Photo: David Randall
Seeing Grifter on the second stage made me reflect on the current state of the rock scene. There are many similar bands plying their trade, in this case inspired by the heavy rock first purveyed widely by Sabbath. But as in most cases, with not an ounce of originality. I would say that probably applies to most of the second and some of the main stagers this weekend. Has it all been done before and better? Probably.
There seems to be a dearth of bands these days able to put together a good, durable tune. The most convincing bands on offer this weekend were those from whom we could extract a semblance of melody.
Photo: David Randall
Bigelf seem to straddle both heavy rock and prog without fully satisfying either medium whilst Diamond Head were always more influential than commercially viable. It came as no surprise that their excellent vocalist Rasmus Anderson (replacing the recently departed Nick Tart) announced “Am I Evil” as “the favourite you’ve been waiting for”. The band put on an excellent show, but we can only remember one song.
Michael Schenker has enjoyed a deserved revival in recent years but the best bits were when Doogie White was off stage, during the instrumental ‘Coast To Coast’ and the extended soloing of ‘Rock Bottom’. White is an engaging frontman but didn’t seem comfortable – or convincing – on the UFO material, of which there was – relatively – an abundance.
I recall seeing Blue Oyster Cult as an impressionable young man with hair, when they were the one of the first bands to deploy laser lighting. The band may have lost a bit of momentum since the classic ‘On Your Feet Or On Your Knees’ but tonight’s gig was infused with the energy of guitarist Richie Castellano and drummer Jules Radino. Inevitably, ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ formed the fitting finale, again demonstrating the durability of real melody allied to heavy riffing.
I have never quite understood the appeal of Girlschool, unless – now – it is to men who like the slightly more mature woman. They always give a very honest and energetic show and in some ways sum up the lineage of punk via NWOBHM to thrash. For me, they were always a little too punk than heavy metal and – again – lacking a bunch of durable and memorable songs.
It’s probably fair to say that HRH, and similar festivals, give a fair overview of the state of rock at any given time. Whilst there is a healthy mix of old and new bands, there is no doubt that most punters are here to relive their youth and an era when ‘Kerrang!’ was worth reading.
I do worry, though, that in 10 years time a great chasm will open up as the “heritage” bands no longer tour (or are living, to be blunt) and the new blood simply haven’t got the tunes, the real talent, or the money to endure in a culture that – sadly – has “seen it, heard it, done it” before.
It’s a sad indictment of an X-Factor-addled age that there are no labels or moguls really nurturing the future of rock and – remember them as you will – at least as gatekeepers in rock’s age of enlightenment, labels filtered and developed bands to help them achieve their full potential. And they employed decent producers. This may sound a little like I’m standing on Gene Simmons’ soap box but he has a point.
And where now is the grass roots scene that helped grow bands? In pre-internet days, you had to get out and see bands – it was the only way – now it’s tempting to find them on YouTube and stay in your warm cocoon. Even setlists are freely available for perusal to help with that thorny question: “should I travel?”
Now, in a fragmented world of quick consumer gratification, bands struggle to become anything more than a cottage industry, hobbyists without a real hope of endurance and lucky enough if they can scrape by with that new phenomena “crowd funding”.
Which brings us back to live festivals which may for the moment be the only economical way to promote new and old music with everyone under the same roof as it were. But it was significant too that the average demographic at HRH was around the mid to late 40′s: even if they’re interested, young people simply can’t afford the ticket price. (This can only explain why an artist who really should inspire a new generation – Joe Bonamassa – increasingly plays to a load of blue rinsers and “occasional” live music fans).
“Hard Rock Hell” indeed, or maybe “Hard Rock Apocalypse” awaits? We should start planning.
Review by David Randall
Photos by Simon Dunkerley except where stated
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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14:00-16:00 AMBERLY CHALBERG Hi-Line (indie)
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