Day 2, Friday 9th March 2018
Moving on to the Friday. A long day was planned out, mainly sticking with the main stage. Up first are fellow Celts, The King Lot. I really liked their first album and saw them supporting Dan Reed Network a short while back. I always like to see bands like The King Lot, get a shot in front of a ready and willing audience. Thankfully they did not fail me. As a three piece TKL will give anyone a run for their money, even Earth, Wind & Fire! I must say that with their new guitarist in tow, Jay Moir, The King Lot are a different prospect to what I saw in 2016. They were tight as a nut, and the vocals from Jason Sweeney were a joy to hear. Very few bands have that ‘sit up and take notice’ vibe about them, but TKL are one of those bands. ‘As They Burn’ was a strong song to get a crowd on your side, and the new songs prove they are making big leaps and bounds on from the debut, with ‘Save Me’ and ‘All I Want’ making more than a mark. Going on first can be a killer as a lot of people could still be tucked up in their vans after heavy night, but the guys managed to pull in a very decent crowd. Props go to Jason for his humorous banter in-between songs. I’m sad I missed them at the bar afterwards for a ‘drinkypoo of Irn Bru!’
Cruzh as in ‘Crush’ and not ‘Cruise’ as I thought it was. This is proper AOR that the Swedes in particular seem to be flying the AOR flag for. Even before they start, bass player Dennis, resplendent in his fur wrap, and arm in the air salute showed off their stagecraft. This is some serious shit I think to myself. I have to say, vocalist Tony Andersson has one hell of a range to his vocals, and a various points was hitting notes that only Labradors can hear. I was not aware of these guys, but what was presented to me was very good, and in ‘In and out of love’ Cruzh have their Bon Jovi moment, I half expect Andersson to belt out ‘Tommy used to work on the docks….’ They were out Bon Jovi-ing, Bon Jovi! If that makes sense.
What does every good AOR vocalist need to have? Did I hear anyone say, abs? With his bandana, and desire for showing off his torso, Tony is every inch a 1989s MTV star. To qualify how good they (Cruzh) are, I stepped over to see Fugitive for one song on the second stage, and the gap, my friends, in difference is as wide as the smile on a Cheshire Cat! Although Hippie Jesus (if you caught him – hair matted and with a John Motson sheepskin) seemed to like Fugitive.
Some five years after making their debut at the inaugural HRH AOR, Daylight Robbery was a bit further up the bill this time. They have been quiet on the album front, with their most recent being 2013s ‘Falling Back To Earth’. Most of their set is weighted towards this second album. In Tony Nicholl, they have a very good vocalist and all round front man, (a bit like pointy Bob from Magnum) and an excellent guitarist in Mark Carelton. My only criticism is that Mark should watch Brad Gillis and see how a guitarist performs. Carelton is a cracking guitarist but it was like watching a mannequin! Most of the set comes from FBTE, and any band having a decent intro tape is worth a punt. The songs on offer warrant a bigger crowd than they got. ‘Digital Dreamer being one of the best songs with they guys great harmonies, I’m a sucker for four of five part harmonies and DR deliver on all counts. ‘Fallen Star’ is probably the best song in their armoury, whilst it isn’t a ‘Stargazer’, it is a very good song. I heard a lot of mixed opinions regarding DR, but for me it was a good performance. I’d like to be seeing a new album coming out form them soon to keep some momentum going.
Jac Dalton, ‘who?’ I hear you say was up next. Well he is the first Antipodean rocker on the main stage on Friday. First impressions count for me, and if that isn’t a syrup, I want to know what the fuck he is doing, as I want whatever he is putting on it. It was like a fucking mane! Anyway hair, and dodgy ill fitting kecks aside, Jac started up very promising. He was one of the few acts I have never heard material from over this weekend and I suspect I wasn’t the only one in this position. ‘Powder keg’ has the hallmarks of a great opener, decent riff, and a good and catchy chorus. I have no idea where this blokes been for the last 20 years, but with it being Australia, I’m guessing its witness protection. Jac has surrounded himself with some pretty good musicians. JD firmly has his feet planted in the 1980s and makes no apologies for it, with ‘Roll in The Punches’ being a prime example. His diction is clear, which is great for a reviewer, and JD comes with a decent set of pipes. He did however declare that they were there to party on this Saturday Night. I’ll forgive him, as it probably was Saturday in Australia! Some of the set is clichéd, but there were some pretty decent songs to be heard here with ‘Armed and Dangerous’ being a particular favourite for me. Jac is an amiable front man, who operates at 30 DHACF (that’s 30 Devil Horns and clenched fists per song. He was handing them out like sweets). ‘Blow me Away’ was another good song where a Hammond organ plays its part. ‘Let It Go’ comes from the same stable as Ratt’s ‘Invasion Of You Privacy’, both riff wise, and chorus.
My favourite moment was not a song but an introduction to his band. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ayatollah of rock and rolla….Graham Greene’ . Well done Sir!
JD finished with a song that Ratt, Poison, and all the Hair Metal Bands of the 80s would love to have in their repertoire the unashamed, ‘Locked, Cocked and Ready To Rock’. It was a bit trapped in the past, but that necessarily isn’t a bad sign. There were more hits than misses, but had they had 45 mins like some of the others; they could have left more of a mark on the audience
Onto my favourite Skippy/The Sullivans/Sons and Daughters, Australian band, (second only to the legendary Jimmy Barnes), The Radio Sun, bringing their own brand of ‘thunder from down under’. Steve Janevski, Jason Old and the guys certainly get their money’s worth out of the HRH AOR fest, as this was their second performance (out of three for the weekend). They had travelled both far and wide, and bloody long to get here – non-stop for 30 hrs. and still managed to put in a great show on the Thursday night after the main JLT event. It’s the main stage set that the one they have been building up to. There is good reason that TRS are here for the third year in a row, their crowd is building with every performance here, they deserve the hour slot that they have built up to as they have certainly put in the hours and performances. This slot gives TRS a chance to hit the audience where it hurts, and they deliver on all fronts. With the big stage and more time, Janevski bounds around like it is their last performance, and in Jason Old, we have a guy who likes to talk about hair care. Thankfully, he can sing also! TRS epitomize what this festival is about, melodic rock. The audience gets hit with a barrage of their ‘pop/rock’ brand and manage to cram in a hefty fourteen songs. It could have been seventeen had they stopped Mr Old from singing ‘Working Class Man’ and chatting away!! I’ve said this many times before, but they do this ‘power pop/rock’ so well, in a way that a band like Coheed & Cambria does. Jeez, there were too many songs to pick from, but highlight for me were ‘One In A Million’, the raucous ‘Tonight’s The Night’, and a song they have made their own, the excellent Andy Taylor cover, ‘I Might Lie’.
We are now getting to the sharp end of Friday night. I had no idea who Aaron Buchanan and The Cult Classics were. Coming onto the stage, they all looked as if they were there to make a huge statement of intent. Sharply turned out, a whirlwind of movement from them all, and right in your face. It was like being kicked in the balls (in a good way). Opener ‘Left Me For Dead’ reminded me of early Alter Bridge crossed with Alice In Chains. Buchannan is a live wire of a performer, hardly keeping still, and his delivery is great considering he put more energy into one hour than all the previous bands could muster up!
I had a thought, what is he doing playing ‘Fire, Fire’, then it hit me. He was the bloke in Heavens Basement. Now without the long locks. Backed up by his sister Laurie on guitar, and Lead guitarist Tom McCarthy, they were here to leave a mark on the audience. I think he very nearly did – in trying to stage dive he went arse over tit, and looked like it could have smarted a bit. It could have been the end of it there and then. To quote him afterwards, ‘a show without risks, isn’t a show’. I honestly think he lives and dies by this mantra. ‘Fire in the ~Fields of Mayhem’ is a song inspired by Coheed, and hits the spot, short and punchy like a Claudio classic, complete with ‘whooa, oh ohs!’ After the near death experience, Aaron thought ‘I’ve survived this, so ill give it another shot’. During the powerful ‘I Am Electric’ he beckoned the audience in, walked across them, and pulled off a headstand on top of the audience for one of the memorable points of the whole weekend. The whole band at this point were on fire, all bar Paul White (drums), the guys up front were in the audiences face for the whole hour. ‘Man With Stars On His Knees’ was the stand out song for me, you get to hear Aaron just singing, it built up into a crescendo without the need for screaming and was simply wonderful. Hearing four Heavens Basement songs made me think why the hell this band didn’t make it, as the interpretations here were excellent.
AB&TCC are as near to AOR as I am to being politically correct. That doesn’t matter, because as far as I am concerned they gave one of the performances of the weekend. Fucking fantastic.
Marc Torien’s Bulletboys were up next. The audience was stoked for these guys. I feel that I might be in the minority, but I saw and felt differently to the crowds reaction. As far as I’m concerned, they should have been sponsored by ‘The Dairy Council of Great Britain’ as these fuckers know how to milk out a song. It was all smoke and mirrors. I thought Torien, looked great, sounded great and played guitar even better, but I just don’t understand what all the pissing about was for. The few songs they played (8 in total. Really?) there were extended intros, extended outros, and the bits in the middle were too bastard long also. If I hear him shout ‘Are you glad to see us Wales?’ I heard it 20 bleedin’ times. If I’m honest, it started well with ‘Hard as A Rock, finished well, with ‘Smooth Up In Ya’ but the middle was the shit, in a shit sandwich. I just did not get it. They were booked for an hour, played 5 or 6 songs in 50 minutes, and I wouldn’t have put it past him to count his money on stage for the last 10. There was too much faff and fannying around for my liking. You can tell he is taking the piss by throwing in a drum solo. I would have swapped these around with AB&TCC. Where’s the mind bleach as I want my mind erasing.How he could take the money after a performance like this is beyond me.
Night Ranger nave been doing this for 35 years and were not going to let anyone before steal the thunder. By the time they took the stage a little late the venue was rammed, to the point of almost being uncomfortable. Based on this, Night Ranger is THE band that people were here to see on any of the three days. They play with the vibe of a band that is playing gigs every weekend for the last 10 years. Jack Blades in particular looks as if he is having the time of his like. Very few bands from the 80s could pull in a crowd like this today. It’s all because they are fucking great. End of.
This is the third time in four years that I’ve seen them. Do you know what is great? They have mixed up the set list for all three gigs. It helps considerably that they have such and excellent and extensive catalogue of great songs to pull from. There’s no light weighting or fillers here folks, its full on Night Ranger power for almost two hours.
The new (ish) songs, opener ‘Somehow Someway’, ‘High Road’ and ‘Truth’ fit in seamlessly with the older classics. In fact if you didn’t know any better you would think they are all from their golden period. It’s an artillery of voices, with five part harmonies, an AOR fans wet dream. With Brad Gillis and Keri Kelli the interplay between both is something else, and Gillis in particular is one of rocks finest guitarists, and vastly underrated. The playing on ‘A Touch Of Madness’ is just to die for. Jack Blades is taking something that I want. I don’t know what it is, but if I can bound around like him for a couple of hours at his age, I’d be a happy man indeed. Night Ranger are a well oiled machine, its hit after hit, from ‘Rumours In The Air’ to ‘The Secret Of My Success’ and the not very heard ‘7 Wishes’ and ‘Night Ranger’. For me, the crowd responds better to the Damn Yankees songs than the Night Ranger ones. They have enough great songs to draw in that don’t need to be Damn Yankees. One of my favourite albums is ‘Man In Motion,’ there are some cracking songs on here that never get an outing. With the last five songs, Night Rangers phasers are set to ‘stun’. ‘Goodbye’, When You Close Your Eyes’, the superb ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’, segueing into Highway Star, then onto the one-two sucker punch with ‘Sister Christian’ and ‘(You Can Still) Rock In America.
Night Ranger delivered on all levels, song choice, and performance level, and musically. There’s not that many bands out there form the 80s that could match this level at this stage in their careers. Here’s to 2021 or sooner hopefully.