High Voltage Festival

Victoria Park, London

24/25 July 2010

High Voltage need to sort their timings out.

Oh, everything seemed to run perfect to schedule as advertised (apparently rare at festivals). It's just that the schedule wasn't very clever.

First, the gates opened only 20 minutes before the first band came on, so despite arriving in good time I had to queue outside the park. Then once you are inside the park you have to walk across half of it and queue again to get into the fenced-off festival ground. It was in this queue that I heard what must have been Touchstone starting their set, promptly at 12:20. Minutes later, this sound was obliterated by the roar of the first band starting on the Metal Hammer stage. I am still outside, and I am nowhere near the back of the enormous queues. I wonder how many Touchstone fans missed their set entirely?

Anyway, through the gates, no time to look around, I headed to the bizarrely-named "Prog" stage. (Which would have been better named the "Random bands, some of whom are Prog" stage or the "Everyone not playing heavy metal and not big enough for the main stage" stage. Anyway...) On the way I passed the Metal Hammer stage, where some metal band was going RRRRRRRRRRR at a million decibels, and finally got to the Prog stage in time to catch most of Touchstone's 20-minute set.


Touchstone have a lot of talent and some great songs (plus the best dress of the day). I really enjoyed what I heard. They are a good band and the singer has a good voice (and if she would do a bit less shouting and a bit more singing she would probably have a great voice).

And in the quiet bits between songs, you can hear RRRRRRRRRRRR from the Metal Hammer stage.

So, a great choice of opening band: energetic and entertaining.


I was expecting great things from Pendragon, which is perhaps why I was a bit disappointed. They aren't bad, but they don't live up to their reputation. Their songs have many great bits in them but don't seem to hang together as songs. Oh well.

And in the quiet bits between songs, you can hear RRRRRRRRRRRR from the Metal Hammer Stage. (Pendragon's singer shouts, "Will somebody turn down that noisy heavy metal!" He is not the last performer to make a similar comment over the course of the weekend.)


I love Focus because they are completely bonkers — while still being first-rate serious musicians. But a 40-minute set doesn't really give them time to shine. They only play about four songs and only have time for one drum solo! And during the flute solo, the bloody Metal Hammer stage goes RRRRRRR...

Still, Focus are brilliant as always.

After Focus there wasn't anyone I was desperate to see until Gary Moore so I took a break to wander around the site — which is immense!

I have to give credit to the organisers — they thought of everything! There were plenty of merchandise stands and sideshows (though I'm not sure who could find time to go on the fairground when the music was basically non-stop). There were enough bars to keep an army of heavy metal fans happy, and they didn't forget us non-drinkers either: I drank orange juice by the pint (at half the price of the beer). And enough toilets that you never had to queue. There was every kind of food stand I could imagine (and quite a few I had never imagined). And I found a place that was selling falafel, the real kind that I've never found in the UK before (there's a place in York that sells it, but they don't make it right).

Overall, the planning and organization is excellent, my only quibbles being the doors opening too late, some stupid timetable clashes between the stages, and the Metal Hammer stage being too close to the Prog stage so that the sound interfered.

Anyway, on my wander round I caught a bit of The Answer on the main stage (good band, seem to want to be Led Zeppelin), a bit of Big Elf on the Prog stage (an interesting psychedelic sort of sound, needs more listening, I think) and a bit of some band on the Metal Hammer Stage (it might have been Hammerfall) and I actually sort of liked them — I had to move away before they could corrupt me with their heathen heavy metal RRRRRRRRRRRRR.


Gary Moore played a hugely crowd-pleasing set, starting with Over the Hills and Far Away and Thunder Rising, a few (excellent) new songs, and ending with Out in the Fields and Empty Rooms. He still can't sing but he's still one of the best guitar players in rock and it was great to hear those songs again — I had forgotten how much I used to love them back in the day. Definitely the highlight of the day so far. Maybe the best concert I have ever seen.

It seemed that Gary Moore wanted to play an encore, and the crowd certainly wanted him to play an encore, but it wasn't allowed. Massive boos from the crowd. I can understand the need for strict running times, but still...


I only caught the last two-thirds of Zappa's set (due to the clash with Gary Moore) but I was very impressed by it. Great music played by a virtuoso band — superb. I think Frank would have been very proud.


The first Asia album would be in my list of the most perfect rock albums of all time, and today the band is playing the whole thing (though not necessarily in the right order).

It sounds magnificent. They flawlessly recreate the songs live, everyone sounding perfect and every band member playing superbly. This is one of the highlights of the festival.

And yet... I've already decided I'm not missing Heaven & Hell, which means missing the last half of Asia's set. But this is so good, I don't want to go. In a moment of synchronicity, they play Cutting it Fine as it reaches the time I must leave, as if hinting to me. I start moving back through the crowd, but I'm reluctant... until they start playing Without You... one of my favourite rock ballads... with a RRRRRRRR accompaniment from the Metal Hammer stage. That's it. I'm not having one of favourite songs spoiled by heavy metal noise. I leave.

I sing Without You all the way to the main stage to make up for it.


One of the deciding factors for me getting a High Voltage ticket was that it could be my last chance to see Ronnie James Dio sing. Well, we all know what happened there. So it was with mixed feelings that I got ready to see his former band mates in Heaven & Hell play a set in tribute to Ronnie. Ronnie Dio was special, but Ronnie wouldn't be singing...

So I didn't really know what to expect or, more importantly, how I would feel. I just knew I would always regret it if I wasn't there.


It was unbelievably emotional.

You know I'm not a "metal" person under normal circumstances and I would never have predicted I would find myself in a field with 20,000 heavy metal fans singing Heaven and Hell at the top of my voice with tears streaming down my face. Surreal. And yes, I felt that Iommi & co. were giving Ronnie a worthy tribute. I'm not sure that I can do it justice in a review, but I'll try...

Heaven & Hell were the first band of the weekend that I saw who had made an effort at a stage set (all grim iron railings and slabs of metal) and a light show (as much as you can at 7:20 on a sunny July day). They played only songs from the Black Sabbath albums Dio sang on — I had thought that they might do other songs from his career, but on reflection what they did was exactly right, and there is no shortage of good material on those albums.

Iommi, Butler and Appice sounded incredibly tight and provided a monstrous wall of sound to back their "tribute" singers. Jorn Lande and Glenn Hughes shared the singing, taking alternate songs throughout the set and alternate lines on Heaven and Hell.

Jorn Lande has a vocal delivery eerily similar to Ronnie James Dio (I don't know if that's always how he sings or if he deliberately adopted it for the occasion) and did full justice to his songs (Mob Rules, Turn up the Night, Voodoo, Die Young — particularly profound in the circumstances). A very good choice of singer.

Glenn Hughes was a less obvious choice — included because he was a friend of Dio's, apparently — and he came on to, frankly, murder Country Girl. Because he sang it like Glenn Hughes, and Glenn Hughes doesn't suit that style of song at all.

But his voice... his voice is incredible. Possibly the best voice remaining from his generation of singers, possibly even the best rock voice I've ever heard live. Incredible voice, truly amazing.

The only thing bigger than his voice appears to be his ego, and his posturing and posing and his proclamations from the stage threatened to turn this tribute to Ronnie James Dio into the Glenn Hughes show. My main thought was, he's going to do to Heaven & Hell what he once did to Deep Purple... oh dear...

But despite these first impressions, he slowly won me over. There obviously was a lot of emotion in what he did, he was genuinely there for his friend Ronnie, and performing in difficult circumstances. After the ropey start, he sounded more comfortable on Children of the Sea, absolutely fantastic on Bible Black, and on Heaven and Hell... well, he understood that this was the crowd's song to sing and was content to let us do it.

Also nice to have Wendy Dio come on stage and say a few words, including an appeal for his cancer fund. Though it was clearly a difficult occasion for her...

Overall Heaven & Hell played an hour and a quarter and left us all highly satisfied.

Worth missing Asia for? Oh yes.


I don't know Transatlantic's music but they have been highly recommended to me for some years now so I was keen to hear them headlining the Prog stage. The clash with Heaven & Hell on the main stage meant I missed the start of their set, but I arrived at the Prog stage in the middle of the most amazing music.

Transatlantic are PHENOMENAL. Astonishing. Five top-rank musicians playing some of the most perfect music I have ever heard. It has the complexities and intricacies to be called "Prog" but also melodies and harmonies that most other bands can only dream of. Simply beautiful.

I'm not sure how much of their set I missed but I watched them for about an hour (including an encore of The Return of the Giant Hogweed, featuring Steve Hackett) and loved every minute of it. Beautiful, beautiful music.

My original plan was to catch the end of ZZ Top after Transatlantic — not because I'm especially interested in ZZ Top, I just wanted to get my money's worth.

But after Transatlantic, I just left. I wanted Transatlantic to be the memory I took home with me — they were really something very special.


I'm not sure how I dragged myself here today... I barely slept and I don't think there is any part of me that doesn't hurt. I'm too old for this...

Still, at least I got in before the first band started.


The Reasoning are disappointing for me. They are great musicians who seem wasted on fairly ordinary heavy metal songs. Rachel Cohen is a particular disappointment because she has a beautiful voice — a really beautiful voice — that just isn't suited to cutting through crunchy metal riffs. Tarja Turunen she isn't. I wish she would just sing things that show off her voice properly... like... Karnataka songs maybe...

But that's just the way my taste in music runs, and that aside The Reasoning work really hard during their short set, work the crowd well, look happy to be here, and basically do everything you could want a warm-up band to do. They are a good band... just not really my kind of band...


Wishbone Ash played for just over an hour — a long set for somebody who is only the second act on! But then, Wishbone Ash shouldn't have been second band on, they should have been headlining. Because, yes, they were THAT good today. They played the best set of the weekend so far.

I'm not saying that with a fan's blind devotion, mainly because I wouldn't really call myself a fan. Although I have always liked their music in a casual sort of way, I'm surprised to find how great they are as a live band.

They play the entire Argus album (and there's not a bad song on it!) plus a handful of other songs, and everything sounds superb. The twin guitar sound and the harmony vocals sound perfect and it's a beautiful sound.

This version of Wishbone Ash is Martin Turner plus three other musicians (whose names I don't recall, sorry). Turner has lost nothing from his voice and his band are excellent musicians, and they work tightly together, making complex arrangements sound easy and projecting a great sense of fun and joy in their playing. A superbly professional band.

Then, for the last few songs, Ted Turner joins them! His voice may be a little rusty but his guitar playing is amazing and the sound of the band now... three guitars in perfect harmony! Wibble. Every band should have three lead guitar players. Forty years ago Wishbone Ash wrote the book on guitar harmony, and today they are rewriting it. This line-up is amazing, the music is amazing, and it's probably the highlight of the weekend so far — and probably the best concert I have ever seen.


I have to make a difficult decision between Steve Hackett on the Prog stage and UFO on the main stage. I chose Hackett because I'm curious to see what he's like live.

Hackett is a fantastic guitar player and the rest of his band are equally good musicians, but... his songs don't really engage me. Not even the Genesis songs he does. He played a short set, probably no more than 30-35 minutes, and that was enough to satisfy my curiosity.

I think Steve Hackett is probably somebody best appreciated on record, or perhaps at a better venue than a festival like this. And definitely when the intricate music is not suffering from a backing of RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR from the Metal Hammer stage.

I didn't dislike his set but I was... disappointed. I would probably have enjoyed UFO more.

Rather than seeing if I could catch the last part of UFO when Hackett finished, I stayed at the Prog stage and took the opportunity to move closer to the stage for the next band.


Embedded in the crowd at the front of the stage and ready to clap, sing and jump on demand, I knew that whatever Magnum did they couldn't disappoint me.

They play for just under an hour, and a set that is heavily dominated by more recent songs (Les Morts Dansant, All England's Eyes, and Kingdon of Madness are the only songs from the "classic" era). You would think that for a festival crowd they would build a set of their better-known favourites — but Magnum know their audience. They know we love them and will eat up anything they do. When Bob says "jump", we don't stop to ask how high, we just do it. That's the kind of magnetism he has. I can't explain to anybody else what it is about this band that makes me love them, but there will be people reading this review who will nodding because they know exactly what I mean. Why do we love them? We just do.

Even after a short set that excludes most of my favourite songs, I am not disappointed. I love this band.


Joe Bonamassa comes highly recommended and I would like to see him, but his set cuts into Argent (who I will not miss) and Uriah Heep. So rather than catching a few of his songs then dashing back for Argent, I opt to stay with the Prog stage for Uriah Heep.

I enjoy Heep's music well enough but I am decidedly underwhelmed by their live set. They are playing the Demons and Wizards album in its entirety, and they start off brilliantly with The Wizard but after a while I'm starting to think... hmmm... there's a lot of filler on this album.

They are a solid band, entertaining, not bad, but surprisingly... average.


A huge part of the Heep crowd melts away and I'm not really surprised because Argent are not exactly a massive name -- I'm not really sure why they are so high on the bill.

But for me they were one of the key selling points of the whole festival. I love Argent's music — and this is their first appearance on stage together for 37 years!!! The crowd that remains for them seems to be a mix of people who remember them the first time around and people like me who can't possibly have seen them live before, and the mood is one of nervous anticipation. "Don't let me down Rod," somebody shouts, and I understand exactly how he feels.

But if the band feel any pressure, they don't show it. And they don't let anybody down.

Argent are a superb live band, as good as any I've seen, and they play a crowd-pleasing set of about 55 minutes with many varied songs including (Rod feels the need to keep reminding us that he or Russ Ballard wrote all of these songs even though it's often other bands that made them famous — yes, Rod, we know, why do you think we are here?) -- including It's Only Money (parts 1 and 2), Liar, Rejoice, She's Not There, Keep on Rolling, I Don't Believe in Miracles, Since You Been Gone, God Gave Rock and Roll to You, and, naturally, Hold Your Head Up. I can't believe I clapped through the entire duration of Hold Your Head Up — I can barely hold my pen to write this review now. Ouch.

Apart from the outstanding song writing, Rod Argent is one of the great, overlooked keyboard players of rock. Russ Ballard live is an even better guitar player than I had realised, he really impressed me, the rhythm section is rock steady even under Rod's way-out keyboard improvisations, and the vocal harmonies are spot on. The band is an incredible live unit, with good rapport amongst themselves and with the audience. They may have been an odd choice for this festival (seriously, Zombies songs at a hard rock festival in 2010?) but I think they were happy to be playing again — we were certainly happy that they were playing again — and they proved that there is still a place for Argent 37 years later.

Definitely the best concert I have ever seen. I am not expecting ELP to top this.


I had intended to catch as much of Marillion's set headlining the Prog stage as I could before moving over for ELP on the main stage (that was surely the most stupid scheduling conflict of the weekend) but it didn't work out like that in the end. I had moved away from the stage by the time they came on so I didn't have a great view — plus their music is too delicate to compete with the bloody RRRRRRR from the bloody Metal Hammer stage. After a couple of songs, I found I wasn't getting into it at all and I moved away to secure a place at the main stage for ELP. We had given them a good fight all weekend but the heavy metal had finally won.

Still, I was impressed with what I did see (and kind-of hear), and I would like to see the band again in a better venue.



Ignore everything I have said about every other band on the bill, THIS was the best concert I have ever seen.

Ah, hold on, let me try to remember... Karn Evil 9, Lucky Man, Tarkus, Touch and Go, Take a Pebble, Pictures at an Exhibition, Farewell to Arms, Fanfare for the Common Man, I'm sure I've forgotten something, keyboard solos, drum solo — best drum solo I have ever seen — cannons, fireworks, Greg Lake still has a carpet (!), FEEDBACK FEEDBACK, backwards organ playing, knives in the organ, tipping the organ over, gongs, did I mention the drum solo? Umm, what else? Everything else. Three incredible musicians, an incredible set of songs, a stunning stage show... concerts really don't get any better than this. This was worth the ticket price, worth the whole trip (oy, it's been expensive) even without the rest of the weekend. Superb. Best concert I've ever seen.

Blerrrgh. Sleep now.