|Hard Rock Hell X – Hafan y Môr – 11 November 2016|
|Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen|
|Friday, 18 November 2016 09:00|
The second day of the tenth anniversary edition of HRHX dawn crisp and bright, with a chilly nip in the air, But, after a round of interviews in the cavernour amusement arcade that served as the makeshift media centre over the weekend, the Uber Rock team soon found themselves being warmed up with some hot music action…
Midlands trio Theia open proceedings on the second stage with enthusiasm and a big rock ‘n’ roll sound filled with plenty of energy combined with big melodies and thoughtful lyrics. With the bright early afternoon sunshine streaming through the glass ceiling, Vodun’s mystical musings lose much of their visual impact, but their juju vibe does enough to evoke and acid-fuelled New Orleans reminiscence and is a good reflection of the diversity of this year’s HRH bill. Departed, meanwhile, really get the party started with their goth-edged raucous sleaze ‘n’ roll, which contains plenty of party stomping anthemic moments which are delivered with an assurity that belies their youth.
‘Highway To Hell’ competition winners Mason Hill kick off the action on the main stage, making sweet noise with their winding melodies based on confident, crunchy riffs and sturdy rhythms, delivered with a slight (understandable) nervousness which slowly evaporates as their set progresses, and by the end they own the stage and many earlycomers.
Israeli emigrés Chase The Ace are setting something of a record, with their fifth HRH appearance, and it’s easy to see why they’ve finally been elevated to main stage status. They deliver good old fashioned sleaze-infused rock ‘n’ roll, with the emphasis on the rock in terms of the their heavy bottom-ended groove and the roll in terms of the way it moves and glides and triggers spontaneous dancing across the arena. Why these guys aren’t already on their way to massive things is a question which hopefully will be answered in the very near future, as they have the right combination of catchy-as-fuck songs, infectious enthusiasm and, dare I say, the looks to boot!
A corrupted version of the US national anthem appropriately, given the events of the previous week, announce the arrival of the first of the weekend’s most-anticipated acts, at least as far as the UR team are concerned. And we’re not disappointed as Warrior Soul threaten to lift the roof of the place with an absolutely blistering showstopper performance. Frontman Kory Clarke is an unrestrained ball of electric, punk ‘n’ roll energy while the band are as tight as they are acerbic as they deliver their dark, dense grooves with dangerous, obnoxious undertones. Clarke cannot resist referencing the events back in the States – inserting phrases like “Donald Trump is a fucking whore” into the likes of ‘Wasteland’ – but by and large concentrates on delivering a pumped up show filled with infectiously danceable moments and wrought with passion and a sense of pending anarchy.
Back over on the second stage, The Last Vegas deliver a rowdy mix of glam and pop-punk infused with a heavy dose of Sunset Strip-style sleaze, the tightness of which echoes their experience but also retains a youthful enthusiasm which is as infectious as their tunes.
Bonfire are the first of the weekend’s “big guns” – but they immediately fire a blank when they fuck up the opening to the first song! However, they quickly find the live rounds and proceed to deliver a rapid fire salvo of hit-after-hit from their three-decade career. It’s a polished (perhaps overly so) performance – as you would expect – based on huge twin guitar harmonies, with seemless interactions between the two axemen, twinned with tight as fuck rhythms and melodies which, apart from that initial glitch, is flawless in every respect.
Wandering back over to the second stage, UR – well, The Dark Queen - stumbles across one of the true discoveries of the weekend… JOANovARC are a feisty female foursome very much in the mould of The Amorettes the day before. They play hard-hitting high energy old-school rock ‘n’ roll with the additional oomph of a second guitar. Sam Walker has a great vocal range, and hits some amazing high screams, while sister Shelley is a superb guitarist. The rhythm section of Sam, second guitarist Laura Ozholl and drummer Debbie Wildish keep things tight as they deliver an energetic set – although they could have done with interacting with the crowd a bit more… And who says girl play ‘Freebird’? Certainly not us!
As has been well documented on this site, Ricky Warwick is not a man who likes to sit still for too long. Having just finished recording the new Black Star Riders album (‘Heavy Fire’, due for release on 3 February), he’s now back out on the road with his latest project, The Fighting Hearts - featuring BSR bandmate Robbie Crane, The Mission’s Mark Thwaite and his old (sic) sidekick Gary Sullivan – with a run of dates that will take him through to the start of December.
Immediately asking ‘Do You Understand?’ before taking us a walk down ‘Damascus Street’, it’s obvious that the band is not merely a vehicle for Warwick to promote his recent solo albums – although that obviously is part of the intention – but that he intends to plough the full furrow of his back catalogue, as is evidenced by the early inclusion of (sic)’s ‘Eyeball Kicks’. The raw, visceral and personal nature of the songs is brought to vivid life as he jumps effortless from The Almighty back to solo material – and even to BSR with a stripped back ‘Finest Hour’. Hell, he even chucks in a glorious cover of The Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’, which virtually brings the roof down around him (especially with Crane’s bass so loud the walls are actually shaking to the touch), while there’s really only way he can finish and that’s with Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’, which has become something of his signature tune – perhaps a reflection of how Warwick seems to have re-invented himself in recent years?
From the moment Graham Bonnet opens his throat, it is very obvious that he has dropped everything a couple of octaves to a lower register, reflecting that his more mature voice no longer can attain the high notes of his younger days: well, he is approaching 69 after all! Not that that’s a bad thing – especially as the songs still sound so great in the hands of a master of his craft.
With his new album, ‘The Book’, having been split into two halves – the first new songs, the second re-recordings of old ones to reflect his deeper delivery – it is inevitable that he is going to liberally pepper his set with fan favourites from throughout his five-decade long career: and they’re not long in coming, as he opens with the double Rainbow whammy of ‘Eyes Of The World’ and ‘All Night Long’, both of which serve to showcase the power and clarity of his delivery and enunciation.
As Bonnet revisits his Alcatrazz, MSG and own long solo career, it is obvious that Italian guitarist Conrado Pesinato is no Blackmore, Schenker or Malmsteen, but he reproduces the licks and solos with an efficiency that is as consistent as it is effective. Bonnet, meanwhile, still possesses enough panache and commitment to paper over any minor musical cracks in this otherwise tight plasterwork of a hit-strewn set.
The old dog still has it, and quite possibly is still capable of delivering a few new tricks.
The sight of a bunch of middle-aged men jumping around in skate shorts and reversed baseball caps, especially in the middle of November, might seem slightly incongruous, but this is Ugly Kid Joe, and they epitomize the youthful spirit that still imbues everyone in this now sweltering room. Baby, it may be cold outside (feckin’ freezin’ in fact) but it’s roasting inside!
But, right from the off, something seems to be wrong… and it’s frontman Whitfield Crane… while touring guitarist Chris Catalyst is jumping around the stage like a man possessed, the singer looks distracted and as if his mind is elsewhere: constantly wandering off stage, it’s three songs into the set before he speaks to the crowd, and even then he seems emotionless, as if running on an almost empty tank. He admits this is the band’s 35th straight gig on the tour – and it’s as if it has taken its toll, as Crane looks plain exhausted. And, then… boom!
‘Cat’s In The Cradle’ is almost a light switch moment, as if the line “I wouldn’t have it any other way” suddenly serves as a dose of adrenalin to his knackered body, and he pushes himself through the barrier of pure physical expenditure in order to deliver the best he can for his fans. The second half of the set is a complete contrast: an energy-fuelled rock ‘n’ roll circus – complete with exotic dancers (in Donald Trump masks)! And there’s a lovely touch when Crane brings out Dallas Frasca (who had been supporting UKJ on their European tour) and her guitarist Jeff Cullan for a riotous version of ‘DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds’…
When UKJ bring the noise, they bring the party with it… it’s a pity Crane took a while to get into the spirit, but when he did he showed why they are one of the best bands of their ilk around…
UKJ may have been the nominal headliners but there was no doubt which band an awful lot of people were here to see, and that was Vixen. Looking and sounding as gorgeous as ever, the ladies strut and preen with all the style and panache they possess, inviting us to ‘Rev It Up’ before asking ‘How Much Love’ can we take… as much as you can cover us in, is the obvious response.
Guitarist Gina Stiles suffers the first of a series of technical problems during ‘Cruisin’’, but they cope with it well, with Janet Gardner quipping “well, it wouldn’t be a rock show…”. ‘I Want You To Rock Me’ seques into a surprising – and surprisingly good – version of Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’, leading Janet to reminisce about touring with the band in the 1980s… Gardner does try to introduce some humour into the proceedings by trying to say “for fuck sake” in a Welsh accent, but failing miserably (it’s more Yorkshire than anything) she decides to stick to what she does best with the quick one-two of ‘Not A Minute Too Soon’ and ‘Streets In Paradise’ before Share Ross steps up to the mic for an appropriately timed, and particularly raunchy, version of ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’.
Gardner returns to the stage to talk about her old friend Jan Kuehnemund, who sadly died from ovarian cancer in 2013. “Every note, every song is for her” she says, before inviting Stiles to open up the riff to a particularly poignant ‘Love Is A Killer’, which brings more than a few tears to more than a few eyes. They finish the main set with ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’, which sounds as beautiful as ever, but of course they’re not going to get away without taking is to the ‘Edge Of A Broken Heart’, which has as many hands and voices raised as camera ‘phones: Janet’s vocal is as sweet as when I first heard it 28 years ago – even if she can’t quite hit that high note on the cusp of the chorus – and Vixen bring the glorious second day to a suitably triumphant conclusion.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photographs © The Dark Queen.
Check out our full gallery of photographs of Day Two of HRHX HERE.