AOR/Prog and Blues Festival – Saturday 22nd March 2014
Its midday Saturday and Curran opened day two on the AOR stage to a handful of people who were willing to ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World’. He sang his way through many good tracks like ‘Stand By You’ with its beautiful harmonies, ‘Good Guys Don’t always Wear White’ (Bon Jovi) and ‘Rosalie’ (Bob Seger). Closing the set Curran played ‘This Ain’t Love’ and his latest single ‘Run Back to You’ – two awesome tracks. Mark tried so hard to get the sleepy crowd going and he did eventually succeed. He wanted them to go crazy, dance and sing and they duly obliged.
Meanwhile over on the Blue’s stage, Brothers Groove heralded the start of today’s Blues offering, albeit to a handful of early risers. Fourteen songs were produced although the last short Blues number, as vox Shaun Hill put it, may have just upset the stage scheduler. In fairness, they were a little late starting due to the gremlins within the PA system, but it mattered not ultimately, as the sound was top notch with everything being played clear and beautifully balance in the mix (nice one sound engineer!). Instrumental ‘Cissy Strut’ eased us gently into what was to be a busy and most enjoyable set. Brothers Groove were another band playing HRH with a coincidental CD release and I think we heard almost the entire album today. I particularly liked ‘Play The Game’ – the title track – with its hints of Level 42 coming through at times. The guys play with such a smooth, relaxed and never pretentious style and in vocalist/guitarist Shaun, we have someone whose delivery gives each number a wow factor. His guitar work isn’t bad either and the eight minute plus ‘Another Girl’, perfectly demonstrates this. Deano Bass rocks and bobs his way through the set providing a very smooth bass line that compliments the guitar work of Shaun and Nige Mellor, the third member of this excellent band and joined for this live set by Jim Simpson on drums, who kept the whole groove extremely tight with some fine, precise stick work – I’m off to buy the album!
Next stop was back over at the Prog stage where Crimson Sky were brought on the stage earlier than planned as Deepexus had pulled out due to illness. Crimson Sky vocalist Jane Setter, looks striking in her feather adorned crimson top hat and a short crimson feathery off the shoulder number! Clearly at home fronting the band, Jane certainly draws the eye and when delivering her powerful vocals she also catches the ear. A few early nerves soon disappeared and the band gave the crowd an assured set of old and new numbers drawing from their earlier album ‘Misunderstood’ and the ‘Dawn’ EP with the self titled ‘Crimson Sky’ being my favourite from the set as my tapping feet would testify. Crimson Sky tick many boxes.
Next up over on the AOR stage were East of Eden – a four piece band formed in 2012 with a very good sound, if a little on the poppy side for AOR, but when you listen to them, the potential is there. Their rendition of ‘Dirty Diana’ (Michael Jackson) is a stormer and whilst their set contains a few other covers (Slither, Billie Jean and Rock & Roll), they sound great and have a promising future.
Russian rockers Reds Cool gave a belting performance. ‘Hey You’ was a very strong song with a good AOR sound bordering on heavy rock. This band have stunning axe riffs and thumping drums. It’s all about the broken hearts and the songs telling a story. They supported Black star Riders and more recently UFO. Their album Bad Story was released last October.
Well, it was time to get back down with the Blues and what’s not to like and what’s not already been written or said about the Pat McManus band. Pat, Marty and Paul enter stage left and Pat hit’s us with that famous ever present beaming smile, this genial Irishman and the boys have the audience instantly won over and not a note struck! “We’re gonna give you Blues, Rock and Celtic …… ah whatever, let’s just play whatever comes out!” announced Pat to the packed arena. And so it came to pass a nine song set, some old, some new with the inevitable injection of Mama’s Boys material and in fact, ‘Needle In The Groove’ rounded off the set so full of the usual PMB energy and drive that I was left wondering who was more exhausted, the band or the crowd. Pat has the uncanny knack of engaging his audience to the extent that everything becomes just one big happy place to be. Any negative comments? Yes – he didn’t play anywhere near long enough!
Swedish power metallers Dynatzy took to the stage and I know I love most of the rock bands that Sweden pushes out (see later when I go all agog again over Coldspell) but I’ll say it again…….. What is it in the water that makes Swedish rockers so powerful? This was such a “fuck yeah” moment I nearly fell off my seat with excitement. The AOR arena was filling up nicely, it was late afternoon and when these guys came on the crowd erupted. This was heavier rock with a little glam thrown in for good measure. Stunning guitar solos with an injured finger – you wouldn’t have known. With tracks off their latest CD ‘Renatus’, ‘Run Amok’ showed just how serious these guys are. Pitch perfect vocals were not a problem. Lovely hair swooshes too by the bass guitarist. In fact he was a gawj bass guitarist!! This was an energetic set with excellent high octave vocals. ‘The Dawn of Your Creation’ and ‘Starlight’ (the new single) are worthy of special mention.
Glaswegian band Logan were next. My last encounter with Logan was at HRH Cirque du Rock in November 2013 and I was totally blown away by them. Would they do the same this year at AOR? Yes, they did. Unfortunately the crowds were shifting between the Blues and Prog arenas and the AOR arena was not packed out (Pat McManus was playing the Blues) but it soon did. Logan played so many good tracks like ‘Hallowed Ground’, ‘When I Get Down’ and ‘Lost & Found’, a beautiful love song with awesome harmonies. Vox Kenny Collins has power and passion in all of his vocals. It was also interesting to note that Logan were further up the running list this year – signs of much improvement me thinks.
Swansea outfit Panic Room were late appearing due to that pesky old fire alarm being triggered again. I can only assume the heavy haze in the arena was the culprit. Once the initial sound problems had been ironed out, award winning vocalist Anne-Marie Holder led the band through a set mainly built around their new album ‘Incarnate’. The band describe themselves as alternate rock exponents so I guess that covers their wide range of styles that we see permeating throughout the set ‘Velocity rocks’, ‘Into Temptation’ is atmospheric and closing song ‘Satellite’ has an anthem-type feel. Here is something for all Prog fans here and Panic Room is a band well and truly on the move upwards.
The HRH media grapevine were saying that the Graveltones were no longer appearing and in their place were Henry’s Funeral Shoe. Nevertheless this Welsh outfit were able to step in to fill the gap and although I only caught the last couple of numbers courtesy of a much needed food and drink break, their normal fourteen song set had to be whittled down to 10 but even the few numbers I heard, were enough to get the measure of this bundle of fun and energy band of brothers, Aled and Brennig Clifford. ‘Don’t Lose The Rhythm’ is the guys standard and to be honest you will find it hard to ever mislay once you have had a dose of Henry’s Funeral Shoe. With a fine pedigree behind them, they have played with Kiss and Lynyrd Skynyrd and have widely acclaimed albums under their belts. Tonight’s set was taken mainly from the albums and tracks such as ‘Mission and Maintenance’ and ‘Dog Scratched Ear’ which was featured by Fiat in an advert for their 500 Abarth, showed just what talent there is in the UK music world. The massive sound delivered by just two was simply amazing and was played with the energy of a high powered, long life battery. Without doubt, Henry’s Funeral Shoe were the surprise highlight of the weekend.
Up next was Stevie Nimmo showing that HRH Blues was getting better and better. The diversity of Blues styles presented to date had been breath taking and to my shame Stevie Nimmo and the Nimmo Brothers are not names that were immediately significant to me but despite a few techies at the set start, they will join the ever growing list of Blues bands that will now form a part of my playlists. Sadly, a low audience in attendence had greeted Stevie but the band was not fazed by this, they got on with the job, with Stevie’s Scottish humour easing us into ‘Rattlesnake Shake’. His interpretation of Peter Green’s late 60s soulful blues number, had hints of a ZZ Top influence and was sung with emotion and feeling as he did all through the set. By ‘Make It Up To You’, the crowd had swelled significantly and with the trio now in full swing we were hearing some mighty fine American style Blues. Self taught and having battled major illness back in 2009, Stevie Nimmo showed us all tonight what can be achieved when you have a passion and a deep love of what you hold dear. My pick of this excellent set was ‘The Storm’ – I loved the awesome guitar solo.
Meanwhile back in AOR, Kee Marcello ……. Wow ! Kee last played in the UK ten years ago and playing tracks of his latest album ‘Judas Kiss’ it made me wonder why he had left it so long. With tracks from ‘Judas Kiss’ along with Europe songs, Kee totally wowed the crowd which, by this time, had increased big time. ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ is an amazing Europe song. ‘Dog Eat Dog’ showed power metal at its best and the crowd loved it. In contrast ‘Coming Home’ was more melodic with its power middle 8. Europe tracks ‘Superstitious’ and ‘Rock The Night’ were played to much approval. But there is no getting away from the fact that Kee is one great guitarist and with a friend of Kee’s, Vinny Burns (Asia) coming on stage to play ‘Rock The Night’, this was very much an “oh wow” track.
Love/Hate showed Jizzy at his very best. It was an awesome performance by Love/Hate and one of the best I have seen in all honesty. Jizzy talked about appreciating all good music and not “the shit on the radio” much to the approval of the masses. Love/Hate didn’t introduce too many of their songs but did this matter to the crowd? No it didn’t….they knew all the words anyway! They danced and jumped and sang. Jizzy spotted a chap with an old 1990 style shirt on suggesting that he had been cryogenically frozen for all those years for him to wear that shirt out again. So winding their way through the years with songs such as ‘Hanging You Out to Dry’, ‘Spinning Wheel’, ‘Wasted in America’ and then finishing with my all time fave, ‘Blackout in the Red Room’ – the masses did not want them to go.
Remember my thing earlier about Swedish rockers, well here they are…….Coldspell. Playing tracks from their ‘Frozen Paradise’ album, this loud, brash, heavy metal band are so in ya face they need pushing back, but not too far. The riffs are played to perfection, the vocals are impressive and the drumming never missing a beat. ‘Night Falls’ is a beaut rack with faultless vocals and ‘One In A Million’ brings you back to a true Swedish rock metal fix. Track for me was ‘Soldiers’.
I arrived back in the Prog arena soaked to the skin and saw symphonic Prog rockers The Enid. Founded in 1973 by Robert John Godfrey, the band has undergone many changes although Robert has been ever present. I have never seen this band but a fellow photographer told me not to miss them tonight. There was a massive atmosphere of anticipation building up ahead of the band’s appearance and I couldn’t help but wonder if here was room for the lads themselves as there was so much equipment assembled. There was a full on Prog rock musical kaleidoscope about to hit town. Mores the pity then that the grand entrance was usurped by a malfunction or two of Joe Payne’s amazing EWI although from my advantage point, it looked like a computer that didn’t want to play! From the dim background Rob filled the ensuing hiatus with some gentle chat and fine wit until suddenly we had lift off. Opening with the Bolero-esque ‘Judgement’. Joe Payne demonstrated his amazing falsetto vocals in the beautiful One And The Many. It was difficult to find a weak point, techie issues notwithstanding and although Joe becomes the focal point of the band, there are some fine musicians spanning three generations on the stage producing carefully crafted Prog music that fuses classical and rock to perfection.
Meanwhile over on AOR I hung around for Graham Bonnet to see if there was an improvement from when I saw him on 17 March and to be honest there was not. Graham’s vocal range and strength is not what it used to be. Yes he can bound around the stage and look the part and yes the band were awesome, but he struggled to reach even the easiest of high notes and the forced look on his face did look quite painful. I stayed until ‘Since You Been Gone’ – third song in – actually lasting to the same point as on 17 March. So disappointing, a brilliant singer with some brilliant tracks but at this moment in time, not able to produce to his usual high standard …. some of the faithful left with me heading out to the other arenas.
I tootled across to the Prog arena to catch a few Fish tunes. It was packed out and lit in part by the moving psychedelic backdrop. I would have loved to have been able to pick up a few song titles but failed miserably with the mic volume. When he did sing the mood lighting changed to red and white and when he reminisced, he turned dark again. He was well received by the packed arena crowd who wanted more and more.
Back to the Blues where Buck & Evans aka Sally Ann Evans and Chris Buck are just about to celebrate one year as the rock/blues unit that is Buck & Evans. With a self titled three track EP already in the locker, this appearance will only go to cement their place as a rootsy rock and blues outfit. Sally Ann’s vocals are very easy to listen to and with Chris’ stunning guitar work, I won’t be the first or last to make a Clapton reference, Buck & Evans are supported by a well defined rhythm section and made a lasting impression on the appreciative crowd.
Hailing from Northern Ireland, Simon McBride was to be the penultimate performer at this year’s HRH Blues festival. Simon has been likened to Rory Gallagher on occasions (his influence has been widely evident all festival) and Gary Moore but whilst they may count amongst his influences, Simon has his own sound, so well demonstrated by ‘Alcatraz’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Don’t Be A Fool’ from his much acclaimed Crossing The Line album. Yet another trio, it makes you almost wonder why have more in a band when you hear such depth and fullness of sound that three musicians can create. Simon McBride for me was the icing on a very rich cake that was HRH Blues.
Javier Vargas led the Vargas Blues Band out onto the Bonga Wonga stage to bring the curtain down on what has been a fantastically successful inaugural event. Born in Madrid, Javier started playing guitar nine years later when his family moved back to Argentina. Some of his early influences – Led Zeppelin, Cream, Stones, Hendrix and Santana to name a few are still prominent today. Vargas Blues Band is roof down, speeding down the highway, who gives a monkeys music at its best. A set taken from various albums included ‘Sin City’ and ‘Rock n Roll Circus from Heavy City Blues’, ‘Ride Baby Ride’ and ‘Black Car Boogie’ from ‘Texas Tango’. All good stuff and a great way to end the day.
Time for my last trip over to AOR for the awesome UFO. Saw them last year at a packed out Institute in Birmingham and now AOR was also packed out aswell. Whilst still touring their album ‘Seven Deadly’, you have to admire them. They can produce the goods even with a hefty tour schedule taking them right through until June. Phil Mogg’s vocals are powerful and Vinnie’s axe work absolutely second to none. Combine this with Andy’s thumping drums and Paul’s mix of guitar and keys and then throw in the awesome Rob De Luca on bass guitar and you have the perfect sound of UFO. We heard ‘Lights Out’, ‘Pushed To The Limit’ and the storming ‘Only You Can Rock Me’. The crowds continued to enter the arena and did not leave until the end. The perfect ending to the AOR side.
So HRH AOR/Prog/Blues has come to a close after two and a half days of fantastic music from bands old and new with songs old and new. You couldn’t wish for better! Last but not least, its major thanks to the guys n gals at Chic for showing everyone how it’s done and succeeding every time xxx
Word and Photography by Lisa and Rob Billingham (Billibee Creative)