Roll Up, Roll Up, Roll Up (Rizlas? ed.) for the greatest show on earth, this certainly encompasses the feeling around the HRH community as “Hard Rock Hell 7 – Cirque De Rock” rolls into its now well established new home of Hafan y Mor holiday park in Pwllheli.
There has been a lot of anticipation and build up over the year as the lineup has got stronger and stronger with headline bands like Black Star Riders, Skindred, The Answer and Airbourne appearing on the bill.
As ever though a few changes can happen and no more disappointing this year than the announcement that Nazareth wouldn’t be appearing. This due to founder member and vocalist Dan McCafferty retiring from the business due to ill health. We obviously all wish him our best and hope he stays in good health.
For those that don’t know about Hard Rock Hell, it was the first of all the main events run by Chic Festivals and has always had a more varied choice of music across all the genres of Rock which as ever makes for an exciting weekend of music across both of the main stages and the acoustic stage.
Unlike most of the other festivals in the UK, at the CHIC events all the accommodation is either in a caravan or chalet – it’s almost luxury compared to a damp tent and warm beer – and also all the stages are indoors so no weather worries, it’s like a rock holiday camp. The vibe here is great, no strangers just friends you haven’t met yet, and always a great atmosphere.
Day 1 Thursday 28 November
Thursday has the one stage going on and is generally just for Dark Circle, Royalty/VIP and Media ticket holders (although I’m sure standard ticket holders can pay for the extra day?) and as we walk over to the arena’s its clear to see that a lot of the punters are getting into the spirit, or should I say drinking the spirit, of things as the number of manic clowns/ringleaders and general fancy dress was clear to see and indeed over the entire weekend there was definitely some strange and bizarre sights.
We caught the end of the Uli Jon Roth set which was as ever a tour de force of guitar. Uli was joined by Carl Sentence on vocals that I had seen recently at Cambridge Rock Festival fronting Persian Risk and added a great element to the set.
It really does seem strange to have an opening ceremony after two bands had already played but the crew from Area 5 paraded their antics and wizardry yet again to give a weird and wonderful display of intoxicating debauchery, fire and brimstone. Over the weekend they are also performing their ‘Circus of Lost Souls’ for our entertainment.
Continuing on stage 2 was another member of the Irish contingent appearing over the weekend in the form of Bernie Torme, this stalwart of the British rock movement who most people know from his time spent with the Ian Gillan Band kicked it in tonight with a great set.
First time I had seen him and I was really impressed with his raw guitar led rock and especially as he finished the set with two faves of mine from the Gillan days ‘Trouble’ and ‘New Orleans’.
Now for one of the highlights of the night and truly fitting in with the “Circus” theme was none other than the God of Hellfire himself Arthur Brown, this man does his best to shock and entertain the audience and does so with such ease.
A mix of psychedelia/rock and pure expressive performance takes you back to the days when you didn’t have to talk to frank about drugs as they were a natural part of the music. A set filled with classics which ended with ‘Fire’ and an amazing version of the Peter Green classic ‘Green Manalishi’.
A performance which you really have to take part in rather than read about!
The night is getting messier by the minute with a few early flaggers that had obviously had a few too many lemonades. To kick them back into life was Attica Rage a true ballsy heavy rock band that hail from Bonnie Scotland, indeed the lads stayed around site all weekend to take in the atmosphere of the festival.
We talked to them earlier in the evening about their last album ’88 mph’ as they were sending it round the world via the fan network in hopefully 88 days, this time had passed but Jonny Parr (vocals) informed me that the time was now extended and it was currently in Australia, pretty good going!
A great set from them culminating with a rather good version of The Osmonds ‘Crazy Horses’ which went down a storm. Look out for their new live and studio albums due 2014.
Final band for tonight was another new one on me Fireroad – Welsh rockers from Aberdare who were unfortunately running as a 3 piece as guitarist Gavin was not present due to an unknown illness?
Anyway the boys gave a great set and somehow managed to keep their cool as 2 of the lovely beauties from Area 51 danced and contorted round them; how they managed it I will never know.
There can be no better way to end the first night at HRH than with a DJ set from the Legend that is ‘Krusher’, hailing back from pre-Kerrang days he has been in and around the rock industry forever and tonight he has come well attired as a rather scary clown.
Day 2 Friday 29 November
As we all wake up on a windy and damp Friday morning to the remnants of the late night parties it sets in that we’ve still got 2 days to go! Musically today it is very busy with great bands on both stages – it’s hard to decide what to watch.
As stage 1 opens up for the day it’s time for The Screaming Eagles who won their set here at the ‘Highway to Hell’ BOTB competition held every year in Scotland by the HRH crew.
The Belfast-based band didn’t get fazed by the big stage and kick in a great set mainly from their album ‘From The Flames’ A great rock/AOR(ish) sound that basically cleared out everyone’s heads and filled the hall for the day, they have certainly made a load more fans this weekend.
For me today, some of the best music could be found on stage 2 and looking through the band bios it ranged from rock to punk rock to stoner doom to heavy metal and this is what makes for an extremely exciting day.
First up for me was a great set by doom metallers Alunah with vocals dutifully taken care of by Soph Day the sound hit you in waves of guitar and ripping bass, certainly not a downer but a great set.
Over the entire weekend the sound on stage 2 was absolutely excellent for all the bands, in fact much better than the main stage. The mix was great and the bass really displaced your organs, in a good way of course, but all the time being clear and punchy, a great job by the sound engineer. Pity I can’t say that about the lights!
On with the music and to the destroyer of drums, Johanne James of Kyrbgrinder is the hardest hitting drummer I have ever seen, God only knows how the kit stays together and in fact on the day he had great problems with the supports on the kick drum!
Kyrbgrinder – a 3 piece hard hitting rock band – have a slight funky(ish) sound but with searing guitar and the ever flamboyant Johanne on drums and vocals.
Carrying on the stoner/fuzzed up blues theme for day was Plymouth based Grifter and London based Stubb both 3 piece and as dark and heavy/bluesy as you want. You can see where the influences come from as Grifter slipped ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and ‘Mississippi Queen’ into their set.
Over at stage 1 there was a not-to-be-missed act for the weekend Phil Campbell of Motorhead. A late but welcome announcement, his all star band is set to start touring in 2014 with a set of covers from Motorhead, Sabbath, Hawkwind and many others. It’s a great set and Phil seems to be having a great time; especially on the Motorhead tracks. I’m not sure how Nutbush City Limits made it into the set though!
Now one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Black Star Riders. Considering that these guys are pretty much the biggest ‘stars’ this weekend; they have been here since Thursday walking round, taking in the vibe of the festival, chatting and meeting people. All credit to them for being so accessible.
They need no introduction and all that needs to be said is that shut your eyes and you’re back with Thin Lizzy, Ricky Warwick’s vocals are uncannily familiar and indeed the set tonight is littered with Thin Lizzy classics as well as running out their own tracks off their debut album ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ – an absolutely stunning set. Phil Campbell joined them onstage for the last song of the night ‘Rosalie’.
How can you top BSR? well in the eyes of Benji from Skindred he can top anything and I tend to agree with him. A bit of a wildcard for the weekend as Skindred mainly play at Hammerfest but stage1 is still full and ready to go wild.
They kick straight into ‘Ninja’ and make their mark and it just gets better as the set goes on. Another band that really you need to see rather than read about as you can’t write down how the music gets the crowd going.
It seems that everyone is waiting for the move of the night when during ‘Warning’ Benji calls for all to take off their T-shirts and wave them high as the Newport Helicopter takes off and the crowd go wild. Definitely a spectacle to be seen.
Probably my band of the weekend Druganaut were on stage 2; their description of their band interests are ‘Drugs n Booze n Girls n Doom’ and then play hard hitting stoner/blues/rock with amazing ferocity.
Day 3 Saturday 30 November
Arthemis have already kicked off stage 1 but we arrive for The Treatment, a band we wanted to see as so many people are raving about them. A young bunch of lads from the Cambridge area, they kick out a great rock sound that goes down really well with the crowd. A throwback to proper rock by the likes of Aerosmith etc, great riffs, attitude and stage show.
I feel very lucky in the fact that I have seen the next guy in all three of his previous band incarnations, albeit over a 30 year period: Mamas Boys, Celtus and now Pat McManus Band. Pat’s current 3 piece band tours extensively and I think we have seen him 3 times this year, He takes guitar-based blues rock and mingles it with a touch of celtic fiddle. Another wildcard for the weekend but he goes down well and they also throw in a few tracks from his Mamas Boys days.
Stage2 kicked off today with a local band for us The Jokers a 4-piece band who play kick-ass rock and roll and none more that guitarist Paul Hurst who ends up freaking out in the crowd during one of his solos. This is proper in-yer-face rock music played with balls and attitude as it should be.
Over on stage 1, if you’ve never seen the Black Spiders beware, hard hitting rock with a great chant of ‘F..k You Black Spiders’ while the crowd know the reply and dutifully all hold up their middle fingers. Sheffield rockers through and through play hard hitting no nonsense old school heavy rock and have brought a huge fan base with them. A great set and not to be missed.
For Iron Maiden fans the inclusion of Blaze Bayley and Paul Di’Anno on the bill this year was great news and fans were treated to over 2 hours of Iron Maiden classics from both of these guys and from both of their eras. First up we get Blaze Bayley who gives an energetic set of Maiden numbers and spends a large amount of his time on the barrier up close with the amassed fans.
Next up and with the same backing band is Paul Di’Anno who is playing his last ever UK gig and announces that he is off back to Brazil after it. Again a full set of Maiden tracks with both Bayley and Di’Anno coming onstage for ‘Iron Maiden’ and then finishing off with the Sex Pistols cover ‘Holiday In The Sun’, possible a hint at Di’Anno’s retirement.
With stage 1 now running late, on stage 2 we managed to catch great sets by blues metal band Desert Storm and instrumental metal rockers Gonga.
Cage The Gods – who despite having a set slap bang in the middle of the two Maiden guys – pulled in a full crowd. These guys have only being touring for just over a year now and have just come off a support slot with ‘The Answer’.
Their music is basic rock metal with a nice 80′s feel and really stands out from the crowd. Clean clear vocals from Peter Commerford fit in nicely with slabs of metal riffery provided by Jam on guitar.
The tight backline of provided by the towering Mitch Witham on bass and newcomer Colin Jones on drums who spends a lot of time standing behind his kit working the crowd. Another great set by these guys who are touring later in the month.
Michael Monroe has been in the business for over 30 years and I remember many years ago seeing him in ‘Hanoi Rocks’ at the den of iniquity that was Hacienda in Manchester. Surprisingly he hasn’t changed much since then and he is now also joined in his new band and by long term band mate Sami Yaffa.
Michael flamboyant as ever and full of energy is all over the stage and at times on the speaker stacks puts everything in for a blistering set covering his new stuff from Horns and Halos and way back to heady days of Hanoi Rocks with Malibu Beach Nightmare and Motorvatin.
He hasn’t deviated much over the years from his dirty rock and roll sound and why should he as he is very good at it. We have not seen him for a few years now and as ever an amazing set.
There is a definite buzz around stage 1 now as most people’s highlight of the weekend is about to come on stage. Whatever you think about them Airbourne are a no holds barred rock band with big riffs and cheesy lyrics and an in your face style of delivering it, they blast onstage with ‘Ready To Rock’ and ‘Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast’.
Then off stage comes Joel atop the shoulders of one of the backstage crew as he starts one of his many walks through the crowd, guitar blazing and throwing the poses to entertain. He continues onstage with his antics and gets atop the speakers and later in the show another crowd walk.
The crowds are really getting into this highly energetic set as it comes to an end with ‘Live It Up’, ‘Raise The Flag’ and ‘Running Wild’. An extremely entertaining set that does what it says on the tin and there was a huge crowd to confirm this tonight.
The Answer have tonight got a quite unenviable task, last band on stage 1 and also having to follow an outstanding set from Airbourne. The size of the crowd that awaits their arrival on stage is a testimony to the strength of their show and music, for a lot of people these are the true headliners for tonight!
They kick off a new track ‘New Horizon’ and an old one ‘Come Follow Me’, Cormac’s vocals as ever rip through the music and provide a great focus for the tracks. The combined rhythms of Paul (guitar) and Michael (bass) provide the perfect transport for this and it is all held together by the hard hitting drums of James Heatley.
A powerful full-on rock sound and the tracks off the new album New Horizon are some of the best I’ve heard from them for a while now. The set comes to its inevitable end and as ever Cormac goes into the crowd to take sermon with his rock disciples as he gets them all to get down on the floor and then to rise up during the last song of the night ‘Preachin’. A perfect end to another amazing set by one-off my favourite bands of the moment.
Over on stage 2 there is just time to catch Aussie rockers Tracer before the final band of the weekend, the spectacle that is Lawnmower Deth. A thrash metal band that has strong overtones of the Macc Lads. “We’re gonna play a quick song”, says vocalist Pete Lee, 5 seconds it lasted, quick indeed. They ooze musical talent and come out with songs like ‘Drink To Be Sick’, ‘Sheepus Dipus’ and ‘Sumo Rabbit’ – definitely the best way to end the night and the event.
There is no doubting the popularity of Hard Rock Hell, superbly choreographed by CHIC, and next year’s royalty and VIP tickets have already sold out and with no bands yet announced. As the sun sets on Hard Rock Hell 7, we await the dawn of Hammerfest in March!
Setlists can be found on http://www.setlist.fm/festival/2013/hard-rock-hell-2013-1bd6f5d8.html
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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