After an early start and a four and a half hour drive, I arrived at Hard Rock Hell and was immediately struck by how well organised the event was. The site was immaculate and the staff were friendly and helpful.
This is the third year of the AOR get-together and each year bigger name bands have appeared, although this year will take some beating.
Opening the festival properly on the main stage were Welsh band Psycho Kiss and thankfully a sizeable crowd had gathered.
A few nerves seemed evident in the opening couple of songs but with a decent set time vocalist Helen Ceri Clarke soon got got into her stride showing what a great rock voice she possesses with songs like ‘Bloodbath’ and ‘Home’. The rest of the band performed admirably well and the crowd gave them a great reception.
Tainted Nation came up next and unfortunately singer Pete Newdeck’s voice seemed a little worse for wear. Much heavier than I imagined with a twin guitar sound but a shame about the vocal issues as there were brief glimpses of brilliance during the songs ‘Dare You’ and ‘Who Watching You’.
King Dragon and Night By Night both played sets that for me didn’t really set the world alight or make them memorable for any particular reason – it just left me feeling that one song melted into another and, unfortunately for both bands, rather forgettable.
No stranger to festival bills, Vega know how to write a song with an unforgettable hook and how to work a crowd and win them over. One catchy anthem after another, they have learned their trade well with all the regular touring in small clubs over the years and are now starting to reap the praise and the benefits.
Nick Workman (vocals) delivers a charismatic performance and with songs as good as ‘Kiss Of Life’, ‘What The Hell’ and ‘Stereo Messiah’ it is no surprise that the crowd lapped up every minute of their hour long set.
The members of the band have been together for a while now, Daniel on drums is a real powerhouse while the Martin twins go about their business skilfully with no fuss, whilst Marcus Thurston on lead guitar is proving himself to be a fluid player and intricate in the solos. Vega set the standard for the rest of the day.
It seems I spoke to soon about the standard being set because The Poodles came along and raised the bar again. Hitting the stage all guns blazing, you couldn’t help thinking you had been thrown back into the 80s. Singer Jakob Samuel a dead ringer for a younger Vince Neil with a voice as dynamic as Tony Harnell (TNT).
Opening up with ‘Before I Die’ and ‘Metal Will Stand Tall’ , this was Euro metal at its best. They delivered a thumping set which was littered with songs that oozed melody like ‘Shut Up’, ‘Line Of Fire’ and new song ‘The Greatest’ among a 14 song setlist and finishing up with ‘Night Of Passion’.
The Poodles, who I’d never seen live before, gave me the first of many pleasant surprises throughout the weekend.
But, oh dear. While possibly 90% of bands at HRH AOR worked well Starz didn’t, and after talking to a few people it wasn’t only my opinion.
I can count on my fingers how many times Dare have played in the UK since their last proper tour supporting Asia in 2005. A jewel in the AOR crown since their debut album release with Out Of The Silence.
Having Vinny Burns (guitar) and Nigel Clutterbuck (bass) back in the band seems to have re-invigorated Darren Wharton as I have not seen him this active on stage in years. He was moving from one side of the stage to the other, hugging up to Vinny at any given opportunity. Vinny is the perfect foil for Darren and hopefully we will get to hear some new material from these two in the not too distant future.
While the setlist contained the Celtic tinged songs from recent albums like ‘Sea Of Roses’, ‘Stormwind’, ‘Beneath The Shining Water’ and ‘Where Darkness Ends’, Dare also threw in the Thin Lizzy classic ‘Emerald’ which went down a storm.
However it was the material that Darren and Vinny created from their first two albums which raised the biggest cheers, ‘Abandon’, ‘Into The Fire’, ‘Raindance’ and ‘Return The Heart’ from the debut, and the harder-edged ‘We Don’t Need A Reason’ and ‘Wings Of Fire’ from Blood From Stones.
Then, gone midnight, they let a manic if genial Swede out of his box without warning of what was coming next. So many words can be used to describe H.E.A.T. frontman Erik Gronwall (none will do him justice) – for me he is the offspring if the tazmanian devil had a night of passion with the Duracell bunny.
Erik is relentless – headbanging, running from one side to the other, shadow boxing, and always with a smile upon his face.
The tempo didn’t slacken after the blistering opener ‘Point Of No Return’ as they lay into ‘Better Off Alone’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. Whatever fuels this band, I want it bottled and on supermarket shelves as soon as possible.
The UK have taken to H.E.A.T. in a big way and it was one of the first territories to break the band outside their native Sweden with their appearances at the now deceased Firefest. Having them at this festival was a sure fire winner.
A truly remarkable day culminating in the wrecking ball that is H.E.A.T. and long may they continue to blow us away. Day one belonged to the Swedes.
Review and photos by Darren Griffiths
Day 2 (14 March)
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