Event: Mearfest (4th edition)
Date: Saturday 13th August, 2016
Location: ‘The Borderline’, London, England. (EU)
Bands: Desolation Angels, The Deep, Sacrilege, Troyen, Kaine, Not Fit For Humans
Fund-raising Metal festivals is a concept I’m quite familiar with. I remember, for example, the annual biker rides held in the area where I grew up. One year the bikers might raise funds for an orphanage, next year for an animal shelter facility…….and each ride would end with a Metal festival. Everyone, from politicians to clergy, wanted to be seen to be involved and consequentially my local Metal scene of yesteryear earned quite a lot of mainstream respect.
A similar vibe of conviviality pervaded London’s ‘The Borderline’ at Mearfest. The festival was conceived by Brian and Claire Mear to raise funds in favour of The Willows Support Group, a charity organisation that provides material and emotional support for couples who have experienced stillbirth.
Despite the festival’s origins, rather than long grumpy faces swallowing up all cheerfulness like black holes, you got one big smiling family united by a genuine passion for music. Metal music. And it was great, for example, seeing the bands enjoying each other’s performances. The attendance figures were excellent too, especially considering that this was the same weekend of Bloodstock festival.
The Mearfest bill was conspicuously attuned to the NWOBHM with most bands coming directly from that era and with one (Kaine) being a band of youngsters patently influenced by that very scene and another band (Not Fit For Humans) being slightly off-kilter to all that.
While the following brief comments and observations are a subjective attempt to describe the bands’ performances, I feel it is just as relevant to emphasise that all bands were generally perceived and appreciated from a similar standpoint.
It seems to have become a tradition that Not Fit For Humans kick off Mearfest. The band, originating from Slough, plays a mish-mash of Punk, Grunge and Classic Metal. Having a clearly-defined image, the quartet’s set, mainly made up of cover versions, provided a snapshot of every Metalhead’s upbringing. While sounding inexperienced and muddled, Not Fit for Humans nevertheless earned the audience’s cheers of approval, particularly when covering Motörhead towards the end of their show.
Just then I visited the area at the back of the venue where, besides the usual band merch stands, there were various fund-raising initiatives taking place…such as an ongoing raffle where participants could win CDs, rare vinyls and band shirts. (Towards the end of the festival, there was even a Fender guitar that was won by an audience member.) After a while I heard Brian Mear introduce the next band, so back I went to the front of the stage. The band was Kaine.
I heard a good deal of Iron Maiden in the music of Kaine. So obviously there were lots of guitar harmonies, soaring vocals and a blistering rhythm section. Overall an enjoyable performance, even if somewhat inconsistent.
It’s not often you get an opportunity to see Troyen play live so I was really looking forward to the band’s show tonight. Troyen were active for a few years in the early 1980s and their only official full-length “Finish What you Started” (mainly a collection of songs written in the early days) came out in 2015 just after the band had reunited. And predictably, tonight’s set was taken entirely from that very release.
Maybe it was because Troyen were sandwiched between 2 louder Metal bands but their performance sounded and appeared somewhat weak and the sound quality didn’t help matters either. Nevertheless, Troyen had some fantastic songs to work with (‘Syrian Lady’ and ‘Dreams Never Lie’ being two of them) and all of their songs deal with interesting themes and stories. In the end I got the feeling that Troyen is like a sleeping dragon in that the band has yet to realise its full potential.
Troyen’s set-list: ‘Backlash’, ‘Dreams Never Lie’, ‘Finish What You Started’, ‘Don’t Send Me To War’, ‘Futures Friend’, ‘First Blood’, ‘Syrian Lady’, ‘Crazy Lady’. (I have the impression the last song was omitted due to time restrictions.)
Next up were Sacrilege – the band’s set felt much darker than the previous time I had seen them perform. Sacrilege effortlessly went from doomy atmospheric numbers to catchier tunes via strong riffs, powerful basslines and guitar solos that fit snugly into their respective songs.
All the while they came across as solid and convincing. Due attention was also given to visuals (for instance, as is now a tradition at their gigs, the prince of darkness himself ‘stood in’ (ahem!) for Sacrilege drummer Neil Turnbull for the song ‘In Hell’.) The audience seemed to react quite positively to the music of Sacrilege and to the direct exhortations of lead vocalist/guitarist Bill Beadle. All in all, quality stuff.
The Deep were excellent too – their brand of music ticks all the right boxes for me. Lead vocalist Tony Coldham has an astonishing emotional depth in his singing and the rest of the band (guitarists Paul Smith and Mick Feleppa, bass player Phil Reeve and drummer Fraser Powell) wrought the songs for all their intensity.
The band’s set kicked off in an unexpected manner: a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound Of Silence’, which Coldham dedicated not only to Claire and Brian Mear but also to all those who have lost a loved one which, as Tony correctly said, means pretty much everyone. Also in the band’s set was a song apparently inspired by the tragedy at the Bataclan. While admittedly I don’t remember the name of that song, it was interesting when during its introduction Tony suggested that Rock music is the best antidote and solace from all suffering in life. Amen to that, Mr Coldham.
From how I was hearing things, Desolations Angels were the only band to have had a blemish-free sound. Utterly sharp and with a well-oiled stage act, the band really seemed to have upped their performance levels since the last time I saw them, mere weeks earlier. Even lead vocalist Paul Taylor felt much more like an integral part of the band.
Desolation Angels’ set list: ‘Doomsday’, ‘Fury’, ‘Medusa’, ‘Archangel’, ‘Valhalla’, ‘Only Time Will Tell’, ‘Dance Of The Demons’, ‘Evil Possessor’, ‘Spirit Of The Deep’.
An enjoyable night that left me yearning for a festival reprise!
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