Hard Rock Highlights
PICTURES: KEVIN NIXON
It’s hard to believe, but for seven years now Hard Rock Hell has marked a unique moment in the rock and metal year. For many of the bands, their winter tours are winding down and they have a few weeks away from their next project. For many of the office and stage crew, the long festival season is at an end and a break beckons. For the crowd, it’s a signal that Christmas has properly and loudly begun.
For all the changes in location and scale, HRH is still about what it’s always been about: a community party. If the British weather is against us (mostly it is) and if the journey to Pwllheli on North Wales is long (mostly it is), everyone’s going to make damn certain it’s worth all the effort. Many of the same faces are back, many of the same bands are back, and even the security and bar staff are delighted to see the rock continent, because (on the whole) we behave so well.
A full review will be in Classic Rock 193, out beginning of January. In the meantime, here’s our Hard Rock highlights.
The big hitters
Black Star Riders are feeling the burn after their first UK tour. The band are clearly getting used to living with their Thin Lizzy roots, and those who focus on those roots will fail to appreciate what the new band is becoming. They’re more than Lizzy and frontman Ricky Warwick is making his point as frontman. Yes, the connection with Lynott’s band will always be there, but it’s a connection to be proud of; especially when BSR track Bound For Glory sits so well beside the classic Cowboy Song.
Skindred are HRH favourites and they know it. As ever, charismatic frontman Benji Webbe can do no wrong, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and convincing even the most cynical old “classic rock” diehard that there might just be something in this crossover malarkey – although those diehards might say Skindred have the riffs and moves, but don’t have the songs. Many remain to be persuaded but there’s no doubting their party-leading spirit.
“Horns and Halos is a great record,” Michael Monroe states brashly. “Not just because of me or my great band – but because it’s a great record. Buy it, and if you don’t like it ask for your money back. But I won’t be responsible for that…” From the moment he hits the stage Monroe is throwing himself about like a man a third of his age, giving it full-power with his voice, his characterisations during songs, and his hyperactive stage athletics. During Rise Up the lighting offers a rare opportunity to see just how uncertain he is about some of his leaps from amp to amp, amp to audience or audience to amp. He looks worryingly unsure of himself and incredibly relieved when he lands safely – but he was always going to make the jump. That’s how he keeps pushing the crowd on: he never stops pushing himself on.
Phil Campbell’s All Star Band reveals the veteran Motorhead guitarist in an energising new light. He delivers a set made up of Lemmy’s numbers and other classics including Cat Scratch Fever and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. But it’s during the Motorhead tracks he seems most excited, grinning all the way and hamming up for photographers. “This is a song you’ve probably wanted to hear from a long time,” he says. “Well, it’s time.” He launches into Dog-Faced Boy from the Sacrifice album. Even when there’s a technical hitch he won’t be downheartened, laughing: “These things happen if you don’t use computers.”
Airbourne bring everyone together like only they can – if any band were built for HRH it’s these guys, and they come out blazing. The volume noticeably bumps up a notch (or 5).Their tops are off from the start. Joel gets on a roadie’s shoulders and walks right into the crowd, soloing all the while. Yup, you got our attention. Is there depth under all the sound and fury? Who knows but only the biggest misery guts could fail to be impressed at their hunger and gall.
Cage The Gods’ HRH set takes place on the occasion of their first anniversary as a band. And that’s incredibly difficult to believe, because what the four-piece present on Stage 2 is an act of intelligence and instinct. They seem to understand the opportunity their appearance presents and grab it with both hands. On paper it’s difficult to define what they have that others don’t – suggesting it might just be magic. Frontman Peter Comerford knows how to deliver a song, and he’s ably assisted by tasty guitarist Jam and six-foot-seven bassist Mitch Witham, who almost coerces music out of his colleagues. But drummer Colin takes the biscuit for sheer animal voracity, thundering his kit, shouting the lyrics then standing on his stool to thump the ceiling: “Come on! Come ON!” One of the barmaids, clearly not a follower of rock music, is impressed enough by Cage The Gods to perform an energetic dance to their music. Asked if it hurts she replies: “It would hurt you. Anyway, I’m waiting for Bon Jovi – is he here?”
The Treatment have set out their stall well in touring as support for Airbourne. They’re younger, less sharp, and they’re also having to play with a stand-in guitarist. But that’s the downside. The upside is they’re incredibly enthusiastic and having a lot of fun – and if they don’t quite have the music just yet, it’ll be along any minute. Like Airbourne, you have to subscribe to the joke. If you do it’ll work, as it does for one woman who decides she has to take a drink every time singer Matt Jones goes “Alright!” By halfway through their set, after he says: “Alright alright! This song’s called Emergency! Alright!” she has to be helped outside by a friend. The band would love that.
Skarlett Riot have a lot of promise. They do have a fair way to go, it must be admitted, but all the raw ingredients are there, not least frontwoman Skarlett’s happy, confident disposition, helped immensely by having a trustworthy unit behind her. When guitarist Danny drops a real howler of a note, other bands might lose the plot; these guys keep smiling and get on with it.
The Answer appeared to have lost their way for a while there. So they’re making up for lost time, and giving it every iota of energy they have.
Scots upstarts Logan aren’t completely comfortable with their new lineup just yet; but it’s a matter of time. They’re certainly getting the support of the one-man-band in the open area between the two arenas. “Are you ready to rock?” he cries to those who are watching him. “It’s in there!” he points towards Logan.
Gonga just released their first stoner-powered album Conscrescence as a three-piece instrumental band. They underline their intent by having no vocal mics on stage, which causes a bit of a problem if you want to know the name of the track, why there’s a technical hitch, or whatever. Still, the road they’ve taken looks very promising for them.
The queue for Paul Di’Anno and Blaze Bayley’s signing session is incredible for its length and its variety. It includes some people bedecked in classic era denim and Iron Maiden patches, clutching vinyl to be signed. Some people, disappointed by the length of the queue, settle for taking photos of his back through the window.
Pat McManus appears delighted with new bassist Marty McDermott (who happens to look like Eddie Izzard). The Irish guitarist and violinist is quietly confident as he tells the crowd: “I’m not going to shout at you, I’m not going to swear at you – I’m just going to play music for you.” He does exactly what he said.
“You’re fucking right it is,” is one unkind comment as Enuff Z’Enuff teeter on the edge of losing the room. But they change course and resort to a festival-style set of 80s classics – which, after all, is what most people would expect from them at a festival.
Snakecharmer are comfortable with the task in hand. “Has anyone seen us before? Not enough. Has anyone got the album? We’ve got work to do,” says vocalist Chris Ousey. Micky Moody has every right to do a guitar solo spot, but saves it from taking us on a downer by contriving with drummer Harry James to perform musical jokes instead of taking it too seriously.
Who arrived in a helicopter? Black Spiders, according to backstage chat… They introduce those who haven’t seen them before to their traditional audience-participation moment of having everyone throw their fingers in the air and shout: “Fuck you, Black Spiders!” But Pete Spilby is unimpressed, saying: “Average – not the welcome we were expecting!” So the crowd goes again. One person’s had enough of the pantomime and keeps shouting “Fuck you!” Spilby replies: “Yes.”
Mention must be made of the Caravan of Lost Souls, a stage on wheels which unloads ringmaster Igor Rasputin’s troupe of Vaudeville entertainers including jugglers and fire-eaters, ably assisted by two chimp-men. They make the lives of the poor people manning the outdoor bar in near-zero temperatures much warmer. “Get out of the way!” cries one barman, jumping on his colleague’s back as scantily-clad ladies begin a fire dance. “I’ve only seen this 20 times today!” Later a topless girl performs a jiggly dance which offers the predictably perky spectacle. But Rasputin cries: “Stop looking at her tits… she’s dancing on broken glass!” And she is too.