aor2-0008-facebook latest poster 0302@Hafan Y Mor, North Wales, March 22 2014

Organisers of Hard Rock Hell AOR2 had promised a full range of melodic rock and metal at this year’s event and Saturday featured a slew of harder-edged sets that would have members of Journey, Styx and Foreigner racing for the first pair of free earplugs.

Early starters Curran, East Of Eden and Reds Cool battled against the day two hangovers with admirable zeal but it took the Swedes of Dynazty to take AOR2 by the scruff of its neck and shake the very foundations of Hafan Y Mor. 

New album Renatus might sound like Ronnie James Dio fronting Dragonforce but that was far from the sound that shocked the mid-afternoon crowd into life. Tailoring their set to suit the audience, this was less power metal and more driving hard rock – Love Junkie, Run Amok and Starlight capturing the hearts and minds of the North Wales faithful.

Old school anthem Raise Your Hands set the bar for the bands that would follow as Dynazty proved they’re even more 80s than their soap-inspired name suggests.

Logan’s Kenny Collins has always been a compelling frontman and if the band’s pulsating brand of post-grunge had more in common with Creed, Shinedown and Alice In Chains than any AOR giant it still struck a chord.

The heaviest of the day’s bands by some distance, the decision to include Brother and Lost And Found was a canny nod to the festival’s root sound. Resurrect Me and When I Get Down brought a bullish set to a suitably brazen conclusion.

JizzyBut former Europe man Kee Marcello was determined to give AOR2 a melodic shot in the arm and, with the Dynazty boys as his backing band, the virtuoso guitarist rolled back the years.

Ten years since his last visit to the UK, the proven fret burner arrived at Hard Rock Hell promoting last year’s critically acclaimed Judas Kiss with the album’s standout track, Dog Eat Dog, a genuine highlight.

But it was Europe classics More Than Meets The Eye, Superstitious and Rock The Night (featuring a cameo from Dare’s Vinnie Burns) that inevitably brought the house down. And at a time when Joey Tempest and co. prefer to put a bluesier tinge on those melodic rock anthems, Marcello stayed true to the originals.

The message that cult Irish rockers No Hot Ashes had reformed in time to play Hard Rock Hell AOR2 appeared to have fallen on deaf ears where the majority of Saturday’s crowd was concerned. It’s likely their crowd will be a little bigger at Download later this year when they open up Friday’s Pepsi Max line-up…but Pwllheli’s punters appeared utterly non-plussed.

That Love/Hate have little to do with AOR is beyond debate but the ultimate party band – and perennial favourites of the Hard Rock Hell team – provided the perfect pick-me-up in the post tea-time slot.

Jizzy Pearl promised to bring the rock and one of the genre’s most endearing frontmen delivered: Yucca Man set the frantic tone but from Mary Jane onwards the set sizzled with sarcasm and energy. She’s An Angel, Wasted In America and Blackout In The Red Room are the holy trinity of Love/Hate tunes and all three ranked among the top 10 tracks of the day.

GBEven Robin Beck, hubby James Christian and the House Of Lords crew were tapping their feet to Pearl’s pearls – it was impossible to avoid getting caught up in a truly memorable show.

Former Deep Purple and Alcatrazz frontman Graham Bonnet went into HRH AOR2 under serious pressure to prove he still has the chops to perform at this level. And if his own frequent admissions that he may not be up to the job – most notably prior to a barnstorming version of Stargazer – hardly filled the audience with confidence, one of rock’s most defining voices screamed otherwise.

Vocally Bonnet was a revelation. Plundering Purple’s Down To Earth – the record Richie Blackmore wrote specifically for a singer capable of adding a commercial sheen to his hard rock riffs – the flamboyant frontman squeezed every last note from his veteran pipes.

Rolling out Since You Been Gone early doors was a gamble and it almost failed. The mini exodus after Bonnet-era Rainbow’s biggest hit must have caused the odd nerve to jangle on stage but those who did leave missed stunning versions of Bad Girl and Makin’ Love.

ufoA rousing Catch The Rainbow owed much to some sensational axe work but the singalong hit of the night was undoubtedly Lost In Hollywood. All Night Long provided the fitting finale – on this evidence Hard Rock Hell masses could have lapped up Bonnet for the rest of the evening…and beyond.

And so it was left to veterans UFO to wrap up the AOR element of 2014’s Hard Rock Hell spring edition. Tried and trusted performers, the decision to publicly lament their truncated hour-long slot can’t have gone down too well with the festival organisers. But after an awkward opening the good times (rock n) rolled.

Fight Night, Let It Roll and Pushed To The Limit immediately reminded the hardy survivors of another rock-fuelled Welsh festival that this is a band that’s continued to write classy anthems throughout its colourful career with consistent quality spanning generations – and the band’s various line-ups.

Only You Can Rock Me has always afforded frontman Phil Mogg the opportunity to extend his range and not for the first time it was the standout song within a thrilling set. Seeing out Hard Rock Hell AOR2 with Rock Bottom, Doctor Doctor and Shoot Shoot sent the fans home happy and the band on their way to Southampton on a high. True homegrown treasures, UFO are still flying – 45 years into a remarkable rock n roll journey.

Simon Rushworth

Exclusive images  of (from top) Love/Hate, Graham Bonnet and UFO courtesy of John Burrows @ishootgigs