Review by Paul Quinton and Woody, Photos by Lisa Billingham
Day two, Friday 21st March
Even if they weren’t the first band on the AOR stage on the Saturday, it was still a thankless task for LAWLESS to go on and try to entertain those present, although, to be fair, they did have a good go at it. Guitarist Howie G particularly impressed in a band that otherwise is solid without having something tangible to set them apart from so many others. They tried a singalong, which didn’t really work with about 50 people in a hall that could probably hold 1200, and wasn’t filling up very quickly. They have some good songs, especially ‘Black Widow Lady’ and ‘S.O.S.’ , and I’d like to see them again in better circumstances. (PQ)
Unlike the Rotherham venue, where travelling between the various stages was a time-consuming and often confusing business, the close proximity of the AOR and Prog arenas meant it was relatively easy to slip in and out of each stage to check bands out, even if you didn’t know much about them. Such was the case with the PHYSICS HOUSE BAND, who were in full flow on the Prog stage as Lawless were drawing to a close. They were the first of several instrumental bands on this stage over the weekend, which is something I’m still not sure worked in this setting. They gave us some long, quite trippy pieces of music, excellently played, but you probably have to be familiar with the band for it to have any real identity. Impressive technically, but that’s all. (PQ)
Steve Newman is a melodic rock veteran, having released a string of accomplished albums that are well-respected within the genre, but have never really made any impact on a wider audience. NEWMAN, the band, featuring the man himself on vocals and guitar, don’t play live that often, but they’re an impressively tight unit today. The band have some good songs, but, like the other bands so far today, it was hard work for them to generate much of an atmosphere in such a setting. I though the latest, and rather fine, album ‘Siren’ might have been featured more heavily in the set, than two out of the eight songs played, but the band preferred to play a set covering several facets of the back catalogue. A smartly played, enjoyable set that deserved more attention. (PQ)
SUMMERS have been buzzing around the periphery of the melodic rock scene for a few years now, but since their debut album ‘364’ was released the band have slowly but surely been building their fan base. I find these guys aptly named as they produce a really uplifting and fun time sound. They hit us all guns blazing and make the most of the abundance of space the main stage here gives them. They are rambunctious and energetic, which entices the early in the day crowd to get involved and are easily captivated by these youngsters who seem so natural on stage. They have a youthful naivety to their songs and whilst normally that would make me feel their music lacks depth, I actually find their songs quite refreshing and they are a great band to crank up when you’re looking for a bit of carefree escapism. They do have some slight modern touches, which are probably down to the guys’ ages and the music they grew up with, but on the whole these guys, from their image to their slick and smooth rock style, scream ‘We love melodic rock!’ I think the song that really captured me the most in their set was a new one, ‘Your Heart’, and considering it’s new, the crowd seemed to agree with me in this being a killer tune judging by the applause it garnered. We also heard, amongst others, ‘Too Late’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Superhero’, ‘Billy’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Let’s Go Round’, and ‘I Came Here To Rock’. I’m sure between this set and their high profile support slot with Tyketto, they have won many new fans and I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more from these guys in the future. (Woody)
Up and coming progressive band Luna Kiss were due on the Prog Stage and have been working triple overtime on promoting their set on the Prog stage with fliers and exhortations to download their single almost everywhere you looked on site, but it was high time to visit the Blues stage where Bonafide guitarist Pontus Snibb was playing a gig with his side project, PONTUS SNIBB 3. The publicity describes the band as a power trio, but live, the band mostly came across as a straightforward heavy blues band, with the guitarist’s playing sounding heavily influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughn, which is by no means a bad thing. There was some fine blues playing in this set, and even if Bonafide continue to go from strength to strength, I hope he’ll be able to continue with this project as it was well worth listening to. (PQ)
Back in the AOR arena it was time for the new line-up of TIGERTAILZ to hit the stage. With a new album and a new singer, Jules Millis from White Widdow, this version of the band looked to be really re-energised and ready to take on all-comers. There was one poignant moment when they dedicated a song to the late Pepsi Tate and to the recently deceased White Widdow drummer George Kristy, and the band do still hark back to their trademark sleaze some of the time, but their new material shows a welcome tendency to move in a heavier direction and some real ambition in their song writing. This was a far better and tighter Tigertailz than I can remember for a while and augurs well for this reborn line-up (PQ)
French melodic rockers Chasing Violets were due on the AOR stage, and looking at some of the guest musicians on their album, I was quite keen to see the make-up of their touring band, but news came round that they’d pulled out, although the reasons were never made clear, so it was off to the Prog stage for CHIMP SPANNER. I have to confess, part of the reason for choosing this was to be able to say that I’d seen a band actually called Chimp Spanner, but it never hurts to see something new. It transpired that the band were another extremely proficient instrumental-only progressive band. They were very technical and often fascinating to watch, but it was all a bit clinical and cold, and you often found yourself longing for a vocalist or frontperson to inject a little warmth, soul or even humour into the proceedings. (PQ)
The line up on the AOR stage from late afternoon looked extremely strong, and got off to a fine start with PINK CREAM 69. Although predominantly a German band, long standing vocalist David Readman is British, and he was quickly able to establish a rapport with the crowd, which was fortunate, because apart from him, the rest of the band weren’t high on stage presence, merely standing still and playing. There had been a delay before they started, when there appeared to be a problem with the backline, but the band soon got into their stride and gave us an hour of excellent melodic hard rock. Although they’re quite a well-known name in melodic rock circles, there did appear to be an early problem with the crowd not being familiar with the band, but they were soon won over by the quality of the music, regardless of the lack of rock star posing on stage. The band managed to produce the song of the day so far in ‘Do You Like It Like That’, and everyone could be well pleased with their set, because this was great stuff. (PQ)
Another German band next, the excellent BONFIRE. It’s a sign of how much affection there is for this band in melodic rock circles that the genre’s leading magazine, ‘Fireworks’, is named after the band’s defining album. Unsurprisingly they played a fair chunk off that album, as well as a couple from the nearly as good ‘Point Blank’. They also gave us something of a rarity in the song they played on the soundtrack to the now obscure film ‘Shocker’, ‘Sword And Stone’, but then it was written by Paul Stanley, Desmond Child and Bruce Kulick, which is bound to get a crowd reaction. You’ve also got to love a German singer who takes the time to learn how to say ‘Pwllheli’ properly, as well as ‘Thank you’ in Welsh, and a lot of bands on this bill could have learned from Bonfire’s efforts in breaking down the barrier between audience and band. Could have done without the drum solo, though, especially as there was no room in the set for ‘Ready For Reaction’, but this was a hugely enjoyable set, and I got to see them do ‘Sweet Obsession’ live for possibly the last time, as who knows when the band will be able to come back to the UK. Smiles all round, then. (PQ)
After all that Germanic excellence, it was time for HOUSE OF LORDS. This band have released some fine music in their time, and this set should have been one of the highlights of the day, but there always seemed to be something missing during their hour on stage. The sound wasn’t brilliant, especially the closer you got to the stage, and a lot of the time James Christian’s vocals were lost in the mix. During his between song chat, he also sounded to be having throat problems, which can’t have helped. House of Lords are also a band that rely a lot on backing tracks for keyboards, no sign of original keyboard player Gregg Giuffira, sadly, and when there were problems with these , causing ‘Love Don’t Lie’ to be started twice, and a lot of the adjustments the band were making and the apparent issues with the equipment on stage began to make the audience’s attention wander. And why, when Christian claimed they wanted to play as many songs as possible, did we get a drum solo? Songs like ‘Love Don’t Lie,’ ‘Pleasure Palace’ and ‘I Just Want To Be Loved’ show how good this band can be, but this wasn’t their finest hour. (PQ)
And so to TYKETTO. It was obvious from the way the atmosphere built as their set neared that this was the set a lot of people had been looking forward to, and the band delivered in spades. This was a huge leap from everything that had gone before in terms of performance, crowd response, however else you want to measure a band’s performance, and throughout the set singer Danny Vaughan seemed to have a look that that said ‘This. Nights like this are why we do this thing’. They played everything a fan might want them to play, opening with a gentle acoustic intro to ‘Burning Down Inside’, before the song, and the whole set, exploded into life. There were some songs from the most recent album, ‘Dig In Deep’, including the title track, which featured a duel between drummer Michael Clayton and new guitar player Chris Green, but it was the ‘Don’t Come Easy’ and ‘Strength In Numbers’ songs the crowd had come to hear, culminating in a version of Melodic Rock’s National Anthem, ‘Forever Young’, which was one of the most passionate and intense live music experiences I can ever remember. There’s going to come a time when much bigger bands are going to think long and hard about sharing a bill with Tyketto, because Danny Vaughan and friends will smilingly and inevitably steal the show. Tonight, Tyketto owned HRH AOR, one of the gigs of 2014, no arguments.
When the AOR Arena had settled back onto its foundations and the plaster had almost stopped falling from the ceiling, it was time for ROBIN BECK to undertake the unenviable task of following Tyketto. Perhaps that explained her apparent nervousness, especially when she spoke to the crowd, but there’s no denying her vocal talent, such a powerful voice from such a diminutive figure. She has had a lengthy career, best known over here for the Coca Cola song ‘The First Time’ which gave her a No. 1 single in the UK in 1988 (and another Top Ten entry in a joint re-recording with Swedish electronica band Sunblock in 2006, trivia fans). With members of House of Lords as her backing band, including husband James Christian on bass, plus Jeff Scott Soto’s guitarist Jorge Salan, she gave it her very best shot, but there was always a sense of anti-climax after what had gone before, although a good performance and quality songs like ‘You’re The One’ ended the evening on a high note.