Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards 2016

I appear to have blagged tickets for the Mental Hamster Awards again, although I don't seem to remember how. Maybe I thought it was the Classic Rock Awards or something. Anyway, free stuff is always good - don't look a gift horse in the mouth - it probably has foul breath anyway.
It's Monday the 13th instead of Friday, but you can't have everything. Tickets were on sale for £6.66. Of course. Bloody good value if you had to buy a ticket - which is probably why it's sold out.

So I make my way down to Hammersmiff Odious - not one of my favourite venues these days, but a very appropriate one for a 'Metal' event all the same. Fortunately there is a Witheredprunes pub a couple of minutes walk from the venue, so I manage to get a few liveners down me before heading into the show - there's no way I'm going to buy a pint of the vastly overpriced piss they serve in the venue. More by luck than judgement (actually probably not for once) we arrive in the venue a couple of minutes before the first band start.

As this is an awards show rather than a conventional gig the bands only get to play around four songs each. This doesn't seem to stop the opening act Amon Amarth pulling out all the stops and bringing a full stage production!
I guess Amon Amarth are described as 'Viking Metal', and I have to admit they put on a very impressive show. The music? Heavy. Riffs. Shouting. Not much in the way of memorable songs, but I can see their appeal. It's an entertaining show, with more than a little of Spinal Tap about it. I'm not sure there is even any irony here - I think these guys are actually serious! Their performance is certainly committed and they really throw everything into it.
Amon Amarth leave me impressed, but I go home tonight without really remembering any of the actual music.

Various awards are presented and speeches given between the bands - some better or more interesting than others. Ex-Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison picked up the 'Golden God' award then gives a long and emotional speech revealing the real reasons for his exit from Slipknot and why he has been away for so long.

I am somewhat bemused when Halestorm's Lzzy (deliberate miss-spelling not a typo - that's how she chooses to spell her name) Hale get's the 'Dimebag Darrell Shredder Award'. 'Shredder'? He's a singer who plays rhythm guitar only. She's very good at fronting a band and is deserving of an award for that, but she's no more a 'shredder' than Izzy Stradlin - someone else plays the solos in her band. Speaking of Halestorm - they are the next band to play tonight.
I have never seen Halestorm before - or any of tonight's other bands come to that - apart from Saxon, but I have been looking forward to checking this lot out. They are pretty good. The band play classic rock with a modern twist and without being cliched.
Lzzy Hale has good stage presence as well as being an excellent singer - when she's not screaming. She has star quality and is a performer I'm sure we will be seeing a lot more of in future years. The whole band are good - a tight well drilled and tour-hardened unit who have put a lot of hard work in to get to where they are now.
Halestorm are a band I certainly wouldn't mind seeing again - they perform well, and unlike the previous act they have catchy and memorable songs. Which is why they are regularly on the radio unlike other acts on tonight's bill who have been around longer.

More awards and speeches follow - some more predictable than others - for a full list of all the winners go here. The next band are French metallers  Gojira.
Some sections of the metal press have been raving about this lot for years. I don't get it at all. Yes, they are very heavy. Yes, they have riffs. They can play fast, they are intense. But that's it. Sorry, but I want more. I want better riffs - I want songs that actually sound like songs rather than a bunch of not particularly good riffs strung together. Sure, they can play well. Sure, they can play fast - but so can a million other metal bands, and this just sounds like a generic modern metal band to me. Just being really heavy is not enough.

Things get a bit more interesting with the last act of the night. It's billed as a 'Tribute to Lemmy'. Well we are all up for that.
Things kicked off with Saxon (who supported Motörhead on tour a few times) playing three of Lemmy's favourite Saxon songs, then the two surviving members of Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee joined them to finish the night with three Motörhead classics: 'Ace Of Spades', 'Born To Raise Hell', and the inevitable 'Overkill'.
It was certainly a great end to the night. Mr Kilmister we salute you - we will never see your like again.

And it all finishes in time to get back to the pub for another pint or two before last orders and the tube home. Cheers!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Camden Rocks Festival 2016

So it finally arrived - one of the events of the year as far as I'm concerned. Around 200 bands spread over 20 venues - all within a few minutes walk of each other. Does the picture give you a clue to the first band I saw?
As usual there are a few time clashes, but my opening band was always going to be JoanOvArc at The Black Heart.
I was a bit worried that the band might be playing to a nearly empty room as they were the first band on at this venue and it was only 12.00. How many people would have got to Camden, picked up their tickets, and found the venue by midday? I needn't have worried - by the time JoanOvArc finished their first song the place was full! Needless to say, the band were on fine form - I have never seen them be anything less than great. They were also very loud! First band of the day and my ears were already knackered!
The girls rocked pretty hard - they always do. The setlist was a good mix of old and new. Their song 'Live Rock 'N' Roll' has been in their set for quite a few years now and is one of their best numbers. I am amazed that this band still haven't got more media coverage after all this time when newer bands like the Amorettes (more of whom later) and Tequila Mockingbird (who have a new song that sounds very similar to JoA's 'Live Rock 'N' Roll') seem to get regular press and airplay. I'm not saying those other girl bands don't deserve it, but JoA are at least as good as them and have worked longer and harder to be recognised.
I recognise some of JoA's hardcore fans as this gig, but there are a lot of new faces as well - including some London rock gig regulars who I have not seen and this band's shows before. I think JoanOvArc have won over quite a few new fans today - and it's barely lunchtime! This band are worthy successors to earlier all girl hard rockers like Girlschool (still gigging/recording) and Rock Goddess (recently reformed) but while heavily influenced by classic rock of the past they put a modern twist on things. They also have a strong catalogue of catchy and commercial sounding songs. JoanOvArc can and have veered in a more 'pop' direction on occasion, but their deep and passionate love of rock music always draws them back to what they do best. Although they concentrate on their own original material, they do throw in the odd cover, and I have never seen any band do a better and harder rocking version of 'Freebird'.They don't play it today though -  the girls only get to play for 30 minutes today so they are concentrating on promoting their own stuff. I was wondering if they might throw in 'Ace Of Spades' as a tribute to Lemmy like they did when they played at the Barfly earlier this year, but instead they surprise us with a tribute to another recently deceased musical legend - a spectacularly good version of 'Purple Rain'. All too soon JoanOvArc's lively set is over and I have to rush off down Camden High Street...

I arrive at my next port of call with my ears ringing from JoanOvArc's fearsomely loud performance. I find myself at the southern end of Camden at The Crowndale - the venue formerly known as the Purple Turtle. It seemed this excellent and much loved venue had closed for good thanks to Camden Council, but it seems to have a new lease of life under new owners of the lease - for now at least... Squatters had trashed the venue after the Purple Turtle closed, and now after a refurb and change of decor it looks very different inside, although the general layout of the place is unchanged.. The band I am here to see is The DeRellas, and like the venue things are not as they were....
The band have a new frontman. But, the good news is - like the venue it's business as usual. If you liked the DeRellas before then you'll probably still like them now - their brand of glammy trashy punk fuelled rock 'n' roll is pretty much unchanged and they still play the songs you liked before. If you didn't like the band before then you probably still won't like them, and they probably won't give a shit.
I didn't have time to catch more than a couple of songs before I had to leg it back up the High Street - unfortunately this is the farthest venue out from all the others in Camden and time was short. I can say however, that the DeRellas are still a lot of fun!

Meanwhile, at the Electric Ballroom evil things are afoot... To be a little more precise - Evil Scarecrow are afoot. Or aclaw. Or something. Be afraid - be very afraid. More afrayed than a hippie's pants. But you won't find any hippies here - it's toooo heavy maaan. So how heavy are Evil Scarecrow? They are very heavy indeed. They are also very funny. Ironic? Yes. And then again no. Because they are excellent musicians and take the music very seriously indeed. But if you take anything else seriously then you need to seriously consider getting a life. Evil Scarecrow make The Darkness seen very serious - which of course they aren't at all, but this band take their sense of the ridiculous to a whole new level. Even the irony is ironic. Maybe.
We are treated to the usual crowd pleasers like the brilliant 'Crabulon' with it's special audience participation and dance - if you go to an Evil Scarecrow show then you need to be prepared to 'Scuttle left' - and then 'Scuttle right' on command. There is also more audience participation required when we are asked to perform a 'War Dance' - which isn't like the conga at all. No - definitely not. At all. This band have always been enormous fun, but could only be found in smaller venues on their occasional visits to London. However, with some big festival performances under their studded belts they have raised their game and are now taking things onto another level - they are now playing much bigger venues in London like the Electric Ballroom. Since I last saw them the band have acquired a new and rather fantastic stage prop - a giant robot!
The band's song 'Robototron' (also with it's own special dance) now takes on a new lease of life and the band's other main stage prop the 'Crabulon' now looks rather feeble by comparison. I was too busy enjoying the spectacle to take any decent pictures of the new robot, but it is brilliant and rather cleverly designed with some interesting features. You really need to see it for yourself.

Emerging blinking into the daylight we head off up the road to Cuban to catch Ginger performing a solo acoustic set. The place is rammed (as Ginger's shows at Camden Rocks always are) so we get a bit crafty and sneak in round the back. The atmosphere is terrific in there as Ginger runs out a crowd pleasing setlist of material from his solo career as well as the odd WiLDHEARTS song to get even more people singing along very loudly.
My memory is starting to fail me a bit by this stage - possibly due to the contents of the two hip flasks I have about my person to avoid being ripped off at the bar at certain venues - well virtually all venues actually. And I think visits to BrewDog were also made at various points between bands as well. By this point I have already missed about five acts that I was hoping to catch, but this is due to time clashes rather than being disorganised or pissed - amazingly things are actually going to plan as far as is possible. However, at four o'clock there are four bands I want to see all playing at the same time in four different venues! The next band I actually manage to catch is The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing at Proud.
Last year at Camden Rocks this band were playing at Cuban - it was packed solid. This year they are playing at the rather larger Proud Galleries but this venue is packed as well. This mob are highly entertaining - even if you aren't into the Steampunk scene they are well worth checking out. Excellent musicians with imaginative, fiercely intelligent, and funny songs - laced with some very heavy riffing. This band are in a class of their own with their catchy and tuneful songs about great Victorian engineers, gin, sea monsters, death and the class system - and much more.

Next I'm hoping to catch Ginger's second set (of 3) of the day - this time at The Forge. On arrival at the venue it's immediately clear that there is no chance of getting in - the venue is already full and there is a queue outside. They are operating a 'One-in-one-out' system on the door and like Ginger's show at the Jazz Cafe at last year's festival it's quite obvious there is no chance of getting in unless you had already been queuing up outside for an hour or so beforehand. I am not prepared to miss possibly several other acts just to see one artist - and still risk possibly not even getting in anyway....

My next option was going to see Hands Off Gretel at The Barfly, but I calculated that as their set finish time was the same as the start time next act (which I was determined to see) it wasn't worth the risk - so we headed straight to The Monarch almost next door to see The Amorettes instead. This turned out to be my best decision of the day.  
We got into The Monarch with about ten minutes to spare before the band were due on stage - which was just as well as soon after that the management decided the place was full and they were turning people away at the door.
Like JoanOvArc who I saw earlier in the day the Amorettes are an all girl band featuring two sisters - on bass and drums instead of bass and guitar.. JoanOvArc were also originally a power trio like this lot but have expanded their lineup in more recent times. There is definitely no need for the Amorettes to add any extra members - as they are now they really put the POWER in 'power trio'. Of course, all girl hard rocking power trios aren't a new thing as Rock Goddess (recently reformed) were doing this back in the 80's while the four piece Girlschool (still going) were out supporting Motörhead on tour even before that.
They have drums, guitars, plus a lot of hair, and even more volume!
This is the third time I've seen this band. The first time was a year ago also at Camden Rocks festival. On that occasion I was impressed by their stage presence and musical proficiency, but they struck me as being rather generic and like a female version of Airbourne. My impression changed completely when I saw them earlier this year at the Pure Rawk Awards. They blew me away with the sheer power of their performance.The band seemed to have moved things onto a new level since I saw them last year with a fresher more original sound, but still rooted in classic rock. That Pure Rawk Awards show performance won me over totally and this is a band I was particularly looking forward to seeing at Camden Rocks. Like the time I saw them a few months ago I was once again very close to the stage and experiencing the band in full effect at maximum volume - and if anything they were even better at this gig!
As you might expect from Scots - they will hit you hard. The Amorettes will hit you very hard indeed - full in the face. These girls don't mess around. They play their hard rock music exactly how I like it - dirty, raw, and full on in-you-face. Just like at the Pure Rawk Awards I am near the front and getting the full effect of a guitar through a 4x12 Marshall speaker cabinet blasting right at me - and I love it! Although it has to be said that the guitar was plugged into a Blackstar amp and not a Marshall one. It sounded fucking great! I think a large part of the reason the guitar tone was so big and fat was because the guitar was going straight into the amp with no effects at all - which is exactly why the early classic AC/DC albums sound so great because they did that too. Oh, and it obviously helps a lot when you have somebody shit-hot playing the guitar - Angus Young is in a class of his own, but the Amorettes Gill Montgomery is pretty good in her own right.
This band are terrific performers and keep the energy level high throughout their set. Although Gill being the singer tends to be the focal point the sisters Heather and Hannah McKay are a powerhouse on bass and drums. Heather seems amused by the people she can see on the pavement just outside the pub window - some of them disappointed rock fans who couldn't get in, and some of them bemused passers-by wondering what the hell is going on! So she spends some time performing to those outside the window - which seems to be appreciated by those outside!
Most the bands I see at Camden Rocks this year are bigger and better known than The Amorettes but there is something primal and feral about this band that grabbed me more than any other act - dirty raw hard rock doesn't get much better than this!

BTW: I didn't make any special effort or use a different or better camera to get pictures of the Amorettes show - the only reason the pictures are so much better at this venue is that it was the only place at the whole festival where lighting conditions suited my cheapo pocket sized digicam - I probably could have got better pictures on my phone at the other venues than the ones I got from my 'proper' camera, but the phone camera is much less easy to use (often one handed) in crowded gig conditions and I have dropped my phone (or had it knocked from my hand) more than once at gigs - my £50 camera is far more expendable than my phone and I have broken several camera at gigs. Breaking a phone is far more expensive as well more inconvenient.

Still reeling from the Amorettes performance I find myself in a blur of band/stage time clashes again. I manage to catch a very short part of Deadcuts set before or after (maybe both) a quick livener in BrewDog which leaves me with a bit of a Johnny Thunders vibe before finding myself back at Proud yet again to catch Ginger for the second time of the day after failing to get into his show earlier at The Forge. Different songs from earlier of course, but plenty of crowd pleasers and sing-a-long standards from his solo albums along with the odd Wildhearts classic. Needless to say the place is packed and the atmosphere is terrific! I didn't bother trying to get any decent pictures from this set as I knew that others would be doing a better job than me - so I just enjoyed the show...

The next band I see also has a Wildhearts connection..It's The Main Grains - also playing in the dreaded Proud venue. Actually, it's only the bar and it's prices that I hate and avoid - to be fair it's evolved into quite a decent venue in some respects - I just refuse to drink in there. Kind of ironic as many of the songs and maybe even the band name of this next act are booze inspired. The Main Grains are the latest band to feature ex-Wildhearts and Yo-Yo's bassist Danny McCormack. If you are familiar with Danny's previous two bands the Yo-Yo's and The Chasers then you'll know exactly what to expect. It's raw punk 'n' roll in a formula unchanged since the earliest days of the Yo-Yo's, but with a completely new band backing Danny up and all new songs. Although you won't recognise any of the songs (apart from a cover) if you liked the Yo-Yo's then you'll almost certainly like the Main Grains too. And Danny is still playing that old badly painted yellow Precision Bass.
The large room at Proud is pretty full to see Danny's new band, and I don't think the crowd are disappointed. To be honest I feel it's like the Yo-Yo's, but not as good. These guys are competent musicians and Danny is on good form but that vital spark that the original Yo-Yo's lineup had is missing. There are some catchy new songs, but in places one or two of them sound like Yo-Yo's re-treads, I don't think letting the drummer sing a cover version (Teenage Kicks) mid-set is a good idea either - I think it de-values the band and reduces them to 'pub band' level while also making you think they can't write enough songs of their own. I know they are better than that. This is definitely a band worth keeping an eye open for.

Timing clashes continue as the evening draws on. I would have liked to see The Godfathers at Cuban but I only managed to catch the first song - they opened with the title track from their 'Birth, School, Work, Death' album and it sounded great!
Unfortunately I had to rush off almost as soon as the Godfathers started. I would have also liked to see the Black Spiders at Proud, but as I saw them at Camden Rocks last year it wasn't so bad missing them - I knew I had to get back to The Black Heart in plenty of time to get in as I was sure it would be packed by the time Warrior Soul hit the stage. It was!
This was the hottest, most rammed, and most intense show I saw all day/night at Camden Rocks 2016. The songs were a mixture of old and new(ish) and the energy  level was amazing! The band were on fire and Kory Clarke gave 100% as always as he unleashed his lion-like trademark roar on the crowd.
Hearing Warrior Soul perform an off-the-hook version of 'Wasteland' in a tiny, rammed, and very hot venue was a terrific way to end my 2016 Camden Rocks festival, but it wasn't quite over yet...

There was still more beer to be drunk, and one final but very different act to enjoy. Just a few yards away from The Black Heart is BrewDog - where I find myself yet again. The downstairs bar at this boozer is a bit on the small size for anything but solo or acoustic acts. However, trio The Lounge Kittens have been shoehorned in along with a crowd of existing fans and the merely curious. It's actually their second Camden Rocks show of the day, but due to the inevitable timing clashes I couldn't get to their earlier show at 55 Bar. These three girls are great fun! With only keyboard accompaniment they perform lounge/easy listening versions of songs well known to rock fans. You often have to listen to a song for a minute or so before the penny drops and you realise you are listening to an Iron Maiden song! The girls also have a very knowing and cheeky sense of humour - they appear to be having enormous fun but are also excellent singers and performers. They do some well known pop songs as well, but it's the rock stuff which is the most entertaining - they do seem like they are genuine rock chicks at heart and it's not just an act - they really do love rock music, but put a very different twist on it.They also do a fun pop/punk medley. Quite a few well known rock classics get the Lounge Kittens treatment - not just the ones you might expect, but also Metallica and even Slipknot! It's gone midnight by the time the Lounge Kittens finish, and I am finally starting to flag - I really need to sit down. I think I must be getting old, but then I realise that I have been on my feet constantly without sitting down even for a moment in well over twelve hours! And I have have quite a lot of drinks in that time and no food whatsoever. I think it's time to go home - fortunately I haven't missed the last tube.
 Well once again Camden Rocks was a great day out. It was excellent value for money at around £30 for 200 bands, although I have noticed the price of a ticket has been going up far quicker than inflation over the past few years. I am guessing that this is because the festival is paying out more money to bigger headliners than in it's earlier days. I'm not really interested in the bigger headline acts and don't go to see them anyway - I'm far more interested in all the smaller more underground bands many of whom I've not had a chance to see before. Personally I'd rather they did without the more expensive headline acts and kept the ticket price down while booking more up-and-coming bands - but maybe that's just me?
I made a list beforehand of 28 acts I wanted to see, but knowing I'd have to miss many of them due to the inevitable timing clashes. Eventually I managed to catch 11 of them, although some of them only in part. I'm sorry to have missed London SS, Death Koolaid, the Anita Chellamah Band, Penetration, Ginger (2nd set of 3), Black Casino & The Ghost, Gun, Peckham Cowboys,  the Role Models, Hands Off Gretel, the Lounge Kittens (1st set), The Graveltones, Virginmarys, Jim Jones, Queen Kwong, and the Black Spiders - although I saw some of those acts at Camden Rocks last year - and maybe I'll catch some of the others next year....

So - same time next year then?