Where did that year go? It only seems like a few weeks since I reported on the annual pilgrimage to Pwllheli to enjoy the Spring delights of HRH AOR and Hammerfest … or HRH United as it has been known for the last couple years. Yet, here we were again with motors running and heading down the highway and hurtling towards a weekend full of interviews, photography and, most importantly, great music with great friends. Could those wonderful people at Chic Festivals produce the good again? Would I discover some bands to become obsessed with? Would my dodgy old legs and feet survive? Plus, would the caravan have heating this year?
Arriving at Hafan Y Mor, we were greeted by the sight of hundreds of like minded rock fans queuing to check in and multi-tasking by meeting up with old friends from previous events. You see, this is one of the most impressive things about the HRH festivals – sure, they ALWAYS provide a fabulous bill with quality in abundance (many first time performances in the UK or classic bands that rarely visit our shores) but what sets these events apart from others is that this really does feel like a gathering of the clans, a meeting up of family who are just thrilled to be together again.
A quick visit to our home for the weekend revealed that, yes, we had central heating. Quickly getting the Rock-Zone UK/Extreme Radio Mobile unloaded it was time to head off to the Media Zone to start the round of interviews. As always, this was impeccably organised the results of the various interviews over the weekend will be online very soon. The only difficulty with running around doing interviews and photos is that occasionally you have to miss some of the bands. Now, as will become apparent, not many bands were missed at the main AOR stage but for those bands that were missed, apologies. However, for some of these the reports from the crowd and research for the Davey Jaxx’s Rock of Ages Show resulted in them being checked out, some on the journey home!
A case in point was first band of the festival, The Toi. Opening up the main arena for the Thursday AOR Pre-Party, the timing of the set from the Scottish three piece meant that I was still interviewing. However, upon my arrival at the main arena I was met by numerous friends telling me how great their performance had been. Highlighting songs from their 2015 album “Water Into Wine”, the 45 minutes on stage clearly had resulted in them gatheringa whole host of new supporters and followers. Later in the evening, we did catch up with the boys when frontman Paul Healy was serenading people outside with Michael Jackson songs (I suspect a wee libation had been taken), they had clearly enjoyed the experience and, having got myself a copy of “Water Into Wine”, our journey home revealed the misfortune of missing their set. School report for D Wilson – “must try harder”. However, I will definitely catch The Toi as soon as is possible.
Someone doing the running order clearly had a penchant for old jokes – the first four bands were Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English! However, the bands booked are never a joke. Missing Welsh rockers Beautiful Strangers (I suspect food had been deemed necessary – sorry! However, I have checked the band out and like what I hear – more to follow), the first band on my list was Preachers Son. Having seen the Irish “blues rockers” (for the pigeon hole loving amongst us, although I’m not sure that pigeon hole does them justice) when they played an acoustic set at The Railway in Bolton, I knew how good they were. Apparently not – the full electric set was a thing of beauty and power. At times classic blues rock at others rock with a more modern twist, Preacher’s Son certainly delivered a barnstorming performance – their enjoyment was clear to see and, as I always say, that was infectious and the crowd were loving every note of Brian, Geoff and Mark’s set. If you haven’t already, check out “Ten Stories Tall” as soon as you are able – it’s a cracker!
Featuring songs from their “Rise of the Electric Jester” album and new EP “Cruel Britannia”, the boys from Lincoln hit the stage hard and opening number, “16 Grams of Heart Attack”, hit the crowd equally hard. Here is a band at the top of their game and clearly getting stronger as the years go by. Filling out the sound with singer Dean Foxx adding acoustic guitar is not your archetypal sound from a hard rock band (unless the ballads are being brought out), their unique spin on all that was good in the 80s really won a place for them in my heart. These boys rock and rock HARD. Their version of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” was, for me as a newbie to them in a live setting, a surprise but Knock Out Kaine make that classic their own. The crowd loved it and cheerfully sang along, smiles beaming from front row to the back of the room. Another “MUST SEE” again for me.
WOW! WOW!! WOW!!! That’s about all I can say about The Quireboys headline set. Spike and his gang of travelling troubadours know the score and really do blow the roof off the place. Although, I’ve seen the acoustic tours of the last couple of years, tonight was the first time I’d seen the full, electric performance since … well, since “A Bit of What You Fancy” was released. Boy oh boy, I’ve clearly been missing something. With a voice as gravelly and spine tingling as ever, Spike was led through a mix of songs old and new that truly represented the great body of work they have amassed (I say led, as Spike claimed to not bother with a set list so it was down to Guy Griffin to call the shots).”Hey You!” and “7 O’Clock” went down a storm – although I’m always disappointed when they don’t play “Sex Party”, however the set was storming.
Veronica Freeman’s The V were up next. Hailing from California, The V tonight included Lawless’s and Lifeline’s Paul Hulme on guitar and Neil Ogden on drums with Nigel Bailey (Lifeline, Three Lions and, of course, Bailey) on bass. Clearly their short time working on the songs had been time very well spent as they were tight and beyond solid in delivery. Mr Bailey reported that they had struggled a bit with on stage sound, but that was definitely not the case out front. It’s always good to catch up with friends like Nigel, Paul and Neil and even better when they’re playing. The V’s album “Now or Never” featured heavily in the set and some fabulous songs are evidenced. Not all of them are to my taste but Ms Freeman’s ample delights (cough) and powerful voice ensured that even at this late stage of the evening a very healthy crowd was in residence.
We weren’t able to stay for all of The V’s show as, long term friends of Rock-Zone UK, Tragedy were headlining Hammerfest. Regular readers will know that I don’t venture to the Hammerfest stage very often but the Heavy Metal Tribute to The Bee Gees and Beyond are a not to be missed act in my house and, judging by the crowd, the love for for Heavy Metal Disco isn’t restricted to the strange goings on in my head. Sure, there is humour (Black Abbath, KC-DC and the Sunshine Band for example) but strong performances and skill mean that this is just the ultimate party to round off the first night. Barry Glibb has left the band since I saw them last year but replacement Gary Bibb more than fits the bill – bringing his light up, perspex Flying V along for the ride. Over in the UK as part of a 30 date tour, but regular visitors to the UK, catch them if you can – the best party in town is guaranteed as they come to decimate a city near you.
And all too soon it was time to head back to our caravan. However, this meant walking past the Main Arena again and enabled us to catch Captain Black Beard. I’ve loved their last album “Before Plastic” and their quirky blend of musical genres (all of which rock, by the way) and, of course they played some of these along with older tunes and new ones from the just released album “It’s A Mouthful”. It’s just a shame for these hard working Swedes that they hit the stage at 1am and the effects of the journey to Wales, beer and partying clearly depleted the crowd size for them. That said they gave it their all, with bassist Robert Majd throwing shapes and flailing his hair as if his life depended on it, and Captain Black Beard gave us night owls a great send off and end to day one.
And so, to bed … tired, happy and excited for the next day (oh yes, the feet and legs were OK too)