the line-up for Day 1, which takes place over an inclement (but who cares because we’ve got a nice big dome to protect us) weekend in June, has a strong Classic Rock flavour while Day 2 is led by Prog-friendly artists. Give or take some anomalies – such as Wilko Johnson, not widely known for his tripartite song suites and cosmic rock odysseys, appearing on the Sunday – Stone Free is your two favourite music magazines brought as near as damn it to life.
Saturday gets off to a fine, blues-funky start at the Indigo with Jackaman, fronted by former Saint Jude vocal powerhouse Lynne Jackaman, a vision in a short, patterned dress flanked by four men-in-black. They’re a sort of 21st Century Vinegar Joe, all rock energy and soul warmth, with Jackaman leaping between octaves with a single bound. Mind you, not sure if Elkie Brooks ever writhed quite as suggestively as that…
Somewhat less atmospheric than the Indigo is the Entrance Stage. It’s always going to be hard creating that sexy-cool rock’n’roll atmosphere on a platform by the front door of a brightly lit shopping centre-cum-restaurant/cinema complex, but fresh-faced mod-rock urchins The RPMs give it a good go. They’re a trio,
a bit in the vein of The Jam (or to be more accurate one of The Jam’s callow progeny such as Secret Affair). You can imagine their uptight, uptempo beat rock going down a treat 40 years ago at the Roxy but in these antiseptic environs, they struggle to catch fire.
It might be a sunny Saturday afternoon, but The Virginmarys have the darkness of the Indigo on their side, and their muscular, metallic punk, with shades of, variously, The White Stripes, The Black Keys and 3 Colours Red, works a treat in there.
Grown men cry during Marillion’s set: at the intricacy of the music, and the sheer resonating emotion of it all. Steve Hogarth prefaces Easter with a spiel about “Syria, Ukraine and Sierra Leone”, ahead of a crystalline guitar solo from Steve Rothery. Kayleigh gets an ovation of its own, there’s a mini-suite of Misplaced Childhood songs, followed by Neverland, during which Hogarth spreads his giant white-shirted arms like an angel in flight, quite impressive for a bloke from Kendal.
Rick Wakeman headlines, as you’d expect given the historic nature of this performance: a world exclusive of his 12-million-selling prog landmark, The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table, for the first time since 1975. Our favourite grumpy old caped synth crusader is joined by narrator Ian (Dad’s Army) Lavender, a full orchestra, the English Rock Ensemble and English Chamber Choir – oh, and Wakeman’s son Oliver, on extra keyboard trills.
This is no diminished rendition to accommodate festival constrictions: there must be 30-odd musicians onstage, as well as a 20-strong choir. “Grandiose” doesn’t quite cover it. It couldn’t be more different to last night’s closing act, but there is a shared sense of spectacle and ambition, and a refusal to think small. Sure, the backing singer is a bit “West End musical” when really you need someone with an idiosyncratic quality to their voice, steeped in the mystery of this epic endeavour, but once the choir and strings kick in, it really is quite rousing.
Albeit with minor reservations, Stone Free was immaculate.