Hard Rock Hell Awards 2017 (first review)

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Hard Rock Hell Awards 2017 (first review)

Hard Rock Hell Awards 2017 - Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli (UK) - 08 November 2017

Some keep theirs in the loo. There's a curse on one and Marlon Brando sent a Native American woman to receive his. Awards ceremonies have a storied and difficult history, they can be a celebration of those who really matter, or a self-congratulatory backslap. This inaugural Hard Rock Hell Awards ceremony was a bit of both.

Not that they don't deserve it. Over ten years they've kept the faith, booked the bands and more importantly delighted you and I, the Rock punters as we returned in larger numbers; they've diversified into several different Hells plus vertically integrated (that's a mag, radio show and a TV show on Amazon soon) – clearly testament to their excellent work and their love for it. It was so obvious tonight. I wasn't able to stay on for the festival itself due to life and things, but how could I turn down this red-carpet event?

The carpet is red. The flashbulbs they pop. I smile wanly... until I'm told I can stop. I used to do this smiling and flash-bulbing lark for a living; don't know how I ever managed it. The hall is set out with tables and I'm at the 'Fireworks' table front and centre; booze is on the table and water is in front of me. The atmosphere is happy, old-friend-backslapping and inclusive; we're like that, you know. So, this evening is for media, journos and other assorted industry types plus fans who want to start the party early. It's going to be a good night.

Co-founder of HRH Jonni Davis starts things, detailing with heartfelt passion what this means to him and how much it relies on us. Could be cheesy. Not tonight.

And now onto the awards. No "and the nominations are...", all info delivered by video screen to keep things moving. However, we know the drill don't we – "...can't be here tonight, so here's her second cousin to accept the award". Not here. Tonight, they were almost all here, showing just what this means and how big HRH now is.

Angels Award: Girlschool. How could it not be? Sweetly receiving the award, making some nice comments about the female Rock trailblazers who have gone before (Bertha, remember them?) and announce a new album for next year – job done!

Brother In Arms Award: Time for Nuclear Blast to be ballyhooed for their unwavering Metallic support. I remember visiting their head office in Germany, in the middle of a sleepy town and staying in a hotel above a butcher's shop; oh, the luxury!

Rising Stars Award: Massive Wagons. No argument here, their groovy, uncompromising Hard Rock is making medium-sized waves and what do you know? They're all here to collect their award!

First band on, HRH record company Off Yet Rocka signing Idlewar. A three-piece from Orange County, they make a righteous Groove Metal noise and seem to really mean it; they don't put on a show, they deliver those songs. The songs? Sturdy and honest but not really memorable.

Magazine Editor Simon Rushworth is a more considered host, not as happy behind that lectern, he tells us, but a good counterpoint to the more rabble-rousing Davis. Here come more awards, the first a lovely surprise.

Axeman Award: Michael Schenker. Not a surprise that he would win, but a shock that he's hung around after his tour to come here, full of lovely smiles and love for all. A delight to chat to recently, a delight here.

Youngblood Award: Stone Broken. Beating out possible only contenders Bad Touch, they are coming up, a bit too nice when supporting Glenn Hughes recently, they seemed ready made for an arena crowd at Steelhouse; those songs will surely carry them to something special.

Metal Maniacs Award: Saxon are nominated, so expect Biff Byford to appear... hang on, Skindred have won? A surprise and a lovely one. Benji Webbe is a charisma machine, he pulls us all in with a line and believes every word; he loves this award and he loves us. He also gives his bandmates a chance to talk too – classy.
A trip to the loo. Always a worry. Now, brace yourself. These. Are. Clean. Yep, I said clean. A pleasure to micturate in.

I'm just back in time for another Off Yer Rocka act Kill Code. Odd. Like a band being put together by Simon Cowell, this seems like a collection of five individuals. There's a pretty boy drummer, two guitarists – one a cut-price Slash, the other a Nimmo brother lookalike – a face-painted Turisas Battle Metal bassist and a main-man who looks like a squashed Dave Wyndorf. However, they have something... too much maybe, but their music leaves me wanting to investigate though. Singer Tom Morrissey acts like he's already made it, dancing like Axl Rose and really draws the eye and 'Shot' is sassy Rock you can hang your hat on; shame they don't finish on it, but Morrissey asks us if we want one more then plays an encore anyway. One to definitely watch.

No mid-event lull here, not with Davis as ringmaster and Jaeger Meistering taste buds. Do we want some more awards? Go on then...

Global Heroes Award: Airbourne. Hooray! They aren't here. Oh, but Dante Bonutto is! Hoorah! He manages to strike just the right tone between loving the band and their "live the life" ethos and delight at the award. Thank goodness he didn't make good on his threat to collect it stripped to the waist and bashing a beer can on his head...
Live Venue Award: Sheffield O2 Academy. Never been. Heard several things. Mixed is the word. A venue that hosts HRH. Okay then...

Airbourne may not be here, but don't worry, Black Aces will do a good job of convincing us they are. By a crazy coincidence, these fresh-faced whipper-shappers are on Off Yer Rocka too! They make a massive, straight-for-the-throat sound, Tyler Kinder high kicking and pushing the raucous, ripping riot of sound out to the back of the holiday park. A couple came to the front, clearly refreshed and began to dance with each other rather suggestively, which for a while distracted us from the band, not a good sign. However, they do kick out those jams and leave nothing to chance; Airbourne are currently doing this though.

We're all waiting for Wagons which are larger than average to arrive and batter us into our beds, but first two special awards.

Mjolnir Award: this award for someone special in the HRH firmament, agent Steve Strange who has supported the feat from the beginning and jetted in from Australia to be here. He is genuinely touched by the recognition and speaks from the heart... and he drums for Fastway. What a lovely bloke.

Legend Award: Who could argue with Dee Snider? Well, you wouldn't get very far. He's playing this weekend and is heartfelt tonight, telling us his mother was knocked down and is in a vegetative state at the moment, he is going out and playing his shows not because she would have wanted it, she wasn't a fan he reveals, but because Metal always picked him up when he was down. He dedicates the award to her and we show our love of an enduring, uncompromising icon.

We love Massive Wagons too, and their entry is the cue for people to come to the front and sing-along. Baz Mills is resplendent in a black and red striped number, whirling, gurning, unfurling a set of lungs, which drives this relentless yet groovy music, much more apparent than when seen at Manchester Rebellion a while ago. With him bassist Bowz Bouskill regards proceedings with equanimity and Adam Thistlethwaite fires out flurries from his flying V. The crowd love them and quite right too, this is a band for them, within touching distance of them, who do not seem keen to race away from them. A rare thing.

It's time for bed after choccie and nachos, the supper of kings. What an entertaining event, prepared with care and love, something a bit different which is sure to return next year. I was touched to be asked and delighted to be there. I might even take in a day in at Rhyl next year too...

Steve Swift (photo by Paul Sabin)

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