Hard Rock Hell is rightly gaining a reputation for being the finest heavy rock festival known to mankind. Now in it's fifth year, the fourth to be held here at sunny Prestatyn in North Wales, we thought it was all over for the fun and frolics to be held here again as the receivers were called in last year. Thankfully new owners have stepped in to give the Pontins Holiday Camp a new lick of paint and the chalets a much needed new refit. With work still ongoing it meant not all chalets were available to the buying public.
One shock however is that the new owners want to create a new image and have removed the plaque from it's gates commemorating the Holiday On The Buses film which was filmed on this very site. If only they had given that plaque to me, then all would be forgiven.
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I think it's fair to say that this year wasn't the strongest line up we've had at Hard Rock Hell and matters were not helped with the Ace turning into a Joker and his limp wristed excuse was a big Kiss off for many fans.
Many punters who had only bought a day ticket to see Mr Frehley in action wanted a refund but shame on them for not knowing that Hard Rock Hell is more than just a gig. This is a community of fun loving party animals who reuinte with friends from the previous year whilst making new ones on each visit. The music is the perfect background soundtrack.
As always on the opening night there is a fancy dress theme and this year it's the Village Of The Damned with many dressing up as zombies, although some use this as an excuse to dress up in anything they fancy, and why not? Along with many ghoulish looking characters there was a guy who enjoyed dressing up in his girlfriend's clothing all weekend which had the guys running out of the gents in a flash and full marks must go to the Hitler lookalike and the female Lemmy complete with vintage attire and fake moustache with warts and all.
After the long journey up here from London an aperitif in our chalet was much needed, along with a few shots of Jack Daniels to get us in the party mood. I just caught the tail end of the set from Simon McBride who spent some time in a latter day version of Sweet Savage. Today he is killing time with some neat groovy blues licks.
I've been a long term Tygers Of Pan Tang fan since my childhood and although guitarist Robb Weir is the only original left, the new line up he has assembled do full justice to the Tygers legend. Vocalist Jacopo Meille is the Italian stallion who voice range can burst the eardrums.
The Tygers play a varied set, certainly not focussed on their greatest moments but a highly enjoyable one nonetheless. 'Do It Good' from 'Crazy Nights' made a welcome return and 'Suzie Smiled' now has a very punky edge that gets the heads bopping up and down. The melodic 'Don't Stop By' was another surprise.
'Rock 'N Roll Man' raised the voices from the Village Of The Damned. A set that flew by far too quickly. The Tygers earned themselves five stars to go with those stripes.
Two years ago Girlschool were my band of the weekend here at Prestatyn so it was a joy to have them back here yet again and the girls always put a smile on my face. There were no pants thrown on stage this time but Jackie Chambers did have a split in the backside of her strides, gaffa tape having to come to the rescue.
Kim McAuliffe was suffering from a cold but that didn't stop her from being her usual chattering self, no surprise there then. McAuliffe had no problem when it came to the singing and bassist Enid Williams took over vocal duties for 'Hit 'N Run' and 'I-Spy', a track the girls recorded with Ronnie James Dio.
This hardcore old headbanger was overjoyed to hear the storming 'Tonight', an old b-side. Leading us to a 'Race With The Devil', Girlschool delivered another conquering set. Gawd bless 'em.
For those in the know Demon were one of the best bands to emerge from the NWOBHM scene. Imagine Magnum with more sinister demonic lyrics and you'll get the idea of how Demon sound. The unexpected guests performed a string of classics from their first three albums including opener 'Night Of The Demon'.
It was a controversial departure from their sound at the time but 'The Plague' has stood the test of the very well and was one of the highlights tonight. Newie 'Standing On The Edge' showed Demon still have the potential. 'Don't Break The Circle' ended a spellbinding set from the charismatic Dave Hill and his devilish band.
Praying Mantis are a band who are going from strength to strength. In fact they are better now than they have ever been in their career. I thought that their brand of harmonic melodic rock might be too much for most sozzled minds on this graveyard shift but Praying Mantis soon captured everyone's imagination as they gave a very well crafted and polished set.
'Children Of The Earth' and 'Time Slipping Away' have a renewed freshness about them. Vocalist Mike Freeland has brought an AOR vibe to the band and his creamy voice just melts on 'Restless Heart' and 'Turn The Tide' from the return to form 'Sanctuary' album. An exquisite set from the elders of melodic rock.
With the time already past one in the morning it was down to Krusher Joule to spin the decks for those still able to stand with some classic sounds including some AC/DC proving It's A Long Way To Drop (If You Wanna Rock 'N Roll.) I decided to go back to the chalet for an early night to reserve my energy for the weekend.
However back at the room I still had some ice to use and it would've been a waste if it all just melted away. So Dutch Michaels and myself emptied the Jack Daniels bottle, sharing tales of rock 'n roll excess until the early hours. It does say on the bottle 'Best enjoyed responsibly'. I do firmly believe I'm an excemption to the rule... hic...
I finally crashed out at 6am just as the seagulls were making a racket outside my window. Yes folks, it was going to be another one of those wild weekends.
The Friday is when the majority of Hard Rock Hell punters turn up. There was plenty of young blood playing in the Queen Victoria pub from midday onwards but my head felt like Enola Gay had just dropped a bomb on it. I staggered into the canteen area to fill myself up with an English breakfast and soak up the alcoholic juices from the night before. Perfect for my hangover blues were Praying Mantis who were doing an acoustic set in the canteen.
I was surprised to see them up as they were partying hard themselves the night before into the early hours. The acoustic Mantis were exactly what I needed to start the day although Therapy? were soundchecking in the adjacent hall, so full credit to Mike Freeland who stopped 'Dream On' halfway through until the Irish boys had finished. Superb.
The canteen remained full for Bonafide's acoustic set. More of them later. Whilst in the canteen it was good to chat to artist Rodney Matthews who had a stall here selling his works of art, including album covers of bands here this weekend including Praying Mantis, Tygers Of Pang Tang and Magnum. A real gent.
The first noise of the day for me was in the Queen Victoria pub and the old lady on the pub sign would've been amused with the three lassies from Scotland by the name of The Amorettes. The trio were like a punky version of Rock Goddess who had confidence in abundance. My jaw was hitting my pint glass but the girls left me with an almighty thirst when they had finished.
Stage two had just opened with more girly action from Vier who went down well. Kobra And The Lotus upped the ante with old style rock given the modern edge. Singer Brittany Paige is a stunner and has a demonic wail. A neat dedication to Ronnie James Dio with a full cover version of 'Heaven And Hell' got the devil horns raised high.
Airrace opened up the main stage and delivered a stylish set of AOR pomp at it's finest. Keith Murrell owns an amazing set of pipes. Airrace did announce in the press that they will be disbanding soon. I certainly hope this wasn't their last ever performance because they made many new fans today.
Voodoo Six are a band reborn with new singer Luke Purdie. The band now have a greasy trucker grungy vibe going on with some head crunching riffs going down. 'Falling Knives' was the best cut.
As any discerning music fan knows, there are only two kinds of music: ROCK and ROLL. And in these times of social calamity, financial ruin and uncertain tomorrows, rock 'n' roll remains the only thing that most of us can always rely on.
As a result, bands like Million $ Reload are to be cherished and celebrated. Formed five years ago in Belfast, Northern Ireland, these steely-eyed purveyors of balls-out, barnstorming classic rock are on a mission to put a smile back on your face and a few thousand volts up your holiest of holies.
Ultimately, it's all about getting the basics right and giving the people what they want and that's exactly what they do here at HRH V's Stage II.
Vocalist Phil leads his band on a charge with 'Blow Me Away', 'Tattoos And Dirty Girls', 'Living In The City', 'Bullets In The Sky', 'I Am The Rapture', 'The Last Icon', 'Protest Mutherfuka', 'Goodnite New York', and finished up to a roaring full house to 'Super Slave'. The Nothern Irish are taking over a big chunk of this festival and they're doing it well. \M/
Blaze Bayley was back here for the second year running, this time with his old muckers in Wolfsbane.The Tamworth terriers had the howling mad shitheads of Prestatyn right on their side with a massive noise injection. A clean shaven headed Blaze was on fine form, holding centre court with the audience just like he did back in the early days. The hall was packed out and you could say this was Wolfsbane's finest hour. A welcome return.
Exit State looked like they were having a marvelous time on stage and the room was full, but I took the Exit part literally and went exit stage right to find some food :)
Now going out under the moniker of Ginger Wildheart, the Geordie wonder played a so-so set which made the mind wander at times. Although the place did liven up to the more well known Wildhearts hits such as 'Suckerpunch' and 'I Wanna Go Where The People Go Go'.
Magnum played a blinder with the correct balance of old and new songs in their set. In fact more recent material like 'When We Were Younger', 'Brand New Morning' and the brand new 'The Fall', which has a Celtic feel, sounded like classics of old. 'How Far Jerusalem' and 'Les Mort Dansant' just oozed class. Bob Catley throws the moves of a rocking Cliff Richard but there is something quintessentially English about Magnum.
Watching them on stage tonight reminded me of the glory days of seeing them headline places such as the Hammersmith Odeon as this is where they belong again. Ending with rousing versions of 'Vigilante' and 'Kingdom Of Madness', Magnum were the best band of the day, if not the classiest.
With the beer flowing I'm not too sure a half past ten slot for some progressive rock was the best slot for Aberdeen progsters Pallas, however those who did check them out were treated to some of the finest musicianship seen here all weekend.
With the Rickenbacker bass of Graeme Murray thunderbolting it's way through your body, the band played a thought provoking set featuring the heavier side of all things prog. There was a very surreal moment during 'Monster' when, right on cue, two satanic demons on stilts waltzed there way through the crowd. This was certainly not the time to be on a trip.
One punter almost shat himself when vocalist Paul Mackie said; "Look behind you", only for the poor chap to turn around and be faced with a demonic face complete with giant horns bearing down on him. Hilarious stuff.
The loudest band award went to Therapy? who at times were producing a cacophony wall of sound but you can't argue with the delights of 'Trigger Inside' or the sublime 'Die Laughing'.
After a false start last year Lizzy Borden finally made it to Prestatyn and were playing their first shows in the UK for twenty years. This was the band I was waiting for in anticipation after first seeing them back in 1987 at the Reading Festival. However with some cheap costume changes and the wearing of different masks throughout the set I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I was half expecting Beavis and Butthead to start sniggering behind me.
Now I do like my Metal to be dumb and loud and I did gradually warm to Lizzy Borden and you can't get more Metal than having sexy fire breathers on stage and the blood thirsty antics of some dame getting her neck bitten for 'There Will Be Blood Tonight'. The brattish snarl of the gonzoid 'Me Against The World' will always be a Metal classic.
Youngsters The Treatment were onstage way past two in the morning as they ripped into 'Drink, Fuck, Fight', three things I was no longer capable of doing after fourteen hours of Metal and boozing, as I staggered out of the arena area only to be hit by a hailstorm of wind and rain. I declined the offer of a night cap, undressed and crashed out into snoozeland within seconds.
Annoyingly my only real clash of the weekend meant that at midday I had to get my jacksy out of bed into for some Stampede in the Queen Vic. Good to see the place packed out for this fine hard rocking melodic band who really deserve a higher status, however I had a little change in my pocket going jing-aling-aling so I had to head of to see the mighty Dan Baird and his Homemade Sin.
Baird made his name with the Georgia Satellites and their performance at the Reading Festival in 1987 will be forever etched in my memory as one of the finest festival performances I've ever witnessed.
Ideally Dan Baird should've been on later in the day because his feelgood country twang goes down nicely after a few beers. The big US hit 'Keep Your Hands To Yourself' came early as he doesn't need to rely on former glories. This is how Tom Petty would sound with a bottle of Jack inside him. Glorious, good fun.
Back in the Queen Vic I went to check out Bronz who now have Max Bacon back on the vocals. Bacon would later join Steve Hackett and Steve Howe in GTR before attempting to represent the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest. Max Bacon has a clear voice and it was good to hear this post NWOBHM melodic rock band again.
They didn't quite take the Queen Vic by storm though and I was rather disappointed that they didn't perform their single that should've been huge 'Send Down An Angel'. Not a medal winner but good to see Bronz back on the podium.
Former Mama's Boys' Pat McManus was a late addition to the bill who played a great bluesy set very much in the vein of fellow Irishmen Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore. Old Mama's Boys favourites were included by this power trio with 'Runaway Dreams' featuring the violin and 'Needle In The Groove' taking us down memory lane. McManus excelled on 'Back In The Saddle Again' with a fiery display.
With Thin Lizzy constantly changing their touring guitarist, they really don't have to look too far. Pat McManus could do the job with aplomb.
After that impressive display I darted back to the Queen Vic to see Agincourt who played some traditional Metal followed by Witchfynde who gave us a trip back to hell with some qualty tunes that would later influence a whole host of black Metal bands. 'Moon Magic' saw some mean air guitaring down the front and I was so glad to hear 'I'd Rather Go Wild' again as this was one of the first singles I ever bought back when I was a nipper.
Back on Stage Two was Tyla and his Dogs D'Amour. Great to see Tyla back in action although 'Errol Flynn' was the only song that I remembered from this great song writer. I really do hope to rediscover the Dogs.
Love them or loathe them, Reckless Love are a whole lotta fun. Olli Herman has the androgynous looks to keep the girls happy and has the high kicks that David Lee Roth can't do anymore. The music might be bubblegum but their bubble isn't going to burst just yet as long as they continue to write catchy tunes such as 'Beautiful Bomb' and 'One More Night'.
Crash Diet are an entirely different beast who snarl their way through a ferocious Skid Row infested set. Unleashing with 'Breakin' The Chainz', Crash Diet spat their way through a fifty minute set with a take no prisoners approach to their sleaze gutter rock. They just need a few killer anthems before they make it big.
Swedish rockers Bonafide pulled in a large crowd on Stage One. These hard living men filled our heads with rock the Airbourne way with some good headbanging belters, wearing their hearts on their sleeves with covers of 'I Don't Need No Doctor' and 'Rock 'N Roll Outlaw'. We'll be hearing a lot more about these boys in the not too distant future.
Orange Goblin were giving it a good blast, making the cutlery rattle as I was tucking into my roast turkey in the canteen next door.
Surely The Quireboys should've been on at 7 o'clock but half past eight was their time to start a party. The Quireboys lighten up every festival with a solid gold arsenal of hits. Newcomer David Boyce is clearly enjoying his bass duties and is a fine addition.
Spike is in party mode, as is everyone else here at Hard Rock Hell. Pints were being spilled to their sing-a-long greats. Ladies and gentlemen, this is rock 'n roll!
Talking of which, The Quireboys set things up perfectly for former Hanoi rocker Michael Monroe and his merry men of bandits. Monroe raped and pillaged Prestatyn with one of the finest performances Hard Rock Hell has ever seen.
Full of energy and gusto Michael Monroe's batteries were fully charged powering their way through a catalogue of Monroe's finest moments. With Backyard Babies' Dregen and Steve Conte on guitars and Sam Yaffa on bass, this is a real gang who know how to put on a rock 'n roll show without any gimmicks.
Monroe was using every inch of space on the stage, high kicking and doing the splits. He was in the crowd at one point telling the security to leave the fans alone to have their fun. Band of the weekend.
Non drinkers Black Stone Cherry were the only four sober men inside Hard Rock Hell by the time they came on stage. Having blown Alter Bridge away in the weeks previous on an arena tour, they had their work cut out having to follow Michael Monroe. Black Stone Cherry are no slouches and gave a solid performance.
The first verse of 'Things My Father Said' was sung by the crowd in a gracious fashion. As good as they were my mind was drifting to the VIP Media bar knowing full well that any free booze would soon ran out, so forever the professional I was off to do my duty.
Tyketto would later be singing 'Forever Young' which would be the complete opposite of how I would later be feeling. Once again Hard Rock Hell never fails to amaze. It's Hard, It's Rock, it's Hell... See ya next year, boozers.