Written by Central Electronic Brain     April 11, 2018    
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HRH AOR VI - Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli (UK) - 08-10 March 2018

Thursday 08 March

There is always something magical about coming to a Hard Rock Hell event. Everyone, bands, fans and organisers can immerse themselves totally into the event due the whole site being devoted to one thing – the music. With that comes a camaraderie where we all become part of a big family, even to the point that organiser Jonni Davis actively seeks input from all concerned on every aspect of these events.

This year is subtlety different to previous years as to use Davis' term, it's an "AOR mash-up" in that whilst the majority of bands fall under the AOR banner, there are one or two curved balls that don't quite sit in that genre.

So, on to the start of the three-day run. Thursday evenings proceedings were kicked off with Dante Fox where Sue Willetts and the band launched into 'Young Hearts'. They drew material from a variety of albums, mixing old and new, while Tim Manford ably extracted melodic riff goodness throughout. 'Under The City Paul SabinLights', a firm favourite for the band, had the crowd singing along nicely, but perhaps the most rousing part of their performance was set closer 'Remember My Name', a cover of the Stevie Lange classic which showed Willetts voice was as strong as ever.

Dante Fox HRH AOR Live

Next on stage was Newman and it's fair to say Steve Newman and his band are never a let down on a live stage. As the second British act of the night, they raised the bar higher while bassist David Bartlett also won the accolade of being the only man to wear a turtle-neck at the festival! The Newman sound on the other hand was textbook AOR that oozed melodies, swelling keyboards and strong guitar phrasings of near studio quality. As they zoomed through 'Aerial', 'Pray For The Day', the epic ballad 'Stay With Me' and 'If It's Love', it was clear that this band were really tight and having a blast as Shaun Bessant and Steve Newman bounced off each other. Amusingly, the band now celebrating its twentieth year, had new member in the shape of Harry Younger who at only nineteen was making his first appearance with Newman. They finished their set with 'One Step Closer' and left the crowd suitably energised and ready for the rest of the evening.

Newman HRH AOR Live

With the venue filled with an air of anticipation, Stockholm's Eclipse hit the stage and from the moment the first bass notes of 'Vertigo' pounded out, Erik Mårtensson had total command of the audience. This man oozed talent and presence, something that makes him one of the best young front-men out there. They quickly got the crowd involved with the fast paced and catchy 'The Storm', while Mårtensson's powerful voice soared over the equally brilliant Magnus Henriksson's magnificent guitar parts before getting most of the gathered populous punching the air to 'Wake Me Up'. 'Battlegrounds' may be a gentler song, but it had everyone singing along transfixed by this band, as did the much meatier 'Black Rain'. They pulled heavily from the new 'Momentum' album for their set with each song sounding huge live, as both electric and acoustic guitars, dreamy keyboard passages and a rhythm section melted Metal that blended perfectly. Eclipse are surely one of Sweden's greatest exports and I for one wouldn't envy anyone who had to follow them on the bill as these boys dominated!

Eclipse HRH AOR Live

Given Eclipse left the stage to a standing ovation, Joe Lynn Turner had no small task to raise the bar higher! He started his set with 'Death Alley Driver', the first of many Rainbow songs to see the light of day tonight, and then interspersed the songs with tales of the road, heartfelt thanks and banter. 'I Surrender' had people of a certain age singing along and this was followed by 'Jealous Lover' and 'Stone Cold' before he departed momentarily into 'Dark Days' from his solo career.

Joe Lynn Turner HRH AOR Live

Turner's band were tight and played effortlessly, which included the great Jorge and it has to be said that Turner's voice was as strong and soulful as ever, not bad for a sixty-six year-old! In what proved to be a strong, interesting, and varied set, there was just one song that didn't quite fit right – 'Rising Force' from Turner's time with Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, but that was offset by the strong show closer, 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll' which left an upbeat crowd satisfied after a good first night where, without a doubt, the Swedes stole the show!

Friday 09 March

Those whose heads weren't aching too badly from the night before were treated to some acoustic performances by C.O.P. U.K., Nasty High, Empyre and Iconic Eye. Dale Radcliffe and the boys of C.O.P. U.K. (Crimes Of Passion) put on a strong performance here, but the best was yet to come with their electric set later in the day. A cut down acoustic version of Nasty High which consisted of just front-man/guitarist Dan Bentley and fellow guitarist Marcos R. Alvarez took the stage next. As they zoomed through 'Ride On', 'Hot Shot', and 'Burning Up', Bentley demonstrated that his unique gravel toned voice could handle an acoustic situation with ease, while the prowess of Alvarez acoustic fret-board work was truly beautiful. More was to come from them with their electric set on Saturday.

Another band doing the "two gigs in one day" thing was Empyre who took to the acoustic stage just four hours before they were due to do their full show on stage two. The two slots were like chalk and cheese as the acoustic set, whilst being raw and equally powerful, had an underlying warmth that emanated from every song. Henrik Steenholdt had a fantastic voice which seemed totally at home in both environments. Clearly Empyre are comfortable unplugged as all songs sounded good but 'Only Way Out' was truly haunting.

Emypre HRH AOR Live

The last acoustic set of the day was from Iconic Eye, who were here previously two years ago. Janey Gould has now replaced original vocalist Tim Dawkes and Jon Cooksey was a last-minute addition on drum duties. They kicked off with 'You Make It' which brought with it a Country Rock feel and it soon became apparent that Gould's voice had a purity that's unusual within Rock circles, one that also brought in a slight folky twist and overall reminded me of Maggie Bell. 'Let It Rain Down' and 'All She Needed' were perfectly executed and saw both Greg Dean and Robin Mitchard explore their fret-boards with great aplomb. A brave attempt of Starship's 'Jane' was next and good as it was, the electric has to be where it's at. The Blues Rock of 'Am I The One' on the other hand suited this acoustic set wonderfully however. The final, but sad song with a personal connection, 'Black Country Woman', was poignant but beautiful.

Iconic Eye HRH AOR Live

Everything then moved to the electric stages where stage one started off with The King Lot, Cruzh, Daylight Robbery and Jac Dalton, and of these Cruzh had perhaps the most impact on the crowd that was ever-growing. Maybe it was their catchy songs that all had a Bon Jovi-esque familiarity to them or just the fact this was another Swedish band that pulled out all the stops, but they seriously rocked. When The Radio Sun hit the stage however, it was like a family member that had just returned home. These guys are now regulars at HRH events and they just keep getting better. Jason Old's banter and antics with guitarist Steve Janevski kept things light hearted in between songs as they stormed through a set that flew by all too quickly.

Over on stage two, C.O.P. U.K. launched into their second performance of the day. This band's sound was positively huge which is a good job as front-man Dale Radcliffe's personality and vocal dominance was just as big! Andreas Rippelmeier coaxed razor-sharp riffs and harmonics from his fret-board, complemented by equally big keyboard sounds, and Radcliffe's soaring vocal made every song a winner. Their set closer, Journey's 'Separate Ways', ensured they left on a high and will be remembered.


Iconic Eye took up positions next for their electric set with Gould and the rest of the band clearly excited about being here. An overall heavier sound since the arrival of Gould on vocals is clear and sat well with the clean sweet tone she delivered. 'Those Tears' rocked the crowd before 'Black Country Woman' brought its sombre tale to the set. In hindsight, this was one song that had far more impact when played acoustically but it still helped to balance light and shade within the set. 'Better Place' and 'Black Heart' on the other hand, pulled out all the stops and saw the whole band locked in tightly all while they clearly were having a blast. Some sweet duelling guitar parts from Dean and Mitchard presented themselves throughout the set, while Iconic Eye's melodic goodness ended with 'Never Get Through'.

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The sharpest contrast between acoustic and electric sets came from Empyre who morphed into a powerful Metal band with sprinkles of Grunge and Blues for good measure. These guys were full-on and intense from start to finish and made an impact to be proud of with 'Something Remains' really hit the spot.

While Welsh band, Fire Road and a very heavy but talented Gone Savage rocked stage two, Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics exploded on to stage one. Buchanan is a showman of the highest order and he kept the audience enthralled by his dominating persona which danced, strutted and at one pointed, crowd surfed around the venue. Add to that a big voice which locked in with his equally flamboyant band and you had a group that produced a package of sound which punched you in the face and then soothed you in a bath of heavy melodies. 'The Man With Stars On His Knees' hooked the crowd and is bound to be back soon!

The energy levels that poured from the stage weren't about to drop as West Coast band The Bulletboys, born in 1988 when the LA scene had a huge grip on the world, arrived with another master front-man – Marq Torien - as they launched into 'Hard As A Rock'. Torien brought with him all the qualities of some of Rock's greatest showman – David Lee Roth, Mick Jagger and Glenn Hughes – and merged them into one dynamic and coherent vocalist who meant business. The band were hard, heavy and visually captivating and provided the perfect prelude to the night's headliners.

We then finally arrived at the highlight of the evening – Night Ranger. There had been a gap of a good few years since the band last played on these shores and as such the expectation within the now pack crowd ran high. These guys may not be spring chickens anymore (or as someone put it, they looked like an era of Michael Bolton's ever-changing looks!) but by god they had the energy, skill and back catalogue to put most other bands to shame. Pocket rocket Jack Blades zoomed around the stage and got the party started with 'Somehow Someway' and barely paused for breath before he launched into 'Touch Of Madness'. Drummer Kelly Keagy took over vocal duties for 'Sing Me Away' as the crowd chanted out the chorus brilliantly. Highlight number one came in the form of 'Coming Of Age', the first of several Damn Yankees covers where Brad Gillis threw some mean shapes from his well-worn axe.

Night Ranger HRH AOR Live

The pace slowed momentarily for 'Sentimental Street' before the classic melodic rocker 'Seven Wishes' and the sing along offering 'The Secret Of My Success' had the crowd lapping up the spectacle. Night Ranger were no lightweights and knew how to put down a heavy groove as demonstrated with 'Night Ranger' before More Damn Yankees followed with 'Come Again/High Enough'. Synth padding and warbling guitars introduced 'Don't Tell Me You Love Me' which incorporated a snippet of Deep Purple's 'Highway Star' and once more had the crowd chanting as they lapped up every moment. They finished their set with 'Sister Christian' and '(You Can Still) Rock In America' and not only did the band clearly love playing here, they also had a blast in the process.

Saturday 10 March

The Saturday line up started with Blood Red Saints on stage one, who seem to be maturing nicely alongside their newer material having a rockier outlook. They launched into 'Another Freak' and their new addition, guitarist Neil Hibbs, added to their already good sound which made for a great listening. Vocalist Pete Godfrey appeared to be enjoying the whole affair and came across well throughout their time on stage, and even made time during the set for an impromptu sing-along version of Take That's 'Back For Good' no less! They ended with 'Kicking Up Dust' and their short but sweet time here was well appreciated by this audience.

The first and only all-female band of the weekend, Joan Of Arc, were up next. Whilst their material and performance were strong, I couldn't help but feel they tried a little too hard, especially when guitarist Shelley Walker seemed to go through the book of "101 Guitarist Moves And Tricks" which included several normally the reserve of Angus Young. That being said, redemption came in the form an extremely well executed version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Freebird' to round off their set.

Joan Of Arc HRH AOR Live

Over on stage two, Nasty High started their electric set which was far more their bag than playing acoustic. The band were just back from supporting Kane'd on the UK leg of their latest tour. They were fully fired up and aired some new tracks which included 'Renegade', a song that rocked hard, but like all their tracks, it retained a great melody. Vocalist/guitarist Dan Bentley, despite his small stature, had the biggest and best hair of the weekend, and also had an unusual vocal tone which was powerful and gritty that lurked in a higher register than many others. As newcomers to HRH, Nasty High took no prisoners with a set that had energy levels set to maximum throughout. Marcos R. Alvarez squeezed molten metal licks from his axe at every opportunity, while J.B. Haze and Mazzy Speed locked the rhythm section in tight. They finished on 'Here We Are' and left stage two having gained new fans.

Nasty High HRH AOR Live

If you want straight ahead, no messing, Melodic Rock 'n' Roll, then you needed to look no further than Hand Of Dimes. Ex-Skin front-man Nev MacDonald's voice linked with the fluid, creamy guitar playing of Colin Edwards which made for a formidable force as catchy hooks poured from every song and reeled you in. Blues style dripped from 'Jacobs Ladder' and 'Pinstriped Arrogance' blew the roof off before the band finished on the Skin number 'House Of Love'.

As an experienced Little Caesar laid down blues-flavoured Rock melodies, back on stage two Midnite City from Nottingham kicked out some perfect AOR replete with sing-along choruses, duel guitar parts and sweet synth lines. 'One Step Beyond', their latest single, had all the crowd going. This transported me back to Bon Jovi in their prime.

Midnight City HRH AOR Live

Those of us who were old enough to remember the days of Rock TV would have been able to recall the next band and their bright, somewhat zany videos. I am, of course, talking about Enuff Z'Nuff. Chip Z'Nuff arrived on stage as flamboyant as ever, decked out in a Psychedelic explosion with a glittering hat and massive pair of glasses. In fact, I overheard someone say, "I didn't know Timmy Mallet had a band!" Looks aside, Z'Nuff proved he could still can hold a song and certainly work a crowd. The band powered into 'Kiss The Crown', 'Heaven Or Hell' and the chugging might of 'In The Groove' with a short departure into David Bowie-ism with a cover of 'Jean Genie', all of which proved that the current line-up was tight. Ex Ultravox axeman Tony Fennell, apart from laying down some ferocious solos, also managed to assist an occasionally confused Z'Nuff and steered him in the right direction along the way. No Enuff Z'Nuff show would have been complete without 'Fly High Michelle' and 'New Thing', both of which had the whole room singing in unison. Their performance proved this wasn't a band on stage, it was a living breathing party!

Enuff Znuff HRH AOR Live

Restoring a modicum of sanity to the stage came Dare who were another band whose roots laid in the mid-eighties, and as such they brought a wealth of professionalism, experience and that energetic but refined classic AOR sound. They broke us in gently with 'Sea Of Roses' and it took a few songs, including the cover of Thin Lizzy classic 'Emerald', before the harder edge of Dare kicked in with 'Wings Of Fire' and 'We Don't Need A Reason', both of which were off the scale. With a new album out and the band on top form live as demonstrated here, there is clearly lots more to come from these boys yet.

Originally we were promised Great White ahead of headliners Skid Row, but in a last-minute replacement we had a band who must, by now, know every inch of this stage (and probably the whole complex!) as they've appeared here so many times. This was, of course, the Quireboys and their lovable rogue of a front-man Spike. These guys always get the place jumping and singing, and tonight was no exception. From the no-frills Rock of 'Misled' to the foot-stomper 'This Is Rock 'N' Roll' where Guy Griffin and the wonderful Paul Guerrin traded licks and kept the party going, Spike crooned his gravel-tinged, bluesy vocal over the top. They ended their set with '7 O'Clock' and left the upbeat crowd on a true high.

Skid Row are a bit of a classic Rock/Metal institution, so many of their songs being a rite of passage in many of our formative years with Sebastian Bach at the helm. The new blood of Z.P. Theart has filled Bach's shoes, so as 'Blitzkrieg Bop' followed by a rally of air raid sirens filled the smoke-tinged air, there was a big sense of expectation from the crowd. They mounted a full-frontal, pedal-to-the-metal attack right from the first chord of 'Slave To The Grind' and in doing so put any fears about Theart's vocal abilities straight to bed. They continued bombarding the audience with hit after hit, 'Sweet Little Sister', 'Piece Of Me', 'Livin' On A Chain Gang', 'Big Guns' and the totally brilliant '18 And Life' all powered out as Dave "Snake" Sabu and Scotti Hill sliced their licks through the wall of sound. As a sea of fists punched to the music,

Skid Row HRH AOR Live

Theart must have been a happy man having proved not only can he deliver the goods, but the crowd loved every second. They closed out their main set with 'Monkey Business' which had some glorious soloing contained within and the crowd went wild, but they were soon back on the stage for an encore of three more songs which culminated in 'Youth Gone Wild'. What better way to end a Skid Row gig and another highly successful Hard Rock Hell AOR.

Review and photos by Paul Sabin

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