Thursday 29 March 2018

Palace Of The King - 'Get Right With Your Maker' Album Review

Palace Of The King – Get Right With Your Maker

Every now and then, a band fires a shot across my boughs, one that I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing before, and proves to be an absolute delight. This is Palace of the King, with their third album ‘Get Right With Your Maker’. They are an Aussie band and hail from Melbourne, they average 100 gigs a year and it shows here. They have also supported fellow rockers Airbourne.

Not many bands would have the confidence or balls to open up with a seven minute epic scale song, but POTK have no such worries. Is pure, unadulterated classic rock – and I am immediately reminded of a similarity to Scorpion Child – as POTK throw all their musical classic rock weaponry into ‘I Am The Storm’. It has some great organ and guitar work, joining Tim Henwood’s great vocals for an aural soundscape, of 70s sounding rock. On this Henwood even sounds similar to Scorpion Childs Aryn Jonathon Black. Even the mid section ivory tinkling shows touches of The Doors, giving it a psychedelic feel.

Its Been A Long Time Coming is the second single from GRWYM, its drenched in nostalgia, with a bit of a Nuff Z’Nuff sound to vocals. They show that its not a single track sound, and show they have more strings to their bow on ‘Sold Me Down The River’ which has a 70s funk sound, as does ‘Dog With A Bone’. Its like being hit with a one-two sucker punch, as the songs come thick and fast, with not a drop in quality to be seen (or heard), ‘Said The Spider To The Bird’, ‘Move Through The Fire’, and ‘The Serpent’ all have the hallmarks of band who are as tight as a nut that been tightened with superglue! Its all pretty damn good as the rhythm section of Travis Dragani and Anthony Licciardi drive this beast forward. It’s the kind of band and music, that would sound huge at a live gig. Scrub that, the riff and bass line on the song Horizon are mega. I could feel it moving my trousers, in a good way!!! The pacing of the album is excellent, ‘Fly Like An Eagle is short and sweet, but what they cram into a song under 3 minute is just great,  a pounding at your core effort. Finally we get a POTK showcase with ‘Back On My Feet Again’.  Its only 3.46 short, but its  type of song that could easily take up half a set!

Where’s the other five minutes of song gone? Bands used to do this quite often, but we actually get a hidden track, a title track ‘Get Right With Your Maker’, a song that lends to The Black Crowes, or The Temperance Movement in an acoustic blues style.

If you’re new to them, like me, then you’re in for a fucking treat. If you’re already a fan, what are you waiting for. For fans of 70s influenced rock, and for fans of Rival Sons, The Black Crowes and Scorpion Child. As you can tell, what they are doing isn’t exactly new (what is?), but what they do, they do it so fucking well!!

Rock is meant to be played loud, but none more than this dirty, and beautiful beast. Crank it up and enjoy!!

Score 9/10

I Am The Storm
It’s Been A Long Time Coming
Sold Me Down The River
A Dog With A Bone
Said The Spider To The Bird
Move Through The Fire
The Serpent
Fly Like An Evil
Back On My Feet Again (+ hidden track)

Palace Of The King Are
Tim Henwood – Vocals/Guitar
Sean Johnston – Keys/Guitar
Travis Dragani – Drums
Anthony Licciardi – Bass


Wednesday 28 March 2018

Perfect Plan - 'All Rise' Album Review

Perfect Plan – All Rise

Before you start panicking, this isn’t the UK boy band Blue under a different name to fool the punters. This is Perfect Plan from that hotbed of melodic rock Örnsköldsvik (a place sooooo metal, it has two umlauts in its name – now that’s what I call metal!). What I meant was, Sweden. Ya see, the Swedes turn out more melodic rock than a bear with the shits, who shits in the woods. It's not as if they are pants either, most are well known across Europe and beyond – Eclipse, Treat, The Poodles, Reach, WET,  and about 800 more!

In fact I've long been saying that as soon as these musical buggers leave school, its National Service (i.e. THE LAW) to start up a melodic rock, or a death metal band, or anything in-between. Don’t believe me – then go and Google ‘Swedish Rock Bands’.

Perfect Plan started in 2014, and came to the attention of Frontiers about 12 months ago. It took them nearly three years to dig themselves out of their snow covered bunker. There was a sixth member, but he got eaten when lots were drawn and it was down to band survival. They are Rolf Nordström (guitar), P-O Sedin (bass), Fredrik Forsberg Drums), Leif Ehlin (Keys), and new singer Kent Hilli who’s only output I can dig up is a single from 2016 called Silent Prayer, and is as far away from Perfect Plan, as I am to Örnsköldsvik!

Just listen to opening track ‘Bad City Woman’ and its instantly noticeable that this is going to be something good, nay, special. Hilli has a great voice for melodic rock, think of a Danny Vaughn/Hugo/Dave Bickler hybrid and you’ll not be far wrong.  It has all the right bits - Breathy vocals (check), high pitched vocals that only certain mammals can hear (check), an instantly memorable chorus (check, and check again). It (BCW) even has a lengthy fade out which is practically unheard of nowadays. ‘In And Out Of Love’ gets my juices flowing with a nice organ (fnarr!) opening riff. It was a teaser for the album back in February that I instantly fell in (but not out of) love with. A huge song that would have made them a household name had this been 1988 and not 2018. It’s easy to overplay and go all widdly on guitar solos, but Nordström plays it with a straight bat, and doesn’t go for 280 notes a second, and lets the song breathe and has the hallmarks of being a modern classic.

‘Stone Cold Lover’ is a high tempo number that’s very Tyketto like, and recent video ‘Gone Too Far’ draws on Journey and has touches of Bailey in his vocals. ‘Taking Me Down’ s chorus throws all its influence firmly at Hardline’s door. ‘Too Late’ carries on with its catchy, well, everything really. Fad enough? Of course you haven’t, as Perfect Plan what to pummel you into melodic rock submission. ‘Can’t Turn Back’ is a song that is so eighties it was recorded on a beach in 120 degrees with the band wearing leg warmers, and listening to Walkmans. (Look it up Millennials!). It’s a punchy pop rock song that would have ‘No Limits’ (again Millennials, look, Google, etc.,) fans pouting in anticipation. ‘Never Surrender’ is catchy as a UHU covered baseball mitt. ‘1985’ is as corny as they come, and wears it proud ‘take me back, wet me tell you about rock n roll, it’s a part of my body and soul, as all I wanna do is rock n roll with you’ and were gonna rock this city like its 85!’ and lots of other clichés that they have raided from many a hair metal band, and so on. Hell Yeah!! I’m sold. It is clichéd and been done before, but when its done this good, who cares? Not me. It doesn’t end there, both ‘What Can I Do?’ and ‘Heaven In Your Eyes’ round up proceedings very nicely.

I think this could be in the melodic rock Top 3 for many a list come the end of the year. Perfect Plan have pretty much nailed it, an album chock full of catchy, quality tunes that will me the envy, and enjoyment of many.

No doubt other reviewers, particularly melodic rock ones will be wetting their nappies in pure orgasmic delight at this release. Lets be honest here, whilst it isn’t a Foreigner ‘4’, Journey ‘Frontiers’ or Icon ‘Night Of The Crime’, its just bloody good and thoroughly deserves a nine.

Score 9/10

Bad City Woman
In And Out Of Love
Stone Cold Lover
Gone Too Far
What Goes Around
Too Late
Can’t Turn Back
Never Surrender
What Can I Do
Heaven In Your Eyes

 Released by Frontiers April 20th

Thursday 22 March 2018

Kim Wilde - 'Here Come The Aliens' Album Review

Kim Wilde  - Here Comes The Aliens

For those of us of a certain age and a rock/pop inclination, Kim Wilde was one of the artists in the early 80s who made an impact when 'Kids In America' was released.
It possibly helped that Ms Wilde was stunning besides being capable of belting out a rock/pop anthem that has stood the test of time, oh that and the fact I was a spotty immature hormonal teenager. 

It was probably the closest thing to a rock song that I remember by a female artist that year.

To be honest as the 80s progressed I lost interest in pop music as rock began to consume my world. However as the years have progressed I’ve gone soft (or mellowed and broadened my musical taste as I prefer to call it) so it came as a pleasant surprise when I was asked to listen to 'Here Comes The Aliens' by “THE Kim Wilde, you know, the real one”.

The album cleverly starts with the sound of a radio being tuned to different channels with that crackle and hiss that youngsters of today’s digital age won’t understand. The guitar kicks in and '1969' starts and it’s a decent catchy track with its roots firmly set in the 80s (and includes the album title in the chorus).  

It becomes clear very early on that over the years Ms Wilde has not suffered from her voice losing any of its distinctive sound, there are even tracks where she lays it bare and it delivers in style.

'Pop Don’t Stop' follows and shock horror, it’s a pure pop song even down to having a keyboard intro that is so Buggles that the video will most probably kill the radio star. I suppose there is a clue in the title and Kim (oooh look at me getting all personal) is ably supported on the vocals by brother Ricky and it’s as pop as you can get.

The album is like a nostalgic trip back to the 80s but with a modern twist added, the synth based tracks such as 'Stereo Shot', 'Yours Til the End' and 'Addicted To You' firmly offer a nod in the direction of disco/dance with catchy choruses to match. You can imagine certain tracks making it onto a Miami Vice re-make without being out of place.

'Birthday' and 'Rock the Paradiso' are massively upbeat good time songs. They are in the same vein as 'Kids in America' but competently stand up in their own right. 'Rock the Paradiso' in particular has a real B-52 Love Shack vibe to it, proper rock guitars and a bounce along catchy chorus.

For me the stand out track on the album and the least “poppy” is 'Solstice'. It starts with a mournful Celtic style lament with Kim’s voice absolutely nailing a haunting verse before the piano gently enters and the following lines are delivered:

“They didn’t make it home, now her hand drops the phone;
She stands so paralysed;
Your washing’s on the bed, the last words that was said;
Now she’s screaming, she’s screaming, she’s screaming”;

The song then moves into a Carpenter-esque chorus never losing the feeling of loss, sadness and emotion. It’s a track that screams out “give me a decent budget for a video to accompany this and I’ll give you a massive hit”. It really is that good.

In conclusion, if you miss (or missed) the 80s and want to reminisce but with newly written songs with a modern take then you’ll love this. Well unless you’re my wife who stated after hearing just a couple of tracks “It’s inoffensive”. WTF!! I don’t think you can be more offensive with a review if you tried. Her view has nothing to do with the fact that she is also a 50 something blonde, oh no, not at all……much.

Whilst 80s pop is not totally my thing, the album has hidden treasures such as Solstice and a range of 80s styles all in one album. To put it in context, I think this album will allow Kim Wilde to tour and not rely on a short set of the original 1980s hits she plays at the revival concerts.

I hope to see it played live in Glasgow in April, I really hope it translates to the live environment.

Whilst the album has synth/disco/rock moments just forget the snap and crackle, this is POP. I’ll get my coat……..

7 out of 10 – 80s aficionados will strongly disagree. .

Lawrie Willcox

Pop Don't Stop
Kandy Krush
Stereo Shot
Yours Til' The End
Addicted To You
Cyber Nation War
A Different Story
Rock The Paradiso

Monday 19 March 2018

W.E.T. - 'Earthrage' Album Review

 W.E.T. - Earthrage

When I was lucky enough to be asked if interested in writing a music review my reply was "Yep, just set the expectations low and you'll not be too disappointed, oh what artist/album are we considering?

W.E.T. – ‘Earthrage’. No pressure then.

For any non-Melodic Rock fans, W.E.T are a melodic rock fan's wet (pun intended) dream of a super group. The name W.E.T comes from the bands the members play in: Work of Art, Eclipse and Talisman (see what they did there?)

The main protagonists are Jeff Scott Soto of JSS/Talisman/Journey/Malmsteen “and more projects I can mention” fame, Eric Mårtensson (Eclipse/Ammunition/Nordic Union), Robert Sall (Work of Art), Magnus Henriksson (Eclipse) and Robban Back.

I've got the previous W.E.T. albums namely “W.E.T”. and “Rise Up” seen them play at Firefest as well as seeing JSS and Eclipse in their own right. They've never disappointed.

Anyway, forget the past, let's consider the future, how have the years affected their chemistry? Can they still deliver? You better believe they can. ‘Earthrage’ is a stunning album of melodic rock with the obligatory riffs, solos and soaring vocals.

The opening track ‘Watch the Fire’ kicks off with a gentle kind of menacing riff that grows with the guitars kicking in and ramping up the intensity. Erik's vocals come in setting the tone and then JSS kicks in with his distinctive and powerful voice and the song then takes off. WOW, just WOW!!

A band that has the strength of 2 powerful vocalists supported by musicians at their best is something special. I'm not going to appraise every single song in detail but take it as read there isn't a weak track.

There is definitely a massive Eclipse influence on the songs (obviously as Mårtensson produced, recorded and mixed the album) and when coupled with the Jeff Scott Soto lead vocals and the Sall keyboards it takes on a character of its own.

‘Kings of the Thunder Road’ is a perfect example, the Soto ability to take a song, raise the stakes and hit the notes is something magical. He does it time and again. Take a clichéd song title and then blow it to pieces. Driving guitars with the Soto voice, supported by the layered backing vocals is a winner. For me it’s a song that would grace a Rocky film with Soto singing and marching up the road as the supporting cast fall in behind his massively powerful voice and then the guitars step up beside to him to blast out a solo and then they all fall in step to the chorus. Amazing stuff.

Don't get me wrong, whilst ‘Earthrage’ is Eclipse influenced, it is not an Eclipse album, the combined talents ensure that this is a W.E.T album through and through.

‘Elegantly Wasted’ is a superb 3 minute piece of angst. The lines "I meet your tantrums with a smile, won't lose my cool or lose my style" followed by "another glass of wine and I'll be fine" resonated with my wife. "Has he met me?" she asked. Obviously not because whilst she’s been wasted it’s never been elegantly.

‘Urgent’ ups the tempo as does ‘Dangerous’. ‘Calling Out Your Name’ starts slowly but it builds and as we in Glasgow would say, the chorus is a belter. A word of advice, if you work in a quiet office then don’t play this in your headphones when pretending to be working, one of my colleagues thought I was having a stroke.

As you would expect and hope there are the slower songs and for me ‘Heart is on the Line’ is simply beautiful. Yes, beautiful. Oh take the piss, I don't care, I'm old, big and ugly enough to take it.

It is a heartfelt ballad and the softer side of JSS showing off his vocal skills without getting twee or even worse, X-Factor winner like. The killer guitar solo to back it up and the backing vocals scream out that this would, God forbid, be a radio friendly hit.

‘The Burning Pain of Love’ isn't as I first feared a song about an STD or a urinary infection. Instead it's a classic mix of guitar and keyboards with a haunting layered vocal chorus. It leads into the final track that doesn't exactly slip off the tongue – ‘The Never-Ending Retraceable Dream’. A stunning finish to the album.

Quality from start to finish, top song writing and delivery, catchier than a dose and surely there must be live shows planned because this is simply too good to listen to without a few hundred other like-minded fans.

In conclusion, welcome back W.E.T, I've missed you. I listened to Earthrage the first time in nervous anticipation just in case the hype and expectation would end up in disappointment. Shame on me for ever doubting.

I doubt I'll hear better this year but the gauntlet has been thrown down. I'll be right here waiting as Richard Marx sang.                

Score  9.5/10

1. Watch The Fire 
2. Burn
3. Kings On Thunder Road
4. Elegantly Wasted
5. Urgent
6. Dangerous
7. Calling Out Your Name
8. Heart Is On The Line
9. I Don’t Wanna Play That Game
10. The Burning Pain Of Love
11. The Neverending Retraceable Dream


Erik Mårtensson: Guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
Jeff Scott Soto: Vocals
Robert Säll: Keyboards
Magnus Henriksson: Guitar
Robban Bäck: Drums
Additional guitar solo on “Urgent”: Thomas Larsson

Sunday 18 March 2018

No Hot Ashes - 'S/T' Album Review

No Hot Ashes – NHA

I think quite a lot of the Melodic Rock /AOR community could easily name a band that back in the day 83-91, that could have been a household name, only to fall by the wayside and then fade into obscurity. Loads of bands took a wrong turn  (like Spinal Tap) that wasn’t their fault, it just didn’t happen. A few from this period have decided to dip their toe in the water and make a ripple. Some are riding the crest of a wave, and this is what I hopefully expect No Hot Ashes to do. There’s a cluster of bands in the UK that stand head and shoulders above the rest (Angels or Kings, Moritz, Vega, Dante Fox, Blood Red Saints, Airrace, and FM), and on this standing, I expect No Hot Ashes to join them.

Formed in 1983, they were influenced by all the great bands, Journey, Foreigner, Whitesnake, Lizzy and Ozzy. They put out their first single ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ in 86. Around this period they landed support slots with Mama’s Boys, Magnum, Girlschool, and Steve Marriott.

They managed to sign a record deal in 1988, joining Motorhead, Girlschool and Hawkwind on the roster of talent, recording their first album later that year. The band upped sticks and headed off to London (with a stick and knotted hankie) to be nearer to their record company. Like many, what began with a new hope, ended in disaster, as the album was never released.

Fast forward to September 2013 where NHA formed for a one off tribute gig, which has snowballed from here. Since this, NHA have supported Aerosmith, Foreigner, UFO, and Scorpions, and have had a UK four with FM and Romeos Daughter and have graced some major festival stages along the way.

I’ve banged on about AOR on a few reviews over the years where bands who want to do a melodic rock album should go and listen to some of the classics and steal (borrow) the best bits and make it into their own style. I’m not saying they have blatantly stolen riffs, far from it, but this album is 100% Melodic rock/AOR and will be jumping to the sharp end come the ‘Best of’ tables come December.

NHA have combined, great riffs, melody, twin guitars, excellent vocals, and parpy keyboards adding touches in ALL the right places. Just listen to opening track ‘Come Alive’ and tell me this isn’t great. If you hadn’t seen any pics, I would swear that Eamon Nancarrow was mid twenties and decked out like the fifth member of Steel Panther. His vocals belie his age, they are fresh, and with a great melody. The song includes a little keyboard refrain that reminds me of ‘Jane’ and ‘Fools Game’. We are definitely on the right track here folks! ‘Good To Look Back’ is a bona fide statement, but NHA are definitely in the now and will be looking forward from here on in. Nancarrow shows his chops after the solo hitting notes and length that few can muster. ‘Satisfied’ is a song that will be anthem-like in their live shows with its great solo and bluesy feel.  As a melodic rock band, it wouldn’t be one without a ballad in tow.  In this case, it’s ‘Boulders’, and reminds me of Tough It Out-ere FM. ‘I’m Back’ is one of NHA’s gems that survived the 80s, and you can see why it is here. Halfway in and its clearly the song of the album so far. Nancarrow wails like a Banshee, and if that’s replicated in a gig, I’ll gladly buy the bloke a pint! It is 80s heaven, where keyboards tussle with guitars for prime real estate, where bands like Journey and Foreigner live, and so do NHA.

‘Glow’ has a pulsating and crunchy riff and sees them on the heavier side of AOR before the melodic chorus kicks in, building to its guitar solo. ‘Over Again’ sets out its stall with its lush harmonies and guitar work. As we get to the sharp end, NHA has a couple of faster paced rockers in ‘Johnny Redhead’ the final track, ‘Running Red Lights’. Sandwiched between these is the brown sauce to your bacon butty, an excellent cover of Rick Springfield’s ‘Souls’ and fits NHA’s style like Alvin Stardust’s glove!!

What I like about this, is that its been 35 years in the making, and it sounds like that have given blood, sweat and tears to every song. They have not overplayed it either, and at just 10 tracks, there is not a filler in sight, when they could have had a tendency to put 15 songs on it, and make it a bit ‘meh!’

Credit to No Hot Ashes for giving it another bash. Melodic rock is crying out for quality bands and albums, and you can look no further than this.

For any fan of melodic rock, there are two books that recount this period, and they will have you reminiscing, laughing out loud, and possibly crying. One is Tony Bell’s ‘Life In The Bus Lane’; the other is by NHA’s Eamon Nancarrow ‘Hollywood Star’. In fact if I were Frontiers I would send a copy of this out with every album.

Tragically NHA lost their bassist Paul Boyd to cancer in January 2017. Paul plays bass on all the tracks and this is a fitting epitaph, and No Hot Ashes are respectfully dedicating to Paul’s memory.

Score 8.5/10

Come Alive
Good To Look Back
I’m Back
Over Again
Jonny Redhead
Running Red Lights

No Hot Ashes –
Paul Boyd – Bass
Tommy Dickson – Keys
Niall Diver – Guitar
Davey Irvine – Guitar
Eamon Nancarrow – Vocals
Steve Strange – Drums

Sunday 11 March 2018

HRH AOR VI - Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli, 8-10th March 2018

HRH AOR VI – Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli (Thurs/Fri 8/9th March 2018)

Hi, dear reader, you know I do all this for you, you smart and clever individual. Anyway here we are for my 5th outing to the HRH AOR festival in, Hafan Y Môr translating to ‘The Haven’, at Pwllheli. That’s Pwll = pool, and ‘heli’, short for helicopter.

We are at AOR VI (No 6 for you Millennial’s not knowing how to count in Roman Numerals). HRH now have many brands, and the AOR one being a particular favourite of most of my gigging friends, and acquaintances. They have got to the point, where, even before HRH AORVI has played its last note of the festival, AOR VII is almost sold out. Now, I could cut my balls of to spite my face and have a little bit of a mini rant. You could theorise that the good people of HRH could take the piss – they have your money (or a lot of it anyway) for 2019s event. Knowing that it’s sold out, they could (hopefully won’t) put out an average line-up. I only say this as, considering VI is purely AOR this time, there are bands on show over this weekends that are either.
a.     On the wrong stage, or
b.     Not an AOR band

 I understand that changes had been made by the organisers due to late cancellations, Great White aside. We appreciate all their efforts to give a mixed and excellent line up despite any obstacles they are presented with. Which is what makes HRH a sold out even 12 months in advance (almost)

Anywho, we arrived a tad late on the Thurs evening, thanks to the shite traffic getting out of both Wrexham and then Chester. One of my fave melodic rock bands, Dante Fox was missed completely unfortunately. We entered the main stage to the very busy and very loud set of UK melodic rock stalwarts Newman. Steve was in fine fettle and introduced the young whippersnapper of the band (Harry) as a 19 yr. old. Newman started this, 20 years ago and probably has gig t-shirts and undercrackers older than this fella. What we heard was a strong selection from his latest album ‘Aerial’. Musically Newman are excellent, but on a couple of the songs, particularly ‘If Its Love’ Steve Newman’s voice wasn’t the best I have heard him do. My comment aside, the set was going down a storm with the Pwllheli massive. Of particular quality for me were ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Primitive Soul’, and the early Newman classic (and set closer) ‘One Step Closer’.
If I were measuring in paint colours it would be a ‘magnolia’

Eclipse were up next, and are a different proposition altogether. Right from the off, you can tell that the Swedes are rehearsed to within an inch of their lives. I like the ‘running on to the mic’ and shapes being thrown, but it looks as if it may be a bit too clinical. That said, Eclipse performed one hell of a set. ‘Vertigo’ from ‘Monumentum’ is up first and goes down a storm. I suspect that Eric Mårtensson would love to have been born 20 years earlier, and been a contender for a slot in 87-89 era Whitesnake. Even becoming ‘ol ‘snake-hips’ himself when Erik proclaims ‘Are you ready to rock?’ Eclipse fall into the ‘every song an anthem / killer’ category. This is no way an issue, and I love their music, but I want them to have their ‘Stargazer’, ‘Heaven and Hell’, or ‘Blackbird’ moment. Something that takes them from near contenders, to Heavyweight Champions of the world. Mårtensson is a very likeable and excellent front man, and you can see why he is very much in demand as a co-performer (W.E.T.), writer and producer. The man has an ear for an anthem. Stand out songs for me were The Storm’, the Celtic influenced ‘Battlegrounds’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry’. They just need to make the next (big) step, and victory is theirs for the taking.
Arctic White

Headliner for the Thursday night was Joe Lynn Turner. I make no bones that Rainbow are my all-time favourite band, and JLT is a big part of my musical life. Considering Joe is no spring chicken, he is 66 (a bloke of his age shouldn’t be in a sleeveless jacket indoors); he is still in great shape, both physically and vocally. Its two years since his last appearance at HRH AOR, and his set hasn’t altered much in this period. Hey, if its not broke, then don’t fix it. Alongside Joe is his axe slinger of choice, one Jorge Salán, who does an excellent job of stepping into Ritchie Blackmore’s shoes, and that aint an easy fill. For me, as a Rainbow lover its off to a flying start – Death Alley Driver, and I surrender just trip off the tongue, with the B side classic ‘Jealous Lover’ third in. How this song never made the cur for ‘Difficult To Cure’ is an absolute travesty. We get ‘Dark Days’ from his ‘Slam’ album, followed by ‘Spotlight Kid’ and ‘Street Of Dreams’. At his point, JTT could have farted the next song and I’d still be happy as a pig in shit. Salán is a very good foil for Turner and some of his solos were close to Blackmore’s. 

A couple of rarely played Rainbow tracks for Bent Out Of Shape followed, the raucous ‘Drinking With The Devil’, and guaranteed sing-a-long-a ‘Stranded’. The filling between the two BOOS sandwich was a treat from his very first solo album, ‘Endlessly’. I swear to God that had he followed this up with ‘Rescue You’, I would have needed to be carted out in an ambulance. Sadly this was not the case, but second best was a song from the classic album he did with Malmsteen, ‘Rising Force’. Just 45 mins in, that was the set. Done. An encore dedicated to the great Ronnie James Dio in ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ completed it. As a 51 year old bloke, if you have asked me 3 years ago if I’d get to see a Rainbow heavy, electric set, I’d have crawled though broken glass to witness it. Even this time, if I were any closer to him, I’d be receiving a restraining order. But, this is now my third JTL gig in the last 3 years and on each one I have been left feeling a little bit wanting more.

JLT was marked for a 90 min set, and like his 2016 appearance, it was all over after an hour. I felt a little bit short changed, even if I didn’t pay for my ticket. Considering his extensive and excellent back catalogue, JLT could go from performing a very good concert, to being absolute classics. Even if he dropped ‘LLRNR’ which isn’t his to begin with, and replaced it with 3 or 4 others – ‘Déjà vu’, ‘Heaven Tonight’, ‘Tearin’ Out My Heart’, and ‘Rescue You’. That would be SOME gig. Do it Joe, you know you can.

Moving on to the Friday. A long day was planned out, mainly sticking with the main stage.  Up first are fellow Celts, The King Lot. I really liked their first album and saw them supporting Dan Reed Network a short while back. I always like to see bands like The King Lot, get a shot in front of a ready and willing audience. Thankfully they did not fail me. As a three piece TKL will give anyone a run for their money, even Earth, Wind & Fire! I must say that with their new guitarist in tow, Jay Moir, The King Lot are a different prospect to what I saw in 2016. They were tight as a nut, and the vocals from Jason Sweeney were a joy to hear. Very few bands have that ‘sit up and take notice’ vibe about them, but TKL are one of those bands. ‘As They Burn’ was a strong song to get a crowd on your side, and the new songs prove they are making big leaps and bounds on from the debut, with ‘Save Me’ and ‘All I Want’ making more than a mark. Going on first can be a killer as a lot of people could still be tucked up in their vans after heavy night, but the guys managed to pull in a very decent crowd. Props go to Jason for his humorous banter in-between songs. I’m sad I missed them at the bar afterwards for a ‘drinkypoo of Irn Bru!’

Cruzh as in ‘Crush’ and not ‘Cruise’ as I thought it was. This is proper AOR that the Swedes in particular seem to be flying the AOR flag for. Even before they start, bass player Dennis, resplendent in his fur wrap, and arm in the air salute showed off their stagecraft. This is some serious shit I think to myself. I have to say, vocalist Tony Andersson has one hell of a range to his vocals, and a various points was hitting notes that only Labradors can hear. I was not aware of these guys, but what was presented to me was very good, and in ‘In and out of love’ Cruzh have their Bon Jovi moment, I half expect Andersson to belt out ‘Tommy used to work on the docks….’ They were out Bon Jovi-ing, Bon Jovi! If that makes sense. 

What does every good AOR vocalist need to have? Did I hear anyone say, abs? With his bandana, and desire for showing off his torso, Tony is every inch a 1989s MTV star. To qualify how good they (Cruzh) are, I stepped over to see Fugitive for one song on the second stage, and the gap, my friends, in difference is as wide as the smile on a Cheshire Cat! Although Hippie Jesus (if you caught him – hair matted and with a John Motson sheepskin) seemed to like Fugitive.

Some five years after making their debut at the inaugural HRH AOR, Daylight Robbery was a bit further up the bill this time. They have been quiet on the album front, with their most recent being 2013s ‘Falling Back To Earth’. Most of their set is weighted towards this second album. In Tony Nicholl, they have a very good vocalist and all round front man, (a bit like pointy Bob from Magnum) and an excellent guitarist in Mark Carelton. My only criticism is that Mark should watch Brad Gillis and see how a guitarist performs. Carelton is a cracking guitarist but it was like watching a mannequin! Most of the set comes from FBTE, and any band having a decent intro tape is worth a punt. The songs on offer warrant a bigger crowd than they got. ‘Digital Dreamer being one of the best songs with they guys great harmonies, I’m a sucker for four of five part harmonies and DR deliver on all counts. ‘Fallen Star’ is probably the best song in their armoury, whilst it isn’t a ‘Stargazer’, it is a very good song. I heard a lot of mixed opinions regarding DR, but for me it was a good performance. I’d like to be seeing a new album coming out form them soon to keep some momentum going.

Jac Dalton,  ‘who?’ I hear you say was up next.  Well he is the first Antipodean rocker on the main stage on Friday. First impressions count for me, and if that isn’t a syrup, I want to know what the hell he is doing, as I want whatever he is putting on it. It was like a mane! Anyway hair, and dodgy ill fitting kecks aside, Jac started up very promising. He was one of the few acts I have never heard material from over this weekend and I suspect I wasn’t the only one in this position. ‘Powder keg’ has the hallmarks of a great opener, decent riff, and a good and catchy chorus. I have no idea where this blokes been for the last 20 years, but with it being Australia, I’m guessing its witness protection. Jac has surrounded himself with some pretty good musicians. JD firmly has his feet planted in the 1980s and makes no apologies for it, with ‘Roll in The Punches’ being a prime example. His diction is clear, which is great for a reviewer, and JD comes with a decent set of pipes. He did however declare that they were there to party on this Saturday Night. I’ll forgive him, as it probably was Saturday in Australia! Some of the set is clichéd, but there were some pretty decent songs to be heard here with ‘Armed and Dangerous’ being a particular favourite for me.  Jac is an amiable front man, who operates at 30 DHACF (that’s 30 Devil Horns and clenched fists per song. He was handing them out like sweets). ‘Blow me Away’ was another good song where a Hammond organ plays its part. ‘Let It Go’ comes from the same stable as Ratt’s ‘Invasion Of You Privacy’, both riff wise, and chorus.

My favourite moment was not a song but an introduction to his band. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ayatollah of rock and rolla….Graham Greene’ . Well done Sir!

JD finished with a song that Ratt, Poison, and all the Hair Metal Bands of the 80s would love to have in their repertoire the unashamed, ‘Locked, Cocked and Ready To Rock’. It was a bit trapped in the past, but that necessarily isn’t a bad sign. There were more hits than misses, but had they had 45 mins like some of the others; they could have left more of a mark on the audience

Onto my favourite Skippy/The Sullivans/Sons and Daughters, Australian band,  (second only to the legendary Jimmy Barnes), The Radio Sun, bringing their own brand of ‘thunder from down under’. Steve Janevski, Jason Old and the guys certainly get their money’s worth out of the HRH AOR fest, as this was their second performance (out of three for the weekend). They had travelled both far and wide, and bloody long to get here – non-stop for 30 hrs. and still managed to put in a great show on the Thursday night after the main JLT event. It’s the main stage set that the one they have been building up to. There is good reason that TRS are here for the third year in a row, their crowd is building with every performance here, they deserve the hour slot that they have built up to as they have certainly put in the hours and performances. This slot gives TRS a chance to hit the audience where it hurts, and they deliver on all fronts. With the big stage and more time, Janevski bounds around like it is their last performance, and in Jason Old, we have a guy who likes to talk about hair care. Thankfully, he can sing also! TRS epitomize what this festival is about, melodic rock. The audience gets hit with a barrage of their ‘pop/rock’ brand and manage to cram in a hefty fourteen songs. It could have been seventeen had they stopped Mr Old from singing  ‘Working Class Man’ and chatting away!! I’ve said this many times before, but they do this ‘power pop/rock’ so well, in a way that a band like Coheed & Cambria does. Jeez, there were too many songs to pick from, but highlight for me were ‘One In A Million’, the raucous ‘Tonight’s The Night’, and a song they have made their own, the excellent Andy Taylor cover, ‘I Might Lie’.

We are now getting to the sharp end of Friday night. I had no idea who Aaron Buchanan and The Cult Classics were. Coming onto the stage, they all looked as if they were there to make a huge statement of intent. Sharply turned out, a whirlwind of movement from them all, and right in your face. It was like being kicked in the balls (in a good way).  Opener ‘Left Me For Dead’ reminded me of early Alter Bridge crossed with Alice In Chains. Buchannan is a live wire of a performer, hardly keeping still, and his delivery is great considering he put more energy into one hour than all the previous bands could muster up!

I had a thought, what is he doing playing ‘Fire, Fire’, then it hit me. He was the bloke in Heavens Basement. Now without the long locks. He is backed up by his sister Laurie on guitar, and Lead guitarist Tom McCarthy, they were here to leave a mark on the audience. I think he very nearly did – in trying to stage dive he went arse over tit, and looked like it could have smarted a bit. It could have been the end of it there and then. To quote him afterwards, ‘a show without risks, isn’t a show’. I honestly think he lives and dies by this mantra. ‘Fire in the Fields of Mayhem’ is a song inspired by Coheed, and hits the spot, short and punchy like a Claudio classic, complete with ‘whooa, oh ohs!’ After the near death experience, Aaron thought ‘I’ve survived this, so I'll give it another shot’. During the powerful ‘I Am Electric’ he beckoned the audience in, walked across them, and pulled off a headstand on top of the audience for one of the memorable points of the whole weekend. The whole band at this point were on fire, all bar Paul White (drums), the guys up front were in the audiences face for the whole hour. ‘Man With Stars On His Knees’ was the stand out song for me, you get to hear Aaron just singing, it built up into a crescendo without the need for screaming and was simply wonderful. Hearing four Heavens Basement songs made me think why the hell this band didn’t make it, as the interpretations here were excellent.

AB&TCC are as near to AOR as I am to being politically correct. That doesn’t matter, because as far as I am concerned they gave one of the performances of the weekend. Bloody fantastic.

Marc Torien’s Bulletboys were up next. The audience was stoked for these guys. I feel that I might be in the minority, but I saw and felt differently to the crowds reaction. As far as I’m concerned,  they should have been sponsored by ‘The Dairy Council of Great Britain’ as these buggers know how to milk out a song. It was all smoke and mirrors. I thought Torien, looked great, sounded great and played guitar even better, but I just don’t understand what all the pissing about was for. The few songs they played (8 in total. Really?) there were extended intros, extended outros, and the bits in the middle were too bastard long also. If I hear him shout ‘Are you glad to see us Wales?’ I heard it 20 bleedin’ times. If I’m honest, it started well with ‘Hard as A Rock, finished well, with ‘Smooth Up In Ya’ but the middle was the shit, in a shit sandwich. I just did not get it.  They were booked for an hour, played 5 or 6 songs in 50 minutes, and I wouldn’t have put it past him to count his money on stage for the last 10. There was too much faff and fannying around for my liking. You can tell he is taking the piss by throwing in a drum solo. I would have swapped these around with AB&TCC. Where’s the mind bleach as I want my mind erasing.

Night Ranger nave been doing this for 35 years and were not going to let anyone before steal the thunder. By the time they took the stage a little late the venue was rammed, to the point of almost being uncomfortable. Based on this, Night Ranger is THE band that people were here to see on any of the three days. They play with the vibe of a band that is playing gigs every weekend for the last 10 years. Jack Blades in particular looks as if he is having the time of his like. Very few bands from the 80s could pull in a crowd like this today. It’s all because they are fucking great. End of.

This is the third time in four years that I’ve seen them. Do you know what is great? They have mixed up the set list for all three gigs. It helps considerably that they have such and excellent and extensive catalogue of great songs to pull from. There’s no light weighting or fillers here folks, its full on Night Ranger power for almost two hours.

The new (ish) songs, opener ‘Somehow Someway’, ‘High Road’ and ‘Truth’ fit in seamlessly with the older classics. In fact if you didn’t know any better you would think they are all from their golden period. It’s an artillery of voices, with five part harmonies, an AOR fans wet dream. With Brad Gillis and Keri Kelli the interplay between both is something else, and Gillis in particular is one of rocks finest guitarists, and vastly underrated. The playing on ‘A Touch Of Madness’ is just to die for. Jack Blades is taking something that I want. I don’t know what it is, but if I can bound around like him for a couple of hours at his age, I’d be a happy man indeed.  Night Ranger are a well oiled machine, its hit after hit, from ‘Rumours In The Air’ to ‘The Secret Of My Success’ and the not very heard ‘7 Wishes’ and ‘Night Ranger’. For me, the crowd responds better to the Damn Yankees songs than the Night Ranger ones. They have enough great songs to draw in that don’t need to be Damn Yankees. One of my favourite albums is ‘Man In Motion,’ there are some cracking songs on here that never get an outing.  With the last five songs, Night Rangers phasers are set to ‘stun’. ‘Goodbye’, When You Close Your Eyes’, the superb ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’, segueing into Highway Star, then onto the one-two sucker punch with ‘Sister Christian’ and ‘(You Can Still) Rock In America.

Night Ranger delivered on all levels, song choice, and performance level, and musically. There’s not that many bands out there form the 80s that could match this level at this stage in their careers. Here’s to 2021 or sooner hopefully.

I could not be there for the full day, so managed to cram in 4 bands. First up were The Idol Dead. These are another band that I’d never come across before, but full marks to the organisers for getting them on the bill. Again there were as far away to AOR, than Bulletboys are to enjoyment. They reminded of Teenage Casket Company from 2016 that came on and blew the place up. The Idol Dead were no different. To say they had the audience in the palm of their hands was a massive understatement. No solos as such, but they had some of the best songs and riffs this side of the Pennines, all played out with an attitude and swagger bigger than Snowdon. They are on tour in May, I strongly advise you to get your arses over to see them. The highlights of their set were ‘Blackout Girl’ which reminds me of early Coheed & Cambria, and the wonderfully titled C.H.I.M.S.A. (Christopher Hitchens Is My Spiritual Animal). If they had dropped the mic at the end, it would have rounded off a near perfect performance.

Blood Red Saints were on first on the main stage. My worries that they might not be playing to a decent crowd were thankfully the opposite. The room was pretty much filled out and BRS deserve to play in front of numbers like this. They had 45 minutes to make statement, call it 35 if you can shut Pete Godfrey up. That’s a big part of the show. ‘Another Freak’ from their latest album was a stormer, a lot of bands try to write anthems, and very few can do it better than BRS, especially on ‘Mercy’ with the harmonies from Chemney, Naylor and Revill making it a killer. The band were trying to move on quickly and pack the songs in, but stopping Pete Godfrey  from joking, as like trying  to stop Mr Creosote from having a ‘weffer thin mint!’

Pete royally took the piss out of Rob Naylor’s voice (who, when asked to say something, stated he had a sore throat), with Pete commenting ‘you sound gay, where did you lose your voice? In the men’s toilets? ‘

The large venue suits these bands to a tee, as this is probably the best I have seen BRS perform. Amongst the golden nuggets was a brief rendition of Take That’s ‘Back For Good’. Follow this up with ‘Live and Die’ and ‘Kicking Up Dust’ and the set was glorious. God help who had to follow this

So, from the Blood Red Saints to one of France’s patron saints, the all female Joan ov Arc. I would stake (see what I did there) a good amount of money that a lot of the punters were like me, and were a new experience. Despite having to follow Ted Bovis and the BRS, Joan ov Arc were out to prove a point, that it’s not just the blokes who can kick ass. The crowd had faded by the time they entered the stage. From what little I’d seen of them on YouTube, it was nothing when compared to their live performance. The vocals courtesy of Sam Walker were both powerful and ear-bleedingly high. Her sister Shelley (lead guitar), looked as if she wanted to prove a point. There was a bit of overplaying, but I can easily forgive that especially when they want to showcase their talents in a setting like this. Four songs in and the crowd had returned, and they were very well received. They proved that they could mix it up, with the more soulful vocals of bassist Laura Ozholl taking lead on a couple of songs. An anthem for the girls was proclaimed, and it kame with a killer riff, and clearly one of the best songs of the set. They chose to finish their set with an all-time classic, Freebird. It takes some balls to play a track like this, so it was a good job than none were present, and they knocked it out of the park, with Shelly Walker showing how good a guitarist she is.

My final band of the festival was up next, and what a band, and performance it was from Wales’ own Nev MacDonald of Hand of Dimes. I felt a bit like Dorothy Boyd in Jerry Maguire, as he had me at ‘Hello’. Very few singers have this talent; and Nev is one talented bloke. He sings effortlessly, and for me, it was THE vocal performance of the weekend. Joining him from eons back was Andy Robbins (ex-Skin and Jagged Edge). The area was as full as it was for a headliner and it was only 4pm. The set was only seven songs, but fook me, what a seven songs it proved to be! I was lucky to catch him a few years back at Steelhouse in 2013, so it was great to them higher up the bill. ‘Looking at You’ is a classic, and had the whole crowd in raptures. To be honest, Nev could have sung ‘Shaddup Ya Face’ and I’d like it at this point. Hand of Dimes was on fire (damn I should have used that for Joan ov Arc), and in ‘Jacobs Ladder’, a soulful blues number that borders on perfect. It is without doubt their finest work. It was their final track that almost took the roof off the place, Skin’s ‘House Of Love’. It was commented that Nev MacDonald should be a household name. Well, he is in the Buckley household.

Hand of Dimes came a close second to Night Ranger, and join Blood Red Saints, The Idol Dead, and Aaron Buchanan and The Cult Classics as the stand out acts of AOR VI.

I’m hopeful that the guys at HRH will come up trumps next year and deliver the goods as an AOR festival. To many bands were either not AOR or were on the wrong stage (especially Midnite City and Degreed). On the way home, we talked about this in detail, and Styx would be the choice. One of the few bands that can still cut it and matches the high standard of Night Ranger.

The festival goes from strength to strength, they have a brand that doesn’t necessarily cater to the AOR crowd, in a good way.

There was a spare slot for Sat night after Jack Russell's Great White pulled out a couple of weeks back. It was to be filled by The Quireboys. Is this the third year running for them? I've heard on the grapevine that Spike hires a caravan for him and the band, over in Criccieth the same weekend as HRH AOR, and he is on permanent 'on-call' should the need arise. Its true I tell ya!