April 2013 witnessed the launch of HRH AOR @ Magna in Rotherham. After a sell out in year 1, it was almost a near death experience for some. The venue different, but excellent, but part of was held in sub zero conditions. It was obvious that something had to change, and the great team at Chic Festivals made it bigger and better and ultimately brought home to the HRH base in Pwllheli, North Wales. HRH AOR 3 has seen the event expanded into a multi genre affair featuring HRH Sleaze
My last venture to Hafan Y More was almost 20 yrs ago, when we took the kiddies for a day out to what was then Butlins for an extremely bad day out. Some of this has stayed with me as Ive been a reluctant attendee. The modern version is a pole apart for what the site used to be. The main AOR stage was absolutely fantastic, airy, on multiple levels, and at no point claustrophobic. I just feel sorry for the team that have to clean the bogs! Accommodation, eateries and bars are all within walking distance from the main AOR arena. No shuttles required here as 95% of the punters were in their very own exclusive site.
The venue is nothing but superb, there was a Metal Market selling all your metal going needs (everything from patches, jewelry, CDs, Vinyl for old farts like me, and even Rodney Matthews was in attendance). For those wanting the full metal experience you could go nuts for go karts, crazy golf, laser quest to the all out turbo earthquake rig that is HRH’s wall of sound.
Compliment that with 30 of the best AOR (or should that be mini Sweden Rock!), Sleaze n Melodic Rock acts from right across this magnificent spectrum and its a natural high you can achieve other than taking drugs or sniffing in the male Elnett aroma
Theres the introduction to HRH AOR, and lets say the event lived up to expectations and then some. There may well be something that lives on beyond the old adage of ‘todays newspapers become tomorrows fish n chip paper’. Lets call it 'Memorex Gate' (their old ad was, "is it live....or is it Memorex", or if I cant advertise, 'Tape Gate. More of this later....
We missed the Thurs evening due to 'proper' paying work, and managed to arrive a couple of songs into the openers Psycho Kiss. Without being Finbarr Saunders in any way whatsoever, vocalist Helen has a huge pair of lungs on her. 'Numb', and the band named 'Up The Bum' (up the bum, I wanna feel your come, rub it round the rim, push it all in - OK. Those are my lyrics not theirs!) stood out. Overall though, it was average songs with a top class set of vocals. Up your game lads, or you'll lose her. PK are a band that should be on one of the opening slots for their very local Steelhouse Fest.
Tainted Nation were a band I was looking forward to but quickly the novelty wore off. Probably a bit too metal for AOR, I had more of an issue with Newdeck's vocals. Its was a struggle, but you can certainly see the promise and little nuggets of gold in the likes of 'Dare You', 'Loser' and 'Your Only Friend'. After 'Who's Watching You' we decided to have a quick look at the Doom stage. Well HRH might as well have put a revolving door in as I walked straight in (and out) of what was the truly awful Dysteria. No stage presence, and catching a couple of the bands (Gurt in particular) was like listening to someone twat an anvil with a lump hammer as the chords were just ...clang ....clang ... clang.....! So it was back to Tainted Nation for the last couple of songs. Poor Pete Newdeck had a bit of struggle with his vocals but powered thru 'Loser' and 'Your Only Friend' and won the audience over for it
Kingdragon were certainly a step in the right direction on what had passed so far. Immediately the polish seemed to be there. Id only seen the odd clip and had doubts over the singer. Thankfully my spider senses were off the mark and George Aspiotis plied his trade to great effect. I thought he looked like Steven Segal after gastric band treatment. For the first time over the weekend (there would be a few) where equipment went down, failed etc. Kingdragon did little, at least, jam, introduce the band, tell a friggin' joke, don't just stand there and wait. The same fate could be said of Houston, and Euphoria Audio - watch Jack Blades and learn how to interact). Kingdragon had some decent songs particularly 'Hide The Sun', the anthemic 'Judgement Day', and the band (and fan) favourite, 'Dreams Are Broken'. A job well done. Hopefully they sold some merch to boost Greece's dying economy.
The last time I saw Night By Night was at Wigan a couple of years back and they had just lost their singer. Daniel Leigh of New Device stepped in for that gig. So 2 yrars down the line, and NxN lose their singer, and who steps in again, but Daniel Leigh (I think theres a sign here somewhere guys!). Talk about Groundhog Day! Credit to all concerned as you wouldnt think that NxN had very little prep time with their stand in. I'm not going to criticise them as Leigh looked as if he could look after himself so I'm taking no chances. Plus anyone thats named after a Dokken song is a great plus for me! Daniel has a great voice, high pitched and just puts the Dulux gloss on some great songs - especially 'Time to Escape', 'A Thousand Lies', and 'The Moment'. They nearly sandpapered the gloss off though with a rendition of Run DMC/Aerosmith's 'Walk This Way', whereas I think the wise choice would have been to have pushed one more of their own songs. There's not a huge amount of British Melodic Rock talent out there currently, but NxN are certainly one of them.
Where NxN are a great British talent, Vega are a couple of steps ahead of the pack (make that strides). This is the third or fourth time I have managed to catch them, and this appearance shows that they have come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. You have to put the work in on the pubs and clubs to get the rewards, but the festival arena is built for bands like Vega. Nick Workman is proving to be a highly effective front man. His vocals fit the Martin brothers songs like spandex! The Vegaboy's don't do anything by halves, all of the songs are a catchy and anthemic as they can be and don't hold back. With 'Kiss Of Life' and 'What The Hell', its like someone has pulled down the giant switch, and there's this great surge in power and energy. 'Gonna Need Some Love Tonight' proves to be what will be a stand out moment and a future talking point. The five part harmonies are the dogs bollox and sounds immense. 'Headlights', 'Into The Wild' 'White Knuckle Ride', Stereo Messiah' all pass by all too quickly. '10x Deeper Than Love' was a song given to Vega by Leppard Joe Elliott. I'd concentrate on their own stuff as I think that the Vega penned songs outstrip 10x easily. A fan got a home video to remember when Workman took their camcorder and filmed the band and crowd for 'All or Nothing' - a truly nice moment. The curtain closer ‘Hands In the Air’ finished proceedings and showed that Vega were the band of the day so far, and proved to be a contender for band of the day in my eyes (and ears).
The Poodles were completely new on me. Living in a cave in Wrexham does that sometimes. I have never seen them, never heard a single song, and talking to people afterwards they seemed to be a Marmite band, but to me, they were that first band of the day that truly thought they were rock stars, and it clearly showed and helped their performance. ‘Metal Will Stand Tall’ is your typical Euro ‘singalongametal’. Me? I love stuff like this. 'Shut Up' reminded me some of the 80s classics in the vein of Malmsteen and Dio. Jakob Samuel is not only a man who loves himself, but a belting front man – full of style, poise, power and a set of pipes that stand amongst the greats. Perhaps that’s why they are called The Poodles, as I think only dogs can hear the higher register of Samuel! After ‘Line of Fire’ there was a slight fuck up by the band, but it was all handled with comedic effect. The new songs -'The Greatest' and 'House Of Cards' were both excellent songs, and show the fact that The Poodles have a great past, present and future.
Starz for me were definitely an enigma. Most of the consensus bordered on ‘what the fuck?!’ Whereas about 6 people down the front (all in their 50s and should know better) were having fanboy moments, with two in particular (lets call them Rob and Bob), who looked as happy as two gays at a Liza Minelli gig. Starz are a band that probably hit their peak 38 years ago with the ‘Violation’ album. For a band that’s recorded four fifths of bugger all since 1978s ‘Coliseum Rock’, they are clearly a band who are grabbing the opportunity to play the UK with both hands and are enjoying every single second of life. I should say ‘life’ very loosely as the drummer George Di Ana is playing just weeks after having 4 x stents fitted, and they have at least 2 candidates that could be on the Grim Reapers hit list at any moment. Plus, AOR?? C'mon guys, clearly not. Starz are more punk rock and early Kiss than melodic rock/AOR. That said they did have some very valid points for being there, especially with the EPIC song about a girl who has taken an overdose; a song about love, and a guy visiting hospital a deciding what to do….called….’Pull The Plug’. 'PTP', ‘Detroit Girls’ and ‘Cherry Baby’ were the ultimate classics of the era, but are sadly no longer so. I would have swapped them with The Poodles, but that's just me.
Dare were here to either stun you, or sedate you. For me and a couple of guys around me it got way too Celtic. I know you love Phil Lynott Darren, and we know you're performing in Wales, all that was missing over the course of the first few songs (‘Stay’, ‘Silent Thunder’ etc) was Michael Flatley’s ‘Riverdance’ troupe mincing across the stage. It was all fine and very polished, but a sharp trot across the road to Hardcore Superstar showed how to liven up a bunch of pissed up revelers. ‘This is Wales, bring me the fucking noise’ was the opening gambit from Joakin Berg. It was like comparing ‘Clockwork Orange’ vs ‘sleepy beddy time tales’ on Ceebeebies. That said after giving HS 15 mins we made it back to Dare in the nick of time…for the the fantastic 'Abandon', 'Into The Fire', 'The Raindance', and 'King Of Spades' consecutively kicked my ears into submission and took me back to seeing them at The Tiv in 1991 (still one of my best gigs ever!) Thank you Darren!
The last slot could prove to be the nightmare slot for both the band and many a tanked up fan, most of who were still hammered from Friday. The late timing didn’t affect H.E.A.T.s audience in any shape or fashion. In fact the arena was rammed to gills for one of Europe's shining stars. This is my third time seeing HEAT in the last 12 months. They are one of most electric live bands you will see this side of watching someone like Rammstein (for different reasons but the end result is the same), and the hype is warranted. They have come a long way in the last couple of years. At the inaugural HRH AOR they were in a late afternoon slot, so they’ve done a lot right. The live performances, plus a couple of shit hot albums will do it for you.
Coming on to Glenn Frey’s 'The Heat Is On', HEAT explode into action for ‘The Point Of No Return’. I’m not casting aspersions here, but whatever Erik Gronwall is on (drugs? alcohol? life?), I want some of it in my first cuppa of the day as the guy is wired off the scale. For ‘A Shot At Redemption’ the audience went mad. After such a frenetic song, Erik's tablets kick in (or theres something in the Welsh water) and he tries to gob and catch it. Attempt 1 – try hitting a photographer. Attempt 2 – nothing. Attempt 3 – gobs on his own forehead! Nutter.
Most of the action comes from ‘Address The Nation’ and ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, and for obvious reasons – Better Off Alone, Heartbreaker, Inferno, The Britney Song, Enemy In Me etc all have a big clout. Beg, Beg, Beg hits the surreal where we are given a Swedish drinking song to sing along to, before wading in to Deep Purple’s Highway Star. H.E.A.T certainly have what it takes to send them global and are probably the ones with the highest chance of success. Just make sure you do it before Gronwall blows a gasket and just stops…permanently. Fantastic stuff from the Swedes and a great day overall courtesy of HRH AOR.
The audience departed and all went back to their respective caravans, chalets, B&Bs and hotels for a good nights kip in preparation for the Saturday event. Little did the AOR crowd know what would be the talking point of the day and will probably roll on for quite some time. Vega's Tom Martin called out H.E.A.T for using, lets call it, musical enhancements. Lets call it fickle, brave, honest, possibly silly, but the lads could have a point. Ever since I fell in love with rock music I have defended its honour as being live and as it is, with no added oomph from tapes etc. This has changed the last couple of years and HEAT wouldn't be the first or last to be called on it. Shit, lots of bands are doing it. In HEAT's case, if it is true, then its worked well for them based on their rapid progression, so its a no brainer. The news made Classic Rock's website within hours. For Vega, all publicity is good publicity, and I hope that (for them) it doesn't affect their status; and for HEAT, I suspect that a larger fan base will have their say on the matter. I'm on the side of proper 4&5 part harmonies any day of the week!
In the 80s there was an advert for Memorex Cassettes of which the tagline was, "Is it live? Or is it Memorex!"
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to MemorexGate!
And onto day 2.....
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