Xiii Shades of Black Festival – 19 March 2022 – The Facebar Reading.
If you read our preview with the Crazy Cowboys, then you’d know that we were really excited about the return of live music after the depression of the pandemic. Now admittedly, a venue on the Reading ring road might not be the thing that dreams are made of…that would be the Sunset Strip! But the Facebar proved to be a very welcoming host for what was a special day of rock music. What worked particularly well was it benefits from having two rooms, so you pretty much had 11 hours of uninterrupted bands which was brilliant.
It was Ransom who had the privilege of kicking off the event and they did a mighty fine job welcoming the crowd to the festival. They presented a reminder that some good can still come out of adversity. Having gone into lockdown as a covers band they used that time to start their own songwriting and delivered an album. That album is appropriately titled “Back To The Boozer” as it matches the classic, back to basics rock sound that they delivered. Their music nods to the classic bands like Thin Lizzy and AC/DC but delivered with the sheer joy of being back playing their music to an appreciative crowd.
After a ‘traditional’ rock band it was a bit of a surprise to move to the next room and see an act which comprised entirely of a keyboard and drums. It was a nice reminder that rock n roll can come in many shapes and sizes. Tensheds inevitably had us thinking of a band that Jack White would’ve approved of. There was certainly a blues tinge to the vocals which kind of felt like LA Woman era Morrison with the sneer of Iggy. There was also a darker, more gothic edge to the songs which moved from almost Nick Cave esque to the punk blues style of Jim Jones.
The spirt of the festival was certainly embodied by the lead singer of Redhead who made it clear he couldn’t care less about what people thought of his sparkly shirt but also delivered a strong performance despite suffering from 2 broken ribs… very rock n roll until he revealed he had fallen over some furniture in his living room! The band played a set of high adrenaline rock n roll songs with a couple having an almost glam rock vibe to them. Indeed we were won over the moment that we saw the bass player doing some scissor kicks and we heard the distinct sound of the cowbell punctuating one of the songs. They’ve also just released an album “Broken Hourglass” and the track “Summer Days” demonstrated their knack for good time rock n roll.
As the name would suggest, Liberty Slave, brought a dollop of sleaze to the proceedings. The singer had the kind of vocal scream that Taime Downe brought to the Cathouse. Songs like “Devil In Me” and “Heaven Alone” recalled some of the dirtier sleaze rock of bands like Motley Crue and Cats In Boots. Indeed, a track like “Cat Got Your Tongue” would have been huge if delivered by a Sunset Strip band back in the day. Once again, the contrasts that can exist in rock music were demonstrated by the next act as we went from a sleaze rock band to a husband and wife duo.
However, Verity White proved to be one of our favourite acts of the day. Their sound was very different to most of the other acts but they brought a more soulful feel to the event. By necessity it relied on the use of synthesizers and a drum machine but (as they highlighted) there can be a big advantage to having a bassist who fits in a tiny box! There was a bigger ‘groove’ to their sound and if we’re honest it probably made them one of the bands most likely to attract a wider audience. Even more importantly they seemed to really enjoy themselves and appreciate that they had been given the opportunity to appear at the festival.
Circus 66 saw us retuning to a more expected band line up and style. Although, there is nothing wrong with that when it consists of a tight rhythm section, squealing guitar solos and a commanding singer. There was a dash of swagger to the way she delivered the songs. And we loved the way she at times literally prowled the stage and the audience.
That set us up rather nicely for the band we were probably most looking forward to seeing, Rich Ragany and the Digressions. Long time readers will know that we are big fans of the various outfits that Rich Ragany has fronted and his most recent release with this band was pretty special. This was a set that really demonstrated the band’s ability to play the style of music we really love. They effortlessly skip between a punk rock and power pop sound that recalls masterful bands like D’generation, The Exploding Hearts or The Star Spangles. They’re a big band with a huge sound and the first act that really had us thinking that in another time/another reality they’d be playing arenas not clubs. Songs like “Beneath Nostalgia and Heartbreak” have a depth and heart that many rock bands struggle to achieve. Also, with “Heartbreakers Don’t Try” they hit power pop perfection and have a song that in any reality should be a massive hit! The Digressions certainly threw down the gauntlet to the other acts that were still to follow.
The City Kids are also a band who came with a bit of history to them (although sadly they are not the great Welsh glam band that emerged as the hair metal scene was sadly dying!). As well as having their own album they also boast members of The Main Grains, a fantastic band who boasted the presence of the legendary Danny McCormack (formerly of The Wildhearts and more importantly to us the YoYos). Whilst the City Kids’ sound resembles the previous acts they don’t rest on their laurels or rely on that. Their style is a bit more aggressive and has even more of a punk feel to it. They play a set of gasoline fueled punk rock songs that are in your face and uncompromising rock n roll (although not without letting a bit of melody still shine through!).
Stevie R. Pearce and the Hooligans are, we believe a local band and firm favourites of the promoters, so it wasn’t surprising that they drew a particularly large and enthusiastic crowd. They are a proper rock band who are equal measures of power and melody. They seem determined to make the most of their release from the pandemic lockdown and it’s certainly appreciated by a crowd who, by now, are well fueled and definitely up for it! They’re another band who you could see moving on to headlining bigger venues. The heaviest band of the day award (at least so far) went to Pearler. They may only be a four piece but certainly deliver a guitar assault. There’s no subtleties with this band, just driven hard rock. In our mind we picture them playing at Sons of Anarchy HQ.
Sometimes you see a band’s name and kind of know you’re bound to like them. That was certainly the case for us when we saw The Suicide Notes on the bill for the festival. Just as we hoped, they’re a great sleazy rock n roll band. Gutter rock n roll – yes, a bit throw away – maybe, good time rock n roll – hell yeah! The front man’s vocal delivery will inevitably see the band draw comparisons to The Dog’s D’Amour (no bad thing since they’re one of the greatest British bands ever!). A bit like that band, they also benefit from a drummer who you can guess occasionally steals the show. They play a song that we think was called ‘Ragdoll’ which if it had been released during the sleaze rock peak would’ve seen them also appearing on Top of The Pops like the Dog’s did. For those of us of a certain age their set was a glorious reminder of the days when Wardour Street and The Marque were THE places to be.
In terms of showmanship then South of Salem would appear to follow the Kiss route of you can’t be too OTT. They’re intent on having a party and want to make sure they get a reaction from the crowd. To us their sound was a bit like the Misfits playing a Buckcherry set. There was no chance of any kind of energy drop in the crowd whilst they were playing as they demand that the audience give their full attention. That’s not to say that they’re some kind of shock rock band, there is a far greater depth to them as demonstrated by the song “Demons Are Forever” which highlights the risk of suicide. There’s a real professionalism to their sound and you sense a band determined to succeed.
It’s a credit to the audience that despite it being a long day they are clearly well up for the final band of the day, Gypsy Pistoleros. Whilst this is a relatively new line up, they’re a band who have rightly established a great reputation for their live shows. They appreciate the need to bring a bit of style to their show, but it’s not just about how they look, they also deliver a unique sound. It’s sleazy gutter rock but with a dash of almost flamenco to spice it up. It’s helped by having a front man who leads the band so well, in a style which is almost Adam Ant mixed with Billy Idol. It’s a high-octane rock n roll show which even has the benefit of an ‘almost Christmas No1’ in a rocked up Living La Vida Loca…what’s not to like!
Well, what can we say in conclusion about Xiii Shades of Black other than wow, what a day. Full credit must go to Alec and Victoria of Crazy Cowboys for delivering such a well run and brilliant day. They managed to create an event where everybody involved had a fantastic time and was able to put the problems of the last couple of years behind them. It’s a hell of a job to put this kind of thing on and who knows if they will have the energy to do it again but if they do then make sure you get your tickets early and support them.. you won’t regret it.