The HRH franchise is probably the most successful of these three day indoor events and rightly so, they found a spot in the market and have developed a fluid, tightly run operation that always delivers.
The AOR weekend was slightly different this year in that it wasn’t paired with Hammerfest, that event is deservedly having it’s own weekend a little later in the month, so AOR is out on it’s own with the addition of a glam/sleaze pairing so the pressure was on to deliver a solid weekend.
As every year the Thursday night is classed as a pre-festival warm-up, I reckon now they should just include it as part of the weekend officially because it is just as important to the fans judging by the crowd that was rammed in the main arena.
With the likes of Bonafide and headliners The Quireboys to kick things off, party mode was fully engaged very early in the night.
Tequila Mockingbird and The Last Great Dreamers faired admirably well, and a huge applause should go to the Dreamers who stepped in for a band pull-out and delivered a fantastic set, even if they are not quite the AOR mould you would normally associate with the line-up. They even did a VIP lounge set after midnight and showed no signs of slowing down.
Thursday belonged to Bonadide and Quireboys though, Bonafide just tore the place apart with their display of power and melody and left to huge applause whilst The Quireboys were also on form. Suffering from a muddy sound that would affect a few bands over the weekend, the loveable rogues smashed the ball out of the park yet again.
Down to the nitty gritty, and officially day one, there were always going to be bands that have appeared the previous year and you didn’t gel with, and bands that you instantly like and want to search out more when home. This year Walkway and Kane’d summed up that scenario this year.
Walkway were something of an undiscovered breath of fresh air, they took their opportunity and forced fans to pay attention with the similar raucous sound of Bonafide the night before.
Kane’d never seemed to build on last year’s success at the festival, seemingly playing it safe with the same moves by the girls which became rather tedious, the songs a little mediocre.
Managing to cover two stages and the inevitable time clashes is a task in itself but the bands I saw were quite interesting if sometimes a brief 15 minutes at a time.
South Wales rockers Pyscho Kiss were doing a fine job pulling in a fair few punters from main stage with a balls out, gritty set and one of the better rock voices in Helen Ceri Clarke.
With the spotlight firmly on female voices it would have been rude not to include the delectable Leigh Matty and her velvet like vocals. Romeos Daughter are appearing far more frequently on the live circuit now thankfully.
Every time I get a chance to see them, they seem to deliver a faultless set and today they proved to be a band who could have played even higher up on the bill. With a mix of rockers from earlier in their career including opener ‘Heaven In The Back Seat’, ‘Attracted To The Animal’ sitting as comfortably with the more recent songs ‘Alive’ and ”Bittersweet. One of the best sets of the weekend from one of Britain’s finest and maybe a lesson for the Kane’d girls to learn.
If you are a fan of AOR then you know how big a band Autograph should have been back in the early 80s, mostly known for the one big song ‘Turn Up The Radio’ , which does them a disservice and over-shadows many other great songs.
Autograph kicked their set off with the big sounding ‘Deep End’ and ‘Dance All Night’, this is what the AOR aficionados have been waiting for, songs that can be sung to, and rightly lapped up.
A much fatter guitar heavy sound since dropping the keyboards from their live sound with founding member Steve Lynch pairing up on the guitar with vocalist Simon Daniels.
Every song hit the spot from their first three albums but without doubt the crowd were waiting for ‘Turn Up…’, and as Steve Lynch’s guitar solo came to a climax and the big bass drum sounded, you knew that the place was about to go crazy. Autograph may have played a set from the 80s but on this form they proved they have a future, I am sure there are many fans who would welcome a new album.
Special guests FM are a band who never to play a bad set and tonight that was not about to change. With guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick cranking out the intro to ‘Digging Up The Dirt’ before pyros exploded signalling the start of a memorable set, whilst video screens played snippets of news media behind them to tie in with the song.
A high energy set with no ballads focussing on mostly material from the first two albums. ‘I Belong To The Night’ and ‘Love Lies Dying’ gave Jim and Jem ( wasn’t that the Chuckle Bros names?) a chance to interact whilst the welcome inclusion of a favourite of mine in ”Someday’ from Tough It Out was a personal highlight.
They never seem to have anything but fun onstage and are a pleasure to watch. Last year the two special guests stole the crown from the headline bands, I have a sneeky feeling a lot of the crowd may have thought the same this weekend also.
They don’t come much bigger than Lita Ford for legendary status, so this was a must see when she was announced last year and when the event was already sold out. HRH always pull in the big names for this show.
You could feel the anticipation mounting as tongue in cheek intro ‘Balls To The Wall’ boomed over the arena Lita and her band walked on stage and tore into ‘Gotta Let Go’. While the band sounded spot on Lita sounded a little low in the mix and some of the songs suffered because of it and it wasn’t until the fourth song or so that things improved.
Lita still looks sensational and, dressed in red leather and long blonde mane, she still exudes the attraction that had her on every teenage male’s wall. But tonight is about the music and it is surprising how many great songs she has in her setlist. ‘Living Like Runaway’, ‘Hungry’ and ‘Back To The Cave’, they kept on coming.
Lita when introducing ‘Close My Eyes Forever’ – her duet with Ozzy – noticed someone dressed as the Prince Of Darkness and got him up onstage. Totally out of the blue he was asked if he would like to mime to Ozzy’s parts while guitarist Patrick sangs the vocals. A very surreal moment ensued and I am sure that the time “Howie” sang with Lita Ford will stay long in his memory (and ours) even if it was somewhat cringeworthy.
There can only be one song that could finish off her welcome return to these shores and that is probably the biggest hit she is known for ‘Kiss Me Deadly’.
Whilst I loved every minute of Lita’s set there seemed to be a mixed reaction from some of the crowd, maybe a little spark of energy was missing after such energentic sets from the previous two bands. However, this was Lita Ford if not at her best a very close second.
Day two on main stage was an AOR fan’s dream early afternoon and proved far too strong a pull with a plethora of the genre’s luminaries.
Returning from last year’s fantastic appearance were adopted sons The Radio Sun, the busiest band of the weekend by a country mile with three sets including acoustic with Paul Laine and again as Laine’s band on the main stage.
Let’s just make it clear that The Radio Sun can write a hook with the best of them, and they didn’t rest on what happened the year before, choosing to up their game. Firing things off with the criminally catchy ‘Tell Me What You Want’, guitarist Steve Janevski looks like he is living the dream with a locker full of poses and shapes .
They have the songs to back up the stage moves with a fine cover of the Andy Taylor song ‘I Might Lie’ and the huge set closer ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ which with their genuine humility make them a HRH crowd favourite.
A rather disappointing time slot for Vega who are rapidly proving to be one of the UK’s best live bands on the circuit. With the killer Who We Are album still sounding fresh I thought they deserved a higher place and a longer set.
Nick Workman is a very polished frontman and works the crowd well throughout the 40 minute slot. How many more established bands would have an opening salvo of ‘Stereo Messiah’, ‘Kiss Of Life’ and ‘Gonna Need Some Love Tonight’? Vega have taken giant steps in the last twelve months, and at this rate the bigger stages should be just around the corner.
Having seen Paul Laine in a sweaty hot club in Cardiff a few days previously for a warm up night I had some idea what to expect although the man proved totally unpredictable.He gave, for me, the performance of the weekend.
Fuelled by a bottle of his good friend Jack(Daniels), it was an ominous sight that made you wonder if this was going to be a set to remember or a disaster. With an empty bottle at the end I hope he can recollect just how damn good he was.
Ably assisted again by The Radio Sun guys just ramped up the enjoyment factor ten fold. Obviously his tenure in Danger Danger provided the backbone of his set with around eight of the songs coming from that band.
‘Grind’ and ‘Under The Gun’ got things off to a flying start whilst inbetween songs he grabbed the bottle carefully perched on his amp. Ironically ‘Dead, Drunk and Wasted’ followed soon after and almost became autobiographical tonight.
After an hour Paul Laine was rather worse for wear but with the biggest smile knowing he had just played a blistering set.
The energy from the early afternoon took a major nose dive when Mike Tramp took to the stage, his hour long set seemed far longer due to his seeming lack of engagement.
The set was split between the big White Lion songs in ‘Little Fighter’, ‘Tell Me’, and closing songs ‘When The Children Cry’ and ‘Broken Heart’, and a smattering of solo stuff. However there was almost no energy coming from the stage and if it hadn’t been for guitarist Soren Anderson injecting some pizzaz and flair then I probably would have left half way through .
Enigma, mystery, one off, unique…all words that describe Michael Monroe perfectly, however after this show I think the word that I should use is “headliner” because this man pulled off the craziest set of the weekend.
You couldn’t take your eyes off him for one moment, or you would lose sight of him, doing the splits, straddling the barrier, climbing the VIP sign and destroying it, the man had me worn out watching him, with his boundless energy. Bathed in sweat by third song ‘Trick Of The Wrist’ for sheer entertainment value Monroe delivers in spades.
Monroe preens and poses during guitar solos with a display that spells out star attraction. It was nice to hear a couple of Hanoi Rocks songs too with ‘Malibu Beach Nightmare’ and ‘Back To Mystery City.
How else could such a frontman finish? Obviously a stage dive and carried on top of the crowd in what looked like a God being carried by his disciples. If Michael Monroe had headlined then I for one would have left a very satisfied fan.
On paper the addition of Slaughter should have been a no brainer, sometimes it doesn’t transfer onto the stage and tonight it fell a little short. Coming on to the intro of ‘Highway To Hell’ before hammering into ‘The Wild Life’, it became apparent that the sound was excessive almost to the point of not being able to distinguish some of what the songs were. Mark Slaughter certainly still reached some of the high notes, however on numerous occasions it was nothing more than wanton screeching.
The sound wasn’t the only gripe, a set that contained 13 songs, although three of them were the standard covers of ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ”We Will Rock You which they managed to make last nearly half an hour with Mark Slaughter venturing into the crowd to sing.
With all this going on, most people’s focus turned towards drummer Zoltan Chaney whose drumming this night was off the wall, the man a flurry of twirling sticks, kicking his cymbals with his feet and using all manner of unorthodox ways to play the tubs.
When they introduced a rather padded out ”Fly To The Angels, we knew the end was near and after just over an hour and ten minutes they finished off to a rather welcome end of ‘Up All Night’ and by then a few had left to the less noisy stage two to finish off the weekend.
It’s tough to pick out individual bands who really impressed during the weekend, however I will stick my neck out and say that special guests FM and Michael Monroe could have easily headlined and my personal highlights were Autograph, Vega, Paul Laine and Romeos Daughter.
Apart from a few issues with sound over the weekend , HRH AOR was a massive success again, there aren’t enough plaudits you can lay upon the organisers for putting on a monster weekend.
They keep getting some of the biggest names and with an almost 80% sellout for 2018 before this weekend had finished it is testament enough that the fans go back year after year trusting that they will be getting a great line-up, myself included.
Review and photos by Darren Griffiths
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