Saturday morning at Camp Hard Rock Hell dawned crisp and bright, with the day going on to prove to be warmest of the weekend. And so, as the sun made its first appearance, and after a morning of hanging around the press area waiting on bands not turning up for their interview slots, the PM Team climbed the hill to the HRH AOR arena – and to one of the true discoveries of the weekend…
The Radio Sun have travelled halfway ’round the world from Melbourne to deliver their extremely classy brand of melodic rock. characterized by thick rhythms underpinned by big melodies and crunching riffs, combined with great use of harmonies, especially in the vocal department. Up front, Jason Old is a terrific vocalist, possessed of a great range and a tonality which identically matches the feel of the material, which is delivered with aplomb and enthusiasm. In turn, this is met with an extremely warm reception from the early-comers, who are thankfully substantial in number. In addition, Old has an allure and charisma which is attractive to everyone, and also displays a great sense of humour, especially when he forgets the title of the band’s second album, ‘Heaven Or Heartbreak’. (9)
Setlist: Tell Me What You Want / Science Fiction / Wrong Things Right / One In A Million / Madness In The World / Dying Without Your Love / Maybe / World’s Crazy Now / Heaven Or Heartbreak / Hanging By A Thread
The Burning Crows bring another of the changes of mood which have characterized this weekend’s activity on the main stage, and it’s stretching of the boundaries of the term “AOR”. Their sleazy blues-infused boogie melds the grunt and grind of The Black Crowes with the Sunset Strip bravura of Mötley Crüe, the pure rock sensibility of AC/DC and the cheekiness of The Darkness. They also deliver the sort of single-entendre lyrics of the kind sadly missing in so much of today’s PC-friendly manufactured music industry: ‘A Little Bit More’ is just such a case in point. Whippz is a confident frontman who builds a good rapport with the audience, while guitarist Lance Daniels delivers some extremely elegant riffs and solos. One of the set highlights is ‘Goodbye To Sunshine’, which slows things down into a Cinderella-style ballad and showcases the depth of the Crows’ sound, especially the range of Whippz’ normally gravelly style. New single ‘She’s The Summertime’ gives the band an opportunity for an elongated musical workout, while ‘Feels Like Home’ is a suitably rambunctious finale. Make sure you catch this exciting young band on their forthcoming ‘Live! …From The Gin House’ tour. (9)
Another band who I had been looking forward to catching live was Newman, who were making their third appearance at AOR in just four years (and whose drummer, Pete Newdeck, was making his second appearance of the weekend, following his slot with Blood Red Saints the previous evening). Opener ‘The Elegance Machine’, the title track to the band’s new album, lives up its name: elegant pomp rock with massive melodies and huge hooks galore, underpinned by driving rhythms which get your feet tapping right from the off. The songs are beautifully crafted and delivered, and Steve Newman has a rich, luscious voice, as well as a great sense of stagecraft, interacting well with both the band – as when guitarist Shaun Bessant tries to catch his singer out by launching into ‘Panama’ despite the latter’s protestations that “I don’t know the words” – and the crowd, showing him to be a confident and assured performer. One of the sets highlights is the majestic ‘Pray For The Day’. (9)
Setlist: The Elegance Machine / Every Moment / Feel Her Again / Stay With Me / Pray For The Day / Panama (reprise) / Primitive Soul / If It’s Love / One Step Closer
“I’ve had three hours sleep in the last three days!” Talon frontman Michael O’Mara says before a single note is sounded. Few are aware of the story behind his assertion: all the band’s luggage, including their instruments, went missing on their trans-Atlantic flight, and they had spent long hours trying to track it all down… But, despite O’Mara’s obvious enthusaism, the band look and sound tired: while they do start to come alive during ‘Paradise’ and ‘Holly Would’, the result is nevertheless somewhat staid and pedestrian, with the singer only occasionally able to attain the vocal peaks he is more than capable of attaining. Every band has an off day: under the circumstances, Talon’s was understandable and kudos must be given to them for deciding to continue with the show. (5)
Setlist: Spun / Sin City Sister / Paradise / Holly Would / Set Me Free / Talon In My Heart / Raise ‘Em High / Evil / Wrecking Ball
Things take a decidedly weird turn with the arrival of Swedish trio Märvel – as they are costumed (as an airline pilot, a World War Two pilot and a voodoo witch doctor) and masked. Told you it was weird. And yet again, it’s not quite pure AOR, as they play grunting, chunky, grungy retro blues rock with heavy acid steampunk overtones, with a heavy bottom end, thanks to plenty of low end on the bass, and gritty, growly vocals. The costumes are needlessly distracting, but as the set progresses you see past them and become absorbed in the ebb and flow of the music, and they deliver a neat line in catchy tunes with an ear for evinced on the likes of ‘Hello’, ‘Remember’, ‘Five Smell City’ and ‘Wilful Non-Participation’. They also entertain further with a brave cover of W.A.S.P’s ‘L.OV.E. Machine’, which they succeed in stamping their own unique identifier on while remaining true to the spirit of the original. (7)
Another of the highly anticipated bands of the weekend is the Dan Reed Network – and, again, they do not disappoint, with what can only be described as a sublime performance. ‘Resurrect’ thumps from the speakers and turns the electricity in the air into fully charged fireballs of energy, while ‘Under My Skin’ bounces joyously, even when Dan slows it down and then interrupts it to slag off a certain Donald Trump, and ‘Forgot To make Her Mine’ is funked up and bruised. They then unveil a new song, ‘Divided’, from the forthcoming new album (due to be released via Frontiers Records on 1 June): it thumps and crunches and is one of the heaviest songs they have written, especially in Brian James’ kickass riff, while retaining their trademark funk/soul vibe, with huge vocal harmonies on the chorus. Reed is on great form, and in great humour, and his voice is luscious, while James is in blistering form, smiling nearly as broadly as his frontman as he obviously is enjoying his play. Melvin Brannon gets in on the act, with a supeb bass solo as a prelude to an elongated and dynamic ‘Baby Now I’, into which they incorporate sections of ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ and ‘Enter Sandman’, which help to show the fun they are having on the stage. The set ends on a slightly mellow note with the funky vibe of ‘Get To You’ – they are forced to drop ‘Tiger In A Dress’ and ‘Ritual’ due to the event running slightly behind schedule – but it sums up the freshness and vibrancy of a stunning set. (10)
Setlist: Resurrect / Under My Skin / Forgot To Make Her Mine / Divided / Rainbow Child / Make It Easy / Baby Now I (incorporating I Was Made For Lovin’ You and Enter Sandman) / Cruise Together / Get To You
There had been a lot of anticipation over Quiet Riot‘s return to the UK for the first time in more than 30 years. And also much debate, it must be admitted: what would the current incarnation of the band be like? Would they be any good? Would they still be relevant? Or would we be better living on the memories? Well, all the questions – and any doubts – are answered extremely quickly as, after a false start due to a problem with Alex Grossi’s guitar, ‘Run For Cover’ gets things off to an energetic start. Jizzy Pearl looks very comfortable in the role of lead vocalist: in fact, he not only looks every inch the stadium-filling rock star but also as if he was made for this very role, as he struts and prowls the stage re-invigorated by this “new” role, while his gritty style which gives the songs a nice dirty groove. There are some problems with the sound mix, with Chuck Wright’s bass very prominent and Grossi’s guitar all but lost, especially in the rhythm sections: it seems to fix itself, however, as by ‘Love’s A Bitch’ the guitar is starting to cut through. ‘The Wild And The Young’ evokes the spirit of the occasion, and that of every aging rocker in the room: our bodies may be tiring, but inside we’re all still teenagers at heart, as is shown as ancient necks snap away alongside those a third of their age, and voices threaten to raise the venue’s suspended ceiling. A terrific comeback. (10)
Setlist: Run For Cover / Slick Black Cadillac / Whatever It Takes / Mama Weer All Crazee Now / Party All Night / Love’s A Bitch / Condition Critical /Breathless / Sign Of The Times / The Wild And The Young / Let’s Get Crazy / Cum On Feel The Noize / Metal Health (Bang Your Head)
Unfortunately, the PM team are starting to feel the pains of advancing years referenced above, and we reluctantly decide to forego the pleasure of festival closer Gilby Clarke – who, by all accounts, played a storming set – to head back to our nice cold caravan and a couple of glasses of fruit juice before an early night to prepare for the long journey from the borders of Snowdonia to our respective home bases, content that HRH AOR 2016 had been another resounding success, if a somewhat mixed bag of musical experiences. But, then that is what HRH is all about… it’s as much the overall atmosphere as who is actually playing on the stage. Tell you what: let’s do it all again next year!
- Photographs by Sean Larkin.
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