Hard Rock Hell XIV Day 1
Thursday 4th November 2021
Camp HRH, Great Yarmouth
I'm back! It's Back! Like the pubescent teenager that it is, the 14 year old Hard Rock Hell festival has dragged itself out from under its bedclothes, after what seems like an inordinate amount of time asleep, to emerge with all the piss and vinegar, and zest for life, that bring us back every year. It's the second year at the Great Yarmouth site, with many teenage angst issues to resolve, and this year with the added complications of the post (ongoing?) pandemic to contend with.
The first being the main stage set up and sound which at HRH 13 were disorganised and infuriating. Just like most teenagers. This year the layout of the main stage is vastly improved and the sound seemed to be both louder and clearer. The rest of the site remains much the same, although the poor merch minions have been relegated to the other side of the camp out in the pouring rain. They won't be doing much business this weekend....
The organisation is smooth and the security is friendly, although the numbers appear to be slightly down. Hardly surprising in the current climate. But for those who are here, it's a welcome return to 'normality' with many a familiar face catching up after what seems like a lifetime apart.
This year's line up is the leanest by far, with a number of changes and notably fewer acts. The music starts later and finishes earlier, although the variety remains high with bands from many different styles and from different countries eager to beat the music industry crushing symptoms of the last 18 months. There is no masking their enthusiasm that's for sure.
The only masks spotted so far are the costume masks of the dancers from Area 51, who prance around in military style outfits to the sound of Rammstein in the Opening Ceremony. And then strip down to their non standard issue underwear in the obligatory salacious finale. Attention and stand by your beds! I'm sure that was going through other people's minds too right? Despite the surprising lack of pyrotechnics, they still managed to warm the audience that was slowly trickling through the doors.
As per usual, Thursday night is a single stage affair, with many of the bands suffering from the previous nights awards ceremony. But Thursday is the start of the three day event and this year sees again variety in the acts with the HRH machine looking to provide something for everyone. Opening act are Worcester's Gypsy Pistoleros who describe themselves as the best Flamenco Sleaze band in the world. Stiff competition I'm sure. Bit like the opening ceremony .... The three piece apparently sacked their bass player the previous evening - he was notably absent - yet their sound is heavily bass ridden. Must be his ghost. The sombrero touting front man Lee Mark Jones is daubed in macabre make up making him and his troupe look more theatrical than Area 51. The set is a theatrical romp of fun and enthusiasm, with an unusual rendition of 'Living La Vida Loca' that would make Ricky Martin turn in the grave that the freaky flamencoists would relish interring him in.
Following the freak show are a young Spanish band called the Happy Freuds. In stark contrast, their stage presence is minimal, almost as if they are stroppy teenagers not wanting to be seen with us old folks. But also full of fire and passion in their heavy chugging Rock sound. Lead singer Teo Holmstrom sheepishly admits he's only 22 - a bit old for a teenager but they do stay that way for longer these days. Hah, in my day we had been down the mines, had a dozen children and fought three world wars by that age... I digress. The four piece - two Swedish brothers and two Spanish - pump out some 90s Alt Rock influenced tones that is heavy stuff. Sporting Epiphone and Charvel axes, Teo and guitarist Maverick Devene blast us through an excellent set that includes their tracks 'The Mountain', 'Allan's Big Feet', 'In Black' and 'No Rush'. A great sounding band that will no doubt hone their craft and grow into a classic band. One to watch.
South of Salem are up next. A five-piece from Bournemouth, they bring a distinctly Punk edge. Not that that's what the hard rockers would describe themselves as, but the sound system tonight has a pleasing hard edge to it - the bands all appear to be using the Marshall amps provided. Frontman Joey Draper leads the charge with some serious attitude Rock, backed up by the twin guitars of Fish and Kodi, a double act of dubious nomenclature. It's hard and fast, although not without feeling - 'No Plague Like Home' being one track highlighting the angst of the last 18 months and 'Demons Are Forever' which highlights the issues of suicide, a subject they and many others feel passionately about. It's a strong set that is well received by the now growing crowd, making the low ceilinged venue feel like a dark edgy subterranean club. Excellent stuff.
German Rock quartet, The New Roses, only flew into the country this morning, which what might explain why the Teutons were uncharacteristically late on stage. Not that there was any rush as the leaner line up allows plenty of time between acts to sample some of the fine ales on offer. But when they do make it on stage they don't disappoint. Lead singer Timmy Rough has the looks of a wayward Aragorn but with the vocals of early Blackie Lawless. It's a great sound with the heavy Rock and Roll sound - AC/DC inspired maybe - with strong echoing vocals. Rough sports a hollowbody Les Paul which gives the Rock a rich twang, whilst Dizzy Presleys PRS provides the balls out chugg. Songs like 'It's A Long Way' give the now swollen audience a chance to sing along whilst 'Whisky Nightmare' is almost a slow ballad. Almost, but not quite. When latest release 'Glory Road' starts with just Rough vocalising to his stripped down clean guitar, we see a slightly softer side, although the song builds with the other members joining to create some anthemic Rock. But crowd pleaser 'Down By The River' brings everything back to where it belongs and closer 'Thirsty' leaves us thirsty for more. Cue the real ales - do I fancy a Wherry, Reedlighter or Nog?
Talking of belonging, if any band belongs to the Hard Rock Hell line up, it's the Black Spiders. They have probably played more of the 14 events than any other band. Another high energy outfit, hailing from Sheffield, they inject their own brand of steel into proceedings watched by their faithful followers adorned in hot pants and cycling helmets (I have no idea....). Currently touring their latest EP 'Deaf Proof', the volumes proved that we are anything but. The faithful loved them.
But we love The Wildhearts more. I have seen Ginger in his various guises many times, but tonight is probably the best show I have seen him and his band perform. It was back to the high energy full on Rock come Punk that made The Wildhearts the stuff on angry teenage legend. With the afore mentioned Rock sound of the Marshall Amps, and the high volume levels, Ginger was virtually screaming into his microphone, whilst battering his Les Paul, giving the feel of an early 80s Punk sound a la Skids or Sham 69. But still with the Ginger finesse. The set was a breathless non stop tour of classics including 'Vanilla Radio', 'Caffeine Bomb' and 'Sick Of Drugs'. Its an awesome display of what makes Rock music so addictive, all spit and little polish and as subtle as a Numan Erectile Dysfunction advert. There is a huge following for the band in the now heaving venue which suits this down and dirty Rock. Although they are strangely unresponsive to the rare breaks for banter from the Geordie frontman. But its a worthy headline act that finishes oh too soon with classics 'My Baby Is A Headfuck' and 'I Want To Go Where The People Go' that has the moshers moshing and the singers singing. Ginger, you and your band were awesome tonight. Keep it raw - keep it right.
So ends Day 1 of the festival that could have been a washout. But the only washout is the November rain - the slick HRH team and excellent bands saw to that. Yes, it's a stripped down affair this year. Hardly surprising in the current climate. But like The Wildhearts set, sometimes less is more. More or less anyway. Let's see what Day 2 brings.