Hard Rock Hell XIV Day 2
Friday 5th November 2021
Camp HRH, Great Yarmouth
Morning campers. Day 2 dawns as a beautiful sunny day, surely an omen for a great day ahead. Unfortunately it's a false dawn as news trickles in that mainstage powerhouses, Wolfsbane, have had to cancel due to one of their members being tested positive for Covid. A heartfelt message from the band apologises and sends warm wishes to all as well as the promise to see us at HRH 15. It's a blow to many who have attended specifically to see them but it's an all too common situation at the moment that we all accept with our best wishes going out to the band. So where does that leave our already depleted line up which today is spread thinly across two stages?
Well, after a shuffle of the planned running order we shuffle into stage 1, at the unusually late start time of 2pm to see who the HRH team could rustle up at such late notice. Slightly out of genre, and totally out of Essex, are two piece classic Punk outfit The Meffs. Lily Hopkins fronts the duo with Lewis Copsey on drums. Lily, resplendent in classic Punk Fred Perry button down shirt, braces and boots, sports a no nonsense Fender Telecaster, with her no nonsense half shaved head and attitude. They launch into a strongly politically and socially motivated set that is classic simple angry Punk. Despite being simple, the two instruments make a full sound as Lily's stripped down playing is excellent at making a full rhythm and melody without interfering with the focus of the band, the lyrics.
"Don't believe everything you read in the Daily Mail" she cries, "In fact, don't believe anything you read", before launching into songs like 'Get Real' and 'Broken Britain', commenting on subjects like homelessness, inequality, poverty and corruption, and all blamed upon the government. Its old school Punk with old school anarchy. And it's good. Despite the strong serious nature of the message, it is delivered with a smile and a sense of humour, although still with a passion that is admirable and appreciated by the audience whatever their political leanings. There is also a brief break from politics to sing about football, although their passion for Colchester United is not quite so antagonistic. The Meffs are a fine last minute local replacement that start Day 2 with a bang, a crash, a wallop and a smile.
Day 2 continues with the obligatory festival practice of moving between the stages, interspersed with beers and 'a mooch at the merch'. Although much of the mooching was missed due to most of it being somewhat off piste. Unlike the beers which were everywhere and strong enough to get us very piste. And a quick word of praise for the selection of beers available, which were varied and interesting, unlike many an event where brewery sponsorship limits availability to everything you never want to drink. Plus Guinness. And a big shout out to the many bar staff who cheerfully distribute the elixir of life in an efficient way with as little waiting time as possible. Although many punters were happy to camp around the bars and drink at leisure, whilst catching up with friends old and new rather than heading down to the mosh pit. It's a warm friendly environment, full of good feeling and good cheer, that I had forgotten how much I miss. After a long spell of isolation, it's good to be surrounded by familiar faces, sounds and smells. I'm back home again.
Heading to stage 2 we discover South Wales own Pearler, a hairy and heavy 4 piece named after the best pint/meal/gig you ever had. As their band slogan says "Pearler - you know when you have had one". And you are guaranteed a pearler from the band that have some serious pedigree behind its flippant facade. Lead singer 'Wendell Kingpin' is actually Steve Williams of The Sheershock Revival, the band that Stereophonics Stuart Cable joined. Wendell is joined by the rest of his pseudonymed cohort to produce some chugging, down tuned Metal that has both Glammy Motley Crue and Doomy Faith No More. It says a lot about their attitudes to music and fun that Wendell has The Wildhearts written prominently across the front of his guitar. Their short set is well received by the already packed crowd in the smaller stage 2. Another nod, this time to the sound engineers who do an excellent job of getting the levels right in both stages, a difficult task in view of the constantly changing bands and conditions.
Back on stage 1, original openers Bastette take to the stage and, like day 1, maintain the variation of bands across the weekend. They are as different from The Meffs as can be. Although both fronted by strong female singers, whereas Lily would likely kick you in the mosh pit, but laugh out loud doing so, front woman Caroline Eve Kenyan would bring you to your knees with just one look from her sultry smouldering eyes. But her skin tight black pvc cat suit will have you upright and ready for action in moments..... (ahem...) The Lancashire 5 piece take their inspiration from Halestorm (as do we all) and The Pretty Reckless, with a set of power Rock songs that let's the empowered frontwoman show off her considerable vocal talents. Aided by Eoin Kelly on guitar, Paddy Duffy on bass and Rob Hirst on drums, Caroline owns the stage with every eye fixed upon her. But it's not just about the look. Shut your eyes for a moment and you know the sound of her voice, supported by hard rocking Gibson and PRS guitars, is the real reason the blood is pumping hard though your veins. Not that I would recommend that Bastette do anything different, but you need to listen to the band to hear just how good they are and how tight they sound. Songs like 'Stand Back' are personal, and played accordingly, and all are well written. Even a technical hitch during the final song, 'Rollercoaster', didn't detract from the polished performance. "You are all fabulous" cries Caroline, as the band leaves the stage. I couldn't think of a better way of describing them too.
A brief visit to stage 2 finds FyreSky, a 4 piece Goth Doom Rock also from Essex. Having been through a number of changes, the relatively stable trio of Gabriel Valentine (vocals and guitar), Kris White (bass and vocals) and Nicole Lastauskas (guitar and vocals) are joined tonight by birthday boy Jack Morris on drums. Their set is short but entertaining with Gabriel providing to be a charismatic frontman. From own material like 'Carpe Noctum' and 'Starchaser' (an award winning song), to notable covers like 'The Time Warp' and Britney's 'Toxic', the set entertains. It was amusing to see the looks on the faces of the Doom merchants in the audience when a Metal version of Toxic was revealed. But it was well received and had them dancing in the aisles. As was 'Pleasure For Pain', a song about kinky sex. As opposed to regular sex. One involves a feather, the other involves the whole chicken.
Talking of a bit strange, let me introduce you to Ward XV1, an eclectic troupe of performers who may just be for me the find of the weekend. The macabre mass of monochrome madness performed their theatre of (bad) dreams to a curious audience who had watched them assemble their bizarre collection of stage props. Clearly influenced by the Alice Cooper school of theatrics, the band perform a disturbing story of the troubled life of frontwoman Psychoberrie. Appearing on stage in her black and white striped Andy Pandy suit, clutching a Teddy bear, we are guided through her personal hell of her childhood and splintered relationship with her mother. Her metamorphosis into an angel of death, helpfully aided by 'the shadows', sees her gun down her cruel mother (played by her mother) as well as taking a chainsaw to her unshadowed demons. It's slightly disturbing, but entirely entertaining as the crowd grow into the whole show and suddenly 60 minutes have disappeared. The finale sees the gleefully mad Psychoberrie and her now reanimated corpse dive into the crowd to start a fun but frantic polka circle whilst the band plays on. And a shout out here to guitarist Lex who's fretboard skills were excellent and wholly appropriate to the show. Nice Hagstrom guitar too. Ward XV1 are an interesting act that I recommend you check out for yourself. I will be seeing them again as soon as I can.
The Screaming Eagles take us back to as standard a type of Rock as you can get - a notable change again from the previous act. And that standard is very high. The four piece provide some riffy Rock fronted by Irishman Chris Fry whose Chris Robertson style vocals add to the rocking sound reminiscent of Black Stone Cherry and Airbourne. It's some strong but soulful singing backed up with straight up Les Paul straight into a cranked Marshall goodness guitar glory. No pedals - is there any better sound? Great soloing too, although the band could do with a rhythm guitarist at these times as despite bassist Ryan Lillys excellent efforts, we lose the rhythm that is the foundation of this excellent Rock sound. Tracks like 'Take It All Away', 'Take My Time' and 'Sold Me Down The River', really get the now packed audience rocking as does their cover of 'Roadhouse Blues'. But their latest release, 'Thunder And Lightning', from their new album, is a fine piece of work that is well worth a listen too. Signing off with a cover of AC/DC's, 'It's A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock And Roll', you can see why this young Rock and Roll band are already moving up the stage order and will no doubt be headlining themselves before long.
Talking of which, the original headline act for tonight arrives now with all the gravitas and expectations you would expect from a Rock legend. Not that the quiet self titled Welsh Wanker cares. Phil Campbell and his Bastard Sons know that their legion of fans, mainly originating from the diminutive Welsh wizards previous combo (you may have heard of them) will not let them down. Emerging to the strains of Deep Purple's 'Highway Star', leave no one confused as to who they are, as they launch into 'We're The Bastards'. Glad we have that sorted then. Although you might have been confused as their excellent set is a mix full of Motorhead songs, including 'Rock Out', 'Born To Raise Hell', 'Going To Brazil' and the obligatory 'Ace Of Spades', but it is the Bastards own material that is attracting a loyal following of fellow Bastards. Songs including 'High Rule' and the crowd splitting shout along, 'Get On Your Knees', are strong songs too, although trying to split such a packed crowd of devoted fans in such a tight environment is no easy task. Phil's own 'These Old Boots' get an airing too, as does the ode to Lemmy, 'Silver Machine', which the crowd appreciate. A word about new vocalist Joel Peters. Big shoes to fill, both of the aforementioned Mr Kilmister and predecessor Neil Starr, Joel does an excellent job of fronting a charismatic line up with just enough level of individuality, and boundless energy, as well as having impressive vocal skills. Closing with a final Motorhead cover, 'Killed By Death', the exhausted and sweaty masses know they have been where they belong, getting down and dirty with the songs that are the fabric of their lives both past, present and hopefully for years to come. Phil will see to that.
So now promoted to headline spot, former W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes And The Mean Men have to follow a top headline act. The crowd wait expectantly for a set sprinkled with W.A.S.P. classics and are not disappointed as he opens with 'On Your Knees'. The 63 year old monster axeman has lead a hard life and, despite his considerable frame and presence, thus showing the ravages of a decadent lifestyle. But there is no doubting his guitar playing skills. It doesn't harm that he surrounds himself with young skilful musicians either. The set includes a number of W.A.S.P. tracks to enable him to show his fretboard prowess including 'L.O.V.E. Machine', 'Sleeping' and the anthemic 'Wild Child', as well as other covers including 'Born To Be Wild', 'Fortunate Son' and 'Rockin The Free World'. There are some notable songs of his own including the self explanatory, 'I've Had Enough', but the encore is another cover - AC/DC's 'Highway To Hell'. Nowt wrong with that - every covers band will include it. It's a fine set, but probably not a headline set. Not that Mr Holmes would care about, nor should he - he's an icon.
So the first full day is over and my efforts to switch between stages has been woeful. There were some great acts on stage 2, but it was difficult to tear myself away from the quality on stage 1. As per previous years, each day the standard gets steadily better. A good omen for tomorrow then. Sleep tight and don't forget your (blood soaked) Teddy bear...