Hard Rock Hell United – Camp HRH, Pwllheli 11th March 2016

After what seemed like a very short sleep, Friday dawned with weather less Spring-like and more misty mountain compared with the Thursday. However, they say there’s no rest for the wicked and after a rather splendid cooked breakfast it was all systems go for the morning rounds of interviews – all brought to you courtesy of the coffee in the media centre. That said, the “witching hour” of 3pm was soon approaching and it was time to hit the Main Stage for a full session of what we all hoped was great music. Again, media schedules meant that early bands Stonebroken (opening up Hammerfest) and Chase the Ace on the Sleeze stage were missed – however, my team of HRH spies confirmed that I had missed two fabulous sets and that both bands are not to be missed (both on my list of follow ups from the festival).

Scottish rockers Estrella were the opening act on the AOR main Stage. Having first encountered these stirring guys at the first HRH AOR in Rotherham, I have been a fan ever since and have been pleased to see them develop the old fashioned way – hard work, lots of shows and living in the back of their van! I’ve seen them at festivals, as support and headline their own shows but haven’t caught them for about 18 months/2 years (before the release of  second album “We Will Go On”) and was looking forward to today’s performance. However, I was in for a surprise! Coming on to drummer Leo accompanying an intro tape, the rest of the band started to appear and gave it the full 80s arena rock, choreographed entrance poses and …. BAM! Hitting the crowd hard with a deftly chosen set comprising songs from the afore mentioned second album and debut “Come Out To Play”, the young fellas from Thurso (the FAR north of Scotland) gave a consummate display of how to perform on a big stage and hold the crowd in their palms from the first beat to the last crash. The kind of show that Grunge thought it had murdered, full of shapes being thrown, harmonies, humour and cans of beer for the crowd. This is what I expect from a great rock band – smiling band and rapturous crowd. They spent the Sunday following HRH as support on the Dan Reed Network/Tyketto show in Manchester where I am positive they will have given another fabtaculous show and won even more friends/fans. One thing is for sure, if there is any justice in the music industry Estrella should hit the stars.


Next up, and following on from a set at last year’s Download, were Iconic Eye. Showcasing songs from their “Hidden In Plain Sight” album, this was my second opportunity to see the guys from the Midlands – this time with new guitarist Neil Fraser (also Rage of Angels). First of all I must state that “Hidden in Plain Sight” is a tremendous album, Greg Dean’s boys have a set of excellent melodic rock songs with a fairly typical AOR slant that I am sure would go down well with any fan of this genre of rock – get copy I’m sure you will not be disappointed. On the day, I fear that Iconic Eye were victims of one of the problems that occur at festivals – limited soundcheck and occasional on stage monitoring issues. This seemed to result in a couple of tuning issues for lead singer Tim Dawkes and crowd comments suggested that the Aerosmith cover wasn’t needed. A shame for a great bunch of fellas.

Then came the most pleasant surprise of the weekend for me. The great thing about HRH United is that every year I discover at least one new band that completely blow me away and the 7 piece from South Wales were the first for 2016. Fronted by not one, not two but THREE lead singers, the Kane sisters Stacey, Stephanie and Chez, what this band have is a unique blend of harmonies, clearly a result of being sisters, and a band playing a modern twist on rock (think elements of Alter Bridge mixed with some classic, late 80s hair metal). My initial reaction was that it couldn’t possibly work, but having heard second album “Rise” in the week before the festival I knew there was something very special. Live, however, Kane’d were even more special. The set blended songs from “Rise” and the first album “Beautiful But Tragic” and allowed the band to showcase what they are about to a great crowd. Sassy and sexy (the Kane sisters aren’t bad looking either) and not your typical girl group – it would be a travesty for Kane’d not to reach higher levels.

Such a great set, you would feel sorry for whoever was to follow Kane’d. That pleasure was reserved for Rock-Zone UK friends and favourites, Blood Red Saints. Those who have heard debut album “Speedway” (and if not, why not?) will know they have the quality of songs but how would they fare on the big HRH stage? Well, nobody needed to worry – having bolstered the line up with Irvin Parratt on keyboards, Blood Red Saints now have developed a live sound that is a little heavier whilst not losing an ounce of the melodic greatness of the album. Frontman Pete Godfrey ignored all band warnings and entertained the crowd with both his voice and jokes very well suited to a holiday camp = if it all goes wrong, buddy, I’m sure there’s a red coat with your name on it. Rob Naylor looked, as ever, like he’d stepped out of the pages of GQ and Lee Revill (resplendent in his BRS jeans and a new black titfer) was clearly channelling elements of George Lynch and Randy Rhoads with his stunning playing. With Pete Newdeck starting his double shift (playing with Newman on the Saturday), harmonies to die for and both band and crowd clearly loving every second of the allotted time. I can’t wait to hear album number two (hint, hint Mr Godfrey – you did suggest that you were going to let me hear some demos).

A slight delay was announced as Russ Ballard had been stuck in traffic, but after a 30 minute delay, Mr Ballard’s band hit the stage. Another surprise was in store because Russ Ballard is the man behind a huge number of mega songs over the last 40 plus years and this was an opportunity to hear them from the horse’s mouth, as it were. The set got off to a bit of a slow start for me as I was not aware of his catalogue, but very soon we were in for a treat as he rocked his way through some of the songs that have made his career – let’s not forget, Russ Ballard is the man behind “God Gave Rock and Roll To You” (although he did say he thought the KISS re-write was better). In amongst the set we got “New York Groove”, “There’s Something Going On” (a hit in the 80s for Frida from ABBA) and, of course, the show was rounded off by “Since You’ve Been Gone” (including the Rainbow guitar solo). WHat a talent and a very pleasant surprise this wonderful Friday evening.

What can I say about Tyketto that hasn’t been said before? Danny Vaughns gang always give ebverything and tonight was no different. Celebrating 25 years since the release of “Don’t Come Easy”, Tyketto made the decision to play the album in its entirety, but in reverse order because, according to Danny, if they played “Forever Young” first, the arena would empty. I doubt that very much, but they certainly maintained and grew the crowd as the hour went on. Somehow, Tyketto passed me by back in the day – no longer. What a singer, what a band – and they were entering the studio to record a new album just after this performance. Added to that, they were joining Dan Reed Network on a two date run during the week after the festival and Messrs Vaughn and Reed will be taking their joint acoustic show around the UK for a second time in May. Don’t miss it – great songs and great stories from two of the best singers around today.

Dilemma time came for me next. Did I stay and watch Joe Lynn Turner or go and watch Reckless Love (for the second time in five days) headlining the Sleeze stage – I have to admit the Finnish hair metallers won the day. Playing tracks from their four albums, they did what they always do … entertain. Reckless Love bring the party and with their infectious spirit, I defy you not to watch the show and not leave with a smile on your face. Sure, the songs have a heavy “pop” style to them – but what, I ask, is wrong with that? They play the songs with passion and skill – playing the sleeze stage as if it was an American enormo-dome. Personally, I think they should have been on the main stage, but this was great.

With the delay to Russ Ballard’s arrival, it did mean that I could catch quite a bit of Joe Lynn Turner’s headline set. Focussing on Rainbow songs, he certainly seemed to hold the crowd who were enjoying every moment. A number of people questioned why he didn’t play more of his solo catalogue but I’m sure that was all part of the plan. I will admit that it wasn’t quite my “thing” but that many fans in the arena can’t be wrong.

With that it was off to bed and my feet were starting to hurt – but more fun and games was on the card for Saturday. Oh and I had my phot0 taken with Nathan James from Inglorious … apparently we look alike?

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