HRH C.R.O.W.S. 2018 Hot
Written by Central Electronic Brain     October 22, 2018    
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HRH C.R.O.W.S. 2018 - O2 Academy, Sheffield (UK) - 08-09 September 2018

The inaugural C.R.O.W.S. (Country, Rock, Outlaw, Western, Southern) event – the latest stable-mate in the HRH suite of festivals – took place at Sheffield's O2 Academy with a simple but effective two-stage format. With the large ground floor area given over to the main stage and seating (yes seating!), just a stone's throw away upstairs was the smaller stage which catered for both acoustic performances and the smaller acts.

Sat 08 September

The first band to set the ball rolling was THE OUTLAW ORCHESTRA, who performed a stripped back acoustic set which showcased exactly what this band is about. Originating from the southern hill-billy shores of... Southampton, these boys looked like they had come straight from working on a plantation in the deep south with singer/guitarist/madman Dave Roux decked out in a baseball cap, seventies-style sweatshirt and ripped jeans. Beside him on the double bass (with crocodile head on its neck) was Alex Banter, who had the Mexican gringo image down to a tee. Accompanying them was Ryan Smith on box drum and the baby of the bunch, Stephen Welch, on banjo. Roux's banter with the crowd, stories about his travels and regular tongue-in-cheek put-downs of his wife endeared him to the audience and their musical talent gave them a winning recipe. They pen catchy songs with witty lyrics and don't take themselves too seriously, but this short, high-energy set kicked off with 'See You In Hell' (which morphed seamlessly into Cliff Richard's 'Devil Woman' momentarily) and was followed by 'Whiskey Drinkin' Liar', 'Back To Georgia' and ended with 'Send Some Whiskey Home', which all ensured a bigger crowd would return later for their electric set.

The Outlaw Orchestra HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Next up on stage two was SCARLETTE FEVER. This lady's voice was so full of power, soul and emotion that it gave you chills. The set started with her most well-known number, 'Crash And Burn', and she followed it with 'Let The Music Save Me' before the pace was slowed to give an emotive rendition of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene'. Keeping things gentle, the acoustic-guitar-based 'Sealed With A Kiss' was in light contrast to the rocky, upbeat 'Hour Of Sunshine' which highlighted what a great bluesy voice Fever has.

Scarlette Fever HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Over on the main stage, CELLAR DOOR MOON CROW (a Sheffield-based band) demanded attention with their wall of sound that incorporated pounding drums and thick, deep vocals. Essentially a Hard Rock outfit but with distinct elements of Southern, Stoner and even Rap coming through, they only played a three song set that ended with 'Tightrope', but when you bear in mind their big sound was achieved by only two guys, brothers, Phil & Tom Goodwin, then you realize how great they were!

The first of the day's electric sets on stage two had also started with CASE HARDIN (the band, not the American singer of the same name). Enigmatic Pete Gow and the boys fall into the more traditional side of Country Rock and pulled Gow's slightly gritty vocal, organ and Jim Maving's beautiful electric guitar playing into a melting pot of poetic, often sad, but strong songs which sounded so damn good. '(Jesus Christ Tomorrow Morning) Do I Have To Feel That Way' went down well and kicked ass along the way. This was a no-frills, no-nonsense band that tipped their hat firmly towards Americana, but they certainly had a blast along the way. If you appreciate slide guitar then Maving will certainly impress! Their set zoomed through all too quickly and finished with a rousing version of The Blasters classic 'Marie Marie'.

Case Hardin HRH CROWS 2018 Live

THE OUTLAW ORCHESTRA returned to stage two for their electric set and Southampton's moonshine runners got the place jumping as Roux pounded the strings of his Explorer which thickened the sound and generated an AC/DC meets Bluegrass vibe. Youngest member Welch may only be twenty-one, but he played a mean banjo, and in tandem with Smith and Banter, they provided a mean backbone to the whisky-soaked songs. Hell, they even threw in a brilliantly executed sea shanty into the set! These are definitely ones to watch out for.

The Outlaw Orchestra HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Another act that made a second visit to stage two was SCARLETTE FEVER for her electric set. 'Crash And Burn' carried even more emotion and soul with the bell-like guitar tones, as did 'Hour Of Sunshine' with its crunchy rhythm line. The louder overall sound level also allowed Fever to unleash the full force and beauty of her astounding voice. Whether it's because she has visited and written in Nashville or not, any of her songs wouldn't have sounded out of place being belted out at the Bluebird Cafe! The singing guitars and shouty chorus of 'Black And White' was a particular high-point of the set. This lady could well be the British version of Sheryl Crow!

Another local band, FARGO RAILROAD CO., hit the main stage and turned a small part of Sheffield briefly into a suburb of Louisiana with their Americana. Jody's deep south drawling vocals gave immense depth to their sound, particularly in the A Cappella intro to 'The Well'.

Fargo Railroad Co HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Having wooed the crowd at HRH XI, BUFFALO SUMMER were back to release their infectious, melody-laden music on the C.R.O.W.S. crowd. Welshman Andrew Hunt's voice was somehow mesmerizing with its soulful power, and when merged with some of the best melodic songs around, they were not only addictive, but they incited you to move with the music – something this audience really embraced. Jonny Williams guitar soloing was equally impressive and it seemed inevitable that these boys will keep on getting better and rising up the bill of many a festival to come.

Meanwhile, the harder edge of Americana was being blended with Blues Rock in the shape of DAWSON SMITH AND THE DISSENTERS on stage two. This Leicester-based outfit upped the pace and injected some serious Blues licks and vocals into proceedings; it was a rousing set which got feet tapping and smiles all around.

With no let-up in the parade of increasingly exciting acts, another band that has grown up and matured with the addition of a new singer and drummer along the way was FEDERAL CHARM. They hit the ground running with a new number from their soon to be released album called 'Swing Sinner'. Heavy, dark and intense it may be, but this is what the band is all about – thought-provoking subject matter, and they almost live and breathe every song, especially Tom Guyer who lost himself in the emotion as he sang his heart out. Older releases like 'Master Plan' were also explored in this good length set from these modern Blues rockers, but the biggest crowd pleaser was 'Silhouette'.

Last on stage two for this evening was REBECCA DOWNES. Her voice has caused a stir wherever she's played and you could clearly hear why. A voice that can belt out Blues with a silky-smooth tone but with just a hint of a razor's edge is not to be ignored. 'Night Train' oozed power, bluesy soul and a classic Rock undertone, whilst the Janis Joplin classic 'Another Piece Of My Heart' had feeling in bucket loads. No wonder Downes won an award for Best Upcoming Female Artist in 2016!

Rebecca Downes HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Back to the main stage for the rest of the night and to a band from Cornwall that were musically off the scale - WILLE AND THE BANDITS. Matt Brooks' six-string bass acrobatics and Wille Edwards' wailing electric and slide guitar playing had the crowd eating from the palm of their hands almost as soon as their first song, 'Bad News', kicked in. These guys could not be labelled with one genre as they spanned so many, including Rock, Rap, Country, Funk and Blues to name just a few. The ebb and flow of the ballad 'Scared Of The Sun', with its anguished lyrical delivery and haunting melody, and 'Angel', an eleven minute mostly instrumental opus written for Edwards' mum, were the peak moments of a captivating set which was all the more amazing considering the boys were in France only twelve hours or so before this!

Wille and The Bandits HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Slowing the musical pace but upping the purity and sensitivity of the evening was JO HARMAN. She opened with the stunningly beautiful 'Silhouettes Of You', and as ever, Harman poured her heart into every note she sang. 'No One Left To Blame' raised the stakes a little and saw some sweet guitar breaks and a band locked tightly together. The Bluesy strength of 'The Reformation' followed as organ, creamy guitar tones and the award-winning vocalist's soul mixed as one. In a heavily ballad-based set, it was interesting that she opted to cover 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone'. This was expertly covered but perhaps didn't fit with those expecting more of a Country-based set. However, 'Bless My Soul' always manages to hit home and tonight it was a real nerve tingler. This woman's voice was truly stunning! Harman closed out her set with 'When We Were Young' and the emotive 'Say That You Want Me', ably assisted by Emily Francis on second vocals. Harman may have been placed in an odd position on the bill, but this lady and her band never disappoint.

Jo Harman HRH CROWS 2018 Live

We then came to the band that many have been waiting for, DAN BAIRD AND HOMEMADE SIN. The room was soon heaving as Baird and the band took the stage. The ex-Georgia Satellites singer/guitarist rocked through a set which pulled material from both Alliterates era and his solo career. Baird's trademark Southern drawl and distorted guitar anthems rang out which put smiles on the faces of all those who were watching. Needless to say, when the first chords of 'Keep Your Hands To Yourself' were struck, the crowd went crazy. This was good-time Rock 'n' Roll, Country style! Warner Hodges on lead guitar was doing a fantastic job as he pulled smoking hot solos from his instrument all night. Their set ended all too quickly with the powerful 'Railroad Steel'. What a way to end day one!

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Sun 09 September

STONEWIRE launched into the first of the day's acoustic sets with just Sky Hunter's powerful, warm and husky vocals alongside Gaz Annable's guitar for accompaniment. With a song-list pulled heavily from 'When The Crow Flies', this short but strong set hinted at what gems were in store in their electric performance on the main stage later on in the day. They even played a track only written only a few days before called 'Rain Dance'. Now that's brave!

Stonewire HRH CROWS 2018 Live

The bright and chirpy ELLES BAILEY then took the stage for her acoustic session. Oozing confidence and clearly happy to be there, Bailey launched into her set which was best described as Blues-tinged, modern Country. Her smoking, creamy vocal tone had both clarity and power which she used to perfectly accentuate the feeling in her songs. Her trips to Nashville have obviously been influential, both in her writing and outlook, and this gave an air of substance to her subject matter. During the set, Zack Logan joined Bailey on stage to sing the John Prine song 'Angel From Montgomery'; this underlined the fact that the Blues may run through Bailey's veins, but there's a whole lot of Country in the heart too! She ended her set with the sweet melody of 'When The Devil Comes Knocking' and new song 'Medicine Man', the latter featured beautiful slide guitar from Joe Wilkins.

Elles Bailey HRH CROWS 2018 Live

The last acoustic set for C.R.O.W.S. was ZACK LOGAN himself. When you live in and around the Mississippi area, Americana and old-school Country tends to be in the blood and Logan was no exception. His songs were delivered with a restrained passion that simply let the lyrics work their magic. With his set culled mainly from his upcoming album, 'Raised By Wolves', this man came across as a humble but incredibly talented guy in his first appearance in the UK. 'Annalee', a solemn yet stunningly lovely song was the highlight of his set.

Zack Logan HRH CROWS 2018 Live

THE NILE DELTAS took to stage two next and were first of the day's electric sets. The distorted twin guitar resonated around the small room as the band, who had a similarity to the sounds of Free and early Whitesnake, rocked the crowd. Singer Craig Glencowe's voice had a warm, soulful tone that many a Blues-man would die for, and when combined with the Hammond Organ, guitars and great chemistry within the band, made a winning formula. They hammered through tracks which will be on their upcoming EP and proved themselves to be a capable live band who are a name to keep an eye on.

The first band on the main stage on Sunday were GORILLA RIOT. These Mancunians were, without doubt, out to put 110% into their performance. The ferocity and intensity of this band rubbed off on the crowd, and despite an early slot, they made a big impact as their monstrously huge sound rang out. Vocalist/guitarist Arjun Bishma's vocal has a beast of a tone – deep, thunderous and powerful, but always clear. The infectious, loud drum beats merged with the pounding bass lines as catchy hooks and blistering riffs made every song memorable. 'Last Hymn', 'Black Heart Woman' and 'Bad Son' rocked out as Bishma coolly strutted around the stage; he also threw shapes straight from Slash's book of guitar poses and made it all seem effortless. The crowd loved them even if they were a bit heavier than some had expected.

Gorilla Riot HRH CROWS 2018 Live

Over on stage two, THIRTEEN STARS proved to be very popular as the diminutive area became packed very quickly. Their gutsy Southern Rock blasted out and, despite the cramped conditions, the crowd were soon moving about to the songs. Singer Hoss Thompson's light-hearted banter divided things up nicely between each well-written song.

STONEWIRE hit the main stage with their riffy and heavy classic sound. Sky Hunter's vocals hit their glorious best when she was playing with her full band. Her style is built upon gravelly, husky and deep tones, not dissimilar to Heart's Ann Wilson in many ways but with more balls! The band were tight and focused as they pounded out great melodies and thick riffs. 'All That Matters', from the forthcoming album, was perhaps the song to get the crowd most involved.

Stonewire HRH CROWS 2018 Live

A band that has been rising up the ranks over the last eighteen months or so and making big impressions wherever they go was up next. WESTERN SAND, who are best described as a Hard Rock band with Southern influences, laid down a powerful sound thanks to Jimmy Bradshaw's meaty riffs and lead breaks, together with Findlay Hotchkiss' heavy bass beat and Nathan J. Kay's killer drums. Vocalist and guitarist Tyler Hains worked hard to get the crow involved. However, this man is ripe for getting a strap-lock endorsement as he had several guitar strap issues along the way! The band were more positive and focused than they've ever been and put in a storming performance here.

As ZACK LOGAN stepped on to stage two once again, this time supported by violin and double bass, he once more captured the crowd's hearts with his impassioned lyrics and humble personality. Logan will definitely be a name we will hear more of in the future.

The bubbly ELLES BAILEY was last to grace stage two, only this time she was playing keyboards herself and backed by a full band. Her upbeat songs with a modern blend of Nashville, Blues and Rock brought smiles all around. Smooth, Blues-Rock guitar phrases complemented Bailey's strong but sweet, smoky vocal tone. The Bristol-based vocalist rocked through tracks from her debut 'Wildfire' album and left an appreciative crowd wanting more. One more rising star to add to the list of outstanding performers of the event!

Zipping back to the main stage, JARED JAMES NICHOLS was already on stage as he strutted his brand of raw, untamed Country Blues-Rock. Nichols' unusual, energetic, finger-picking guitar playing was a joy to see and hear. From the catchy riff of 'Can You Feel It' through to the heavy, chugging sound of 'Don't Be Scared', Nichols really lapped up being on a big stage and pulled out all the stops. Ever the showman, Nichols played some great slide passages with a beer bottle during the set which culminated in 'The Gun' from his latest 'Black Magic' album, which then segued into a cover of 'Mississippi Queen'.

Another band to have seen a meteoric rise up the ranks was BROKEN WITT REBELS who took the stage just before the headliner. With material for their next album recorded in The States recently, the band were well locked together. The twin guitar set-up favoured by many bands had a quality unique to Broken Witt Rebels here. Add in Danny Core's gifted, strong vocal delivery, and you soon realized this band was something a bit special. The mix of Blues and Rock played with oodles of soul was very addictive and soon drew in some audience participation, especially on the brilliant 'Low'. The dark, broody Blues of 'Howling' also got the crowd moving, as did the firm favourite 'Guns'. Their set finished with 'Shake Me Down' which ensured the crowd were fired up and ready for the last band of the weekend.

Broken Witt Rebels HRH CROWS 2018 Live

The headline band, THE DEVON ALLMAN PROJECT, is the latest incarnation of the late Greg Allman's son Devon's band. Allman has surrounded himself with musicians who are at the top of their game and could each cause a stir in their own right. In this situation, it was safe to say the performance was quite simply electric. The band kicked things into touch with the funky seventies-styled 'Mahalo' from the first Honeytribe album. As you would expect, the set-list list was brimming full of Allman Brothers numbers, which included 'In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed', 'Blue Sky' and 'Dreams', but also featured covers of Otis Taylor's 'Ten Million Slaves' and the wondrous 'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye. However, the most visually spectacular tribute was 'I'll Be Around' from The Spinners which saw the band's guitarists step out with some classy syncopated moves together. These guys played Southern, Blues-influenced Rock at a whole new level – it was almost a divine experience to watch. The encores also kicked serious butt too with Don Henley's 'Boys Of Summer' and the classic 'Midnight Rider', the latter closed the night out to rapturous applause.

Devon Allman Project HRH CROWS 2018 Live

HRH C.R.O.W.S. was an unknown quantity which could so easily have backfired, but a great line-up and sensible running timings meant there were few clashes and it worked very well indeed. Covering the traditional right through to the hardest rocking Southern/Country genres was a wise move which meant there was sure to be something for everyone. Outstanding performances by established acts – Jo Harman, Dan Baird and Devon Allman – were also easily matched by newcomers Elles Bailey, Scarlette Fever, The Outlaw Orchestra and Gorilla Riot. Well done Jonni Davis and the HRH crew! Roll on C.R.O.W.S 2!

Review and photos by Paul Sabin

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