Festival Report – Hard Rock Hell NWOBHM 16

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was a musical phenomenon that swept the UK during the late 70s and early 80s in several waves. Often associated with groups like Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard, it did, in fact, encompass a far greater range of bands that came from a variety of styles influenced by hard rock, punk, heavy metal, occult rock and even prog. More importantly, it brought together melody, speed and heaviness at a level that many did not think achievable at the time. Although only a few of these groups would go onto mainstream success, NWOBHM soon became a cult as subsequent generations of bands often cited these, by now obscure acts as being influential – Metallica’s Lars Ulrich being a prime example in respect of Diamond Head! As mainstream metal declined in the 90s, the emergence of ‘true’ metal as a genre saw a resurgence of interest in traditional heavy metal, with NWOBHM bands remerging from the mists of time like knights of old to do battle once more in metal!

The sheer names on this bill made me reel in disbelief as to the possibility of them being under one event, and having witnessed more than enough embarrassing ‘reunions’, I did wonder if the promoters of Hard Rock Hell had bitten off more than they could chew? Well, eat my socks if this wasn’t one of the best events, especially for ‘seasoned’ headbangers like me that I’d ever been to!

Held at the 2,000 capacity O2 Academy in Sheffield, which had a smaller 500 capacity second stage, the organisation and comfort for both bands and audience was itself to be praised, with plenty of bars open both downstairs and in the balcony – which had a great view incidentally – and loads of free seating along with plenty of standing room. Most of all, there was a friendly atmosphere throughout from the crowd (many of whom had flown in from abroad) to the welcoming venue staff, making for a positive atmosphere to rock the weekend off!

All Pics By Simon Dunkerley

Fri 2nd Dec

Back in 1982, I first heard the single ‘Axe Crazy’ by JAGUAR although truth be told, the band had already made an impact on the Continent, where the little country of Holland would soon become the mecca for many a NWOBHM act. It seemed fitting therefore that Garry Peppard would lead his troops out to the likes of ‘Dutch Connection’ in their speedy but melodic style that also saw their earliest material like ‘Battlecry’ and ‘War Machine’ delivered with plenty of gusto to the singing audience and kick off the 2 day event in style!

Formed in 1976, MYTHRA were a name even before NWOBHM, releasing their own records and even promoting their own events – unheard of in those days! With strong heavy rock influences and a live act honed in the hard, working class pubs of England’s North East, their speed might’ve been a tad slower, although once the guitar of John Roach fired up, it soon became clear why they’re associated with NWOBHM. With Vince High living up to his name in pitch and energy, constantly screaming ‘c’mon!!’ to the crowd, the band delivered ‘Death and Destiny’ and ‘Vicious Bastards’, with everybody singing along to the hugely catchy ‘UFO’, proving why the recent reunion of this group has been long overdue.

Another North East band, I’d never seen BLACK ROSE before, although they had an interesting mix of rocking melody and harmonies with a ballsy back end that sounded good even 3 decades later! The likes of ‘Stand Your Ground’ and ‘No Point Running’ were delivered still ably by original vocalist / guitarist Steve Bardsley and guitarist Kenny Nicholson, especially in those wailing solos!

Raising plenty of laffs at the time thanks to their theatrical get up, not to mention those elemental names, CLOVEN HOOF passed me by back then although this time round it was no joking matter wiv no prancing about. Still led by founding bassist Lee ‘Air’ Payne, they had an awesome delivery and really rocked the small stage with songs like ‘Crack The Whip’, ‘Laying Down The law’ and ‘Reach For The Sky’, along with their unusual epic meets Maiden sound and high end Brucey vocals.

Famed for having not one but two stars at one point in their line up from Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist Jon Deverill and founder guitarist Motorhead’s Phil Campbell, these days PERSIAN RISK may not have any original members and only Deverill’s successor Carl Sentance leading the troupe, but boy, do they have a sound that makes it clear where their famous peers honed their skills! From Sentance’s powerful but soulful vocals to that heavy, raw edged guitar, it’s all across songs like ‘Dark Tower’ and ‘Rise Up’. Shame that the band didn’t get anywhere in the mid 80s although this time round there’s plenty of respect from the main arena crowd.

Another late 70s band, FIST presented me with the most surprises, firstly for sounding catchy and melodic despite having such an aggressive name and secondly, for bringing a dedicated band of Geordie followers who rabble roused their way through heavy rock songs like ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Name, Rank and Serial Number’. Despite battling loose mike stands, the band (and crowd’s) spirits were so high they even came back with an encore of ‘Ace Of Spades’!





Having seen WITCHFYNDE a few times, I can attest that this was one of their best shows I’ve witnessed! Clearly pulling the first big crowd of the day, it was evident by the singing accompanying ‘Cloak And Dagger’, ‘Stagefright’ and the cult classic ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ with frontman Luther Beltz on fire leaving the crowd in rapture of the band’s occult hard rock.

If I thought that no one could follow that then clearly Brian Ross of BLITZKRIEG knew better! Probably the consummate NWOBHM front man, Ross has been an icon on the underground scene for decades. Still possessed of his awesome high pitched vocals, not to mention his wit, the crowd actually struggled to keep up to the likes of ‘Pull The Trigger’, ‘A Time Of Changes’ and of course, the mighty ‘Blitzkrieg’ – what a showman!

Being a long time Tygers of Pan Tang fan, I was really looking forward to seeing JESS COX although he seemed a tad tipsy when he came out. However, thanks to his solid band he managed to not only make a comeback but respectably deliver on Tygers classics like ‘Euthanasia’, ‘Suzy Smiled’ and ‘Slave To Freedom’ – truly something special for any fans of the “Wildcat” album.

Guaranteed to melt the hearts of any young headbanger at the time (me included!), Jody, Julie and Tracey aka ROCK GODDESS were destined to follow in the footsteps paved by Girlschool. A heavy metal power trio, hits such as ‘Satisfied Then Crucified’, ‘Heartache’ and ‘My Angel’ were ballsy yet overwhelmingly catchy, delivered by Jody’s she roar and sultry tones, ably backed by Tracey’s bass and Julie’s tight beat. Despite folding in the late 80s, tonight brought back all the glory days from the Marquee to the Reading Festival as Jody once again brought her fury to the stage. With Lamb adding more to the backing vocals and Julie’s hard beat, it didn’t take long for the women in the crowd to see their moment had come, shoving the guys outta the way to sing along with their sister headliners – a truly great and memorable closer to the day!

Sat 3rd Dec

Well, you couldn’t find a more finer band to kick off day 2 than SAVAGE, who I thought should’ve been higher up the bill, but whatever the case, Chris Bradley and his Mansfield mob were up for a ruck as they steamed their way through classics like ‘On The Rocks’ and ‘The China Run’, ending in a raucous rendition of the one that made it for ‘em – ‘Let It Loose’!

With Savage putting on such a show I missed most of CHARIOT’s set but made it for their two oldies – ‘Vigilante’ and my personal fave ‘Warriors’ – which took me back to 1984 and days of Shades and Alice’s Restaurant, with mainman Pete Franklin still as I remember him, running about the stage and getting the main stage crowd going as before.

Quite possibly the oldest band here, QUARTZ date back to 1974 and had quite a run, touring with the likes of Sabbath and playing at Reading no less than 3 times before folding in 1983. Resurrected 5 years ago, they’ve made something of a comeback with their set comprised of golden oldies like 70s rocker ‘Street Fighting Lady’ and NWOBHM serving ‘Stand Up And Fight’, although it was the newer material off their recently released “Fear No Evil” album that impressed the most, being pure heavy metal and having that authentic NWOBHM sound – not bad for a buncha granddads!

A definite highlight for many was TOKYO BLADE, not in the least as it featured original vocalist Alan Marsh after a 35 year absence from the band! One of the leaders of the second wave of NWOBHM, the Blade were set for the big time, but fraught with line up changes, dissolved several times amid fruitless reactivations, with guitarist Andy Boulton being the only constant. Now, with 3 original members, the band wisely offered their best tracks from their first 3 albums including ‘Night Of The Blade’, ‘Midnight Rendezvous’ and ‘If Heaven Is Hell’ that soon had the packed main stage crowd roaring along to a sterling performance.

With AngelWitch one of my favourite NWOBHM bands I was eager to check out TYTAN, bassist Kev ‘Skids’ Riddles follow up act, and the likes of the dark ‘Ballad of Edward Case’ did not disappoint! Equally, Tytan also had a more melodic and epic side on ‘Blind Men and Fools’ which went down a storm with the crowd, culminating in a singalong with Crystal Viper’s Marta Gabriel on ‘Women on the Frontline’. Despite being the only original member, Kev has built a solid and talented band around him that really brings out Tytan’s material, while still retaining his plucky sense of humour!

If Tokyo Blade had fired up the main stage crowd, then DEMON would bring it to a boil. Mixing British 70s hard rock with prog and NWOBHM metal, I could only be in awe as the crowd sang along to ‘The Plague’ and ‘Night Of  The Demon’, with the entire balcony standing arms aloft for ‘Don’t Break The Circle’ – still led by founder vocalist Dave Hill, they put in a passionate performance that more than moved me.

Hearing them on the Friday Rock Show and being one of the featured bands on “Metal For Muthas Vol 2”, TRESPASS reactivated just a few years back following a long hiatus, with only founder vocalist / guitarist Mark Sutcliffe left from the original line up. Still, hearing the likes of ‘Stormchild’ and their biggest hit ‘One Of These Days’ live were a dream come true after all these years.

Clearly hearing about Brian Ross’s performance the previous night, Steve Grimmett of GRIM REAPER was clearly in the mood to give him a serious run for his money! These days leaner but still possessed of his screaming voice, he captained the stage marvellously as the band knocked out their newer material in ‘Walking In The Shadows’ while confidently delivering classics like ‘Fear No Evil’ and conjuring his own massive singalong to their classic ‘See You In Hell’, beamed a victorious smile as the band left the stage.

With the balding beardies amassing at the main stage, I figured that the presence of Steve Zodiac of VARDIS would soon be upon us, delivering fast hard rock boogie rock n roll like Quo on speed: guaranteed – no overdubs!!! Zodiac himself may not look anything like the bare footed, ice blond bloke I remember but as the beer kicked in and the insanity of ‘Dirty Money’ and ‘Let’s Go’ flowed (along wiv buckets of sweat) we sang and shouted right up until the final encore of ‘If I Were King’ – man, if you don’t have it already, do yourself a favour and score a copy of “100 MPH”!

Venom. VENOM INC. If you just came out’ve a cave then there are now 2 Venoms. Having seen the former (with Cronos) I was eager to check out the latter (with Mantas, Abaddon, and The Demolition Man from Atomkraft). HRH obliged me. Frankly, it was quite a shocker! Instead of playing – and yeah, these days the guys can really play – it safe, they instead delved right back to “Welcome To Hell” and played ‘Live Like an Angel’, ‘Red Light Fever’ and ‘In Nomine Satanas’ along with less familiar live stuff like ‘Don’t Burn The Witch’ and ‘The Seven Gates of Hell’. Mantas got some beer chucked at him but played undaunted as Abs kept up a relentless beat to deliver superb versions of ‘Warhead’ where you could indeed hear the thunder roar of Dolan’s guttural voice, and a powerfully atmospheric ‘Buried Alive’ where even the uninitiated were duly impressed.

With she warriors Rock Goddess headlining the night before, it was left to the ultimate headgirls GIRLSCHOOL to close off what had been an amazing and somewhat unique event – and how they did!! Wisely going right back to their first 3 albums they belted out all their hits in ‘Demolition Boys’, ‘Emergency’, ‘C’mon Let’s Go’ and a searing ‘Yeah Right’. Kim McAuliffe is still as sassy as she was, simply heaps of attitude that fit Girlschool’s brand of ballsy but catchy hard rock, screaming at the crowd and never letting em off the hook. Biggest surprise though is original bassist Enid, who has retaken her co lead vocal role alongside McAuliffe and possesses a fantastic set of pipes, especially on the more sultry numbers where her voice had many impressed, along with her suave looks. Completed by the unflappable drumming of Denise Dufort and ‘local lass’ Jackie Chambers on lead, Girlschool respectably brought a superb weekend to an end in fine style and with a lot of class – great job ladies!

Besides the nostalgic element, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed HRH NWOBHM simply because all the bands came here with a single aim to rock, and rock us they did!

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.