Hard Rock Hell X
Thursday 10th November - Saturday 12th November
Pwllheli, North Wales
The idea of hosting a Rock festival on the inaccessible Welsh Northwest coast in November is, quite frankly, a ridiculous idea. But that is exactly what the team at Hard Rock Hell has been doing successfully for the last 10 years. This year’s anniversary event sold out its 6500 tickets almost before the last one was over. A hardy breed of rockers you might think? Not at all. The holiday camp hosting the event provides two large inside venues with well-stocked and staffed bars as well as smaller venues, assorted concessionaries and comfortable heated and dry accommodation. A far cry from Knebworth 1985 or this year’s Download.
The three-day festival opened on Thursday evening with what was once a party night for the HRH regulars to meet up and swap stories. Now it is a full blown main stage extravaganza complete with an opening ceremony from the talented Area 51 show troupe performing a burlesque King Kong tribute to the strained sounds of a Metallica filled soundtrack. Yes, you did read that correctly. The opening act was Wales own trio Texas Flood who set the standard for the weekend blasting out their ‘balls to the wall rock and roll’ getting heads nodding, toes tapping and smiles all round. Scotland’s rock trio the Amorettes showed why you wouldn’t mess with these feisty ladies followed by England’s 1970’s slightly more melodic Praying Mantis. Completing the United Kingdom representation was Ireland’s Sweet Savage, once the domain of Dio and Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell. Said Mr. Campbell then took to the stage to dazzle a rapturous audience with Last in Line. Along with fellow Dio member Vinnie Appice, Last in Line belted out classic Dio tracks, as well as a couple of their own tracks, to the accompaniment of a vocal crowd. You might think that fronting a band in place of the mighty Ronnie James Dio would be a daunting prospect but singer Andrew Freeman carried it off with just the right balance of deference and swagger and no lack of singing skills. A great set.
How do you top that? Clear the stage and place 4 Hillbilly’s with nothing but an acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass, a mandolin and a banjo. Add dungarees, alcohol and long beards and you have Hayseed Dixie. Anyone not familiar with the band looked somewhat perplexed as the boys launched into their unique high octane Bluegrass Rock. Those of us in the know watched as those perplexed looks turned into huge grins as they played a string of covers including ‘War Pigs’, ‘Highway to Hell’ and ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as well as their own “romantic ballad” ‘Poop in a Jar’. Even the normally taciturn security were grinning and tapping their toes. The set was played at blistering speed with great skill and had the audience dancing all the way back to their nice warm beds. Via the bars of course.
Friday saw the event in full swing with 21 bands playing through the day across both stages. Opening act on the main stage was Mason Hill rocking the hung over faithful with no consideration for headaches. And the faithful didn’t mind a bit. Great energy and great sounds meant many new to the band took note to check them out next time they venture south of the Scottish border. Continuing the international feel, and the rocking, was Israel’s Chase the Ace and America’s Warrior Soul. Flitting between the two stages, and the bar handily en-route, we were treated to bands both old and new, with a diversity that stayed within the comfort zone of the knowledgeable and open-minded audience. Previous years had seen some acts clear the room as their genre of music had failed to please, but this year the acts only led to the most difficult of decisions being which of the two stages most demanded ones attention. On the second stage some special mentions must go out to some of the newer acts that impressed, and kept many from venturing into the main stage. The Last Vegas mixed punk, glam and sleaze in fine proportions. Dorje, the touring band of Internet sensation Rob Chapman and his highly talented band, played a thunderous set with awesome guitar work. And final act Vintage Caravan, Icelandic veterans of the HRH stage, finished the night with some aplomb.
Stage one saw the “headline acts” take the stage although that moniker raises some debate. The Treatment (who have toured with the likes of Kiss, Motley Crue and Slash), Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts and Graham Bonnet of Rainbow fame all did their finest work. Headliner’s of the night were Ugly Kid Joe. Anyone who thinks that their hit ‘Cats in the Cradle’ is representative of their sound is much mistaken. They rock. If you haven’t seen them before, make a note to do so. HRH were treated to them accompanied with the Area 51 dancers, which added just a nice touch of salaciousness. Closing the night were 80’s rock goddesses Vixen. These ladies look and sound as good as they ever did despite every technical hiccup the stage could throw at them. Professional to the core.
Saturday, the final day, followed the same format. Again, the standard of acts on stage two was extremely high. Special mention must go to Melbourne’s brilliantly named Tequila Mockingbird, another all girl act who really hit the spot. Lead singer Estelle Artois has one of those powerful yet beautiful voices that keeps you mesmerised and the band seem to effortlessly avoid the often “trying too hard to be metal” style that some all-girl bands have - yet still sound as heavy as you like. Finishing the night on stage two were Black Aces who signed off the second stage with an excellent performance befitting of the weekends stage two acts.
Stage One opened an eclectic day of music with Leicester’s finest, SKAM. Simple, no nonsense rock, just what the doctor ordered. Last minute additions to the bill Soil played next and, for me, were the find of the festival. Frontman Ryan McCombs, flanked by the behemoths Tim King (bass) and Adam Zadel (guitar), entertained the crowd with the most amusing banter between fiery vocals. Another of those bands that are on the list to revisit.
Australia’s Cherry Grind followed, then Blues legend Bernie Marsden lowered the tempo with his usual fluid fretwork satisfying the mellow need. And the obligatory Whitesnake tracks with the compulsory crowd accompaniment. Of note, Bernie was one of the few acts on the main stage who was able to get a good sound. Many of the acts struggled through the day - more of that shortly. Aussie rockers Massive cranked the tempo back up before another last minute addition Hey Hello took to the stage. Described as a “Power Pop Band” formed by Ginger Wildheart, Hey Hello certainly raised some eyebrows. The somewhat erratic pendulum of styles then swung in the opposite direction with the arrival of Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. The Motorhead guitarist and his boys treated the audience to their covers of some well-known Rock and, more importantly, a number of Motorhead classics. And in a fitting tribute to the much lamented Lemmy, played a version of his Hawkwind classic ‘Silver Machine’ that brought the granite faced axeman as close to an emotion as you are likely to get. As the mighty Motorhead are no more, Phil and his boys are the closest you are going to get.
The style pendulum took another swing with the introduction of Living Colour with their Jazz/Funk/Rock fusion and then Ginger was back on stage again. Those hoping for a collection of Wildhearts classics were disappointed although what was effectively a non-stop 30 minute jam by his collection of 9 musicians was both impressive and entertaining. “Headliners” of the night were eighties metal band Ratt who played a number of tracks from their bestselling 1985 album ‘Invasion of your Privacy’. Unfortunately, their usually melodic dual guitar riffs were let down by poor sound. I think it fair to say that both they and the fans were disappointed with their set. Closing out the night, and the festival, were Southern Rock legends Molly Hatchet. Somewhat curiously they were minus one guitarist, which meant their usual twin guitar boogie sound was restricted to the single guitar of Bobby Ingram. But he played it with style and they closed the night with a string of classics finishing, obviously, with ‘Boogie No More’.
As the crowd dispersed to empty the beer pumps for the final time, they were left to reflect on the end of another successful HRH. Good music, good friends, good beer and a well organised HRH machine quietly working in the background working on HRH 11. Already on the bill are Airbourne, Y&T and Gun. I’ve got my tickets. Best you get yours soon.