Hard Rock Hell: Sleaze II - O2 Academy Sheffield
Sheffield seems to be an odd destination for a bunch of Rock fans in their thirties, forties and more to head to. But here we are, all travelling to the Steel City for the first weekend in September.
Hard Rock Hell have been running Rock events and mini festivals now for a good few users and have a great reputation for putting together line ups to tantalise even the most jaded fan. They've now gotten to a point where they can now create separate events with more focused themes. There's Stoner/Doom events, Alternative Country Rock, Battle Metal. This one probably caters more to my age demographic and so here I am at HRH Sleaze II.
Sleaze Rock looks towards the mid to late eighties where Glam Rock bands walked tall across stages in their stacked heel boots before Grunge came along to try and make these teased hair dinosaurs obsolete. Most bands in this genre disappeared after trying to adapt and survive but others continued. Motley Crue had a good run with various levels of success. Def Leppard continued to tour and record but without the levels of success that "Pyromania" and "Hysteria" brought them. And let's not forget Guns 'N Roses and their soap opera circus of revolving members and late start time shows.
Sleaze was never really my thing. I never got into backcombing my hair or anything like that, the closest I ever really got was having a perm (hell, it was the eighties after all). My best friend at college, Mark, introduced me to a lot of bands from that genre. His knowledge of that area of music is encyclopaedic and has forever burning me taped of the latest albums he’d bought.
In celebration of this particular kind of music, the Hard Rock Hell team have put together their second “festival” featuring some bands from that's original era as well as several new bands that draw a fair influence from that particular well. It’s spread across two days and two stages within the O2 venue. There’s the main stage with bands starting later on the first day there but a smaller second stage is situated upstairs allowing some running between the two for a while if that’s what you fancy.
First point of call though for me and my girlfriend is the Harley Hotel, and more importantly, it’s Twisted Burger franchise. It’s the meeting point for some friends for us to get together before heading off to the gig. There’s time for drinks, chat and some damn tasty burgers before we head over to the O2. We’re there for the opening band, a band that’s become a real passion for myself and a good few of my friends. The Idol Dead are a tsunami of energy and enthusiasm live, something that they manage to transfer pretty well into their recordings. Their album “Tension And Release” was my album of the year last year and has become something I turn to when I need energy and some zen like wisdom. Their appearance opening the second stage is their third performance since the previous evening when they played the HRH team’s Friday night party. Between that and the their apearance here they’ve also managed to fit in a VIP acoustic performance. One of the hardest working bands in Rock? They could certainly be up there.
This is my second time seeing them live and they do not disappoint. Their take on glammy punked up Rock is catchy as hell and matches the band’s infectious enthusiasm. Polly Phluid leads the band’s army of fans in a sing a long that is nearly as loud as the band themselves. Tim and KC rip through riffs with their guitars while the rhythm section of Dan and Nish on bass and drums respectively hold the beat. If you weren’t a fan at the start of their set, you will be by the end. They tear through the set at such a pace they even manage to slip a couple of extra songs in. First official band of weekend and they’ve already set the bar high enough for others to fall short.
We manage to catch a couple of songs from the second band Psychobabylon before we decide to bail. The band are cool but Emma is bordering on exhaustion after driving around 450 miles in the last day, so we head back to the hotel that we’re booked into to grab a few hours rest. Suitably refreshed a few hours later we head back to the venue. Again we hook up with the friends I met earlier. Events like this are about the social aspect as much as the music side. There’s lots of people talking as well as seeing the bands, but at least the people have the good sense to talk away from the the stages so people carry on watching. There is some good chatter around the Senton Bombs who were on my the second stage earlier, another band to add to the “must see at some point” list.
Special guests on the Saturday are Jetboy, a band who’re here on UK shores for the first time in history. They’ve a strong legacy, one I’ll admit I’m not really up on. But the five piece are greeted with the welcome that is normally reserved for a headliner. They bounce around the stage as if the past thirty years haven’t happened, mohawked frontman Mickey Finn whipping the crowd back up if their energy dropped. Not only are they playing their hits but they’ve also got a new album in the can ready to drop soon. There’s a lot of grins onstage, especially from Rob Lane who’s stepped into the bass role for the shows with a brief chance to pick up the songs. Not that you would guess as it looks as though he’s been in the line up for years.
What should have been a twenty minute change over takes over twice as long as the crowd were starting to get restless. But, just as people were staring to get annoyed, Ozzy’s 'Diary Of A Madman' blasts over the PA and L.A Guns take to the stage. They have a checkered history with a reputation as the band who almost made it, being part of one the original line ups of some obscure band called Guns N Roses. Apparently they’ve got a few albums out.
Phil Lewis hits the notes admirably but his face is looking pale and gaunt. The road miles are etched all over his face but the reaction of the audience keeps him energised. To his left is Tracii Guns, guitar strapped to him like he’s still playing on the Sunset Strip in LA in the eighties. He looks healthier than the frontman, bearded, tanned and muscular, not looking his age at all. After several songs he takes out a violin bow and starts sawing away at his Les Paul before starting 'Over The Edge', the opening track of their third album "Hollywood Vampires". By this point though I’m beat. Tiredness and the onslaught of the pa has caught up with me so I decide to head back to the hotel and get rested ready for day two.
Sunday sees another sunny day in Sheffield and we decide to blow off seeing most of the days bands and get chance to see the city. Sheffield was once pretty much run down after the dismantling of the steel and coal industry in the eighties but now, after several years of cash and revitalisation, it’s a healthy, almost pretty city, especially in the sun. It feels cosmopolitan and very European, quite relaxing. If you’ve never been it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re passing (note, definitely try to head to Pieminster, a food place where you can eat pie and bacon infused ice cream). There’s public sculptures, a winter garden as well as new, modern high rise towers sitting comfortably next to older Victorian buildings. It sounds like it all clashes but it’s really a sign that the North isn’t completely forgotten. How it fares after we leave Europe still leaves a lot of unanswered questions that it’s residents eye cautiously.
After a few beers at a local Rock bar, we head back to venue. Again, the atmosphere is quite relaxed. There’s a lot of excited chatter about the Black Bullets who seem to have won over a lot of hearts with their afternoon stage 2 performance. I mentally add them to same list as The Senton Bombs and get ready for the last couple of bands of the festival.
Tigertailz hail from Cardiff, a place that’s not exactly up there with LA, but that doesn’t stop the band doing what they do best. Bass player Berty Burton walks on stage, urging the audience to clap along with him as Jay Pepper, the band’s long serving guitarist, joins him on the opposite side of the stage. The band are happy to be there and the audience welcome them like familiar friends. I’ll admit, I don’t know much of their catalogue, they were a band that passed me by in their hay day, but I’m not completely ignorant of them. Their album ”Bezerk” was released back in 1990 and is seen as their main classic. They serve up a selection of their hits with current frontman Rob Wylde handling the vocals with ease. The band are fun and full of smiles. The only time the mood changes is when they play 'Heaven' which is dedicated to the departed Pepsi Tate, the band’s bass player who untimely passed away from cancer in 2007, a shadow that’s still cast long over the band. It’s an emotional touch and one the audience and band bond together worldlessly. Before too long the band are blasting out ‘Love Bomb Baby’ before withdrawing from the stage allowing the headliners ring the weekend to a close.
Swedes Backyard Babies are almost celebrating thirty years since forming. The band have been blending their take on Sleazy Punk Rock for a while now, with the band taking a short hiatus a few years ago. Since the break, Backyard Babies have recorded the album “13 Or Nothing” with a new one being written ready for release next year. They are a formidable collective, full of snarling energy in Nicke Borg, the band’s singer/guitarist. To his left is Dregden, the band’s other guitarist and focal point. It’s hard to take your eyes off him as he slashes away at his guitar and shimmying around the stage. Johan Blomqvist with his long greasy hair and leather jacket adds the bottom end whilst Peder Carlsson pummels away at his kit, holding a steady beat for the band to hang their high energy music from.
They peel off hit after hit from their back catalogue, making the music seem effortless. They draw inspiration from bands like The Clash, The Ramones and New York Dolls, each song paired back to it’s leanest form. Their set is catchy and sprints away at a hell of a pace. There’s no long drawn out solos or over long banter between songs. Their agenda is for the audience to have a great time, shouting and singing along with the band at every opportunity. With material like ‘Brand New Hate’, ‘Minus Celsius’ and ‘Madman’ at their disposal, their set is literally a non stop party. They’re not adverse to throwing in the odd pre recorded sample or music as the song ‘13 Or Nothing’ will attest. Some Punk types will argue that it’s not part of the genre’s DNA but isn’t the whole spirit of Punk more of a middle finger to musical convention? Good on them.
Their ninety minute set is over before you realise it. The house lights are back up and the venue’s security team are asking everyone nicely to vacate the venue. People shuffle out, grins plastered across their faces, hugging friends and strangers alike. It’s like travelling back thirty years to the Rock clubs of the past. But the weekend hasn’t been reliant purely on nostalgia, with plenty of new breed bands taking what they want from the older music’s DNA. It shows that Grunge didn’t kill the big hair bands. They carried on, not at the level they were probably accustomed to, but the energy and passion is still there. There’s the odd knowing wink at the past, but it all feels natural. Nothing feels forced. It’s about having a good time, enjoying yourself and having fun and, damn it, don’t we deserve it? Of course we do! Here’s to next years event.
Review - Scott Hamilton