Hard Rock Hell 13 Day 2
Friday 8th November 2019
So have the HRH generals taken note and made some changes to the stage 1 set up? The slightly delayed access to the venue suggests so, so we anticipate a new dawn as we queue in the damp morning. Sadly the HRH generals have maintained their tactical doctrine and thrown us into the same trench warfare as yesterday i.e. nothing has changed. Somewhat apt on Rememberence weekend. Still, let's crack on shall we. Today's format is the traditional two stages affair with the headline acts on stage 1 and the newer acts on stage 2. As there is little difference in size between the two, it makes the switch between the two less obvious. Although the layout of the arenas makes transition between the two difficult. Consequently I saw very little of stage 2. So somewhat anchored in stage 1 for the day I anticipated another rerun of day 1. Openers Twister were winners of the Highway to Hell competition, set up by HRH to promote Rock and Metal bands who write their own material. Having won a 5 year worldwide record contract for 2 albums, the 4 piece from Durham get to open the main stage. Kudos to HRH - they're not all bad.
The darkened stage erupts to the sound of three drums battering away as two kettle drums accompany the full drum kit. All very tribal. The band kicks in proper to some excellent Rock licks. Frontman Stevie Stoker sports a two tone look with his white hair, Les Paul and white Marshall amps contrasting nicely with the regular black Rock ensembles. The band are Rock but make use of guitar effects, especially delay and reverb, giving them and edgy U2 vibe (sorry, terrible pun). The crowd are already quite large and yesterday's issues are still blatantly evident but Twister rise above it all and produce an excellent enthusiastic opening set. The sound in stage 1 is still remarkably variable depending on where you stand and the VIP seating at the front still causes logistical and atmospheric issues but already today feels better. Maybe it's excellent ales.
Next up is Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disaster, a Cardiff based 4 piece fronted by the eponymous power house. She has that powerful female lead vocalist thing that are making bands like Halestorm such a popular force in current Rock music. Behind Beth's strong vocals are some squealing guitar licks with some heavy fuzz added. Unless that is down to the vagaries of the stage 1 sound. With Beth also on guitar we get some excellent guitar harmonies and stand out track 'Jack and Coke' gives us a punchy Rock groove. A great sounding band that again notches up the level a little further.When it comes to ratcheting, things go up a whole other level with the entrance of Those Damn Crows. And not only that, but they change the whole festival. The now packed arena - many of whom have come just to see them - now becomes a cauldron of excitement. The VIP bastion of good behaviour becomes a sea of ebullience that washed away the issues of day 1 and makes everyone friends again. The Welsh 5 piece have been making a big impact on the live music scene with their big Rocking sound. The Les Paul through Orange amp sound has graced, and wowed, Download, Ramblin' Man and Steelhouse festivals amongst others. It's heavy but Melodic Rock in the vein of Foo Fighters, Zep and Aerosmith, all influences on the Bridgend boys. Frontman Shane Greenhall is hugely charismatic with his Welsh patois a joy between some strong vocals performances. 'I Don't Give A Damn, Say What You Want' as a song sums up their excellent set that included excellent tracks like 'Set In Stone' and 'The Fighter'. But it was closer 'Rock n Roll Ain't Dead', with a dash of 'Pinball Wizard', that summed up an excellent performance. Possible band of the weekend for me, these fellas have been the turning point. They are touring next year and I definitely will be there.
Praying Mantis hail from the NWOBHM era but are a more Melodic Prog offering. Their more restrained performance saw a slightly smaller audience enjoy the twin harmony of Les Pauls through Marshall amps, accompanying the equally joyous vocal harmonies. The Troy brothers celebrate 45 years of Rocking and their tight sound reflect this as well as covering Skynyrd's 'Simple Man', their own tracks including 'Highway', 'Letting Go' and closer 'Children Of The Earth' are well received. I manage to navigate my way briefly to stage 2 to enjoy some of the newer acts. The stage is similar in size to stage 1, but without the infamous VIP gladiatorial pit, with an excellent atmosphere although the sound was a little fuzzy. The energetic Black Tree Vultures were performing a great set to a packed crowd. It's where I usually like to spend time, watching the up and coming talent, but today I have to make my way back to stage 1 pretty promptly if I want to watch the headline acts in a place where I can at least see or hear them. Or preferably both.
Wayward Sons are up next, and Toby Jepson's !atest vehicle. And a fast driving vehicle it is. And loud too. The volume notably cranks upwards as Sam Woods Les Paul screams into life, whilst the tall blonde fella grins like a Cheshire housewife. Sorry, Cheshire cat. After getting the sound levels sorted - it was heavy on keys - the smooth machine shifts up through the gears. Jepson is in his element, behind his Gibson hollowbody, bantering with the crowd, and singing vocals with all the assurance of a man at one with his music. When, after declaring his thirst under the hot lights, and a punter delivers him a cold beer, he jokes that it's a perk of being a Rock legend when his bandmates don't get any. But it's in all humility and all in fun. It epitomises the friendly feel good factor that permeates the now Rocking arena. With a set list that includes old and new - 'Ghost', 'Little White Lies', 'The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be' and 'Crush', with a touch of Blondie's 'Union City Blues' - it's another cracking set. The boys are touring with Steel Panther next year. That will be a gig not to miss.
Penultimate band on stage 1 are the fabulous Gun. All dressed in black, the Glaswegian rockers are another seasoned, professional, tight and frankly just brilliant five piece. The Gizzi brothers - Dante on vocals and Jools on guitar - are just damn cool. Dante's infectious smile is picked up by the now rammed audience and his banter, in that broad Clydeside accent, is so easy on the ear. Not something you often hear said about the Glaswegian drawl. The tempo and the temperature soar as hit after hit are poured out from their forthcoming greatest hits album. Hits like 'Don't Say It's Over', 'Welcome To The Real World' and 'Steal Your Fire' showcasing over 30 years of Rocking. Another regular of the festival scene, their superb set is only marred by some VIP based altercation that sees Dante visibility upset by the unnecessary fracas. As a Glaswegian, you don't need to see your home sport on your travels. He's a man of loving life and tonight we all loved it with him. Well, most of us anyway.
Now Buckcherry, and lead singer Josh Todd especially, are a band that could clearly do with a little more love in their life. Whereas Gun exude warmth and comfort in their Rock, Buckcherry are altogether more edgy. You aren't sure what you are going to get when the LA rockers hit the stage. The opening couple of tracks see a few technical glitches including Todd's in ear monitors. The band look edgy, the crowd feel uneasy as Todd has that look of one about to throw his toys out of his perambulator. But the man is used to dealing with crap - just read his lyrics - and with the Gremlins duly dealt with, things really kick into gear. The pent up crowd now joyously release their energy in a torrent of highly colourful lyrics about predominantly drink, drugs and sex. And as the audience comes alive so does Todd. His wavering voice is discarded alongside his headscarf and leather jacket to leave the heavily tattooed singer bearing his chest and his soul. The voice gets stronger as does the set with classics like 'Lit Up', 'Too Drunk To Fuck' and 'Sorry' rubbing shoulders with newer material. The crowd love it. When it comes towards the end of the set, Josh asks what track the audience want to end with, some bright spark yells out 'Footloose', the Kenny Loggins dance track. Which the boys immediately launch into much to the delight of all who join in. Made a good job of it too, showing there is a lighter side to them. Of course what we really wanted was 'Crazy Bitch,' the non-PC sing-along we just love, which was served up with all the crowd interaction and a slice of 'Proud Mary' and 'Jungle Fever' on the side. Awesome. Add to that the band actually returned for an encore - not something they make a habit of - with their adult version of Icona Pops 'I Don't Care, I Love It'. Even more awesome. What a great end to a great night. So day 2 ends on a high and the fears of day 1 appear to have receded. The venue still needs some work, the sound has improved but the VIP area has to go. Bet it won't though. But the HRH vibe is up and running. Roll on day 3.