Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Hard Rock Hell VII

So last weekend saw the annual pilgrimage to north Wales for the Hard Rock Hell (HRH) festival, this one being the seventh edition. Mrs M and I have been going since she won tickets for HRH3, though my attendance last year was limited to 18 hours because of work commitments. The format of the weekend is a Thursday start, with a themed fancy dress night and a few bands, then two solid days of rock and metal music across three stages Friday and Saturday.

For many people, the name of the festival would be apt - hell indeed. And yet, if I were to pick a single word to describe it, many people would be appalled; some at the poverty of my vocabulary, and others (attendees) at the word itself: Nice.

Let me explain. 'Nice' probably wouldn't be the first word that sprung to mind when you were watching a lead singer bashing his head with a tin of Fosters till it exploded (Airbourne), or encouraging the mosh pit to part in the middle then come together to knock the living daylights out of each other (Airbourne), or indeed listening to music so loud my ears still feel as though they're bleeding four days later (Airbourne). However, that same lead singer also sought out and then spent at least half a song playing and singing whilst physically in the area reserved for wheelchair users. We know of at least one person for whom that was an enormous highlight, not just of the festival, but of their year. It was a nice thing to do.

'Nice' probably isn't also the first word the casual observer would choose to describe the appearance of most attendees. They are rock and metal fans, and unsurprisingly they dress as rock and metal fans tend to dress the world over. Leather, denim, tattoos, and metal, either on clothes or sticking out of bodies are de rigeur. Apart from a group of youths in hoodies and half-mast trousers it's hard to think of a collective appearance more likely to scare the horses. And yet, and yet.....they're as nice a bunch of folk as you could ever wish to meet. Most of us, I hope, have got beyond the age of judging books by their covers, but those that haven't should go to Hard Rock Hell, where instead of polishing their prejudices they'll find people looking out for each other, doors held open for them, and championship-standard witty repartee in the Gents (can't speak for the Ladies). And it's not just the behaviour that would confound them; it's the occupations of the people in denim and leather - postmen mix with pathologists, and nobody particularly knows or cares. It's nice.

My highlight of the weekend was Friday, where the four hours of music between 8pm and midnight were the best four hours I've probably ever experienced at HRH. First up was Phil Campbell (guitarist with Motorhead) and his band. It was a great set, and the mash-up of Nutbush City Limits into Born To Raise Hell was a work of genius. Next up were ostensibly the night's headliners, Black Star Riders, or basically Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott. They did their new stuff first, and sensibly held back a lot of the Lizzy stuff till the end of their set, which meant they went out on a real high. And finally came Skindred, who Mrs M had seen a couple of times, but were new to me. They describe themselves as a punk/ska/ragga/metal band, and I'd say that just about covers it. I'd not heard anything of their like before, and spent the first song wondering if it was genius or car crash. Well, it turned out to be genius. To use an overused cliche, I suspect they're a bit of a Marmite band, love 'em, hate 'em etc, but I loved 'em, despite coming in for some criticism from a certain Mr D Harrison for waving my hands in the air like I just didn't care (it wasn't very manly apparently, which I thought was a bit rich coming from a bloke wearing nail varnish). Anyway, I got carried away; it was nice.

Three final bits of niceness. First, I found the beach on Saturday, and had a wonderful eight mile run up and down it in sunshine warm enough to have made the day a September one, rather than the last day of November. Second, the attendees of our now-traditional Super Sausage Saturday for being so generous with their gifts and company; it's good to be able to have a few minutes chewing the fat with folk away from 110dB of rock. And finally, we shared our caravan for the first time ever. We're generally a bit intolerant of having other people around if we're honest with ourselves, but Giles and Larri were fabulous to have around, and their presence really added something to the weekend.

So there we are. It was a nice weekend. I'd recommend you buy a ticket for next year if you have even a vague liking for rock and metal, but I'm pretty sure it's too late; it's sold out already. Other people must think it's pretty nice too.


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