|Hard Rock Hell IV Pirates of Prestatyn - Prestatyn, Pontins 2nd - 5th December 2010|
|Written by Johnny H|
|Sunday, 12 December 2010 05:00|
"Oh the weather outside if frightful, but the metal in here's delightful, and since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". I know it's kind of out of character for yours truly to start things off with such an unusually chipper introduction but simply making it to Prestatyn for this year's annual Hard Rock Hell was an achievement in itself. Passing through scenery more suited to a polar expedition and a journey that saw our vehicles seemingly pick up half the UK's salt supplies en route, we were clicking our cuban heels with joy when we finally touched down on the North Wales Riviera.
Once on site the rumours circulating that Pontins (a company presently in administration) could potentially run out of drink this weekend, saw two of our party uncover 80 cans of lager whilst another uncovered a £50+ bottle of vodka, and suddenly I'm starting to think "OK the bill is a bit samey this year but is it really that bad?" Then the answer came to me like a lightning bolt from the metal gods themselves as one look at our chalet was cause enough for all eight of us to immediately crack open the tins (Gaz partaking of his usual brand of soft drink of course) and simply let the madness commence.
Getting over to the Queen Vic pub just in time to catch Gypsy Pistoleros, a band looking a lot like The Virginmarys were setting up their gear. A quick explanation from HRH organiser Jonni (the Pistoleros couldn't get their caravan out of the snow apparently) and instead of some blood warming flamenco rock we're enjoying an extended session of sweat drenched flannel shirted rock from the UK's favourite power trio. This was my first time in the midst of the band's psychedelic thunder and I have to say that whilst I could pick out some quality nods to bands like Cream and Burning Tree, it did all sort of fly past me in a whirlwind of freak out guitars. I think the lesson here is that I really do need to listen to the band's highly lauded debut album before my next live encounter; they are that type of band.
Following some people watching that involved a crazy drunken dancing snowman and a load of female pirate wenches, we made our way over to the second stage where the pre festival Pirates Ball had already kicked off. But wait.... what's this? Had Dumpy Dunnell been on the diet drinks? Nah it was Welsh dark rockers 9xDead playing an extended set due to Dumpy getting his Rusty Nuts frozen off somewhere near Boxhill, or wherever it is he lives these days. 9xDead had probably been pinching themselves all week to be playing quite so high up on this year's billing, and quite frankly it showed in their performance. On such a large stage the band appeared lost and what support they got from their Hard Rock Hell messageboard buddies appeared to quickly dwindle. Shame really as the Queen Vic Pub which had lain empty for a good hour beforehand would probably have seen them play in much more conducive surroundings.
So to the party night's headliners Tigertailz, or as the bloke next to me queried, "is this the band whose drummer falls off stage?" (Ummm well not exactly, but how do you explain that to a bloke seven sheets to the arctic wind). Back at Hard Rock Hell for a third time, the intro tape to 'Sick Sex' bellowed out as the hall duly started to fill up, but for once the crowd stage front and centre was oddly devoid of the bare-chested figure of uber Tailz fan Danzai (who incidentally had been with us up to this point). What the hell was going on here? Had Tailz or Lager frenzy finally finished him off? Three songs in and it was obvious that in spite of delivering a fiery set list the black 'n' blondez were having some 'technical' issues up on stage, not that those having a great time around me noticed or in fact cared. Having seen just how bloody great this new Guy and Firebrand augmented line up had been just a few weeks earlier supporting Y&T, even a rip roaring 'Love Overload' came over slightly muted to these ears, and I left wanting a bit more from our (Mid) Glam heroes.... Now where the bloody hell was Danzai?
Up next Leeds' Gentlemans Pistols, a new name to me and a band I'd been really been looking forward to seeing, but when our old mates The Scutty Neighbours suddenly showed up bearing flyers for their appearance the following day at the Queen Vic, the very least we could do was help them out. So unfortunately the lead heavy 70's riffing of Gentlemans Pistols ended up being a bit of a soundtrack to the usual banality of flyering rather than tearing me a new one. Still sounded good though.
With the prospect of an early morning alarm call the following day due to our interviewing commitments, off we trotted for a night of restful sleep. Yeah right... And how did the ironing board get in the shower again?
Waking to Prestatyn's first light and feeling like I'd been spooning a snowman all night, there was no doubting the fact that it was really fucking cold outside. Rousing the troops for day one proper of Hard Rock Hell with the mouth-watering prospect of a visit to the camp's all new canteen (for that read some new windows, a few extra plastic chairs, and a couple of settees) our hungry and cold bodies were definitely in need of some sustenance for the fun ahead.....
With rumours already circulating that some of the day's bands had cancelled (Airbourne? yeah like that wasn't their 44 foot trailer out back), it wasn't long before we were jammed into the Queen Vic Pub enjoying the first bands of the day via the appropriately named Young Blood Stage. Voted for by the Hard Rock Hell inner fan sanctum known as the Dark Circle, this was our chance to catch up on a few bands we hadn't heard of before and one band that terrorizes URHQ on a daily basis. With opening band The Black Lights stuck in the snows north of the border it was left to the oddly named Toadstool to get the day's rocking underway. Squeezing some bite size chunks of eighties arena rock into a nice tight NWOBHM image I for one will be looking out for the boys from Lydney in the year to come. Next up from the Midlands were Liberty Lies who also turned in a rather excellent set. Putting a bluesy angle on some well thought out classic rock songs the band have a lead singer and a half in Shaun, who sounded not unlike a wicked cross between Nicky Moore and Jimmy Farrar. With raw talent like that I would certainly expect to hear more from Liberty Lies, especially if they get the right breaks.
With the first potential band clash of the weekend avoided due to the Young Blood stage thankfully running early, it was Uber Rock approved heavy mentalists The Scutty Neighbours up next on the Queen Vic Stage for yours truly. But would those brave enough to stick around to witness the five piece from DE45 be ready for what they were about to receive? Well, we certainly didn't have to wait long to find out, as the band hurtled headlong into such classics as 'Beardy Motherfuckers', 'Hitler Smash' and 'Pig Aids' with such enthusiasm that there simply wasn't a person left in the bar not watching the band. By the time frontman Rusty Chaos had started scaling the venue's furniture you could also add Jocke and Martin from Hardcore Superstar to the growing list of people who have been "Scuttified" over the last twelve months. With the band's audacious cover of 'Soldiers Under Command' still ringing in my ears, I suddenly realised that we were supposed to be interviewing Hardcore Superstar...Damn you Scutty Neighbours!!!!!
Luckily for me a certain other Uber Rock writer was being far more professional in his duties and was already well into his Vic Zino interview by the time I had finally caught up with proceedings. Which rather conveniently left me to watch the rest of Die So Fluid over on Stage 2 or the HRH Fender Stage as it was being called today. Fronted by the enchanting Grog the three-piece post punkers were soon into the cataclysmic sounds of 'Mercury' from their excellent recent album 'The World Is Too Big For One Lifetime' by the time I had settled on the barrier stage right. I'd honestly expected the band's mix of iron fisted riffing, coupled with soaring gothic vocals to be perhaps a step too far for Hard Rock Hell's mid afternoon palate, but how wrong could I have been as people around me are already declaring them "band of the weekend" and it was only four thirty in the afternoon. High praise indeed.
With Leeds' finest exponents of punk/metal The Plight having also fallen foul of the weather, it was time to regroup my thoughts ahead of my night's interview duties and catch the opening up of Hard Rock Heaven on Stage 1 via a classic packed set from Diamond Head. I've always been a fan of this band so to hear tracks like 'Sucking My Love' and 'Am I Evil?' delivered with the conviction they deserve is always a treat. Let's just thank our lucky stars that frontman Nick Tart didn't decide to don a Grim Reaper outfit when he got to play to the largest crowd the band had assembled in the UK in over two decades. All things considered I'm sure the band would mark this down as a 'Sweet and Innocent' success even if they didn't end up playing that classic.
Up next and another band I am not afraid to admit to having been a bit of a fan of over the years were FM. Finally arriving onstage after (what I counted to be) three intro tapes, Steve Overland and the boys had whipped up the crowd quite nicely and were primed to build on their earlier success at this year's Download Festival. Now I know the band have moved on, and their recent successes have all been based around new album 'Metropolis', but tonight I'm sorry to say it just never happened for me. Perhaps it was their set list only including one track from their classic debut 'Indiscreet' ('That Girl' being said track) or perhaps it was the insane heat in the main stage arena that had me panting for water rather than engrossed in proceedings on stage. Whatever it was I found myself clock watching as the set progressed, and that is not something I had initially intended to be doing I can assure you.
With my interview schedule about to kick off I had to leave the main arena just as one of my all time favourite bands were about to take to the stage, namely UFO. Not being a huge fan of the Vinnie Moore enhanced line up it came as a pleasant surprise that not one but two Uber Rock writers reported back that the band were 'on fire' tonight, (there has to be a Too Hot To Handle gag in there) with a rebel rousing 'Only You Can Rock Me' causing the first mass movement on the dance floor of the weekend.
With all of us suitably drained by the time Uriah Heep hit the stage, it was time for a reflective pint in the Queen Vic and decide just how we could watch both Airbourne (yeah that really was their 44 foot trailer in the car park) and Hardcore Superstar? The scheduling nightmare of the weekend meant we couldn't possibly do both (unless we all suddenly became Zaphod Beeblebrox) so who would win the battle of the band's tonight? Well neither as compromise won the day in the end.
Kicking their set off with a manic 'Raise The Flag' Airbourne were most certainly on top of their game tonight, even with a drummer apparently still suffering from the squits this was ruthless boogie metal delivered with their usual "fuck you if you don't like it" attitude. However by the time 'Diamond In The Rough' was unfurled it was time for us to make our way back to Stage 2 for Hardcore Superstar and thankfully I think we made the right decision as the guys from Gothenburg played what most of us were quick to describe as the "set of the weekend". Having seen a rather below par Jocke and crew very early on in 2010, the Hardcore gang certainly weren't taking any prisoners here tonight. Mixing tracks from new album 'Split Your Lip' like 'Sadistic Girls' with tracks from throughout their back catalogue ('Liberation' anyone?) you couldn't help but get involved in the proceedings, and pretty soon the venue's security were watching the front rows like hawks to prevent any potential stage invasion. Closing with their monumental rock 'n' roll anthem 'We Don't Celebrate Sundays' there isn't a dry bandana left in the house, and it left just enough time to give those head coverings a quick ringing out before late eighties metal icons Skid Row were off and running back on Stage 1.
Having never been a huge fan of Skid Row (with or without Seb Bach) the packed out auditorium that greeted the band must have been a welcome sight indeed for a band taking the stage just after eleven thirty, and even more so for a band seemingly so long out of favour with the UK mainstream metal audience. Packing your set full of your greatest hits is always a sure fire way to win a festival crowd over and Skid Row certainly didn't disappoint in that area, from opening number 'Big Guns' it was clear that Johnny Solinger and the boys were in town to delight and who was going to argue with them when '18 and Life' and main set closer 'Slave To The Grind' were on offer? Returning for Youth Gone Wild' (albeit minus guitarist Scotty Hill who had gone and done a Matt Blakout and fallen off the stage), this set reminded me of W.A.S.P's set on the very same stage at last year's Hard Rock Hell, quality arena rock that even a twisted old fruit cannot fail to admire.
Having spent most of Saturday's early hours setting the rock 'n' roll world to rights via some long discussions at URHQ that may or may not have also involved that £50+ bottle of vodka I mentioned earlier. The final day of Hard Rock Hell was never going to see us all skipping hurriedly to the canteen like five year olds to their presents on Christmas morning, but one thing that was for sure was that it was finally raining...Yippee! Once all assembled at the temple of grease however Hard Rock Hell throws us one of its classic curve balls when we mange to sit down to enjoy (????) our Beachcomber Breakfasts next to Jizzy Pearl and Danny Nordahl from Tracii Guns version of L.A. Guns. Lets just say that at ten in the morning one of them was looking decidedly chipper whilst the other (who was under the impression the band were to have played last night) was not....
With that classic encounter already under our belts the Uber Rock gang all set sail for different parts of the Holiday Camp, and I found myself at an already packed out Stage 2 (re christened Glam, Sleaze, 'N' Trash for today's purposes) to catch up with Neil Buchanan and Marseille. Having watched the band's performance at last year's event it was certainly interesting to see them move from playing a set of mainly old songs to one based almost entirely on the 'Unfinished Business' album. With perhaps only a handful of us longing to hear tracks like 'Rock You Tonight' or 'The French Way' the rest of the largely young crowd lapped up the likes of 'Rock Radio' and 'I Believe' (complete with a Neil Buchanan rap lifted straight from the book of Brother John Robb). Marseille have obviously realised that their return is never going to change the music world, but they and you are certainly going to have a good time in the process of trying to. As for yours truly? I think I'll stick with my memories and my faded denim jacket with the embroidered "M" on the back.
Talking of memories, the next set of bands up on Stage 2 were certainly all trading on them, as the old guard of glam suddenly appeared from their chalets like the walking dead to greet Steve 'Sex' Summers and Pretty Boy Floyd. Having never been a fan of the band first, second or third time around, I'll leave you with the observation that most of my Uber Rocking companions thoroughly enjoyed their set and whilst I went a wandering (preparing interviews, watching The Virginmarys play in a chalet and just catching up with life outside of Stalag Prestatyn) there was no doubting that Pretty Boy Floyd also won the award for T Shirt of the weekend hands down with their American flag design.
Without time to blink between bands (full credit to the stage crew for running a very tight ship all weekend) it was soon time for Enuff Z' Nuff to bring some quality powerpop to the early afternoon proceedings. Kicking off with 'Saturday' (as they always seem to do when they play on said day), it was great to see Chip N' Donnie once again mixing up the set list by including album tracks such as 'The Beast' (from '10') and 'The Love Train' (from 'Animals...') alongside more established tracks such as 'Baby Loves You'. With Liverpool just an estuary away I cannot help but raise an eyebrow at the indulgence of the 'Come Together' cover version, but when a band can follow that with songs as strong as 'Fly High Michelle' and 'New Thing' who cares?
With the morning's chance 'encounter still fresh in our minds it was time for me to witness the live spectacle that was Tracii Gun's version of L.A Guns. Now I've always been a Phil Lewis man when it comes to L.A Guns, but after an horrendous live display the last time I saw that line up I was more than willing to give a Jizzy Pearl fronted version of the band a chance. I mean c'mon its Jizzy "fucking" Pearl. And right I was (along with the rest of the packed out hall) to do so as the Jizzster slinked his way through the likes of 'Electric Gypsy' and 'Never Enough' with real ease. In the UK promoting the remastered and reissued 'Shrinking Violet' album we were obviously going to get cuts from that album, with 'Dreamtime' and 'Decide' showcasing Mr Pearl's vocal acrobatics to their full potential. Throw in a couple of choice Love/Hate tunes in the shape of 'Spinning Wheel' and 'Blackout In The Red Room' and you were onto a winning formula right? Well yes and no, as I have to admit that at this point I did start to think I was watching L.A./Hate or Love Guns and not a functioning version of L.A Guns. Finishing with the all-time classic 'Sex Action' the hour or so spent in the guys company was enjoyable enough, but with some visible friction on stage you have to wonder how long this version of the band will last in its current form.
With the prospect of Lizzy Borden up next I decided to quickly check out how the band interviews were progressing. Once within the close confines of the media room (for that read converted snooker hall) the bombshell that was to spoil Gaz's entire weekend was just about to drop, yup you guessed it "Lizzy Borden would not be playing at Hard Rock Hell".
Quickly regrouping our thoughts after such a life changing cancellation, we grabbed a quick snack and finished off our interview commitments just in time for the arrival of Paul Di'anno over on a packed out Stage , renamed Hard Rock Hell tonight. Playing his first show in the UK in something like five or six years (or is it maybe seven? I'm damned if I know for certain), Paul certainly didn't fuck around set list wise as he and his Italian backing band tore into 'Wrathchild' and 'Prowler, in quick succession. Judging by the reactions around me it was probably more Paul's appearance than the super sharp musical one two that had most people's jaws on the ground, and I did start to think that perhaps too much time spent on the Dickinson teat has weaned people away from just how ferocious these songs used to sound.
Mixing up his set with solo and Battlezone tracks it was always going to be the classic Iron Maiden tracks that sent people over the edge and 'Phantom of The Opera' can lay claim to being the only Lucozade advert you'll ever hear played at Hard Rock Hell that also got a member of The Scutty Neighbours banned for crowd surfing. Chirpy and glad to be back in the UK, Paul seemed genuinely blown away by the audience's reaction tonight and a last minute 'Iron Maiden' was all but the icing on the cake for those of us who long for some proper Maiden.
A quick set change around (Blaze Bayley kindly swapping his set time to allow the German bands on tonight's bill to honour previously agreed travelling commitments) and the 4 bass drum kit of Helloween became visible to the Stage 1 crowd for the first time tonight. Whilst certain writers at URHQ welded themselves to the front barrier I stood back to admire what was left of the band's show (the production being far too metal..oh and big for Prestatyn's meagre stage). Any band that can open their set with a track entitled 'Are You Metal?' will automatically get me 1) laughing and 2) flicking my horns to the sky, and that's just the effect Helloween had on not only me but nearly everyone else in the hall. Great fun for any Saturday night and let's hope I don't have to wait another twenty-two years before I see the band again.
Having witnessed MSG live a little over twelve months ago I was hoping that tonight was not going to be a repeat of that showing. With Michael Schenker back on top form and his backing band as tight as they could be. That night in 2009 in Pontypridd Gary Barden experienced what most singers might call "a bit of a vocal nightmare" with his range seemingly shot after multiple nights out on the road. Tonight with his voice rested then there surely could be no excuses for missing those high notes right? Wrong, because as the chugging riffing of 'Armed and Ready' unleashed itself from the PA it was immediately obvious that Gary's voice once again wasn't up to the task at hand. It's not that he can't sing it's just that the high notes on tracks like 'On And On', 'Lost Horizons' and 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie' evade his reach these days. As a result what you found yourself watching was not unlike an MSG karaoke with Michael Schenker, Chris Glenn, Wayne Findlay and Chris Slade providing the water tight backing for the crowd to provide the vocals. Look, coming from someone who welcomed Gary Barden's "Surprise, Surprise" moment at Reading '82 with open arms this wasn't an easy review to write I can tell you, but perhaps for the long-term future of MSG it's time Michael and band found themselves a new singer.
With our weekend of metal fast disappearing before our eyes there could only be one way to finish things off in style and that was in the company of the mighty Saxon. Having been one of my bands of the weekend at this year's Download Festival, the amount of Saxon shirts visible throughout this weekend had me in no doubt that a lot of people had felt the same way and tonights show had all the makings of being a resounding success for the band before they had even played a note. Opening yo a totally packed out Stage 1 audience Biff and Co cracked open their back catalogue for a fifteen (I think) track blitzkrieg that saw the likes of 'Heavy Metal Thunder', 'Dogs Of War' and 'To Hell And Back Again' immediately reinforcing my earlier observations and driving home that Saxon are a band to be truly reckoned with once again. Long time favourite of mine 'Dallas 1PM' got a last minute inclusion thanks to a fan request earlier in the day, And as Biff recalled the weekends events of how he had to purchase a 4x4 just to get the band to Prestatyn plus how Metal Hammer's cake celebrating the bands career had been scoffed by fans at their signing session before any of the band had even managed a sniff, you got the sense that the metal community were once again united as one behind Mr Byford and co. Taking a quick break mid 'Demon Sweeney Todd' I somehow chanced upon The Virginmarys playing their second set of the day and third of the weekend to a largely empty Stage 2, but wait a minute which Uber Rocker is that curled up and asleep with his hat over his eyes up there in the posh seats? Why that would be telling now wouldn't it.
This chance meeting also meant that five of our original group of eight were back together to witness the climax of this year's Hard Rock Hell and with the prospect of most of us seeing Blaze Bayley live again in a little under two weeks (this time fronting Wolfsbane) we valiantly decided that the anthemic closing refrain of 'Denim and Leather' was the perfect highpoint on which to end our weekend in Prestatyn.
With the ongoing threat of administration hanging over the Pontins group you can but wonder for how much longer this weekend will continue in its current form at this venue. But for now at least, all that's left for me to say on behalf of all at URHQ is "Here's to you the people who attend Hard Rock Hell and make it what it is, a truly great British Rock Festival".
Hopefully we'll see you all next year...... \m/
Photo Kudos Gaz E and Johnny H