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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A View From North Wales: Hard Rock Hell

Hard Rock Hell, Hafan-Y-Mor Park, Pwllheli

The five-ish hour drive to Hafan-Y-Mor is always a good run with friends and stopping at The Sportsman's in Porth Madog for the finest pub sandwich I've ever had along with some locally made ale (which we duly stocked up on at the brewery) was a great idea by Mr H who was driving and using is knowledge of the area to make sure everything went swimmingly. After buying all the bacon and cider we could then we finally set off on the final leg of the journey to the hallowed ground of Haven. Check in was at 4pm and we arrived duly at 3:59, before joining the queue to get our pack and then on to finding our Caravan (yes folks no tents here) and unloading. After this it was time for some drinks before heading into the arena for do what we came to do; watch some fine rock music.

Thursday

Midnight Messiah

First up were Midnight Messiah comprised of former members of NWOBHM also-rans Elixir, these two men were the leather clad, silver fox Paul Taylor, who has the best hair this side of Biff Byford and sunglasses wearing axe slinger Phil Denton. They were the writing team in Elixir and to be honest MM sound like Elixir they are bouncy, competent classic metal with dual guitars, coming from Denton and wunderkid Dave Strange, the bass gallop of Alex Machell and metronomic drumming of Darren Lee. With some good songs getting heads nodding and fists pumping MM were the perfect opening to this festival for the drinking masses gathered there. Nothing special but a band I'd see again due to the entertainment value alone. 8/10

The Earls Of Mars

An now for something completely different with The Earls Of Mars, the mental, madcap jazz/doom metal of The Earls Of Mars, having seen them before I wondered whether they would win my compatriots around and as Poor Whores Petition started things off with frontman Harry Armstong smashing his piano and shouting the lyrics as the band backed him with vaudevillian, jazz fuelled rock full of stomping guitars upright bass and technical percussion, the band are still promoting their debut album with The Swinger (which surprisingly is a swing style song) and the mighty The Astronomer Pigs making up the set, however the band were not all old stuff as they have a new song called Fisticuffs which bodes well for album 2. A great change of pace and one that encourages quaffing beverages. 8/10

Massive Wagons

Massive Wagons are hailed as the greatest new thing but they really...aren't at all. They are very samey, generic modern rock with almost unlistenable vocals, still somehow the crowd were going nuts to the band. Maybe it's just me... 4/10

Lizzy Borden

 Things unfortunately were about to get worse as the man who I've always thought of as a budget Alice Cooper and my thoughts were proven right. The visuals were there with frequent costume changes from frontman Lizzy. However the music was dire American sleaze metal which was made worse by a fucking BASS SOLO!! That was enough for us and we retreated back to the frozen wastes of the caravan for some more warming beer and some rest ready for our full day on Friday. 3/10

Friday

Friday and as the dust of the previous day settled and indeed the minor hangovers subsided (due in part to the lashings of bacon) it was time to put down a couple of drinks and once again heading into the arena.

Piston

First up were Piston who played a solid chunky style of blues rock with a southern swagger and indeed Northern accents. Their songs were good and one even had a element of CCR to it, what really struck me was the voice of singer Steve Nunn he can really belt it out however I was a bit sad to learn that this was going to be his last gig with the band due to other commitments and throat problems, that is a shame but he powered through their set which culminated with a turbocharged version of CCR's Proud Mary. I'll be interested to see where the band go from here but on this showing they have some big shoes to fill. 7/10

SKAM

Next up was Leicester power trio SKAM who bring some riff heavy, radio friendly songs and buckets of attitude to the table. Having seen them at the Steelhouse Festival, I knew what to expect form this trio but the band are now armed with a great second album which has some big tunes on it so I wanted to see how these translated into the live arena, luckily the answer is bloody well indeed with big riffs from Steve Hill's guitar and Matt Gilmore's bass and a rigid backline from Neal Hill. SKAM are a great band who have become a real live draw from their tours with Airborne. Worth seeing if you like your rock big, ballsy and ideal for drinking beer. 7/10

Fire Red Empress

Having recently watched FRE in Bristol it was great to see them again utilising their big stoner riffs to beat the second stage around the head, once again it was the job of enigmatic frontman Nik to bring everyone together with his affable style and his great voice. Fire Red Empress bring some hefty slabs of rock to the table and got the crowd joining heartily, beer in hand, pumping their fists and bobbing their heads. A perfect band for  heavy drinking session. 7/10

Persian Risk

So then to business, nothing (depite my protestations) was going to stop us seeing Persian Risk. The band were from the NWOBHM era and hail from our home town of Cardiff, formed by Phil Campbell, now of Motorhead and John Deverill who went on to join Tygers Of Pan Tang. The band are now lead by vocalist Carl Sentance with bassist Wayne Banks providing the four string attack. The band maintain the classic British NWOBHM style that they started with all those years ago. Because of the emotional attachment we turned up and immediately the party started mixing their last album Once A King and their new album Who Am I. The riffs came thick and fast with Carl's excellent voice bringing everything together. The abnd has as much charisma as they did back in Bogiez and they also have some great metal tunes ripe for shouting along to. Pure leather clad Brit metal supreme!! 9/10

Electric Mary

Over then to the main stage for Aussie hard rockers Electric Mary who play classic Stones-like retro rock, with jangly guitars, a bluesy beat and smoky vocals. I've been waiting for this for a while and the band didn't disappoint, we only caught the final part of their set but they were the perfect come down after the excitement of Persian Risk. Bluesy, rocky and with real charm Electric Mary were worth the wait. 7/10

Buffalo Summer

The summer rock vibe continued with yet more Welshies this time Buffalo Summer who kicked things off with She's All Natural and A Horse Called Freedom the band blend classic Zep style rock with a modern rock twist and they managed to weave their spell over the crowd with their mature hard rock. As the percussive stomp of Down To The River which led into the Into Your Headand ended the set in style, a band that is going places fast. 7/10

A break for food and I must say that the Fish and chips (and of course mushy peas) are very good at HRH better than any of the other fast food places on the site. (7/10) Still on to the next with two of us really looking forward to this one:

The Brew

We have seemed to have a problem with the The Brew, every time we've gone to see them they seemed to have cancelled the performance. So now they were cornered and we had to see them this time. What we got was solid blues rock form a talented  three piece drawing most of their set from their latest album with Repeat, Mute, Pause, Skip, and Shuffle. Their hard rocking music perfectly compliments fish and chips and the band themselves draw elements of Zeppelin, The Who and those classic hard rocking bands. Jason Barwick is a hell of a guitarist channelling Jimmy Page and has a great blues howl as well, bassist Kurtis Smith is completely mental and his son smashes hell out of the drums. Finally Booing is full of screaming guitars with Barwick going full Page using a bow on his guitar, however the band made a small faux pa by ending with a bloody DRUM SOLO!!!! Still it was great to finally see them in the flesh and I can't wait to see them again. 7/10

Y&T (Again)

I'm not going to linger on this one but I will say they were still as good as they had been in Cardiff. A greatest hits set with I Believe In You ending the shorter set to a packed crowd. Overall they were great one punter in the loo put it played all the hits except the famous one (that being fan pleaser Forever) 7/10

Krokus

Having never seen Krokus I was kind of looking forward to Long Stick Goes Boom and as they kicked off I was appeased. The band are competent but this Swiss band sound so much like AC/DC it hurts something that shocked Mr Hewitt to his core much to our hilarity. The set was full of rockers with LSGB, Hellraiser, Bedside Radio all getting an airing however they killed momentum a bit with ballad Screaming In The Night, but for the most part good solid hard rock that pleased our old school leader Paul. 7/10

Queensrÿche
Last minute headliner replacements Queensrÿche were next and I was hoping they were going to be better than when I saw them with original singer Geoff Tate. New singer Todd LaTorre sounds so much Tate on record I was interested to see how he would fair live and also how they would win over an audience expecting W.A.S.P. They coped brilliantly with a simply flawless delivery of a hit filled set that covered all bases. As opener Nightrider kicked things off LaTorre proved all the doubters wrong with his voice, it is truly spectacular if you close your eyes you couldn't tell the difference between him and Tate. The band worked through the anthemic Walk In My Shadows before going through The Whisper and En Route and into Warning. For a band that had one hell of a trip in, this was their only show in UK and after playing they went straight back to the USA after the show. The band made up for a dual guitar solo set with The Lady Wore Black, Eyes Of A Stranger and the finale of Empire. The band were on fire with original member Michael Wilton shredding up a storm, unfortunately there was a much smaller crowd for Queensrÿche than for Y&T, but their progressive style metal is more of acquired taste. Still we were loving it Mr Hewitt especially was in another place for most of the set and as the triple encore of Queen Of The Reich, Jet City Woman and Take Hold The Flame ended we were all losing our voices shouting along. An amazing set from an amazing band who have risen above the legal shenanigans to readdress what's important. Now who's for a UK headline tour!? 9/10

Saturday

Saturday and again we shook off the night before to head into the arena for Black State Highway

Black State Highway

Black State Highway play earthy rootsy blues rock by a young band with great chops. Formed at the Brighton School of Modern Music they are all accomplished musicians with a worldwide membership, the guitarists Ollie and Yonnis are English and Swedish respectively, bassist Gordon Duncan is Scottish, their drummer is ginger (so his biography says and I can confirm) and singer Liva is from Latvia. The band play 70's style grungy blues rock with big meaty songs bolstered by the bombshell up front as she has both a hell of an attitude and a great set of pipes, she wins ballsiest singer of the weekend hands down. A great set that was let down a little by the muddy sound, still a band full of passion and a real fire for performance, ones to watch for sure. 7/10

Blues Pills

More female vocals but a total change of pace as the bluesy, psychedelic retro rock of The Blues Pills was coming up and they impressed with some superb musicianship the thunderous drums of André Kvarnström were the perfect anchor for the driving finger picked bass of Zack Anderson and it was all topped by the sublime flowing guitar passages from Dorian Sorriaux who plays the guitar deftly providing the songs with their otherworldly quality. Finally the bands ace in the hole are the Joplin-like vocal preach from frontwoman Elin Larsson who is a woman loses herself in the music as she rocks out while the bands play their extensive instrumental sections, drawing much of their set from their debut the songs translate from the record well and the band jam a little on them too allowing them to show off their chops and create a real vibe from the opening double song transfer to finale of Devil Man. The Blues Pills are a genuinely excellent rock band that draw from their influences and bring them bang up to date. 9/10

Vardis

Having morphed from a NWOBHM artists into a blues band, Vardis still don't so much for me so onto the second stage. 5/10

Grifter

This is better!! Solid stoner riff rock with, big songs, big beards and a cover of Fairies Wear Boots? Count me in! Never heard much of Grifter but they won me round with their huge stoner riffs and gruff vocals, I think I may be checking out more of Grifter soon as they sounded very good at HRH. 7/10

Big Elf

Back to the mainstage for prog mentalists Big Elf. Musically the band were excellent but they were (perhaps deliberately) disjointed in terms of delivery. The key to the bands appeal is frontman Damon Fox who is part Lennon, Wood, Bolan mixed with John Lord, singing with vaudeville delivery and handling dual organs, keys and synths. No Mike Portnoy on this show but no matter John Wesley handled the guitars and Duffy Snowhill (like a hippy Sabertooth) handled bass and provided the rock riffs as a counterpoint to Fox's weirdness. However unfortunately for the band they were just too much of an acquired taste for the meat and two veg crowd so with much of the crowd disinterested they looked a little ponderous and a bit to much like hard work. Shame. 6/10

Thunder Mother

Over to the second stage with something a little more immediate with SheCee/DC of Thunder Mother. An all female group with hopping Angus aping guitarist and a set full of Acca Dacca riffs with country decked singer. Rocking and brainless music ruined for the most part by the terrible scratchy vocals. 4/10

Blackwolf

Thankfully things got a lot better with a Musipedia favourite the always very good, Bristol based Blackwolf. Straight out of the blocks their smooth blues based hard rock got the packed audience boogying away merrily with much shaking of hips and nodding of heads. The band always have such great playing and the irrepressible Scott who has great voice. Their brand of funky, hard rock with real swagger is always welcome and it was nice for more people to see how they've grown into a real red hot live act! 8/10

Diamond Head

The NWOBHM legends and Metallica's main influence were debuting a new vocalist who was good at the high stuff but lacked a little in the lower register. Still the band raced through a classic set with Lightning To The Nations and Helpless all getting an airing but still despite all the aggrandising the band are still middle of the road NWOBHM with the crowd really only coming alive for the perennial Am I Evil? 7

Michael Schenker

WOW!! That is really all the review you need but I'm afraid Schenker stole the show. He and his all star band really blew the roof off the place, kicking off with Doctor Doctor the set started as it meant to go on, with classic Scorpions Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz as the rhythm section, Wayne Findlay in the Paul Raymond role of guitars and keys and Doogie White on vocals he has assembled a band that could tackle anything. Luckily that is good as he does indeed tackle everything with UFO, MSG, Scorpions and of course their own songs, with Natural Thing, Armed And Ready, Victim Of Illusion, Lovedrive all making an appearance, Schenker showed off his guitar prowess with the instrumental Coast To Coast where he soloed like the legend he is. Lord Of The Lost and Lonely is a real romp and sets up Shoot Shoot very well which in turn exploded into Rock You Like  A Hurricane this got the crowd rocking like hurricanes indeed and allowed Findlay to show his solo chops. The show was spectacular with Schencker saying very little but White is a confident master of ceremonies getting progressively more Scottish as it went on turning into somewhere between David Coverdale and Billy Connelly. Finally it was time for Rock Bottom which once again ruined our voices and blew the guitar freaks mind as Schenker ripped up his fretborad like a demon casting light and shade in the mid section. Schenker rendered me and my colleagues speechless with  all the hits you need packed into one set. 10/10

Blue Oyster Cult

A real American legend of a band Blue Oyster Cult rarely play the UK so I couldn't pass up a chance to see them in the flesh. Playing a greatest hits set what struck me was just how slick the band were every member is a total pro playing their part beautifully and effortlessly, you get the feeling they could play any song from their repertoire at anytime and make it seem like they meant to. Buck Dharma is every inch guitar god with his headless guitar and Eric Bloom is the stoic frontman driving the rhythm with his guitar merging perfectly with Richie Castellano who contributes guitars and keys as well as vocals. In the back room they have Jules Radino on the tubs and Danny Miranda on bass who has served time with both BOC and Meat Loaf and seemed to enjoy playing tricks on Castellano throughout. Despite their aura of complete professionalism they have the aura of a pub band inviting Bikers, Beer Drinkers and Beatlemaniacs all to worship at the altar of the Cult. Starting with The red And The Black kicks things off before Golden Age Of Leather and Burnin' For You. Dharma got ample time to show off in Buck's Boogie and also during the frankly stunning middle eight of Then Came The Last Days Of May which built up and up into a groin moistening crescendo and the reptile stomp of Godzilla brought back the hits before Hot Rails To Hell began to end the set and but took a mis-step with both a Bass and Drum solo consecutively, still if you are going to do something like that then follow it up with your biggest hit and as the cowbell struck Don't Fear The Reaper kicked in to full flight. With the crowd singing along the night was unfortunately over but with their big vocal harmonies and some killer songs the Cult climaxed in a triumphant end to their set. It has been a long wait but well worth it Blue Oyster Cult are a simply amazing live band and I was honoured to see them in their natural habitat. 9/10

So all in all a great weekend of rock, 20 something bands over three days, great friends, good times and a whole lot of awesome music. I love these events as they attract some fantastic bands and they have a much more relaxing atmosphere than most of the camping based festivals. Roll on March and lets do it all again!!




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