The HRH organisation have established their AOR Festival very well over the last 5 years and as we come to HRH AOR V they are still bringing in big names while also giving up and coming bands an opportunity to share stages with Artists that have inspired them and that they hope to emulate in their careers. The Thursday night at the Festival is always a party night, not that the others aren’t but opening night, friends meeting up, 4 bands ready to hit the main stage and the drink and laughter are flying around.
Kicking things off for this Festival, from Melbourne and signed to the HRH Label Off Yer Rocka Recordings, who have just released their debut album, Tequila Mockingbird are a 3 piece female Rock ‘N’ Roll band who bring plenty of energy to their performance. Tonight they are down a member, with Bass player Jess unable to travel for this European run, but you wouldn’t guess they had someone playing with them that they’d only me 5 days previously, Keira fitted in perfectly, looked and sounded like she’d always been playing with the band. Slotting in alongside Estelle (Vocals/Guitar) and Josie (Drums) the band sounded really tight and solid. Vocals contained a touch of punk in their delivery and there’s certainly a touch of Lzzy Hale in how she does it (and that’s certainly meant as a compliment, not trying to copy anything, just an aggressive delivery).
The girls manage to pack in 11 songs to their one hour set, offering as much of an insight into what they do as they possibly could. Tracks like “Shut Me Down“ and “Never Go Home“ have a great kick to them, this isn’t a band that plays ballads. A very good performance by a band that are definitely on an upwards trajectory and a set which went over very well with the large crowd in attendance, great start to the night and the closing track “I Smell Rock N Roll” got lots of arms waving and heads nodding.
After Dante Fox had to sadly pull out of the event due to a late unavoidable issue the organisers, with very little time to spare, decided to move Last Great Dreamers from the after-party to the second slot of the evening and let them maintain the original slot too. Another good choice, the band was formed from the ashes of Silver Hearts and they play a very honest sounding brand of Power Pop with maybe a touch of Indie Rock in there for good measure. The more rock orientated tracks were the ones that stood out form me like “The Way We Collide”, leave vocalist Marc Valentine cuts an interesting figure with his Bowler hat alongside guitarist Slyder Smith, the music may be a little different to what normally hits the stage during the AOR Fest, but it’s going down well along with a number of Silver Hearts fans in the crowd. For me the highlight of the set was “Last Great Dreamer” which just grabbed me a little more than the other tracks.
Sweden’s Bonafide seem to be just going from strength to strength over recent years, fronted by the enigmatic and extremely talented Pontus Snibb, the band are on fire, dominating the stage and demanding that the crowd join them in a bluesy rock rollercoaster. The band are just a treat visually, individual characters all with their own role and rock personality within the band. It’s too hard not to move while they are playing, pure rock and roll, with the underlying blues rock feel, “Flames” is certainly an apt title for their latest release, it’s noticeable that everything has been taken up to another level while they are on stage, the sound is fuller, Anders guitar screams through the smoke that at times obscures him, Martin’s like a Tasmanian Devil on the stage, a released ball of energy, Niklas is so solid and at the same time very powerful behind the kit and of course Pontus leads the orchestra.
The set is really well balanced with tracks from throughout their career to date, so it was great to hear tracks like “Dirt Bound” from 2009’s “Something’s Dripping” release, and this is a proper show, they are so comfortable on the main stage and the rapport with the crowd is excellent, highlights have to be “Smoke And Fire” from the latest album, the wonderful “50/50” from 2015’s “Denim Devils” that just punches you right in the guts and has the most excellent groovy riff, and the set closer and crowd pleaser “Fill Your Head With Rock”. A band most certainly on top of their game and band of the night.
It really is quite difficult to review The Quireboys sometimes, not that there’s anything at all wrong with their set, or how they performed, but simply because there was very little difference between the set they played as Thursday headliners this year and the set they played in the same slot one year earlier. It’s not a major criticism, they are always going to play a lot of the fan favourites in a Festival setting, it is nice to see the title track from their latest album “Twisted Love” making it into the set as it’s a cracking song, and judging by the crowds involvement it’s already becoming a favourite.
The band has been on a bit of a high the last few years, with a couple of excellent albums, tonnes of tour dates across Europe and beyond, and always they are as tight as they can possibly get, Guy and Paul on guitars are just so comfortable and Spike has always had that ability to pull everything together during a set and he’s also always been a gifted storyteller, and Keith Weir’s keyboards play a much larger part of the band than many pay attention to. Highlights as always are “Hey You” and “7 O’Clock” but tonight alongside all of the sing along rock n roll songs it’s the beautiful “I Don’t Love You Anymore” that stands tall, even without the introduction it’s quite obvious that the song means a lot to Spike, as it does the fans.
It has been a really entertaining start to what promises to be another quality weekend of rock, after 20 hours on the go, a fair bit of travel it was time to turn in for the night, so sadly didn’t get to catch Killer Bee at the after party, I’m sure there will be another chance.
Words and photographs by Stephen Brophy.