|Hard Rock Hell X – Hafan y Môr – 10 November 2016|
|Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen|
|Wednesday, 16 November 2016 19:33|
It’s hard to believe that Hard Rock Hell has been going for ten years now. Jeezus, it’s like watching your own kids growing, suddenly realizing just what age they are and asking “what the fuck happened?” But, here we are, a decade of destruction, thousands of fans, hundreds of bands and three different locations later, and we’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of one of the UK’s most popular and enduringly successful festival brands…
The Thursday night started out as a small-scale pre-festival sort of bolt on to give the earlycomers something to do instead of just sitting around and chattering inanely while getting slowly drunk. But, in recent years, it has become a cornerstone of the event, setting the tone for what is to come for the rest of the weekend.
However, before the first chord is struck (well, outside of soundcheck anyway) there is the small matter of an opening ceremony, which this year takes on a King Kong-meets-Mad Max feel, with scantily-clad fire dancers gyrating to a soundtrack by Carl Orff, Rammstein and Metallica.
The smell of burning petrol is still lingering in the air when local heroes The Texas Flood (well, they’re from Port Talbot, which is probably just as close as your gonna get to Camp HRH’s remote coastal outpost as anywhere else) thump their way into the first set of the weekend with their Black Crowes-meets-AC/DC groove, which is nigh on perfect for getting this year’s party started.
The trio unveil a couple of tracks from their as-yet-untitled new album, which they inform us is due out in early 2017, and they suitably whet the appetite for both it and the next 50+ plus hours…
A huge delay during the changeover sees the audience getting ready, but The Amoretttes, when they eventually take to the stage more than half an hour behind schedule, know how to make an entrance – and they always put on a blistering show.
They’re not even going to let the little matter of Gill having her leg in a protective boot (after an accident filming their new video) stop them blowing away any trace of the early evening blues with their fiery brand of punchy, rascally (sic) punk-fuelled rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s rowdy and it’s brash, although with a lot more spit and polish than when I first saw them at HRH’s former home in Prestatyn a whack of years back, and the level of popularity they have attained in the intervening period is evidenced that only HRH’s own T-shirts are more prominent than those worn by fans of the three Glaswegian gals.
Praying Mantis are truly one of the last great survivors of the NWOBHM era, having successfully managed to continue recording and touring – even if the latter is largely confined to the festival circuit and support slots – since 1973, while others have fallen by the wayside or followed careers that have stopped and restarted more often than a misfiring Kawasaki.
The Troy brothers always placed a lot more emphasis on melody than many of their counterparts, and this obvious right from the start of ‘Fight For Your Honour’, with its five-part vocal harmonies.
To me, Mantis never really fitted the “NWOBHM” epithet, but gained it because they happened to be around at the time, in much the same way as Magnum, to whom they inevitably draw many stylistic comparisons: and this is proven in a set which is a good blend of harmony and heaviness, delivered with well-judged pace, and which ploughs their entire back catalogue, right back to ‘Children Of The Earth’ from their 1981 ‘Time Tells No Lies’ debut.
The NWOBHM theme continues with Sweet Savage, the Belfast “boys” best known for providing Metallica with one of their early pops (but we’ll come back to that anon). They also lead the vanguard of acts from li’l ol’ Norn Iron…
Stripped down to a three-piece (guitarist Simon McBride is currently touring eastern Europe in the latest incarnation of Ian Gillan’s band), ‘Warbird’ heralds a set of thick, solid and chunky British metal played with experienced aplomb and Ray Haller’s characteristic Belfast cockiness – even if he does forget the title of their latest album, introducing it first time around as ‘Regeneration’ instead of ‘Regenerator’ (see, some of us at the back were paying attention!).
Rumours had been flying around all afternoon that former Savage guitarist Vivian Campbell would be making a surprise early appearance alongside his old bandmate Haller: and the presence of a second Marshall stack stage left added some cognisance to these… but, alas, it was not to be, and it proved to be a bluff, with the closest whiff being Ray’s introductions to ‘Eye Of The Storm’ and it’s B-side, the afore-referenced ‘Killing Time’, which itself is prefaced by the first drum solo of the weekend.
To be honest, Savage get a lot of slagging in their native city, but this is a good solid set, with the highlights being ‘Regenerator’ itself, which is as heavy as having a concrete block dropped on your head, and traditional set closer ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, which gets even the most cynical rocker singing along.
Last In Line, of course, started out as a tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, when the surviving members of the original Dio line-up decided to re-unite and continue his legacy. A lot has changed since then, of course, in that they have subsequently released an album of original material and lost the great Jimmy Bain as well.
However, almost immediately, it’s straight into the Dio “covers” – if this descriptive can be used of material two out of the five guys on the stage were involved in writing – with an emotive ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ and a rowdy ‘Evil Eyes’.
Throughout the set, it is extremely obviously that Viv Campbell is, as he has said in interviews, having fun playing guitar again, while Freeman really proves his worth during ‘Holy Diver’, whipping the audience into a frenzy, with every voice in the room (and a few there in spirit) singing the words for him. Intermingling new material with Dio classics, Phil Soussain (ironically more closely associated with the man whom RJD replaced in Sabbath) steps forward to pay tribute to Jimmy Bain, leading to an emotional ‘Starmaker’ – although Freeman is forced to apologize to the crowd at the end of it, “sorry for the distraction while we’re paying tribute to our friends” vents both the feelings of both the bands and many present at stiltwalkers parading through the photo pit midsong!
It’s a set which couples nostalgia to looking to the future, and addresses the issue of how to pay homage to a legacy while also moving forward from what it has created. As I said, it’s a crowd-pleasing set, albeit delivered by musicians confident in their ability to do just that and get away with it… but, that was nothing more than we really expected, was it?
With the midnight hour now past, Hayseed Dixie are tasked with those of us still standing after hours miles of flying and driving out of our beds. And it is hard to resist, at least initially, the charm of their bluegrass interpretations of rock and metal classics. They certainly provide a quaint footnote to the evening for those seeking to wring every ounce of sweat out of their weekend, and there’s certainly plenty of drunken dancing going on… But, to be honest, it all sounds a little bit samey and the joke wears thin almost as quickly as your Uber Rock team’s eyelids start to droop, so it’s off to bed we go to recharge our batteries for the first full day of this special anniversary shebang.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photographs © The Dark Queen.
Check out our full gallery of photographs of Day One of HRH X HERE.