Not sure what the Bard himself would make of it, but the Shakespeare County Raceway is home to the annual (now 20th) Bulldog Bash, which, for the uninitiated, is a gathering organised by the Hell’s Angels to celebrate everything biker. It is a petrol-head’s heaven for four days with a drag strip, custom bike show, two live music stages, dance tent, fairground and vendors’ stalls.
“Hell’s Angels?!” I hear you cry. “They’re angry gangs of kitten-eating monsters aren’t they?” Well, sorry to burst the stereotypical bubble, but every HA I met here (they staff everything, from the site set-up to the band bookings and, of course, security) was welcoming and friendly – even to this Japanese motorcycle-riding ex-public school boy.
With the Main Stage music not starting until 3pm on the Friday and Saturday, there was good time to take a wander, and what better way to start than with the delectable machinery in the Custom Show tent? Appreciating all the different shapes, sizes and ingenuity in these beautiful works of art is best left to the eyes, so take a look at the few examples in the pictures page.
After the Custom Show it was off to the Drag Strip – the main focus of the event, with trick show demonstrations, top fuel drag bikes and cars. It also hosted the “Run What Ya Brung” event, which allowed any ordinary punter to test their own road bike, and themselves, against the Drag Strip. With no Gatsos to worry about, it was time to just open the throttle, keep it straight, and don’t miss a gear change.
For a finale, how about a rocket bike and two jet cars? The jet cars are immense powerhouses – four wheels strapped to a helicopter turbine – that produce such a noise that the warnings signposted around the strip to wear ear defenders were wise words of advice. In contrast, the rocket bike (yes, a hydrogen peroxide rocket) was totally silent in its buildup, but, when launched, the whoosh of the rocket was replaced by a collective expletive as two wheels went from 0 to 200 mph in 5.5 seconds. The pilot, Eric Teboul, is a drag racing god, end of.
And so to the music, and while the Main Stage contained the bigger name bands, the smaller Outdoor Stage was excellently supported by UK Unsigned and showcased unsigned rock bands from all over the country from 11am to 11pm each day. This worked well giving the whole Bash a welcome soundtrack as the bands could be heard pretty much everywhere in the site. Let’s hope that some of the genuinely hard-working and talented bands got noticed by the right people during the weekend.
Main Stage – Friday
The Ribeye Brothers kicked things off with some foot-tapping Southern rock, followed by Rattlesnake Remedy, who did the dirty rock thang with style and authenticity, particularly when vocalist Lee Stone confessed that he had been drinking since the morning – an admission that was predictably met with a cheer of approval from the seated audience back at the bar.
Next up it was Engerica, who looked a little out of place here and had a criminally small audience, but who soldiered on with some stomping tunes and genuine enthusiasm and energy. They eventually got the appreciation they deserved from the onlookers. Look out for this lot in the future – methinks it should be a bright one.
In contrast, Skindred‘s notorious dub-metal sound drew a sizeable standing crowd. Benji Webbe’s great interaction with the crowd, combined with storming songs such as Set It Off and Selector, started the masses moving, and by Nobody all hands were in the air. Our only request is for a new album – Skindred have been touring on Babylon for four years now!
After Skindred, Paradise Lost‘s darker, more melodic sound, and rather static stage presence flattened the mood somewhat, but there’s no questioning their excellent sound mix and tight musicianship, showing that they have used the past 15 years well.
A mean and moody entrance heralded Friday headliners The Almighty, who after a hiatus of five years have reformed and are getting some oil into their rusty joints. It was a joy to hear tunes like Destroy and Free ‘n’ Easy’ again and the snarling Ricky Warwick had the crowd whipped up in no time, although he got more than one “eh?” by announcing that all the other bands that day were “shite rock and roll” and that The Almighty were the only “true” rockers. Time for your modesty pill Mr Warwick? Then again, when you can end with the sublime Wild And Wonderful perhaps you can be a bit narcissistic, but prove it with a new album guys.
Main Tent – Saturday
Saturday afternoon and the dreadlocked Love Rocket awoke the blurry-eyed and hungover with some punchy punk rock whose rawness made them one of the best suited bands to the festival.
Not so Losing Sun, with a brand of hardcore that was a bit alien to many of the gathered – not to mention a lead guitarist in flip-flops!
The Answer‘s Cormac Neeson clearly models himself on Robert Plant, and with good stage presence, a voice that is a cross between Mr Led Zep and The Black Crowes‘ Chris Robinson, and backed up by a pretty nifty band, took many of the crowd back a few decades with some blues-style hard rock.
Hailing from Gibraltar (yep, that’s right) Breed 77 were probably the most polished act of the weekend, with each member bringing on acoustic guitars, mandolins and bongos to add extra elements to a semi Roots-era Sepultura sound.
Next up was Hundred Reasons who seemed to be trying to move away from their clean-ish image to a grittier style. Frontman Colin Doran powered out his vocals and did his best to get the crowd motivated between songs, and even HR’s older songs were given a decent kick, but their songs are not instantly grabbing, and those outside the gathered diehard fans only returned polite appreciation.
Pitchshifter were one of the biggest underground metal bands in the UK until they split in 2003. Now they are touring again, and judging by the amount of sing-a-longs, they haven’t lost too many fans in the process. Feeding off this they pounded out some great rock riffage and entertained the amassed throng. Hopefully reactions like this will possibly spark some new material?
And with that all that was left to do was to go outside to watch a full-on fireworks display, before coming back inside to catch The Dogs D’Amour conclude the weekend with a surprise come-back set that ensured there were enough hangovers that only the brave few would be attempting the Drag Strip at the 9am opening time the next day.