Photos: Tim Hinchliffe (except Focus [above] and Ian Anderson by Amanda Carter)
For fans of a certain vintage, New Day in 2022 looked almost like it could have been the line-up for the Reading Festival any year in the mid-1970s… with a roster which included Jethro Tull, Focus, Colosseum, Atomic Rooster, Stray, Ten Years After, Edgar Broughton and The Sweet, plus Skylines, a tribute act to seventies prog legends Camel, (but who sadly had to pull out the day before due to Covid), this was almost heaven for many of the seventies throwbacks in the crowd.
During the weekend, I was able to stroll around and chat to a few of the musicians playing, but first let’s cast an eye over the line-up that we were treated to…
John Verity (ex-Argent) gets the proceedings off to a good start with a rocking set, which included lusty renditions of Cocaine and Stay With Me Baby. He goes back to Argent for Hold Your Head Up and God Gave Rock ‘n Roll To You, pouring much deserved scorn on Kiss’ claim it’s their song! He concludes a lively set with The Star Spangled Banner, a dip into the national anthem, followed by Purple Haze, before concluding a well-received set with Rocky Mountain Way.
After a mid-afternoon cloudburst, the sunshine returns and the reborn Heavy Metal Kids take to the stage, and are as raucous as they ever were with Hit The Right Spot and Chelsea Kids, though they lack the snarl and the bite they once had. Hugh Cornwell follows on and, for a man with seeming antipathy towards his previous band, performs several of their songs, including Duchess, Hanging Around and London Lady. He also plays Monster, a song he wrote about Ray Harryhausen, designer of many great special effects on screen. The interesting thing about Cornwell and Verity’s sets is both artists performed well-known classic songs from their previous bands as a traditional three piece, without using keyboards, but both succeeded in carrying it off.
But, now, it’s superstar time as Jethro Tull take the stage. For a band with fifty years plus longevity and so many classic songs to choose from, they’ll never please everyone, but they begin with vintage oldies For A Thousand Mothers, Song For Jeffrey and the proggy version of Living In The Past. After a short drum solo in Dharma For One, we get Bourrée and tracks from Broadsword & The Beast and Songs From The Wood. Surprisingly, they play only one track, Mrs Tibbetts, from their excellent latest album, The Zealot Gene. They conclude with Aqualung and Locomotive Breath and leave the stage to rapturous applause. Ian Anderson’s voice isn’t what it was, but his stage presence and between-song raps more than compensate.
Stray now have to follow what was Friday’s best set, but this presents few problems for them because they’ve been around forever and, led by the legendary Del Bromham, they’re hardy seasoned festival warriors. Their set is a mix of old (Turn Me On and Houdini), and new (Living The Dream and Black Sun), closing with the evergreen All In Your Mind. So, it’s down to Ten Years After to wrap up the day. Like Jethro Tull, they’re also fifty-year-plus veterans and, in Chick Churchill and Ric Lee, they’ve two members of the original band who performed at Woodstock, and they also have a lengthy back catalogue, albeit less distinguished, but we get Hear Me Calling, Silver Spoon Lady and I’d Like To Change The World, plus a drum solo in The Hobbit. They close out the day with a slightly slower Love Like A Man and … you’ve guessed it … I’m Going Home.
After an early appearance by Stewart Wood and Dee Palmer, who gave us a delightful run through of tunes from their time in Jethro Tull, Solstice play a sparkling set, possibly the best I’ve seen from them, and set a record for being the first band to play at New Day on three consecutive occasions. Their set mixes songs from their last album, Shout and New Day, with an older tune, Sacred Run, and also a couple of newer tunes, Light Up and Bulbul. Solstice now have two new backing singers, Ebony Buckle and Jen Sanin, and in Jess Holland, a vocalist who’s taken the band up a notch. Welsh prog rock band Karnataka come on in the warm afternoon sunshine and, with vocalist Sertari resplendent in red and black, open with the wonderful Serpent And The Sea, and then perform Forgiven and Sacrifice, a couple of new songs from their forthcoming album, and they’re well received.
Kaprekar’s Constant are up next and, for this reviewer at least, it was one of the thrills of the weekend to see ex-Van der Graaf Generator saxman David Jackson back onstage once again, especially when he played two saxes simultaneously. Their set was drawn largely from their albums Depth Of Field and also recent release The Murder Wall, which chronicles six different attempts to scale the north face of the Eiger, and their brand of melodic folky-prog goes down well, with standout tracks like Holywell Street, Victorious and White Star Sunrise.
Colosseum, now minus the sadly deceased Jon Hiseman and Barbara Thompson, and Dave Greenslade, who’s now left the band, deviate from the norm at festivals in that, rather than start with songs everyone knows, they begin with Story Of The Blues and No Pleasing, tracks from their recent Restoration album, but then they treat the audience to a nearly eighteen minute version of the epic Valentyne Suite, with fantastic musicianship all around. After one more new track, First In Line, we get another of their longer classics, Lost Angeles, again with top notch musicianship. This was the first Colosseum set this reviewer had ever seen without anyone in the band playing a solo.
Focus close out Saturday and, in terms of musicianship, they give a masterclass and they’re more than a match for Colosseum, opening up with their lengthy epic track Focus 1. In Menno Gootjes, they’ve a guitarist making you forget Jan Akkerman had ever been in the band. They also give us a majestic version of Eruption, after which they dedicate a short piece of music to ex-bassman Bert Ruiter, who sadly died earlier this year. After Sylvia and House Of The King, they wrap up a day of some great music with THAT song, which the crowd lustily joins in with.
Sandwiched between those two bands, Edgar Broughton plays a solo set. He still has his radical cutting edge and, in between tracks like Six White Horses and Yesterday’s men, he still has some quite pointed social observations to offer.
If there’s one thing New Day can most definitely lay claim to, it’s in the eclecticism of its daily line-ups. At some festivals it’s rock band following rock band, etc, but at New Day, the acts which follow may very well be extremely different from what’s just gone before.
Gryphon were the perfect opening act for Sunday afternoon. Once described as an imagining of ‘Henry V111 in a rock band,’ they came onstage just after 1 PM and their baroque mix of prog, folk and medieval rock invigorated the crowd. After this, Department S took us back to the late seventies with a powerhouse performance of full-on punkish aggression, blasting out tracks like Burn Down Tomorrow, Wonderful day and, inevitably, Is Vic There. Blues belter Deborah Bonham was up next and, excited about having a hit on the continent, plus reminding us she was here back in 2003 with Robert Plant, her mix of bluesy rock went down a treat. She performed tracks like Take Away My Pain and Feel So Loud, and concluded with a delightful rendition of Free’s Mr Big.
Up next, as part of their farewell tour, were Ken Pustelnik’s Groundhogs – or rather the Groundhogs as envisioned by a heavy metal band because they’ve certainly added layers of steel to some classic hog’s tracks. I saw the Groundhogs a number of times and I don’t remember them ever being this heavy, with Split 1 being a perfectly example, with its long meandering riff-laden middle eight. But they performed several songs from the classic Thank Christ For The Bomb album, notably Eccentric Man, Garden, Strange Town and Soldier, finishing with a frantic Cherry Red. Given the absence of any blues sensitivity in their music, it’d be fascinating to know what TS McPhee thinks of this incarnation of the hogs.
National treasures The Sweet lit up the early evening with a fabulous set. They’d originally been down as the headline act on Sunday but changed to an earlier spot due to one of the band having a hospital appointment in Bristol early next day. Still led by Andy Scott, and with powerhouse vocalist Paul Manzi out front, their set contained no surprises, with everyone knowing every song, which produced a great party atmosphere, and they played a storming set with hit after hit being performed.
Heir to Skynyrd and the Allmans, Skinny Molly brought their take on Southern Rock to Kent with a set heavy on Skynyrd tunes, notably Sweet Home Alabama and Call Me The Breeze, plus also Copperhead Road and Better Than I Should, before they wound up a rousing set playing a lengthy version of Freebird, with the opening notes eliciting the day’s biggest cheer, leaving the stage to rapturous applause.
Finally, it was left to Atomic Rooster to close what had been another splendid weekend in the gardens, and they rose to the occasion with Rooster classics like Sleeping For Years, Can’t Take No More and Black Snake. The organ, a prominent part of Rooster’s sound, wasn’t as prominent as it might have been, but this didn’t detract from a fine set to bring the curtain down on another great three days.
AROUND AND ABOUT AT THE NEW DAY FESTIVAL
Still held in the delightful Mount Ephraim Gardens, a few miles north west of Canterbury in the garden of England, New Day continues to be one of the delights of the English summer. After the touch-and-go of 2021’s event due to the ongoing threat posed by Covid, this year’s event was never in doubt and, after the recent heatwaves, the main issue was: will God prove he has a sense of humour by sending rain during the festival after a couple of very warm dry months? And guess what… He really has. Mid-afternoon, the clouds open up, soaking many ‘not dressed for the weather’ festival goers. But, hey, what’s a little rain, eh? We Brits are nothing if not stoic, and we just get wet and shrug it off. At 2021’s event, some bands demonstrated an understandable degree of ring-rustiness as, due to the pandemic, many hadn’t played live or even rehearsed together in the same room for anything up to two years, but happily no such issue in 2022 and the crowd enjoyed the music and the event.
And there’s plenty to enjoy at New Day. Not only beautiful surroundings – from the car park attendees’ walk through an orchard to reach the main site – there’s also a pleasant, very friendly vibe. Once underway, everything runs almost like clockwork as, backstage, Baz and the crew ensure smooth changeovers and bands appearing at the time scheduled. Once onsite, as well as great music, there’s a well-stocked, reasonably priced bar offering many fine ales from local brewers Shepherd Neame (oldest brewery in the country) and Canterbury Ales…’Wife of Bath’ is highly recommended! It’s also an event where the performers can often be seen walking around… watching Colosseum, I looked to my right and spotted Thijs van Leer standing a few feet away checking out the competition.
It says something about the older generation of rock bands when, after playing full-on rock sets at New day on Friday, the next day (20th) both the Heavy Metal Kids and Stray travelled to Liege, Belgium, to perform in the afternoon at the Golden Age of Rock festival. Del Bromham doesn’t get much change out of seventy years but he’s still putting himself through a punishing schedule to play the music he loves.
One band particularly pleased to be at New Day were Cuprom, from the Czech Republic, who were making their first appearance in this country. If I heard their vocalist correctly, their name is Czech for ‘buy a bottle of rum.’ Prior to taking the stage, the guitarist said, ‘We’ve never played Europe before, so nobody will have heard of us, but we’re really looking forward to playing at New Day, and we’re here all weekend’. I wondered what the crowd would be hearing. ‘We’re a kind of crossover between Colosseum and other similar bands, and we use a Hammond organ but we couldn’t bring it with us because it’s too heavy and it’d be too expensive – but we hope you like what we do’.
We did. Their forty minute set was full of seventies influences from bands like Focus and Jethro Tull (yes, the singer played the flute), and their music was well received.
But, just before Cuprom perform, one of the road crew, Philip Thomas, comes onstage and tells us his story about the last few years of having a long distance relationship with a lady in New Zealand, but then he tells us she’s now finally in this country and she’s here at New Day, so he asks his lady, Lindsay Bridge, to come up onstage, whereupon he then declares his undying love for her, drops to one knee and, taking her hand and stating how he cannot live without her, proposes to Lindsay, who accepts with a big smile, as the song Going To The Chapel echoes around the arena. A lovely, heart-warming touch which deservedly attracted a big cheer.
Skylines, a tribute to Camel, had been due to follow Cuprom onstage, sadly had to pull out due to a band member contracting Covid and, as they messaged, ‘were gutted to miss the festival.’ But, at the last minute, a band called Haze heroically stepped into the breach. ‘We seem to have spent this entire summer filling in for another band at short notice’, smiled Ceri Ashton, flute and violin player, when asked afterwards about their appearance – plus they’d had to endure the delights of the M25 during rush hour on the Friday to arrive on time. The ironic part of this is, they stepped in at the last minute due to someone in Skylines being unwell, but on the Thursday, the day they accept the gig, their own drummer Dan was taken ill, so the band, Chris McMahon (bass, keys and vocals) and Paul McMahon (guitar and vocals) with the occasional appearance of Ceri Ashton on flute, played largely as a two piece with an MP3 drum machine. But they handled the situation admirably and, if they were nervous, it didn’t show. Their mix of psych and prog was well received by an audience who weren’t expecting them.
Solstice have a new album coming out in October, and as Andy Glass mentioned after their set, one of the newer pieces they played is still without a title, so ‘is currently being performed under the working title of Bulbul, after the Bulbul Tarang which I play in the first section’. He went on to say, ‘we had an absolute ball here. The audience was great and there’s the feeling we’re really getting somewhere with the new music and line-up’. Last year Solstice performed with three ladies singing back-up vocals, this year there are only two, and neither was in the band last year. Andy explained; ‘availability issues led me to approach these two women, Ebony Buckle and Jen Sanin, to increase our pool of harmony singers, and reduce the number of singers to ease to ease the logistical and financial implications of gigging’.
Any conversation involving Edgar Broughton will inevitably take on a serious hew at some point. After saying he’s currently working with a cellist and a few other musicians, who he’s yet to meet as it’s all online, another person standing nearby asked his view on the current ‘beauty contest’ to select a new Prime Minister. ‘You know what?’ he stated, ‘what we really need is for Liz Truss to win because she’s such a f**k up, she’ll soon be up to her neck in it. I mean, the whole f***ing system’s going down the drain. What we need’s a revolution. The last Labour man with any real idea was John someone … can’t remember his name’. ‘John McDonnell?’ I offer. ‘Yeah, that’s the one, but he doesn’t seem to be involved any more’.
‘This really is a lovely friendly festival, isn’t it?’ says David Oberle, drummer and vocalist with Gryphon, after their well-received set. I asked him and Brian Gulland, bassoon and crumhorn player, if they remembered playing the Crystal Palace Bowl in the summer of 1974, mentioning seeing them there was my intro to Gryphon. ‘Yes, I certainly do’, David comes back with. ‘That was the one with Rick Wakeman playing Journey to the Centre of the Earth, wasn’t it? I remember having to throw all this dry ice into the lake in front of the stage, which brought up loads of smoke’. ‘I remember it as well’, says Brian Gulland. I remember Wakeman had all these big plastic dinosaurs in the lake and they kept collapsing, and the crew having to try and get them upright and floating again’, he said with a grin.
I mention that what was significant about this show was, straight after coming offstage, Wakeman had a heart attack and had to be rushed to hospital. ‘Yeah, but happily he pulled through’, Gulland says (and we’re all thankful he did). ‘He’s the one who used to eat curries under his keyboards onstage, isn’t he?’
I offer congratulations to Phil Thompson, guitar/vocals in Department S, after their storming set, which was as different from preceding band Gryphon as it’s possible to be. I mentioned it was like 1977 all over again. ‘More like 1979, as we weren’t around that early’, he smiles. He was very impressed with the environment the festival was staged in: ‘Is this event a yearly thing?’ I tell him it is. ‘It’s lovely here, isn’t it?’ I agree… it is. ‘These are all hop fields over there, aren’t they? You know what this means, don’t you? This is all future beer being grown right here’, he smiles. I suggest Department S should have played in the late afternoon spot as they’d have been the perfect lead into an evening featuring The Sweet and Skinny Molly. ‘I don’t know about that’, he grins, ‘I’ve gotta drive all the way back to Preston after we finish up here, and God knows how long that’s gonna take me’. I assume it’ll take him at least four hours from mid-Kent on a Sunday.
Another band who were thankful and grateful to play at New Day was The Sweet. Paul Manzi explained; ‘we nearly didn’t make it here at all. Our flight from Germany was delayed, then the van with all our gear in broke down in Norfolk, so we’ve had to borrow some gear just to be able to play, and then our bassist wasn’t able to make it but, luckily, our guitar tech, Adam, stepped up into the breach at the last minute, so we were able to perform here after all. But it was all worth it, especially when the crowd are as good as the one here this evening’. It was pointed out that Atomic Rooster have got quite a set to follow. ‘You know what? I don’t think it matters at an event like this. People who come here just love their music, no matter what the genre, and I’m sure they’ll be fine. I just love festivals like these’, he said looking around.
Don’t we all!