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Minehead 9-11 November 2007

Courtesy of Andy Fox at the GTFM Rock show I was present at the inaugural Hard Rock Hell festival, featuring some 40 or so bands from the rock and metal world which was held over the weekend at Butlin's holiday camp in Minehead, Somerset.

I shudder to think just how many times I heard comments like "it wasn't like this when I was a kid" One thing's for sure though, after this, going to Butlins will never have the same connotations again for anyone present.

Dee Snider commented, during the outstanding Twisted Sister set, that "this was just the beginning and that it could well go on to be of similar epic proportions to that which Monsters Of Rock enjoyed in it's heyday" and you know what? He might well be right!

Even though having day passes, with no accommodation, necessitated a couple of hours drive either way on both days, obviously eating into the amount of time at the venue, every band I wanted to catch, I did and then some.

With the vast majority of the 5000 strong army of headbangers already in-situ, we arrived, collected our wristbands, with no fuss or queuing and headed into the denim and leather throng, in search of the first of many bands of the weekend.

First off was a visit to the Defenders Of The Faith stage to catch Tiamat who "gently" eased the ears into Hard Rock Hell. With their pleasing style of gothic metal, quite removed from their early black metal days, they certainly put every ounce of energy into their show. The drummer, appearing naked, bar his hat, from our viewpoint, worked his socks off, as did the rest of the band, ensuring I will go give them another listen. (Because of their playing, not the nudity)

There was only one other band on this stage on Friday which remotely held any interest, if simply to satisfy curiosity and that was the highly controversial Cradle Of Filth. A curiosity, which was sated immediately after the opening growls and animal sounds, which masqueraded as vocals, removed the possibility of any enjoyment I could ever hope to savour from their music.

Centre stage at Butlins had been transformed into the Angels and Demons for the night with an impressive array of mainly female and the odd male rocker lined up. Opening the proceedings on this stage were Spit Like This who were a unique blend of goth, sleaze, and punk. With a scantily clad, heavily tattooed Vikki Spit on bass they certainly grabbed attention right from the opening cover of a Rocky Horror tune and held it throughout this fantastic set.

Next up was Lauren Harris who without doubt has the looks, the moves, the charisma and definitely the best fitting pair of leather trousers seen all weekend but sadly not much else to offer.

Opening with, and murdering, a cover of UFO's Natural Thing, on a weekend when they are due to play themselves, probably wasn't a wise move. The songs themselves were well delivered, Get Over It being a hook filled old school heavy metal, slower song Let Us Be was definitely infectious and the band certainly knew how to present them, foot on monitor Maiden style. It was just on this occasion Laurens voice was found lacking, which was a shame, maybe I'll think different after seeing her again on the Thunder tour.

Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Sensation, were the surprise package of the weekend, just how have I managed to miss out on them for all these years? Joined on-stage by several young ladies, almost dressed in cabin crew uniforms, a couple of whom were dancing on stilts, prompted Zodiac Mindwarp to quip "the road crew are certainly looking better"

From here on in the visuals increased steadily through the night, with the girls being joined by a few guys with industrial grinders showering the stage in sparks. Highlights of the blues driven set included a blistering Lucille and the excellent Prime Mover. Called back for an encore, they chose a cover of Thin Lizzy's Rocker, into which they unbelievably managed to squeeze bass, guitar and drum solos.

The band often described as the female Bon Jovi, Vixen, were next to grace the stage and what a pleasure it was. Sole surviving original member, Jan Kuehnemund's hair was as big as anything from the decade when this band first burst on the scene and her guitar playing almost as flashy.

Obviously relishing the opportunity to play the UK in front of a large crowd once again, they performed a slick, polished and highly enjoyable set, seemingly much rockier than I remember. The on-stage visual performers reappeared mid-set, a couple of fire jugglers added to their numbers, minus the stilts and a few clothes, total sensory overload ensued!

Birthday girl Jenna Sanz-Agero led them passionately through the big ones, Crying, I Want You To Rock Me, which included an adapted sing-a-long section taken from Queen's We Will Rock You and of course their finale was the fantastic hit Edge Of A Broken Heart.

It was then time to move from the polished American girlies to the real spit and sawdust of female metal, UK style, in the form of the irrepressible Girlschool. Having missed them at the Rock Of Ages fest in Tamworth earlier this year, I was determined to catch them this time around and boy was it worth waiting for!

Kim McAuliffe is still a bundle of riffs and energy, pounding on her guitar headbanging away, lead vocal duties being shared with Enid. Chirpy cockney Kim was in fine form between songs, cor blimeys and cheers you lots everywhere.

Humorously complaining she had ordered naked male dancers only to have Jenna from Vixen bring her a picture out to place by her set-list. From the opening C'mon Let's Go, they had the sizable crowd in the palms of their hands. Dodging the by now virtually undressed dancers, fire jugglers and sparklers they rocked the house with track after track of nostalgia.

Serving up Race With The Devil, Hit & Run, Screaming Blue Murder and Never Say Never, all of which received rapturous applause before bowing out to massive cheers with a highly charged Emergency. Pure class!

With one eye on the following days timings the decision was made to make the drive back in order to allow enough time for at least some sleep before returning in 12 hours time for more of the same. The drive home was filled with memories of an excellent nights rock and concerns over what would become of those girls, should they decide to go dance on-stage with the Sniders, Ways and Biffs of this world

As with yesterday, the Saturday started off sampling a couple of bands previously unknown to me. Firstly, folk metallers Finntroll unfortunately went down the same route Cradle Of Filth had the previous night. I really just can't handle these growlers no matter how good the music is.

So, unimpressed I made my way up to the Classic Rock Legends stage, the night mapped out and no need to leave this massive arena. Already a healthy crowd had assembled when another all girl band, Brighton belles McQueen took to the stage. Sleazy metal with punk overtures, it's difficult to pigeonhole this lot, though it's suffice to say they are well worth checking out.

Vocalist Leah Duors managed to sound both like a little girl lost in places, then roar like a lion just when the sweetness became too much. Another band, I will no doubt be keeping an eye out for.

Time to start wheeling out the big guns now and I can't think of anyone more fitting to this line-up than Fast Eddie Clarke's Fastway. The band he originally put together over a few beers soon after leaving Motorhead in 1982 with UFO bassist Pete Way.

During the band introductions, there was no doubt as to the esteem the large crowd held him in, the roar that greeted his name was testament to that. The personnel may have changed plenty since those early days but the music remains high-energy blues based metal of the highest order. Toby Jepson of Little Angels fame, who put in a performance I wouldn't have thought possible, is currently admirably handling vocal duties.

Devoid of the guitar he is more often than not playing on his solo tours, he was free to concentrate on the singing and man, what a voice this guy has! As much as I enjoy all his other stuff, here he is really able to let loose with his singing, proving just what a fine, underrated frontman he is. Sadly, there was to be no re-union with Mr Way, not this time anyhow.

The stage was miraculously transformed, with the trademark motorcycle drum kit wheeled in, sandwiched between 2 massive banks of Marshalls, reminiscent of so many ear-splitting shows. Did I mention big guns? Well surely there can't be many bigger on these shores than a Biff fronted Saxon.

Too many years have passed since I've been witness to a show from these guys but tonight they more than made up for it, with a show heavily but not exclusively based on past glories.

It's been so long I even failed to recognise Paul Quinn with his shaven head! A footballer he's not, though as a front man Biff Byford certainly has few equals. With a DVD to promote Saxon wasted no time getting the floor firmly on their side, for the first time this weekend I could actually feel the house bouncing.

Dishing up a rock platter, few could better with Wheels Of Steel, 747, To Hell And Back Again, Crusader, and Strong Arm Of The Law all featuring and extremely well received.

Current single release, a collaboration with Lemmy and Angry Anderson I've Got To Rock To Stay Alive came across strongly, though it was the early stuff that gained the loudest cheers.

Surely nobody could follow that! Though follow Twisted Sister did and totally wiped the floor with every single preceding band.

In fact, I could even go so far as to say this was the single most impressive show I have seen in the last 15 years. The arena was heaving at this point with everybody desperate to see all 5 original members the mighty Twisted F*ckin' Sister together once again on English soil.

After all, this is the place where they made their name, courtesy of a support slot with Motorhead including Fast Eddie and we are the ultimate SMF's.

Dee Snider, seemingly unaware of just how well Saxon had fared because he was "busy making himself pretty for us" is quite possibly the finest frontman ever. Truly one of the greats, he could quite possibly cut it as a stand-up comic, judging by his between song banter.

This guy led this celebration of all things twisted with such a professionalism so often lacking in bands these days. Everything you could possibly want to hear was played, The Kids Are Back, SMF, fist in the air anthems like You Can't Stop Rock And Roll, and the rampant Were Not Gonna Take It.

Quite how the band managed to stay on their feet when the audience roared back ROCK during I Wanna Rock, is beyond me. Closing with their UK biggie I Am I'm Me, they almost brought the house down. 5000 overgrown kids bouncing up and down shook Butlins to the core.

GRTR! Best of 2007

With the crowd visibly thinning out, it was time for the last band on my schedule. Even though there was another couple to come, notably Tesla I needed to be home and at least get a few hours sleep before work on Sunday.

So, closing this wonderfully unique festival for me was one of my all-time favourite bands, UFO. Having voiced plenty of earlier concerns over the timing of this band taking the stage due to the possibility of overindulgence by certain members, seemingly being quite justified by the appearance of Phil Mogg, I feared the worst.

Though I needn't have worried because despite his apparent inability to communicate with the audience between songs and his definite lack of stage presence, he managed to carry off a pretty impressive vocal delivery to their splendid armoury.

OK, so it was mainly a re-hash of Strangers In The Night but after all that's what everyone wanted to hear. Love To Love, Doctor Doctor, Too Hot To Handle, Let It Roll and an overblown rendition of Rockbottom were all rolled out for our pleasure. No Lights Out in this set list, perhaps missing out to a rather impressive version of Baby Blue.

The sound for UFO wasn't the best, with the keyboards much louder than guitars, but hey, maybe Twisted Sister had permanently damaged my hearing. After an extended interlude due to roadies turning off the equipment they returned to deliver an encore of Shoot, Shoot, much to the delight of many present.

Then it was all over for me, a bit of a damp squib ending to a superb weekend celebration of all things rock and metal. Perhaps, I should have taken my leave on a high note following the Twisted Sister set but curiosity and of course hopefulness of a cracking UFO show got the better of me.

One thing is for sure, should this event take place next year, I for one will be first in the queue for tickets, this time including accommodation! Again, special thank to Andy Fox of GTFM for making this possible for me.

Review by Dave Hunter

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