Hard Rock Hell 10
10th-13th November 2016
The idea of hosting a rock festival on the inaccessible Welsh Northwest coast in November is, quite frankly, a ridiculous idea. But that is exactly what the team at Hard Rock Hell have been doing successfully for the last 10 years. This year’s anniversary event sold out it’s 6500 tickets almost before the last one was over. A hardy breed of rockers you might think? Not at all. The holiday camp hosting the event provides two large inside venues with well stocked and staffed bars as well as smaller venues, assorted concessionaires and comfortable heated and dry accommodation. A far cry from Knebworth 1985 or this year’s Download.
The three day festival opened on Thursday evening with what was once a party night for the HRH regulars to meet up and swap stories. Now it is a full blown main stage extravaganza complete with an opening ceremony from the talented Area 51 show troupe performing a burlesque King Kong tribute to the strained sounds of a Metallica filled soundtrack. Yes, you did read that correctly. The opening act was Wales own trio Texas Flood who set the standard for the weekend blasting out their ‘balls to the wall rock and roll’ getting heads nodding, toes tapping and smiles all round. Scotland’s rock trio the Amorettes showed why you wouldn’t mess with these feisty ladies followed by England’s 1970’s slightly more melodic Praying Mantis. Completing the United Kingdom representation was Ireland’s Sweet Savage, once the domain of Dio and Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell. Said Mr Campbell then took to the stage to dazzle a rapturous audience with Last in Line. Along with fellow Dio member Vinnie Appice, Last in Line belted out classic Dio tracks, as well as a couple of their own tracks, to the accompaniment of a vocal crowd. You might think that fronting a band in place of the mighty Ronnie James Dio would be a daunting prospect but singer Andrew Freeman carried it off with just the right balance of deference and swagger and no lack of singing skills. A great set.
How do you top that? Clear the stage and place 4 hillbilly’s with nothing but an acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass, a mandolin and a banjo. Add dungarees, alcohol and long beards and you have Hayseed Dixie. Anyone not familiar with the band looked somewhat perplexed as the boys launched into their unique high octane bluegrass rock. Those of us in the know watched as those perplexed looks turned into huge grins as they played a string of covers including War Pigs, Highway to Hell, and Eye of the Tiger as well as their own ‘romantic ballad’ Poop in a Jar. Even the normally taciturn security were grinning and tapping their toes. The set was played at blistering speed with great skill and had the audience dancing all the way back to their nice warm beds. Via the bars of course.
Friday saw the event in full swing with 21 bands playing through the day across both stages. Opening act on the main stage was Mason Hill rocking the hung over faithful with no consideration for headaches. And the faithful didn’t mind a bit. Great energy and great sounds meant many new to the band took note to check them out next time they venture south of the Scottish border. Continuing the international feel, and the rocking, were Israel’s Chase the Ace and America’s Warrior Soul. Flitting between the two stages, and the bar handily en-route, we were treated to bands both old and new, with a diversity that stayed within the comfort zone of the knowledgeable and open minded audience. Previous years had seen some acts clear the room as their genre of music had failed to please, but this year the acts only led to the most difficult of decisions being which of the two stages most demanded ones attention. On the second stage some special mentions must go out to some of the newer acts who impressed, and kept many from venturing into the main stage. The Last Vegas mixed punk, glam and sleaze in fine proportions. Dorje, the touring band of Internet sensation Rob Chapman and his highly talented band, played a thunderous set with awesome guitar work. And final act Vintage Caravan, Icelandic veterans of the HRH stage, finished the night with some aplomb.
Stage one saw the ‘headline acts’ take the stage although that moniker raises some debate. The Treatment (who have toured with the likes of Kiss, Motley Crue and Slash), Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts and Graham Bonnet of Rainbow fame all did their finest work. Headliners of the night were Ugly Kid Joe. Anyone who thinks that their hit ‘Cats in the cradle’ is representative of their sound is much mistaken. They rock. If you haven’t seen them before, make a note to do so. HRH were treated to them accompanied with the Area 51 dancers which added just a nice touch of salaciousness. Closing the night were 80’s rock goddesses Vixen. These ladies look and sound as good as they ever did despite every technical hiccup the stage could throw at them. Professional to the core.
Saturday, the final day, followed the same format. Again, the standard of acts on stage two was extremely high. Special mention must go to Melbourne’s brilliantly named Tequila Mockingbird, another all girl act who really hit the spot. Lead singer Estelle Artois has one of those powerful yet beautiful voices that keeps you mesmerised and the band seem to effortlessly avoid the often ‘trying too hard to be metal’ style that some all-girl bands have yet still sound as heavy as you like. Finishing the night on stage two were Black Aces who signed off the second stage with an excellent performance befitting of the weekends stage two acts.
Stage One opened an eclectic day of music with Leicester’s finest, SKAM. Simple, no nonsense rock, Just what the doctor ordered. Last minute additions to the bill Soil played next and, for me, were the find of the festival. Frontman Ryan McCombs, flanked by the behemoths Tim King (bass) and Adam Zadel (guitar), entertained the crowd with the most amusing banter between fiery vocals. Another of those bands that are on the list to revisit. Australia’s Cherry Grind followed, then blues legend Bernie Marsden lowered the tempo with his usual fluid fretwork satisfying the mellow need. And the obligatory Whitesnake tracks with the compulsory crowd accompaniment. Of note, Bernie was one of the few acts on the main stage who was able to get a good sound. Many of the acts struggled through the day – more of that shortly. Aussie rockers Massive cranked the tempo back up before another last minute addition Hey Hello took to the stage. Described as a ‘Power Pop Band’ formed by Ginger Wildheart, Hey Hello certainly raised some eyebrows. The somewhat erratic pendulum of styles then swung in the opposite direction with the arrival of Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. The Motorhead guitarist and his boys treated the audience to their covers of some well-known rock and, more importantly, a number of Motorhead classics. And in a fitting tribute to the much lamented Lemmy, played a version of his Hawkwind classic Silver Machine that brought the granite faced axeman as close to an emotion as you are likely to get. As the mighty Motorhead are no more, Phil and his boys are the closest you are going to get. The style pendulum took another swing with the introduction of Living Colour with their jazz/funk/rock fusion and then Ginger was back on stage again. Those hoping for a collection of Wildhearts classics were disappointed although what was effectively a non-stop 30 minute jam by his collection of 9 musicians was both impressive and entertaining. ‘Headliners’ of the night were eighties metal band Ratt who played a number of tracks from their bestselling 1985 album Invasion of your privacy. Unfortunately, their usually melodic dual guitar riffs were let down by poor sound. I think it fair to say that both they and the fans were disappointed with their set. Closing out the night, and the festival, were southern rock legends Molly Hatchet. Somewhat curiously they were minus one guitarist which meant their usual twin guitar boogie sound was restricted to the single guitar of Bobby Ingram. But he played it with style and they closed the night with a string of classics finishing, obviously, with Boogie no more.
As the crowd dispersed to empty the beer pumps for the final time, they were left to reflect on the end of another successful HRH. Good music, good friends, good beer and a well organised HRH machine quietly working in the background working on HRH 11. Already on the bill are Airbourne, Y&T and Gun. I’ve got my tickets. Best you get yours soon.
The Borderline, London
7th November 2016
If you have any interest in guitars, you have probably heard of Rob Chapman (aka ‘The Monkey Lord’) who has become an internet sensation. His videos on that well know site for your tubes, of both his own and Andertons music shop in Guildford, have tens of thousands of views and hundreds of thousands of subscribers, offering both online tuition and in-depth review of equipment. Oh, and he owns his own named brand guitar company too.
But ‘Chappers’ main passion is fronting the band Dorje. Formed around 2012, the band consists of Guitarist (Ra)Bea ‘Afro’ Massaad, bassist Dave Hollingworth, drummer Ben Minal and vocalist and guitarist Chappers. Bea, Dave and Ben were all friends who moved south to attend the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, Surrey. It was a chance meeting with Rob Chapman in Guildford that lead to the band forming around a strong love of bands like Incubus with the aim of making their own style of powerful rock music. A skilled group of artists, they have all become icons in their own right. Check out the website www.musicisum.net
Fast forward to Monday 7th November 2016 in the small but intimate Borderline Club in London’s busy Soho area and you will find the writer, along with a packed audience, eagerly awaiting the first night of Dorje’s sold out tour, with dates in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Nottingham and a slot at the Hard Rock Hell festival in Wales. Having seen them in September play as last minute openers at the Camden Underworld to a sparse crowd, it was great to see an appreciative audience pack the small venue to the low slung rafters.
Supporting act were the excellent Nine Miles South with their brand of bluesy rock. It was good to see the crowd warm to the band as they gave a great show of why they will be headlining the Borderline someday soon themselves.
Once Nine Miles South had finished their set the clearly excited crowd vented a huge cheer and rapturous applause with the appearance of Bea and Ben. And that was just for the setup of their rigs.
15 minutes later the band appeared, this time for real, to the again tumultuous applause of the clearly faithful masses. Looking slightly bemused by the reception the boys looked more like a group of friends on stage for a jam than a band on a tour. No gimmicks, no snappy dressing, just four guys with instruments. And boy do these guys know how to play them. It also becomes obvious that they have applied their not inconsiderable skills to the writing and production of their own style of songs. A hard rock sound that is progressive, with unusual timings, interesting chord changes and both soulful and djent sounds, this is a band that will make you sing and mosh in equal measure. As Chappers launches into tracks for their newly released ‘Centred and One’ EP, you can tell that he has worked hard training his voice to keep the power and melodic range but also temper it to last the course of the tour. The smiles on the bands faces as the crowd warms to the new material only grow larger as the small, but perfectly formed faithful do their best to form a mosh pit wall of death within the confines of the Borderlines bijou arena. With anthemic favourites Catalyst and Aeromancy the air guitar solo’s were in full flow as Bea showed why his lead guitar playing is adored by so many. I only wish vocalist Chappers would spend more time accompanying him as the dual sounds of their Chapman guitars is truly electric. With Dave’s bass busy in the background – another of those bass players who are more adept with four strings than I ever will be with six – and Ben beating out some frantic yet absorbing rhythms, the tour de force was over far too quickly. But they left the stage looking like they had had a damn good time- I know we did. Luckily, the band are back in the studio writing the follow up to their latest release so hopefully we can expect more from them in the early part on 2017.
Dorje are one of those bands you discover once in a blue moon that make you sit up and take notice. Check out their website http://www.dorje.tv/ , check out their video’s and new EP. But most of all, check them out live at a small venue near you soon. Before they move inevitably onto the larger venues.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, a Dorje is a Buddhist ritual object, often used with a bell, where the Dorje represents the male and the bell the female. Very Tantric!
Centred & One
Flower of Life
Jamie and the Jets
Boom Boom Cub, Sutton
26th November 2016
When i was a baby, i would have cooed along to Baa Baa Black Sheep. Jamie Bull of Jamie and the Jets was obviously rocking his cradle to the sounds of Reg Dwight's back catalogue. I blame the parents.
At their inaugural gig at Sutton's Boom Boom club (I saw no sign of Basil Brush), Jamie and his Jets poured out hit after hit from Elton John's extensive and eclectic back catalogue across two dazzling sets. It may seem unusual for a 27 year old South Londoner (dangerous age that as Messrs Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison would like to be able to testify) to be playing songs from an artist who had produced his best work years before he was born. But the obvious passion and talent showed across a string of well known hits.
Dressed in suitably sequined apparel and classy boater, Jamie Bull fronted the four piece with all the showmanship you would expect of a tribute act to the least shrunk violet of the 1970's all too glam scene. But whilst showy, it was neither brash nor boorish, just the right amount of pizazz with jazz. Ably accompanying Jamie Bull was guitarist and all round technical guru Dave Jackson. Sporting comparatively subdued black attire with striking white guitars, Dave provided the rocking edge that lifted the good old fashioned rock and roll numbers from the beautiful ballads whilst also the architect of the backing tracks that complimented the four musicians rather than becoming the focus of the sound. Dave can tear it up when he wants to but it was nice to see a restrained guitarist providing just the right level of virtuosity without trying to take over the limelight.
On bass in similar dark garb was Tom Rowlands, quietly but expertly providing the strong bass line, whilst leaving the front of stage antics to Jamie and Dave. Often unsung, usually unappreciated, the bass player provides that strong rhythmic vibe that allows the lead artists to showcase their skills whilst holding the melody together. Just so here, Mr R looked like the assured patriarch of the group minding his fledglings.
And last, but certainly not least, drummer Michael Bates did sterling work despite an arm injury. Not that you would have known, as the beat was flawless. As was the song count in's both English and German versions... As the two sets developed, so did the tempo so any RSI issues had to be put on hold.
The first set was opened by the epic Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding which gave the crowd a taste of what was to come. And the crowd loved it. As the tempo increased, JB divested himself of his sparkly bow tie and obligatory shades to show the final finished product of years of practice playing his favourite piano rock. This was a polished performance - strong vocals, cheeky grin and affable banter - here is an artist in his prime and in his element. The poignant track 'Empty Garden', a tribute to John Lennon, showed how you don't just have to play the well known hits to enrapture an audience. Enraptured we were.
The second set cranked out more hits - I had forgotten how many great Elton John songs I know and love - with the crowd responding to the upbeat treats. Ending with two encores - and real encores, not your common all garden walk off, walk back on again variety - this was very much a triumph for the band. New additions to the Pete Feenstra circuit, treading the same boards as the likes of Walter Trout and Joanne Shaw Taylor, it won't be long before Jamie and the Jets will be following in those footsteps. For now, keep an eye out for their next gig near to you. Because, in Elton's own words 'The Bitch Is Back'
Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Candle In The Wind
I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
Can You Feel The Love Tonight
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Good Bye Yellow Brick Road
Bennie And The Jets
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
All The Girls Love Alice
Sad Songs Say So Much
Take Me To The Pilot
Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me
I'm Still Standing
The Bitch Is Back
Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting
Your Sister Can't Twist But She Can Rock And Roll
The Answer/Dead Daisies
Electric Ballroom, Camden
23rd November 2016
The Electric Ballroom in Camden is one of those great venues that are both intimate yet big enough to swing a considerable sized feline, and with excellent acoustics that leave you with pleasantly humming ears rather than shredded tympanic membranes.
Soothing our way into the evening was Lynne Jackaman, once the voice of the sadly too short lived Saint Jude and now weaving a blossoming solo career. For our delectation she performed an acoustic set which perfectly highlighted her strong yet beautiful voice. And she’s a beautiful woman too. An all to brief set was closed with her acoustic rendition of Blind Faiths ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ leaving a roomful of wistful gents of a certain age wishing they weren’t old enough to be her father.
Co-headliners for the night were the Dead Daisies. A supergroup of international proportions, these boys are good, old school loud rock. If Steel Panther are the humorous parody of 80’s hair metal grown up, these boys are the serious contenders. Everything you wanted those now decrepit acts to be but can sadly no longer do. But the Dead Daisies have aged well - really well. Who wants to see reformed acts who can’t quite do what they used to do when the Dead Daisies do it better now? Frontman John Corabi, once of Motley Crue and singer on their eponymous album which contains my favourite Motley Crue track – ‘Smoke The Sky’, showed his considerable pedigree and charisma to lead what has been a revolving door of who’s who in the rock glitterati. The current line-up includes guitarists Doug Aldrich and David Lowy who bring twin Gibson goodness through Marshall and Friedman stacks. Marco Mendoza struts in true bass player style with gum mastication at critical levels and a throbbing bass line. Oo er Mrs! Brian Tichy, resplendent in shirt and tie, as all discerning drummists are sporting these days, wins the prize for most drumsticks lofted – and dropped – in one sitting. If he didn’t mean to do so, sign him up for the England first eleven for the next test match. Another rainforest will have to be erased to replenish his stocks.
Their set was a mixture of their own tracks such as the radio friendly Lock and Load as well as a string of covers such as The Who’s ‘Join Together With The Band’, Judas Priests ‘Living After Midnight’ and a rocked up version of ‘Helter Skelter’. I would have been happy for them to go on all night – they rocked the room with the same energy and vigour that they showed 25 years ago. I don’t know what they are on, but can I have some please?
Enter The Answer. Co-headliners, but not quite the same intensity as the Dead Daisies. I would have put The Answer on first personally, but what do I know. Their latest album ‘Solas’ is a departure from their pub grown Irish rock with a darker more folky feel to it. So their set was a mixture of the classic Answer sing along songs with newer more thoughtful melodies. Paul Mahon’s guitar wizardry on classics like ‘Spectacular’ and ‘Come Follow Me’ were interspersed newer tracks including ‘Battle Cry’, his mandolin playing on ‘In This Land’ and the frankly odd ‘Being Begotten’ with lead singer Cormac Neeson accompanying on Bazouki. You can’t blame the band for trying something different. Track of the night for me was their classic ‘’Nowhere Freeway’’ which heralded the reappearance of Lynne Jackaman to provide a fulsome pair. Lynne and Cormac I mean…
Cormac once again engaged the fans in his time honoured manner by conducting the sing along from the middle of crowd. It’s always good to meet your heroes, even better to sing with them. The final song saw Cormac re-join the crowd and then make his way to the t-shirt stand to sell his wares before he had finished singing. Judging by the applause and the masses following him, I guess he did a roaring trade.
Photo courtesy of
Mr T Dackombe
Alter Bridge set list:
The Writing On The Wall
Come To Life
Addicted To Pain
Ghost Of Days Gone By
Cry Of Achilles
The Other Side
Farther Than The Sun
Ties That Bind
Crows On A Wire
Watch Over You
Open Your Eyes
Show Me A Leader
O2 Arena, Greenwich
24th November 2016
The pre gig research described openers Like a Storm as ‘a hard rock band from Auckland, New Zealand, best known for combining heavy baritone guitar riffs and hard rock songs with didgeridoo.’ Yep, that pretty much covers it. The short set was not as Sabbathesque as I was expecting but had a heaviness that was warmly applauded by the sparse arriving audience. And the didgeridoo, stolen from it’s native Australia, seemed to be more of a gimmick than adding anything notable to their sound. Personally, I would suggest they didgeridon’t. They are good enough without it.
Second act up were Gojira, a brutal French heavy metal band with screaming vocals. Reminded me of my French vocab lessons - tough school. The now more populous crowd warmed to the self-deprecating gallic charmers who played a solid set. It’s good to see our friends from across the channel have something to listen to other than Edith Piaf and Charles Hasnovoice (kids, ask your grandparents). Kirk Hammett certainly seems to approve of them.
Last of the support acts was radio friendly Volbeat. For me, they are one of those bands just don’t click. ‘Lola Montez’, their biggest hit, sounded just like the record when played live which is testament to the bands performance skills. But then a number of their tracks sounded like ‘Lola Montez to me. The Danish smorgasbord of songs was a collection of tracks that had influences from metal, punk, rockabilly and reggae (probably). With a metal version of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ – not your usual mosh out track – and a guest appearance from Johnny from Napalm Death on ‘Evelyn’, there was something for everyone.
Lights down, here comes the main event. The O2 in Greenwich is one of those arena’s that bands either fill with wondrous sound or get lost in it’s cavernous, vertigo inducing ether. Guess which one applies here? Many well-known names have tried and failed but Alter Bridge are one of those bands whose catalogue of power rock is meant for the big venues. Lead singer and sinfully underrated guitarist Myles Kennedy has a voice that would seek out every corner of the venue, and beyond, even without the huge sound system. His vocals with Slash has helped to make him a household name and grace the top 5 list of rock warblers on any self-respecting poll.
Lead guitarist Mark Tremonti is God. Or whatever deity is your choice in these multi faithed days. Clapton was hailed as God in the sixties. Hendrix made Clapton sit up and listen. Mark Tremonti is, for me, a guitarists guitarist who can claim that mantle. Animated, but not extrovertly showy, Mark Tremonti has all the chops, all the licks, and all of the taste and style to put him up on a pedestal with the best. He really makes those birds on his PRS sing. Scott Phillips beat the bejesus out of his DW’s with no thought spared for his Zildjians either. And Brian Marshall bossed his bass to complete the foursome. Check out his bass breakdown in ‘Cry Of Achilles’.
With their latest album ‘The Last Hero’ filling an iPod near you, it was no surprise that they opened with a new track ‘The Writing On The Wall’. What followed was a blissful set from the previous four albums plus new tracks like ‘The Last Hero’ and ‘Crows On A Wire’ thrilling the packed throng. Myles acoustic solo track ‘Watch Over You’ was beautiful and bought a respected reverence and Mark Tremonti singing lead vocals on ‘Waters Rising’ was a treat. But Alter Bridge are about the power and the technical brilliance of tracks like ‘Addicted To Pain’ and ‘Isolation’ that required a couple of local power stations to up their game. One of those nights when you truly get lost in the music. At least the sore pain in my constantly banging head was relieved, but at the expense of my vocal chords, when anthemic song ‘Blackbird’ moistened every eye in the house. Album of the year, 2007 for me. Rapture. And the already moist eyes were further moved when the bountiful Tremonti presented his gorgeous guitar to one lucky punter in the front row. That will be one treasured memento of what was a treasure trove of a gig. It was a truly religious experience. Mr Tremonti, I worship you.
Assembly Halls, Islington
29th November 2016
The Assembly Halls in Islington remind me of school assembly, funnily enough. The typical school stage and parquet flooring brought back visions of hymn practice and exams. Thankfully, this venue also has a bar, a sound engineers pit and a circle balcony so any fears of detention were quickly allayed.
Our support act for the night was none other than Broken Witt Rebels. Looking both young and trendy, they fitted perfectly with the venue with their popular brand of blues rock, with a hint of Kings of Leon about them. The Brummie quartet are in the middle of a UK tour, both as support for King King and Joanne Shaw Taylor, and as headliners in their own right. I can see why.
This was a gig that may not have happened. King King’s Alan Nimmo has been suffering problems with his voice which led to the postponement of a couple of shows until early 2017. Following work with a vocal coach to build strength and stamina to aid his recovery, Alan took to the stage with some trepidation. He needn’t have worried. His voice may not have had it’s full power, but it was plenty strong enough.
Looking like a baby faced Geoff Capes, with his tartan kilt, work boots, and fat Strat held in hand like some medieval axe, he could have been a terrifying vision from the battle of Bannockburn. Instead, he merely slayed the Sassenach with his killer licks. Ably supported by Lindsay Coulson on bass, Wayne Proctor on drums and the amazing Dutchman Bob Fridzema on Hammond Organ and keyboards, Mr Nimmo and crew showed why they are no strangers to awards in the world of Blues. In footballing terms ‘he’s got a good touch for a big man’ with intricate fretboard skills and digital dexterity to shame the shredders but with the feel and flavour demanded of such soulful music. Here is a man playing from his heart, openly displayed for all to see, showcased wonderfully with his dedication to his convalescing mother of ‘You Stopped the Rain’.
The set had it’s problems – Lindsay’s bass decided to misbehave during ‘More Than I Can Take’ and Alan struggled to keep his voice together for the full set – but he still produced a more orotund output than many fully healthy throats can manage. But overall, a loving audience were again treated to the best blues in town. High gain soloing, smooth rhythms, intricate ivory tinkling on the Hammond Organ and full on power showers – we got the lot. But the cherry on the proverbial Glaswegian cake was the cover of Frankie Millers ‘Jealousy. An oft covered song, played on a Les Paul with no amplification at all. Just our happy host, soloing to a completely silent assembly hall, all ears straining to pick up the last acoustic vibrations of wire and wood. No pins were dropped.
Plaudits and awards are often given, theirs are truly deserved. King King were Ace Ace.
Wait on Time (The Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)
A Long History of Love
More Than I Can Take
You Stopped The Rain
Jealousy (Frankie Miller cover)
Stranger To Love
Let love in