Day One, Friday, November 10th, 2017
Reviewed by Paul Quinton
Hard Rock Hell is rapidly becoming a highlight of the gig-going year, and returned to Pwllheli in 2017 with one of its strongest bills to date. Hafan y Mor has become almost a perfect setting, if you disregard the travelling issues for, I suspect, most of those attending, and each year it seems the ‘Sold Out’ notices are issued earlier and earlier.
As usual, there was a preliminary, VIP only event on the eve of the festival proper, this year headlined by the great Dee Snider, with able support from Wayward Sons, Black Aces, Killcode, Idlewar and Ryders Creed. Despite the strain of his mother having been in a serious road accident only days before the event, it’s not in Dee’s DNA to let anyone down, and all the reports indicate that he gave his usual all-out, fully committed show. All our good wishes go with him.
Come Friday, and the festival proper, and the early impression of the occasion was that it was undoubtedly busier than ever, even at a time when most of those present might be expected to be pacing themselves for the weekend ahead. Even at the somewhat un-rock’n’roll hour of ten past three in the afternoon, when Syteria took the stage, the main hall was fuller than I can ever remember so early in the day. When I first became aware of the band, and before hearing their music, their name suggested they might be a symphonic or gothic metal band, but as soon as the band burst into song, any such ideas are quickly disposed of. With Jackie Chambers of Girlschool in the line up, it’s not a surprise that there’s a lot of that band’s no frills hard rock in Syteria’s sound, but there’s a bit of a punk attitude in there as well as their cover of The Ramone’s ‘Rockaway Beach’ showed. It was enjoyable, engaging stuff and a good way to start the weekend.
Most of the time, the changeovers in the two halls at HRH aren’t long enough to allow you to get a decent sample of a band performing on the other stage, but managing to see a good proportion of Fire Red Empress’ set on Stage 2 was well worth the effort. Unashamedly metal, but still with a powerful groove, they played songs from their debut album, ‘Black Morphine’, and songs like ‘Dead Nature went down really well the crowd, and I suspect there were a lot of people checking the band out on Facebook and the like after their set. Singer Jennifer Diehl will obviously grab a lot of the attention, but the band as a whole look destined for good things as the applause at the end suggested.
Back to the main stage for something a little different, The Graveltones, one of what seems to be a steady stream of guitar and drums duos emerging on to the scene. Jimmy O and Michael Serbello’s sound seems much more rooted in the Blues than a lot of similar bands, and they somehow managed to include fifteen songs in a set that lasted just less than an hour, chiefly by barely letting up for the whole set. From the opener, the prettily titled ‘Kiss and Fuck off’, via the furious ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Catch Me On The Fly,’ the pace never drops, and even when they take the foot off the pedal a little for ‘Can’t Tell A Man’, the two musicians still play with terrific intensity. I’m not sure who would win the Gold Medal in the ‘Hitting The Drums The Hardest’ competition over the weekend, Mike Serbello or Michael Clayton Arbeeny of Tyketto, but this was great stuff and one of the best sets of the weekend.
Another entry in the Misleading Band Names file is that of The New Roses, from Frankfurt in Germany, who are neither a sleaze band nor a Damned Tribute act. They are in fact a classic Rock band, with loud guitars, a big drum sound and plenty of references to strong drink in their lyrics. They’re also one of those bands who, even if you haven’t heard them before, a lot of their music has a pleasant familiarity because they wear their influences very much on their sleeve, and their songs are good enough to have you nodding along and trying to hum the choruses. Particularly enjoyable were ‘Forever Never Comes’ and ‘Dancing On a Razorblade’, and they also showed a nice, lighter touch with the Tom Petty-tinged ballad ‘Life Ain’t Easy (For a Boy With Long Hair)’. The New Roses were a good listen, although perhaps not the most visually dynamic of bands, and suited the late afternoon slot well.
Tyketto played the first HRH AOR festival in 2014, the first year it was held at Hafan y Mor, and played a set so good, which such an intense crowd reaction, it was almost scary, so it’s obviously a no brainer for the organisers to invite them back regularly. This particular show tied in with their second visit to Europe in support of their ‘Reach’ album, but with only an hour to play with, they scaled down their set to concentrate on their better known numbers. I’m not sure about the title track of the new album as a set opener, while a great song, it’s a little too reflective to get things moving quickly, but ‘Burning Down Inside’ lifts the atmosphere up instantly, and from then on they could almost do no wrong. I say almost, because while Danny Vaughn’s brief intro to ‘The Run’ no doubt means a lot to him personally, in front of a festival crowd it lost them a little momentum, and was almost drowned by the usual background chatter. In contrast, the other new song, ‘Faithless’, is a belter, an atmospheric epic with a terrific riff. It was great to hear one of their best songs, ‘Rescue Me’ in the set, but when you can end your set with three songs as great as ‘Wings’, ‘Lay Your Body Down’ and the mighty ‘Forever Young’, you can’t go far wrong. While they’ve had to undergo a temporary change of bass player, with Chris Childs away on Thunder duties, replaced by top New York session bassist Greg Smith, who has a ridiculously long CV, the band were still as tight and inspirational as ever, with the ever smiling Chris Green delivering the riffs and peeling off some incendiary solos, and, as ever, Danny Vaughn giving us some more evidence that he remains one of the best and yet most underrated rock singers around. One of the very, very best sets of the entire weekend.
It seems obvious that the best way of following a band who seem genetically incapable of playing a bad show is to have another band with the same gift, but when that band is Y & T, well, that’s just spoiling us. This was the penultimate show in what now seems to be their traditional Autumn tour of the UK, including an absolute monster of a gig at the Robin a fortnight previously, and there was never any danger that the band were going to let anyone down, even with the requirement to cram their normally two hour plus show into a mere 75 minutes. Setting the scene with the sound effects intro and blistering riff of ‘Black Tiger’ and giving us a good sample of their career, from the Earthshaker album all the way up to ‘I’m Coming Home’, from 2010’s Facemelter, it’s a sign of what a great back catalogue they have when they can leave songs as good and popular as ‘Midnight in Tokyo’ and ‘Lipstick and Leather’ out of the set. Even the epic ‘I Believe In You’, with one of Dave Meniketti’s greatest solos, which for many bands would be a climax to the set, comes in the middle of the set, leaving them to pick up the pace with the brilliant ‘Barroom Boogie’, then the rarely played ‘Squeeze’ and finishing with the anthemic ‘Rescue Me’ and ‘Forever’. Just as good, in a slightly different way, as the longer set at the Robin, it merely proved that the band remain one of the best and most consistent live bands around.
During the course of Y & T’s set, it was clear that the main hall at HRH was becoming fuller by the minute, more crowded than I can remember at any HRH event. Taking a break outside during the changeover before Airbourne took the stage, I learned that the event’s security had actually closed the doors midway through the set and were now operating on a one in, one out basis, It was also a disappointment to learn that part of the section reserved for disabled fans and wheelchair spaces had been commandeered for some of Airbourne’s equipment. I can’t remember this having happened at HRH before, and I hope it’s not something we see again. Under these circumstances, with the prospect of joining a queue to reenter the hall and weighing the likelihood of anyone bettering the brilliance of the Y & T and Tyketto sets, who were worth the trip on their own, the decision to call it a day was taken. After all, there would be plenty more music to take in on the Saturday.