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Born in the late 60's, Chesy hails from a Welsh mining village with a long name and was pretty glad when he got the Hell out of there. He got into Rock/Metal in about 1980, thanks to a TISWAS related incident (Rainbow video for All Night Long) and thankfully has never looked back. Chesy often sang solo in the school choir, but thanks to a puberty related incident his voice is now completely bolloxed, although in his own head Paul thinks he sounds like a blend of Coverdale and Dio (R.I.P). He was brought up on the classics - Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, Rush, Whitesnake and loved melodic rock and the Hair Bands of the 80's. (Nowadays, he has progressed a little and prefers a more technical and/or progressive metal - Dream Theater, Rush, Symphony X, Porcupine Tree, Pain Of Salvation, Spock's Beard. He hates Black and Death Metal (can't stand the grunting) but for some unknown reason loves the magnificent Opeth! He wont stop this blog until his beloved FM finally play the likes of the NEC as a headlining act!!!

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Hard Rock Hell AOR V - Festival Review - Hafan Y Mor 10th & 11th March 2017


Grab a beer and get ready for a long (ish) read......

So a good couple of thousand descended on the tiny Chwiliog,  aka Hafan Y Mor, for this, the fifth HRH AOR. Once shared as a fest, it's now finally gained its own independence as a stand-alone festival which shows how strong this genre has become. AOR has always been an underground scene, but the people who follow it are very passionate and dedicated about their bands. A lot of the audience are returnees, in fact most can be seen at any melodic rock gig across the country and beyond. My only gripe, there was NOT ENOUGH AOR!!!!

Credit to HRH, as this is a mighty fine festival, it's all contained, the stages are close, except the acoustic, the food is a bit 'meh' (OK if you can live off Fish n chips, and Burger King, or Starbucks) and the drink plentiful. It leads itself to a nice warm, cozy and very friendly festival. 

My day started on the Friday with a couple of stunning acoustic sets courtesy of The Radio Sun, and then the same guys being joined by Paul Laine. It's great news to have The Radio Sun returning for second year in succession. The Aussies certainly made an impact last year and gained a lot of new converts along the way. First of all, the banter is great, we got to hear about the guys travel from South to North Wales and their traffic encounters, and Jason being one of the 'Wiggles"! Don't ask! It's the quality of the songs that make the biggest impression. 'One In A Million' is just wonderful, it highlights just how strong TRS are with harmonies, in fact very few of the bands over the whole weekend can match these guys. 'Wrong Things Right' and a sterling Andy Taylor cover 'I Might Lie' (the one with the riff that’s VERY Eddie ‘Beat It’)! 'Maybe' finished off a short but very memorable set. (8.5/10)

Without any further ado Paul Laine stepped up and you knew he was going to be trouble (but in a good and very funny way!). Paul set up a high seat in front of him so he could read some of his lyrics. Bless him. Obviously a forgetful chap, he has self-declared Paulzheimers! 'Going All The Way' eventually kicked off the set. Paul's vocals would be one of the best over the whole weekend. You can tell that both TRS and Paul had spent time with Blood Red Saints as jokes and insults a-plenty were traded between Paul and Jason....'Does The Rock know you've stolen his 80s haircut?', and 'Jase, you're doing this (makes yapping sound with his hand)' and I want you to do this (shut up hand signal).  You had to be there!! There's a new double act in town folks. That said, I think it's all stemmed from love and respect. But, it's his show, so Paul is in charge. Up came 'I Still Think About You' and it was just sublime in this acoustic setting. Laine’s vocal's are undiminished from the fist time I ever witnessed him from his performance at The Gods over twenty years ago (on the telly). After 'Comin Home' we were even given an encore of 'Dont Walk Away'. TRS firmly set the bar for the weekend, and Paul Laine raised it. These two sets were to be one of the main highlights of the weekend. About 120 people witnessed something special here. (9/10)

We legged it to the main stage for a band I'd only looked at the day before....Walkway. As far as first bands go, Walkway were the best opening act I've seen at 4 AORs. This is a band that clearly tour…..a lot! I missed the first three songs, and entered for ‘Overrated’. That’s one thing that this band definitely are not.  Their set is smooth as silk and very polished. They are not exactly AOR, more classic rock, but when it's as good as this, who cares. Frontman Chris Ready obviously has Robert Plant as an influence, and this is no complaint from me. With a song armoury like ‘Best I Ever Had’, Stutter’, ‘Rise’, and the instantly memorable ‘Streetwise’, I really hope these lads get the major break they deserve. Guitarist James Ready, who was fucking outstanding I have to say, went on walkabout during the final song ‘One Touch Too Much’. Walkway were another memorable highlight of the day and weekend. Catch them live again if you can, you will not be disappointed. If you are, I will refund your money myself!!

Last year I loved Kane'd(s) brand of music. More Within Temptation, than melodic rock, but their difference stands out in sisters Steph, Stacey and Chez, and lead guitarist Harry Scott Elliott. At first glance, there’s that many of them, you would think they are a Caucasian tribute of Earth Wind & Fire. However, this time something was amiss, the spark wasn’t quite as bright this time. It wasn't all Kane'd isuue as I had doubts over the quality of the sound. The vocals were too loud and pitchy. It was eventually sorted and the songs do the talking – the highlights being ‘Beautiful But Tragic’, Guilty Of Nothing’, ‘Covered In Roses’ and the utterly infectious ‘La Di Da’. What with a guitarist like Harry Scott Elliot and the vocal assault from the girls, I fully expect greater things from this bunch moving forward. Time for a new album I think and a move up the next step of the ladder….? (7/10)

It was time to show the young whippersnappers a thing or two. Romeo’s Daughter are a class act. I’ve seen them quite a few times over the last (cough), thirty years, and they have NEVER let me or the audience down. The set was to be quite wide ranging, mixing the old and the new seamlessly, proving that the new songs are just as good, if not better than the older songs. Leigh Matty looks gorgeous as ever, and if there were awards for best hair, she would win hands down. In Craig Joiner, Romeos Daughter have one of the most underrated but finest songwriters of his generation. His playing isn’t necessarily flashy, but its honest and from the heart. ‘Heaven In The Back Seat’ - a song that should have made them household names, opened up a short but superb set. The good side of playing a 55 minute set…..all the stops are pulled out. From ‘Velvet Touch’ from the 80s, to the likes of ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘Radio’ from more recent years, Romeo’s Daughter have not lost any of their effectiveness. They finished the set 80s heavy with the upbeat ‘Inside Out’, ‘I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night’ - one of my all time favourite tracks, and finishing with a blast of the song that Heart covered, the obligatory ‘Wild Child’. Great stuff. (8.5/10)

All of a sudden, when you thought the main arena couldn’t get any busier, it suddenly became almost unbearably full. In three previous visits, I’ve never seen the arena as full as this. The reason I hear you ask……’Jizzy Pearl’s ‘Love/Hate’. Fair play to whoever built a massive cross out of Budweiser cans. They opened with ‘Wasted In America’ and the crowd went nuts. If anyone on the bill, looked like they had lived, loved and survived the 80s up until now, it was Jizzy Pearl, looking all the part a rock star. I’m going to wind a few people up here but the vocals got on my wotsits a little bit. It was like someone was kicking a bagful of Yorkshire Terriers around. I caught the first seven songs, and whilst I enjoyed the set. I wasn’t as keen as all the people around me, which is probably because Love /Hate aren’t AOR to me. Although I am sorry that I missed the rock classic ‘Blackout….’ (6.5/10)

I trundled over to the second stage to catch HRH virgins Epic. Fronted by the spectacular vocal range of Tanya Rizkala Agostine (she’s not Welsh!), this is a band (Like Bailey) that should have been performing on the main stage. If you haven’t heard of Epic, where have you been? Opening with the extremely powerful ‘Love Will Find A Way’ Tanya’s vocals were even better than the recorded version. Epic give the bigger and more established bands a run for their money. Great things come in small packages, and that’s what Tanya is. Her vocals could strip paint at 50m, and couple this with the fretwork dexterity of Mario Agostine and some Billy Sheehan-esque bass playing from Carlos Bouchabki for great effect. Throw in drummer Souheil Moukaddem, and Epic give one of the performances of the weekend. Again, its more classic rock per se than AOR, but us AOR fans know a good band when we see one. As the set went on the audience grew. My fave was the 80s rifftastic ‘Like a Phoenix’ followed by a great rendition of AC/DCs ‘Highway To Hell’. For some reason their allotted time wasn’t filled, and they finished with the sexy ‘Nah Nah Nah’ five mins earlier than expected.  I’d like to see Epic re-invited as they deserve another crack at the main stage. This was another highlight of the weekend. (8.5/10)

I scuttled back across to the main stage to view the last three songs of Bang Tango. They were a band I never got into in the 80s and the reason was in these last three songs. The vocals were whiny and just poor. The crowd around me heard a rendition of ‘Highway To Hell’ and went nuts, but Epic did it so much better ten minutes earlier. If I was harsh on Jizzy Pearl, then Joe Lesté fans should stop reading now. This sleaze (not AOR HRH!) was as fun as a root canal without the anaesthetic. And then doing it all again....and again...and again...(4/10)

  I’ve been waiting to see this next band for the best part of 30 years. I’d have killed to have seen them with their original singer, but that was not to be, so I had to settle for two originals…..Steve Lynch and Horny Horn ( I mean Randy Rand) of Autograph! Yes I was like a dog with two dicks, or as happy as pig in shit. They are now completed by Simon Daniels (Vox/guitar) and Marc Wieland (drums). If I were any closer I’d have been either in the photo pit, or as a guitar tech. Autograph exploded into life for me, and I soon forgot about the Plunkett effect. ‘Deep End’, ‘Dance All Night’, ‘Loud and Clear’ came at me faster than a bullet strapped to a greased pig. Lynch’s guitar playing was as I heard on record 30 years ago, and Rand looked like he had stepped straight out of a Marlboro advert. I’ve heard the sound was piss-poor from others, but down the front it wasn’t felt (Most had issues on the main stage – sort it out next time HRH!). ‘Blondes In Black Cars’, ‘Send Her To Me’ and ‘All I’m Gonna Take’ were sandwiched by two fairly new songs, with ‘I Lost My Mind In America’ being the best of the new. After Lynch’s stellar rendition of Lynch's solo it was time to cry like a baby and witness one of the best ever AOR songs laid down on vinyl (or cassette), ‘Turn Up The Radio’, and thanks to GTA its also a song for all ages. It was a perfect ending, and Autograph were the band of the day for me. (9/10)

Again Like Romeos Daughter, FM are as reliable and faithful as a reliable and faithful reliable thing. Its now a full ten years since they reformed and their output has been prolific and also of very high quality. Coming on 10 mins later than planned and finishing near to time, I felt a bit short changed. But what was missed in time was made up in the set list of some FM outstanding classics. Jim Kirkpatrick looked every inch the star with a trimmed look and aviator shades. He’s really added extra punch to FM since his arrival. FM is mainly about one guy, and that is the UK Michael Bolton…..Steve Overland, rightly known as THE VOICE! FM did something I’ve not witnessed in years, opening to a couple of  pyro’s for ‘Diggin Up The Dirt’. Again the first few songs were a bit ropey in the sound dept., not FMs doing. All was sorted for the best song that never appeared on an album, ‘Let Love Be The Leader’. A couple of hardly played songs made this evenings set, the song that should have set their path to stardom, ‘Someday’, and the superb ‘Tough It Out’. They went for the big finish with ‘Other Side Of Midnight’ and on the basis of the songs on offer, in my humble opinion a mistake was made with the headliner, as FM have the songs and substance to highlight this great AOR festival. Considering the type of festival this is, they were the first band to have a keyboardist on show. (8/10)

The headline act is Lita Ford. I saw her in the early 80s supporting Rainbow on the ‘BOOS’ tour. To be honest, I can hardly remember anything from that set, and the chances are, give me a month and I will be in exactly the same position after this set. I cant complain about the sound, as the songs paled into insignificance with other bands on this bill today. One thing I will say is that Lita Ford still looks fantastic. However, looks cant carry you forever, the songs have to do some talking. From where I was stood (on the upper level near the bar), the songs were bland and uninspiring. I was wondering how someone can headline a festival based on 2 solo songs in ‘Close My Eyes Forever’ where she was joined on stage by a crowd member who was dressed like a Poundland Ozzy, miming the Ozzy parts, and the encore ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, and the other well known song from The Runaways…‘Cherry Bomb’. I looked around near me and I think this is a sign
of what I’m thinking, as lots of people near me were having conversations, and at no point in time did people stop and look up and listen, which would be the reaction to have for a great performance, or song. It was not to be. Near the bar, and way before the last few songs, the area, which was packed out at the beginning of the set, was almost empty. If I judged it by colour, it would be Magnolia. (6/10)


I watched the last three songs of Haxan based on their T-shirt. ‘You don’t need a cock…..to know how to rock’. My kind of band I thought. The reality was a bit different. I have to give them kudos and balls for a three piece that wants to rock out, but they were let down a bit by the quality of their songs. The feistiness is there, which is great, and I hope they develop into a great little band. Their best shout came from a Zep cover ‘Rock and Roll’. There are lots of other AOR bands in a similar position who would have killed for a slot like this. (6/10)

‘Watch Devilstars’ says Dennis, they’re great. So I did, up to a point.  Their intro tape meant they could have almost fit in an extra song. They looked the part, but the sound of the vocals was inaudible. I don’t think it was down to the sound guy, it was just piss poor projection. I lasted just four songs of the set, and was glad to get out to the main stage. Who did I see in there…..yes, Dennis, who had lasted just two songs of his own tip. (5/10)

Summers were well into their set by the time I landed. This is the third time I have seen them and the first two times they were great. The last was at the inaugural HRH AOR at Magna. What I got this time was a disjointed Summers. Whereas a lot of other bands had a theme or a ‘look’ Summers didn’t know what direction they were headed in. Yes the sound was dodgy again, but I give the band the benefit of the doubt. Crash Summers appeared to be disinterested and there had a severe lack of activity up there. Plus, his gran would have been well pissed off when she realises that he was wearing her curtain tie-backs. ‘Inseparable’ was like a Bon-Jovi country track which is now all the rage. They made up for it with decent versions of ‘Shot In The Dark’ and ‘I Came Here To Rock’. Five years ago I thought Summers had a great future, but they have been over taken by bands on this festival that are now higher up the bill. I really hope they pull something good out of the bag in the near future as I still want them to make it. If they do, it will probably be the hard way. (5.5/10)

  The next band should have the previous three I have mentioned, standing in the photo pit taking notes on how a gig should be done. Or at second best giving them all lines. The Radio Sun, making their second appearance in a row at HRH (four if you count their own, and six if you add the Paul Laine gigs), are aeons ahead of most of the bands on this whole roster. I was hoping for a bit of light hearted banter, with say the ‘Home & Away’ theme tune as an intro, but they came out with all guns blazing for ‘Tell Me What You Want’ With Steve Janevski and Jason Old, pulling out the 80s shapes and style, the only thing missing was a Scorpions pyramid. Their ace up the sleeve are Robbie Erdmanis and Ben Wignall. Why you may ask?  I will tell you why, because when these two are added to the mix with Steve’s BVs all backing up Jason, then its pure harmony heaven. ‘Wrong Things Right’ drove this fact home even more, as the final lines send me and hopefully others into a goosey frenzy! ‘One In A Million’ follows the same path. Why if it aint broke, don’t fix it. Highlights for me are ‘Worlds Crazy Now’ and their cover of an Andy Taylor classic ‘I Might Lie’. The Radio Sun are a class act, and should they make it three in a row, they fully deserve at least an hour to perform next time around. (9/10)

The spit and polish effect continued into the afternoon with Brit melodic rock starlets, Vega. I’ve previously stated that these guys get better every time I see them. Well this is the third time in less than 6 weeks, and I still stand by that statement. Vega are built for the big stage. Their songs are made for it, their vocalist Nick Workman is made for it, Bollox, all of them deserve the bigger stage and the chance to play in front of thousand(s). Should Vega stick around long enough, they are at the sharp end of being the best in their field. All the songs are anthems, end of. No expense is spared when it comes to their tunes. You can tell that every note and word has been carefully chosen and sweated over for maximum effect. Vega are the second band of the weekend to have the ‘must have’
AOR keyboards. Vega prove to be one of the best bands of the whole weekend, their time on the road currently with DRN has tightened up their repertoire even more. Its just killer after killer – 'Stereo Messiah', 'Every Little Monster,' and 'WTH' just bombarded us with quality, and 'Fade Into The Flames’ highlights just how good a singer Nick Workman is, he just doesn’t stand still and is the focal point for Vega. The pièce de résistance for me is the set closer ‘Saving Grace’, an absolute defining song for Vega that shows they are ready for the next big step. (9/10)

My final viewing of the day was for Paul Laine (I had a meeting to keep with a real Count! I’m sure it was Count!!). Backed by the lads from The Radio Sun for their third appearance of the weekend, I knew it was going to be a bit special. I caught 8 of the 100 songs of the set and was blown away by how good Laine is, even when he is well on the way to being shitfaced! Some people may find him a bit arrogant due to the drink, but I prefer to let the voice literally do the singing. What with Paul also playing guitar, they are the AOR equivalent of Iron Maiden, because with Steve and Jason also playing, there’s absolutely nothing that can be played.  There wasn’t much solo stuff to be played unfortunately. Then again, he was in D2 after all. I’d love to have heard a
Defiants track if I’m honest, but its no loss, as Paul is still fantastic. His on loan guitar from Lee Revill kept failing in the strap dept., so there’s now’t that duct tape can’t fix, even if it probably lifts the lacquer of it. ‘Under The Gun’, ‘We Are The Young’ and ‘Don’t break My Heart Again’ just tripped off the tongue. I’d love to see him, and as The Defiants invited back. I just hope his liver allows him to! (8.5/10)

One again, HRH have one of the best organised festivals in the UK. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with their choice of bands (at the very least, Epic and Bailey should be on the main stage) as more than a few were sleaze than AOR, but it proved overall to be very good, but it could have been great. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Pictures courtesy of Simon Dunkerley and Sean Larkin 

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