As the final day of the festival dawned we once again managed to drag ourselves out of bed and headed down for the ubiquitous Mash and Barrel breakfast in the vain hope that it’d set us up for the day.
Hard Rock Hell AOR – Saturday 10th March: Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli
Words: Johnny Main, Pictures: Carlan Braid
Despite our assertion that we would be sensible, we ended up partying hard again after Night Ranger, so we were all a bit tender once again as well as being pretty tired, but we soldiered on, like the professionals we are.
The first couple of beers seemed to go down okay in the comfort of the Mash, so we headed down to the two stages to catch our first band of the day, The Idol Dead.
With two stages operating once again, we tried to avoid the stage clashes as much as possible while still trying to see as many acts as possible making this another full-on day.
Heading down, to the small stage, the first band we caught there were a new band to us, Nunchucker.
The London Rock’n’Rollers represent a bridge between the Classic Rock of cherished memory and a new fresh take on those roots of Rock and Heavy Metal and for a first time seeing them, they definitely impressed us.
A solid sounding band, with the tracks ‘High Priestess’ and ‘She’s On The Pole’ (a song about Strippers, we’re told) were among their best.
Front man Chris Tate does a good job, but “energetic” isn’t a word to describe the rest of the band who pretty much remain static throughout the set leaving Tate as the sole band member trying to get the audience enthused during their set.
Plucky Leeds based Chasing Dragons have been on my To See list since I heard their ‘Checkmate’ EP back in 2014 and I was robbed of the chance to see them at a small Scottish rock festival in 2016 when they had to pull out at the last minute due to sickness.
Thankfully the band made it to Wales in one piece this time and, I’ll tell you – it was certainly worth the wait.
Vocalist Laurie Carnan (aka ‘Tank’) is a formidable force as she gives everything to her performance, but,it’s the powerhouse drumming of Katie Bullock that shines through in their noisy and energetic performance.
If you want to talk about highlights then that honours must go to ‘White Horse’ which sees Carnan’s friendly demeanour when introducing the track become quite ferocious during her vocals.
The best of the set has to be the old favourite ‘Throw Down Your King’ – a great vocal, great drums and the band absolutely firing on all cylinders.
I’d last seen Last Great Dreamers last year at exactly the same venue when they were substituted at short notice for a band who couldn’t make it, and having been impressed with their previous set, I was looking forward to more of the same this time around.
Once again, the power-pop rock quartet put on an energetic show. Among the highlights of their set were tracks from their most recent release, 2016’s ‘Transmissions From Oblivion’, which included ‘Oblivion Kids’ and, as you’d expect their title song ‘Last Great Dreamers’.
This band are really good and extremely talented, so if you get the chance to see them, they come highly recommended.
S.I.N. were a band who I didn’t know much about before going and their high octane performance was entertaining. Opening number ‘S.I.N./Sin City’ set the tone and showed the vocal prowess of their front man while there were some great guitar solos being lapped up by the audience down the front.
Belgian quintet Wildheart are another new band for me but were thoroughly enjoyable. They might look like a Glam/Sleaze band but these guys are an out and out Metal act with the thundering drums from Thunderberck and razor sharp guitar riffs which Juice kept throwing out.
There was some great twin guitar work on the opening number while ‘Strangers Ask’ from their upcoming album was a great track and with material like this I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that when it’s released.
I first caught up with Blackpool based quartet The Senton Bombs at the Highway To Hell Finals held in Glasgow back in 2014. Since then, the band have recorded and released their fourth album, ‘Mass Vendetta’ and took time out of the studio where they’re working on album number five for this short set and it was good to catch up with the band once again.
The northern quartet drew a good audience despite The Quireboys playing across on the larger stage but they had a noisy and appreciative audience as they battered through their set.
Drummer Scott Mason was hitting the skins so hard it’s a wonder the drum kit survived while guitarist Damien Kage put his guitar through some punishment – creating a magnificent cacophony of sound. ‘Pretty Tricky’ was among the standout tracks in a noisy but fun performance.
Meanwhile on the larger stage, the final day cranked up the rock and roll to a glorious finale with a hotly anticipated set from New Jersey rockers Skid Row.
On the way to them, we caught sets by most of the bands, kicking off with a set from British AOR newcomers Blood Red Saints.
Melodic rockers Blood Red Saints were another new band for me, but these guys have enough experience to know what they’re doing.
Headed up by bass player Rob Naylor (a founding member of Angels Or Kings) alongside front man Pete Godfrey, guitarists Neil Hibbs and Lee Revill and drummer Andy Chemney they stormed on to the scene with their debut album, titled ‘Speedway’ in 2015 and their latest album, ‘Love Hate Conspiracies’ surfaced earlier this year.
Keen to plug the new album, the audience were treated to new tracks ‘Another Freak’ and the title track which merged seamlessly with older songs ‘Mercy’ and ‘Kicking Up Dust’ along with a cover of Take That’s ‘Back For Good’.
Stepping back in time to October 2016 when I first discovered JoanOvArc, I was instantly taken with their sound and their fantastic song-writing ability on their debut album, ‘Ride of Your Life’.
A little over a month later, the band were performing at Hard Rock Hell which gave me my first look at them live, and I was wholeheartedly impressed with what I saw and heard.
Although on the small stage, they packed out the hall, so it’s a welcome return for the band to HRH and for the first time (but not the last time I’m sure), they got to grace the big stage.
Kicking things off with ‘Love Rock and Roll’ the band were on superb form with bags more confidence since I last saw them and once again put on a great show.
Drummer Deborah Wildish pushes the beat with a huge grin on her face all the time, while the traded vocals between bass player Sam Walker and guitarist Shelley Walker are really good.
Finishing the line up is rhythm guitarist Laura Ozholl who steps back from the limelight a bit but makes her contributions count when it’s needed. Yet again, their performance was a real highlight of the weekend.
Hand Of Dimes is the reunion of former Skin man Nev MacDonald and keyboard player Neil Garland and their friendship and song-writing partnership goes back thirty years to when they were both part of the Welsh Rock Band Kooga.
Hand Of Dimes are a soulful, melodic rock which packs a serious punch, thanks in part to McDonald’s powerful and emotional vocal drive which has become his unmistakable trademark.
A well-received self-titled EP in 2015 was followed by their debut full-length release, ‘Raise’ which only brought them more attention.
After tours with FM, Wishbone Ash, The Union and appearances at Steelhouse Festival they returned to Hard Rock Hell and once again pulled an impressive and noisy audience.
‘Moonlight Mile’ was an early highlight with McDonald being in fine fettle but you had to feel sorry for Garland who was nearly sitting off stage.
‘Bad Reputation’ featuring some great slide guitar from Colin Edwards went down well, before the band closed off their accomplished set with the omnipresent Skin track, ‘House Of Love’.
Little Caesar were a new name for me and are currently on the road throughout the UK to build up some momentum for the release of their new album, ‘Eight’, and the band were billed as “entertaining blast of Glam Rock with a modern edge”.
Formed in the late 1980s by front man Ron Young, guitarist Loren Molinare and drummer Tom Morris the band originally lasted until 1992 when they split up.
Reforming in 2001 they released ‘Redemption’ in 2009 which was followed by ‘American Dream’ in 2012 and their most recent release ‘Brutally Honest Live from Holland’ in 2015.
They’re pure rock and roll with no frills and put on a very entertaining performance, firing through’21 Again’, ‘Time Enough For That’ and a cover of the Merle Haggard number ‘Mama Tried’.
There were older numbers too with ‘Rum and Coke’, ‘Rock and Roll State of Mind and let’s face it, they couldn’t get away without playing ‘Hard Rock Hell’, with its crunchy guitar riff and infectious chorus.
They kept the audience bopping throughout their sixty minute set, despite Young being struck down with a bout of food poisoning only days before.
Before the next band, Dare, took to the stage, HRH supremo Jonni Davis took to the stage in order for everyone to pay tribute to Nathan Gunn who was the bass player with Scots rockers Estrella who was sadly killed in a car crash recently.
The Estrella name may be familiar to long time MetalTalk readers as we’ve featured them a number of times over the years, most recently on our coverage of HRH AOR V last March which was one of Nathan’s last ever shows.
A blast from my past was the appearance of Dare on the bill. A band who I’ve not seen live for many a year, they’re back following up the 2016 ‘Scared Ground’ release and I was interested to see how they stacked up with my memories from all those years ago.
Happily, the band were on tip-top form as they ran through ‘Home’ and ‘Days of Summer’ from their most recent release before sneaking in a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Emerald’ before cherry picking tracks from their hefty back catalogue.
‘Into The Fire’, ‘Return The Heart and ‘Wings of Fire’ reminded me just how good this band can be live, and the audience enthusiasm confirmed I wasn’t the only one glad to see them added to the bill, while others discovered the band for the first time.
Flown in at the last minute as a replacement for a band who’d pulled out, The Quireboys, were the subject of some moaning and groaning among the attendees prior to the event.
But you have to say that this band know how to pull a crowd and they know how to put on a great show which is why they’re so in demand, and let’s face it, you can never have to much of a good thing as the song goes. Veterans of the festival, they knew what to expect and played a fairly standard but enjoyable set.
Pulling tracks from their latest album, ‘White Trash Blues’ like the Freddie King song ‘Going Down’ and ‘Leaving Trunk’, originally recorded by Taj Mahal, the biggest reaction was the to list of self-penned classics like ‘Tramps and Thieves’, ‘Hey You’ and of course, ‘7 O’Clock’.
Love ’em or hate ’em these guys are rarely to be found slacking on a performance and this was no exception – this really is Rock N’ Roll, it’s as simple as that.
With Saturday night drawing to a close, what better way to finish the festival than for Skid Row to take the stage.
A band who need absolutely no introduction from me, having been around since 1986 and despite the years the only change of personnel has been at the front and back with a revolving door of drummers and vocalists over the years.
Current drummer Rob Hammersmith does a good enough job while new front man ZP Theart, installed only last year, is more than capable of filling the front man role.
With no real new material to push, it’s something of a trip down memory lane for the audience as the plunder their self-titled debut album for most of the set with ‘Sweet Little Sister’, ‘Big Guns’, ‘I Remember You’, ’18 and Life’ and ‘Youth Gone Wild’.
A few choice cuts from 1991’s ‘Slave To The Grind’ album including the title track and ‘Quicksand Jesus’ filled out the rest of the set while Theart’s first appearance on record with the band, ‘We Are the Damned’ from 2014s ‘United World Rebellion’ EP, is held back until the end.
Skid Row may have lost their way a bit musically, but they’re still a strong live act and after a long weekend of partying hard and listening to numerous bands old and new there’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to send you on your way home.
Thanks to Jonni, Fleur, Rebecca, Dan at Team HRH and Claire at Central Press PR for arranging everything and for looking after us all weekend.