FM – Tough It Out…Live

‘Tough It Out’ in its entirety has been a long time coming but worth its weight in gold.

FM – Tough It Out Live

It just so happens that my very first FM gig was on the ‘Tough It Out Tour’. October 26th 1989 to be precise. We broke down on the way there, but was determined to see them for the first time. Since then Ive probably seen them live at least 40 times, I should have kept count! Getting old is a bastard.

Dec 20th 2019 was the date we want to see them on the 30th anniversary tour at the Manchester Academy 2. It turns out to be one of the last gigs I saw because of the Covid situation. Strange times indeed.

Live albums are a bit hit and miss, none can recreate the feeling of being at the gig, but ask any rock fan 45 and over and probably only about 6 or 7 spring to mind – Kiss, UFO, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, Rush, and Deep Purple. Its a tough membership club that few get admitted to

Anywho, like the ‘Indiscreet’ tour, I was also hotly anticipating the ‘TIO’ tour. ‘Tough It Out’ is a vastly underrated album. It was the album that was supposed to break FM into megastars. The label brought in the golden pens of Desmond Child, (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith), Jesse Harms, and Robin and Judith Randall. The album contained some absolute gems – ‘Bad Luck’, ‘Someday’, ‘The Dream That Died’, ‘Burning My Heart Down’, and my all time favourite FM power ballad ‘Everytime I Think Of You’. For some strange reason, it just didn’t happen. So it was a chance again to hear most of these songs probably for the last time as they vanished from setlist obscurity, for as long as I can remember. Hardly a song from ‘TIO’ makes it into the FM set these days, and I always wanted a FM live album from that era. I had to make do with a bootleg cassette bought at a record fair some 31 years ago. Blimey.

To be honest, the album sounds fab. Production is nicely balanced between band and audience, and the mix is solid, hearing all instruments and vocals from band and audience. ‘Tough It Out’ and ‘Don’t Stop’ reaffirms my belief in these songs, Overlands vocals are excellent (when aren’t they – well on that bootleg cassette for starters). The bloke has never, ever let me down. Kirkpatrick’s and Overland’s guitar parts match the originals, and the harmonies are a melodic rock fans crusty sock dream. ‘Bad Luck’ one of the few that still makes the current day set is the big song that delivers in spades. ‘Someday’ is a melodic rock classic that deserves its place in FMs set list. ‘Everytime I Think Of You’ was classed as FM’s new ‘Frozen Heart’ back in the day, and was soon dropped. Its a killer ballad and one of the few I can still listen to. All the songs up to ‘The Dream That Died’ is a reminder of just how good ‘TIO’ was, and still is. The latter half of the album are a welcome addition to me, and I loved hearing them being given a proper dust off and airing, even if they never make the light of day again. The gig should have been sponsored by ‘Pledge’, and ‘Brasso’. They missed a trick.

The second CD is a deep dive into a clutch of songs that like ‘TIO’, hardly get a sniff of being played live. Which is a shame, nay its criminal, because there are some bloody fantastic beauties on this disc. How ‘Dangerous’ never made it onto ‘Indiscreet’ or ‘TIO’ is a mystery to me, and is the best of all their B sides. ‘Diggin Up The Dirt’ is one of the best songs to come out of FM since they reformed with Metropolis, and shows how good the current FM are. Had ‘Only The Strong Survive’ been picked up by a 90s boy band, it would have been a massive hit. Its the addition of three songs from ‘Aphrodisiac’ that whet my appetite – ‘Hard Day In Hell’, with sublime vocals from Overland; ‘Breathe Fire’, and the excellent ‘Blood And Gasoline’ wehre only someone like Overland can get away with a line ‘When I hold you in my arms, my blood feels like gasoline’. ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ closes out the album, its the song that nearly got them the exposure they deserve. Overland is on fire, and even a heckle can’t shake him off his stride. 

‘Tough It Out Live’ is a mighty fine live album. Having waited 32 years for it, it lives up to my expectations. Are we likely to see the same of Aphrodisiac? I would like to think so. But having seen both ‘Indiscreet’ and ‘Tough It Out’ played in their entirety, I am content in having seen their two best pieces of work. 

FM were and still are one of finest rock bands Blighty has produced. How they never became big (massive) is a puzzle to me and probably all FM fans. In another parallel universe, the likes of Bon Jovi and Foreigner are opening for FM. I’m hoping one day there’s an Overland biography that will fill in all the blanks, or more succinctly….’Diggin Up The Dirt’. In the meantime, enjoy FM at their finest.

8/10

Track list – 

Intro

Tough It Out

Don’t Stop 

Bad Luck

Someday (You’ll Come Running)

Everytime I think Of You

Burning My Heart Down

The Dream That Died

Obsession

Can You Hear Me Calling?

Does It Feel Like Love

Feels So Good

Digging Up The Dirt

Tough Love

Hollow

Dangerous

Hard Day In Hell

Wildside

Breathe Fire

Only The Strong Survive

Blood And Gasoline

I Ain’t The One

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

FM

Steve Overland – Lead vocals, guitar

Pete Jupp – Drums

Merv Goldsworthy – Bass guitar, backing vocals

Jim Kirkpatrick – Lead guitar, backing vocals

Jem Davis – Keyboards, harmonica, backing vocals

Hollowstar, Florence Black, Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts, Star & Garter, Manchester, 31.5.19 Live Review

Hollowstar, Florence Black, Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts, The Star & Garter, Manchester, 31.5.19
As what seemed like the whole of the World descending on Manchester for the first of a run of nights for The Spice Girls at the Etihad, just around the corner a small band of real music aficionados chose to be at The Star & Garter for a night of what would be one to remember.

The venue was small, and bijou at best, and possibly (some) blood, definitely sweat, and some tears would be shed here this evening. More on the tears later…

The guys in attendance know a class act when they see one, as the upstairs room was almost full for Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts. Matt (ex-Pride/Furyon/Colour of Noise) is the most experienced man on the bill, but sometimes you just have to start anew, dust yourself off and get on with it. His album dropped today and MM&TC came out fighting. The album is good, but the select songs chosen stand up a lot better played live as they are performed with a bit of added welly. Mitchell looks and sounds the part, and has surrounded himself with quality musicians. It was a case of hit ‘em hard with what little time you’ve got…’On and On’ is a good pacey opener, but ‘Black Diamonds’ gets the crowd bouncing (Literally, thanks to the floor in the venue!). Matt wails ‘I hope you find what you’re looking for’ and he is spot on. We did. ‘Kings & Queens’ is a summer song that should be on repeat on the radio, and ‘Unavailable’ showcases the heavier side of Mitchell. It was the fantastic ‘Home’, which did it for me, a number that showcases his and The Coldhearts talents and is his shining moment. It’s all over too soon with ‘Wave Goodbye’. Apt, and a great start. Form is temporary, class is permanent.

Where MM&TC was a composed and very good performance, Florence Blackessentially ripped up the rulebook and are one of those bands that don’t care who precedes or follows. A three piece from South Wales they opened up with the Budgie classic ‘Breadfan’ and practically beat the audience into submission and levelled the Star & Garter. When the person next to you (Roger) leans into you and says ‘that was worth the admission alone’ you know you are onto something special. Me, I just had two words written down…’bloody awesome’. Its one of the best covers of any band I’ve ever heard, its that good. Like a Tasmanian Devil that’s been provoked with a pointy stick, Florence Black were taking no prisoners – ‘Fiesta’ is a pounding track that leaves you breathless, and in frontman and guitarist Tristan Thomas gives his lot, especially sweat. In fact, in Thomas, Perry Davies and Jordan Evans it’s like being in a 3-2-1 fight, the punches just keep coming and there’s nothing you can do about it. ‘Same Again’ is a song built on the foundations of Budgie and grunge and is a belting force of nature. ‘Gunshot’ originally features Benji Webbe of Skindred, and if anything for me is the weaker song of the set. A mix of Skindred and Disturbed, it doesn’t fit FB as much as the rest, and their own songs prove they don’t need endorsements or outside assistance. Finally its onto ‘Smoke’ and Florence Black finish as they started, with a wallop, and its a pleasure and delight to see these guys rip the place up. I think that had they reversed the set, and left ‘Breadfan’ until last, I think I’d have wet myself! 

Where FB had raw power, force and energy, Hollowstar are riding the coattails on the back of a very good debut album with some belting songs. Coming on to a strange, but nice intro in Massive Attacks ‘Teardrop’, before launching into album opener ‘Take It All’ and a twin guitar attack of Haines and Collett, Joe Bonson is the focal point and rightly so, with charm and substance and a voice to match. With Hollowstar is more about groove and feel, and ‘Down By The Water’ ‘Lay Down’ and ‘Guilty’ are as groove-laden as they come. ‘Invincible’ highlights the intensity of Hollowstar and is almost ‘Cult-like’ (The band). ‘Think Of Me’ is my fave track from the album and is even more Alter Bridge/Bad Company live and has a very infectious chorus. This was dedicated to Chris, who gave Jon a job booking gigs for Hollowstar who passed away before the Album was done. ‘Money’ was…er…bang on the money. ‘New Age Lullaby’ and ‘Feel The Burn’ show the bands roots, and their sharp progression over the last couple of years. 

There are a couple of heartfelt tributes to a pair of Hollowstar soldiers who have fallen along the way and deserve their mention. Chris, who gave Jon a employment to essentially book his own gigs for Hollowstar and is given ‘Think Of Me’ and the lads friend Carl who lost his fight to depression last year, in ‘Good Man Gone’, a rousing tribute. Both gents were given a rightful round of applause and at both points I had something in my eye. (As did others I expect.

Free’s ‘Wishing Well’ is up next and a staple of the Hollowstar set. Its more Moore (Gary) than Free’s version, and breaks their set up well for the final furlong. ‘Overrated’ is definitely not what Hollowstar are judging from tonight’s performance. The set is over all too quickly with ‘All I Gotta Say’ and was released a good year ago and whetted the appetite for the debut, and is a great song to finish the set. Its easy for bands to play a whole set of an album, but Hollowstar have a core of songs from this and their EP that will be a staple of sets hopefully for years to come. I sincerely hope all 3 bands tonight are here for the long run.

It was one of those nights that I’ll remember for quite some time. Catch them still while you can for one of the best and intimate gigs of 2019. And it wasn’t at The Etihad.

The result, Rock 1, The Spice Girls 0 

P.S. either the PA at the venue is shite, or the sound engineer was wearing mittens, or was a deaf as a post! All 3 vocalists sounded as if they were singing underwater at times. But rock is mainly about attitude, and thankfully the 3 bands had this in abundance. That aside, it was still a cracking gig, but could have been so much more, had the sound be decent.

Setlists

Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts

On & On

Black Diamonds

Kings & Queens

Unavailable

Home

Wave Goodbye

Florence Black

Breadfan

The One

Fiesta

Ghost

The Ride

Same Again

Gunshot

Smoke

Hollowstar

Take It All

Down By The Water

Lay Down

Guilty

Invincible

Think Of Me

Money

Let You Down

New Age Lullaby

Feel The Burn

Wishing Well

Overrated

Sinner

Good Man Gone

All I Gotta Say


HRH AOR VII – Presthaven Sands, Prestatyn, Saturday 16th March 2019

HRH VII – Presthaven Sands, Prestatyn. Saturday 16th March

After the Friday shows, I think we acclimatised to Saturday much better. There seemed fewer people around, I didn’t witness queuing, but that bloke who smelt of wee was still following me around!

Saturday or as I prefer to call it, MSM (military style metal) as its an endurance in standing, and is like a cult meeting/conversion all rolled into one. You come out the end of it a new person’ and with feet like a ballet dancer !
Those who decided to stay away, or were hungover, or waiting Wales win the Grand Slam (Get in!),  they missed some belters…..

Psycho Kiss were on the bill back in ’15, and left me a bit underwhelmed back then.

This time though they got their act together and were not going to let a second chance on the big stage go begging. In this PC world I’m not sure I can say if Helen Ceri Clark had a set of lungs on her, but hey, I’m 52 and not going to change any day soon. She commanded the stage with a lot of energy (she had to as the others up front were as active as mannequins) and her raspy wail was a huge bonus. They started off well, and just got a better response after each and every song, and even got a loud ‘awwww’ when they announced their last song. A definite improvement on their last showing. Highlights were ‘No Good Pretending’, ‘Grieve For You’ and ‘Home’. And a few songs about drinking! Great start.

I had seen some clips of  Saints Of Sin and was expecting something good. What I wasn’t expecting was how fucking good they actually were. They completely shattered my expectations. In a world of cheap imitations,  they were the real deal in fact. They were immediately accepted by the big crowd; they had the looks, energy, were polished and even well choreographed. SoS therefore were not going to take any prisoners. Vocalist Rui Brito could be Gary Cherone visually, but he was his own singer. Confident, with a great voice and even greater stage presence, this guy fucking rocked, as did all of Saints Of Sin. The twin guitar attack of Sophie Burrell and Marcus Sparxx Jenkins was a joy to watch. With bassist Ashley Jenkins adding in harmonies with Burrell and the other Jenkins I was completely sold. Kudos as well to Josh Rose to keep everything hammering along. Oh, and the songs were fab! These guys deserve to go far. My only doubt is they very few bands make any money out of being a hair metal band, but hey, these guys are heroes in my mind for pushing this brand. Closer ’21 Shots’ is a belting new track that could catapult them. ‘Heart Attack’, ‘Feed The Fire’, it was blam, blam blam! Those who were still hungover missed the band of the day for me  ( didn’t need to see anyone else Sat to confirm this), as they levelled Stage 1. What. A. Band.

Daylight Robbery announced that they were a singer short in Tony Nicholl for HRH,

and just posted a pic of a four piece only last week leading up to HRH. We were speculating who was going to sing. Mr Fluffy had his money on the bassist  (Colin Murdoch), me the guitarist (Mark Carleton). We were both right (yay) and also pleasantly surprised as they both alternated lines and shared vocals. To say they were a Poundland Coverdale/Hughes would be rude, but no pair can match these two, so I’ll settle on John Lewis instead. In fact with these two in charge, they upped their game and the songs were fresh and strong. The new dynamic made for a stronger set, even though it was probably similar  to the last time. Any band that has harmonies, uses his whammy bar and has a Hammond organ sound gets my vote!! ‘Digital Preacher’ made me prick up my ears, due to the surprise of vocals from both fellas, and the usual suspect of ‘Samara Never Sleeps’ gets the biggest cheer.

Kane’d are now seasoned professionals at HRH and the crowd had built in anticipation

for them.  I don’t know why there was a lot of blokes in the audience – Im guessing they are fans of triple vocals/harmonies.  Someone else stated perverts! The first time I saw Kane’d I was blown away, the second, not so much. However, three times the charm is the saying I’m searching for, because in Kane sisters Steph, Chez and Stacy, they are three strong, powerful women who can pretty much sing anything! They have been hard at it on the road the past few years and its now showing in their confident performance. With the recent new album, they now have additional material that adds to an already good set of songs. I only caught part of their set, but the likes of lively opener ‘Show Me Your Skeleton’, the fab ‘Guilty Of Nothin’’, and the infectious ‘La Di Da’ they went down a storm. Da Iawn.

I ambled over to catch  Blood Red Saints, also known as ‘TBA’ to see a masterclass in both stand up comedy and 80s rock! Thankfully Pete McIntyre didn’t go on about his ‘man drawer’ and settled in belting out some cracking tunes. ‘Freak’ is a Nickleback sound for BRS, new song ‘Cross To Bare’ from their critically slammed album is a belter. I like the heavier stuff! Godfrey went into the crowd and used the 80s ego ramp (fuck know what it is actually there for!) and dedicated ‘Unbreakable’ to a friend a lot of us know who had some bad news dealt on Friday. This moment would make him and his friends very proud. They did a Steel Panther for ‘Message to God’ where Godfrey shouts out a number and the band play that note, first ‘5 times’ and then ’23’ and was nailed to the incredulity of the crowd and Godfrey! With songs like ‘Dangerous’, I’m Your Devil’, and closer ‘Better Days’ BRS are one of the few actual AOR bands to play HRH AOR. Considering they were a late announcement, their set was bloody brilliant. I’m just glad they weren’t The Quireboys! Next year give them a higher slot as they thoroughly deserve it.

In any other era, but most likely the 1980s, Rob Wylde would have been a rock god. A couple of years back, his Teenage Casket Company had one the sets of the weekend, and in Midnite City they were not going to let an opportunity like this slip either. In Josh Williams, Shawn Charvette, and Pete Newdeck, the combination of harmonies and backing vocals are off the scale! With Miles Meakin that have a guitarist who can play anything. Rob prances around with intent, but not too far away from his stage fan (A Harmony hairspray endorsement is on it way!) and shows he is a consummate front man. It’s very easy to look the part, but Midnite City actually sound the part, and like Vega, their songs are perfect for a festival crowd and are both anthemic and powerful. I get the impression that everything is planned, from the outfits, the hair, and more importantly their stellar performances. There is nothing wrong with planning, as it pays dividends when you want to stand out above all others, and they certainly did so today. ‘Here Comes The Party’ is a cracking opener, and with huge songs like ‘One Step Away’, ‘Summer Of Our Lives’, ‘Life Aint Like This On The Radio’ and ‘Give Me Love’, Midnite City gave one of the performances of the day. These guys should be huge I tell ya, HUGE!

The Electric Boys were the Ronseal band of the day, as in, you know exactly what it

says on the tin, lots of groove laden songs, and in Conny Bloom, a singer who is a rock star from head to toe. Some thirty odd years down the line, he still sounds (and looks), great. If you didn’t think they had enough groove for ‘Groovus Maximus,’ they actually dialled up the groove for Electrified. Their RSD song ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ was more straight down the line rock, and was a great song. More like this please to liven up the set. The highlight for me was the obvious ‘All Hips and Lips’ a true classic and was the song that most wanted, and expected as a closer. They were good, but it was all very similar.

I arrived half way into the set for Pretty Boy Floyd and I was wondering what the noise was. A wail that can only be described as Jizzy Pearl on helium, whilst being kicked in the nuts at the same time welcomed me, and it was downhill from there for me. Mr Fluffy thought they were awesome, but I thought the polar opposite. Steve ‘Sex’ Summers (yeah) talked way too much for my liking, and drew a few comments from around me to ‘get on with it you twat). I suppose this is a plus point, as it meant less singing (screaming) for me. He stated that ‘ we are trying to keep sleaze metal alive’. I thought he is going a long way to killing it off altogether.

The term ‘legend’ is used way too frequently, but in Ted ‘call me Ted’ Poley, the ‘legend’ term is justified. His credentials are second to none, he engages with the crowd, a lot to be honest, to the point where he just wants to be with his people and it makes for a great gig. By ‘Out Of Control’, Ted was on fire, and it wasn’t just his piss that was burning!! Thankfully his stone passed the day before and made for a nice bit of medical history and a good laugh. Little Ted is now fully operational! With Degreed as his band, they were great, and with songs from his solo career, Tokyo Motor Fist and Danger Danger, all basses were covered. For me, it was the Danger Danger songs that were the best – ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Under The Gun’, ‘Crazy Nites’, ‘Monkey Business’, and the awesome singalong encore of ‘I Still Think About You’. The guy is absolutely genuine in his love for his audience, and that love is paid back ten-fold. Ted is King! Please don’t retire in three years time while you still have so much to give!

Heavy Pettin’ were on stage 2 to close out the festival. HRH need kicking in the wotsits 

for putting them on there as they are a bonafide nailed down certainty for the main stage. In my eyes, they should have been in place of Pretty Boy Floyd as they have a set of songs that deserve a packed audience. It’s only Hamie and Bonnar from the 80s, but the new guys (especially Dave Aitken) add some punch to an already great band. I never saw them back in the 80s but was a big fan, and after tonight’s performance even more so. The stage is a bit crowded for the five of them but that leads to numerous opportunities for the guys to jump off the stage and milk the crowd for its worth. ‘Love Times Love’, In And Out Of Love’, ‘Break It Down’ and ‘Rock Me’ are massive, and you somewhat forget how great a set of songs Heavy Pettin’ have to fall on. The inclusion of ‘Soul Survivor’ was as big for me as UFO playing ‘Making Moves’ so I was extremely happy. Hamie does not has his ‘yip’ at the end of his lines anymore, but if anything, he is all the better for it. I am just glad that Heavy Pettin’ are back! If you enjoyed Burnt Out Wrecks version of ‘Rock Aint Dead’, Hamie, Bonnar et al showed how it should really be done. If you didn’t catch them, you missed a huge performance. What a way to finish the Saturday…….

HRH AOR VII – Presthaven Sands, Prestatyn, Friday 15th March 2019

HRH VII – Presthaven Sands, Prestatyn – Friday 15th March

HRH AOR moved to a one-off temporary home at Prestatyn, prior to its new 2020 home in Great Yarmouth. Talking with friends and punters the feeling of the venue was not a great one. The main stage room being smaller, and the poor bastards who had forked out for VIP and Royalty tickets were on the side of a flat venue meaning those who wanted to sit, had to stand, and some were positioned stage right and had a lovely view of the PA!

The main stage room was smaller than Pwllheli, and I couldn’t quite work out if there was a bloke following me all day who smelt of piss, or the venue, or possibly me. Asking my colleague I received a reassuring nod that the room was the culprit. Phew

Gripes aside, the event seemed well run, better than usual. With security and staff in abundance to assist.

However, a bit of a faff getting to the right place for check-in caused us to miss the first 2 songs of EPIC. These guys deserved a shot at the main room from their debut in front of a much smaller crowd a couple of years back. Arriving to ‘Save A Little Love’, Epic were in full swing. The reception was good, and that made me good as I’ve been routing for these guys for a couple of years now. Tanya Rizkala announced a song that we would all know, Whitesnakes ‘Here I Go Again’, a classic rock song that would ask questions of any singer. Rizkala nailed the last Coverdale note and I knew then that they would be accepted and the resulting cheer confirmed this. Epic added Josh Williams of Midnite City and I noticed an immediate improvement from 2 yrs ago. Josh’s BVs lift Epic considerably, and having a foil like this is something that is missed when not there. Just ask Van Halen! Epic’s classic rock vibe continued with a new track ‘Face The Storm’ which was a rousing power ballad, before their dirty, sexy ‘Na Na Na’. The mix of Rizkala raspy, sultry vocals fits well with hubby Mario Agostine’s accomplished guitar. They finished high on another cover, this time AC/DCs Highway To Hell. Epic’s classic rock style is undoubted, but they have good enough songs and don’t really need to include other bands covers. Just sayin’.

Ive been wanting to hear Gary Moat’s Burnt Out Wreck. Heavy Pettin’ were (are) a band I love so was wanting to hear their songs played live. Immediately you could hear that they were a tight band with lots of hours behind them, and ‘Medusa’ was a cracking opener. Moat has a voice that’s like a mixed up Jizzy Pearl and Bon Scott, so he’s in good company. The dual guitars of Dunn and Goodman were a welcome addition and experience obviously shows. “Swallow’ and ‘Flames’ are the cream of the set, but ‘Pulling It Out’ was a bit drawn out and laborious. The final rendition of HPs ‘Rock Aint Dead’ made for a very pleasing closer.

The Radio Sun are old hands now at HRH, and this their 4th appearance on a row shows with the numbers attending. There’s always a bit of fun to be had with Jase Old and you’re never sure if its all a ruse or he really has early onset Alzheimers!! Not naming a single album or song in the set. Thankfully, being a fan, I’m not left want or asking! Now five albums in they have a lot of material to draw upon, and just to make sure they could pacify everything, threw in a medley (why don’t bore bands do this when a set is limited?).  TRS guys obviously enjoy playing HRH and its why they have repeat appearances. ‘Tonight’s The Night’, ‘One In A Million’, ‘Outside Looking In’ and ‘Tell Me What You Want’ stand out (along with Jasons bants), but is ‘I Might Lie’ a cover they have made their own that’s always a killer. Catch them this week with BRS and Saints of Sin for one of the best packages this side of 1987!

Vega are made for HRH, or any festival. When they have a limited set of an hour, they put together a set of songs that few others can muster, and its like being bombarded with anthems for an hour. It works. Their phasers are set to ‘stun’ and from the opening ntro of English Country Garden and a mash up of AC/DC and Joan Jett, they don’t look back. Opening with ‘Explode’ its meaning is the definition of Vega. It is further ‘boom’ moments with ‘Every Little Monster’ and ‘Stereo Messiah’. Marcus Thurston just tears the place up, and when backed with the rhythm section and all round Dolby 5 part harmonies (Need Some Love Tonight), it makes for the performance of the day. Whatever the Martin bros are putting in Nick Workman’s tea is working a treat, as his performances are just getting better and better. I had to bow out after ‘White Flag’ but even after 8 or so songs I knew that they were going to kill it.

I wanted to see V0id (now Scarlet Rebels) especially in front of what could be a decent crowd (even if they did clash a little with Vega). Whoever I’ve spoken to after witnessing these Welsh lads has always been mightily impressed. The new songs such as ‘Part Of Me’ and ‘the excellent ‘Heal’ are a cut above what is already a very strong set of songs. In adding Josh Townshend and Chris Jones, they have taken their performances up a few notches as the BVs and guitar work was something else. Gary Doyle batters holy hell out of his kit and brother Wayne at the front and centre is the nucleus of the band. Staples (and should be household names)  ‘Say My Name’ and ‘Not The One’ get the applause they deserve. I don’t say this lightly, but Scarlet Rebels are one of the best bands you have yet to listen to. A brilliant performance. Adderchog!

Rob was covering my fave band (probably of all time), Romeo’s Daughter. I arrived a couple of songs in, for ‘Attracted To The Animal’ and was immediately covered in my security blanket of Craig Joiners guitar, and Leigh Matty’s vocals. I’ve been watching these guys since nineteen eighty mumble mumble, and after what must be a couple of three dozen of gigs seeing them, they have NEVER put in an average performance. Most of the 80s bands that play HRH play it safe and stick to the early stuff. Not Romeos Daughter, whose last two albums (dare I say it) are as good as, if not better than the first two. The set is a mix of everything, from ‘Radio’, ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘Enemy’ to the stalwarts of ‘Heaven In The Back Seat’, ‘I Cry Myself To Sleep’ ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Wild Child’. In replacing Ed Poole they have discovered a gem in ‘Rhino’ Edwards (LOL) who fits with RD like a well worn glove. It was an absolute pleasure to watch this as it so very nearly may not have happened last year when Craig Joiner was seriously ill. This was simply wonderful and the highlight of my day.

Love Hate, or Jizzy Pearl’s Love/Hate to be precise, were a band to watch on the Friday. Two years ago at a much bigger Pwllheli the room was rammed and uncomfortable. Today was no different, in fact it was probably the biggest draw of the day. JPLH are as close to AOR are Slayer are to classical music, but that doesn’t stop them at all. I was never a huge fan back in the day, but watching this set from afar made me sit up and take notice. Jizzy Pearl sounds pretty much like he did in 1990 which is no mean feat. He commented that ‘Blackout..’ Is 30 next year…..! I think 30 yrs ago is 1970!! Jizzy Pearl, prances, and cajoled like he was in his 20s in 1988. Unless you had a DeLorean it was the closest thing to being at the Whisky A Go Go in 1989, only in Prestatyn. Having to queue to get in was a pisser, as I missed the first 15 mins as it was a straight ‘one out, one in’ policy. The crowd went nuts for songs like ‘Tranquilizer’, ‘Mary Jane’, and ‘Don’t Fuck With Me’. The last two were the destroyers of his career, ‘Wasted in America’ and the explosive ‘Black Out In The Red Room’. I went in as a non-believer and came out converted. It was damn good.

Toby Jepson’s Wayward Sons were up next, and the big crowd stayed. High up on the bill, I was expecting good things, and they didn’t let me down. Live, Jepson is as good as he was back in the day fronting Little Angels, full of charm, good looks and a voice that matches the one he had in his 20’s! Arriving to Johnny Cash’s ‘Fulsom Prison’ they broke into the rousing ‘Don’t Wanna Go’ and never looked back. ‘Alive’ has both feet firmly planted in the 1980s, and in Sam Wood they have a guitarist who reminds me of Scott Gorham, in that he is a cracking guitarist and plays without any flash or OTT histrionics. ‘Crush’ segues into Blondie’s ‘Union City Blues’ and new song ‘Jokes On You’ whets the appetite for album no. 2 later this year. ‘Small Talk’ is energetic before becoming ‘No More Heroes’ by The Stranglers. Little Angels ‘Young Gods’ took the excitement levels up to 11, finishing up with the excellent ‘Until The End’. They gave blood, sweat and tears over the course of an hour. I’d have added some wee to that had they played ‘Kickin’ Up Dust’!

I can’t believe that I’ve never ever seen UFO. My first album into them was 81’s ‘The Wild, The Willing, and The Innocent’ and contains some absolute gems. I’d read previously that songs from this album were poorly received in the past, so I wasn’t entering with high hopes. One thing UFO have above any other band is experience by the tanker load. Phil Mogg has been ever present since their inception in 1968, and incredible 51 years. No wonder he wants to retire while he still has his health at 71. Add the mercurial Paul Raymond, and Andy Parker, and you have a nucleus of one of the most iconic rock and roll bands ever formed. I was transfixed watching Phil Mogg and Paul Raymond, Mogg is a waif of a man, and still holds his mic like I first saw in Sounds in about 1979. He is a man of few words but when he does speak, its’ usually a gem of a comment. Immaculately turned out, he still has a great voice and grew into the set. UFO have so many albums and even more songs to pick a set from. As a 52 year old man I can really appreciate the need for comfortable clothing, and bassist Rob DeLuca’s crushed velvet flares looked a festival necessity for my future comfort! Raymond chose his moments for moving around the stage. And so would I, especially as a swift move could put a hip out!

It was the likes of rock classics such as ‘Lights Out’, ’Too Hot To Handle’ and the imperial ‘Rock Bottom’ that stole my heart. Biggest of all what the utterly fantastic ‘Love To Love’ – a monster of a tune. As a fan of 81’s ’TWTWATI’ I was as happy as could be when ‘Making Moves’ came up, a thunderous song that is built around Andy Parker’s huge drum sound. I was a damp rag as this point. The encore of ’Doctor, Doctor’ and ’Shoot, Shoot’ proved that UFO only do encores with songs where the same word is repeated!! A masterful performance.

Boxes were ticked today, seeing 3 legends in one band (probably 4 with Vinnie Moore) and a lifelong song I never thought I’d ever see played live. I’d seen Michael Schenker’s Temple and Fest line-ups perform most of these classics, but it was a different thing entirely seeing them performed by UFO. Considering their ages, (over 300 combined!) it was a masterful performance, one that the younger generations need to watch and learn from.

So on to Saturday…..

BillyBio at Rebellion Manchester, 29.1.19 – Live Review

BillyBio – Rebellion Club – Manchester – 29-01-19
Billy Bio received 9/10 for his album ‘Feed The Fire’ which I reviewed back in November and rightly so. You can read the review here. An album of stunning quality which deserves all the acclaim it will get.
Tonight, in what used to be a pub many moons ago, the small yet massively unique Rebellion Club in Manchester once again hosts a quartet of bands with massive potential.
Firstly, OMV. A heavy punk rock/hardcore unit with bags of charisma on stage. Only Richie, the lead singer and founder of the Merseyside band has his face on show. The rest choose to stay concealed behind masks. Pretty cool. As for the music, this is a pure onslaught of angry hardcore with awesome speed changes. There’s lots of Pantera and Slayer knocking around within these guys. Well worth catching live if you can. A great start.
Next up were Sonnet 13. Manchester based, although singer Bartek and drummer Lukasz I believe are Dutch(?) These were very D.R.I/Mucky Pup to me. They had that late 80’s thrash punk shout to Bartek’s voice. This is my kind of era and the guys pulled off a worthy set.
Cutthroat LA earned my respect straight away by refusing to play until the crowd came forward. A great move I thought because it worked a treat. If any band could warm a crowd up nicely for BillyBio, it’s these guys. They got everyone involved from the start. Inciting mosh pits, getting fans on stage. Their interaction with their fans is nothing short of perfect. Using political issues to express their feelings, these guys really know how to deliver proper hardcore. Throw in some street rap/punk/thrash. These guys have it all.
And so to BillyBio. Words cannot describe what a stunning and powerful set this guy delivered tonight. Playing virtually everything from his latest ‘Feed the Fire’ album, we were also treated to some Biohazard classics in the form of ‘Shades Of Grey’, ‘How It Is’, ‘A Lot To Learn’, ‘Love Denied’ and ‘Punishment’. Throw in a cover of The Exploited’s ‘UK82’ and you have a set so powerful and true that the only bad thing about it was it went too fast.
Once again crowd interaction was a major part and everyone, indeed, played their part. What I find particularly impressive is that Billy wears a head mike which gives him so much more scope to move around and interact with the crowd.
Seeing such an iconic hardcore legend in such a small venue always gives me that shiver down my spine. Arenas are not for me. This is where music lives and breathes, in venues like The Rebellion club, with fantastic friendly people all looking out for each other. Long may it continue. And lets prey BillyBio returns soon.
Score – 10/10. All day long.
Reviewed by Sty

Ross The Boss, Eleven, Stoke On Trent, 11.10.18

Having reviewed Ross The Boss ‘By Blood Sworn’ album a few months ago on this site, I was super-excited to be going along to see the guys live in what seemed to be (prior to getting there) a very intimate venue.
What a fantastic set-up ‘Eleven’ have. It’s intimate, personal, and a perfect size to watch and get close to the guys you’ve come to see. Prior to the gig, we were treated to a free ‘Meet & Greet’ session with Ross, as he gave out guitar picks, posed for photos, and was a general fantastic, friendly and loveable guy. He had some great stories to tell, and made sure he spoke to us all. Brilliant.
 
And that’s exactly what followed on stage. It was a very disappointing crowd of only around 40 people, but this did not stop the lads putting on a perfect and professional display of superb tunes, great crowd interaction and non-stop metal. Whether the capacity of 250 or the reality of 40 people, RTB performed no different and it was a night to remember. Performing Manowar classics, the gig kicked off with ‘Blood of the Kings’, followed closely by ‘The Oath’, and the guys seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the crowd, drummer Steve Bolognese donning a constant beaming grin through each song. Brilliant to see.
Talk about making the most out of a challenging situation, Marc Lopez showed us all what an icon and presence he is on stage. Continuously moving, getting close to the crowd and getting everyone involved. As the band powered through classics such as ‘Sign of the Hammer’, ‘Hatred’, and ‘Blood of my Enemies’ it was clear as crystal what was going on here. Myself personally, I came to hear songs from RTB latest album ‘By Blood Sworn’, but the crowd were just revelling in the Manowar classics, and after this gig, I get it, totally. The tracks were played with such stunning power it was just too good, too, too good.
Next came ‘Kill With Power’ and ‘Each Dawn I Die’. 
What a singer Marc Lopez is. This current line up I believe is the best Ross has had. It just gels, especially live. ‘Hail to England’ got us all singing and is just an absolute stunner live. ‘Great Gods Glorious’, ‘Fighting The World’ and the absolutely stunning ‘Battle Hymn’ followed. The latter being one of my highlights of the night. Marc Lopez providing some superb vocals.
 
The guys finished with ‘Thor (The Powerhead)’ and the amazing ‘Hail and Kill’, with it’s almost 5 minute unreal blues jam. It’s been an absolute pleasure tonight seeing these guys bring such a huge show to the small stage, in a small venue, to a small crowd.
‘Hail and Kill’ tonight showed the strength and diversity of this band. My heart bleeds for them for such a small crowd. But tonight I will be so proud to be part of a bunch of people who got to see such an amazing band up close and personal. Next time, I’ll be there again. Hail & Salute RTB!! Thank you guys. xx
Score – 10/10
Reviewed by Sty
Setlist
Blood Of The Kings
The Oath
Sign Of The hammer
Hatred
Blood Of My Enemies
Kill With Power
Each Dawn I Die
Hail To England
Great Gods Glorious
Fighting The World
Battle Hymn
Thor (The Powerhead)
Hail And Kill

Graham Bonnet Band – The Tivoli, Buckley 24.8.18

If you’re a fan of rock music (lets face it, why wouldn’t you be), then you would have to be under the age of 29 or been living in a cave for the last 40 yrs not to know the name Graham Bonnet. His star quickly shone when Ritchie Blackmore picked him from a pop quiz that Cozy Powell used to play intros to his record collection when Rainbow were down to a threesome after Dio, Daisley & Stone, and others had departed. The song, ‘Only One Woman’. ‘I want him’ stated Blackmore, and the rest they say, is history.
A very quick dalliance with MSG, but it spawned a belter of an album in Assault Attack, before forming his own band Alcatrazz. The guy has played alongside some great guitarists no doubt – Blackmore, Vai, Malmsteen, Impelliteri, Moody, Kulick, all of which is of no coincidence.

I last saw him about 15yrs ago in Crewe and he was blindingly good. 24.8.18 sees him at The Tivoli in Buckley and nudging 71. I have to state this as recently Steve Perry has popped his head up and announced a new album after a 25 yr absence. Perry is 69 and still sounds good. I’ll come back to this later.

Straight in with an Alcatrazz number ‘Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live’ Bonnet immediately showed how good he IS. A waif of a man, but with the voice of a foghorn. If you doubted his age, or his stamina beforehand, don’t. It was laid to rest at the Tivoli. A 5 minute break ensued as Bonnet’s drummer, Mark Benquechea decided he wanted a different drum kit. Bonnet swiftly whipped out a carrot, and not his knob unlike Sheffield and reminisced. ‘All Night Long’ followed and there was no worries regarding the notes, Bonnet is on form. With a guitarist like Kurt James, Bonnet has a foil who can play all the Malmsteen, Vai, Blackmore and Impelliteri parts with ease. Sure the solos were not identical, but the aforementioned never play the same solo twice anyway. The band were very tight but Id like to have heard a bit more of the backing vocals on a couple of song and not just relying on a 70 yr old to pump out the vocals. Waldo was heard, but unless it was down to my positioning, Beth-Ami Heavenstone sounded like (or didn’t) like Lilly from Pitch Perfect. A reference for the kids there, methinks!

Highlights for me were ‘Night games’, the excellent ‘Desert Song’ (which is one of the best rock songs of all time), and the finale of ‘Lost In Hollywood’

I understand the need to drop in recently written songs, and a couple of fillers like ‘Goodnight and Goodbye’ and ‘Starcarr Lane’, AND, one of the crappiest guitar solos Ive ever witnessed! But when its at the expense of the likes of ‘Eyes Of The World’, ‘Samurai’, ‘Dancer’, ‘God Blessed Video’, ‘Sons and Lovers’, and ‘Hiroshima… ‘etc, then it could have gone from being a very good gig, to an exceptional gig, especially when some of these have been on the set list recently.
So, despite Perry being 69, I understand his album is ballad heavy. I even said myself recently, ‘you cant over expect anything from a bloke at this age’.  If that’s what Perry wants to do, then that’s great. But after seeing Bonnet sing full tilt (he cant do it any other way), for a solid 100 mins, then the ground rules have been re-set. You CAN hope/demand/expect some icons to be belting it out as they did 40 yrs ago.

If I were 70, I would be happy being able to stand up for 100 minute, never mind belt out a set. Bonnet shows if you look after yourself, then you can beat the hands of time. Long may he continue, because guys like Graham Bonnet will not be around forever.


Pictures Courtesy of Jeff Price

Graham Bonnet Band –

Graham Bonnet – Vocals

Jimmy Waldo – Keyboards

Kurt James – Guitar

Beth-Ami Heavenstone – Bass

Mark Benquechea – Drums

Setlist

Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live

All Night Long

Night games

California Air

Island In The Sun

Jet To Jet

Rock You To The Ground

Stand In Line

Starcarr Lane

Goodnight and Goodbye

Desert Song

Into The Night

Long island Tea

Assault Attack

Mirror Lies

Since You Been Gone

Lost In Hollywood

 

Kim Wilde – The Old Fruit Market, Glasgow, 2nd April 2018 LIVE REVIEW

Kim Wilde – The Old Fruit Market, Glasgow – 2 April 2018
After being disappointed at the Greta Van Fleet gig in Glasgow the night before, I headed back in to Glasgow with managed down expectations to see Kim Wilde. “Yes THAT Kim Wilde” I explained to bemused mates.
A couple of beers in the Beer Caffe, a quick wander around in the rain and snow and we finally found the Old Fruit Market hidden in the City Halls but well worth the find, it is a stunning venue. Why more rock bands don’t use it is beyond me.
The crowd was an impressive size and on the mature side, not that I’m saying that there was a smell of rose water, Brut and biscuits J
I had been lucky enough to hear the new Kim Wilde album and as an 80’s hair rock fan I thought I knew roughly what to expect. I was wrong in a really good way.
KW walked out on stage around 9 o’clock as her impressively sized band took up their places. The band has 2 drummers, 2 guitarists, bass player and keyboards and a backing singer to ably support the main lady. It’s basically a family thing.
What became apparent was the stage set up and the stunning backing lighting that let KW walk up to the mic and Stereo Shot kicked off the show.
Kim Wilde may be 57 but boy does she rock a white leather biker jacket with tassels and she went into Water on Glass seamlessly to keep the 80s fans happy.
The switch between new and old stuff worked like a dream. The white jacket was ditched and the full black leather rock ensemble caused gasps (mainly by me and I felt my wife’s elbow’s full effect).
KW seemed genuinely taken aback by the crowd size and reaction and she thanked Glasgow for being the only place in the UK to have “Here Come the Aliens” in the top 10. Her modesty and thanks went down well as did Kandy Krush and Cambodia and a crowd member gave her a teddy bear with obligatory saltire.
Now some of my less educated/kind friends had been sneering about our attendance at the gig stating that 2 weeks ago I went to Hard Rock Hell AOR and now this. Well KW would not only hold her own at a melodic rock gig, she’d blow it to pieces. I’ve seen Lee Aaron and Lita Ford in the last 2 years, neither hold a candle to the latest KW show.
She oozes quality, professionalism, has stage presence and the full set list to back it up. Her band are tight and seemed to be having a ball. Scarlett Wilde sang her own lead and her support of her aunt would bring a tear to a glass eye.
The acoustic section of slower songs was a superb change of pace and showcased the KW vocal along with brother Ricky.
“It’s time to rock it up a bit” (or words to that effect) led into an upbeat Birthday and Chequered Love which is pure melodic rock with the 80’s pop edge. This bounced into You Came, You Keep me Hanging On before 1969 (the elephant in the room she told the crowd, due to her alien sighting) ended the set. Superb stuff.
The guitar solos were pure melodic rock joy (I think the phrase used is “they shredded it”.) The 2 drummers were a nice touch, the bass drove along the rockier songs and KW led her troops like a modern day Boadicea.
Her harmonies with Ricky and Scarlett are done superbly and the choreography with the band showed how much time and effort has gone into this show.
Pop Don’t Stop and the iconic Kids in America ended a brilliant night on a high with a massively appreciative crowd. I left with a very impressed if more green eyed wife than I arrived with, we both had smiles as wide as the Clyde.
The mix of 80’s classics with fresh breath breathed into them and the latest album tracks was masterfully delivered. A top, top gig.
Would we go to see Kim again? Well as it happens we’re on a 2 night break in York in 10 days’ time……..no prizes for who’s playing the venue next to our apartment and as my wife planned the break I’m totally innocent……for once!! J J
Review by Lawrie Willcox
 

HRH AOR VI – Hafan Y Mor, Saturday 19th March 2018 (Part Review)

Saturday 10th March 2018
SATURDAY
I could not be there for the full day, so managed to cram in 4 bands. First up were The Idol Dead. These are another band that I’d never come across before, but full marks to the organisers for getting them on the bill. Again there were as far away to AOR, than Bulletboys are to enjoyment. They reminded of Teenage Casket Company from 2016 that came on and blew the place up. The Idol Dead were no different. To say they had the audience in the palm of their hands was a massive understatement. No solos as such, but they had some of the best songs and riffs this side of the Pennines, all played out with an attitude and swagger bigger than Snowdon. They are on tour in May, I strongly advise you to get your arses over to see them. The highlights of their set were ‘Blackout Girl’ which reminds me of early Coheed & Cambria, and the wonderfully titled C.H.I.M.S.A. (Christopher Hitchens Is My Spiritual Animal). If they had dropped the mic at the end, it would have rounded off a near perfect performance.
Blood Red Saints were on first on the main stage. My worries that they might not be playing to a decent crowd were thankfully the opposite. The room was pretty much filled out and BRS deserve to play in front of numbers like this. They had 45 minutes to make statement, call it 35 if you can shut Pete Godfrey up. That’s a big part of the show. ‘Another Freak’ from their latest album was a stormer, a lot of bands try to write anthems, and very few can do it better than BRS, especially on ‘Mercy’ with the harmonies from Chemney, Naylor and Revill making it a killer. The band were trying to move on quickly and pack the songs in, but stopping Pete Godfrey  from joking, as like trying  to stop Mr Creosote from having a ‘weffer thin mint!’
Pete royally took the piss out of Rob Naylor’s voice (who, when asked to say something, stated he had a sore throat), with Pete commenting ‘you sound gay, where did you lose your voice? In the men’s toilets? ‘
The large venue suits these bands to a tee, as this is probably the best I have seen BRS perform. Amongst the golden nuggets was a brief rendition of Take That’s ‘Back For Good’. Follow this up with ‘Live and Die’ and ‘Kicking Up Dust’ and the set was glorious. God help who had to follow this
So, from the Blood Red Saints to one of France’s patron saints, the all female Joan ov Ark. I would stake (see what I did there) a good amount of money that a lot of the punters were like me, and were a new experience. Despite having to follow Ted Bovis and the BRS, Joan ov Arc were out to prove a point, that it’s not just the blokes who can kick ass. The crowd had faded by the time they entered the stage. From what little I’d seen of them on YouTube, it was nothing when compared to their live performance. The vocals courtesy of Sam Walker were both powerful and ear-bleedingly high. Her sister Shelley (lead guitar), looked as if she wanted to prove a point. There was a bit of overplaying, but I can easily forgive that especially when they want to showcase their talents in a setting like this. Four songs in and the crowd had returned, and they were very well received. They proved that they could mix it up, with the more soulful vocals of bassist Laura Ozholl taking lead on a couple of songs. An anthem for the girls was proclaimed, and it kame with a killer riff, and clearly one of the best songs of the set. They chose to finish their set with an all-time classic, Freebird. It takes some balls to play a track like this, so it was a good job than none were present, and they knocked it out of the park, with Shelly Walker showing how good a guitarist she is.
My final band of the festival was up next, and what a band, and performance it was from Wales’ own Nev MacDonald of Hand of Dimes. I felt a bit like Dorothy Boyd in Jerry Maguire, as he had me at ‘Hello’. Very few singers have this talent; and Nev is one talented bloke. He sings effortlessly, and for me, it was THE vocal performance of the weekend. Joining him from eons back was Andy Robbins (ex-Skin and Jagged Edge). The area was as full as it was for a headliner and it was only 4pm. The set was only seven songs, but fook me, what a seven songs it proved to be! I was lucky to catch him a few years back at Steelhouse in 2013, so it was great to them higher up the bill. ‘Looking at You’ is a classic, and had the whole crowd in raptures. To be honest, Nev could have sung ‘Shaddup Ya Face’ and I’d like it at this point. Hand of Dimes was on fire (damn I should have used that for Joan ov Arc), and in ‘Jacobs Ladder’, a soulful blues number that borders on perfect. It is without doubt their finest work. It was their final track that almost took the roof off the place, Skin’s ‘House Of Love’. It was commented that Nev MacDonald should be a household name. Well, he is in the Buckley household.
Hand of Dimes came a close second to Night Ranger, and join Blood Red Saints, The Idol Dead, and Aaron Buchanan and The Cult Classics as the stand out acts of AOR VI.
I’m hopeful that the guys at HRH will come up trumps next year and deliver the goods as an AOR festival. To many bands were either not AOR or were on the wrong stage (especially Midnite City and Degreed). On the way home, we talked about this in detail, and Styx would be the choice. One of the few bands that can still cut it and matches the high standard of Night Ranger.
The festival goes from strength to strength, they have a brand that doesn’t necessarily cater to the AOR crowd, in a good way.

HRH AOR VI – Hafan Y Mor, Day 2, Friday 9th March

Day 2, Friday 9th March 2018

FRIDAY
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.