Notes on a small Welsh festival: Sonic Rock Solstice 2010

From Aural Innovations #41 (October 2010)

Summer in the UK is riddled with festivals large and small, and recently the smaller festivals have been the better of the two, in my opinion. Deep in the heart of Wales, the Land of Song, lies Builth Wells, home to the Sonic Rock Solstice: a 3 day festival of space rock and sonic rock for the ridiculously low price of 40 (early bird price). This incidentally includes camping.

The festival is organised by Martyn Hasbeen of Dr. Hasbeen fame and has been running for quite a few years (I can find web evidence of SRS festival back in 2002). The site is Penmaenau Farm, which has two indoor stage areas, a 100 foot long bar (which turned out to be around 30 foot long), lots of showers and loos, and fabulous Welsh countryside around it. The main stage was in the larger barn and the Top Rock sponsored stage at the end of the smaller barn, which I found out later was the cause of the more metally flavour to this year's festival. The acts tended to alternate on the stages: one band on the main followed by one afterwards on the Top Rock stage, and you walk between the two within 20 seconds and still stay dry and mud free! Not that you'd be muddy as this year the weather was behaving itself, and for Wales it was incredible - brilliant sunshine!

I decided to bring my 8 year old son on his own this year. Last year my wife and both sons came and although it was advertised as a family festival the boys soon got bored (as 5 and 7 year olds do!). There wasn't much for young children to do, although a bouncy castle had appeared in the courtyard mid festival this year. I would still have to define the festival as one for hardened space rock enthusiasts, although kids seem to have fun just running about with glo sticks anyway!

I was glad to see printed line ups and a central cd stall this year. These were two gripes I had about last year's festival. This year's organisation and communication was so much better.

Lets get to the music! Before kicking off, I want to say that the legendary MC DJ Kozmik Ken was superb with his excellent choices of filler tunes between bands. I discovered that Kula Shaker had done a Hurry On Sundown cover! Ken also kept us nobly entertained last year and seems to be the festival DJ regular. He also put me on to Quantum Fantay last year, wow what a find!

Tea for the Wicked had the honour of starting the festival on the main stage. I hadn't heard them play before and was surprised to hear some great melodic rock. The music wasn't overly spacey, psychedelic in its own way. From where I was sitting it was keyboard driven and could have done with some more guitar. Particularly enjoyed the 'swampy' song. A very pleasant start to the festival! I had to dash to the most excellent Mychoonz stall afterwards and buy some of their cds.

Next on the main stage from the States was Rodney Brannigan who did outrageous things to guitars. He was playing 2 guitars at the same time for a lot of the time, and tapped the guitar like some sort of drum. Reminded me a little of Joseph Arthur in his technique. A great act to watch.

Next we had a bit of battle metal from a band called Dakesis. Very epic thumping stuff. Plenty of hair flying around.

Continuing with the hard rock/metal theme Third Bullet were on afterwards. I started to think I was at the wrong festival. Had I been transported to a metal fest instead?

No! For Dr. Hasbeen was on after that. A good space rock romping set, is the band getting bigger? They seemed to have more people on stage than ever! Or was I seeing double? Got the last Hasbeen cd I needed to complete the collection.

The penultimate band were Falling Red, a very, very, very loud hard rock band on the lines of AC/DC and Motorhead. The guitars and vocals were excellent. They had that strange ability to sound very tight but act very wild. Enjoyed them immensely.

Alan Davey's Gunslinger was the top act that night. I've seen Alan and his various bands many times. My son Joe was falling asleep at this point so I watched the first 4 or 5 songs and called it a night. Gunslinger were good, tight and loud.

Day 2 was Saturday and after exploring the town we came back to the campsite in time to watch Vert:x who had played many festivals I've been to but never got round to seeing them. Apparently with a new line up, they were good, fantastic in fact! Guitar lead, heavy and jamming. I couldn't see keyboards but they might have had samples playing. Very spacey, trancey, psychy, they just got better and better! Nice one - yet another dash to the cd stall. "A.f.o.m.a.h.e." later proved to be space rock delight on my kitchen cd player.

Xoo! Rocky spacerock by the 3 piece band, formed by former musicians of Hawkwind tribute band Assassins of Silence, a mind oscillating brand of spaced out rock.

Then Bridget Wishart with her folky acoustic set: guitar and her delicious voice. An oasis of charming folk in a seething whirlwind of loud sonic rock.

Space rock legends from Sweden Darxtar were on next. They were really good, and Nik Turner on sax came on - he has done a lot of work with this band and they all seem to be good chums. These Swedes were fabulous and very spacey. SJU was the brilliant album that got me into them. I was hoping for news of a new album but nothing surfaced either at the side of the stage nor at the cd stall.

Captain Horizon was another band I hadn't heard of before, again sponsored by the Top Rock radio show. Very good hard rock, with attitude. Oh, and hair.

Anubis were on afterwards, a hard rocky band which did nothing much for me after the swirling sounds of Darxtar, but the crowds seemed to enjoy them. I was hoping they would be more psychy with a name like that.

Crimes of Passion were shortly after. Good melodic and harmonising hard rock. Very driven, I seem to recall 3 guitarists which lent the music a heavy tight sound, perfect vocals too.

Pre-med were on then and they proved to be even better than last year. What a show, what a show. Truly a great band and a great performance. One of my favs, and I've got all their albums and dvds so a stroll over to the cd stall wasn't in the pipeline but to the bar instead.

Speaking of the bar, its a very short 100ft of bar open to the public, and rather disappointingly short of real ale. Does anyone remember the Hawkfest bar of 2008? They must have had over 40 beers, real beer, there. None of the limp lettuce of bitter - John Smiths, the tasteless lagers of Fosters and Budweiser, we're talking about real ale, proper men's beer! Heck - rockers beer! Big hairy black leather clad, metal studs, Motorhead bikers beer! Thats the only gripe I've got about this years festival.

And so to the top act for the Saturday night... the Hawklords. It was like going back in time to 1972 (when I was just 3!), they were more Hawkwind than Hawkwind! Played a lot of the early classics. I loved it. So much better than last year. Trouble was Joe had fallen asleep and so we ambled back to the tent in the dark drunk in the deep vibrations of Al's bass and the pounding drums. The next day Joe bought a Dr Hasbeen hat with a Hawklords badge on it, so he must have liked them too.

The sun was still shining on the Sunday and it shone on Higher Craft, a great heavy psych band who unfortunately only brought a handful of cds with them. I still have to get one from their website.

Then on the main stage my friends the Omnia Opera, with a new line up! And boy did they sound good! I had chatted with them before and they mentioned the line up and doing some new tunes. Nice people those Omnians! They got a few people dancing away including Andy the ancient festival spirit who also did a stint or two on the cd stall. I had a great chat with him about bands - a great source of space/psych rock.

Steroid Freak Pussy were a good hard rock band with a bit of humour. And, well, yes more long hair.

I spoke to Martyn about the metal content of the festival. He explained it was necessary to cover costs and Top Rock sponsored the show on condition of promoting some of their bands. When I spoke to the people in the crowd they all thought it was a good mix of bands, some folky, some rocky. So although not as wide a variety of sounds as last year (much more ethnic and dancey) every one gave "the hair" a big thumbs up (even the bald guys I spoke to)

Then on the main stage were Krankschaft. I was eager to see them as I just bought their cd/poster/booklet and they sounded great in the studio. They were even better live, just the three of them and the haunting non-corporeal voice of the late Robert Calvert coming over on the speakers. It was funny and strange and ever so good... yes even with the smallest ever drum kit! I would advise you to buy their latest CD - it's the whole of their show at Sonic Rock with no edits nor overdubs, and it's a fabulously printed, limited edition to 200 copies only. Available at

Flutatious, the space folkers, hit the stage next and got loads of people jigging about. Superb show and damned catchy tunes - be wary of those guys next time. It's hard to keep beer in a glass when its dancing about like a maniac.

Tir-na-nog were another good but more folky folk band, let down I think by the lack of a drummer, even just a percussion drummer.

Quintessence were another band I had just never gotten around to seeing. They were okay, the vocalist was so overpowering though! They did redeem themselves on the second to last song. Many people liked what they heard.

Litmus had the job to close the festival, I had seen them before and have all their albums. They sounded good as I carried my long suffering little boy back to his tent after a very long but very superb small Welsh space rock festival. Can't wait for next year's one. Might have to go to that one without my boys if I want to see the end of the top headliner's set list.... Thoroughly thoroughly recommended.

Reviewed by Andy Madden

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