Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Interview: Heavy Load / Heathens From The North

Styrbjörn Wahlquist: "Heavy Load will probably be playing some shows next year! It will be Ragne (Wahlquist), myself, Torbjörn Ragnesjö on bass and Eddy Malm"

Born Again made their way to Trveheim Festival in Germany to catch up with the Swedish- Greek powerhouse that is Heathens From The North.  As a bonus, as well as Eddy Malm, Heavy Load drummer Styrbjörn Wahlquist was in attendance too!

Louise: Thank you, first of all, for agreeing to meet with us. This is your third festival appearance as Heathens From The North, does it all still feel quite new or is it becoming normal now?

Manolis Karazeris: On the side of the musicians who take part in it, it's like living a dream everyday. Actually, it wasn't even a dream. You can't dream that you will play with original members of Heavy Load or play their songs one day. On our side, we just try to realise what happened to us, and at this level, we are trying to swallow the whole experience. He (Eddy) is another part...

Eddy Malm: I'm not quite used to it yet, I can't say that I am, but I'm getting there.

Louise: I've seen you playing twice together now and you seem to get along like old friends on stage, but from the beginning how did this start? How was the contact formed between yourselves?

Manolis: Actually, a friend of mine helped me get in contact with Eddy- Bart Gabriel, from Gabriel Management. My previous band Battleroar is named after the lyrics in 'Singing Swords'; “I loved the battleroar”. When I played with Battleroar at the anniversary edition of Up The Hammers with Vaggelis Krouskas (who's singing now with Heathens From The North), we played the song 'Singing Swords' as an honour to Heavy Load for giving us the inspiration for the name

I saw the reaction from the crowd when we played the song, and everyone was singing every lyric, I had goosebumps. I thought since they don't play, why don't we try to motivate them, let's form a band, only with people who love the band to death. Let's try to make them see what they are losing, there are lot of people out there who love the band, and they don't get what they want. Why? So we said, OK, we will do it and we will try to motivate them. Eddy came in the middle of this. When we started, it wasn't our plan to have him involved. I asked him, having no hopes, and he said yes! What else can you ask for in life?

Louise: Eddy, how did that feel to get contact from people who are so incredibly passionate about your music?

Eddy: It feels like an honour, definitely, and also surprising still after thirty years of not doing anything.  Then all of a sudden, this happens. When you are out there playing, and all the people in front of you know the lyrics, you realise you actually have made something in the past. And that is amazing.

Louise: The show in Athens was so magical and you looked so happy on stage. I wanted to ask how it was for you all?

Manolis: For us, we still cannot understand what's going on, but Eddy finally gets the recognition that he deserves and to understand how people love their music. But for us as musicians, it's like playing in a dream team, you finally see the response that big bands get. OK, I know I play in other bands, and we have people who like our music, but it was never so passionate. It's like taking a small part in it and living the dream on the other side.

Louise: And you were there Styrbjörn (Wahlquist) in Athens…

Styrbjörn Wahlquist: Yes, it was very special. I was in Athens before as well, at the rehearsals, and we jammed a bit. It didn't go so well, I couldn't remember the songs. When I heard those songs at rehearsals, it was fantastic because I hadn't heard them in years. I never play my old records because at the time we worked so intensely on them that we couldn't listen to them afterwards.

Louise: Oh really! Can you still not play them now?

Styrbjörn: Now it's very different, it's been thirty years. But when I heard those songs again, I thought that these are really good songs (laughs), it sounds great!

Eddy: Did we actually make these? (laughs)

Styrbjörn: It was very special, I was very moved. When I saw the concert, it got even worse, I felt a strong yearning to play again, and I wanted to go on stage and play again. I felt like my old self, as if thirty years hadn't passed. But Heavy Load haven't been on stage since 1985. It's been 32 years but it feels like three years or something.

Louise: Had either of you had any of those feelings in the interim of really wanting to get back on stage or was it only when Heathens From The North surfaced?

Eddy: I’ve had an urge more or less, I had been doing different things back and forth with different people, but then we really took the step.

Louise: And speaking of, you recently started performing with your own solo project, how does that compare to playing Heavy Load material on stage?

Eddy: It's a completely different thing because it's not Heavy Load, and the two are special in their own ways, so I don't want them to be compared to each other, it's a separate thing. It's still music and it's still heavy metal, but it's a different thing.

Louise: So from each of your perspectives, how does feel to part this collective where there's original musicians and long term fans paying tribute?

Manolis: Actually, the only reason we did this tribute was to make the band understand how much people love their music, there was nothing else behind it, we did the same with Cirith Ungol. I think it's a big honour for a band, to see that there is a group of five people who dedicate their life to make a band and play your songs. I wanted them to see how much we love them, and this was the only way to make them notice it. All of them told us that seeing us play was really emotional for them. Before even Battleroar, our bassist Theodoris told me, “we should make a Heavy Load tribute band”.

Styrbjörn: They played with such great passion.

Eddy: And I said “Yes” the moment he asked me. I was feeling “wow, this is amazing, I can't say no to this”, I had to do it. And I don't regret it, not for a second.

Louise: Can you tell us about the future for both Heathens From The North and Heavy Load?

Manolis: I think we reached our goal, so this is stopping. Maybe there will be one more show, but it will be the last, we did what we had to do.

Louise: And Heavy Load?

Styrbjörn: We collect stamps and listen to country and western music (laughs). We are working on the re-releases of our old albums. We have the bonus tracks and Stronger Than Evil will come out in October/November with six bonus tracks, a gatefold cover and about fifty pictures that have never been published before. There will be a thick booklet with pictures and stories about the songs, and what we thought about them. The label will be No Remorse, it's a joint venture between them and mine and Ragne’s own label Thunderload Records. There will be both a CD version and vinyl, as well as some limited edition stuff. As far a concert really want to know?

Louise: Yes, definitely!

Styrbjörn: Over the last decades we have had a lot of offers from festivals, and nothing is signed yet, but we will probably be playing some concerts next year! Very few concerts, but it will happen, I hope...

Louise: Wow, that's incredible news- very exciting! So, it'll be you two (Styrbjörn and Eddy) and who else?

Styrbjörn: It will be Ragne (Wahlquist), myself, Torbjörn Ragnesjö on bass and Eddy will sing on some of the songs.

Eddy: It would be like I am with Heathens. I can't put too much of my time into this; I have other things that take my time, so I can't put my whole energy into it.

Styrbjörn: And we will probably have another guy playing guitar as well in the band. Perhaps four of five times Eddy will sing on stage. Something like that, things will go crazy as always.

Michelle (Godding): Things never go to plan...

Louise: And this will happen next year?

Styrbjörn: Yeah, we think that that might happen. There is a possibility….

Louise: You know that people will go absolutely crazy for that. How is it to get that response from younger fans who weren't around when Heavy Load was in its prime?

Eddy: It's amazing because you can't really understand how it works. I mean they weren't even born when we played, still they know every word, every lyric and they know who you are. You have to wonder, how did they do that? They must be real Heavy Load Fans, or real Heavy Metal fans that really dig deep into what was there before the bands they listen to today. They really dig deep, they find Heavy Load, what's Heavy Load? They search, they find on youtube or something, they can hear it and think “wow this is amazing”. Then they take it and do everything to find it and they love it, which is amazing. But then of course it spreads; when the 'diggers' find it, they start spreading it to their friends, and it starts spreading even more, and then people find out there was a band called Heavy Load, thirty years ago, or twenty years ago.

Michelle: Did you name the band after the Free song 'Heavy Load'?

Styrbjörn: (smiles) No we didn't, the reason behind the name is that we had so many things, speakers, we had such a big show, so we called ourselves 'Heavy Load'. Already from our first concert we had eight Marshall stacks on stage, a big drum kit, a riser, a light show. During the '80s from '81 to '85 we had the biggest show in Sweden; we had four tonnes of stuff with us. The only bigger act was actually Abba.

Michelle: She (Louise) loves Abba!

Styrbjörn: Oh really? I live on the same street as Björn, we sometimes see each other at the grocery store.

Louise: That's two different ends of the scale musically! You had Phil Lynott play on the track Free. How much of an influence was he?

Eddy: I was very influenced by Phil, he was a great idol of mine, but I had a lot of influences in those days. I love Eric Clapton, that's why I started playing guitar. The only thing I could play was solo, in the beginning.

Styrbjörn: I always liked Phil's lyrics, he was a great poet and I'm very much into lyrics. I don't think he's had enough credit for his lyrics, they are very special.

Michelle: He actually brought out a couple of books of poetry.

Styrbjörn: Oh yes, I remember, when he was in the studio I heard that he had published a poetry collection, and I tried to find out where to buy it.

Louise: Have your musical preferences changed much since Heavy Load was active?

Eddy: I don't think so; they have widened, yes, but not changed.

Styrbjörn: Not so much for me either, I always liked a lot of different styles. Every time I write music, it turns out to be Heavy Metal, but I like classical music and also Baroque music from the 17th century and so on. I listen to some jazz stuff as well, I'm not a jazz fan, but some songs are quite great. There are very good drummers in the old Big Band stuff; Gene Krupa and so on. It's not my music but I enjoy it. Sometimes when I do a solo I feel like it could be a Gene Krupa thing, a Buddy Rich thing or an Ian Paice thing.

Louise: Both of you still listen to a lot of Heavy Metal?

Styrbjörn: Mostly, on my behalf, it's the old bands; Dio, Deep Purple, Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. What about you (Eddy)?

Eddy: Classic metal...

Styrbjörn: I think that with the modern bands, the sentiment isn't there. It's not spontaneous, the magic is not there, it's polished away.

Louise: Well I think that’s everything from me. Thank you so much, this has been really interesting and we know that your fans are going to be very, very excited to hear the exclusie Heavy Load news!! 

Eddy Malm, Styrbjörn Wahlquist and Manolis Karazeris at Trveheim Festival.

Look out for a Heavy Load festival announcement soon...we can't wait!

Interview: Louise Dornan

Photo: M Godding

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

HRH 'NWOBHM' 2 - The Xmas Rocka 2017

THE XMAS ROCKA is fast approaching! Once again, we will be heading down to Sheffield- City of Steel to enjoy a weekend of NWOBHM goodness, courtesy of Hard Rock Hell. Last year's line-up was delicious and this year even more so! 

It may seem like an age away, but we all know that Christmas, and more importantly THE XMAS ROCKA, is just around the corner! Last year had such an excellent, intimate vibe despite it being in Sheffield's O2 Academy and now HRH NWOBHM is back, and this year with an even bigger slice of British Heavy Metal!

2017 will see the following bands spread across both Saturday 2nd December and Sunday 3rd December: -



So grab yourself a ticket here; come and join us, and the other loyal fans who travel far and wide to show their support to the perpetual NWOBHM scene. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Live Review: Ramblin' Man 2017

Born Again's Kayleigh, Michelle and Louise make their way down to Mote Park to witness another long weekend of fantastic hard rock, country and blues at this year's Ramblin' Man Fair.

Friday 28th July

Friday's line up was a late addition to this year's Ramblin' Man bill but probably one of the days we are most looking forward to. The clouds are heavy and grey and Mote Park is already destined for a weekend of rain and mud. That doesn't stop us though, as we are eager to witness an evening of solid rock and heavy metal given to us by Graham Bonnet, Last in Line, Y&T and Saxon.

It seems that although the rain hasn't kept us away, it has certainly delayed many. This hasn't gone unnoticed by rock royalty Graham Bonnet as he exclaims "where is everyone?!" Clearly realising that even his popular second track 'All Night Long' doesn't get much of a reaction. It's a shame that festival organisers started his set even earlier than planned; he certainly deserves a larger crowd. 

This only encourages Graham to belt out his strong, familiar vocals, almost beckoning fans towards him. It takes a while, but almost like a mating call, the park starts to fill up slightly. Poncho covered bodies groove to tracks such as MSG's 'Desert Song' and Alcatrazz's 'Jet to Jet'. This gave Graham the perfect opportunity to joke about the infamous story where he flashed his bits when touring with Michael Schenker... rumoured to be the reason that he no longer played with the guitar hero. It seems that Michael has forgotten about seeing too much of Graham as you can now catch them together on the 'Michael Schenker Fest' tour. 

The band who join Bonnet on stage execute such beautiful musicianship and the close relationship between bassist Beth and Graham is obvious. Guitarist Joey Tafolla confidently takes on the complex guitar work of previous guitarists such as Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen and he wastes no time showing off his skills with great pride. Graham Bonnet's charming and at times comedic showcase makes us all forget about the weather as we smile at the on-stage banter, skill and precision of all the musicians in front of us.

A few already drunken fans around us inevitably request for Graham to play some more Rainbow. It's almost as if he heard them as he finishes his set with Russ Ballard's 'Since You've Been Gone' and Rainbow's 'Lost in Hollywood'. It's clear he knows what the crowd want and although he once again expresses that he'd wished he'd had a later set, he receives a brilliant response as he bids us all farewell. 

Graham Bonnet never fails to please his audience. He has no shame in reading lyrics from his hand and the floor and his fans certainly don't bat an eyelid, either. Probably due to the fact that he still manages to maintain his natural ability to perform. A great way to start a weekend of talent! (KG)

As the rain continues, it would be easy to go and take shelter, but alas, it is time for Last in Line- a band that we've been very much looking forward to seeing. After hearing many mixed reviews about the band which features original Dio band members Vinny Appice and Vivian Campbell, we are very intrigued to see how this is going to pan out. The rain eases, and we stand on Vivian's side of the stage in good view of the entire band. It's no secret that Vivian and Dio didn't always see eye to eye, so it's interesting to see how enthusiastic he is when they open the set with one of the Dio's most renowned tracks 'Stand Up and Shout'.

The band are full of glee and Dio's name whistles through the wind as many fans around me discuss his legacy and we're feeling like this is going to be a great way to remember the late, great Ronnie James Dio. The band continue as they mix their own new material in between more familiar classics such as 'Holy Diver' and 'Last in Line' and the crowd sing along in unison. Vocalist Andrew Freeman, although very, very different to Dio in performance and range, does a good job taking on most of the vocals. The difference in performance style however, gives the songs a different vibe, one that we find difficult to enjoy.

After each track we wait for Dio's name to be mentioned but it seems we need to wait a little longer. Their failure to mention him thus far is baffling, considering the set is nearing the end. Freeman then goes on to introduce a new song and announces that "the next song is dedicated to a late friend of ours..." The crowd cheer, clearly expecting to hear a dedication to Ronnie. However, a new song - 'Starmaker' is played for late bass player Jimmy Bain, who played and wrote music on Dio's most vital albums. He of course deserves to be respected and remembered, not only for his contributions to music but also for his personal relationship with Freeman and other members of the band.

The final two songs of the set are 'Rainbow in the Dark' and 'We Rock' and unless we have gone partially deaf, we are still yet to hear any mention of Ronnie. We feel as if there is no compassion nor respect to the man who deserves it the most. Continuing to wait... perhaps they are leaving the best 'til last? Nope. Still, no mention. The band leave the stage and we are left feeling saddened.

There's no doubt that Last in Line are an excellent group of musicians, however we are failing to see the point of their existence. Are they trying to make a name for themselves and the new material they are creating? Perhaps. Then, either stop playing the Dio material that is bringing the majority of the fans to your shows, or at least pay respects to he who brought you all together. Something which many fans are no doubt wanting do, as was evident in our discussions after the show. A real shame, considering how special it is to watch legends like Vinny Appice on the drum throne. (KG)

Suitably in the mood for more, we're up front for the penultimate band of the night, Y&T. The band have the slightly harder task of performing as a trio because second guitarist/backing vocalist John Nymann suddenly took ill and had to cancel his UK trip with the rest of the band at the last minute. Thankfully for us UK fans, Dave Meniketti and co rallied together to put on a sublime (as usual) show. The setlist has been altered to feature less tracks that Nymann would have performed vocal harmonies with Meniketti on.

The silver lining of this unfortunate situation is that we get to hear Meniketti in all his excellence. He's a guitarist that doesn't get enough credit, but he should! As the sole original member of the band, the lead guitarist and vocalist commands the stage, blowing us away with his incredible array of solos and powerful set of lungs.

It's not surprising that they are a little shaky at the beginning, but that disappears as the band start to feel more comfortable on stage, with Meniketti and bassist Aaron Leigh scaling the stage, backed by the powerhouse that is Mike Vanderhule. The crowd is absolutely loving singing along to tracks like 'Dirty Girl' and 'Rescue Me'.

Y&T are one of those bands that have managed to write music in styles across the spectrum; be it a hard and heavy rockin' tune like 'Mean Streak' or a power ballad like 'Winds of Change'. Either way, we're all lapping it up.

Friend of the band, Scottish guitarist Ross McEwen guests on stage for a couple of songs, he's a little nervous, but soon settles in. When you get a call from Meniketti a couple of nights before to join the band on two UK dates, you're not going to say no, no matter how short a time you have to rehearse the material.

Y&T are not to be missed, and knowing that they have a strong fan base here in the UK since they first played in 1982, they will be back for a tour starting in October. (MG)

Saxon certainly have a tough act to follow so perhaps it’s fitting that they open with the fierce and fighty ‘Battering Ram’. Off to a hard and heavy start, they show no sign of slowing down as they launch into 1983’s ‘Power and the Glory'. It’s become a set staple by now but the crowd are still as keen as ever to hear it.

After a rousing rendition of ‘Sacrifice‘ teamed with blood red lighting and plenty of smoke, Biff announces that they’ll be doing something they’ve never done before. Having been slightly concerned that this set would too closely mirror those of recent tours, we're on the edge of our (non-existent) seats waiting to find out what this new addition will be. The surprise turns out to be a performance of the entire 1982’s live album The Eagle Has Landed. Although the result is a set filled with songs that are no strangers to a Saxon live show, it’s a novelty nonetheless and it feels a bit special to be privy to something that supposedly hasn’t happened in 35 years.

As Biff’s whistling echoes across Mote Park, Nigel Glocker lets rip on the drums and the band are in full swing with Motorcycle Man. From here it’s hit after hit after hit and the crowd are lapping it up. As the sun sets, the fast paced ’20,000 Ft.’ paired with some intense pyrotechnics keeps everyone’s spirits high, Nibbs Carter included it seems, as he bounds around the stage.

As The Eagle Has Landed comes to a close and we’re left wondering what will come next, Biff bends down and rips up his set list. Hundreds of indecipherable voices shout out suggestions when we’re asked what we’d like to hear. Sadly our calls for ‘Ride Like The Wind’ fall on deaf ears but energetic and pyro filled performances of ‘And The Bands Played On’, ‘Dallas 1 PM’ and ‘Crusader’ make up for it. The much lesser played, power metal infused ‘Battalions Of Steel’ gains a place in the encore alongside heavy metal anthem, ‘Denim and Leather’. Biff even tries to scare the living daylights out of the whole park at one stage as they trick us with a black out of a couple seconds. This only electrifies the set even more!

Saxon never fail to deliver and this Friday headline slot has been no different as they went at full speed and full power! Yes, some more surprises would have really topped everything off but maybe knowing your strengths and sticking to them is the winning combination here. (LD)

Saturday 29th July

It's the Saturday morning of Ramblin' Man and as we lay in our tents listening to the mating calls of nearby wood pigeons, we pray that the sun is shining and hope that somehow the rain has moved on. On first peak though, the dreary, grey skies lets us know that we are in for another day of drizzle. It doesn't matter though as after we fill our bellies with a 'Spoons breakfast, we know we get to see the likes of JJ Nichols, Dokken, Glenn Hughes, British Lion and Extreme as well as many other class acts.

Classic rock fans came out of the shelter in their masses to witness none other than 'The Voice of Rock' Glenn Hughes. You have to commend Hughes' work ethic; the year started off with the tragic death of his mother during the Resonate tour, yet he followed through and completed it whilst allowing himself some personal time with his dearest. Why wouldn't we all be out here in the (now) pouring rain for a true musical hero?

Casually striding on to the stage, Hughes and his band open the set with 'Flow' from the new album, warming the crowd up with 'that' outstanding voice and the heavy riff driven tune. Usual guitarist Søren Andersen is missing tonight, but there is suitable replacement, Anders Bo Jespersen, standing in. He does come across a tad cocky on stage, but he does the job well enough. This is probably due to the fact that 1) he's playing with Glenn Hughes and 2) well, anybody would feel super confident playing solos and riffs constructed by Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin and Pat Thrall!

As the last notes of 'Flow' sounds out, Pontus Ergborg (drums) and Jespersen bash out the familiar intro to '80s hard rocker 'Muscle And Blood', lifting the mood even more, as Hughes asks the audience “How Do You Feel?!”. We're all dancing along, banging our heads to this classic, basking in the awe of a majestic singer. “I just want to say it's nice to be home. Really glad to be here, in this weather, because I can guarantee if it's gonna rain, you people will stand out here, and I really appreciate that” Hughes tells us before introducing another track from the latest album, 'Heavy'. It's dominated with a big chorus, paving way to a sing along where we can't quite reach those prolonged high notes. Keyboard player Jay Bo has a moment to shine, scaling the keys proficiently along to the groove of the tune.

Applause fills the air as Glenn announces that the next song was written with his
“buddy David Coverdale, a long long time ago”; cue, emotion. We know what's coming, one of the best Deep Purple songs from that period; 'You Keep On Moving'. As the deep bass starts to boom out of the speakers, there's an eruption of cheers from the crowd, followed by a silence. We all just take in the magnificence of the song and then that first verse kicks in and we are singing along, trying to harmonise the best we can with Glenn. It's one of those songs where you just have to sing along and by God, it's still has the ability to sucker-punch you and leave you breathless, as it probably did to anyone hearing it live in '70s. Jespersen embraces the moment to rip out a delightful solo towards to the end.

The beat is picked up with the title track from
Soul Mover and then Black Country Communion's fast paced 'Black Country'. Glenn Hughes ends the set with the ever dependable 'Burn' which gets us all roaring along, performing air guitar, air keyboards, air drums, you name it! What a way to end, we don't know how anybody is going to top this performance. The set was far too short for a musician of this calibre; we could have done with a lot more. (MG)

Next up, is Dokken. When Ramblin' Man announced that Dokken was part of this year's line-up, we didn't know what to expect. Particularly considering the fact that we were under the impression that if you missed the reunion tour in Japan in 2016, you missed out completely. It seems though that since original guitarist George Lynch has once again gone his own way, Don Dokken wants to continue touring. It's common knowledge that Don doesn't have the pipes he used to, but what with Dokken being such a dominant part of the '80s heavy metal scene, we march our way to the front to see what this line up- including Jon Levin, Wild Mick Brown, Chris McCarvill and Don Dokken- has in store.

We're feeling excited- having spent many a night out singing along to Dokken in clubs but nothing beats the real thing, and live! People around us are skeptical as we watch each band member enter the stage. Don is the last to enter as he apathetically bows to the crowd holding his familiar wide brimmed hat in place. The band start their set with 'Don't Close Your Eyes' - a real Dokken classic which would usually be met with people singing along. Not this time, though. This could be due to the fact that it really is tipping it down.  We continue to brave the rain and try our best to sing along to the down tuned and somewhat monotonous version of 'The Hunter'. Don really is trying hard, although he looks somewhat embarrassed as he continues to make his way through the set. He speaks to the crowd in a very soft, sombre voice, seemingly worried not to strain his vocal chords. 

Guitarist Jon Levin then opens up with the infamous riff to 'Breaking the Chains' as he sports a Charvel guitar with a print not too dissimilar to the ESP that George Lynch plays in the video released in 1981. This song has seemed to lift the spirits of the crowd somewhat and many try their best to adapt their singing to the new tone that Don is sharing now. They continue with setlist choices made of dreams with 'Dream Warriors' and 'Alone Again' being up next. Don's focus during 'Alone Again' in particular is apparent as he puts in his all to produce a vocal quality to match the perfect playing of the musicians around him. They support him with warm looks and Chris McCarvill gives Don a sympathetic pat on the back during a couple of missed notes. Jon Levin breaks up this slow tempo ballad with a note perfect, soaring solo played to perfection. 

After a song which clearly stretched Don's vocals to the limit, he surprisingly announces that they are going to play a song from their '90s era and so we hear 'The Maddest Hatter' from the 1999 album Erase the Slate. This certainly stands out among the otherwise 80s choice of material, however it seems Don is able to tackle this with a little more of that enthusiasm and 'oomph' that Don is renowned for.

It's time for 'In My Dreams' and we're guessing this will be the final song in Dokken's set. The band attempt the opening vocal harmony which kicks off this brilliant track. Unfortunately there's someone amidst the group that hits a bum note and so it doesn't have the desired effect. Nevertheless, the band continue into this fan favourite and the immediately identifiable riff gets us grooving. The band gel well together and there is clearly a lot of support and good musicianship within the group. 

It really does sadden us to see Don Dokken without that '80s swagger and bravado that he held for so long. He really is lacking the vocal ability to hold down most of the material from the classic Dokken period. Even with vocal support, it's clear that Don is aware of his difficulties and this is apparent in his performance. The band really do give their all, and despite the songs not sounding like you'd wish, seeing Dokken live is certainly on the bucket list for most young fans of '80s heavy metal who missed out on seeing the 'real thing'. This factor means that Dokken may well continue into the future. (KG)

Fueling our systems with the fantastic choice of food and booze that Ramblin' Man has to offer we are ready for Rival Sons. The rain is still hammering down on us as they take their place on the Grooverider stage. They’ve come a long way since their live debut in the UK at Camden’s Barfly six years ago. Having shared the stage since then with greats such as Deep Purple, Kiss and Black Sabbath and with this being their second Ramblin’ Man Fair, it’s fitting that they’re in the headline slot this time around.

With 2015's Hollow Bones arguably being the bands greatest success so far in the UK, it’s an explosive start to the set as the heavy grooving of ‘Hollow Bones Pt.1’ gets the crowd moving from the off. Jay Buchanan’s soulful vocals continue to impress as the band flow into ‘Tied Up’. The straight up rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Electric Man’ gets hips swinging and arms waving as Scott Holiday’s seductive guitar tone cuts through the wind and rain. ‘Memphis Sun’ provides some much needed Californian Warmth. The beautiful, stripped back number from 2009's Before The Fire allows the band to show us their raw talent, of which they clearly have an abundance. Sticking with the early material, ‘Torture’ and ‘Soul’ from the band’s self titled EP stand the test of time.

Despite some sound issues muddying things slightly, Mike Miley and Dave Beste manage to power through and give the band a consistently groovy rhythm section. It’s really impossible to stand still as Rival Sons go from strength to strength with their electrifying brand of modern hard rock infused with the sounds of the '70s. The full range of Buchanan’s incredible vocal ability is stunning to witness from the gritty and powerful ‘Open My Eyes’ into the more delicate and soulful ‘Hollow Bones Pt. 2’. Finishing their set with the toe tapping rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Keep On Swinging’, with its climactic finale is the perfect way for Rival Sons to sign off on their second appearance at Ramblin’ Man. The crowd disperses - soaked through but satisfied and undoubtedly with a swing in their step. (LD) 

As the day continues, we're sure to feast on the variety of bands on offer on Saturday's line-up, including witnessing heavy metal Jesus Steve Harris in British Lion; last year's favourite Scott Gorham in Black Star Riders and witnessing motorcycle racer turned musician James Toseland's new musical love Toseland. We often find ourselves taking shelter in the very brilliant Big Red tent which gives us not only shelter, flowing drink and a perfect view of the main stage but also a feeling of familiarity after spending many-a- night at the real thing down on London's Holloway Road.

As darkness arrives and the rain eases, we traipse through the mud to join the masses of Extreme fans. Extreme had never really been a band on our radar. Something just didn't click. Whatever that something was however, it clicked on a wet Saturday night in Mote Park. Not wanting to miss the headline act, we decided to leave the safety of the Big Red tent, brave the downpours and see what they had to offer.

Right away, Extreme have us and the rest of the crowd hooked. No matter how familiar these songs are, there is no denying that the combination of showmanship and great song writing is enough to win over even the most skeptical of festival goers.

Hits like ‘Get The Funk Out’, ‘Rest In Peace’ and It (’s A Monster) interspersed with lesser known tracks like 'Slide' get the headline set off to a more than solid start. Their debut self-titled record isn’t neglected either with ‘Kid Ego’ and ‘Play with Me’ getting an outing. It’s so clear why this band shot to fame and popularity in the way they did. All four men on stage are first and foremost, performers. They know how to entertain with Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt in particular charming the crowd from start to finish. It’s the end of a very enjoyable, long day but looking around, there is not a single face without a grin plastered ear to ear. 

An extended, solo acoustic guitar prelude to ‘More Than Words’ from Bettencourt is completely captivating. One man, alone on stage, has every single one of us under his spell. A true artist, he could probably get away with a headline set of him playing alone. For now though, Cherone,
Badger and Figueiredo re-enter the stage for an electric rendition of perhaps Extreme’s greatest hit. It says a lot about the quality of their performance that this is not a stand alone high point in the set. The great vibes coming from both the stage and the crowd are on the same level until the last note.

Rousing singalong ‘Hole Hearted’ topped off with an excerpt of Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ has the band bouncing their seemingly endless energy off each other and around the stage. It turns out that it’s not the only Queen we’re going to hear tonight. After a stupidly impressive and truly mesmerising ‘Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee’ and the anthemic ‘Decadence Dance’, Extreme close off a rainy Ramblin’ Man Saturday with a fitting, atmospheric and huge sounding cover of ‘We Are The Champions’.

Having gone in with no expectations, we came out as absolute converts, blown away by the incredible quality of music and showmanship coming from this Boston quartet. (LD)

Sunday 30th July

Is that sun we feel upon our dehydrated faces? Surely not! But, alas, it is! The sun is shining down on a very moist Mote Park and we are in for a day of sun, smiles as well as another fantastic bucketful of bands including Wishbone Ash, Focus, Magnum, Blues Pills, UFO and ZZTop, to name but a few.

It was a couple of months prior to the festival that we found out we would be watching Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash perform the whole of the 1972 masterpiece, Argus. They’ve performed this set before in recent years but for many, us included, this serves as a first chance to witness the '70s rock epic in full.

As the beautiful first notes of the album float out over the crowd, there is a taste of the magical atmosphere that is to come. The harmonic vocals of ‘Time Was’ suffer a little as the song kicks off - understandably so as these vocal parts were written by and for men who were, at that time, nearly half a decade younger than they are now. Pleasingly, the recovery is swift as the four musicians quickly fall into step with each other. Each of Martin Turner’s current ensemble are relatively new to the fold but they have clearly found their feet with ease. They play fantastically throughout and are obviously well rehearsed. With no overbearing personalities on stage, the focus is on the music itself. Wilson, Brown and Nikolic manage to create a beautiful atmosphere through their playing alone and allow Martin to enjoy the limelight as the clear leader of the band.

Argus has always been a timeless album which prompts even the most stoic of fans to sing along and move with the music. This performance is no exception with the crowd loving every moment of the set, in particular the blissfully tuneful ‘The King Will Come’ and ‘Leaf and Stream’. Willson and Nikolic’s guitar work is so authentic and true to the original music that listening to them play with closed eyes could make someone think they had been transported right back to the 70s.

During this second part of the set Martin Turner really comes into his own vocally, harking back to his past position at the helm of Wishbone Ash. ‘Warrior’ is a real highlight with the iconic twin lead guitar and melodic vocals melting effortlessly together to provide a stunning climax to the show. In a moment of comedy, the lyrics of Monty Python’s ‘The Lumberjack Song’ are substituted in place of those of ‘Warrior’. It seems that the probably coincidental similarities between the vocal melodies of both songs have not gone unnoticed by Martin Turner and Co. Things are finished off by an energetic rendition of ‘Blowing Free’. The band really gel and seem to be having a fantastic time bouncing around the stage.

Hearing Argus performed under the warm English sunshine, in the stunning surrounds of this country park with a light breeze blowing over the crowd feels utterly perfect. For 45 minutes we are transported somewhere else entirely. So, it's fair to say that - that's a job well done. (LD)

After a relaxing afternoon enjoying a range of blues and country musicians, browsing the typical festival stalls and witnessing a very impressive, hair- raising and butt-clenching performance from the Laguna Motorcycle crew, it's not long before it's time to hop along to the main stage to get prime position for rock marvels UFO. 

It's a great turn-out with many fans sporting original memorabilia showing their support for a band that has given their all to this genre for only a couple of years short of 5 decades! UFO have seen many line-up changes over the years with only 1 member staying put- Mr Phil Mogg. And, here he stands in front of the a sea of UFO fans, looking as dapper as ever. Coolness oozes from his pores as he bobs along to the opening rhythm of 'Light's Out'. His vocals, as always, are on point as he slowly paces the stage, charming the audience. It's a pleasure to see such an important and inspirational guitarist such as Vinnie Moore on stage with the band as he let's the soulful melodies of Michael Schenker's guitar work flow through his fingers as the crowd watch on in awe.

Phil Mogg continues to charm the audience as he asks all the ladies in the crowd to give a cheer. A few faint squeals echo across the park as he smiles. The band then work their way through a 2015 track 'Run Boy Run' as well as '70s classics 'Ain't No Baby', 'Too Hot Too Handle', 'Only You Can Rock Me' and 'Cherry'. Spirits are high and some of the quieter parts of 'Cherry' are slightly dirtied by the electric sounds coming from the Prog stage across the park. This doesn't go unnoticed by the band as Phil jokes that UFO can most definitely blow them off the stage.

That's exactly what they do as they open up with another track from Lights Out- 'Love to Love'. As the familiar, atmospheric keys build up, drummer Andy Parker's ride cymbal reflects across the crowd as we enjoy the beauty of this track. 'Love to Love' is such an emotive masterpiece and UFO do a brilliant job sending us all into a trance. It's no surprise that Vinnie Moore does the solo justice, putting his own personal spin on it. He is certainly not someone that needs to replicate anyone's guitar work- not even Michael Schenker's.

The song ends and is instantly met with well-deserved acclaim from the crowd. Vinnie wastes no time as he goes straight into one of rocks most loved riffs- 'Rock Bottom'. Those few fans that were half asleep through less obvious UFO tracks are now awake and their feet get moving. Fan air guitars are exposed and the band play through both 'Rock Bottom' and their most well-known, loved triumph 'Doctor Doctor'. Knowing that these are undoubtedly the last tracks of their set, they are played with maximum effort and enthusiasm as always. UFO deserve nothing more than the full respect and appreciation that they are getting today here at Ramblin' Man. It's inspirational to see Phil Mogg standing in front of us, full of youth and energy at the age of 69. This current line up do a superb job delivering the tracks that all UFO fans know and love. (KG)

It's been one hell of a weekend, but it's not over yet. All eyes are on the main stage as we all get ready for some blues rock courtesy of Houston's finest, the 'tres hombres' that are ZZ Top. Drinks are flowing, spirits are high and everybody is in the mood to boogie!

A motorbike engine revs up, followed by fast paced, bass heavy music with a deep voice booming out “It's party time! Time to Rock!”, as Frank Beard, Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons walk out on stage. They waste no time getting stuck in, as the intro tape counts them into the set opener 'Under Pressure' from their world renowned 1983 album Eliminator. Gibbons' husky deep vocals are alternated with Hill's clean and soulful ones as they command the stage. These guys are in a league of their own, exuding musicianship and showmanship; a triple act, with each element working together in perfect unison. The rhythm section of Beard and Dusty creates the perfect backing for Billy Gibbon's admirably effortless guitar playing.

They swoop us back to 1973 with Tres Hombres openers 'Waitin' For The Bus' and 'Jesus Just Left Chicago'. It's a masterclass in the Blues, tinged with a healthy dose of Texas rock and roll, and we're loving it, swaying along. No time for us to slow down though, as Gibbons' plays the famous Bond intro line before piling into one of their biggest hits, 'Gimme All Your Lovin'. Eliminator gets a healthy measure of songs in the set list with 'Legs' and 'Sharp Dressed Man' also included.

With a musical career spanning 47 years, there's no shortage of tunes to choose from, so we get everything from Rio Grande Mud to 2012's La Futura, playing tracks such as 'I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide', 'Pincushion', 'Cheap Sunglasses', 'My Head's In Mississippi' and 'I Gotsa Get Paid'. ZZ Top's music just oozes coolness and sexiness, you just find yourself unconsciously dancing along. Gibbons is the anchor of it all, with a natural swagger, even when playing covers of other artist's songs, including The Hendrix Experience's 'Foxy Lady'. The crowd is singing along to the chorus of this seminal track that has been made ZZ Top's own in this set.

Halfway through the set, Gibbons announces in his gravel toned voice that they are going to “Turn this into a Country band”, where “ZZ Top turns into Red Neck Rock”.  Their guitar tech, Elwood Francis  is invited to join them on stage with his lap steel for the good ol' Country song 'Act Naturally' (Buck Owens And His Buckaroos), toning down the mood before picking up it again with Degüello's 'Cheap Sunglasses'.

There is no doubt that ZZ Top are at home on the stage, playing up to the crowd, garnering whoops of joy and delight from the crowd with the Gibbons and Hill double act, incredible solos and laid back approach to dominating our attention. Billy Gibbons comes across as cheeky chap; shouting out that it's “time to drink a little whiskey”, flashing the back of his guitar that has 'BEER' written on it, swigging from a Jack Daniels bottle and smoking a cigar on stage. He's our hero!

As they leave the stage, it's clear that the crowd wants more. Back by popular demand, donning matching sequinned blazers, Gibbons' teases us with the John Lee Hooker inspired 'La Grange' from Tres Hombres before gliding easily into the riff of Fandango's 'Tush'. ZZ Top finish their set with a rousing rendition of none other than 'The King Of Rock 'n' Roll' Elvis Presley's 'Jailhouse Rock'. We leave Mote park on an high thinking to ourselves, “damn, what a night!”. (MG)

Writers: Kayleigh MG, M Godding and Louise D   
Friday & Sunday Photography: M Godding
Saturday Photography: Dave Craig

Album Review: Lionheart 'Second Nature'

It's been over 30 years since melodic rockers Lionheart released an album, but 2017 sees the release of new album 'Second Nature' which has made us all the more excited for the upcoming UK tour with Airrace later this year.

Thinking about Dennis Stratton brings us thoughts of him plucking strings in early Iron Maiden and Praying Mantis as well as watching him and Dave Edwards play rock classics in small East End boozers- good times! Dennis though, also formed the very brilliant melodic rock band LIONHEART in 1980 alongside Steve Mann (MSG, Eloy, Liar), Rocky Newton (Wildfire), Jess Coxx (Tygers of Pan Tang) and Frank Noon (Def Leppard). After debuting at the infamous Marquee Club in London; undergoing various challenging line-up changes (consisting of many members of rock royalty) the boys got back together in 2016 for Rockingham Festival which later led to the band recording new album Second Nature.

After releasing 1984 album Hot Tonight, the band have come back with new vocalist Lee Small, best known for his vocals with Phenomena and Shy. And boy is he the perfect match! With his supreme melodic vocal he matches the style of Lionheart perfectly. 

After a short prelude, the album kicks off with track 'Give Me the Light' which definitely gives us some light into what the album is going to bring. It oozes with sheer melodic rock and could very well be mistaken for a track on their 1984 album. Then bang, straight into 'Angels With Dirty Faces' with an explosion of lead guitar tickled with that NWOBHM sound we were all expecting to hear from the guitar work which fuses wonderfully next to the smooth AOR tones of Lee's vocals. 

Lionheart's rendition of Chris De Burgh's  'Don't Pay the Ferryman' is definitely up there with some of the best tracks on the album. It's as if this song was made to have a faster, heavier tempo. The vocal melodies here are strong and it's one of those songs that stays with you even after listening to the entire record. A definite stand-out tune. 

Next up is '30 Years' and there's no prizes for guessing who this song is about. Describing an "ordinary East End boy" who has gone "from the roughest part of town, to the marquee" and referencing a certain Iron Maiden?  A brilliant, fast tempo track with high energy and power throughout- some of the lyric and vocal structure conjuring thoughts of a heavier Johnny B. Goode in it's story-telling manner. Lee's smooth vocals are combined perfectly with the heavier guitar sound that pummels right through you and is broken down nicely by an archetypal NWOBHM style lead. 

After that great bout of energy, 'On Our Way' cools things down with an atmospheric instrumental where we definitely hear the influences of Lionheart friends such as Michael Schenker. This gives the album an interval which sets the scene for the title track on the album. Additional to the superb lead vocals, the rest of the band are really showing off their backing vocal skills as they harmonise giving a heavy nod to AOR. 'Prisoner' starts off much the same and is shrouded in AOR goodness with it's keyboard riff, then mixed up with tempo changes, heavier guitar riffing and an epic chorus created for a fan sing a long. 

When you have a vocalist as strong as Lee, it's inevitable that he's going to be putting his magical touch into a ballad. This 'magical' touch is reminiscent of both something you'd hear from a Disney picture but sung by vocal master Glenn Hughes. Of course, what is a ballad without a handful of guitar leads and solos that really give more of that heroic feel. This is a song to definitely hear live!

It's time for title track 'Lionheart'. With an opening drum roll, fast-paced riff and a vocal structure that heavy metal greats would be proud of. Dennis has definitely had his hands all over this song as we are treated to some more of that NWOBHM goodness with added power and speed. A surprising but pleasing track to hear and perfectly named. Finally, we come to the 'Reprise' and once again Lee is executing the sounds of Glenn Hughes and sometimes even Dougie White as he really rips into this mini- track. A commanding way to end a brilliant album.

I'm a sucker for some synthy keys so if I could add something to 'Second Nature' it would definitely be a few more opportunities to divulge in some air keyboard - something that the first album had lashings of.  This album though, does get increasingly better with each listen. It's everything you expect with it's typically brilliant AOR tones, brushed beautifully with NWOBHM sounds that you'd usually find on some later Praying Mantis albums. Lee Small was a perfect choice of vocalist and is supported greatly with strong backing vocals throughout. Whether you've been a fan since Hot Tonight or if you're just being introduced to Lionheart, you won't be disappointed. 

Now to fast forward to December where we'll be witnessing Lionheart live with Airrace at London's Camden Underworld.

Score: 4.5/5

Produced, engineered and mastered by guitarist Steve Mann, it's set for release on 25th August on AOR Heaven. Japan are lucky enough to have it already but you can pre-order yourself a copy here.

Line Up
Lee Small - Vocals
Dennis Stratton - Guitar
Steve Mann- Guitar
Rocky Newton- Bass
Clive Edwards- Drums

Writer: Kayleigh MG