AOR fans from far and wide flocked to a holiday camp in North Wales to catch the very best in new bands and old favourites as the second edition of Hard Rock Hell AOR took Pwllheli by storm.
Newman might have been third band on but they were the first to make a lasting impact on an arena slow to fill but quick to appreciate a set of hook-laden melodic rock.
Frontman Steve Newman joked his boys had set off the previous Tuesday to make the festival in time but the long slog was surely worth it. Some Kind Of Wonderful summed up the quality of a show that would set the tone for the established acts that followed.
Few rock bands are better established in Wales – or on the Hard Rock Hell festival scene – than sleaze rock veterans Tigertailz. But it’s not all about living in the past where the UK’s answer to Poison is concerned with new tune One Life, from latest long player Knives, cutting through the chatter at the increasingly busy main bar.
An emotive version of power ballad Heaven – dedicated to singer Jules Millis’s White Widdow band mate George Kristy, who took his own life last year, and ex-Tailz favourite Pepsi Tate – enthused the masses before the inevitable finale. A six-minute blast of iconic anthem Love Bomb Baby got the HRH AOR party started.
Called up at the last minute – but already on the road opening up for AOR Friday night headliners Bonafide – the tight quintet made the most of a golden opportunity, ripping through a well-judged set of blues-tinged, 80s-styled heavy rock.
The only new twist on a tried and tested formula came at each edge of frontman Stevie Sparrows’ perfectly coiffured moustache but Bad Touch are so adept at reinventing the rock n roll wheel that it doesn’t really matter. Too Late and set closer Down set things up perfectly for Pink Cream 69.
A pounding bass line drove a polished set by the proven Germans and their hard rock gave Friday its most powerful show yet.
Perhaps more suited to Saturday’s ‘heavier’ line-up, the band responsible for 2013’s impressive Ceremonial album went down a storm to throw down the gauntlet to fellow countrymen Bonfire.
Bonfire’s visits to the UK are few and far between but the kick-ass band responsible for a slew of late 80s rock hits have lost none of their ability to entertain.
Sure, singer Claus Lessman’s toe-curling tale of towel ‘fluffs’ was cringeworthy in the extreme but this was always going to be more about the melodic rock par excellence than the mid-set banter.
Nailing Never Mind – one of a clutch of memorable anthems from 1987’s Fireworks album – it didn’t take Bonfire long to find their spark. Movie track Sword And Stone, from 1989’s Shotgun, provided a fist-pumping moment for the swelling metal masses but ballad Give It A Try was the AOR highlight.
The altogether cooler House Of Lords strutted across the Haven stage like preening peacocks – all style, colour and painstakingly arranged harmonies. It must have disappointed perfectionist frontman James Christian, therefore, when problems with the drum kit forced three unscheduled delays.
The most prominent affected the intro to Love Don’t Matter with the ballad rudely interrupted after a matter of seconds. Christian looked utterly non-plussed as he mumbled something about ‘losing something’. At this point that something was in danger of being the crowd.
But HOL are too experienced to allow the odd technical glitch to get in the way of a good show. And that’s just what this was – in the end.
The second half of the set was stunning with Permission To Die, Can’t Find My Way Home and the rousing I Just Wanna Be Loved perfect examples of why this band really should have been the next big thing.
The same could be said for Tyketto and the set of the night truly captured the essence of the perfect AOR sound. Twenty-five years young the melodic rockers drew a partisan crowd keen to celebrate a major landmark in this brilliant band’s colourful history.
It would be wrong to suggest Tyketto sound more and more like Journey in 2014 – on this form they sound far superior to the ultimate AOR kings. Frontman Danny Vaughan dazzled as the silky smooth focus for an anniversary set rich in fan favourites and interaction from the floor.
A rant about Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Lady GaGa – ficusing on the fact that they sell bucketloads of records while rock remains in the shadows – went down a storm but the waving die-hards centre stage were never going to disagree with their passionate leader.
Preaching aside, Vaughn barely put a foot wrong. Sail Away, Dig In Deep, Standing Alone and the fantastic Forever Young confirmed Tyketto’s place among the AOR greats.
Poor Robin Beck had some act to follow and the diminutive singer looked a little uptight as she allowed her intro tape to play out in front of a significantly diminished audience.
But her response was a feisty riposte to those prematurely predicting failure. One of the standout melodic rock voices of the 80s came across stronger than ever – backed by husband James and his House Of Lords brothers.
If the pint-sized powerhouse needs to work on her rapport with the crowd then an assured setlist – bookended by a brace of Bonnie Tyler covers – hit the mark. An acoustic Wish You Were Here and Tears In The Rain were the perfect soundtrack to Hard Rock Hell’s witching hour and First Time still sounds as good – after all this time.
One band sounding better and better with each trip across the North Sea are super-hot Swedes Bonafide. And if their bluesy AC/DC-influenced sound could never be described as AOR then their groove-laden anthems brought the first day’s action to a predictably raucous close.
Frontman Pontus Snibb is a refreshing throwback to an age when singers had charisma and confidence to spare. Playing with a smile on his face and a sense of fearless abandon, the imposing vocalist was on a mission to party…HARD.
With new guitarist Anders Rosell settled in and ready to rock this was an adrenaline-fuelled blast through the band’s past and present with Bombo, the title track from the quartet’s spectacular new album, and set closer Fill Your Head With Rock bringing the house down. Day two had it all to do…
Exclusive images (from top) of Tyketto, Robin Beck and Bonafide courtesy of John Burrows @ishootgigs