Hard Rock Hell XI – Pwllheli, Hafan y Môr Holiday Camp – 10 November 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Friday, 17 November 2017 04:40

The second day of the HRH’s 11th chapter dawn chilly and breezy, with a hint of impending dampness in the air – not that that overly concerned us: after all, we were going to be spending the vast majority of the day indoors, only braving the elements to dash the short distance between the site’s two rooms.


The sun may just barely have crossed the yard arm, but that doesn’t stop Those Damn Crows blowing away any cobwebs lingering from the previous evening with their intense and feisty rock ‘n’ roll. The south Wales quintet don’t fuck about in terms of getting the party started, and they garner a good response from the healthy crowd of early rousers keen to do just that themselves. There’s then an early change in pace on the second stage, as Kingbreaker present their gothic-fronted doom with a heavy metal edge. Their sound is dense and vibrating, driven by booming bass rhythms, but the vocals don’t quite cut it: they’re just a bit too light when placed against the big sound behind them.


Goldray 2


Things on the main stage kick off in a decidedly psychedelic mood thanks to Goldray. The new project from former Reef guitarist Kenwyn House, their blues-inspired grooves are hypnotic and possess a big sense of atmosphere. It’s hard to take your eyes off Leah Rasmussen, as her voice envelops everyone in the room with a sensibility that draws as much on the spirit of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick as it does contemporaries such as Lynne Jackaman or Elin Larsson. Having been swept away by the joyousness of their debut full-length album earlier this year, I had been looking forward to seeing the trio live, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.


Across the boulevard, another band (like TDC before them) with whom I’m already familiar are The Jokers – and, once again, they prove that they are extremely serious when it comes to bringing their brand of hard hitting rock ‘n’ roll to the stage. With their pumping beats, big swathes of melody, combined with catchy-as-fuck choruses and Wane Parry’s massive dose of charisma, the Liverpudlian lads defiantly declare that ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Alive’ and certainly whip up a ‘Hurricane’ among the still awakening but growing crowd.


Syteria 1


One band I had been urged – not least by our own Geno D – to check out was Syteria, a new project put together by Girlschool guitarist Jackie Chambers (which perhaps, coupled with the subsequent announcement that her “main” band will be appearing at HRH XII, would explain their rather prominent billing on the main stage when there are many more established acts performing across the way in the smaller room). Clad from head to foot in the kind of kitschy, shiny leather once favoured by so many long-lost Sunset Strip prowlers, they deliver catchy, throwaway bubblegum glunk of the textbook variety. Yes, it’s played well (even if Julia Vocal’s guitar sounds a bit jangly), but it lacks that little extra edge, and their static performance could have been aided by them moving around the stage a bit more.


Fire Red Empress 2


Another band I’d been looking forward to catching live for the first time, again after being highly impressed by their debut album, were Fire Red Empress – and, again, they don’t disappoint, as they really up the stakes on the second stage. They have a massive bass sound that pummels at your ribcage while getting your feet tapping, and thick crunching riffs that grab you by the balls and keep a hold of them for the duration of their set. Up front, Jennifer Diehl is a tremendous talent, possessed of a bold, brassy voice that can freeze the blood in your veins, and a stage presence that is both confident and dominant. With a damn fine collection of tunes, that pack a punch harder than Anthony Joshua but remain energetic and vibrant, this is one band that force you to pay attention, and will continue to do so for some time to come. Definitely an early highlight of the weekend. And it was genuinely refreshing to see female artists so strongly represented during this first half of the day.


Not being big fans of The Graveltones, and it getting to that time of the afternoon, we retreat temporarily down the hill to the on-site pub for a rather disappointing burger. Upon our return to the twin venues, we find that fans of blues-fuelled party-time rock ‘n’f’n’ roll have something of a dilemma, as The New Roses are kickin’ ass on the main stage, while Florence Black are simultaneously doing exactly the same in the second room. Catching the first half of the former’s set and the second part of the latter, both bands possess plenty of groove and grind: the German guys play fast and loose, while the Welsh lads are heavier and rougher, but both deliver the goods with passion and, most importantly, attract decent – and appreciative – crowds.


Tyketto 5


As day moves into evening, the big guns are brought out, on the main stage at least – and it is not hard to tell who many of the ladies present (including DQ) have come to see… As Tyketto kick off their set with the title track to latest album ‘Reach’, Danny Vaughn is looking fit and fresh, despite having arrived backstage literally only half an hour beforehand! Yep, the singer showed no rock star-style airs or graces, having chosen to travel to Pwllheli by train… “I got a great tour of the Welsh countryside and know all the sheep by name,” he enlightens us. As you would expect for a festival appearance, the set is very much a crowd-pleaser, with all the usual “big pops”, with none of Vaughn’s usual “winging it” style of playing whatever comes into his head to present: “I don’t normally look at the set list, but then I saw that Y&T are on after us… Dave makes me work!”.


By this stage, the main room is literally rammed to overflowing, with hardly any room to breathe never mind mood: and, as the evening progresses, it is set to get even more so, with the venue security having to take the step of closing the doors a full half an hour before Airbourne (belatedly) kick off their set: in fact, the room is so full that Joel O’Keeffe is forced to confine his trademark piggyback “walkabout” to a quick dash up the ramp leading from the pit. At the back of the room, the crowd has spilled out into the food area, with people craning their necks to grab a glance of the onstage action. It’s a highly claustrophobic atmosphere, even with two bands still to go, and so the UR team decides to retreat to the smaller of the two rooms for the remainder of the evening (well, we had seen Y&T just two nights earlier, and it’s only a few months since our last encounter with the headliners, so we didn’t think we’d be missing much tbh…).


Sideburn 3


By the time we fight, almost literally, out of the main venue, we’re just in time to catch Kikamora saying their goodnights, but it’s not long until the rock ‘n’ roll party is back in full flow, thanks to Switzerland’s Sideburn (although, I must admit, after the result of a certain football match the previous evening, I had seriously considered boycotting their set!), with their big, beefy riffs and boogie-woogie melodies, combined with infectious harmonies and choruses. One of a number of bands pulling double duty over the weekend, in that they’d already played an acoustic set (literally within minutes of having arrived on site) earlier in the day, they have a strong bluesy undercurrent to their coherent hard rock sound, as emphasized when Roland Pierrehumbert (what a glorious rock ‘n’ roll name) is the first – and, as far as we know, only – singer to lay it down on ye olde harmonica.

Blind River 3


Blind River are another band I’d been recommended to check out, and on this occasion I’m definitely glad I listened to the advice – and especially as I had missed their set at Bloodstock over the summer – as they turned out to be one of the discoveries of the weekend. By far the heaviest band on today’s bill – hardly surprising as its members also play in the likes of Godsized, Pig Iron and The Earls Of Mars – they lay down an early marker and prove that they are, indeed. ‘Going Nowhere’. Ebullient and effervescent singer Harry Armstrong very much leads from the front, and does so with an easy humour, chattering away between songs: “we hope you like what you hear, but if you don’t you better fuck off now, as we’ve another 40 minutes of this shit” he warns before he and his bandmates declare that ‘Unto The Creature She Was Born’. If you want to place their sound, it’s infectious, groovy hard rock which earns a deservedly massive reaction: Armstrong speaks throughout the set of making connections between the band and the fans through music, and Blind River obviously achieve this if the chorus of boos which greats the introduction of their last song. I’m sure I won’t be the only one eagerly awaiting their just-recorded new album when it drops on my doormat early next year.


Things take a decidedly nasty turn in between sets. As DQ sits awaiting the pit to re-open, a 20-tonne brute charges through the gaggle of fellow photographers and stamps on her ankle, before disappearing into the crowd: less than a minute later, as we’re recovering from the shock, he re-appears from behind us once more and repeats his party trick before, with a backward glance to watch her pained reaction, he disappears again – fortunately never to be seen again. It emphasizes the somewhat menacing mood that seems to permeate some very small elements of this year’s attendees… but, fortunately, it is only a small minority, as by and large the “one big family” atmosphere which characterizes HRH (and most rock events) is very much to the fore again…


Chasing Dragons 7


But, you can’t keep a good woman down, and, after their stonking performance at HRH Sleaze at the beginning of September, we were both keen to catch up with Chasing Dragons again: and, if they were impressive then, they are even more so tonight. Powerful and confident both musically and vocally, with the songs to match, they utilize fantastic counterparting of light and heavy touches, with a massive bottom end topped off with equally large melodies and an outstanding performance from the oddly monickered Tank: I said it a few months back and I’ll say it again – this young lady has more balls than most of the men on the bill (and especially Mr O’Keeffe across the boulevard), with a powerful voice to match her confidence. A terrific and strident way to end the evening, at least for the UR team, as we set off down the backroads and laneways of the Welsh countryside to our isolated caravan park to recharge our batteries for the third and final day and what it might bring our way…


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen/Uber Rock. You can view our full gallery of photographs HERE.


HRH XI takes place from 8 – 11 November 2018. Acts confirmed so far include Saxon, The Dead Daisies, Girlschool, Femme Fatale, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Thunderstick, Ryders Creed, The Rising Souls, The Dukes Of Bordello and Renegade Twelve. Tickets are on sale now.


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