HRH AOR 4 – Hafan Y Mor, Friday 11th March 2016
If HRH were a person it would be young (younger than me anyways), confident and slightly cocky. It knows what it wants, and is not afraid to shout it out from the rooftops. It doesn’t want to be the next Download, or perhaps it does! But based on its various homes the last few years (Prestatyn, Magna and today’s current but established location of Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli) it doesn’t seem to want to be Download, or Wacken, or Bloodstock. And that for me, and many others I suspect, that it’s fine just the way it is. It’s most definitely for this reason why it sells out VIP and Royalty tickets for the next bash before a band has even been announced.
For me, I’m not in my twenties any more, or thirties (bollox) and on my third crack at HRH AOR (missed No.2) it feels like a comfortable pair of slippers, and definitely like a second home. You meet the same great people, and some new ones get added as friends after every visit, and certainly the AOR side is definitely a gathering of friends, and I include the bands in this statement as most of them mingle about the crowds and are fans of the genre as well as performers. I can’t see Axl mingling or doing anything like this anytime soon. Over the course of a weekend of mingling, drinking and chatting you may just get to see some fantastic bands also.
Unfortunately for me, I could only visit Fri, and just a small part of Saturday due to another commitment, but I’m fucking glad I made the day I did as most of it was excellent……..
Taking to the HRH stage first were Scottish young guns Estrella. It could have been worse, because had they watched a different film they could have been called Tuborg, or Staropramen. If EVER a band was born for a big stage and perform for a large crowd, it’s Estrella. A couple of few years back I saw them in Bolton in front of about 40 people. Times that by about 20 this time and the lads rose to the occasion. To be fair to them,their professionalism was there right from the beginning, but in kicking off the Friday they absolutely came across as one of the best bands of the day. They arrived to a proper into tape, one of the few bands to do so, and believe me, it does make a difference. They arrived on stage one by one, with backs turned to the audience then explode into ‘Rock This City Tonight’ . Front man Paul Gunn plays the crowd to perfection (all the Estrella guys do), and this has come from years of practice and honing their craft. On ‘Heaven’ if Tesla ever decide they want a replacement for Jeff Keith then this song highlights it to perfection. PG is across between Hamie and Keith and that is not a bad place to be. Estrella hit the crowd right between the eyes (no its not a review littered with Joe Lynn Turner puns) especially with the anthemic ‘Whatever It Is’. I pity the band that has to follow Estrella…..
I was correct. I always, ALWAYS look for the positives in reviewing bands, especially ones I’ve not encountered previously or ones who are relatively new. In Iconic Eye, I really struggle to lavish praise. The songs I caught were ok to be fair to them, but my issue is with the vocalist Tim Dawkes (this wasn’t just me as quite a few I spoke to tended to have the same opinion). He looked the kind of guy that didn’t look as if he were in rock band, and I cant get my head around looking at a front man who looks like he is off on the pull. Especially with the sweater he was wearing. That aside the vocals were flat and with a limited range. Couple this with little stage presence, and the overall result is one that would match the colour of his jumper……grey and uninspiring. The album has the very good Lee Small on vocals, I wish they could have gotten him in for today as his voice would have been a huge improvement. Even an Aersomith cover did little to garner any more attention. After about 60% I had to move across the way to see a bit of …..
….Sorcerer. FUCK. ME. Once I walked through to the Doom/ Sleaze stage it was like being in a psychedelic kaleidoscope of sound compared to the Iconic Eye. Immediately the vocals of Anders Engberg were aeons away from those of Dawkes. A band 27 years in the making that only had their debut album out last year! On the basis of the 3 songs I heard, I implore you to go buy it and give them a listen. ‘Northern Seas’ was introduced as a song from their 2nd demo cassette.!!! Fuck they have been around for years. If Blackmore decided he wants another relative unknown to front the Rainbow machine then he could do no worse than the powerhouse Dio-like vocals of Engberg. Bloody brilliant.
Back over to the AOR stage and still Iconic Eye were playing a song called ‘I Cant feel It’ Judging by the room most others couldn’t either.
Probably one of the least traveled bands (well they are local to Wales, even if they are from the wrong half!) were Kane’d. As this year’s trip was a last minute thing I had not done much homework. One thing is for sure, I will definitely be digging out Kane’ds album. The stage was all a bit full or so it seemed. I took a quick glance and saw one of the girls, and thought ‘great voice’. Then looked again and thought ‘how novel, 2 vocalists’ then ‘fuck me, there’s three of them!’ ALL of the vocal bases are covered with a band like Kane’s. Thankfully they harmonise, and intertwine to near perfection. Like Estrella, Kane’d are suited to a big stage and a bigger crowd. They bring some great elements of bands like Halestorm, Paramore and a bit of Evanescence into the mix, with explosive results, with ‘Beautiful But Tragic’ being one such example. The delightfully entitled song about people who piss you off, called Fuck You’ was the lighter side of their set, but the last three in particular, ‘Guilty Of Nothing’, the very catchy ‘La Di Da’ (Ok its not thinking man’s metal, but it does what it says on the tin), before finishing with the anthem that is ‘Hero’. Kane’d are definitely a band to keep a close eye on. They were undoubtedly pleasant on the eyes, but I could have watched, and listened for double their allotted time. At the end I felt that I had well and truly been Kane’d. Da iawn.
Blood Red Saints are the first band of the day to epitomize the AOR genre, in bucket-loads. Speedway was one of my fave AOR albums of last year. Its no messing AOR; BRS hit you full on in the face (and ears) with ‘Kicking Up Dust’ a melodic gem of a number. BRS were going to be one of the most anticipated bands of the day, and they thankfully delivered to an appreciative audience. ‘Mercy’, or as Pete Godfrey calls it, Mer-ceh!’ shows BRS off to perfection, all members wading in with harmonies that make an old AOR fan like me weep into my water (I was driving!). Haven used to be a Butlin’s many years ago, and it’s here where imagine that Godfrey honed his craft as a Redcoat. One of the wittiest guys on stage anywhere, he was told to cut out the jokes. Which
is the same as telling Finbarr Saunders not to find anything dirty in any situation. For example ‘How the Hard Rock Hell are you?’, and ‘I’ll be back next year with a different band’ to name just two. That aside, BRS have a quality set of songs to pull from, and we were given two new songs, ‘Dirty Little Secret’ and one penned by Newdeck called ‘Tragedy’ and is a bit heavier than the usual stuff, but still bloody good. The AOR crowd were treated to a 1986 ‘one song medley’ of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’, and also threw in Signal’s ‘Does It Feel Like Love’. Blood Red Saints sound the part, look the part (Rob Naylor looks like he’s come from a fashion shoot for GQ), and have given the genre a much-needed shot in the arm. Fantastic set.
Russ Ballard apparently got caught in traffic which set the running slots back about 40 mins. When he arrived he certainly made up for being late. For starters the bloke is 71 this year (Seventy-fucking-one!), but looks as if he’s in his fifties, and still sings very well indeed. The bloke has penned songs that have been around in my lifetime that are truly iconic. Whilst most of the crowd today know who he is, I doubt the majority of people generally haven’t a Scooby Doo as to who he is. Just look at his setlist – kicking off with the excellent ‘Rene Didn’t Do It’, one of the few that hasn’t been covered by another artist. One fave of mine that I never realized was his was ‘Dream On’ made known to me in the mid 80s by King Kobra. We had all his own versions of songs that were made famous by others – ‘So You Win Again’ (Hot Chocolate), ‘Liar’ (Three Dog Night), ‘I Know Theres Something Going On’ (Frida – Abba), ‘New York Groove’ (Frehley / The
Sweet). The latter part of his set were what most people had gathered for, almost like paying homage, if you like – Argents ‘Hold Your Head High’ with Ballard singing as high and as well as he ever has; his original version of ‘God Gave Rock And Roll To You’, and he even admitted that Kiss did it better, and finally coming back for an encore of ‘Since You Been Gone’. The whole band must have had a combined age of about 543, but with age comes great experience, and there’s definitely a lot of life in the old Barnet Dog yet!
We’re now hitting the sharp end of the evening with the final two acts to go. I saw Tyketto back in 2007 at their alleged farewell gig. Thankfully they saw the love that fans held for them and have continued to this day (thank God). I have to say that Tyketto are one of those bands (only 2 originals currently) that sound just as good today as they did back in 1990. We were in for a treat – the whole of the debut ‘Don’t Come Easy’ album played in its entirety, but backwards. Thankfully, not the notes, just the songs! Danny Vaughn looks years younger than he is, and sounds like the Danny Vaughn from half his lifetime ago. Vaughn and Clayton are joined by Chris Childs (Bass, he of Thunder also), Ged Rylands (keys – ex-Ten / Rage Of Angels), and Chris Green – ex-Furyon/ ex-Pride). Green looks the part of a bonafide rock star from the top of his highlighted hair to the soles of his boots. No one was really aware of Tyketto in 1987 in the UK. But one thing that happened over here in October 87 was the hurricane that flattened parts of the UK. The 2016 hurricane equivalent to Hafan Y More, is Tyketto, as they swept through the building and took the roof off the place.
Again Tyketto had a great intro….”Welcome to the band that’s been kicking your arse for 25 years…..TYKETTO!!!!” Immediately on ‘Sail Away’ Vaughn proves why he is one of the best singers in the business, his vocals just soar and are full of power. ‘Stand Up’ is simply awesome, the harmonies superb. They threw a curve ball into the mix by playing a B Side from the ‘Forever Young’ single ‘Walk Away’ and judging by the hands raised in the room, about 10 of us own it! (Which is a travesty!). I hold a special place in my heart for ‘Forever Young,’ I knew where I was the first time I heard it, it was that special, so to hear it again was a fantastic moment. Few gigs are as good as these, play them as if they are your first (or last) and to your strengths, and Tyketto played a gig that could not be faulted, with no fillers, ALL killers. Now, does anyone know the number of a good local roofing contractor….
Joe Lynn Turner is listed as the main event, but Ballard, Tyketto and JLT all have the same allotted time to play. I admit that, as a HUUUGE Rainbow fan, I was here to see JLY strut his stuff with a ‘proper’ set. Forget the acoustic bollox from last year, this was what all of us wanted to hear. Joe did comment that this was his first solo gig in the UK. Alzheimers aside, he did not count last years tour as a solo gig. Anyway, JLT is still living and dressing like is 1986, just drop the leather gloves mate! It was a clever move by Mr Turner, going on at 11.15, as most of the audience would be well hammered, so he gave a Rainbow greatest hits set, with a couple of non JLT-Rainbow classics thrown in for good measure. More of that in a minute. Opening with ‘Death Alley Driver’, I was immediately smitten, as on this, and all the songs the backing vocals from JLTs keyboardist were sublime to say the least. That bloke can sing!
Renditions of ‘Power’, ‘Can’t Let You Go’, the great ‘Jealous Lover’ (how this didn’t make a studio album is beyond me), ‘Street Of Dreams,’ etc was just wonderful. Why cant guitarists try to play similar Blackmore solos? I know he is a God, but these songs were not similar in the soloing department.? Griping aside a huge positive is JLT; a bloke the wrong side of sixty, he still has a fantastic voice.
The hardly ever played ‘Miss Mistreated’ was up next, and whilst its not one of my fave rainbow songs, it’s a pleasure to hear it again after such a long time. More gems followed, ‘I Surrender’, Purple’s ‘King Of Dreams’, ‘Stone Cold’, and finally ‘Can’t Happen Here’ and one of the one’s I was desperate to hear again….. ‘Spotlight Kid’. Joe then paid homage to Ronnie with decent renditions of ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ and ‘LLRNR’. Then it was all over way too quickly.
If I had an issue, it’s one of song selection. Joe is one of the most prolific singers of the last 35 years – Fandango, Rainbow, Solo albums a plenty, Malmsteen, Deep Purple, Sunstorm, Brazen Abbot, Mothers Army, etc. etc. The bloke must have sung on hundreds of songs. It was a JLT solo set, so at least dig out more songs from the JLT songbook – especially ‘Rescue You’, and maybe one from Malmsteens best album, ‘Odyssey’. I love the fact that he paid homage to Ronnie, but the list could have been so much better. That said, I sang my arse off with Joe for every single song. So, thank you for making up for the acoustic disappointment of last year for me. Blackmore’s missed a trick in not using JLT for his Rainbow reunion. It was a great ending to a pretty good day.
HRH AOR partial review Saturday 12thMarch
A double booking meant that I couldn’t hang around for most of Day 2, apologies to the organisers! One band that was one to see was The Radio Sun. These guys travelled from fucking Australia to entertain us. 38 hours worth of travelling, and I have to say there were polite, funny and worth seeing (twice).
First we managed to get into the acoustic set of 4 songs at 1pm in the Owners Lounge. We were treated to a Q&A session and some giggles as Jason Old and the guys could talk for his/their country. The set consisted of four songs – ‘Wrong Things Right’, ‘One In A Million’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘Lets Talk About Love’. There’s nowhere to hide with an acoustic set, and TRS certainly nail the songs on offer. It’s a great testament when songs are stripped to their skin and become a different animal. When you can strip back a song and it still sounds great then you know it’s a good one. That’s exactly what they have here, a superb set of songs!
But it’s the full electric set where the magic really happens. The songs from ‘Wrong Things
Right’ and ‘Heaven or Heartbreak’ become something very different from the CD. The guys have come a long way to entertain and they certainly do what they set out to do. It’s also clear to see
that they are truly appreciating the support the fans gave from the other side of the World to them. TRS manage to cram in ten songs in their short set as openers for the Saturday. At the off, it looks a bit of a small audience, but by halfway the crowd had doubled. Singer Jason Old is a cross between Oz Fox and Claudio Sanchez mainly due to the damp weather!! Only visually I add, as Jason’s voice is definitely his own. TRS are not as visual as yesterday’s openers Estrella, but what they lack in movement, they make up in top quality songs. They border on heavy pop/rock, but they are as infectious as the ebola virus (in a good way of course). The highlights of the set were ‘Science Fiction Make Believe’, ‘One In A Million’, World Crazy Now’ and the title of their recent album ‘Caught Between Heaven and a Heartbreak ‘ which for me is one of the best songs of any of the bands on offer on today or any other day, a song that is built on 80’s foundations, with a rasping riff and soloing from Stevie Janevski, and some sumptuous harmonies, and had it been 1986 it (and The Radio Sun) would be a household name. HRH have to invite TRS back and put them higher up the bill in the near future.
In between the two The Radio Sun sets we whisked over to the Sleaze stage to catch Teenage Casket Company. How these guys aren’t playing higher up the bill is beyond me. They have everything going in their favour, a band that truly look the part, and have classy songs with a cutting edge. In fairness their songs are not too far away from The Radio Sun. Where TRS deliver with polish, TCC deliver them with an attitude and swagger with a bit of punk thrown in for good measure. It’s a good sign when at 2pm the auditorium is pretty much chock-a-block. Some of their stuff is a UK version of Coheed & Cambria who are well-known for throwing in plenty of ‘Hey! Heys!’. Add this to the riffs, and the way in which Rob Wylde delivers and its one of the performances of the weekend. Again when the band has quality, the songs just come at you thick and fast. ‘Hate Me’ was one of their finest songs, and the new single ‘Thinking About You’ wasn’t too shabby either. They threw in a cover of the Beastie Boys ‘Fight For Your Right To Party’, before the closing song ‘Best Friend’. “Best Friend is my radio” wails Rob, which is appropriate given the audience age. I somewhat think ‘BF is my mp3, torrent, rapidshare’ etc does not have quite the same ring. Quality band.
HRH are proving to be a consistent and quality brand where AOR-sters and hammerfest-ers can get their musical fixes. You can’t make every fan happy, and that was the case heard over the weekend as certainly a couple of the AOR bands were not as per the genre expected. Perhaps ‘Melodic Rock’ is a term best used in future events
HRH have an opportunity to corner the market should they want to stamp their authority on the AOR/Melodic Rock genre. Firefest took a year off, and looked like they were going to fit something in later this year but events transpired against them. Rockingham stepped into the void in 2015, and so far looks as if they too may not be holding an event in 2016. One thing is for sure, they (HRH) have much better facilities for food, drink and accommodation. Not so much location, as it’s a trek even for locals, but at least its more scenic in N Wales. HRH, when you’ve had chance to take five, listen to the fans on the forums and whilst you cant book all and sundry, there will be some great names thrown at you. Looking forward to the next one already.