The fairytale of Newark

The fairytale of Newark

Outdoor music festivals tend to be a vast sprawling gargantuan gathering where tens of thousands of punters camp a mile or so from the main arena, drink £6 pints of luke-warm Carlsberg, wash with wet wipes and eat £15 pizzas. The modern-day festival can be, to be blunt, the exact cost of going for a long weekend in New York.

However, a few smaller independent festivals are changing the landscape and bucking the trend. Numerous bespoke and fairer-priced fests are now popping up all over the UK. For the non-Glastonbury goers, Bloodstock remains a heavy/death/thrash metal haven. In contrast, Call Of The Wild and Stone Valley serve the rock-meets-punk-meets-ska-meets-new-wave-and-anything-alternative market with eclectic line-ups plus a down-to-earth approach. The new STONEDEAD (formerly STONEDEAF) takes the traditional Monsters Of Rock Festival (or Donington), and just properly f*cking celebrates it. A one-day, two-night affair, held over the August bank holiday weekend, with camping and a Friday night pre-festival party. VIVE LE ROCK and FISTFUL OF METAL's Guy Shankland travelled up to Newark-on-Trent to witness Britain's fastest-growing rock festival, and we weren’t disappointed. Oh, and we also stumbled across an eye-catching Steampunk convention. 

A Vive Le Rock & Fistful Of Metal rough guide and live review of Stonedead 2021

Where is it held? Newark County Showground, Notts NG24 2NY

When? August Bank Holiday weekend. Friday night and all day Saturday.

Bands. Since 2019 the festival has hosted Skid Row, The Quireboys, Wolfsbane, Gun, Wayward Sons, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons, Terrorvision, Massive Wagons, Glenn Hughes and Uriah Heep, amongst many others. The just-announced 2022 early conformations include The Wildhearts, The Michael Schenker Group and Thunder Mother.

How much does it cost? Two-night camping (including the Friday night party) pass is £60 per adult. A general admission one day ticket is £50 per adult. There are cheaper children and family tickets options available, and all orders are dispatched free of charge. Meaning no hidden fees and a proper physical ticket. See the Stonedead festival website for full ticket details, including camper van passes etc.

Off-site accommodation. For those who want to hotel, we salute you and the local Premier Inn, Travelodge, and bustling Newark town centre is a ten-minute drive or shuttle bus from the main site. Hotels are at a premium for the August Bank Holiday in Newark as the town also hosts a Steampunk gathering on the same weekend. That said, I’ve booked two nights in a one-bedroom apartment in central Newark for August 2022 for £120 (via ) with free cancellation and parking to boot. 

The Festival site. Newark County Showground is huge and perfect for an ever-expanding rockfest. It’s all on level ground with plenty of hard-standing, water and power. Both the campsites and day parking areas are no more than a two-minute walk to the main arena. You may come and go as you please once you’ve exchanged your ticket for a wristband. The arena itself was set up within usual horseshoe shape with the traders, vendors and toilet areas forming a natural ringed barrier. Speaking of the loos, the Stonedead sit or stand set up was as to be expected. The toilets were well stocked with both tissue paper and hand sanitiser and surprisingly clean. With a few thousand inside, you could walk from one side of the arena to the other in a few minutes, so there was no one p*ssing in bottles and lobbing it at the stage a la Reading and Donington in the early Eighties.

On top of the merch and food stalls, Stonedead also boasted a very impressive Monsters Of Rock exhibition with ticket stubs, t-shirts, photos, Kerrang! reports and festival posters on show. The official Merchandise stand was large, well-manned and also reasonably priced, and most Festival 2021 event shirts had sold out by Saturday tea-time. During non-Covid times, there is also a signing tent. Most three-and-a-half-thousand festival-goers bring camping chairs and blankets to sit on while a large area directly in front of the stage is kept seat-free for those wishing to stand and watch the bands.

Food and drink. One of the biggest gripes at concerts and festivals can be the cost of refreshments. At London’s O2 Docklands arena, you can pay upwards of £7 for a pint of Bud-Light or £6+ at most other large venues. A hot dog or burger will set you back between £7-10, whereas a can/bottle of pop is always £2.50 upwards. This summer, at many Festivals, I’ve paid £5.50+ for a can of Amstel or a pint of generic lager/bitter. The notable exceptions were Rebellion, Bloodstock and Stonedead, where the beers were mainly £5 and under, which is a fair enough price. At Stonedead, they’ve completely turned the refreshment regulations clock back, meaning each adult can bring in four cans of beer/shorts or wine to the main arena. Festival-goers can also take in their own food. This alcohol and pie amnesty offers a possible massive saving for those on a budget plus the relaxed attitude means you don’t have to go through the embarrassment of an evasive airport-style bag/chair search or pat-down. The on-site food options were also superb, with all tastes and dietary requirements well catered for. Vegan, veggie and gluten-free food options all sat alongside the summer staple of pulled pork, noodles, pittas, pizzas and questionable deep-fried offal with onions in a bun. There is also one extensive bar area serving a host of wines, spirits, beers, craft and real ales, with Motorhead’s Overkill Pilsner being a trendy beverage on Saturday. 

Covid requirements. At this year's gathering, anyone entering the site had to prove a negative flow test/Covid pass or exemption letter with ID. Once inside, all bets and masks were off, and there were no restrictions, with everyone being reminded that face coverings and social distancing were a personal choice and to be respected.

The staff. There are festival staff, and then there is the Stonedead crew. I’ve been attending gigs and fests for well over thirty-five years, and this is by far the most helpful and happy bunch I’ve ever encountered. From the moment you enter the site, the staff are all smiling and keen to make the entrance and the whole day as hassle-free, enjoyable and relaxed as possible. Many are volunteers and the 'we want and are pleased to be here' attitude shines through and spreads to the attendees. 

Trouble. None.

The 2021 review. 

You wouldn’t have guessed from the overall chilled vibe that the festival’s headliner BLACK STAR RIDERS had pulled out only a week before due to Covid and travel issues. This was only just the start. Then the stage didn’t arrive at all, so a replacement and smaller stage was erected on Thursday and Friday morning before they then ran out of juice, had issues with the lighting rig and had another band drop out with a positive Covid test. URIAH HEEP took over headline duties, while ABSOLVA were last-minute replacements for confined to barracks Cambridge rockers THE TREATMENT. With all issues finally sorted and after a slight soundcheck delay, the first band took to the stage shortly after twelve. Stonedead openers, DEAD MAN’S WHISKEY put in a solid performance that ticked all the first on, boxes. The seven-song set was fast, loud and full of meaty riffs, with ‘Last Train’ and an emotive ‘Make You Proud’ standing out. The in-between band compere is the legendary KRUSHER whose stories and manner get bluer and more outrageous the longer the day and drinking goes on. Last-minute substitutes ABSOLVA grab their opportunity and win over a large percentage of the arena. Sometimes in life, you get offered a moment, be it timing, illness or luck, whatever twist of fate brought them here, they grab it, enjoy it, and it shows. Former SKIN fretmeister MYKE GRAY brings his own brand of full-throttle RNR to the early afternoon proceedings. The high musical quality is evident, and although some of the lyrics are a tad cliched, this is a rock festival, and those "Baby, lazy, crazy, maybe, notel motel” lines are all an endearing part of the rock genre. ‘Stand Up For Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘You Don’t Love Me’ and Skin fave ‘Shine A Light’ round off a blistering nine-song masterclass. The sun is now beating down, and with the blue skies above, a cold beer in hand and loud music coming from the stage, it quickly feels like the last eighteen months have been nothing more than a shitty and frustrating blur. One of the loudest cheers of the day is reserved for an emotive spitfire flyover, and again it simply feels beautifully refreshing to be out out and observing the other beaming festival-goers; you know they feel the same sense of relief mixed with an apprehensive joy. KRISS BARRAS brings his blues-rock resonance to the mainly seated throng. ‘Ignite’, ‘Dead Horses’ and ‘Hail Mary’ are all received, digested and appreciated. Sadly I missed former Iron Maiden and Wolfsbane vocalist BLAZE BAYLEY’S set as I was stuck in the press tent waiting to interview a running behind schedule (but well worth the wait) Gun. MASSIVE WAGONS have risen from festival starting pistols in 2019 to final lap baton carriers. There are more Wagons T-shirts than I can ever remember, and both band and crowd are bang up for it. They crash through a dozen modern metal anthems with a huge percentage of the seated now standing, singing and a fair few headbanging. ‘Billy Balloon Head’, ‘Nails’ and ‘Tokyo’ are greeted like headline hits and the baton is well and truly thrown down. GUN, much like the festival itself, has had to overcome a few last-minute hurdles. Firstly they had a last-minute line-up change with a young drummer drafted in at just twenty-four hours notice and a bassist who was unable to rehearse at all. Not a great way to play your first gig in twenty months. That said, Gun volley it in the net and then some. The band have a huge back catalogue, and it’s quite a moment hearing ‘Word Up’, ‘Money (Everybody Wants Her)’, ‘Taking On The World’ and a hip-swaying ‘Inside Out’. ‘Shame On You’ and the so apt it could have been written yesterday ‘Better Days’ are the sandwich to a bizarre yet celebratory cover of the Beastie Boys ‘Fight For Your Right’. Pure and simple Gun just smashed it, and the reception they garnered proved the love was mutual. TERRORVISON seized the crackling energy that’s been building all day and turned it into a mammoth sing-a-long, jump around, dad dancing celebration of chart-friendly and infectious Brit rock. ‘Alice, What’s The Matter’, ‘Pretend Best Friend’ and ‘Josephine’ are all devoured at the first note and spat back at the last. ‘My House’ and ‘American T.V.’ keep the early ‘vision fans sated before the stage lights abruptly fail during ‘Do You Wanna Go Faster’. In normal circumstances, this type of equipment malfunction would result in a band leaving the stage until sight order could be restored. Without breaking stride, Terrorvision frontman Tony Wright just grabs a roadie’s torch, and with a few thousand phone lights pointing at the stage, the song defiantly and victoriously continues. The grand finale of ‘Perservance’ (whales and dolphins, yeah) ‘Middleman’ and the bellowed back beaut ‘Oblivion’ see Terrorvision leave the stage to rapturous applause. They are, IMHO, the band of the festival. URIAH HEEP closes the most memorable of days with a bang-on set of classic rock tunes. ‘Gypsy’, ‘July Morning’ just delivered before the tour de force closing of ‘Sunrise’. Final cut ‘Easy Livin’ sends the weary punters scurrying for courtesy buses and cars while those sensible enough stay on-site just pack up and walk less than a minute to their tent or camper.

We’ve all seen the pictures of Leeds and Reading campsites on social media a day or two after the festival has finished and the carnage that was left behind. Tents, sleeping bags, empty cans, bottles and general rubbish. On Newark showground at 12 ‘o’clock on Sunday, the last camper had left, and the site was green and clean. The sun always seems to shine on Stonedead, and even when it looked like disaster was looming, the dedicated crew managed to pull it all around seamlessly. The first thousand or so 2022 early bird tickets sold out in less than a day, and tickets are now on general sale, with over two thousand sold in total already. These numbers were hit even before the 2022 lineup had even been announced. It has now with The Micheal Schenker, Group, The Wildhearts, Thunder Mother and The Treatment are all confirmed for 2022.

The fan-based and fan-focused Stonedead Festival has deliberately body-swerved the soulless corporate feel that many other modern-day festivals fall foul of. It is not designed just to remove as many pound notes as possible from your pocket, but it does respectfully ask those attending to use the traders, food stalls and bars located within the arena as well. The staff are genuinely excellent, polite, helpful, and fans of the very festival they work or volunteer for. Stonedead is to old school rock fans what Rebellion is to punks or Bloodstock is to metalheads, this is their (new) musical and affordable summer home. 2022 promises to be the most prominent and boldest Stonedead Festival yet. We shall return.

Guy Shankland

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