Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Lock Stock 22 Festival Rolls Out the Barrel

Lock Stock is a rock and pop music festival in the UK Midlands featuring local Country acts in Willenhall — a town famous for its lock industry, hence the festival’s name.

This year with the threat of COVID fading from our memories, the festival attracted 5,000 people who sang, danced, ate, and certainly got a bit drunk in the sunshine and rain, against a soundtrack featuring everything from solo acoustic guitar sets through to full-on pop performers with sequin-clad dancers.

Twenty-five different acts performed on three stages in Willenhall’s Memorial Park, across two main areas: the Rock Arena and the Pop Arena. The festival platformed upcoming new acts earlier in the day before moving onto locally well-known crowd pleasers as twilight closed in.

The Pop Arena’s program opened with The Vibrant Ducks, a four piece guitar based group performing their own indie-rock compositions. Solo acoustic sets from Jessie Desai and John Langford again featured their own work with a couple of well-placed covers to hook the audience in.

The line-up for the day was carefully chosen with something for everyone, from heavy rock covers and originals through to solo performers with a medley of Motown, soul and pop favourites. As a result, the audience ranged from families with young children, to seasoned festival-goers, and even the local motorcycle club who mostly stayed firmly in the Rock Arena to enjoy a line up well known in the local music scene. Newcomers with original material Tokyo Storm have been enjoying a lot of coverage on local radio recently whereas established rock covers group Krazylegs gave the audience a set of familiar and neatly performed rock classics to sing along to.

Two bands which brought a real sense of innovation and flair to the festival were Short Heath Boyz in the Rock Arena and Definite Physical Change in the Pop Arena. At first glance, Short Heath Boyz look like a parody band drawing inspiration from the likes of Spinal Tap and Bad News — in fact, they bring a joyful attitude to some serious musicianship. Well known rock classics were performed with some Black Country tweaks, such as Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ becoming ‘Born To Drink Mild’. It might not look that funny in print, but the whole performance was hugely entertaining and the crowd were beyond delighted at a band that brought a huge smile to their faces.

Over on the Pop Arena main stage, Definite Physical Change are a six piece line-up with two lead singers, one a crooner in the style of mainstream Britpop outfits The Lightning Seeds or The Beautiful South, the other a kind of fully-grown schoolboy rapper channelling Run-DMC. The overall effect for the audience was nostalgia on steroids with a dash of caffeine, Viagra and adrenaline thrown in for good measure. Belting out their own wildly modified versions of classics such as INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight’Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ or The Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’, Definite Physical Change are a covers band who actually dare to innovate.

With a few more crowd-pleasing covers bands and solo singers filling in the line-up, the final three headline acts hit the stage. On the Pop Arena stage, the wildly entertaining Bhangra Smash Up drew pretty much the whole 5,000 strong crowd, leaving only a few die-hard rockers over in the Rock Arena. Throughout the day, the whole crowd in the arena had been enjoying the comfort of their deck chairs, sipping their beers and cocktails and soaking up the sunshine as well as a little rain. Some of the livelier acts drew a handful of energetic dancers to the front, but mainly the mood was amiable, happy and relaxed. All of that changed when Bhangra Smash Up exploded onto the stage in a frenzy of colour and noise. The act presented a wide range of rock and pop classics with a relentless Bhangra beat so overwhelming that the whole crowd, from front-to-back and side-to-side of the Pop Arena, were on their feet dancing to everything from Years & Years’ ‘King’ to Queen’s stadium anthem ‘We Will Rock You’.

Bhangra Smash Up would have been a fabulous finale to the whole event, but two more acts were yet to come, and they both gave their respective crowds exactly what they wanted.

Over in the Rock Arena, local tribute act Fred Zeppelin gave their typically polished and charismatic Led Zeppelin performance. If the need for tribute acts was ever in question, Fred Zeppelin are the answer. Front man Steven Gale’s visual resemblance to Robert Plant is striking, while guitarists Elliot Gavin and Mark Cresswell bring a real sense of theatre to the proceedings, with Gavin playing his guitar with everything from a mobile phone to a violin bow, and of course his fingers from time to time. Cresswell’s trademark hair flies vigorously in time to the driving beat from the fourth man at the back, Steve Black on drums. The whole experience is both a fitting and well-known tribute to the original but also something different in its own right, such is the calibre of the musicianship. The crowd screamed for more and they got it with the classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Much waving of mobile phone torches and searing guitar work from Gavin brought the Rock Arena’s journey to a nostalgic conclusion.

The huge crowd attracted to the Pop Arena by Bhangra Smash Up stayed for the bill-topping finale, a Tina Turner tribute from Sass Brown And The River Deep Band. Brown, backed by a full eight-piece band and two dancers filled the stage to bursting point, such was the enthusiasm, energy and authenticity of her performance. Turn the clock back thirty years and you’d think you were seeing the original — there’s no doubt that the crowd were fully on board with the energy of the performance as Brown stomped and screamed her way through Turner’s best known hits. Love or hate it, they had no choice but to get up and dance.

The event marked a welcome return to normality following the pandemic, and perhaps the crowd were even more sociable than usual, eager as they were to get out, laugh, sing and dance into the night. All of the profits from the annual festival go back into supporting the local community which has been hit hard by the decline in British manufacturing over the past forty years. Organised and perfectly curated by the tireless Nigel Dutton supported by a team of fabulous, committed, hard working volunteers and local businesses, Lock Stock will be back next year. It’s absolutely worth every minute.

Peter Freeth


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