HRH AOR – Pwllheli – 11 March 2016

Thanks to a mizzle which had blown in from the Irish Sea overnight, the first full day at Camp Hard Rock Hell dawns damp underfoot, as the faithful thousands wake from their late slumbers and prepare for the entertainment coming their way across the three stages.

Estrella at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 11 March 2016Having travelled from about as far north on the island of Britain without falling off the edge to almost as far west as you can without doing the same, Highland rock warriors Estrella kick off the action in HRH AOR arena in suitably energetic and flamboyant style.  They display a confident aplomb and tight musical ability, honed by almost incessant live work, coupled with sense of genuinely having fun.  With tousled-haired frontman Paul Gunn constantly moving and jiving, the three musicians deliver melodies which have the right amount of gristle to avoid being squeaky clean.  Handing out free beer of the same name, Estrella get the first audience singalongs of the day going, despite it not quite having turned 3.30, and get the Friday party started with fire and determination. (8)

Set list: Rock City / She’s Got It / Heaven / Let’s Do It / Whatever It Is / Wheels / We Will Go On / Here I Am

Iconic Eye at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 12 March 2016Iconic Eye heavy affairs up substantially with their thick grooves, dense melodies and tight knit guitar harmonies, with a slightly progressive edge, especially in Neil Fraser’s lead work and Gary Slater’s bass runs.  After the huge opening pop of Estrella, and their happy-clappy singalongs, the quintet have to work a lot harder than they perhaps feel they need to in order to win the crowd over (although they do have appreciative pockets of support dotted around the arena).  And perhaps therein lies the problem:  they’re just trying too hard – with the possible exception of vocalist Tim Dawkes, who looks and sounds completely out of place, especially with himself.  They also suffer problems with the guitars cutting in and out, and changing volume seemingly at random.  And the fact they do two cover versions back-to-back – ironically the biggest cheer of their set comes for their fuzzed-out bass-driven interpretation of Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’ – is off-putting.  While they battle through the difficulties with bravura, the result, ultimately and unfortunately, is blander than the chips from the adjacent Burger King. (5)

Setlist: Now That I’ve Found You / Every Little Thing / All She Needed / You Make It / Same Old Feeling / Don’t Stop Me From Leaving / Sweet Emotion / In A Broken Dream / Am I (The Man) / Let It Rain Down / Better Place / I Can Feel It

Kane'd at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 12 March 2016Valley girls (and guys) Kane’d initially seem like they’re on the wrong stage, with their chunky, almost Metallica-ish sub-thrash opening section.  But, by second song ‘Lonely’ they have eased back on the pure metal pedal and the three part vocal harmonies of the Kane sisters come more to the fore.  ‘I See You’, nevertheless, has a dirty, sexy punch perhaps more suited to the Sleaze stage across the boulevard, and continues the cross-pollination theme from the previous evening.  The slower tempo of ‘Rise’ (the title track of their just-released second album) is more suited to this side of the boardwalk, with its emphasis on the atmosphere and melody of the track.  By ‘Beautiful But Tragic’ they’ve started to win over more and more people to their mixture of classic metal riffs and ambitious vocal harmony arrangements, and the sextet’s grit and determination ultimately shines through and is rewarded with a generally warm reception. (7)

Blood Red Saints at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 12 March 2016The arrival of Blood Red Saints also finally marks the arrival of keyboards!  Huge, big swathes of them!  And they are matched by earnest, energetic harmonies and massive vocal melodies, with plenty of bottom end to the rhythms and a gritty edge to the guitar sound.  Having laid down their market with the opening duet of ‘Kicking Up Dust’ and ‘Mercy’, they slow things down somewhat with the atmospheric ‘Best Of Me’ – written, as Pete Godfrey reveals, with members of Vega – before bringing back the grunt and grind as they invite us to share their ‘Dirty Little Secret’.  BRS display plenty of light and shadem not only in the textures of the individual songs but in the pacing of their set.  There is a tautness to the precision of Pete Newdeck’s drumming (well, would you expect anything less from this seasoned professional?) while Lee Revill proves himself technically excellent in building the layers of sound, but also more than capable of letting rip when needed.  They take us back to 1986 – “when music was ours” as Godfrey explains – with a brief snippet of Bon Jovi’s ‘Wated Dead OI Can’t Hear You No Morer Alive’ before showing the spirity they have just evoked in ‘Unbreakable’.  They also unveil a new song, ‘Staring At The Sun’, which is vibrant and pulsating. (8)

Setlist: Kicking Up Dust / Mercy / Best Of Me / Dirty Little Secret / Dangerous / Love Set Me Up Again / Wanted Dead or Alive / Unbreakable / Staring At The Sun / Feels A Lot Like Love / Does It Feel Like Love / Better Days

Russ Ballard at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 12 March 2016With the event already running some 15-20 minutes behind schedule, the announcement comes that there will be a further delay as Russ Ballard is stuck in traffic (as result of the same accident which caused the cancellation of Acid Reign’s set down the hill) and is still some distance from the site.  But, the crew work to ensure that everything is ready for this rare live appearance by the 70-year old songwriting maestro, with the result that, 40 minutes late, he saunters on stage as if nothing is wrong.  He looks calm and relaxed as, after opener ‘Rene Didn’t Do It’, he invites us all to “pretend it’s Friday night and you’re on holiday.  He’s self-depracating in referring to his songwriting heritage – “your mum and dad might know this one” he says as he introduces ‘Liar’ from Argent’s self-titled 1970 debut album – as he plums the depths of the same, from the solo track ‘The Fire Still Burns’, which very much does that, even if the heat is somewhat mellower to reflect its creator’s years, through songs written for artists as diverse as Hot Chocolate (‘So You Win Again’), Abba’s Anni-Frid Lyngstad (‘I Know There’s Something Going On’) and Hello (‘New York Groove’).  He also proves that he’s still an active songwriter and recording artist, with ‘Time Machine’ from last year’s ‘It’s Good To Be Here’ offering.  Of course, he has to finish with his greatest hits, and rousing versions of ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock And Roll To You’ (“the way it was originally written back in 1973”) earn him only the second encore of the weekend, as the one everybody has been waiting for, ‘Since You Been Gone’, which serves as a fine ending to a classic, if somewhat mellow, demonstration of the power of great songwriting. (8)

Setlist: Rene Didn’t Do It / It’s My Life (Stand In My Shoes) / Dream On / Liar / The Fire Still Burns / So You Win Again / I Know There’s Something Going On / New York Groove / Time Machine / Voices / Hold Your Head Up / God Gave Rock And Roll To You / Since You Been Gone

Tyketto at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 12 March 2016“Ladies and gentlemen, please switch your phones to camera mode…” The intro tape builds anticipation before Chris Green’s short but ripping guitar solo soars around the arena and heralds the arrival of the band who for many were the main attraction of the weekend:  Tyketto.  Right from the beginning, it’s clear it’s going to be a special night, as opener ‘Sail Away’ immediately sees voices raised – and they don’t lower any for the rest of the hour-long set, much to the delight of Danny Vaughn, who is smiling from ear to ear at the pleasure of the experience.  Vaughn definitely is one of the best frontmen in the business, and he proves it as he jokes with the audience about playing the whole of the ‘Don’t Come Easy’ album (which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year) but in reverse:  “I mean, if we played ‘Forever Young’ now, you’d all go home!”  The audience don’t need any encouragement to help out on the vocals – “it’s not because I can’t hit the notes any more, but because this is a rock n roll show and should involve everyone” – as nearly everyone in the room knows nearly every word of every song.  They interrupt the album reverse playback to add in ‘Walk Away’, the B side of the original ‘Forever Young’ single:  even though Vaughn reveals they have played it only once before – the previous evening in Sheffield (so if we fuck it up you’ll forgive us, right?”) –  a goodly proportion of the audience are still singing along.  The chorus on ‘Standing Alone’ gets the voices raised even higher, if it is possible, and lighters would probably be raised just as high if they wouldn’t set the fire alarms off!  But, the undoubted highlight is, of course, ‘Forever Young’, which Vaughn describes as “your song – it has been for 25 years”:  and it’s as if all those years have been rolled back, and everyone present is a quarter of a century younger, as the crowd sings with a single voice, and the band quit the stage to the loudest and longest applause of the entire weekend. (10)

Setlist: Sail Away / Strip Me Down / Nothing But Love / Walk On Fire / Lay Your Body Down / Walk Away / Standing Alone / Seasons / Burning Down Inside / Wings / Forever Young

Joe Lynn Turner at HRH AOR, Pwllheli, 11 March 2016Joe Lynn Turner knows he has to do something special after Tyketto’s festival-stealing set, and he gets things off to a fevered start with ‘Death Alley Driver’.  He promises us an evening of nostalgia – and that’s exactly what he delivers, with a selection of Rainbow hits and a few other gems thrown in:  it’s a safe song selection, designed to please an audience and give them exactly what they want.  Along the way, he tells some of the stories behind some of the songs, like how ‘Jealous Lover’ was written in ten minutes in a toilet, and ‘Street Of Dreams’ was penned on a sleepless night in a Copenhagen hotel.  With Trixter’s Steve Brown on guitar duties, JLT and his band make no attempt to exactly reproduce the songs, or radically re-interpret them:  some of them, such as the still massive sounding ‘I Surrender’ are slightly downtuned to reflect that Turner may not be able to hit the high notes as well as he could in the past – something which is obvious in the climatic singalong of ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’, when he does seem to have serious issues with the upper end of the screams.  Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining set and one which is perfectly suited to an event of this nature and a time when nostalgia and reminiscence of past glories is often a much more attractive proposition than the reality of the now. (8)

Setlist: Death Alley Driver / Power / Can’t Let You Go / Jealous Lover / Street Of Dreams / Miss Mistreated / I Surrender / Stone Cold / King Of Dreams / Can’t Happen Here / Spotlight Kid / Man On The Silver Mountain / Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

  • Photographs by Sean Larkin.
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About Mark Ashby

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