It’s always the same at festivals, eh? The first day goes really well as you settle into the way of things and then end up pouring alcohol down your throat like it’s the last party on Earth and wake up the next day feeling like a huge pile of shit.

Words: Johnny Main, Pictures: Carlan BraidWell, safe to say that the MetalTalk crew didn’t embarrass themselves (too much) the previous day but it was our duty to party hard until the wee small hours and the hangovers confirmed how much effort we’d put into that!

Surfacing nearer to midday than could be deemed respectable, we convened once again, had some coffee and set about sorting out a plan for the day.

Now being the professionals that we are, we wanted to ensure that we missed as little of the onstage action as possible, but this was made slightly more difficult than the day before because of the addition of the second (smaller) stage which was closed the previous day.

With some stage clashes inevitable, it was always going to take a bit of juggling to see as many bands as possible and get the very best from the festival.

After a quick shower and some breakfast, we headed down the road from our accommodation to the Hafan Y Mor site via taxi (thank you to Chris the taxi driver!) to see what was happening.

We arrived on site just in time to see Fire Red Empress who pulled a good sized audience, who were generous in their applause.

The quintet seemed to be enjoying the set but unfortunately, vocalist Jennifer Diehl’s voice was drowned out by the ferocious drum and guitar sound although the issue was sorted out towards the end of their set. Still, not a bad way to kick off the day at all.

Next up on the stage for us were Florence Black, a new band for me, and not half bad at what they do either.

The Welsh trio obviously had a lot of local support and tracks including a spirited cover of ‘Breadfan’, originally written and recorded by Budgie and covered in the Eighties by Metallica, was among the best of their set.

Sadly, I couldn’t catch all of their set as the New Roses were playing across the way, but Florence Black are certainly a band on my list to hear more of and hopefully see them again – sooner rather than later too.

“Hard Rock Hell – what’s happening?” asked Kikamora frontman Wilf Kite to glorious applause from the small but dedicated audience as the band kicked off their set.

There was lots of headbanging from the North Somerset quintet and for my first sight of them live on stage, they certainly impressed me.

Wilf completely held the audience’s attention in a fine display both vocally and physically, so I’ll be checking out their ‘In The Henhouse’ EP on the basis of their performance here.

Sideburn, an act from my past here at MetalTalk, appeared out of nowhere on the festival bill – and a very welcome addition they were too.

A band that’s long been on my To See list, they brought their electrifying show to Hard Rock Hell and definitely walked away with a lot more fans than they arrived with. Last heard of by me back in 2013, the Swiss rockers take elements of classic good time rock bands like Status Quo, AC/DC and, of course, Airbourne and mix them all together, in what is an incredible sound and performance.

Strangely this show and a date in Ayr was their entire UK tour, something unique as Scotland and Wales are often missed off UK tours but this time around there were no English dates.

Highlights of their tight and rocking set included ‘Calm Before The Storm’ and ‘Shut It Down’, the latter of which saw guitarist Mikaël Riffart playing out of his skin. I’m glad to have finally seen them live, and I hope I can catch them live again sooner rather than later.

Formed at the start of 2017, Blind River are a 5-piece, heavy rock band, created to bring classic, pure, riff-driven song writing to the fore and features members of Godsized, Pig Iron and The Earls of Mars.

It was another first for me, on recommendation of guitarist Chris Charles himself. As I made my way into the arena, I wasn’t really sure what to expect but emerging some forty five minutes later, I was a confirmed fan of the guys and their incredible sound.

Blind River may have been battling against Y&T on the main stage, but they managed to pull a respectable audience and despite having no album to push, it seems, the band by their own admission are touring everywhere and it certainly pays off when it comes to live performances.

The highlights of their set for me were ‘Peacemaker’ along with ‘Freedom Dealer’ and it’s another act that I’m hoping to see live again soon.

Welsh rockers Bad Dog were yet another new band for me and they were thoroughly enjoyable despite the MetalTalk team flagging as the band hit the stage at the back of 11:00pm

Despite Airbourne packing them in across the way, Bad Dog pulled a solid crowd, who were very receptive despite the time. Front man, Martin John Byast is an aimiable chap who shone brightest with both his vocal and guitar skills.

A great way to end the night for the MetalTalk team, who retreated to their accommodation for a well-earned drink after negotiating that long taxi ride home once again.

Of course, that was a run-down of just the smaller stage and the larger of the two stages was also in operation all day, so here’s some of the highlights of the bands that we caught up with there.

We caught the tail end of psychedelic rockers Goldray’s set, featuring ex-Reef guitarist Kenwyn House, and what we saw was enjoyable.

Vocalist Leah Rasmussen has a Kate Bush feel to her performance and being unfamiliar with their output I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but it was a good enough performance to keep me, and many other punters, amused with ‘The Forest’ and, set closer ‘Soulchild’ being among their best.

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The Syteria name may be familiar with long-time readers as we not only covered one of their first ever live shows but also gave a glowing review to their debut album, ‘Rant-O-Bot’.

I hadn’t seen the band, which features Girlschool’s Jackie Chambers on guitar, for some time, so it was good to have the chance to see them once again. Afforded a sixty minute set, the band put in a sterling performance in front of an enthusiastic audience.

Kudos to vocalist Julia Calvo who really does an incredible job while Jackie’s guitar solos were exactly what you’d expect for someone with her talent – technical, well performed and entertaining.

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Set highlights included ‘As If’, a stunning version of The Ramones ‘Rockaway Beach’ which had the crowd singing along, and ‘When I Get Out Of High School’.

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Another name familiar to MetalTalk readers is heavy Blues/Rock duo The Graveltones, although this actually my first time seeing them in action.

As Jimmy O explained, the performance saw the band taking a six month break to write and record album number three but they showed no sign of tiring of the road and their performance certainly endeared them to me.

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Their set was warmly applauded with ‘Never Let You Go’ and Smoke’ getting the strongest reaction from the audience. If this is a band that has passed you by, like they did for me, I suggest you give them a listen because they’re seriously powerful and very entertaining.

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German rockers The New Roses have featured here before when we highly praised their ‘Dead Man’s Voice’ album back in 2016 but they seem to have dropped off our radar since.

They’ve been on my To See list for quite a while now, so it was good to finally see the boys in action. Thankfully their appearance here allowed us to see the band up close and they set the bar high with their good time stage show.

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‘One More For The Road’, which is about being in a band, and ‘Devils Toys’ livened up the audience who were maybe beginning to tire after a long day, so the band were perfectly placed on the bill to give everyone who saw them a second wind.

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Tyketto live are a bit of a blast from the past for me, having seen them on and off over the last 22 years.

The band have seen a resurgence since their successful ‘Reach’ album in 2016 and front man Danny Vaughn still has an incredible voice. backed up with a collection of quality musicians, the band were faultless as they entertained the large and receptive audience.

“It’s great to be here at Hard Rock Hell” said Vaughn before joking “It should be called Hard To Find Hell!” alluding to an unexpected tour of the Welsh countryside.

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‘Reach’, the title track of their most recent release energised the audience but, as you’d expect, the biggest ovation was saved for ‘Forever Young’ and somehow it’s a song that you never tire of hearing.

For me, though, ‘Big Money’ is a song with big ambitions and could well stay in the set for some time to comes because it’s a genuine Tyketto classic.

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Y&T have been slowly making their way up the Hard Rock Hell billing over the last few years and I was delighted that they’d made it as Special Guests to (the mighty) Airbourne this year.

Always a classy live act, they seem to tour the UK quietly but extensively every year and this would be their penultimate UK show for 2017. Back after his absence earlier this year, it was good to see guitarist John Nymann back in the band and firing on all cylinders.

With no new album to push this was a great opportunity for the band to delve into their extensive back catalogue and get some new fans – it was, after all, some years ago in the very same room that I had my first taste of the Y&T live experience and I’ve not looked back since.

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The band were scheduled to play for seventy five minutes but sneaked in an extra bit of stage time as they wowed the crowd song after song.

‘Straight Thru The Heart’,’ Mean Streak’ and ‘Dirty Girl have been in the setlist for years and rightly so, but it was the double barrel shot of ‘Rescue Me’ and ‘Forever’ that closed the set to thunderous applause.

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A sincere and majestic performance, no doubt, so how long until Y&T scale the final step to become headliners? I’m guessing not long at all.

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Is there a better way for Aussie legends Airbourne to kick off their UK tour than with a sell out performance at Hard Rock Hell? I doubt it.

I’d not seen the main arena so rammed full since Saxon played there last in 2015 and for those stuck outside the hall, they missed a solid if predictable performance from the biggest current band in Australia.

Energised from the European part of their ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’ Tour, Airbourne deliver every single time whether it’s in front of fifty or fifty thousand people

This set was no exception as they blasted through newer songs like ‘Rivalry’ and the title track of their latest album, ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’, before going back in time for some carefully curated classic tracks including ‘Stand Up For Rock N’ Roll’, ‘Rise the Flag’ and ‘Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast’.

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New boy Harri Harrison has fitted in well and there wasn’t a single bump in the road as they went runnin’ wild, and no-one more so than front man Joel O’Keefe who even had time to slip in his customary jaunt into the audience as well as spraying the audience with beers.

As the final notes rang out and the venue emptied, I don’t think there was a better band that could have been booked to headline the Friday night party that is Hard Rock Hell.

Sleeve Notes

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