After less than the recommended mandatory amount of sleep (well, it is a festival after all – and a journalist’s work doesn’t stop when the last band takes their curtain call), Team PM were up at the crack of dawn of the second day of HRH AOR for a busy morning of interviews with the participating acts before a dander in the crisp early afternoon air to take up our mandatory front and (slightly left of) centre position for the day’s musical menu.
Having unfortunately missed Psycho Kiss – who, by all accounts got the afternoon off to a suitably rambunctious start – Tainted Nation hit us up hard and heavy, with big riffs and even bigger melodies, coupled with great vocal harmonies, the latter led by frontman Pete Newdeck (pictured right), who exudes an easy confidence throughout their set. The rhythm section of bassist Pontus Egberg and drummer Mark Cross provide the sort of concrete solid foundation you would expect from musicians of this calibre, underpinning an energetic, passionate and powerful performance.
Greeks Kingdragon are the first band of the day to possess what we shall describe as “invisible keyboards syndrome”; but, this does not prevent them delivering tight melodic hard rock with plenty of crunch on the guitars, combined with seering solos. Vocalist George Aspiotis (who normally plays the aforementioned keys) has a rich, strong voice and manages to evoke a relaxed feel despite the complexity of the songs. The crowd is not as big as it had been for Tainted Nation, but those who are there are just as appreciative as, despite a few technical problems with guitarist Anastasis F’s wireless rig, the band deliver a generally solidstate performance – although the cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Ready And Willing’ was somewhat surplus to requirements.
Night By Night hit the stage with plenty of energy and full of youthful spunk, obviously determined to enjoy the occasion – just as all bands should do when they take to the stage. Longtime fans immediately notice something different about the band, however – and that is the presence of New Device frontman Daniel Leigh (pictured right) on vocal duty: what is not obvious, though, is that the singer has only had one rehearsal before diving headlong into the band’s live commitments over the previous gig. In fact, if it had not been the slightly foreshortened set – six songs plus an Aerosmith cover – no one probably would have been any the wiser, as Leigh looks like has been there for years, as he works the crowd with a charismatic ease and the band deliver a blistering set played with such consummate professionalism that no one feels short changed. Night By Night certainly have the attitude and the ability – and dare I say the looks – to take things to the next level.
Like their predecessors on the stage, Vega are another band I have seen before (when they opened for Joe Elliott on his end-of-year tour): likewise, on that occasion it was a club setting, but the bigger stage definitely suits their equally big sound much better. And they certainly fill every inch of the stage with their infectious, potentially stadium-packing anthems, based on solid rhythms and packed with meandering melodies and memorable choruses, all played with contagious enthusiasm. Across the boardwalk, meanwhile, street punks States Of Panic (pictured left) are launching a rallying call on the Sleaze stage with their mix of metalcore and glam rock, with the likes of ‘Battle Cry’, with its thumping groove, heavy-ass guitars and catchy-as-fuck chorus getting fists punching – especially among those who, even at this relatively early hour, are already feeling a little the worse for wear.
Despite a few early technical problems – which result in Henrik Bergqvist’s guitar tech having to undertake running repairs to his rig with a roll of gaffe tape – The Poodles seem determined to take no prisoners and their massively infectious anthems win through the ongoing difficulties. Jakob Samuel, replete in a studded codpiece, simply oozes charisma and proves to be the consummate entertainer (complete with mid-set costume change), even leading his troops in a scripted-but-fun piece of showmanship when the three musicians start to play different songs, before Samuel “intervenes” and puts it to an audience vote. As the technical problems continue to plague the guitarist, the band prove themselves total professionals by getting on with the job in hand and delivering a sterling performance which ranks as one of the best of the day.
The hoisting of what can only be described as a handkerchief with their logo on heralds the arrival of New York AOR legends Starz, making one of their increasingly return visits to the UK after an initially lengthy absence of almost three decades. Although they could be accused of being one of those bands who live off past glories and plague festivals of this nature, there is no doubt that they have a canon of classic melodic rock songs; while they cannot match the energy of the younger acts by whom they find themselves surrounded, they certainly seem enthusiastic about what they are doing – and what they do they do with practised professionalism, and they naturally go down very well with the hardcore of loyal fans gathered at the barrier.
Back across on the Sleaze stage, The Wild Lies bring plenty of grunt and bristle, with a hint of impending anarchy, with songs that slabber like a rabid bitch in heat and slither like a snake with a dormouse in its sights. Heartbreak Remedy deliver good old-fashioned grooving rock ‘n’ roll designed to start a party and nothing else. Both the songs, which have their fair share of hummable hooks, and the performance are tight, and are equally suited to the back room of their local pub or the larger stage on which they find themselves this brisk evening.
In the main arena, some female fans have opened a book on who many shirt buttons Dare frontman Darren Wharton will have undone… as you can see from our picture (left) the answer is three. The band’s set builds slowly and atmospherically, with the melodies swelling and surging around the room like a gently licking surge tide on a gravelly beach. Wharton is on great form, his rich and fluid vocals matching the intimate vibrancy of the songs, serving as a somewhat mellow appetizer for the forthcoming main course.
Setlist: Sea Of Roses / Storm Wind / Silent Thunder / Where Darkness Ends / Beneath The Shining Water / Emerald / Wings Of Fire / We Don’t Need A Reason / Abandon / Into The Fire / The Raindance / King Of Spades / Return The Heart.
On the Sleaze stage, the main attraction undoubtedly is Hardcore Superstar, who proclaim that “we are here to kick your ass” – and that is just what they do, jumping all over it in the process with their punky attitude, sassily sleazy style and classic down ‘n’ dirty r’n’r (in)sensibility. They also unveil some songs from their forthcoming new album, including the title track, ‘Touch The Sky’, which is a typical HS bump and grind with a satisfying metallic edge.
The first question you always have to ask when H.E.A.T frontman Erik Grönwall bounds on stage is where the absolute fuck does he get his energy from, as he possesses more of it than a dozen Duracell bunnies put together! Exploding on to the stage with new single ‘Point Of No Return’, both the singer and the rest of the band are on fire, raising the temperature in the arena to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Huge audience singalongs greet every song, with every word of every chorus returned to Erik with as much enthusiasm as he himself displays. On this night, Grönwall most definitely does not have to ‘Beg Beg Beg’, as he has most definitely captured the hearts of everyone present, who in turn love every sleazy second of it. He opens a bottle of JD and passes cups of it into the front row during a Swedish drinking call-and-return, climbs the PA and the barriers – and eventually over them during ‘Living On The Run’, causing a few pairs of soiled underpants among the security in the pit – sits on the edge of stage, and even cheekily flashes his bum cheeks during Crash’s drum solo. All of this shows that he has the potential to be one of the best frontmen of the next decade or so, and the influence of this rubs off on the rest of the band, and especially bassist Jimmy Jay, who are just as unbridled in their enthusiasm as their punk-maned leader, with the result being yet another high octane-fuelled adrenalin shot of a gig.
Setlist: Point Of No Return / A Shot At Redemption / Better Off Alone / Heartbreaker / It’s All About Tonight / Inferno / The Wreckoning / Tearing Down The Walls / Mannequin Show / Late Night Lady / Beg Beg Beg / Downtown / Enemy In Me / Emergency / Breaking The Silence
Encore: Living On The Run / Eye For An Eye
Fellow Swedes Sister bring the first full day to an end in a suitably histrionic faux-goth-meets-sleaze style but, to be honest, are very much the palate cleanser after the main course served up and wolfed down across the boulevard…[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”photoset” id=”72157651456031481″ size=”z” count=”100″]
Photographs by Sean Larkin.