Hard Rock Hell 9th – 11th November 2017 Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli, North Wales
It’s been a while since we’ve been to the holiday camp in North Wales for a weekend of rocking and rolling. The usual chaos that greets you as you attempt to check in shows no sign of improvement and the 40-minute wait after we’ve been seen because you can’t find our key isn’t an impressive start. The absence of much of an apology doesn’t help either. As a result we miss the opening act, Ryders Creed, so apologies to you guys. We also fail to get to see New Yorkers Killcode due to sorting the press passes out. We did manage to catch Orange County power trio Idlewar (8) whose set is captivating and just fantastic. For a three-piece their sound is solid and powerful and with tracks from Rite interspersing with their older material it was no wonder that the audience loved it. Well worth catching these guys if they are in your area.
Catching the end of Black Aces (7) in the rammed main arena, it was high spirits all round for the antipodean four bar boogie of one of many bands to sound like AC/DC this weekend. The four-piece have energy to burn and the crowd were certainly enjoying them, as was the case for Toby Jepson and his Wayward Sons (8) project who hit the stage confidently and moved smoothly through their set. Predominantly comprised of tracks from their debut Ghosts Of Yet To Come, the band were on fine form with Jepson looking and sounding every inch the rock star. A Little Angels cover was allowed and expected. I’ve never been a huge fan of TJ but he certainly hits the right notes at present.
The George Thorogood classic Bad To The Bone preceded the arrival of headliner Dee Snider (7). The temperature in the room was at melting point and was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the former Twisted Sister frontman hit the stage with his three-piece backing band. Mixing the set list with the expected classics from his past with a sprinkling of tunes from his We Are The Ones album, Snider was in confident form as always, striding the stage. Unfortunately, his solo work isn’t anywhere near as good as the TS material and it was highlighted through the set. His on-stage presence and in between chatter is fantastic, and he was in fine form. Other covers included the Nine Inch Nails classic Head Like A Hole (which he did on the album) and Soundgarden’s Outshined. Sadly, the heat became a little too much and we headed out into the rainy night with no regrets.
Friday dawned fresh and bright and brought with it the anticipation of a day’s worth of quality bands. First up was the quite brilliant Those Damn Crows (8) from Bridgend whose enthusiastic efforts on stage were matched by an energetic audience. Vocalist Shane Greenhall was on fire from the start, cajoling the crowd and giving it everything. The band have some good solid material and their super set received a deserved ovation. Heading over to the main stage next for the psychedelic tones of Goldray (9), a band that was much anticipated. Goldray did not disappoint with a fantastic 45 minutes of music which prompted comparisons with Siouxsie Sioux, the Cocteau Twins, The Blues Pills and even Kate Bush. Fronted by the ever-moving twirling Leah Rassmussen, whose ethereal vocals were captivating, Goldray’s psych rock was enchanting and Kenwyn House’s guitar work quite magical. Tracks from debut release Rising were well received and the only shame was the small crowd.
Kingbreaker’s wailing did little for me so we headed into the main arena again for The Graveltones (7), whose White Stripes sound with added oomph had drawn a large crowd. Sweating profusely in the hideous heat, Jimmy O and companion Mikey Sorbello blasted through their blues rock set with aplomb. There’s only so long I can watch this type of band though and after about 30 minutes we headed out for some fresh air before catching an enthusiastic set from The Jokers (7) whose routine rock n’ roll was being lapped up from a decent crowd. A break for Mrs H’s magnificent homemade veggie lasagne allowed for a bit of carb loading to soak up some of the beer before we witnessed a stonking set from UK’s Fire Red Empress (8) whose stoner and punk infused riffage and inventive songs from the very good Black Morphine cleared any sluggishness, vocalist Jennifer Diehl a ball of energy and passion.
German outfit The New Roses (8) belied their Black Crowes sound to deliver a much heavier set, much closer to decent Black Stone Cherry and their honest show was greeted with gusto from a packed arena. Stand out track had to be Life Ain’t Easy (For A Boy With Long Hair), one of the most ridiculous songs ever written. The band are an engaging watch, full of bounce and with a decent attitude. Their music isn’t the most inventive, but it did the job and was delivered with passion and heart. Check out Matt’s interview with the band soon.
Whilst most of the punters at HRH packed out the main stage for Y&T we gave it the swerve and instead checked out the magnificent Sideburn (8). The Swiss band gave a superb performance, their honest rock n’ roll encouraging the party to continue. All members of the band played with huge smiles on their faces, and the energy on stage was reciprocated in the small but enthusiastic audience. It was good stuff.
Possibly the highlight of the weekend followed with an astonishing performance from Blind River (9) whose gritty thick sound was just brilliant. This was hard rock from the top drawer with the combination of members of Pig Iron, The Earls Of Mars and Godsized creating a fantastic noise.With no music published yet, we rely on those brief YouTube clips but when their material does hit the shops we at the Musipedia will be all over it.
It was a challenge for Chasing Dragons (7) to follow Blind River and whilst the band gave it a good go their mixed sound was a little too busy and interest wandered after about 30 minutes. With the main arena so busy for Airbourne that the entrances were closed it was time for an earlier night and we headed home after a very satisfactory day.
Saturday was an earlier start and at 12:00pm it was the Cardiff based outfit Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters (6) who, despite looking hung over to hell, put in a decent shift to get the day moving. Their ‘in your face’ approach certainly got the crowd up and interested. No-nonsense rock n’ roll guaranteed to make you smile with Beth’s gutsy voice impressive. After a quick walk to clear the head and take in the beautiful North Wales coast line it was the one disappointment of the day with the schedule clash between Buffalo Summer and Bad Touch. Giving priority to our fellow Welshmen, Buffalo Summer (8) took to the main stage with the swagger and confidence of a band who have been plying their trade for several years.
The Swansea lads big sounding blues rock is infectious, and a decent sized crowd were soon clapping along to songs from the band’s two albums. Andrew Hunt’s soulful vocals filled the hall with ease whilst the energy and gurning of bassist Darren Joseph-King was a delight. Cutting the set in half, a quick hop to stage 2 to catch 30 minutes of similar superb blues rock from Norfolk’s Bad Touch (8) who never fail to impress. With a similar heritage to Buffalo Summer, Bad Touch certainly pulled in a crowd as the room was very busy.
Whilst it is singer Stevie Westwood whose stunning vocals catch the attention; Bad Touch is very much a band and guitarist Rob Glendinning showed a quality rarely seen over the weekend with some beautiful playing. The whole band are a cohesive unit with tracks from this year’s Truth Be Told sitting alongside earlier tunes from Halfway Home. A brilliant set and a fine start to the day.
The Swedish metal of Syron Vanes (6) did little, the veteran Swedes enthusiasm not matched by the quality of their material although the sparse crowd did ensure the band received a decent reception. The main stage was substantially fuller for the arrival of Toseland (6), whose radio friendly rock was much more to most tastes. Whilst Toseland are perfectly competent, there is something about their polished, streamlined music which leaves me cold. James Toseland can sing, albeit in a Myles Kennedy falsetto, and the tracks are solid but there always seem to be an absence of passion. Maybe I am missing something as the band have recently signed with Frontiers Music but the smugness of bassist Roger Davis, whose front of stage presence is just irritating combined with the other factors meant that the second stage soon beckoned.
A good choice too as Scottish outfit Burnt Out Wreck (7) soon arrived on stage for 45 minutes of tub thumping old school hard rock. Led by former Heavy Pettin’ drummer Gary Moat whose Bon Scott style vocals were brilliant, the band crashed through their set of tracks from this year’s debut album Swallow. The band have an old school charm about them which was totally enjoyable, and a competent display was well received. Polished progressive rock in the main arena as a busy crowd enjoyed an hour of superb music from Finnish five-piece Von Hertzen Brothers (8). The Finns have just released their latest album, the excellent War Is Over and bookend their set with the records two monster track from that alongside some of their more recognisable tunes including New Day Rising, Diamonds And Rust and a blistering Coming Home. The brothers recently underwent a line-up change but showed no signs of slowing the momentum which has been building for several years with an excellent performance. With a slightly less progressive and heavier live sound the band are deservedly building a reputation and their live shows are always enjoyable.
If there is a band you want at your party, then it has to be the Scottish rockers Gun (9) who kicked off a brilliant set with She Knows from their latest album Favourite Pleasures. The Glaswegians, led by the unassuming Dante Gizzi had the crowd in the palm of their hands, hitting hard with their now legendary cover of Word Up which had the ladies in the room gyrating in ecstasy. So much heavier live than on record, the band played a set of new and older music, with highlights including Steal Your Fire which got huge responses from the audience. The guitar work of Jools Gizzi and Tommy Gentry was exceptional although closing cover Fight For You Right, although inevitable never appeals to me. Still, a magnificent set and one of the highlights of the weekend for sure.
Skipping the main stage for the rest of the weekend, a break was necessary before possibly the band of the weekend. Cornwall’s King Creature (9) drew a healthy crowd but few could have expected such a blistering show. Taking the stage with an energy of immense proportions, the band took the gig by the scruff of the neck and proceeded to own the event. Their hard rock and metal sound was thick and full, the guitars of matt Vincent and Dave Evans slicing and dangerous whilst vocalist and bassist Dave Kellaway owned the centre ground.
With the audience loving every minute, the band tore through their set, audience participation on a new level with chanting long after the band had exited. Possibly the gig of the weekend, King Creature's heavy groove was just sublime. Time to check out Vol I as soon as possible. Sadly, Black Whiskey (6) had to follow King Creature, and whilst they drew a decent crowd of those who didn’t want to see the Black Star Riders, it was an impossible task and their sound was uninspiring.
And so we headed back to the deluxe caravan, which served our purposes very well. A thoroughly decent weekend, plenty of good music and a superb vibe with most of the crowd really pleasant and well mannered. If you’ve never been here then it really is worth a go.