Set in the surroundings of an old steel works HRH/AOR is the master plan of Chick Promotions, the people that bring us the magnificent Hammerfest & Hard Rock Hell festivals. With a genre once laughed at for being classed as 'poodle metal' that myth has been destroyed by the tremendous quality of bands and longevity some of them have endured over the years. Spread over two stages, this weekend delivered some surprises and ones to watch for the future.
Spill Sixteen are more or less a local band hailing from just five miles away, having the enviable task of kicking things off. Driving dirty rock is delivered with passion but vocalist Stevie, get some sleeves on your t-shirt, it's all a bit Blue Oyster Bar! The amazing pipes of Sue Willetts indicate that Dante Fox are well and truly delivering the goods with the crowd relishing this spirited performance.
Keeping the females up front, Romeo's Daughter follow with an astounding set, these guys, once the darlings of AOR are most certainly back. The sizable crowd offers an indication as to how well the set is received; Leigh Matty has lost none of that vocal power, so far so good. The hardest working man in rock Mr. Danny Vaughn is bringing out some classics tonight and dipping into his vast back catalogue, always loved on this side of the pond he sings his heart out despite feeling not 100%. Another excellent display ensures we all once again warm to Danny and his emphatic enthusiasm for his fans despite his set being cut short.
We really are bringing out the classics tonight and they keep on coming, FM are in the house and what a set they perform. The place is packed and FM delivers with interest from their vault along with some new tracks. Crowd participation is high and they feed off this enthusiasm with a memorable set of AOR pleasing classics, Steve Overland is on fine form ensuring this inaugural festival is a success.
Over on stage two after a mighty walk through this once cavernous former steel works, The Morning After are spellbinding. Their 80's inspired good time edgy rock is going down well with the crowd. Vocalist Sam Ryder is everywhere, like the energizer bunny on crack he ensures you feel part of this performance delivering his raspy vocal. Excellent set from this young Essex band, certainly worth checking out.
Tesla was the first real live band I saw in 1987 and tonight they proved why they still manage to pull a sizable crowd. Not strictly AOR but certainly falling in that time frame tonight was superb. Jeff Keith's distinctive vocals stay strong throughout while Frank Hannon delivers some stunning riffs putting many guitarists to shame. 'Getting Better', 'Love Song' and no set would be complete without 'Modern Day Cowboy' or 'Little Suzi' are all delivered on this one off UK date to a passionate crowd. Ripping solo's and some crowd pleasing anthems make this one night to remember, c'mon Tesla, let's see you guys more often.
Back to stage two and Estrella are whipping up a storm to a tired audience who've been on the go for hours. Their energetic delivery ensures that they'll be booked again for further festivals. Vega close the evening, a thinning crowd certainly make up for it with appreciation of what the band are kicking out. Nick Workman, like his name suggests, puts in a workman like performance which really grabs my attention. Harking back to the sounds of my youth Vega are a mighty fine proposition worth exploring and from this passionate performance I'll be making the effort to check them out again.
The eye candy of the Barb-Q-Barbies certainly ensures many men 'rise' a little earlier than expected! Their pop/punk dirty rock goes down well. Welsh hopefuls Buffalo Summer inject some vintage rock into the weekend with their Faces meets Zeppelin delivery. Their fat grooves move the audience to appreciate what they do; confirming their rock star backed fans love of the band is no fluke.
Nubian Rose are playing their first UK gig today and front woman Sofia Lilja Åkerlund is a striking vision. It also helps that she has one hell of a voice, their brand of AOR goes down really well as do the various costume changes of Sofia. Belting out some awesome melodies with power and passion this is a set worth repeating.
The second set from the astounding Uli-Jon Roth (he also appeared on the Prog stage) really brings to life this man's extraordinary talent. Seemingly caressing wonderful tunes through his fingertips, the audience laps up some Scorpions classics and Uli's solo material.
Serpentine are close to being propelled to new heights. The Fire Stage is crammed with people and even a guitar malfunction can't stop this band from putting in 100% and getting the same from back from the crowd. Kip Winger seems a little wasted on a big stage, one man and an acoustic guitar while the slot could have been filled by another band slot. However it proves to be one of the highlights of the day as he bangs out some Winger classics and some solo material.
Knock Out Kaine have been dealt a clash with Skid Row but nevertheless they put in a massive performance in front of an appreciative crowd on the Fire Stage. Frontman Dean just gets better and the whole band feed off his energy with their sleaze and roll, promotion to a larger stage next time is certain, great stuff.
Skid Row has the legacy the songs but no Seb Bach to give them that much needed injection. You know what though? They don't need him, this is a band who, whilst fully in touch with their past have moved on with a triumphant solid performance. Johnny Solinger has found his groove and handles the classics well; the full hall is testament to that with a rapturous applause greeting each song.
It all comes down to the powerful pipes and showmanship of Jeff Scott Soto to close the show in his own enigmatic style. With some solo material the odd Talisman medley sprinkled in, you know exactly what you're gonna get. The frontman who should have been a house hold name is still surrounding himself with top class musicians. A guest appearance from Nathan James really brings the house down with a sing off between two of the best.
HRH/AOR has really pulled it out of the bag again with Chick Festivals putting together an astounding line up of established and up -coming talent…..I certainly believe this is another annual event to put on the calendar.
Rob Nankivell & Mark Davies