After a paltry 5 hours sleep and searching the little town of Criccieth for match sticks to keep my eyes open, and copious amounts of Pro Plus, I made my way back to the arenas where I like to catch the early bands in the hope of finding a diamond in the rough.
Alas, Euphoria Audio wasn’t that diamond. Like King Dragon the previous day the songs never really hit home enough with me and not memorable enough to make me want to search out more material. With a similar guitar driven sound to Then Jericho/ Big Country who I was a big fan of in my younger years.
Reach, a young 4 piece from Sweden, are currently over here touring with Eclipse to promote their debut album Reach Out To Rock.
They gave a very confident performance showing no signs of any fear or nerves playing to a half decent crowd. Singer Alex Waghorn has the looks and the vocal range even if sometimes a note wasn’t reached but, hey, he is young and that will improve in time. I even remember a certain Mr. Bon Jovi back in 1985 missing notes in the Lyceum Theatre and he didn’t do too badly for himself.
Guitarist Ludvig Turner showed glimpses of becoming something of a virtuoso in the same vein as Yngwie, whilst bass player David Jones and drummer Marcus Johansson already have the image and stage craft of peers far more experienced.
The great thing about Reach is they also have the songs to match the image, notable tunes were ‘Black Lady’, ‘You Called My Name’ and the title track of the album ‘Reach Out’.
If you like your songs full of melody with big choruses then check out these guys.
Australia’s White Widdow were a no brainer to have at this festival. Everything an AOR band should be, it was like being back in Shades in Wardour Street in the eighties.
Singer Jules Mills had been busy this weekend, playing with Tigertailz on the Thursday night at the pre-party and again tonight with Widdow, and whilst not the strongest of voices on show this weekend he certainly put it to good use.
The band have recently had a couple of new members and are still bedding in. With an energetic hour long set and with songs like ‘Reckless Nights’ and one of the new songs ‘Below The Belt’ the signs look good for the band and hopefully a stable line up will help.
The crowd numbers were swelling so they obviously knew what to expect with yet another Swedish band, Eclipse.
Kicking things off with ‘I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry’, and ‘Stand On Your Feet’ it is clear that Eclipse are slightly heavier than White Widdow and more in keeping with fellow countrymen The Poodles.
Vocalist Erik Martensson swung his flag-adorned mike stand over the crowd as if he was going into battle, while guitarist Magnus crouches low down for fast riffing and blistering solos at speed.
Sweden are fast becoming the masters of melodic rock and Eclipse are closing in on the frontrunners. God help my iTunes account when I get home.
Houston have been rather quiet of late and to be honest it was a band I had forgotten about until I saw them named on this bill a few months back, so it was a pleasant surprise to re-aquaint myself with them again.
Houston’s sound has always been on the more mellow side of AOR, and always reminded me of Drive She Said and early Michael Bolton.
I have always loved Hank Erix’s voice which is a lot more soulful and smoother reflected in their material including the classic ‘I’m Coming Home’ and the Michael Bolton cover of ‘Carrie’, both of which were played tonight .
Calle Hammar is on form on guitar and complements Hank’s voice well throughout the set and a small problem during one of the songs didn’t seem to affect the overall performance.
Having been a fan of Houston for a while, it seems there may be changes afoot judging by their Facebook page and maybe a different direction for the new material. I hope they don’t stray too far away from where they are now.
How many male rock fans back in the day had a Kerrang! poster of Romeo’s Daughter vocalist Leigh Matty on their wall ? I have to put my hand up.
One of the torch-bearers for female-fronted rock bands at the time and one of the hardest working bands on the circuit back then, touring constantly if I remember correctly.
There aren’t many better front-women in rock, Leigh Matty dances away centre stage decked in black and belting out the hits ‘Addicted To The Animal’, ‘I Cry Myself To Sleep’ and closing with ‘Wild Child’. A new song ‘Radio’ was aired to give a little taste of what to expect from the upcoming new album Spin.
Leigh Matty’s voice hasn’t changed that much at all over the years and, also, she is still smoking hot … now where did I put those old posters?
FM played pretty much the same set that graced the Planet Rockstock stage in December when they stole the day, apart from including a new track from the forthcoming Heroes And Villians album.
Opening with the now standard ‘Tough Love’ and ‘I Belong To The Night’, the band wasted no time in getting the crowd singing along and then slowing things down with ‘Closer To Heaven’ when Steve Overland showed what a fine guitarist he is as well as a singer.
‘Digging Up The Dirt’ from the new album is a certified Grade A stamped FM classic in the making: it has the hallmark FM hook that gets inside your head and stays for weeks on end.
I have never seen these guys play a bad show and like a fine wine they just get better and better with age, but they always have the knack of making me feel 21 again.
Back in 1985 I caught sight of a music video on a youth programme called No Limits. It was ‘Goodbye’ by Night Ranger, my first taste of the band which led me on to their other material but remaining one of my all-time favourite songs.
Jack Blades with his red trademark Hamer bass and Rayban sunglasses oozes cool and with Brad Gillis standing legs astride on the lip of the stage ripping into ‘Touch Of Madness’ they turned a chilly Pwllheli into a sunny Sunset Boulevard.
The arena was jam packed and even the guys from FM were standing at the lighting desk watching what wass truly a memorable night and we were not even four songs into the set. With Night Ranger having never played out of London, apart from one date in Scotland, this was even more special.
‘Four In The Morning’ was next and with the whole band taking backing vocals it sounded bigger and better live than on the record with Brad Gillis squeezing every note out of his trademark red Strat and totally abusing his whammy bar.
Keri Kelli is introduced as the only member to have played in Wales previously (with Alice Cooper) and in homage they played a fantastic cover of ‘Schools Out’, before telling us that Brad Gillis had the chance to join up with Ozzy full time after his brief stint with them following the death of Randy Rhoads. He chose to stay with Night Ranger but it didn’t stop them ripping into ‘Crazy Train’. If ever there was a guitarist who gets overlooked for his ability it is Brad Gillis.
What was supposed to be a one and a half hour slot had gone way past that and approached two hours when the last two songs were played: ‘Sister Christian’ and ‘You Can Still Rock In America’ (or Wales!).
Hard Rock Hell showed Night Ranger that the UK has a healthy demand for bands of this genre and tonight they showed us how it is done with class, great songs, no gimmicks – just straight forward kick ass rock n roll. Let’s hope they keep to the five year plan that Jack Blades told us about and that we will see more of them very soon.
It was the perfect climax to my first HRH AOR and I cannot fault a single thing about the event. The combination of great bands, keen pricing and decent accomodation and helpful and friendly staff bodes well for the event’s fourth year in 2016.
Review and photos by Darren Griffiths
Day 1 (13 March)
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Power Plays w/c 7 July (Mon-Fri)
CROBOT Low Life (Mascot)
JAILBIRDS Thrill Of The Chase (Golden Robot Records)
SCARLET REBELS No One Else To Blame(indie)
WICKED STONE Unchained (indie)
JARED JAMES NICHOLS Nails In the Coffin (Listenable Records)
Featured Albums w/c 7 July (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 RESTLESS SPIRITS (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 LICENCE N.2.O.2.R (Metalapolis)
14:00-16:00 ANGELA PERLEY 4:30 (indie)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
STEVE HILLAGE Open (1979)
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