HRH Highway to Hell 2016 — Full Report

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Upstairs at the O2 Academy 3 Sheffield where beer flows at a mere £4 a pint and access is via a ramrod-steep staircase that is more treacherous than a razor-lined phosphate conveyor-belt that drops into a tank of irate killer-whales [more of that later] — we had the pleasure, this weekend, of watching fifteen aspiring and hungry rock ‘n’ metal bands from around the United Kingdom slug-it-out over two exciting days for a chance to become National Winners of the legendary HRH Highway to Hell Finals.

It is worth mentioning that these finalists had already gone through a grueling process of competition and must be commended for their efforts getting this far into the final stages.

But now they had to be judged by the most capable and [frankly] vituperative public of all — the fearsome members of the ‘Dark Circle.’ These discriminating critics don’t just listen to rock and metal — they live it too. They cry nickel-plated tears and they shit-out titanium-plated ferrules from their hard-tails… in other words, the Dark Circle judges are not an easy audience.

Mason Hill Photo Credit @neilmach 2016 ©

Mason Hill Photo Credit @neilmach 2016 ©

The first challengers on stage, opening the race on Saturday night were Basingstoke’s BLACK BULLETS [@TheBlackBulletsUK] whose recent ‘Ridin Shotgun‘ video has to possess the best first-person-perspective fight scenes seen on film. Each band must spend just twenty minutes on stage trying to impress the formidable judges. They must also perform one cover song in their own style. The Black Bullets set the bar high with a thrilling set.

Up next was the melodic heavy rock outfit from Glasgow MASON HILL @masonhillofficial. The lads will be playing the Winter Storm festival in Troon, Scotland this November. @winterstormcoming. This outfit played a very capable show…

Bringing some aggression, spit and passion to proceedings were the delectable riff-monsters BETH BLADE AND THE BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS @BBATBDofficial from Wales whose licks and vocal biff reminded us of Halestorm.

Other top contenders from the first day included the Welsh classic rockers PILGRIM @pilgrimband1 and Dublin’s bright ‘n’ shiny rock ‘n’ roll Cinderellas STONE TRIGGER @StoneTrigger.

Saturday night brought thrills and spills a-plenty including several wounded soldiers some of which had to be stretchered from the battlefield. At least one serious incident involved a plummet down the previously mentioned staircase and a ‘bench-test’ of the natural phenomenon known as gravity … This gymnastic display was performed by the ‘stunt’ guitarist for Bristol rockers KIKAMORA @Kikamoraband. The accident resulted in a cracked skull.

Of course most of the pain and suffering was caused by the deliberate ingestion of too much alcohol. “For those of you who told me that you started your drinking four hours before the stage opened …” Said Jonni Davis, the CEO of Hard Rock HellI have one word for you … LIGHTWEIGHTS. We started drinking fourteen hours before the f**ing stage opened!

Forever Vendetta Photo Credit: @neilmach 2016 ©

Forever Vendetta Photo Credit: @neilmach 2016 ©

The second day of the tournament started Sunday afternoon and was kicked off by Swansea’s FOREVER VENDETTA @forevervendettabanduk.

We loved Oxford’s HELLS GAZELLES @HELLSGAZELLE [main image] who release their exciting EP later this month. They played 1980s rock that reminded us of something glam (perhaps The Darkness) in combination with something hard (perhaps Judas Priest.)

We also enjoyed THE BOURBON HOUNDS @thebourbonhoundsuk from Manchester who, in the spirit of unity, said they ‘represented’ Yorkshire. This band were stunningly visual!

The bands at 2016 Highway to Hell were good, as one member of the public told us, “All the performances were solid, I’d be happy to pay full ticket prices to see any of them …

Others pointed out that the contenders were less “exceptional” this year: As one DC member told us, “Although the standard was generally good — but there were actually very few acts who literally blew our balls off. In fact, only two bands yesterday [Saturday] and one today [Sunday] gave us what we needed… Orgasms and shiver-bumps

Results: The National Winners of 2016 were Mason Hill with Hell’s Gazelles coming in second and Stone Trigger getting a bronze.

Congratulations to all the bands who battled it out for this year’s Highway to Hell title. And thanks to the organizers too… For putting on this super-contest and staging such an exciting and enjoyable weekend.

Words & Pictures: Neil Mach 2016 ©

Bourbon Hounds Photo Credit: @neilmach 2016 ©

Bourbon Hounds Photo Credit: @neilmach 2016 ©




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The Great British ROCK + BLUES FEST 2016 Butlins

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Despite more than a hint of disapproval on social media surrounding the choice of the main headline act (Hawkwind)… An odd choice for a blues-based weekend (don’t you think?) the 20th Great British Rock & Blues Festival held 22-24 Jan 2016 at the Butlin’s resort in Skegness, Lincolnshire (part of their fab Live Music Weekend programme) went off extremely well. In fact, so well that many happy campers were seen lining up in orderly queues to secure their 2017 weekend!


Babajack – carefree indifference?

For many of us, this was a chance to catch up with some of the icons of British rock ‘n’ blues — for example, the great talent of Colin Blunstone whose Zombie’s song (Rod Argent’s She’s Not There ) completely changed his life in 1964. His show was a joy. Smooth, rather than hurried. Elegant rather than energetic.

My favorite old rocker Arthur Brown was also on hand with his bouncy antics (he’s 73 and Colin is 70…)

How do these guys keep doing this night-after-night? Most polished of all the “old boys” was Manfred Mann (aged 75, can you believe it?) — with his Earth Band.

Their sensational Bad Company singer (main picture) made some of the youngsters seem like lame-pussies in comparison!

The Earth Band played their most captivating covers – like Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light. Mighty Quinn might linger long-time in our minds, but our hearts missed Pretty Flamingo which was, sadly, not on the set-list.

Sunday afternoon we saw the famous contemporary jazz clarinettist Courtney Pine walking past us in Burger King. He was completely unharassed and not recognized. His show ( on the Centre Stage ) was refined and and extraordinary. The Whitley Bay heavy-metal outfit Tygers Of Pan Tang entertained us with a super-sophisticated and ultra-slick stageshow too. They were on at the ‘rock stage’ at the REDS. Robb Weir was still slicing the air with those acidic whiplash-licks and ‘Jackie’ Meille roared-out some terrific vocals.

Later, the Martin Turner version of Wishbone Ash played a set that was fresh and melodic, but it was too jazzy for our taste. We could have done with less Vas Dis tosh and more Jail Bait riff-rock.

Likewise, Hawkwind played a set that was filled with over-long jazzaludes and bulked-out with trademark cosmic airiness. We wanted their numbers to feel tighter and be filled with more substance…

Everyone was saying how good the New Acts at the Skyline introducing stage were. And we would have to heartily agree…

Those fully-energised young-bunnies (maybe some were less young… ho hum) were crazy-exciting and all-of-them incredibly talented…

Stand out acts on the Skyline Stage were: The Texas Flood soon to hit the road with The Quireboys , the South Wales cowboys the Luke Doherty Band , the Sussex based blues-machine Catfish , those cracking Shrewsbury talents The Rainbreakers and the Derby super-heavy blues-rockers These Wicked Rivers

The Della Grants

The Della Grants – triumphant…

Talking about super new talent, Leicester’s excellent band, The Della Grants played a triumphant show on the Centre Stage, after being one of the winners on the Intro Stage last year. It just goes to show that there is still a lot of precocious talent around. It makes us proud to be British.

For all-round fun and cracking showmanship, we loved The Stumble and also Colchester’s LaVendore Rogue .

But our favourite show of the whole weekend, (maybe it was just the way we felt… it’s true that we were slightly dizzy/drowsy and it was whiskey-a-clock at the REDS…) was Babajack.

They played their notoriously earthy and biologically essential rhythms desperately and earnestly on cigar box guitar and well-slapped cajon. And with Becky’s flame hair swishing through the thin air and the carefree indifference of Trevor it kinda made us feel as if the whole world was actually OK… [If only for a moment] And that we could still have a good time…

Yep, there was some hollerin ‘good music to be enjoyed at Butlin’s. Good times spent with very good friends. And in a totally cool, suitably relaxed and hassle-free environment.

Thanks again to the Butlin’s team for another great festival. We cannot wait for 2017!

Words & All Pictures by: @neilmach 2016 ©

Babajack - notoriously earthy and biologically essential ...

Babajack – notoriously earthy and biologically essential …


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Symphonic power metal band KAMELOT – with Thomas Youngblood – are set to bring their unique blend of monstrously epic metal to HAMMERFEST 12-15 MARCH 2015.

Hammerfest promises to be yet another cracking edition as it celebrates its seventh year – this time with a pirate metal themed event

Hammerfest – now in its regular home at Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli , Gwynedd, North Wales – is also pleased to announce the return of some of our METAL favourites … led by stoner legends Orange Goblin – who seem to be going from strength to strength at the moment.

Along with them are two of the best viking metal acts around, Norway’s Einherjer and Iceland’s Skálmöld both of whom we are sure will be going Viking from the moment their long-ships arrive on our fine shores.

RSJ will explain the 'Higgs Boson' Effect at Hammerfest VII

RSJ will explain the ‘Higgs Boson’ Effect at Hammerfest VII

Hammerfest is also pleased to welcome back three other regulars: Evil Scarecrow , RSJ and L.A. gypsy metal act Viza – all of which we know hold a special place in the hearts of Hammerfest  regulars.

Plus British Heavy metal favourites Angel Witch  – who never fail to excite.

If this is not enough, Hammerfest will also host the Italian Folk / Power Metal act Elvenking , France’s biggest Industrial Metal act Mass Hysteria , Norway’s Doom Metal act Sahg , Swedish Melodic death metal act Darkane , English Black metal act Winterfylleth – plus London’s Hang The Bastard  and East Anglia’s The King Is Blind.


For more details and tickets go to
or for tickets call 08700 110034


Bands Announced for HRH AOR

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HRH AOR, Europe’s biggest AOR residential festival, has announced the first 10 bands for 2015.

Included in this early announcement is Starz– the power pop band from New Jersey, United States. Starz has a cult following. Several 1980’s glam metal artists have cited this band as a major influence.

This band rose from the ashes of “Looking Glass” – can anyone else out there fondly remember “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”?

The Starz major hit single was “Cherry Baby”. This came out in the spring of 1977 and was produced by Jack Douglas of Aerosmith fame.

HRHAOR3We are also looking forward to seeing poodle-haired rockers like FM (UK).

This vintage band are celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year – so they will be out-and-about playing near you. Check their website to see where you can catch them.

The band was formed in the mid 1980’s. They supported Tina Turner, Foreigner, Gary Moore, Status Quo and Magnum, and they opened for REO Speedwagon at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The band also toured with Bon Jovi on their UK leg of their “Slippery When Wet” tour.

Glam metallers The Poodles – from Sweden – have also been announced for HRH AOR. This band are a firm favourite back home, where they have played the Sweden Rock Festival in 2006 and 2008. []

Other exciting bands announced for the AOR Fest in North Wales include Swedish melodic rockers Eclipse whose perfect vocalisation and dizzying arrangements on ‘Bleed and Scream’ gave us all such hope. []

And ‘Dare’ – who seemed to be the favoured sons of the MTV days – they brought us those driving anthems that burned up our car speakers… and mashed up the ears of our back-seat passengers.

The original line-up of this superb band featured (professor) Brian Cox who played keyboards on the albums ‘Out of the Silence’ and ‘Blood From Stone’ before going onto play with D:Ream.

This is gonna be one helluva celebration…

HRH AOR 3, will take place on 12-15 March 2015 at its high quality residential site in Pwllheli, North Wales.

VIP & Royalty are already sold out – now under a 100 rooms are left in the Hard Rock class packages.

To book either ring 0203 287 6684 or book online at


Announced This Week:

The Poodles
Crazy Lixx






Great Escape 2014

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Perhaps the only problem with the Great Escape in Brighton is that all stages seem to be scattered casually around the hilly town.

You tend to walk miles around the twisting maze of lanes – squeezing through narrow alleys – just to hunt down your favourite artists that are hiding in tiny venues. So, armed with our schedules and a very strict sense of duty, we slogged on foot through the horizontal sheets of rain that seemed to be hampering our quest to get to all of the best places.


We started our weekend by hiding from a shroud of icy rain at the Blind Tiger public house. Here we spent some quality time with the mild dream pop outfit ‘Alvvays’ – who had flown all the way from Toronto, Canada. We plugged into their rich layers of warm resonance and we sunk into their overflowing acidity. Molly Rankin (singer) wooed the crowd – who swayed soggily.

We also saw the beautiful singer-songwriter Hannah Georgas at the Blind Tiger. She played her fizzy pop-work with grace, aplomb and style. And she regaled us with that gentle voice of hers that hinted of dewy mornings and long regrets.

Over at the Queens Hotel, we witnessed the Dutch indie band ‘Taymir’ as they played a decidedly 1960’s sounding rock show to a thrilled young audience. It was the first of two fantastic shows for this band. These four promising guys from The Hague (Netherlands) are still celebrating the successful release of their début album ‘Phosphene‘ – and it was evident that they are about to hit the big time very soon.

Misterwives-DSC_0138Misterwives’ over at Digital played their elegantly smooth dance/soul numbers to a smallish crowd. The performance by Mandy Lee (vocals) was high-toned yet ritzy. It was all thoroughly luxurious.

Later, we moved on to the Pav Tav where we caught the lovely fluctuating harmonies delivered by the ‘Daughters of Davis.’ Followed by the more robust – but no less fascinating – perky pop/gospel singing – from Philippa Hanna.


We got up early to see Luxembourg’s ‘Angel At My Table’ at The Bermuda Triangle. We got our timings wrong though – somehow – so we headed off to the Blind Tiger for our Nova Scotia Brunch. Here we enjoyed the velvety richness of Alberta / Ontario singer Gianna Lauren. She performed an admirable set for all of us – slightly rocky – full of charm and wonder.

Australian band ‘Stonefield’ were playing over at the Madeira Shelter. The performance from these four sisters was smouldering hot. Stonefield’s songs are summer-radio ready … boasting a floaty zestiness that is electrifying.

Hana-Piranha_DSC_0547Power punk multi-instrumentalist and Patti Smith impersonator ‘Hana Piranha’ over at the “Animal Farm” showcase at The Tube later the same evening- played a set that combined both rare talent and sheer nerves.

The band’s performance tingled with tight-packed emotional under-currents. It was as if the band members were all about to explode … struggling to keep a complex series of torrid feelings under control.

Sneering Leeds-based trio ‘Beretta Suicide’ also played on the “Animal Farm” stage. Their gobbets of sleazy punkish theme-tunes were hard to ignore… infused with grit and sweaty impulses.


The gentle rivulets of folk-rock sound produced by the Finnish act ‘Swaying Wires’ at the “Battle Recordings” show-case gently woke up our senses at the Fishbowl pub around noon.

Then we headed over to the “Break Out West” BBQ at the Blind Tiger. To see a consignment of scrapyard funk delivered by Winnipeg’sCrooked Brothers.’ This had to be one of the stand-out performances of the weekend. Musically perfect, with catchy compositions and impeccable stage-craft. It was immense fun. The ‘Crooked Brothers‘ were memorable.

DSC_0701In the afternoon we headed to “Beyond Retro” – the vintage clothing store on Vine Street, Brighton – where those lovely lads from the ‘Common Tongues‘ were curating a splendid afternoon of musical entertainment. The Bristol-based ‘Cadbury Sisters’ reminded us of the ‘Staves’ with their ornate harmonies and pitch-perfect precision. Their finely crafted songs were joyous.

Also at “Beyond Retro” we saw the talented and juicy Annaca [Espach ] who reminded us of Regina Spektor spliced with Carmen Miranda. Her tropical songs were hot and saucy and delivered with a spattering of jazzy electro rhythms.

The punk duo ‘Slaves‘ were on our ‘must see’ list. The Slaves are Isaac Holman (drums and vocals) – and Laurie Vincent (guitar and vocals) – Laurie was showing off his new guitar. They played an unpolished & unholy set at the Coalition – full of combined raw energy and feckless noise.

– over at the ‘pop up’ VEVO stage at “The Warren” played a generous show. ‘Don’t Wanna Dance’ was icy cold with dark pain concealed around the edges. But it also purred along – holding our attention like a tiny clockwork toy heading for a dangerous edge. Her voice [Karen Marie Ørsted] was clear and draughty – it chilled us to the bone at times. Yet her gangly manner and smiley calmness pleased the crowd and charmed us all. It was a singularly spectacular show.

Our favourite rock act of the festival was ‘Mammút‘ from Reykjavik. We found the band over at the “Iceland Airwaves” showcase at “Above Audio”.

Kata, the lead singer, floated – crafted – and gurgled her way above and beyond most of the lyrics… taking the most subtle, twisting, turning, floating songs you can possibly imagine; Then spiralling them into something even bigger and much more fluorescent.

Sometimes, the tiny flakes of whirling sound created by ‘Mammút‘ flew around the room like enchanted gold dust. At other times, we heard huge stomping bear-shaped mounds that seemed to trudge towards us in great furry swathes. Mammút was a sensational act to experience.

Words & Images: @neilmach © 2014


Next Escape: 14 May to Saturday 16 May 2015



HRH Blues Review

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Down in the Bonga Wonga Show Room things were warm and sultry.

Perhaps the hottest place around the Hafan y Môr Holiday Holiday Park in Pwllheli – the Bonga Wonga area – next to the boating lake – was the setting for the latest venture from those wonderful guys at Chic Festivals ( they have been busily organizing sell-out events for years with their regular HRH festivities) – this time they were introducing revellers to twenty-five of the best blues acts around – including Dr. Feelgood, Simon McBride and the Vargas Blues Band.

The Blues stage was about 15 minutes walk ( over a humpback bridge ) from two other stages at Haven – these were hosting AOR and PROG events. But the ‘Blues Folk‘ seemed happy to ‘stay at home‘ keeping themselves to themselves down at Bonga Wonga.


Pontus Snibb

The first act of the weekend was the swaggering groove trio ‘Crowsaw’ from South Wales (also catalogued as Crossaw and Crobar in some listings) – this sizzling band were runners up at last year’s Highway to Hell competition run by Chic Festivals to discover the hottest new talent around.

The band blasted some catchy numbers from their gritty ‘Smoke and Feathers’ album. And their ear-bleeding hard-nosed blues numbers got the party well-and-truly started. These guys are as real and as earthy as you might imagine (and hotly political too … which went down a treat with the Blues fans.)

Their songs were as sparkling and shiny as any Buick Wildcat spark plug. They delivered a superb start to the weekend.

Swedish hard rock band ‘Bonafide‘ ( playing on the AOR stage on Saturday ) tend to fill the ears of the public with purple flavoured riffs with – and solid Quo-ish boogies. But their Malmö born founder and singer / guitarist Pontus Snibb is also justly celebrated for his hard-edged Blues shows. He has been playing his devilish music all around the globe for many years. His ‘Loud Feathers’ album caused some excitement a year or so back, and now Pontus Snibb is set to release his ‘Wreck Of Blues’ project in April 2014. His almost-choking voice at HRH Blues was stretched beyond comprehension ( it was roughly “Chappo“ Chapmanesque in exercised bluesiness ) and his guitar-work was a torrid stretch of hooks and charismatically stretched woundings. It was simply sensational.


Gráinne Duffy


Gráinne Duffy is an Irish singer-songwriter from Castleblayney. Her songs are delivered with a deeply passionate hoarse voice (think Bonnie Rait) which fastens around the guitars like braided veils – giving each a shiny gemstone quality. Songs like ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ are densely packed with yielding infatuations and magnificent moments. Gráinne’s performance at HRH Blues really left the crowd with goose bumps.




Lucy Zirins Performs in the Dark

For some unknown reason, the people at HRH Blues decided to leave the beautiful Lucy Zirins to perform in the dark. Her show was unplugged and seated – so maybe the stage managers thought that her introspective and gossip-laden numbers should be delivered with the minimum of fuss and bravado. Whatever the reason, Lucy performed for us without fuss or complaint and she weaved her hauntingly beautiful songs interspersed with tiny stories and happy chattings. The numbers took us along folksy highways – and into territories that were quaint and faintly familiar – almost reminiscent of Christine McVie in both sound and quality.

The second day introduced us to the Glasgow blues act ‘The Brian Rawson Band’ followed by the Irish trio led by the former Mama’s Boys and Celtus guitarist/violinist singer/songwriter Pat McManus. Pat’s guitar-work is joy-filled, loquacious and eloquently Gaelic in flavour – and it evoked memories of Gary Moore.

Whatever happened to Graveltones ? Who knows. But at least we were treated to the impressive voice and remarkable soul of Jo Harman – who had a surprise for us – a guest appearance by the talented guitarist Stevie Nimmo on her ‘Ain’t No Love’ number. It was blissful and sublime. Simon McBride’s set was also amazing – just the right side of the crackling and sinful.


Jo Harman

And the rootsy grit from Buck & Evans was a revelation to the ears and sensitivity.

It is generally agreed that the highlights of the weekend were ‘Crowsaw‘ and ‘Pontus Snibb‘ but it is true to say that Dr. Feelgood rocked the house too. Those boys were on fire.

Here’s looking forward to HRH Blues number 2. We can not wait ….


Words & Images © Neil Mach 2014 @neilmach


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Hard Rock Hell, Europe’s leading residential rock festival, is pleased to announce Blue Öyster Cult, Krokus and Vardis for its 8th cycle.

HRH Helloween PosterJoining BOC after a 7 year absence from the UK are Swiss multi-platinum selling rockers, Krokus.

With 14 million album sales and over 17 studio albums, it’s about time they get back onto the UK shores and join the rest of the bands at HRH 8.

Finally after much persuasion, NWOBHM legends Vardis have now agreed a reunion and a much anticipated return to the HRH rock royalty circle this November.

Hard Rock Hell 8 takes place at Hafan Y Mor, Pwhelli, North Wales from the 13-16th November 2014.





KrokusCurrent line-up stands as:


Blue Oyster Cult

Michael Schenkers ‘Temple of Rock’



Diamond Head

Electric Mary




Heavy Metal Kids

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