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Hard Rock Hell XVI

Artist: Various

Venue: Great Yarmouth: Vauxhall Holiday Park

Date: 2-5 November 2023


"...but I had to cut and run to catch Tyketto on the main stage. They brought a stadium class act feel to proceedings and, as true professionals, made it look easy!"

 
Gypsy Pistoleros © Dawn Osborne
Gypsy Pistoleros © Dawn Osborne
 

Wednesday


The main HRH event always begins with awards, which start smart and end messy, involving a lot of alcohol and hi-jinks. There were a lot of video acceptances this year, from Ted Poley (International Front Man) who appeared with his cat (which was cue for the compère to tell us how much Ted loves his pussy), Jizzy Pearl (the Mjolnir Award for Outstanding Contribution to Industry – Mjolnir being the Viking Hammer of Thor) and Jocke Berg of Hardcore Superstar (Lords of Sleaze), but with live bands and the presence of Danny Vaughn (Living Legend) and Jax Chambers who was crowned Angel Of Rock there was a sprinkling of stardust amongst the ten awards.


No Pans People type dancers this year and, instead of flashes of legs and cleavage, bands and audience entered the venue to have their photo taken with a crusader knight in full armour to the strains of Magnum’s ‘How Far Jerusalem?’ More hilarity was provided by Killcode being asked to do a live version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Neon Knights’ with pretty much no notice, resulting in a Doomy Stoner version, which was something of a triumph in the circumstances. Other short live sets were provided by The Darker My Horizon providing big riffs and powerful Classic Rock vocals, and Gypsy Pistoleros who brought the Glam Punk party, with Killcode back for a second time complete with new Rock ‘n’ Roll set and new bassist Bobby Flores, no doubt relieved to be doing their own songs, as I am sure they had only expected tonight(!)


Thursday


Thursday is the intro party with just one stage and fewer bands, and began with Australian band Warbirds providing a Classic Rock set with plenty of harmonies, a bit Doomy at times. Solid, while not revolutionary, it was a competent start.


Things began to take off already, however, with Adam & The Metal Hawks who started with an inspired energetic version of ‘The Time Warp’ from the Rocky Horror show. The vocalist is an enormous very hairy American with a Meatloaf type presence on stage and a powerful voice to match, promising “to sign anything you want” at the merch booth. Hugely charismatic, with covers like Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock And Roll’ and a completely inspired version of the Disco classic ‘Hot Stuff’ they had people laughing, dancing and engaging fully and were only two songs in. They did a couple of their own originals which were slightly funky James Brown inspired Rock which featured fine guitar solos from their guitarist who looked about seventeen! Their own songs would make a fine set for a slot higher up the bill next time, but their injection of the familiar with maximum energy this early was an inspired choice to get people enjoying themselves after merely two bands.


The Punk Rock Factory took up the mantle and delighted the audience with an unusual choice of covers getting the Punk Rock treatment, including ‘Mamma Mia’, Disney’s ‘Lion King’ songs and ‘Under The Sea’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’, the ‘Power Rangers’ song and ‘Pokémon’ theme tune (which remarkably still sounded a bit oriental). They also had some good lines saying the dry ice was “like a pub in the nineties”, telling people to sing urging “we’re not in an old age person’s home” and saying that they were so impressed with the camp site they were thinking of cancelling the rest of the tour to stay. Their version of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and John Farnham’s ‘You’re The Voice’ were pretty infectious.


Suddenly we get heavyweight with Jizzy Pearl, back on these shores, after quite a gap in his formerly regular visits which were curtailed by the Pandemic. He tells the audience how happy he is to be back. He has finally received his Mjolnir award in person and makes the audience laugh with the comment “it has a word I can’t pronounce on it. I hope it’s Swedish for sexy”. None of his languid, slightly serpentine, charisma has dimmed in his time in hibernation. as he stormed through all his classics, kicking off with tracks like ‘Wasted In America’, ‘Fuel’ and, announced as one for the ladies, ‘Spinning Wheel’. One of said females danced so hard during this she took my notebook clean out of my hand. After ‘One More Round’ he commented “always a crowd pleaser, when all else fails I got the UK”, “this is my circle of trust right here, wherever I go I know you guys are with me”. Launching into ‘Mary Jane’ he shouted out to the new drummer “Let’s not fuck this up”, echoing the lyrics of next song ‘Don’t Fuck With Me’. He was joking, smiley and engaged. With ‘She’s An Angel’ and ‘My Evil Twin’, searing solos from Stevie Pearce, and ‘Dope’ we get to the climax for the crowd in ‘Blackout In The Red Room’. Ever the wag, Pearl shouts to the photographer of the goodbye shot with the crowd “Hurry up dude, my back is killing me!” Having been on tour for a while and with responsibilities with Quiet Riot I thought his voice was a little shouty at times, maybe through overuse, but the impact of his presence was everything expected from this certified blue blood.


Tyla from Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons was another guy to receive his award (Bad Ass Bassist) late. Obviously delighted, I think the ego boost did increase his confidence and status onstage: he took more time to pose when presenting his bass solo than I remembered from prior performances. They provided a solid performance with a good mix of their own material, starting with ‘We Are The Bastards’ and including material from the new album including single ‘Hammer And Dance’, and Motörhead’s ‘Going To Brazil’ and ‘Born To Raise Hell’ with a traditional singalong between both sides of the crowd. There was a bit of a comedy moment when the crowd rebelled and said no to the question whether they wanted to hear a slow song. While a bit taken aback, the band ploughed on anyway with the moody ‘Dark Days’ with a Bluesy rather than a Metal solo from Phil. There was a more enthusiastic response for the question “Who wants a Punk number?” followed by a cover of The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’. Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ had an excellent blistering outro solo from Todd. The biggest surprise in the set was a cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ with some nice harmonies. They finished with the traditional version of Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’, ‘Killed By Death’ and, unusually, their own track ‘Maniac’, trying to ring some changes into the set.

Friday


Friday began on the second stage with an acoustic set from The Darker My Horizon who are so enthusiastic, at every festival they will take any slot being keen to play as often as possible. Even though it’s very early, there are people already at the bar keen to get things going.


I broke off to see the first band on the main stage, Hearts And Souls who are from Yorkshire and a bit Mott The Hoople-ish with a sixties/seventies influences including covers such as ‘Stop Messin’ Around’ (also covered by Aerosmith and The Hollywood Vampires with some 12 Bar Boogie and Elvis influences). Their next single ‘How Do You Whisper?’ was heavier. more straightforward Hard Rock. Their guitarist was no slouch with a good version of Gary Moore’s ‘Be My Baby’. Their lady backing vocalist has long wild dark curls and has great pipes! They have a melancholic streak, saying of one of their originals “and you thought only Tyla could write songs that depressing” and then followed that up with ‘Dead Flowers’, although the crowd don’t seem to be taken down, singing and dancing joyfully to the familiar Stones cover.


The Darker My Horizon took the main stage again for their second electric set that I caught this weekend. They went from catchy AOR like ‘Angel In Black’ to heavier Classic Rock such as ‘Spit’. Their singer tackles everything expertly with his excellent voice. He also has a great line in banter; “Don’t argue about how good I am... it’s not the only thing” before doing a Tony the Tiger big cat purr in mock amorousness. They may not look like Rock stars (more like The Full Monty) but aurally they pack a great punch.


A great discovery from the weekend were Crowley, a kind of slightly evil, slightly heavier Vixen (albeit with a male drummer) appearing on second stage. The singer has a soaring voice like a sort of Ann Wilson gone hardcore and their stage presence seemed to hypnotise the crowd. She invited people to chat to them at the merch stand saying “We’re friendlier than we look”, although the blonde Nancy Wilson-ish looking guitarist did snarl back “I’m not!” So be warned.


Ward XVI brought their highly theatrical operatic show to the main stage and did not skimp on the blood and the gore. The grisly story has a very post-millennium modern feel. It is compulsive viewing. The liberal use of stage blood had me running to the corners of the pit!


Back to the second stage for a confident performance from NWOBHM wanna be Sunset Strippers Ransom; “Put some south in your mouth. We’re from London Town.” It’s pretty meat and potatoes, like Raven, but they’re great on crowd engagement and featured three dancers with inflatable guitars and keytars dressed like the famous Robert Palmer girls. The vocalist has lead singer disease in the best possible way and this translates to him always bringing it like he is in a stadium. He is also one of the only band guys to seriously try to socialise with the crowd to whip up a crowd and excite interest to get people to make a point of seeing his band on the second stage instead of the main stage band, so fair play to him.


Hell’s Addiction, as the name suggests, are a large biker looking band with Rock anthems like ‘We’re On The Road Again’ projecting raw male energy on the main stage. It’s catchy Hard Rock with harmonies and screams and a few songs like the epic W.A.S.P. slower Metal numbers that Blackie Lawless has been doing recently.

Slackrr are a boy girl skater band on the second stage that I only get a glimpse of, but seem to have a small, but devoted following for their Pop inspired Rock.


Dead Writers on the second stage had a few technical problems with the keyboards not working (which are essential for their ballads like ‘Lisa’), as a result people like me did have to cut and run to the main stage earlier than they had hoped. Once they got going I returned and did manage get a few shots, but only really caught the end of their set. It had clearly been stressful with their Pre Raphaelite looking singer commenting that the thing he most liked about this performance was “the end”. I had to giggle when a middle aged lady next to me commented “But I DO like his top”.


Killcode on the main stage had reinvented themselves. While they always had a Southern Rock streak, they also had a very heavy Nine Inch Nails side, this has been replaced by Rock ‘n’ Roll with the arrival of new bassist Bobby Flores, “the tallest Mexican on the Planet”, who looks like a cross between an early Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley and who jumps around the stage giving the band a much more dynamic stage presence which is very welcome. Titles of newer songs reflect this, ‘Can’t Stop The Rock ‘n’ Roll’ could actually be a KISS song. The old memes are there “When I say kill… you say code” but it’s much less sinister and much more party than it ever was.


Sasquatch are a kind of North American trucker band, a bit like a rumbling Black Stone Cherry with a Southern Rock influence with streaks of Grungy influence like Stone Temple Pilots. I don’t know whether it was because it’s tea time, because they were not that bad, if a little run of the mill, but the audience kind of shrank while they were on.


I caught a little bit of Nitroville on the second stage with the powerful vocals of Tola Lamont and I would have happily stayed for their whole set, as she was sounding great as usual, but I had to cut and run to catch Tyketto on the main stage. They brought a stadium class act feel to proceedings and, as true professionals, made it look easy! As they have been doing in recent times, it was not all about the first album ‘Don’t Come Easy’ with real emphasis also on ‘Strength In Numbers’ and most recent album ‘Reach’. Danny Vaughn vocalist and Ged Rylands on keyboards had a new guitarist Harry Scott Elliott and a fill in bassist Wayne Banks and were ably assisted by new band mate Johnny Dee, the Doro and Britny Fox drummer who worked with Vaughn in Waysted. They did ‘Heaven Tonight’ for old times’ sake. Vaughn went out of his way to give a shout out to another band on the bill This House We Built, whose work he admires, illustrating his generosity and easy going nature. Songs like ‘Standing Alone’ showcased his amazing voice which is still clear and vibrant after all these years. Unsurprisingly, the crowd went wild for ‘Forever Young’ finishing with an incredibly long note, the day went out on a high.

Saturday

White Tyger kicked off the main stage on the last day. (They were supposed to play at the Awards ceremony, but had to postpone to tonight as the singer lost his voice). They are summoned from a time vortex from the eighties, complete with bandanas and cowboy boots and deliver high octane Metal with lots of screams. They did well and I could only hear the singer still had a cold when he spoke, as he brought it in the live show like a trooper.


I managed to catch a little of The Hot One Two’s set on the second stage before having to leave for the main stage, but the little I saw did not allow me to gauge whether the band live do justice to their energetic lively recordings.


The Midnite Devils, promoted from last year’s second stage to main stage this year, are a band to watch. Despite being little known in the UK word has got out, and there was a buzz about the Glam Punk band’s performance even before they got on stage, with good reason. Their book of stagecraft was written by Dave Lee Roth and they wear their influences on their sleeve with a cover of ‘Panama’ up pretty quickly in the set. Paul Stanley has also been studied and the singer moves and sounds like him at times. They wear just as much make up as KISS and, considering the materials they are working with, pack a similarly hard impact, relatively speaking. Their hair looks like it’s on its ninety fifth backcomb without a break. Just looking at their antics can give those of a nervous disposition a heart attack. No one wanted them to leave and nor do the band themselves “We don’t feel like getting off stage, but we do feel like getting off.” Crowd engagement is at a premium and they even gave out battery operated, light-up green devil horns and let loose large balloons to ensure maximum crowd buy-in. They hung out in the audience afterwards and they are so tall and thin they look like someone planted them in Rockstar super-grow compost from birth. Drummer Jimmy Mess wears a mini skirt a la New York Dolls. The guitarist has a tattoo with “The One” in a heart and “69”. They actually would make Steel Panther jealous as they embody an old Troubadour Strip band and yet are young enough to throw themselves recklessly around the stage without breaking their necks.


Bai Bang had a few technical problems which was a shame, as by the time they started, being the dreaded tea time slot, some of the crowd had gone to get something to eat, but they brought all their old school band finesse, including my favourite ‘I Love The Things You Hate’. They are Swedish Rock aristocracy and singer Diddi tells a story about his recent contact with Frida of ABBA who apparently told him to ‘Rock Me’. They need no second invitation.


The Gypsy Pistoleros brought their indefatigable intensity and focus with a happy party vibe. Another band who love to play so much, they always do more than one set. ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ and ‘Come On Eileen’ covers bring a democratic feel, with their original Glam Flamenco material being lively enough to have people shouting “Tequila!”


Pretty Boy Floyd are back with a new line-up, including former Jet Black Romance guitarist Dizzy Aster. The ace up their sleeve is their back catalogue of party anthems that everyone knows, and anyone who had gone for their tea for previous bands is back for their show which was packed. Focussing mainly on the greatest hits from ‘Leather Boys’ they gave the crowd what they wanted, but not relying just on having the most well-known songs of the day, Steve Summers worked tirelessly to raise the crowd’s energy, being up and down the barrier without stopping while the photographers were still in the pit. Aster has had gear problems this tour and while he played well his solos were quite quiet. I look forward to seeing him again when his gear is up to snuff. One thing’s for sure, as a youngster with a radar for old school style he is helping to bring back the Sunset Strip Glamour that, despite supposedly being unfashionable these days, is clearly craven by the crowd. Once again they were the party band of the day!


Everyone waited for Yngwie Malmsteen with awe and he knows exactly how to keep up the mystique to make his set special. It’s a sophisticated, Neo-Classical set which replayed knowledge of authentic Classical music like Bach and Paganini, both which appeared in the set. It covered a broad range of material from his solo career right up to ‘Parabellum’ from his latest album. The passion from the Classical Music easily transmutes to the Metal and his wild man antics like the tossing of hair, throwing the guitar with centrifugal force, kneeling for solos, deliberately breaking all strings one by one and eating his guitar, carry direct visceral energy like a W.A.S.P. performance, nothing bland about this! Covers of ‘Smoke On The Water’ and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Red House’ are Uber fast and infused with Malmsteen’s own burning spirit. As well as the pure animal there are moments of spirituality in his beautiful playing. For those who weren’t too drunk to appreciate it (after four days of hard drinking inevitably some peaked too early) it was a truly amazing experience. Those who overdid it and missed it will be kicking themselves now. There should be a computer game based on a Rock Festival where managing to be there for the final act get zillions of points. I am very glad I dodged the bullets and gave my full attention, alcohol free, to a truly amazing performance.

 

Review: Dawn Osborne

 


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