Right then boys and girls. Hands up who likes festivals? Really? All of you? Hmm … let’s try that one again. Being totally truthful, who really likes festivals – too many bands (is that possible?) that have clashing times, too much booze (is that possible?), not enough sleep, too much mud/rain/snow/sun/sleet/fog/hail/wind/thunder and lightning (“….very, very frightening”) (delete as applicable – or given British weather just hope you don’t get them all!), bad sound, grumpy punters, stupid prices … and so it goes on? You’ve probably guessed that I’m not a massive fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love the “idea” of most festivals but (and it’s a very big, slightly lardy, wearing inappropriately tight and far too cheaply made Primark leggings but) once you get the line-ups announced and see the cost it takes a lot to get me to venture forth from, ahem, sunny Lancashire to attend. Download 2009 was a classic for me (Def Leppard, Trousersnake, ZZ Top, Thunder’s last ever show ….er, really? ….. Steel Panther’s first in the UK, Crue, Journey, Dream Theatre and many, many more) but before and since there has been a few bands I’d want to see but a full weekend? Nah, not me matey.
That was until last year’s HRH AOR/Prog at Magna in Rotherham. Loads of great bands, many new names to me who soon worked their way on to the “Davey W’s Totally Obsessed AGAIN” list (Jettblack, Estrella, Nubian Rose all spring to mind). Indoors, reasonable scheduling (it would never be 100% perfect and, to be honest, the problems for me was I was there to cover the whole thing and interview bands and that was always going to cause a few headaches). When the marvellous team at Chic announced that the second event was on I was thrilled … until they said it was moving to Pwll …. er, North Wales. Again, don’t see this as me slagging of Wales or the organisers, it’s just that …well, although only 130 miles from home, the thought of a touching 3 hours drive didn’t fill me with joy. Especially as it was due to start on the Thursday night and I needed to be doing the other job on the Friday. Oh bugger! However, I thought perhaps if we left after work, we could get there without too much traffic chaos but miss Thursday night and a good deal of Friday but, hopefully, get the bulk of the bands covered. So the challenge was set and away went the three strong band of Rock-Zone warriors (Jez, Mrs W and me!). Could we get there in time? Could we survive the weekend? Could Davey W survive a caravan?
So, two intrepid warriors got away eventually (following an appointment for Mrs W just to confuse travel arrangements just a lot) and we got to the Haven park in fairly good time (exactly the 2 and 3/4 that the strange woman that lives in my sat nav said it would take), checked in easily and dumped the gear in the provided caravan. First thing to review, the caravans are fantastic. One or two Rock-Zone readers had mentioned the price of accommodation being a bit on the steep side (compared with tents and proper budget hotel chains) but they are really nice. By the time the heat was on (in my case mid-afternoon Saturday, but that’s because I was struck down with a lurgy of biblical proportions) the three bedroom ‘van was like a glorious apartment. Privacy and cleanliness, comfort and somewhere to recharge our batteries when needed). Fabulous value – do not be put off by what you THINK is a bit on the high side, the team from Chic have it SPOT ON!
With that, I was under starter’s orders and away. Wanting to see some bands before the first of my arranged interviews was going to be very tricky as the first was …. in 10 minutes! Argh!! Sprint to the AOR stage to see the Tigertailz and take some photos, then back to the Media Centre for the run of interviews. Just as I got to the door, my phone bleeped and… the first interview had been moved. Yay, now it all made a bit more sense. The logistics of work, appointment and travel meant that we had no chance of seeing Hell 2 Pay, Lawless (despair! I needed to see these boys as their album, review coming soon, is fab but… all was not lost as I ventured to Crewe the week after HRH AOR – review later!), Newman (gutted by this as “Siren” was one of my albums of the year http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/index.php?s=newman) and Summers. I dearly would have liked to see the Summers show as apart from hearing great things about them live (recently on the Tyketto anniversary tour and also over the past 12 months) I had missed them at the first HRH AOR – I did manage to catch the boys for a fun interview, coming soon!). So first up was that evergreen bunch of reprobates … Tigertailz.
Fresh from a swift jaunt to Europe, and not long after I had the pleasure of seeing them on their UK tour at the ‘Tailz (groan!) end of 2013, this line up never fails to disappoint. Jules Millis is clearly living the dream, fronting one of his all time favourite bands, whilst Rob Wylde and Matt Blakout bring the noise on bass and drums. Jay Pepper is the thread that binds the eras of the songs from early days to now and what a blast they and the crowd have. Clearly, they couldn’t not unleash their “Love Bomb Baby” and that was saved until last. A big finish from the guys that really did raise the roof. You can argue whether they are AOR (although, what is AOR? I’m a fan and I don’t really know!) but there were a number of bands for whom you would probably question their presence on AOR defined terms but, who cares ….
Right…. back to the media centre for interviews with said ‘Tailz, Summers and Bonafide meant we missed those boys from Norfolk with the singer with the amazing mooustache, Bad Touch. I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice in the last year and boy can these guys rock – sorry I missed you fellas, but hopefully you will get an album review on here soon! A last minute addition to the bill to replace the missing Chasing Violets, word on the park was the guys did a sterling job. Catch them when they’re near you. On the way I briefly popped into the Prog stage and caught some of Shattered Skies, again confirmed AOR fan Davey W turns progster – this is a band I will need to check out soon, more rock-prog than prog-rock …which can’t be bad?
Then came the two bands that I was really looking forward to seeing on Day 1, plus the third R-Z warrior had arrived just in time to see one of the top bands of the day. First up, Pink Cream 69 fronted by David Readman (originally from that home of rock and roll …erm, Burnley!) and featuring Dennis Ward on bass. Well known amongst AOR fans, Pink Cream 69 haven’t toured much in the UK and truly took the opportunity to impress. With a metally edge, their blend of hard rock and melody enchanted and hooked the packed arena from start to finish with a set bringing elements from their 27 year career including tracks from their latest release “Ceremonial” (http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/2013/02/17/pink-cream-69-ceremonial/). I hope they hit the UK again soon. And the third R-Z warrior had arrived just in time to see one of the top bands of the day.
Bonfire were up next (after a nice interview with Tyketto mainman Danny Vaughn) and I’ve known these Teutonic Titans for a long time. Another band whose Wikipedia page describes them as “heavy metal” rather than AOR, they have been bringing their own brand of melodic rock to the world since 1972 but, again, rarely frequent the UK. Over for the festival and to accompany Tyketto on their 25th anniversary tour. Bonfire’s 1987 (what a great year that was for music) album “Fireworks” is still in my all time top list. So much so that, Mrs W recognised a number of songs, especially “Sleeping All Alone” and “Give It A Try” – apparently, I had put them on a mix tape (ask your parents if you don’t know what one of those is!) when we first met … so that was when I started brain washing her? Awesome live, proving that musically, at least, age and experiences can still beat youthful exuberance.
House of Lords, fronted by James Christian, are touring Europe with Mrs Christian (Robin Beck) and Estrella and this stop gave them the opportunity to promote their current release “Precious Metal”. Good songs from that and their back catalogue produced a nice set. A slick performance that entertained the crowd, but didn’t appear to win over many new fans. Unlike the next band. A lovely chat over a cup of “tea”, with the boys from The Pineapple Thief opened up a new prog band for me to check out on my return home
I have been aware of Tyketto for most of their 25 year career but, as I told Danny earlier in the day, they had kind of just slipped through my musical net. I reviewed “Dig In Deep” (http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/2012/04/04/tyketto-dig-in-deep/) and, of course, know “Forever Young” very well but as for the rest of the set? Blew me away. Great songs, great set of musicians who have clearly been fired up by their anniversary tour. Two last UK dates followed this and then they flew to the States for the Monsters of Rock Cruise. Happy sailing fellas … now I can see why this band have kept such a loyal and supportive fanbase.
Headliner, Robin Beck was up now … and I had started to flag a bit. To be honest I probably needed either something a bit more rocking or my bed. Very slick and a very consummate performer (and very attractive … so Jez told me!) she belted out her set and if I’m honest I only knew “Save Up All Your Tears” (classic Desmond Child, but I’d forgotten Robin released it before Cher) and her biggest hit. Flagged up with a big birthday wish to a member of the crowd, Robin signed and handed over a gift of a bottle of Coke (the drink rather than the stuff for, cough, powdering your nose) and then we had “First Time”. A great singer but I’m not sure about being headliner (I guess purely on the grounds of hit singles?) – and the end of the set got a bit squirmy when the crowd didn’t seem too bothered about an encore. Cringe.
Bonafide’s take on AOR was the last for the day. Clearly pushing the definition of AOR even further, these guys clearly prove the adage that we are here for a good time rather than a long time. Constantly touring and working crowds around the UK, if hard work is the key to success these guys will earn it in spades. A bit of hard rocking fun to close our first day and then back to the caravan of dreamless sleep …. or not. Climbing into bed was the part when I realised that I might not be feeling too well and the shivering started and wouldn’t stop. Oh ‘eck, could I survive the onslaught that was to come – a day of interviews, stage time clashes (well … only three but still a problem for 3pm on a Saturday!) and at least 14 MUST see bands? Looks like picked the wrong week to give up …… (insert own joke here)!
The morning started surprisingly early considering, a rather nice breakfast to fuel us up and off to the Media Room to speak to Deadly Circus Fire. Throat was still holding out, coffee and adrenaline started pumping and we were ready for the first band in the AOR stage. I had the pleasure of seeing Curran only a few weeks previously as support to The Quireboys on the Unplugged tour (http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/2014/02/18/the-quireboys-upfront-and-personal-the-railway-bolton-1st-february-2014/), this time saw the full band setting. Good fun and a nice way to start the day.
Perhaps second on the bill was a bit of a stretch for EofE. A lovely bunch of young lads (“Do you think you could possibly be anymore patronising, Davey?” says … pretty much everyone!), clearly relishing their big break. It was obvious that they are at that cross-over point in their burgeoning musical career – some really good songs of their own but still filling the set with covers. Trust yourselves … your songs are strong enough, go for it! Then, from Russia, Reds’Cool.
Recently reviewed by yours truly (http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/2014/03/16/redscool-bad-story/), it was interesting to see them in the flesh. Good songs, a bit of attitude and checking them out is worth your while. Hangovers were still impacting on numbers in the crowd or, perhaps, people were being selective in which bands they wanted to see. For me it was about seeing as many as I could (mixed in with the interviews) and suddenly it was mega clash time for me – 3pm saw Daynazty at the AOR stage, Purson in Prog and, my favourite guitar player and his band, Pat McManus, in the Blues stage. What were we going to do?
Initially, it was going to be easy. I hadn’t herd anything by Dynazty so perhaps I’d just let that one slip … and wait for all my friends to tell me what a fool I’d been. Well, that was the plan … right up until Thursday night when Spinefarm sent me a message asking if I would like to interview the boys to talk about the show, their new album “Renatus” (review coming next week!) and, by the way, here is their video. What an idiot I am …. I watched the video and I was hooked. Far more metal than previously, the 2014 Dynazty are very much power/prog metal without losing any of their sense of melody. The first few songs of their set were amazing but Purson’s blend of 60s/70s Psych Prog was calling Mrs W like Greek Sirens calling sailors to their doom. In we went and, despite one or two technical issues with the guitar, a fine set with good sound (I’m lloking forward to their show at The Railway, Bolton on May 16th May), Purson come across like Siouxsie does prog … and that is no bad thing. I left Mrs W to photograph Purson, whilst I nipped back for another fix of Dynazty until I could wrench the camera from out of her vice like grip. I did and headed to the Blues stage for the first time.
Now I know how good The Pat McManus Band are (somewhat selfishly I kind of like the thought that they are one of life’s best kept secrets) but on the face of this, what a winner for the Professor. A packed room to witness the joie de vivre that Pat brings to everything he does. I bet there wasn’t one person who didn’t want the set to continue way past the alotted hour (we had the pleasure of seeing hin the following night in The Railw… you know where, don’t you?) and his blend of blues, rock, folk and fiddle playing just mesmerise, entice and make you smile as widely as Pat himself. NEVER miss seeing him again …. ever!!
After that it was AOR stage for much of the rest of the day. We’ve seen Logan before, supporting the very might Alter Bridge, and the lads from Scotland are, without question, coming from a similar musical place to Mark Tremonti’s team. Power, melody and incredible drumming. Their set reminded me of why I had been so impressed the first time I saw them. Rock-Zone UK need to catch up with Logan over the coming months.
No Hot Ashes from Northern Ireland have had a bit of a short break between their last major shows and today … according to singer Eamon Nancarrow about 25 years! Like many of us that wanted to follow that rock and roll dream, life kind of caught up with them and they found themselves doing other things like family and what my mum and dad called “proper jobs”. Now they’re back together having reconvened for a charity gig and finding that it was as though those years had never been there. With promotor extrodnaire Steve Strange on drums and the infectious personality of Eamon leading the promotional attack, perhaps seeing them on this bill is no surprise. However, the quality of the songs and their performance makes it 100% obvious why they have been also chosen as support on the Irish leg of the upcoming Foreigner tour, placed on the bill at Download and, as revealed exclusively to Rock-Zone, will support Thunder and Aerosmith at Hyde Park Calling later in the summer. A great bunch of lads, having the time of their lives (all over again). The disappointing thing for me was that the timing of their set meant that the audience was a wee bit thinner than they deserved … however, Pat McManus and band were up the front and rocking with the ‘Ashes and surely that is another sign of quality. I have since had the chance to chat with Eamon twice (interview coming soon) about the show and his book “Holywood Star” – read it, laugh out loud and just enjoy life.
Another round of interviews, including EofE, Dynazty and No Hot Ashes meant that I missed most of Kee Marcello’s set (I did however catch up with him for an interview where we discussed Europe, guitars and Rock of Ages), but I heard great things from the audience and the Europe songs went down a treat with the crowd.
Soon to be consigned to history, Love/Hate hit me really hard. Hardly AOR, Jizzy Pearl’s own brand of punky melody had previously put me in a bad place. They did not float my boats at all … but on the basis of tonight I have no idea why. Once again, I discover a band right at that moment where they are put to bed. “Why Do You Think They Call It Dope” and “Blackout in the Red Room” sound as fresh now as I think they would have if I’d been bothered all those years ago!
Finally it was time. The latest of my man crush, borderline stalker, musical obsessions – ColdSpell. Third album “Frozen Paradise” (http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/2014/03/16/coldspell-frozen-paradise/) is, along with Eden’s Curse’s “Symphony of Sin”, top of my 2013 album’s of the year (or they would have been if I’d actually listened to them in 2013 when they were released!). Another harder rocking band, the Swedes brand of melodious wonderfulness hit me as hard in the live environment as it did on record … only this time you can see how much fun they’re having doing it. So good I went to see them again two days later in Crewe (and could happily have gone to London, Nuneaton and Grimsby if time, money, work and Mrs W had allowed) … obsessed you say? Absolutely…. and do I look bothered? Michael Larsson on guitar and Chris Goldsmith on bass look like the before and after Ozzy photos of Zakk Wylde but, boy, can these dudes rock. Awesome … and should have been headlining in my eyes!
For that, however, we got Graham Bonnet and UFO. With careers as long as theirs it is no surprise they were top of the bill. That said, Mr Bonnet’s set was, erm, not really of the calibre shown by others on the bill (plus, I understand, autocue was used … really? He must’ve been the only person in Britain that night who didn’t know the words to “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Night Games”!). Not a highlight for me but he did seem to go down well with many of the crowd.
Rather than Mr B, we wandered over to watch the one man prog machine that is Fish. As it turns out, Mrs W and Jez had already met him earlier in the evening whilst eating our fish supper (that, apparently is the Scottish word for “and chips”). Strange comments about “what kind of fish is that” led to our two intrepid warriors telling said large Scottish gentleman that it was just “white fish, but if you bought the £4.95 special and peas separately it was great value compared to the cod and chips special” …. the man in question said “Harumph” and wandered off. At this point, I returned to be greeted with “Er, I think we may have just met Fish…”
Anyway, Mr Fish didn’t mention the supper-gate incident in his set. Mixing solo work old and new (I love “Feast of Consequences” and “All Loved Up”, from his latest album), with Marillion songs, interspersed with stories and chat. “Script …” was introduced with the tale of how it was written and it immediately took our fair Jez back in time too. Fabulous set that was much more warmly received than UFO by some! Having since read Fish’s blog about the festival, he may not have enjoyed the experience as much as the fans …. shame as they clearly loved him and all he stands for.
Ah, UFO. Classic rock, with a history and pedigree that surely would deliver the goods. Hmm …. not so much for me I’m afraid. They are still great songs and the band put on a good performance. However, I just felt it was all a bit (even considering the location) a bit chicken in a basket, holiday camp fodder. Not my bag I’m afraid, particularly as I much prefer House of X (the new name for X-UFO) so it sure ain’t the songs.
And so it endeth … completely knackered, with no voice and Satan’s own cold hitting me hard. Totally elated, a fine set of interviews, thousands of photos (they’re coming, OK?) and great memories of a great festival, organised to perfection. Good sound, especially given the soundcheck limitations for all of the bands. This has to be a main stay for the future now. Classy and comfortable, with still enough elements of rock n roll excess for the festival goer of a certain age. Great lineups with enough variety to keep everyone happy whilst not being too disparate. I can’t wait for HRH AOR 3/Prog 3/ Blues 2 next March ….. and I know you should be just as excited too. This how all festivals should be!
Pictures by Celia and David Wilson