Saturday, 30th December, saw the final gig of 2017 at The Rock Den featuring Twisted State of Mind, Maverick, Kaine and Guns of Anarchy.

Opening proceedings was the high energy alternative rock/metal band from Oxfordshire, Twisted State of Mind. Formed in 2011, and still in their teens, the band, as well as playing their own unique brand of hard rock across the UK, has completed 3 U.S. tours, released four singles with U.S. based Toil Records and, in 2016, released two singles, Set in Stone and Rock n Roll Hell, produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides. They recently performed their first European mainland gig in Germany and have also played alongside Duff McKagan and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (Guns ‘n’ Roses) and Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley, for a version of the hit song Gold. That’s all well and good, but could they rock the Den? You bet your arse they could. Ben Comley (Vocals), it appears, is not adverse to the odd kangaroo burger as, shirtless, he leapt about the stage (it had to have a lay down afterwards) and among the crowd, ably backed by Luke Ashby (Guitar/Vocals), Joe Wastie (Bass) and Damon Marshall on drums banging out Break the Night, Circles, Set in Stone and Monster among others in a full on 30 minute set. Great vocal harmonies and big hooks ran free and, it would seem, all sponsored by Calvin Klein! Top set, blending elements of modern metalcore through to classic rock and setting the stage nicely for the ever-improving Maverick.

Making their third appearance at the Den, Alternative Rock band, Maverick, another band in their teens, are becoming a class act. Despite being without bass player Adam Pollard, Louis Perritt (vocals, guitar, keyboard) James D’Alessandro (drums), Adam Vining (lead guitar) still produced a great set. While it Included familiar tracks such as Change the Tide, Sleeping in Daydreams, Uneasy Season, Chains in the System, Butterflies (Uneasy Seasons EP, 2016) and the excellent Here They come, there seemed to be a ‘darker’ edge to the tracks. Whether this is the direction the band is going or simply due to a more ‘improvised’ set, only time will tell. There certainly seemed to be more emphasis put on keyboards and even a nice twist to the track Butterflies with Perritt playing lead on bass. They are showing real maturity/confidence on stage, probably gained from the number of live gigs they’re playing and the crowd responses, and, it would seem, beginning to appreciate just how good they are. Something lacking in their earlier performances. Their new track Daisy Blue is another top track and I for one look forward to another album from these guys and seeing them live many more times in the future.

So on to Kaine. Having seen and written about this band on many occasions, I am running out of superlatives to describe them and their music. I struggle not to bang on about how they have evolved into one of the best bands around and not write copious paragraphs as to why. I guess I resist this urge by knowing that anyone who happens to read this already knows. So, having resisted, Saturday saw them deliver another banging set, but this time, one in ‘honour’ of The Rock Den faithful. A nice touch and one that was, certainly from my point of view, very much appreciated. Rage, Saxon, Chris and my namesake Mr. ‘God of Bass’ Ellis, while keeping a core of the set – Heaven’s Abandonment, The Mind is Willing (even though we begged him not to, Mr. MacKinnon still sang), Voice in Hell and the off the charts, Desert Island Disc dead cert, if they hadn’t played it I would have sulked for months and almost up there with Bohemian Rhapsody, The Fall of Jericho, – they also treated the crowd to Frailty of the Blade, Alone in my Forgotten Rage and the title track from the upcoming album A Crisis of Faith. Did I bang on about Fall of Jericho there? Sort of lost track. Awesome band this one. I love these guys. Rage once sweated on me and I haven’t washed since. I have a photo of Mr Ellis on my wall and a lock of Saxon’s hair wrapped a round one of Chris’ drumsticks in a vault guarded by lions. I stalk them when Nurse lets me out….

Blimey, I’ve come over all weird and sweaty! Where was I? Oh yes, headliners Guns of Anarchy, or just to make things awkward for anyone currently writing about them, The Wicked Jackals. Bastards! Yep, changed their name in mid-sentence. Anyway, all is forgiven. If a full on, crowd involving, end of year blockbuster set is what you want, these guys deliver. With a cross between Slash and Captain Jack Sparrow on guitars (AKA Marty Venus), Ollie Tindall (Vocals/Guitar), Lex Gifford (Bass) and the multiple stick breaker, James Norkett on drums, 2018 took a quick look around and ran away and hid under the covers. The set included Hang ‘em High, Gone to the Dogs, Fortune and Glory, Raise a Glass, Going to Brazil and Scream. If that wasn’t enough there was the spectacular, covertastic, Rock Den City Limits (Tina Turner, if she’d been there, would have got all sweaty) sing-a-long, I’m eighteen again, rock me ‘til I die addition to the powerhouse set, interspersed with a ‘let’s take the kit out into the crowd and let them have a go’ moment, where regulars got to bang the drums and play a cowbell out of time. Yes, we did the ‘needs more cowbell’ joke a dozen times so don’t go doing it again. A totally wicked and awesome end to the evening by the “Loud, Mean and Mighty Unclean” Guns of Jackals. Bastards!

So, there you have it. Another gig at the Den.

On a personal note, Christmas and the New Year is a time I seem to reflect on the past more than usual. It can be quite a painful time. Life has a habit of kicking us in the balls, often more than once, to the point where nothing seems worth it. How many more times can you keep getting off the floor? Then there’s the music. That first note hits, the heart thumps, the spine tingles and for a few hours nothing else matters. You are transported to a world where all is good and, though pain killers are high on my list of gig requirements and, if I have to hold my arms up for more than ten claps, my arms start to catch fire, I am happy. Truly happy. The bands, the crowd and just the whole metal vibe is a joyous thing. I freely admit that I would be lost without it. I’m probably not alone in feeling this. To think a band rehearses, records albums, loads and unloads kit, travels the length and the breadth of the country in all weathers etc. then proceeds to melt your face off all for the price of a couple of pints, or less, is quite something. We are blessed time and time again with stunning musicianship, stage performances and, most importantly, a chance to barrack the crap out of them for doing so. Photobombing too obviously. We get to see ‘close up’ via social media and with them taking time out to chat during gigs, their trials and tribulations. We also get to share in their love of music and their pride for what they do and their achievements. I guess that’s why we travel all over to see them. A shared passion. A shared joy. A moment where we simply turn around and kick life back. With passion there will always be clashes of personalities and a seeing of things differently to others. But let’s not lose focus of what is really important. The music. And what it ultimately gives us or allows us to achieve. Bill Shankly once commented that football was more important than life or death. I can only surmise that he never stood two foot away from a guitar solo and gave the horns as his ears, heart and soul exploded in a moment of pure unadulterated pleasure.

Keep rocking and thanks to everyone who endeavours to give us top nights of live music. I salute you. Steve Ellis\m/

Pics c/o Martyn Turner

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