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Uglyfest 2024

Artist: Ugly Kid Joe, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons, The Virginmarys, These Wicked Rivers, The Howling Tides

Venue: Wolverhampton, KK's Steel Mill

Date: 09th March 2024

"This may have been the first UGLYFEST but I hope it wasn’t the last. Tonight’s performance showed that Ugly Kid Joe are still as relevant in 2024 as they were back in 1991. This band still has a lot of joy and happiness to bring into the world."

Ugly Kid Joe © Myke Gray
Ugly Kid Joe © Myke Gray

KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton has very quickly established itself as the number-one Rock venue in the Midlands, if not the whole of the UK. With its state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, huge stage, excellent amenities and experienced management, it’s little wonder that it’s become a Mecca for touring bands. I can’t think of a single venue more suited to put on something as ambitious as UGLYFEST. On paper, it has the potential to be a logistical nightmare, but it was run with the effortless efficiency we have come to expect from this well-oiled machine. For the uninformed UGLYFEST 2024 is the first mini-festival headlined by the legendary US rockers Ugly Kid Joe.

The opening act of this five-band bill were The Howling Tides, a four-piece made up of Rob Baynes on guitar and lead vocals, Hayden Kirk on guitar, Adam Brewell on bass and Steven “Herbie” Herbert on drums. I first encountered this band a few years ago when they were new blood on the circuit. It was obvious right from the start that they had huge potential but after a period of extensive gigging their progression has surpassed all expectations. They walked on stage like a band who have total confidence in their own abilities. Without any fuss or bravado they launched into the opening song, a sonic assault of big riffs, big drums and powerful vocals that instantly grabbed the attention of the early arrivals. Musically they take elements of Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, and Clutch, but wrap it all up in an mistakenly British sound. Each member is extremely proficient on their chosen instrument and in Baynes they have an outstanding frontman and vocalist. His cascading blond curls and boyish good looks make him the obvious focal point of the band.

The opening two songs ‘Thalia’ and ‘Cut Your Losses’ won over the curious audience and from that moment on they never looked back. The Bluesy intro of ‘Blue Moon’ gave Baynes a platform to show off the depth and range of his vocal abilities. His confidence was growing with every song. Herbert & Brewell are an impressive rhythm section and provide a rock solid foundation for the guitar interplay of Kirk & Baynes. Each member knows their role and carries it out with maximum efficiency. ‘White Crow’ has an infectious groove and its Zeppelin-esque breakdown showcased Baynes guitar skills. To my ears ‘He Told Me’ contained the most commercial chorus of their set. By this point the audience were completely on their side. The final song of their short but excellent set was ‘Crack My Soul’. Knowing this was their last chance to impress, they played like their lives depended on it. Their enthusiasm was appreciated by the audience and they left the stage to rapturous applause. They started their show to an almost empty room but by the end of their set the venue was full. Mission accomplished. I think we are still to see the best from this band but they are certainly heading in the right direction.

Next up were These Wicked Rivers, a band whose star is on the ascendancy. The first thing I notice is their unorthodox sense of style. The stage is adorned with lampshades and various potted flowers. The microphones are wrapped in scarves and you can tell that there is a concerted effort to create a warm and friendly atmosphere, something that works surprisingly well. The band is made up of John Hartwell on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Arran Day on lead guitar, Dale Tonks on bass, Rich Wilson multi-instrumentalist and backing vocals and Dan Southall on drums. The anticipation for the band's arrival was palpable. They’ve worked hard to build up a loyal fanbase and it felt like a lot of them were in tonight's audience. They opened with the title track of their new album ‘Force Of Nature’. They have a sound that is instantly pleasing to the ear. Hartwell’s rich and bluesy voice is authentic and engaging. In Arran Day they have a bonafide guitar hero who possesses an incredible sense of style not only in his playing but also his dress sense. The monster rhythm section of Tonks and Southall hold down the groove with complete authority. Whilst all this is going on Wilson is painting a musical tapestry on an array of instruments. Second song up is ‘Shine On’ taken from their debut album ‘Eden’. A song that is built around a huge guitar riff, but it’s the chorus melody that really makes it stand out. Whether they are hearing the band for the first time or fully paid up members of the fan club, the audience are well and truly on board.

Hartwell gives an impressive vocal performance during ‘When The War Is Won’, but the song also served as a platform for Day’s incredibly emotive guitar playing. To my ears ‘Testify’ is their stand out song, a beautifully haunting verse melody that leads to an epic chorus. Leaning against the crash barrier, Day gets up and personal during the guitar solo. He is a natural performer who brings a huge amount of energy and stage presence to the band. They had the audience on side right from the start and when they announce that it’s time for their final song they are met with genuine disappointment. They close their set with ‘Don’t Pray For Me’, a song of high drama that builds to a climactic finish and featured possibly the stand out guitar solo of the night.

I predict that 2024 will be a very good year for These Wicked Rivers.

I will confess that until today I hadn’t heard a single note by The Virginmarys. How this is possible I don’t actually know. For those who don’t know, and I was certainly one of them, The Virginmarys are a two-piece band from Macclesfield consisting of Ally Dickaty on guitar and vocals, and Danny Dolan on drums. I could give an overview of their performance with song titles and the name of the album they came from, but I’m not. The thing that absolutely blew me away about this band was drummer Danny Dolan. He is one of the most spectacular British drummers I have ever seen. Imagine the power of John Bonham, the explosiveness of Keith Moon, the precision of Travis Barker, and the flair of Clem Burke all rolled into one. Watching his focus and concentration made for absorbing viewing. I would have paid to see that alone. Dickaty, the other half of this fascinating combo, is also an extremely talented human being. An engaging performer and frontman in his own right. This was the first time I had heard any of their songs and to my ears they were powerful, a little punky, and very catchy. The one that really stood out to me was the final song of their set, ‘Bang Bang Bang’. The audience loved them and as they left the stage I asked myself “what the hell have I just seen?” I look forward to seeing them again as I think they are as unique as they are special. I highly recommend you check them out.

Within seconds of Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons taking to the stage the intensity level went up quite a few notches. It was akin to a Viking longboat pulling up to a Saxon village after weeks of being at sea. Metaphorically they jumped ashore and mercilessly laid waste to all that stood before them. They opened with the brilliant ‘We’re The Bastards’, taken from the album of the same name. From then on it was a relentless onslaught of pure Rock ‘n’ Roll. What I didn’t know was that with the exception of singer Joel Peters, the entire band are actually Phil Campbell’s real life sons, which makes the genius of their band name even more brilliant. I have to say this is quite a remarkable achievement as they are all great musicians. I can’t even begin to imagine how proud he must feel standing on stage with them. They sound exactly how you would expect someone to sound if they’d been a member of Motörhead for over three decades. The only difference being the seemingly limitless amount of youthful energy now bounding about the stage.

Singer Peters has a dominating presence and takes complete control of the crowd. He is both a great singer and frontman. Phil Campbell has always been a class player and face melting guitar solos effortlessly pour out of his fingers. The machine-like rhythm section of Dane Campbell on drums and Tyler Campbell on bass are relentless. Their intense power is a big part of the band’s overall sound. Todd Campbell on second guitar looks like he’s living his best life. A completely committed stage performer with a death or glory attitude. This is an absolutely fantastic band that epitomises everything that is great about British Rock. Motörhead classics ‘Killed By Death’, ‘Going To Brazil’ and ‘Ace Of Spades’ tore the roof off and it did make me wonder how anyone was going to follow such a devastating performance.

Until tonight I had never actually seen Ugly Kid Joe perform live. But within seconds of Whitfield Crane walking on stage it became crystal clear just how they were going to follow the wrecking ball performance of the previous band. The Californian exudes confidence and charisma. In the blink of an eye he had the entire audience in the palm of his hand and this was before he’d even opened his mouth. He looks like a movie star, moves like an athlete, and makes being a Rock star look effortless; maybe for him it is?

They open with ‘V.I.P.’ taken from the ‘Menace To Sobriety’ album. Its killer guitar riff and funky groove immediately gets the party started. Because people are most familiar with this band from their extremely commercial singles, it’s easy to forget just how heavy they can be. Anyone who has heard Ugly Kid Joe’s version of Black Sabbath’s ‘NIB’ will know that Crane can hold his own against the best of them, he is unquestionably one of the most underrated Heavy Metal singers out there. To his right stood original bandmate Klaus Eichstadt, whose ear to ear smile endeared himself to everyone. On the other side of the stage Chris Catalyst looked resplendent in a blue shirt covered in bananas. Both guitar players are formidable musicians whose varying styles complement each other perfectly. Drummer Cam Greenwood and bassist Mike Squires make a rock-solid rhythm section. There are no weak links in this extremely tight unit.

‘Neighbor’, taken from their breakthrough album ‘America’s Least Wanted’, keeps the party going. Crane is in total control and if he says jump the audience eagerly shout how high. The set is full of Ugly Kid Joe classics like ‘So Damn Cool’, ‘Another Beer’ and 'Cats In The Cradle’, but the most notable thing about this show, and indeed this band, is the feel good factor created by their live performance. When I looked around at the faces in the crowd all I saw were beaming smiles. Ugly Kid Joe are a global brand because they sell happiness and everyone’s buying. One of the many highlights of their set was ‘That Ain’t Living’ taken from the ‘Rad Wings Of Destiny’ album. To me it sounded like the best AC/DC song I’d heard since ‘Thunderstruck’. How Crane wasn’t considered as a serious contender for the job when Brian Johnson was having vocal problems will forever be a mystery to me.

Another notable moment was when Eichstadt sang a couple of songs accompanied by just his own guitar. The singer sat respectfully at the back of the stage and watched his friend perform. It was a very touching moment when they hugged each other at the end of the musical interlude.

They closed their main set with ‘Goddamn Devil’, but encores were a foregone conclusion. A surprising first choice was a superb rendition of the Kink’s classic ‘Lola’. The audience sang along with every word and it was yet another example of how great music will always be timeless. There was no way the evening would be over without the inclusion of the song that catapulted them into the mainstream. ’Everything About You’ will forever be the song they are most known for regardless of what they write or release in the future. It’s a bonafide global classic and one of the songs that defined the nineties. Everyone was singing, everyone was dancing, and everyone looked happy. It was the perfect finale to a perfect show.

This may have been the first UGLYFEST but I hope it wasn’t the last. Tonight’s performance showed that Ugly Kid Joe are still as relevant in 2024 as they were back in 1991. This band still has a lot of joy and happiness to bring into the world.


Review & Photos: Myke Gray





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