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: 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.

 

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.

HRH AOR 6 – Day 2 – 09-03-2018

Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli

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

Photography : Stephen Brophy 

After an exhilarating opening night we move onto the first full Day of the Festival with an extremely busy lineup there was a lot to get through.

The day begins with some short Acoustic sets for VIP/Royalty attendees down beside the Media Area, which I was unfortunately unable to attend, then followed by a full day on both stages.

The King Lot   (PS)

The first day was being kicked off by Glasgow’s The King Lot. Again, with these guys, I haven’t heard any of their recorded output. However, I was impressed with them at Winterstorm last year and wanted to make sure I checked them out again. While hardly being an AOR band, they ply a brand of muscular melodic hard rock that I find very appealing. They rattled through their set of with some huge razor sharp guitar riffs and even bigger choruses.

They are a three piece with bassist Jason Sweeney picking up lead vocals ably backed by the other two. The great lead vocals were matched by a band tighter than Rob Evan’s wallet! I have heard these guys compared to Gun due to strong hooks in the chorus but they reminded me a little of Kings X at their melodic best.

They are clearly doing something right as the main hall was very busy for an opening act and they went down a storm and the hall emptied considerably for the next act.

CRUZH   (SB)

Swedish Rockers CRUZH take to the stage looking like they mean business, having seen them in the UK last year I knew they were itching for a chance to show what they can do again. and they push hard from the start. Fronted by Philip Lindstrand the guys look a little more sleazy than they actually are. Damn can he belt out the high notes, and although I still find it slightly odd that Tony (who sang on the album) didn’t take up the vocal duties as he also has a great voice, it all seems to be gelling nicely now, Dennis (Bass) has a larger than life stage persona and it’s very difficult to take your eyes off him as he commands attention, great to watch.

This is a band with a lot of talent and really look forward to seeing where they take their music next. Highlight`s today for me are ‘In And Out Of Love‘ and ‘First Cruzh‘, These guys will no doubt be back soon with some new tunes.

COP UK   (SB)

Terrific set, COP UK are visually brilliant, another high energy performance, as I’d expect from Dale and whoever else plays in this band. They just draw the audience into their performance. And a very healthy audience it is at the 2nd Stage, even though we are approaching evening time and bellies were no doubt starting to rumble. Crimes Of Passion for me have always sat on the boundaries between Melodic Rock and Melodic Metal, and they have released some cracking albums, as with many festivals they have limited time for their set today and personally I’m sad not to hear ‘Kiss Of An Angel‘ in the set, but that’s just because it’s a great song, but there’s plenty more on offer today. ‘Lover Is To Die For‘ is great and ‘Catch Me If You Can‘ sounded great, it’s a pacy and punchy rocker, lots of fun in the eight tracks on offer and Dale the showman thrives when you put him on a stage in front of a crowd.

Have always felt they are an underrated band, and judging by the comments of some people wandering into the 2nd Stage area this set has gone down very well. Also thrown in is a cracking version of Journey’s ‘Separate Ways‘, great to see them again and hope they added some new fans to the club this weekend.

Daylight Robbery   (PS)

Next up for me was Daylight Robbery. Last time I saw these guys was in 2013 at the inaugural HRH AOR. However, since then and the album released in the same year, I am not aware of them having done anything. I thought, it was a strange decision having them on third on the bill and clearly the punters thought so too as the hall emptied considerably.

The guys have some good material and Tony Nicholl has a great voice and they have a great guitarist in Mark Carleton. However, whilst tight and fairly polished their set left me a little underwhelmed. For me there was just something missing which is possibly due to lack of gig time and there was no discernible improvement since 2013. The crowd they drew appreciated them regardless, so what do I know!

Iconic Eye   (SB)

Had been really looking forward to seeing Iconic Eye again, with the band now fronted by Jane Gould and liking what I’d heard to date of the recorded material with her, and they did not disappoint. Jane’s vocals are excellent throughout, Greg (Guitar) is the keystone that everything is built on, Mike (Bass) and new drummer Jon are really solid already and then there’s the energy ball that is Robin Mitchard (Lead Guitar) who not only plays great but is a visual dynamo, great to watch, this lineup of the band is working so well together and you can feel it from the crowd.

This is one of the bigger crowds that I saw on the 2nd Stage over the weekend, and they were duly entertained. The beautiful and very personal ‘Black Country Lady‘ spotlights Jane’s vocals and it definitely tugs at the heart, the tracks from last years ‘Into The Light‘ release all cane across really well and look forward to catching them properly again soon.

Jac Dalton   (SB)

Having heard quite a lot about of Jac Dalton in recent years It was a pleasant surprise to see him on the lineup for HRH AOR this year, especially having liked the ‘Icarus‘ album, but it was the title track from the previous album ‘Powderkeg‘ that really kicked things off nicely for this set, cracking song, the band were really up for the show and they play no apologies Rock, have to say ‘Powderkeg‘ is the standout for me alongside the kicking closer ‘Locked Crocked‘ , but it’s a really good set all around.

The band sounded really tight and worked very well with each other around Jac, who commanded center stage like great boxer. This set may well have pushed a number of people to go check out Jac Dalton, and he would be another welcome return visitor at some point.

The Radio Sun   (SB)

What can you say about this band that we haven’t already said the last couple of years, what a wonderful bunch of guys, still with the most amazing Harmonies, they love being on that stage and truly appreciate their audience and anything they get back with regards a positive reaction. To be honest I think they would stay up there all day and night if they were allowed. This evenings set is introducing people to some of the songs from last years ‘Unstoppable‘ album along with what have now become classics. Of course alongside the music the onstage banter has been great entertainment for HRH AOR audiences, Jason Old and Steve Janevski have a brilliant chemistry alongside their undoubted talent as musicians. Although it was sad to say goodbye to Rob and Ben this year we welcome Ant (Bass) and Gill (Drums) to the band and they have fitted in so well in a relatively short space of time.

This year I had promised to be more focused when I got into the Pit to shoot the guys, but just like last year involuntarily I started singing while I was shooting, but I did try not to, just can’t help it love their music and sound, with tracks like ‘Tell Me What You Want‘ kicking things off honestly I stood no chance, it’s so upbeat and demands you sing along to it, this band could bring a smile to Darth Vaders face, there is so much to enjoy, whether it’s Steve’s screaming solos, Jase’s cheeky delivery or those stunning harmonies, truthfully it is the repeat band I never mind being added to the bill each year, they are a joy to see, to shoot and to meet.

 

The new tracks blend in well and ‘You’ve Got The Touch‘ even though it’s a slightly slower pace but again those bloody harmonies are sublime. It may be obvious how much I love these band, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great, the set is well balanced, but somethings you just gravitate towards the faster more upbeat tracks, and the end of the set is blinding, ‘World’s Gone Crazy‘, ‘Broken‘ and then into their wonderful cover of Andy Taylor’s ‘I Might Lie‘ leads into a blistering version of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head‘, brilliant set – roll on their next visit. 

Aaron Buchanan And The Cult Classics   (PS)

My main question for the next act I was reviewing was basically who the hell are you? Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics – sounds like a tribute band. Right from the off it was clear they were another of the bands that in no way shape or form fit into the AOR category. However, what a find they were. Playing raunchy, grungy, melodic rifftastic songs, Mr Buchanan got frontman of the weekend from me. Strutting his stuff like a manic cross between Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and Wilko Johnson he commanded the stage with great energy and comfort.

 

And even better he has a great set of pipes on him. Covering most of the stage and a fair bit of the front of the audience with his crowd surfing including hand-stands during the crowd surf, he was a revelation. The band just let him get on with it and cranked out some great songs and I will have to research these guys some more. Surprise band of the weekend, even if not fitting the genre!

BulletBoys   (SB)

Some bands just show up at Festivals, play their set and disappear off into the darkness, that’s not how the BulletBoys do things, they absolutely smashed it right out of the gate, this is how to attack your set, just powerful and a great attitude, still think the band are more suited to Sleaze/Glam, but they were determined to make a stamp on AOR. Marq Torien is a great frontman, bursting with energy and just the right level of theatrics to bring a show alive, and he’s ably helped by the equally enthusiastic band, from jumping in unison to bounding around the stage and all to a soundtrack born in smoke filled venues on Sunset Boulevard.

But lets not do this band a disservice, they are a damn fine Rock ‘n’ Roll band and Marq has managed to avoid the ravages of time that have hit many of his peers, he sounded great throughout, Chad MacDonald is a beast of a Bass player and fits the part so damn easily, along with Anthony Tiny Biuso cutting an imposing figure behind the kit and Nick Rozz guitar this is very much a band living in the here and now, the title track from the new album ‘From Out Of The Skies‘ sounded great and went over well with the crowd. BulletBoys are another very visual band to watch and they are very polished with it, pure entertainment.

The only downpoint for me in the performance was having a drum solo included in what is a relatively short set, should really be a track there for the fans and would have kept high pace up for the whole set. But at the end of the day it’s a minor enough quibble, ‘Smooth Up In Ya‘ was a hell of a way to finish off, really got everyone up on their feet and it’s a cracker of a song anyway. The guys looked like they were having a brilliant time playing and hopefully with this reaction and the rest of the UK dates following the festival we will see them back again soon, Friday evening is turning out to be an absolute cracker.

Lawless   (SB)

Didn’t have time to catch the full set of Lawless, but what I did see was very good and I’ve always enjoyed Paul Hume taking the front man mantle and the band always put on a good performance, tonight Paul is concentrating on vocal duties and Jamie Crees is the 2nd guitarist. The majority of the set is made up from tracks from their debut album alongside ‘1914 (Ghosts Of No Man’s Land)‘ from 2014’s ‘R.I.S.E.‘ album, and one new track ‘Hour By Hour‘, which although I enjoyed it for me threw the balance of the set off a little. It’s probably more suited to an AOR Festival, but it’s very much a different sound to their previous material.

Looking forward to hearing more from the new album. Either way this was another really good set and for those that managed to make a trip across to the second stage while Night Ranger were blowing away the main stage it was well worth it, and those assembled were definitely enjoying what they heard, as always Paul and the band were very appreciative of those that showed up and the reaction they received, hopefully next time around they won’t have such a horrific clash.

Night Ranger   (PS)

Ah – the reason I am here and many others it seemed. Night Ranger! They kept us waiting coming on about a quarter of hour late, but it was worth it! Saw these guys three time in the last six years and was fortunate enough to see them in 1986 supporting Foreigner. While like many bands of their pedigree they have some non-negotiable songs in their set, the set has been quite different each gig I have attended in the last six years.

They mix in some newer songs from the last couple of albums seamlessly with classics from the first five albums. These included rare outings for ‘7 Wishes‘ and ‘Night Ranger‘. The energy, showmanship and musicianship on show is quite spectacular. In newer guitarist Kerri Kelly they have found the perfect foil for Brad Gillis and the interplay between them is sublime in places.

Add to that the superb backing vocals and you have a perfect closing for any rock festival. They even managed to squeeze a little of Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star‘ into ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me‘ before closing with ‘Sister Christian‘ and ‘You Can Still Rock In America‘.

Stunning, and worth the trip on their own.

 

 

 

HRH AOR 6 – Day 1 – 08-03-2018

Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli

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

Photography : Stephen Brophy 

The beginning of March always means the annual trip to North Wales for the HRH AOR Festival, so an excited Rockposer Dot Com Team begins the pilgrimage from Ireland and Scotland at an ungodly hour on a Thursday morning. Sleep and comfort are pretty irrelevant over a Festival weekend, the important things are the music and the people.

The first night of the Festival is a thank you to the VIP ticket holders and features a shortened lineup and just an evening setup on the Main Arena Stage. This year sees four Artists that are familiar to all, taking up the baton this year – Dante Fox, Newman, Eclipse and the legend that is Joe Lynn Turner.

Dante Fox  (SB)

To open up any Festival can be a daunting enough task and that’s irrelevant of your level of experience, in many ways you are the test bed for sound and lights Dante Fox took to the stage and looked eager to get everyone smiling and off to a great start. It has to be said that there were some issues with the sound to begin with, certainly too loud with everything becoming a little distorted, but that didn’t seem to stop anyone enjoying the bands set, which is a mix of songs from 2016’s ‘Breathless‘ album, the title track was worth the admission fee on its own, and also including some of the reworkings from last year’s ‘Six String Revolver‘.

Always a pleasure to watch Tim Manford play, clearly loves what he does and always has a great tone. Another highlight is ‘Firing My Heart‘ which is always a song that picks everything up, and this is a really nice way to start the Festival and Sue, Tim, Alan and Scott as always put in the maximum effort.

Newman  (PS)

I missed Dante Fox due to lack of hot water and electricity in my caravan but got there in time for Newman. Considering my AOR connections, I really should know more about these guys but I don’t! They have released 11 albums in 20 years but I have only heard the odd track.

Fronted by guitarist/singer Steve Newman the band were one of the few on the weekend bill I would genuinely tag as AOR. They sounded pretty tight and musically adept but the mix let them down a little. Having heard some stuff before, I know Steve is a pretty good guitarist but he was focusing purely on vocals tonight and they occasionally let the side down, especially on the higher notes which can be difficult to hit if the onstage sound is poor. None the less the crowd certainly enjoyed their set.

Eclipse  (SB)

Over the last few years Sweden’s Eclipse have steadily built on a growing reputation as one of the best live bands on the Melodic Rock scene, always brimming with positive energy power and no shortage of talent. Having released one of the top Melodic Rock albums of 2017 in ‘Monumentum‘, a lot of people were interested to see how those new songs would work live.

Right from the moment Erik bounds onto the stage there are no doubts about what’s to come and one of those new tracks ‘Vertigo‘ blasts off getting the crowd into the mood from the start. This evening we are treated to tracks from the last 3 excellent releases and why not, it’s hard to go wrong, but it’s not easy to pick highlights from a set full of highlights, every time you see them something has improved with Eclipse, because they are playing more the interaction with the audience is definitely better.

This is certainly one of the performances of the weekend for me, it’s great to hear the crowd singing along to an epic version of ‘Battlegrounds‘, or the way they place ‘Live Like I’m Dying Every Day‘ to vary the pace and balance things out, but this band are at their very best for me when they are at full pace, ‘Bleed And Scream‘ and ‘Never Look Back‘ fly past all too quickly, but as I scan the crowd as we go along more fists are raised, more people are singing and there is that big of a special feeling, if they continue as they are going Eclipse will be headlining these Festivals soon, as if they needed any more Philip Crusner (Drums) has pumped the guys up even more and added even more fire and passion, this band is brilliant to watch as always.

Joe Lynn Turner  (PS)

Joe Lynn Tuner needs no introduction and not surprisingly he drew heavily on his Rainbow days for this AOR set. His band was superb and provide a very early Rainbow/Deep Purple backdrop for Turner to weave his magic. With two songs from ‘Bent of Shape‘ and the hit singles from the other Rainbow albums it was a safe set, with some calling it boring, but not in my opinion.

 

He also touched on his Malmsteen era but I was disappointed he didn’t do ‘Heaven Tonight‘. However, the highlight for me was the inclusion of ‘Endlessly‘ from his first post-Rainbow album ‘Rescue You‘. It was a genuine moment of AOR bliss for me. Finally, in addition to his own Rainbow career he dedicated a version of ‘Long Live Rock’n’Roll‘ to Ronnie James Dio. While the band eased through the song, it didn’t really work for JLT in my opinion. None the less, a great closing set for the first night.

 

Great start to the weekend, as always HRH AOR isn’t just about the bands you see on the stage, but also the friends old and new you meet around the venues, and Thursday night you can’t move but to bump into someone, friends or band members, the atmosphere is great and there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had at Hafan Y Mor over this weekend.

Review: Hard Rock Hell XI

Hafan-Y-Mor, Pwhelli 9-11 November 2017

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

I have regularly attended the HRH AOR events since they started, but this was my first time at the main HRH event of the year. Personally speaking, the bill for this event was actually more appealing than the last HRH AOR event in March and the forthcoming event and I was very much looking forward to it!

Day 1 – Thursday 9 November 2017

The first day isn’t a full day but did consist of six bands. However, with travel and getting settled into the accommodation, I only managed to catch four of the bands. The first of these was Killcode, a five-piece hailing from New York. They have been described as southern-infused rock/metal with a modern vocal twist. I found them more grunge than anything else but musically very good at what they did. Vocally, I found Tom Morrissey’s voice limited in terms of range and feeling but he was an excellent frontman. While they didn’t really do it for me, they did get a reasonable reaction from the crowd. They were quickly followed by Back Aces. These guys are another AC/DC-inspired Aussie band. Based on the evidence of this performance I would say they are more of an original tribute act. They even covered Rock’n’Roll Damnation in their set. They also covered The Rolling Stones song Happy and didn’t really do it justice. They were totally uninspiring for me and not main stage material in my opinion, but seemed to go down reasonably well.

Killcode – photo credit: Sean Larkin

Next up was Wayward Sons, Toby Jepson’s new band. I was never a fan of Little Angels or even that keen on him during his stint in Gun, so it was going to be interesting to see him with his new band. Drawing from their debut album, they are quite a different prospect live from Little Angels. They were tight but at the same time raunchy and very loud! Extremely good at what they do, some of the songs sounded like Jepson was drawing on his Gun experience with Gun-like riffs in some of the songs. The band delivered a great set, despite Jepson’s amp blowing and getting what appeared to be a bit of strop, launching his guitar at his guitar tech. Ironically it was a Flying V – or maybe he was just being rock’n’roll! These guys went down a storm with the crowd, but did little to change my mind about Toby Jepson.

Headlining on the Thursday night was Dee Snider. Using George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone as an intro when Dee hit the stage he looked lean, mean and keen to get right on with it and that is exactly what he did! Quite amazing as he told the crowd his elderly mother had been involved in an accident and was seriously ill back in the US. With his four piece band he rattled through a mix of his solo material from his latest album and classic Twisted Sister numbers and brought the day to an energetic close. This is more than can be said for myself as I had been on the go for 18 hours straight – I would like to tap into some of his energy!

Dee Snyder – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

Day 2 – Friday 10 November 2017

The second day was off to a sluggish start as I caught up from the previous long day. In the main arena the first band I caught up with was Syteria. Got to say I was a bit at a loss as to how this mainly female-fronted band managed to get on to the main stage. I found them poor vocally and musically, although they did look the part with their glam/sleaze image. Quite possibly I am doing them a disservice as maybe they were on the wrong bill and may be better suited HRH Sleaze or Glam. Next up was a band I had never heard of in The Gravel Tones. There can’t be many festivals that can go from a band like Syteria to one like The Gravel Tones as they were so different in both style and content. The band consists of a duo with Jimmy O on guitar and vocals and Mikey Sorbello on drums. This initially filled me full of dread but when these guys struck up they made one helluva rock’n’roll racket! Not only that, they generated enough energy on the stage between them to light a small town. Sorbello in particular was impressive with his strangely-angled drum kit, so much so, you hardly noticed the lack of bass player. These guys play a mix of rock with blues, rock’n’roll and bit of R’n’B thrown in for good measure. Very impressive and definitely a find for me. These guys have got some good shit going on!

The Gravel Tones – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

And as if to further reinforce the variety of rock on display at HRH, next up was Tyketto. My admiration for Danny Vaughn as a singer and songwriter has been well documented over the last four or five years. The release of the latest studio album only reinforced this admiration as it is in my books the best album they have recorded. This was the first time seeing the band since that release and they didn’t disappoint. Opening with the title track from that album, what we got was a masterclass in melodic rock. Danny’s vocals and showmanship were second to none; Chris Green’s guitar playing was exquisite; Ged Ryland’s keyboards and vocals added extra texture and colour and the rhythm section just nailed it, even with deputising a bass player. They gave us a set that perfectly balanced the old and new and were just superb!

And just when you think, that can’t be topped, along come Y & T. Back in the day I was never a huge fan, resulting in much abuse from my mates, but over the last four years or so I have wondered why these guys didn’t click with me previously. With only Dave Menketti still in the land of the living from the original line-up, it matters not a jot. These guys deliver every time. Running through a set consisting of songs mainly from the first five albums, they have set of classic rock songs second to absolutely none. If Tyketto provided a masterclass, this was paying homage to a living legend! Dave Menketti’s vocals and playing were just sublime. And how many bands can close a set with songs like Rescue Me and Forever? My conversion to Y & T fan was completed with this performance tonight!

Y & T – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

And the poor buggers to follow the preceding two sets were headliners Airbourne. I do have a soft-spot for these guys and have a few of their albums in my collection, so I was looking forward to them. They were tight and ferocious and they just didn’t let up at all! However, they fact that didn’t let up at all, was probably the downfall of this set in my humble opinion. It just started merging into one big blur and a little bit of light and shade would have been good. After about six songs, I remarked to the love of my life that there had been a lot of songs with the obligatory woahs. Her reply kind of summed it up as she said she thought it was still the first song! Regardless of what this pair of old gits thought, they band ran through a great mix of songs from the new album and previous albums, battering the crowd into submission. The place was absolutely rammed like I have never seen before, and they just lapped it up. Fair play, to Airbourne as they certainly know their audience and gave them exactly what they wanted!

Airborne – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

Day 3 – Saturday 11 November 2017

So far, covering the whole weekend on my own I hadn’t managed to get across to the second arena. However, I was determined to do so today. This was only made even more difficult by the stellar bill that was on the main stage. I also caught most of the documentary about the HRH journey which was very informative and well put together – well done HRH!

The opening band was Buffalo Summers. These guys are as close to a local band as you will get at HRH hailing from South Wales. With two albums under their belt, they drew from these for their set and also played a new song from a new album due out next year. They delivered a set of groove-laden blues rock and got a pretty great reception for an opening band. I thought they delivered a solid set. My only criticism would be of singer Andrew Hunt. His vocals lacked a little in dynamics considering the groove going on. The annoying thing was, that he clearly could stretch out a little as he did in a few songs, so he needs to do it more to match up with the groove the band are laying down.

Buffalo Summer – photo credit: Sean Larkin

Good opening set though! Toseland were next on the main stage. I saw these guys some time ago supporting Reef and was impressed that night and liked the debut album too. I haven’t heard the second album, but was looking forward to seeing them. However, this time round I found them rather disappointing. The vocal sound was very tinny and made James Toseland sound rather nasally, and I just struggled to get into their set. The band is clearly a well-oiled live act and certainly covered every inch of the stage, but their enthusiasm just didn’t rub off on me.

This made it all the easier to make my first visit to the second arena to catch Burnt Out Wreck. Fronted by former Heavy Pettin’ drummer Gary Moat, these guys ply a raunchy, groove-laden melodic rock sound. While the single Swallow drew the obvious AC/DC comparison’s, there is more to the band than that with elements of the likes of Def Leppard and Dokken thrown in for good measure. Listening to the set it is also obvious how influential Moat was in writing the Heavy Pettin’ material, which makes it all the more surprising that he isn’t involved in the reformed band! Drawing on the recently released debut album, Moat demonstrated why these guys merit a shot on the bigger stage with his superb voice, more so than a few of the bands who had already graced it so far.

Burnt Out Wreck – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

I returned to the main stage to catch the already started Von Hertzen Brothers, whom I knew very little about. My second find of the weekend, these guys play a hard edged progressive style with a modern alternative rock twist with some glorious harmony vocals which is very difficult to categorise! I didn’t know any of their material but it was delivered with precision, power and passion. Front-man Mikko Von Hertzen can also work a crowd and has humorous line in banter. Despite being very different from the previous acts, they got a great reception. They are also playing HRH Prog and they will certainly go down a storm there. I definitely need to get to grips with these guys back catalogue! And to continue with the theme of each band being different from the previous,

Gun followed the Von Hertzen Brothers. Gun are riding the crest of a wave at the moment with the critical and commercial success of their new album Favourite Pleasures. The opening song of the set was She Knows from that opus and set the tone for a serious kick-ass set from the Glaswegians. This was band completely on fire with Dante Gizzi sounding the best I have ever heard him. Added to that was the rising star Tommy Gentry with his swagger and stellar playing; the obvious fact that Jools Gizzi has seriously upped his own lead playing and a rhythm section of Andy Carr and Paul McManus who were tighter than a duck’s arse! The band drew on their considerable heritage of material including playing the obvious classics from their first few albums and finished on a role with Steal Your Fire, Shame On You and their version of Fight For Your Right with the front of the audience pogoing like mad! On the evidence of this set Gun should have been much higher up the bill and were easily band of the day and definitely my set of the weekend.

Gun – photo credit: Sean Larkin

The unfortunate band to follow Gun was Lynch Mob. I was a huge fan of George Lynch in his Dokken days, but I haven’t heard any of the Lynch Mob albums. However, I was looking forward to seeing the band. What I did hear of the Lynch Mob material sounded good and the band were superb. However, with extended solos and endings it was all a little too self-indulgent. It was no coincidence that the biggest cheers of the set were for the Dokken songs which included Heaven Sent, Into the Fire and the closer Mr Scary. The band appeared to make the assumption that the crowd would know their set and quite possibly this was the wrong festival for them and they might be better on the HRH AOR bill. They may well have thought they were on another bill as the singer kept thanking the ‘Hellfest’ crowd!

To keep on the theme of variety, Reef was next up on the main arena. Like Gun, these guys have got a great pedigree. Consisting of three original members the band proceeded to bring the crowd back up again drawing predominantly on the Glow album and their hits. Bass player Jack Beassant cut a striking figure as he moved his huge frame across the stage and provided a huge bass sound simultaneously. In fact, so much so that during the song Higher Vibration the whole venue appeared to be vibrating with bass! A highlight for me and one of my Reef favourites was Consideration. A new song from the long-awaited fifth album was also played called Precious Metal, which sounded great too. I for one am delighted these guys are back recording and gigging and look forward to the new album.

Reef – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

As soon this set ended I jumped over to the second arena to catch some of the Black Whisky set. I was pleased to see they had a good crowd and held most of it beyond the start of the Black Star Riders set, including me for a short time, before heading back over. These guys have an infectious brand of classic rock which draws on real classic rock influences such as UFO and Zeppelin without sounding like clones. They delivered a set of tight, well played songs and appeared to be going down well and I look forward to seeing the full set some time soon.

Black Whiskey – photo credit: Sean Larkin

Saturday night headliners Black Star Riders have had a pretty meteoric rise since their debut album in 2013. They have released two further albums since then culminating in their latest album being in the Top 10 in the UK. I liked the first album very much, but if I am being honest I have not been too keen on the subsequent output. Regardless of my opinion, the band put on a superb show and it was lapped up by the HRH crowd. Playing a chunk of the new album and songs from the previous two albums, the Scott Gorham/Thin Lizzy influence is clear for all to hear. The set also included the Lizzy number Jailbreak. Harking back to a time when the song was king it is great that a classic rock band is getting the success that Black Star Riders are having and hopefully this can pave the way for new younger bands to do likewise. It also included a drum solo, which for me added very little to set as I would rather hear another song. Finally, the biggest cheer of the set was saved for the last song of the evening which was Whiskey in the Jar. The band milked every last drop from it and quite right too!

Black Star Riders – photo credit: Simon Dunkerley

So was HRH XI the rip-roaring success it looked like on paper? Regardless of my opinion on individual bands, it was a stupendous event. So much so, that I think I might switch from attending the HRH AOR event to HRH as the bills for this are far superior and provide greater variety of acts. The Saturday main stage line-up couldn’t have presented seven more different more bands representing the spectrum of rock.

In an age when everybody sounds like everybody else, HRH as an organisation should be commended for putting on a schedule with such diverse bands. Obvious highlights for me were the sets from Tyketto and Y & T from the Friday. However, for me Gun completely stole the show with their absolutely stunning set on Saturday afternoon and surely at some point must be a headline contender for HRH? In terms of finding new music, I will be exploring the back catalogue of the Von Hertzen Brothers and The Gravel Tones. Finally, my only regret was not getting over to the second arena more often. For me Burnt Out Wreck have got to be contenders for getting a slot on the main stage as they were easily more suited to that than a few of the acts who were on it!

Review: King King – Exile & Grace

Manhaton Records (October 2017)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

King King first came to my attention supporting Gun at one of their famous Glasgow Barrowlands Christmas gigs. I was well impressed and immediately sought out their recorded work, which was equally impressive! This is new opus is their fourth album and is no disappointment.

(She don’t) Gimme No Loving‘ opens the album and is a cross of Thunder and classic Marsden/Moody era Whitesnake. Motoring along mostly based on a great staccato guitar riff and organ counterpart, it also has a great chorus. ‘Heed The Warning‘ has a slow build-up intro and is then into a classic funky/blues rock rhythm. Next up is ‘Broken‘ which is a mid-paced blues rocker, based around a neat twelve bar guitar riff and driving rhythm section. It has a great variation for the killer chorus too. Opening with nice clean guitar sound and a Fender Rhodes-type sound, ‘Find Your Way Home‘ is a slow burning soulful blues ballad with a powerful chorus. ‘Tear It All Up‘ as it name suggests takes the feel up a few notches and revolves around another great guitar chop. With driving bass and drums this one really rocks along.

We slip into stomping bass mode for ‘Betrayed Me‘ which reminds me of prime time Bad Company. However, it’s more bluesy with Alan Nimmo’s blues guitar playing and a great understated vocal performance – a classic example of more is definitely less! ‘Long Time Running‘ opens up with drums and guitar is very reminiscent of a classic Whitesnake again and could easily sit on Come and Get It. It has another great guitar chop leading into a great twelve-bar bridge leading to the inevitable catchy chorus. Next up is ‘Nobody Knows Your Name’ which again draws on more blues rock influences with a Free/Kossoff style guitar riff opening the song. It also draws on more recent influences which structural elements of the song drawing on the likes of AC/DC – but let’s face it they probably draw on the same influences as Mr Nimmo! Closing song ‘I Don’t Wanna Lie‘ slips back into a more traditional blues feel. It bounces along on a great base line with almost reggae-ish feel at times. It has the feel of classic Eric Clapton about and that’s certainly no band thing.

On this album the band stretches out more into blues rock with a whole range of classic feels and sounds while retaining their own sound, mainly due to Nimmo’s vocals and guitar playing. The sound to my ears is crisp and tight – impeccable production in my opinion. The songs are also right on the money. My only criticism of the album is that it ends too quickly – but they do say you should always leave your audience wanting more and this certainly does. If you haven’t heard these guys, do yourself a favour and a pick up a copy or even better, go see them live! At the moment Alan Nimmo is recovering from throat issues which resulted in surgery and this lead to the cancellation of their tour supporting the album. All that remains for me to say is get well Alan but only come back when you are really ready. Like me, I am sure the growing legion of King King fans will be waiting with bated breath for your return!

Gun – Favourite Pleasures

Caroline (Sept 2017)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Being from their hometown and knowing a few of the guys, I am pretty familiar with Gun and their career output. Admittedly, I wasn’t that keen on the band while Toby Jepson sang with them and was pretty glad the he left and even more delighted when it was announced his replacement was Dante Gizzi. While there is a constant debate about the merits of Gun without original vocalist Mark Rankine, I have liked what Gun have produced so far. And just to throw my tuppence worth in, Dante is technically a far superior singer to Mark!

The press release with this album states that it’s a return to the bands rockier roots and the opening track ‘She Knows‘ just completely knocks your socks off. With a superb riff the song rattles a long at fair pace with bass and drums firmly driving it. New boy Tommy Gentry absolutely rips it up during the solo. Primetime Gun! Next up is ‘Here’s Where I Am‘ which revolves around an almost 70s drum beat and while it rocks, there is a tip of the hat to their pop sensibilities. The title track ‘Favourite Pleasures‘ funks up proceedings with a crisp, hard-edged rhythm and Gizzi almost spitting out the words. The album continues with ‘Take Me Down‘ which again for me is primetime crossover Gun combining their rock roots with a whole range of contemporary influences, which is basically the Gun hallmark. ‘Silent Lovers‘ bounces along on a bouncing rhythm and sounds like it draws on influences such as 70s pop rock and punk/new wave while rocking along.

Black Heart‘ stomps along on an almost walking rhythm and then bursts into a real stomp for the short bridge and powering into the chorus before dropping back into the opening riff. It also has some great string arrangements. Next up is ‘Without You In My Life‘ which starts with a slashing guitar riff that wouldn’t sit out of place on an early Clash album. However, with all the other elements of the arrangement it sounds edgy, contemporary and original. ‘Tragic Heroes‘ opens up like it could have been on any of the first two Gun albums but sounds fresh and modern rather than a band trying to just re-tread their own footsteps. They also cleverly cram a lot into just over three and a half minutes. Next up is the vitriolic ‘Go To Hell‘ with Dante sneering the lyrics at whoever has to go to hell with the juxtaposition of the chorus and the ‘love, love, love, love’ chorus. Rocks but has an almost new wave feel too it. The final song on the album proper for me is quite possibly the standout track. Entitled ‘The Boy Who Fooled the World‘, it opens with just piano and vocals. Melody-wise, it reminds me of Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins at their sublime best. A fitting closer for the album proper and sublime in its own right.

The review version of the album has five bonus tracks with it. First up is a cover of ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)‘ with a guitar sound that the Young Brothers would be pleased with! This is followed by ‘20 Storeys‘ which I thought might have been a variation on the Jelly Piece Song (Glaswegians over a certain age will know what I am talking about)! ‘Come Undone‘ is next and is the pick of the bonus tracks for me. The throbbing bass line is contrasted by the almost muted guitar picking across the top and with a grooving chorus – great stuff! ‘Next is All I really Need‘ and we get the classic Gun crossover sound drawing a range of any one of a number of alternative rock influences, but rocking all the same. Last, and by no means least there is ‘Whisky and a Prayer‘. This has an awesome edgy groove with the riff and the vocals and all crammed into just three minutes!

So, do I think this album lives up to its billing of being a return to Gun’s rock roots? Damn tooting and then some. However, in returning to those roots, the sheer diversity of influences that have always been there still remain. Being an old fart I can hear influences from the 70s as diverse as Slade, Bowie and Zeppelin as well as alternative stuff such as Manic Street Preachers and the Clash. There are also more contemporary influences I can hear such as Muse. However, what the guys do is take these influences and carve out a little niche of their own and sound like…well, they sound like Gun! Just as they always have done! This is easily the best Gun album since they reformed and definitely since they burst on to the seen with Taking on the World. If you really are a Gun fan, set aside your hankering for Mark Rankin, and get with the programme. If you don’t, your missing some quite stunning sounds and in age of quantised, digitised, soundalike bullshit where it is becoming rarer and rarer!

Night Ranger – Don’t Let Up

Frontiers Music Srl (March 2017)

Reviewer: Peter Scallan

Over the years Nightranger have produced some of the best US-based melodic rock, especially in the 80s. Having said that, they probably fell foul of their own success with film soundtrack successes they had not necessarily being representative of their sound. They are also one of the best live acts you are ever likely to see and seem to consistently put superb live performances. The studio output has probably been less consistent, but none the less is still pretty impressive. The last two releases have seen them on fine form, so I was looking forward this one.

The opening song ‘Somehow Someway‘ comes thundering out of the traps with guns blazing. The sound is certainly more guitar driven and even slightly heavier than previous offerings. However, it still retains the trademark melody we have come to expect of Night Ranger. ‘Running Out of Time‘ kicks off with a great riff and then into some excellent twin lead guitar work, feature of this album. Having listened to this album a lot in the car, I was racking my brain to think whey I thought the riff sounded familiar. I eventually realised it sounded like a track called All Fired Up by Glasgow’s Killing From A Distance, having seen them recently. ‘Truth‘ has an almost FM-like quality to it, albeit slightly more ballsier. This is demonstrated in the chorus with with vocal melodies working around the twin lead guitars nestling in the background. ‘Day and Night‘ kicks off with a dirty bluesy feel and then breaks down into a verse sung over thundering drums. The chorus then picks up the pace with double pace drum beat. The title track ‘Don’t Let Up‘ opens with more harmony guitars which again are reminiscent of FM and flows nicely in to a great chorus.

The blues feel hinted at in Truth comes to the fore in ‘(Won’t Be Your) Fool Again‘ with a great staccato riff and some bottleneck guitar. With a riff Keef Richards would be pleased with, this number bounces along with a great chorus falsetto sounding backing vocal! ‘Say What you Want‘ is the type of melodic pacey rocker we came to expect on the first five Night Ranger albums. It moves swiftly along with a great vocal. The pace is changed somewhat for ‘We Can Work It Out‘ which is built around the drum pattern and some acoustic guitar picking. It has a great harmony lead vocal and a killer chorus in my book. ‘Comfort Me‘ takes the feel back up a level and has some great duelling lead guitar work as well as some great harmonies. Jamie also opens up harmony guitars and builds on the previous song in terms of pace and feel. While I like the song, for me it’s easily the weakest song on the album. We are the last track which opens with just acoustic guitar and vocals and in places sounds a little like Oasis! That it until the killer chorus spectacular chorus kicks in. Entitled ‘Nothing Left of Yesterday‘, the verse/bridges contrast perfectly the huge powerful vocal in the chorus. Great stuff!

I’ve got to admit, the first couple of spins of this album and I thought Night Ranger have blown it here! But, I like to give albums a chance to reveal themselves to me over a number of plays and this one certainly did! It is certainly heavier and more guitar orientated than previous efforts, but it is a real grower. If you like Night Ranger, you will love this but give it time to grow and you and I guarantee you will love it!