Horsham Battle of the Bands 2016, Human Nature Garden, August 13-14
The sky’s a little cloudy as rock fans file into Horsham’s Human Nature Garden for the Battle of the Bands festival.
However, seeing as last year’s scorching weather was responsible for more than a few sunburned necks, the mild heat this time is actually quite reassuring.
It may create a nice, mellow atmosphere for Saturday’s Covers competition.
The first band, Ichiro, have no time to be mellow though as they unleash ‘Even Flow’ by Pearl Jam, ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes and ‘Killing in the Name’ by Rage Against the Machine. It’s powerful stuff but the vocalist Lubi Blacksmith is a better singer than rapper.
BotB is a family event too so Ichiro give a censored version of the RATM song, which I’m sure provokes a few knowing smiles among older listeners.
Next, Unprovoked choose fun over aggression with an eclectic mix of tracks. The suitably twangy ‘Can’t Stop’ by Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the joyful ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry are their best numbers, confidently belted out by turquoise-haired singer Taliah.
If anyone finds all this variety a little jarring Second Hand News offer a set devoted entirely to the unmistakably smooth hits of Fleetwood Mac, ending with ‘Don’t Stop’.
Next up, some muscular rock anthems from Flying Low. They have a proper rock attitude, a terrific selection of songs (‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin and ‘Gay Bar’ by Electric Six being the best ones) and a show-off singer (Chris Wright) with a stunning hair-metal voice. Oh, and the guitar solos rule too.
Before the judges reach their decision about the winners, it’s time for the excellent keyboard-infused blues of last year’s Covers winners, Catfish. With sparkling, colourful guitar work, growling vocals and crashing drums it’s the perfect end to the afternoon.
As the late afternoon gives way to the early evening Unprovoked return for the start of the Originals contest. Their own grungy style is vastly different to their Covers selection, especially the darkly atmospheric and brooding ‘Entity’.
The members of Code Ascending look like they’re going to provide gritty, tough-guy metal. So it’s a surprise when they start playing their strange, soulful and, at times, haunting shoegaze. It’s not particularly cheery but their gloomy style arrives at the right time, just as the shadows are starting to grow long.
Next are The Farmboys, a raucous duo in hillbilly attire who bombard the crowd with their blistering, country-tinged rhythms. The crowd cheer them on, getting noticeably louder when a guy wearing a horse mask appears onstage to prance around during their songs and do jazz hands...or jazz hooves, I guess.
Laid-back punk rockers Loathsome Guts have a sense of humour too, but of a much dryer sort. Their deadpan, irreverent attitude (they’re wearing sunglasses as it’s getting dark) works nicely with their simple but catchy Ramones-esque style.
With what looks like black war paint streaked across their faces, it’s clear that One Click Malice aren’t here to mess around. Their visceral, dynamic blend of hard rock and metal is just explosive. The audience participation bit doesn’t work as well as it could have, but this band deserve respect for being the heaviest act of the whole festival.
Those needing something to settle their nerves stick around for the next band, Squibs. Their mournful psychedelic rock has an offbeat indie sensibility that manages to be measured and thoughtful without being plodding.
Finally, we get a headline set from last year’s Originals winners, Team New Band who treat the audience to the same brand of mischievous, pop-punk silliness that won them the trophy last year.
A wonderful, upbeat end to Saturday.
Tony Randle offers a very chilled out start to Sunday with his dreamy, fingerpicking style. It’s mainly gentle instrumental numbers but there’s some soft singing as well.
Irish singer-songwriter Trevor Clawson provides stronger vocals for his set. His songs are beautifully crafted, telling moving tales full of longing and nostalgia.
In a similar vein Ian Roland (guitar) and Simon Yapp (fiddle) present an emotional blend of folk and country, harmonising their instruments and voices effectively to create expressive and penetrating music.
Afterwards, young Brighton folk-punk artist Chuck S J Hay gives an enjoyably, animated performance with her confrontational, no-nonsense, hard-edged songs that deal with sociopolitical themes.
Next, Bears at the Gate showcase their very melodic and intricately structured sound. These two likeable young men play unpretentious, soothing tunes with a modern pop sensibility and they get a great response from the audience.
They’re followed by another harmonious duo, Dragonfly Sky, whose sweet and gripping tunes simply soar. Beacon perform some delightful folk ballads too, but add some piano and ukelele into the mix.
Having come second in the Acoustic contest last year Hollie Rogers is back on brilliant form. Her powerful and soulful voice is matched by her ability to write impressively emotional and mature music. I think we all know who the 2016 Acoustic winner is.
Last but not least, 2015 Acoustic winner Jodie Munday walks onstage to a round-of-applause.
The festival weekend finishes on a high note as Jodie offers her charming, comical songs full of warmth and sharp observational humour.
To find out who won the 2016 Battle of the Bands click here.
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