Review: HRH Blues IV – Day 1

O2 Academy, Sheffield

Reviewers : Stephen Brophy (SB), Peter Scallan (PS), Steve Borkowski (SBork)

Photography : Stephen Brophy 

The Festival Season is upon us with a vengeance now as we arrive in Sheffield for this years installment of HRH’s Blues event, now in it’s fourth iteration. Thankfully this year it’s not clashing with the World Snooker Championships that take place across the road from our O2 Academy venue, which makes things a little easier for us all.

The Della Grants (Acoustic)  (SB)

To open any Festival can be a daunting enough experience, but to open both the Acoustic Sets on the 2nd Stage and then jump right over to the Main Stage to play a Full Electric Set is no mean feat. This band takes it in their stride, they play a really nice mix of Blues and Americana, and although 20 minutes isn’t really enough to properly evaluate a band there was certainly enough in this set to peek my interest for their opening slot on the big stage. Besides I’m a sucker for a bit of harmonica. As much as I love Acoustic sets it isn’t always the best way to see a band for the first time, but when bands are playing two sets it offers a great contrast.

Brian Rawson Band (Acoustic)  (SB)

Having seen Brian’s band playing the first HRH Blues in Pwllheli back in 2014 I was interested to see how they sounded now, and this weekend was going to be the first outing for a brand new lineup. Considering this was there very first live performance together I thought it the Acoustic set sounded great, nothing disjointed and Pete’s vocals worked really well with their sound.

Jim Fitzpatrick’s Heavy Weather (Acoustic)  (PS)

This is my first time attending the HRH Blues festival in Sheffield. While there were a few acts I knew and was looking forward to, my rekindled passion for blues and blues-based rock is still developing so there were many acts I hadn’t even heard of! However, my first band to review was none other Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather doing an acoustic set.

I know of Jim from his day job band FM and was looking forward to this short acoustic set. He did the set on his own and played three songs including the song Heavy Weather. I have maintained the that this guy is one of the main reasons that FMs live performances have moved up notch in the time he has been in them and this short performance just reinforced this notion. What did surprise was just how good Jim’s vocals were and it was a great start to my weekend.

The Rainbreakers (Acoustic) (PS)

Next up was The Rainbreakers whom I knew absolutely nothing about. These guys play a quirky take on blues rock, sometimes straying into soul. They certainly sounded tight, crisp and fresh but weren’t really for me.

Their unique sound is epitomised by Ben Edwards vocals which didn’t really hit the spot for me. However, they may well be one of these bands that demand more attention in terms of listening, which I will do.

Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather  (PS)

I moved to the main arena next to check out Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather doing their full set. Jim leads a basic three piece and played a great set including. I recognized the songs from the earlier acoustic and this guy really is a class act in terms of guitar playing. He also has a great voice but being able to compare the earlier acoustic performance with this band performance, I was less convinced about his vocals accompanying a full band in terms of power and cutting edge. None the less, the rapidly-filling main arena gave him a deserved rapturous reception.

Danny Giles Band  (SBork)

To many The Danny Giles Band or DGB as they like to be known were a new band, but not to me, Danny and I go back quite a few years and I’ve booked him a couple of times to play events (including my birthday bash), so I was looking forward to seeing how my old friend would go down with the Sheffield crowd on such a big stage.

Dan’s style is quite heavy, definitely more rock than blues, a big man with a big voice and tone to match, he’s backed by a tight rhythm section of Pat Garvey and Jon Chase, a classic power trio, who aren’t afraid to mix up styles blending rock and blues easily and throwing in a little fusion for good measure. Their own material is strong and well rehearsed, from many years and miles covered on the road, mostly in mainland Europe where the band play the majority of their gigs.

While this is clearly Danny’s band, he is a team player allowing his band to shine and take solos of their own, having played guitar in his father’s band The Chicago Thieves and also can be seen shredding alongside Will Wilde who’s performance on stage 2 at last years HRH Blues was one of the highlights of the entire weekend for many.

The DGB mix heavy tunes from their debut album ‘More Is More‘ including ‘I Won’t Let Love‘ and ‘Been There Twice‘, Danny displays his versatility by covering Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in a slow blues and Johnny Guitar Watson’s 3 Hours After Midnight which brings the crowd to it’s feet. The set seemed to finish too soon and the DGB left the stage to a roar of applause having won many new fans..

Brian Rawson Band  (SB)

Sadly with timings I was not able to stay for the full electric set from Brian Rawson Band which again, like their acoustic set, took place on the 2nd Stage. It’s always interesting to see a band play different types of sets in very short succession, and it shows a really good contrast. The band are really up for this 2nd set and new vocalist Peter Scallan is right in the groove from the very start, it may sound odd but they seem to have grown in confidence from the earlier set and have stepped it up a notch or two, having said that they are the one band from the Day 1 list that seemed most comfortable with both styles.

For me ‘Trip, Stumble & Fall‘ is probably the highlight and sounds better than the first time around, alongside ‘Sitting On Top Of The World‘ which was excellent. Wish I could have caught the whole set, but think I managed to see enough to get a good sense of the vibe and for a band that have literally just come together it has to be said that it’s been a really successful day and two sets that were very much enjoyed by the assembled crowd.

Sari Schorr  (SB)

Sari has been high on my list to catch live for quite some time now, having really enjoyed her recent album release and having not managed to catch Sari’s guitarist Ash Wilson up until now, this was definitely one of the sets that I was most looking forward to seeing all weekend, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Sari has a wonderful powerful voice and she’s backed up by a very talented bunch who all appear to love playing Blues music.

The aforementioned Ash Wilson is superb, also in the band is former King King keyboard player Bob Fridzema, who as always sounded great, the band seem to have knitted together really well, and the crowd is into this Set from the start. Tracks like ‘Demolition Man‘ and ‘Damn The Reason‘ have people singing and dancing in the aisles between the seats and all over the venue to be honest.

Something a little weird is that the live version of ‘Black Betty‘ really didn’t do much for me on the day, and I really like how Sari treats the song, but it certainly went down well with others. The songs in this set however stand up very well beside the voice and top notch musicianship from all of the band, these guys really know how to play and work tightly as a unit. Great set and the atmosphere around the Main Stage is certainly building. A rocking version of Zeppelin’s ‘Rock N’ Roll‘ is all part of a set that is well balanced and more often than not powerful and upbeat, until the next time.

The Black Hands  (SB)

Up next on the second stage were a band from the Midlands, The Black Hands and they definitely play Blues Rock, but with a harder edge and nice aggressive vocals, really enjoyed what I heard from these guys, unfortunately I didn’t manage to hear the full set but even if I’d only managed to be there for ‘45‘ that would have been more than enough to make me want to see these guys again.

Would definitely like to see how this brand of Blues Rock would go down on the main stage, personally I think it would really kick things up a notch early evening and hopefully the guys get a chance next time out. Keep an eye on this band there’s more to come..

Greg Coulson  (SB)

Greg Coulson not only fronts his band but he also plays the Keyboards and Guitar, not the easiest of tasks when you are concentrating on the vocals, but he does a fine job of things. There are many things to like about the style of Blues that these guys play, it’s classy, a little upbeat and sounds great, Greg is working with the crowd to get people involved and the interaction is good.

Highlight for me is probably ‘Someone To Be There‘, with a classic riff it lends itself very well to Greg’s vocals and gets people moving in the crowd. This is an artist that has experience while at the same time being relatively new on the scene, there’s a tonne of talent on the stage and will really look forward to hearing new material and getting to see this band live again. Great energetic and upbeat performance from an emerging artist, and that’s the brilliant thing about a weekend Festival like this you get to see Legends and possible future legends all on the same stage and Greg Coulson was another that got a great crowd reaction and should be on your radar if he isn’t already.

Rainbreakers  (SBork)

Rainbreakers are a band that defy genre, blending classic blues artists of the 60’s and 70’s with  modern soulful twist, their sound can switch from gritty to delicate in a heartbeat. They are like a breath of fresh air in that they are so different from pretty much every other band on the UK circuit right now.

Their own material is skillfully written and authentic, their influences clearly come from a very diverse musical palette, their covers usually from obscure US band such as The Wood Brothers or Monophonics. Ben Edwards vocals soulful, strong and full of emotion, Charlie Richards guitar fills and solos as good as any plank spanking front man, but Charlie appears to shy away from the limelight, happy to be part of a band rather than overplaying to draw attention to himself. The tight rhythm section of Sam Edwards and the always smiling Peter ‘Pedro’ Adams, complete the 4 piece.

The set is made up predominantly of tracks from their 2 EPS, Blood Not Brass and Rise Up, plus the new single Heavy Soul from the upcoming debut album in which Ben opens up about his battle with depression.

It was always going to be difficult to see full sets of every act playing. I wanted to support various friends who were playing but torn between some of the acts on the main stage that I don’t see often so for much of the last couple of hours, I dashed between, Rainbreakers, Danny Bryant, Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Marsden.

Danny Bryant  (SB)

Lets not beat about the bush here, HRH Blues like any Blues event is a celebration of fine guitar playing, and you need look no further than Danny Bryant, he plays with passion, emotion and makes everything look so effortless, this is what a lot of people have come to see. Have always thought that the vocals did not quite match up to the extremely high standards of the guitar playing, but that’s not to say they aren’t good, and the songs are very well written indeed, especially the new material on show from the soon to be released Revelation album, a very personal and moving piece of work.

Danny’s facial expressions can at times look quite menacing as he dominates the stage, certainly not shoe gazer. As mentioned the guitar is stunning throughout, this is one of those sets you can say it was a pleasure to be at and it’s not only Danny that’s top notch in this lineup, on keyboards is the always brilliant Stevie Watts, and when you have musicians of this caliber playing with you it perhaps allows you to just to what you do best, this is the case tonight, I don’t think anyone in the crowd would have been disappointed had Danny played another couple of hours, the set just built and built and with the tracks from the most recent albums, which for me have been his best, it’s just a quality 65 minutes of Blues rock, with some solos that were good enough to blow your socks off. Can’t wait to catch these guys again on Tour. 

Lewis Hamilton Band  (SB)

Lewis Hamilton and the band were in the unenviable position of being scheduled against Bernie Marsden on the main stage, but that didn’t hold this three piece back one little bit and the crowd that was present was very enthusiastic. Brilliant to finally get to catch Lewis live as I’ve been listening to his music for a number of years.

The room had a good sized crowd there to check the band out and they were most definitely getting into this set and Lewis’ guitar playing. In particular, some excellent solos right the way through, and the band were very appreciative of those that have made the journey upstairs to see them. This trio are very tight and the sound is pretty good the fact that the set flies by is indeed an indication of it’s quality.

There is a really impressive control to his playing while still managing to emit as much passion and feeling as possible, the atmosphere in the room was terrific and it built alongside the set, with plenty of movement and encouragement from the audience. Definitely another successful set to close out the 2nd Stage on Day 1, and perhaps in the future something can be done with regards to clashes like this where there are two artists on at the same time on different Stages, even if there is an overlap enable the audience to get the opportunity to catch more of both headline sets. The Lewis Hamilton Band made it obvious why they’ve been put into this slot closing out the stage, but also why they should definitely be in a lot higher up on the Main Stage, perhaps next time out, great stuff. 

Pat McManus Band  (SB)

Okay, going slightly outside of scheduled order here as Pat and the band were actually the last band on stage on the opening night, but it makes no difference when the guys hit the stage and how long they play for, as by the end of it you will have a smile on your face and wish they could have stayed longer. Pat McManus is not only one of the finest musicians on the scene but also one of the nicest you could meet and just look at the smile on his face when he plays, sheer joy, it’s infectious. The set is a mixture of styles, Blues/Rock/Celtic, there’s full blown rockers and powerful instrumentals, one of the highlights is always the wonderful tribute to the late Gary Moore ‘Belfast Boy‘.

The band are just so tight, Pat, Marty and Paul play so many shows all over Europe it’s no surprise, but each time you see them it’s a pleasure to watch, there’s a nice mix of instruments with, Guitar and Fiddle being the most used by Pat, he truly is a master of both. Having heard far too many people rule out his music because of the Celtic influences you really need to get out and catch this man live while we can, there are very few musicians on the planet that can touch him for passion and ability and he still has the beauty in his playing that can bring a tear to the eye, his rendition of ‘Parisienne Walkways‘ although not in the set tonight would have definitely had jaws wobbling. What we do hear is a great mix, instrumental, Rock and naturally Blues and what we get from the latest album Tattooed In Blue sounds great, but it’s always going to be the Mama’s Boys classic ‘Needle In The Groove‘ or ‘Still Got The Blues‘ that the crowd really get involved for. Brilliant way to close an evening….

….…..but lets look back a little and the Headline act for day one….. 

Bernie Marsden  (PS)

Bernie Marsden was one of those names that I was familiar with, having been a huge fan of early Whitesnake and his own band Alaska. I recently him playing a great set at the Winterstorm festival in Troon, Scotland. Therefore, I was really looking forward to seeing him again. Yeah – it’s a blues festival and you have to expect a smattering of blues classics. You also have to expect him to draw on his Whitesnake experience, which he did.

However, I have got to say I was disappointed in the Bernie Marsden set. In my opinion, it had too many blues standards and even the Whitesnake classics got drawn out a little too long for my liking and felt like it was being padded out. His Winterstorm set was shorter and it was possibly just the culmination of a long day for me. What wasn’t in doubt is just how good a guitar player he is and the stellar guitar sound he had. He could also maybe benefit from having someone else do some of the singing. Disappointing is how I would sum up this set.

This has been an excellent first day with a really interesting mix of bands on both stages and as expected a really good reaction from the large assembled crowd. Lots in top notch and fun performances from a collection of bands that not only seemed to be loving playing the Festival but also the reaction they were getting from the audience.

Review: Ron Keel – Metal Cowboy

EMP Outlaw / EMP Label Group (April 6th 2018)

Reviewer: Simone – The Metal Mistress

Metal Cowboy Reloaded‘ is a remixed and remastered version of Ron Keel’s 2014 independent venture. Written entirely by Keel this album helped create Keel’s unique blend of southern rock and outlaw country. Little known fact to metal fans though: it was not his venture into metal mixed with country. Iron Horse was a country/southern rock band Keel formed in 2000. He left the band in 2007 to move on to other things. ‘Metal Cowboy’  is being re-released to pave the road for the band’s upcoming new album ‘Fight Like A Band‘. I was not familiar with the original album so I had no expectations. Going into this review. Having seen his band Keel perform, I was excited to review this album. The band is fantastic: energetic, cohesive and smooth.

The album, portrays that. It flows together like a well-oiled machine, with each song taking its place along the track to lead the listener to the next station. ‘My Bad‘ introduces you to the key sounds of the album. There is a country guitar twang mixed in with traditional metal riffs. You get harmonicas and even a male duet song which is so popular in country. What I found interesting about the flow of the album is it definitely starts out letting you know this is not your 80s metal. It is southern rock with heavy country influences. ‘Just Like Tennessee‘ doesn’t seem to have a hint of metal to it. Think modern country pop and this is the song. It was the one weak spot for me on the album. However right after this song, we get ‘Dead Man Rockin‘ which has a Guns N’ Roses sound to it, especially in the drums. Which by the way if you are not familiar with Keel’s fellow band members, they are some of the most talented in metal today. El Diablo is a kick ass drummer. Then we have Ron Keel’s legendary scream. The man goes from ball busting screams to articulate singing effortlessly. His vocals have matured and I for one can not wait to hear the new works this talented bunch will come up with.

One of the most fun songs on the album for me was ‘What Would Skynyrd Do‘ an homage to one of rock’s ground-breaking bands, including traditional Skynyrd guitar and drum sounds in the song.

My favorite track on the album was ‘Singers, Hookers & Thieves‘ This song is NOT rock or metal at all to me. You can disagree, but before you judge, please first play it among a Waylon Jennings, Charlie Price or Merle Haggard number. This song sounds like a good old-fashioned country and western male duet song.

Then we flip again to ‘Wild Forever‘ which sounds straight out of a 1985 High school radio station. Cruising in our Trans-Am’s with windows down and T-Tops out while this song blares on the radio. ‘Cowboy Road‘ is the All-American-Boy anthem that would be played at the tractor pulls.

This is a great cohesion of country and metal, flowing together to create a highly entertaining and enjoyable album. To cement in our brains that this merging of both are Keel’s influence, we get ‘Long Gone Bad‘ beginning with a straight up country sound and suddenly turning metal crunch. To close out the album we are given a live studio version of ‘Three Cord Drinking Song‘ which reminded me of Toby Keith’s ‘Red Solo Cup’.

If you are a hard core “metal is metal only if done this way” person, RKB may not be for you. There is definitely a heavy influence of country throughout the songs. As a fan of old country and western (Think Cash, Jennings, Hank Williams) I liked that the parts the musicians mix with metal are traditional Western sounds. If you are open to stepping outside your metal comfort zone then crack open a cold one and enjoy this great album by some kick ass musicians. Cheers!

Review: DeWolff – Thrust

Mascot Records (May 4th)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

I said to DeWolff vocalist Pablo van de Poel when I interviewed him last month regarding the band’s new album ‘Thrust‘, for some inconceivable reason I’d not come across them before!

Well, after the first play of ‘Thrust’, I promptly went and bought the band’s back catalogue. I guess that is a fairly strong indicator that I kind of liked what I’d heard. I am loving the mainly European bands who are ‘re-visiting’ that Seventies vibe, but also putting their own take on it.

DeWolff are most certainly a band who inject their own DNA into the music. Layers of Hammond organ, a tight bass line and vocals which have a slight psychedelic twist to them. This all adds up to an absolute foot-stomper of an album.

In keeping to the whole Seventies thing, the band recorded the album in analogue at their own purpose built studio. While I’m listening to the advance on streamed audio, you can still detect that all encompassing warmth that comes with that process which of course enhances the music even further.

DeWolff are a band who know what they want out of an album, and deliver that in a straight no nonsense fashion, displaying a maturity to both the song writing and musicianship that bands twice their age don’t always manage.

I’m not going to break the album down track by track, I want you to go out and explore it yourselves, trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed and your volume knob will without a doubt be cranked up a few levels.

Highly recommended.

 

Review: The Dead Daisies – Burn It Down

Spitfire Music (April 2018)

Reviewer: David Mark Pearce

Okay, let’s bake a cake – a “Rock” cake, of course! Let’s see …… as it’s a “Rock” Cake we’ll need some very specific ingredients: a dash of Kiss; a couple of teaspoons of Grand Funk Railroad; some Black Sabbath; a pinch of Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Whitesnake and Motley Crüe, then blend with some Jack Daniels. When the mix is ready, place in the rock ‘n’ roll oven for the last fifty odd years and ta daaaaa – you have yourself the new Dead Daisies album.

It’s now ready to serve so here goes but, wait, it’s so hot when it comes out of the oven that your house goes up in flames. Yes, the tenuous link has arrived, the band did indeed ‘Burn It Down‘ lol. We got there in the end! In a roundabout way, what I’m saying is that this is a band which truly wears every single one of its’ influences on its’ sleeve and when it comes to solo sections in a live setting, they play them in place of just the normal solos one might expect to hear.

I think, though, there are less sing a long choruses and hooks on this album (if compared to their previous one,) but that trade off has been balanced by the heavier direction they’ve taken on this album. Does it deter in any way, I hear you ask? No, not in my opinion. This band is superb and is just a straight ahead, good old fashioned, rock band.

Someone said to me they were just a rich man’s plaything. Well, he may well be indulging himself and employing some of the best musicians around. If I had the money, I would – but, so what. These guys are still putting their respective names to something and you’re only as good as the last thing you do, so I would dismiss that statement as rubbish and ignorant, to a large degree!

Anyway, if I were you, I’d buy your very own slice of The Dead Daisies version of a rock cake and enjoy the new album, as there is plenty on offer to digest!

Review: Michael Schenker Fest, House of Blues, Las Vegas (27 March 2018)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

The last time I saw Michael Schenker was when he supported Black Country Communion at the O2 Academy in Glasgow some years ago. Tonight’s venue is rather more salubrious at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas! Touring to support the new Michael Schenker Fest release with a plethora of vocalists, including the addition of Doogie White. There was no support listed on the evening and we were soon to find out why!

The set opened with Mr Schenker himself introducing the sensational rhythm section of Ted Mc Kenna, Chris Glen and Steve Mann before kicking off with ‘Into the Arena‘. What was clear right from the off is that Michael Schenker and his band were on fire. The first vocalist of the evening was introduced, Mr. Gary Barden. His mini set kicked off with ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie‘. From personal experience this is a difficult song to sing and Mr Barden acquitted himself pretty well. We were then treated to ‘Cry For The Nations‘ and ‘Attack of the Mad Axeman‘ before the first Schenker Fest song of the evening, ‘Messing Around’. Gary’s mini-set closed with ‘Armed and Ready‘. And what a great opening to the set it was too!

The next part of the set was opened up with the Scorpions instrumental ‘Coast to Coast‘ before Graham Bonnet was introduced and duly launched into one of my favourite MSG tracks the ‘Desert Song’. This was quickly followed by ‘Dancer‘, also from ‘Assault Attack‘ where Graham was joined on backing vocals by Gary Barden and Robin McAuley. Next up was ‘Night Moods‘ from the Schenker Fest album and Barden and Mc Auley continued with the backing vocals. We were then treated to ‘Searching For A Reason‘ and ‘Assault Attack‘ bringing Bonnet’s mini-set to a close.

The next part of the show was introduced by another instrumental in the form of ‘Captain Nemo‘ from the ‘Built to Destroy‘ album. Again this instrumental only to served to demonstrate just how good Schenker and the band were. We were then introduced to Robin McAuley properly. I always loved McAuley’s voice from the Grand Prix days and as they launched into ‘Bad Boys‘ it was clear he has lost none of his power, range and tone. He continued in that vein with ‘Save Yourself‘. However, he excelled himself with the outstanding ‘Anytime‘ which had the backing vocals of Messrs Barden, Bonnet and White. The opening song from the Schenker Fest album was next with the band rattling though ‘Heart and Soul‘ joined by the other singers on backing vocals again. The singers hung around for ‘Love Is Not A Game‘ from the ‘Save Yourself‘ album.

Next up was the section featuring Doogie White mostly running through ‘Temple of Rock‘ material starting with the instrumental ‘Searching for Freedom‘ before White joined them for ‘Live and Let Live‘. This was quickly followed by ‘Lords of the Lost and the Lonely‘ and then the excellent ‘Take Me To The Church‘ from the new album and the ‘backing vocalists’ returned. Next up was ‘Before The Devil Knows your Dead‘. I must admit I have never been a fan of the Temple of Rock albums but tonight these songs really rocked and Mr White put in a sterling vocal performance. The rest of the singers joined White for ‘Warriors‘ from the Schenker Fest album. The final song of the set was introduced by Michael talking about UFO’s ‘Strangers In The Night‘ live album and then launching into ‘Rock Bottom‘. Lasting about 18 mins the song again served to highlight just how superb Schenker and the band were with the vocals rotating. The encore started with ‘Doctor, Doctor‘ and Bonnet singing and then rotating round the other vocalists. We were then also treated to ‘Shoot, Shoot‘ sung by McAuley, ‘Natural Thing‘ sung by White and finally ‘Lights Out‘ with the vocalists rotating.

The set lasted approximately 160 mins but seemed to flash by in an instant. The set in effect consisted of five mini-sets broken by clever use of instrumentals and narrative from the Boss of Bass and Michael Schenker. In addition, the vocalists backed each other coming and off stage at appropriate times. This created a real camaraderie on stage. Throw in the fact that it was a killer setlist drawing right across Schenker’s career and some killer vocal performances, this provided a very special show indeed. With the British dates having just been announced, if you are one of the many Schenker aficionados’, you would be a fool to miss it based on this spectacular performance.

 

Review: Stevie Nimmo Trio +1, HRH Blues

Reviewer: Stephen Borkowski

Photo: Stephen Brophy

I think it’s fair to say that one of the many reasons why so many fans trekked to Sheffield for this years HRH Blues was due to the fact that both Nimmo Brothers were appearing on bill with their individual bands.

It strikes me as ironic that individually the brothers have gained the success that they never quite achieved when playing together. It seems that the popularity of King King and the growing reputation of Stevie’s solo band has increased to the point where there is a huge demand for the brothers to tour together again, though it seems unlikely for now as both bands are busy with their own projects.

Sunday evening and the crowd were warmed up having been thoroughly entertained by Ben Poole and were ready for a double dose of Nimmo.

The band are technically called The Stevie Nimmo Trio and Stevie would normally have played guitar and sang, however back in September 2017, he had a cycling accident which left him with a right broken arm so since then they have been billed as Stevie Nimmo Trio +1.

Stevie and his band walked out to a thunderous cheer, Craig ‘Crispy’ Bacon on drums, ‘Dangerous’ Dave Devlin on guitar and new bass player Kelpie McKenzie, who unlike many bassists who stand at the back, holding the groove, Kelpie was throwing shapes and bouncing around with the biggest grin on his face..

The band wasted no time at all and launched into ‘Roll The Dice Again‘ and ‘Still Hungry‘ in quick succession, however there were technical issues with the bass rig and HRH techs rushed on stage to sort the problem while the band played on without the bass.

The problems sorted, Stevie finished the songs and laughed off the ‘Gremlins’ before explaining why he wasn’t playing guitar and explained that while frustrating, had he not have had his accident, the audience would not have had the pleasure of hearing Dave Devlin play and that would have been a shame as Dave was an incredible player and handled Stevie’s songs with ease and added his own flair to the intricate solos.

The set drew mainly from Stevie’s critically acclaimed ‘The Sky Won’t Fall‘ album and many of the audience were very familiar with the material and sang along to tracks ‘Change‘, ‘A Little Lovin’‘, ‘Might Do Us Good‘ and a cover of ‘Going Down‘.

The highlight was when Stevie said that as part of his slow progress on the road to recovery, he was going to borrow Dave’s guitar and play just one song and that could only mean one thing…his cover of The Allman Brothers ‘Gamblers Roll

For the next 7 mins or so the audience were held, everyone taking in every note, the pain on Stevie’s face evident at times alongside happiness to be playing and the determination to show us that he will one day be back playing full time to his usual impeccable standard.

His allotted time came to a close in what seemed like a blink of an eye and he left the stage the way he came on….with a huge smile on his face.

HRH AOR 6 – Day 3 – 10-03-2018

Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli

Review: Stephen Brophy  (SB), Peter Scallan  (PS)

Photography: Stephen Brophy 

It’s always amazing just how damn quickly the AOR weekends pass by, the days seem long while you passing through, but in a blink of an eye it’s all done.

The Radio Sun (Acoustic)   (SB)

Having not only played the Festival 3 years running, but also playing all 3 days this year, with the AfterParty on Thursday, Full Electric show on Friday and rounding things off with another great and very funny Acoustic Set today it has been another massively successful trip for the guys. Gill and Ant have slotted into the band perfectly and seemed to be having a great time over the weekend.

The songs they pick for these acoustic sets always work perfectly and there is always an added bit of on the spot improv that adds to the fun. The set feels like you are in your sitting room with a bunch of friends and someone breaks out a guitar for a sing song, it’s the intimate and if you get the chance go to the next one they do,terrific way to ease us into the day ahead.

Blood Red Saints  (PS)

First band of the day for me was the first act on the main stage. Like yesterday, Blood Red Saints drew a great crowd for being the opening act and fully justified it. In Pete Godfrey they have a vocalist who can give Steve Overland a run for his money.

However, what they also have is the most disarmingly charm front man on the planet and someone who maybe even talks as much as me! I am not sure how much of their slot was spent with him talking but the loud ripples of laughter that rang round the hall ensured it was an integral part of the act.

Despite a few technical issues with guitars, the set was an absolute triumph in terms of the quality of songs. Drawing from both albums, the two-guitar line-up works a treat. There was even an impromptu version of Take That’s Back for Good while the guitar issues were sorted. The music brought the smiles, the chat brought the laughs. Game over I thought, glad I am not following them! My only question would be why these guys were on first before Joanovarc, especially if Daylight Robbery could be third on the main stage the previous day.

JoanOvArc  (SB)

At any Festival there are always a band or two that just don’t grab you, for whatever reason, and today this happened with me and JoanOvArc, the four piece female heavy rock band just didn’t do anything for me on the day I’m afraid, and like my colleague Peter I was surprised they were a slot up on the bill ahead of Blood Red Saints.

There were definitely putting everything into the set, it just wasn’t gelling for me, but that’s not to say there weren’t people up the front that weren’t really enjoying the set, for me perhaps next time it will all click into place.

Hand Of Dimes  (PS)

Never Heard Hand of Dimes but I did know of Neville Mc Donald’s vocal prowess from his time in Skin. I convinced some of my fellow entourage to go along and nobody was disappointed. This band can rock alright but there is also a lot more besides in terms of the blues and soul influences.

Nev McDonald should be a household name with a voice like his. The hall was absolutely rammed for the middle of the day which in some part was due to Nev being Welsh, but mostly to do with his awesome voice and superb band.

Guitarist Colin Edward’s provided a master class in old school playing which was a joy to behold and former sparring partner from Skin, Andy Robbins didn’t look any different to the last time I saw him play bass with Skin years ago. The band went down a storm and solidified that with the last song being Skin’s House of Love. Su-perb!

Chasing Dragons  (SB)

Of all the bands on this weekend, and having seen them before at other Festivals, Chasing Dragons were perhaps the most out of place, not that I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing them again, as I really was, but musically they definitely have the ability to play on a completely different level of heaviness to everyone else.

Naturally the guys just grabbed the assembled crowd by the throat and dragged them into the set, it’s a great skill to be able to draw a crowd into what you do, especially when that crowd does not necessarily believe they want to go there. Powerful set, in Tank one of the best frontwomen in the business at the moment and a lot of interaction with the crowd all adds up one of the highlights on the 2nd Stage. A touch of sadness as it is guitarist Mitch’s last show with the band after 7 years, but this was a great send off and as Tank joins the crowd on the barrier you feel the intimate surroundings become even more so, great set.

Little Caesar   (SB)

A band that I’ve wanted to see live for a number of years, but just not been able to get to see, Little Caesar play Rock ‘n’ Roll, no apologies, no bullshit, and in Ron Young have a great front-man who commands the stage. The appreciation that the band show towards the crowd throughout the set is great to see, truly honoured to be appearing at the festival and clearly delighted with the reaction they are getting, it warms the heart.

The bands set seems to race by, which is both an indication of how enjoyable it is and sad as it goes by too quickly, but there is great energy coming from the stage, not necessarily because the band are jumping all over the place, although Loren rarely stands still, they just put the crowd at ease. Buzzsaw guitars from Loren and Mark and hard edged vocals from Ron are the order of the day and it really suits this bands delivery, they are so tight and a pleasure to watch, “Real Rock Drive” from the Redemption album is probably my highlight, nice visuals on screen too, and the band also introduce some new music from their brand new album Eight, a very successful set.

Midnite City  (PS)

I caught the first few songs of Little Caeser’s set before heading over to the second stage to see Midnite City. Only heard a couple of songs from the album but they are another band clearly doing something right as this was the busiest I had seen the second hall all weekend. The guys have a neat line in big hooks and lightweight rock. The crowd were clearly into it and even singing along to some of the songs.

The band was pretty slick musically but with the glam image they maybe need to be showboating a little more. I enjoyed what I heard and did wonder why these guys weren’t on the main stage, possibly opening up proceedings. Having said, it was a bit lightweight for my taste and I headed back over to catch the end of Little Caeser’s set.

Enuff Z’nuff   (SB)

Always knew this was going to be a bit of a Marmite set for people at HRH AOR, the band are certainly much more in the Sleaze side of the street, but it worked for me. Containing only one original member these days in Chip Z’nuff (who has now taken over vocal duties too) the band push through a set made up of their greatest hits.

Some of the between song banter would certainly not be to everyone’s taste, and I could understand it putting off some in the crowd, but when they hit songs like “Fly High Michelle” it’s just brilliant, and Chip’s delivery works pretty damn well, ok he’s not Donnie, but he can deliver the songs as they were meant to be, and backed with an excellent band including former Ultravox man Tony Fenelle, it may not have worked for everyone and personally I think better suited to the Sleaze event, but very enjoyable set for me.

Last Great Dreamers & SIN  (SB)

Managed to catch part of both sets and actually enjoyed what I heard from both, Last Great Dreamers returning from last year and filling a slot from a band that pulled out had a very decent sized crowd on the 2nd Stage as did SIN, who I only managed to catch the last couple of songs of. Will look forward to hopefully catching both again full sets on another occasion, you can’t catch full sets from everyone at Festivals unfortunately.

DARE   (PS)

My last band of the weekend was Dare. They mix Celtic influenced rock and AOR drawing a quite substantial back catalogue and always put a good show. The Thin Lizzy references always get a good cheer but the early songs always get the biggest roar.

As stated previously, I have never been a huge fan of Dare but have grown to like them over the years with Darren’s mellow voice and Vinny Burn’s fine guitar playing. The performance is always polished and slick but tonight it just didn’t do it for me, which is wholly due to the fact this is the third time I have seen in five months, having already saw them at Rockingham and Winterstorm. Having said that, it won’t put me off going to see them with FM on the up and coming tour! Bring it on!

The Quireboys   (SB)

There had been a lot of talk before the Festival about who was going to step into this particular spot on the Main Stage, but as usual The Quireboys put on yet another really entertaining set, the band do what they do, Spike managed to be very mobile considering his left foot was still in a boot cast, and although at times it wasn’t all that easy to understand the between song banter they nailed it.

Whenever this band breaks out tracks like “I Don’t Love You Anymore”, “Tramps And Thieves” and the “7 O’Clock” it’s just going to be a damn fun set, the latter being one of the ultimate party songs of the weekend, for me any band that steps up to fill a Festival slot last minute deserves a lot of respect, the band are as always top notch, always love watching Paul and Guy playing, Keith’s keyboards tie everything together and Spike is an enigmatic frontman, he always looks the part and always manages to pump out the songs people want to hear. Fun set as always and seemed to be once again really well received by the crowd.

Silent Victory   (SB)

Not a band I know much about, but managed to catch some of their set on the 2nd Stage, which wasn’t empty, but they were always going to struggle going up against Skid Row. Still I, along with the other in attendance were enjoying what they were playing and would have liked to have heard more from them, perhaps next time.

Skid Row   (SB)

Having been a few years since I had last seen Skid Row it was going to be very interesting to see how the guys sounded and were holding up. Last time I saw them live was coincidentally at HRH AOR 1 in the Magna Center, and to be honest it just wasn’t working for me, the vocals were too harsh for the music, now we have former Dragonforce front-man ZP Theart taking up what has been a bit of a poison chalice over the years, and for me he did a really good job, there were some times towards the end of the set that he seemed to be stretched a little, but overall the delivery was really good, and he certainly puts a tonne of energy into the performance.

The dominant figure for me is still Rachel Bolan, poweful and in your face bass player, he always stands out in the crowd, but ZP gives him a run for his money with great energy. This time around the songs sound much more like they should and the crowd is in agreement as the hall is packed and the reaction is at times just wonderful to be a part of.

The setlist is definitely a Greatest Hits and more affair, kicking off with “Slave To The Grind” and “Piece Of Me” in the first three slots is a great move and has the crowd buzzing, it’s sounding how they should and proving why they deserve the slot they have, powering through “Makin’ A Mess”, “Monkey Business” and a few of the newer tracks, once they hit the last few tracks they already own the venue, “I Remember You” sounds slightly strained, but still works and when it comes time to end the set and they launch into a killer version of “Youth Gone Wild” the place is hoping and the crowd singing along is brilliant to hear.

Whatever this band does there’s always going to be calls from certain quarters to have Bach return to the fold, but people his voice isn’t what it once was, that’s the past and go check them out now, ZP does a really good job, Sabo, Bolan and Hill are still the spine of this band and will continue to be, for those of us living in the now it’s a really good performance and a fun way to finish what’s been another great Festival, roll on HRH AOR 7 which I’m certain will be another great weekend with top notch Rock ‘n’ Roll bands.

Maverick – Limelight2, Belfast– 30-03-2018

Review: Stephen Brophy

Photography: Stephen Brophy 

On a very wet and windy Good Friday in Dublin I headed North to Belfast where the weather was actually better and the locals were gathering to attend the launch of the excellent brand new Maverick album ‘Cold Star Dancer‘. Having been lucky enough to review the album for Rockposer Dot Com,  it is not a surprise that I have been really looking forward to this show since it was announced.

Opening up proceedings tonight are So Long Until The Séance (S.L.U.T.S.) who I hadn’t managed to catch until now and it was definitely a positive experience, these guys pump out an interesting groove.

There is definitely a distinctive look about them, which all goes to the theatrical side of the band. Having recently supported Michale Graves, the guys look really up for this, and by all accounts that time on tour has done them the world of good, I would have liked the clean vocals to be a little cleaner in the mix, but full effort is being put in and it’s a really enjoyable and very different set to the one we are about to get from Maverick.

Nice to have these guys on my radar now, will definitely keep an eye out for them on future shows, great way to start the night.

The crowd is pumped when Maverick hit the stage, and that just builds as the Intro from the new album ‘Dusk‘ echos around the venue and the guys take to the stage. There’s that feeling something special is about to kick off, and it is, having seen the band many times over the last few years this is without doubt the best they have sounded. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a performance without the odd error, but that’s the essence of live shows, any band starting a song again after a few seconds can often interject a moment of levity, a closer interaction with the audience, just something that breaks the building tension. There are a couple of moments like this tonight, but it certainly doesn’t take away from the quality of the show.

There is an added bonus tonight when original guitarist Chris Van Engelen joins the guys on stage for a song he co-wrote ‘Got It Bad‘ which is a cracker of a rousing rock song, it’s got one of those riffs that ear-worms it’s way into your brain, like so many tracks tonight it’s just great live, this band are just so much fun, it’s hard stay still when they put the hammer down.

Musically they are tighter than ever, Ryan’s guitar tone in particular is wonderful all through the set, but everything sounds big, when trying to explain to a friend after the show it was very difficult to phrase it correctly, it’s not that they are louder, although they are a little heavier that’s not it, but the sound is just bigger, it’s the sound of a more mature band, and it’s a transition from a band with a lot of potential to one that is now fulfilling that potential. OK this may be sound like big talk for a band launching their latest album in their home town, but that’s how big this release and progression is. Steve Moore’s addition to the ranks cannot be underestimated, bringing a range of experience and talent to the live shows, Richie and Jonathan are just so damn solid, this is a band continuing their rise upwards, tonight we get almost all of the new album, and it sounds bloody awesome live, yes I would have loved to have heard their cover of ‘Jessie’s Girl‘ in the set as it’s a cracking cover, but that would have just been an added bonus, not that we are missing out on something.

From the newer tracks on show tonight it’s wonderful to hear ‘Magellan Rise‘, David didn’t need to tell us it’s the bands attempt/version/tribute to Queensryche, it’s bizarre, after the intro I’m fully expecting to hear lyrics from ‘The Mission’ off Operation Mindcrime, after it’s intro and almost spoken word first verse, but it’s such a different track, I’m loving this song but it is very different, David’s vocals are brilliant, I think he needs to get used to singing on longer headline sets, but when he really lets go tonight it’s terrific. The problem they are going to have is pleasing everyone with setlists, they have a tonne of really upbeat rockers that leave little to no breaks, but as every they just get on with things and tonight is all about the band, the fans and airing these songs that many have yet to hear, remember the album has yet to hit the streets, but from the great reaction to the first singles and all of the excellent album reviews I honestly hope this album gets heard far and wide, it is even more impressive live. For me this is the best sounding I’ve heard the band, can imagine they are going to blow some bigger bands away on Festival stages around Europe with these songs.

There really is no other way to end such a cracking set other than with ‘In Our Blood’, a rousing anthemic track that just demands singing along and fists in the air, and the crowd duly oblige. The place is absolutely hoping during this powerhouse finale, Maverick have really been on fire tonight and the smiles on all of their faces as the final notes ring out, tonight has been a massive success. When they get out on Tour anywhere near you go and check them out, on the bus ride back to Dublin there is no napping, just conversation about the show and the songs still ringing loud in our ears.

Setlist –

Dusk

Cold Star Dancer

Ex Machina

Mademoiselle

Got It Bad (feat Chris Von Englen)

Viper

Seize The Day

Magellan Rise

The One

Kiss Of Fire

Forever

Myrmidon

Goodbye

Devil’s Night

Event Horizon

All For One

Whiskey Lover

Asylum

In Our Blood

Review: Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black

AFM Records (23 February 2018)

Reviewer: Simone – The Metal Mistress

Until I reviewed their second album, I was unfamiliar with the Brazilian power metal band, Armored Dawn.  I so hate labeling music instead of letting it stand on its own, but must I say this was a first for me -South American Viking metal – I found it engaging and solid.  Viking Metal, while enjoyable, has become a parody unto itself.  Therefore, I hate to pigeonhole a band as such, especially since there are so many Amon Amarth wanna-be’s popping up in recent years. I do not get that from Armored Dawn.

To educate myself on Armored Dawn, I watched their YouTube videos. Yes my first view of the band lead me to believe I was going to be listening to old style heavy metal. Never judge a band by its album cover! Armored Dawn gave me a good solid, modern power metal album. Not an earth shattering one but one you would put on and rock out to feeling good.

While they are heavily influenced by Nordic mythology (just watch some of their videos on YouTube), their music is strong, well orchestrated and catchy.

The initial track ‘Dragons‘ feels like a call to arms. Arm yourselves, as we are about to go into battle. The opening with the piano lulls you into thinking this will be a calm, hard rock song but then the guitars join in with a speed riff and off we go to war. While listening to ‘Bloodstone‘ and ‘Chance‘ I caught myself toe tapping and head bobbing.  ‘Chance‘ really brings Rafael’s drums to the forefront and grabs your attention. There is a tribal element that gets your blood pumped for a fight.

Odin‘ showcases the instruments over the vocals with a wonderful guitar solo. It is a good solid song but doesn’t rip my heart out.  The romantic song ‘Sail Away‘ shows Eduardo’s vocal range. Here he provides us with a great baritone. This song is another one I truly enjoyed. If you are one who grew up with each metal album having at least one ballad, this will fill that need in you.

Eduardo continues to show his vocal prowess going from his smooth baritone to a deep guttural growl on ‘Behind‘.  ‘Behind‘” feels like a pause in the battle. The soldiers are regrouping while the monks bless them and the next wave of the battle. With the chanting, I can even smell the myrrh burning! [or is that just a memory from my high school pothead days enjoying the music?] 🙂

Gods of Metal‘ is the one song I had an issue with, most likely due to the title being a bit pretentious. The lyrics read like a high school football team fight song. While a very testosterone laden song, it does have good crunch. ‘Barbarians‘ is the final skirmish in the battle. The fight is drawing to a close but it still must go on. This track sums up all the others combining power, speed and symphonic into one final clash.

Some have said that there is nothing new or innovative about this album.  At times, metalheads can dissect the music we love far too much. ‘Barbarians in Black‘ is a good second album for Armored Dawn. It may not be cutting edge. I wouldn’t call it innovative. To me, it rehashes some old tricks and stays middle of the road metal. That said, I still enjoyed this album very much. The keyboardist, Rafael, provides us with an intense style and unusual methods. It is a fun album with loads of heart and energy behind it. The musicians are very skilled even if you do not feel they take many chances with their riffs and chords. Yes, it is riff heavy, but it is balanced out with excellent drums and keys. While Eduardo’s vocals will not make you weep with emotion, they are effective for good power metal. Armored Dawn successfully combines power metal with an element of speed and symphonic.

In a nutshell, the whole album is presented as a war cry to metalheads!

Take it as such, rock out and screw the analyzing!

Review: Madam X – Monstrocity

Ellefson Music Production (March 1st 2018)

Reviewer: Simone – The Metal Mistress

The long-awaited sophomore album from Madame X has finally arrived.  With the original line up reunited for this long-awaited production, old fans will not be disappointed and new ones will be extremely surprised.

And if you expected a nice, traditional 80s hard rock return to their roots for this album, don’t! Madame X kicks us in the ass from the first song – ‘Resurrection‘ – and keeps going to the final track.  30 years has been good to these musicians, providing a keen knowledge of what they desire on each track and seasoning their skills.

Throughout the album, Bret’s vocals are strong, flowing smoothly in transition from growl as in ‘Rise‘ to more retro metal like ‘Good Stuff‘. His ability to move from style to style is to be commended. I am a huge fan of Roxie’s drumming but was unfamiliar with her sister, Maxine and her guitar playing. To say what a huge surprise is an understatement.  If you are a prior fan you will not be disappointed. If you are new to Madame X, you will be very surprised with the modern sound of this supposedly 80’s glam band.

The intro track, ‘Monstrocity‘ provides us with the message that “We are back and here to kick ass” –not just repeat. Its new, hard and fresh – not a rehash of traditional 80’s sounds. ‘Nitrous‘ harkens back to head banging Madame X with a retro sound to Bret’s vocals. This song starts the energy flowing that stays throughout the album. One thing I enjoyed about this long-awaited album is the diversity. You can hear in the quality of mixing and playing how much heart went into producing this album. Well thought out, each song is strong, well formatted and catchy. ‘Freak‘ gives us a jazzy intro then flows a nu-metal mix with strong balance between bass and guitar.  There is a hint of circus melody throughout. Ladies take the lead in the singing here. To me, ‘Freak’ could possibly be the anthem of the album.

Die Trying‘ and ‘Hello Cleveland‘ give past fans the sound they love from the 80’s. A return to the classic hard rock with simple, clean instruments and lots of 80’s method singing (ooohs, Yeahs, ahhhs). ‘Detroit Black‘ makes it clear where Madame X has their roots: Midwest, USA. This song is pure Detroit rock – no L.A. fluff here.  It screams balls, teeth and strength. Maxine gives us a good old heavy metal guitar solo in the middle. Godzilla (Chris) busts it out here providing a deep grunge tone to what I consider the best song on the album. ‘Wish You Away‘ is the album’s ballad. It has the traditional slow metal chords we all love from the 80s. However, it’s the type of ballad in which the singer is lamenting the end of a bad relationship – similar in vein to Guns and Roses ‘I Use To Love Her’. There is a great guitar riff in the middle by Maxine.

High in High School‘ is a re-mastering of the band’s original hit. And for fans of the original, this version will not disappoint. A bit more mature, a bit more graveling with some fantastic short riffs by Maxine throughout leading to a kick ass speed one towards end. If you don’t like this version, I would still listen simply for her guitar work. ‘Bride of Frankenstein‘ is my kind of song, Gothic, dark with deep, heavy vocals. And I love that the last thing I heard on the album is the phrase: ‘Holy Shit’.

What I loved about this album is that no matter what type of metal you like, you can find something on this album you will like. Each song stands alone yet they are not disjointed when listening to the album as a whole. Michael Wagener and Mark Slaughter have done fantastic jobs on mixing. It takes mega balls to release your second album 30 years after the first, so have some as well and give this great hard rock album a listen. You won’t regret it.