Hard Rock Hell is rightly gaining a reputation for being the best hard rock festival known to mankind. Now in its 7th cycle (dubbed Cirque du Rock), I think it's fair to say this was one of the strongest line ups to date.

After selling out months in advance, even the Thursday evening (renowned for being quieter) was rammed in stage two entitled the Cirque du Rock Ball. With many revellers dressed in clown and ringmaster costumes, the usual party atmosphere was there from the outset and it's always great to see the community spirit that comes along with this completely unique festival. Here, everyone is a new friend you haven't made yet!

The opening act for the weekend fell to Lancaster lads Massive Wagons and there was definitely an air of excitement in the ever growing crowd. A new name for me, I was instantly hooked by their no frills rock n roll style and their just want to have fun demeanour. Singer Barry Mills' vocals are powerful and suits their balls out, foot to the floor performance looking every bit the quintessential rockstar. Closing the set was a bit of a gamble with their performance of Jail House rock, but even considering the minor lyric memory lapse, it really got the crowd jumping.

Next up to take to the stage was Uli John Roth. Originally doubtful to whether the ageing hippie would hold my attention, his set was full of Scorpions classics and I was blown away by his guitar skills. It was a phenomenal set featuring Sun in my Hand, We'll Burn the Sky and In Trance and the crowd lapped up his presence on stage. It was great to see such a guitar legend gracing a festival with his skills.

Next up came the official Hard Rock Hell opening ceremony starring circus entertainers Area 51, Igor and the Caravan of Lost Souls. Featuring twisted ringmasters, dancers, magicians, fire hoopers, angle grinders and fire breathers this show definitely warmed the crowd up. From the moment they hit the stage the crowd was enthralled wondering what was going to happen next. The only down side was that they were confined to such a small space. It would have been great to see them on a larger stage with more freedom to move around.

Getting back to the guitar theme for the evening was Bernie Torme who got the crowd involved in the fun they were having on stage and increasing the party atmosphere even further.

After a quick pizza break, we returned just in time for the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The stage was set with menacing tribal statues and before he even came on stage you knew you were in for something, well, a little crazy. Given that he has been performing for longer than I have been alive, it's incredible seeing that he and the band haven't lost any of their energy, presence and downright weirdness. This was a proper show in its own right, with dancers, masks and greasepaint and was a fantastic addition to the HRH line-up. Featuring a mixture of classic tracks with the odd cover (I Put a Spell on You being a particular favourite of mine) answered most people's questions of how a psychedelic rock band could hold a hard rock crowds interest. The peak of the show occurring when the mostly drunken revellers went just that little bit more crazy at the intro "I am the God of hell fire....". Joined on stage by his dancer now enrobed in a swishy gold frock it was spectacular even though he disappointingly didn't actually set himself on fire this time.

Next up were festival regulars Attica Rage. Almost becoming an unofficial house band for Hard Rock Hell, it's clear to see why they are invited back so often! Offering some heaviness to the eclectic mixture of bands on opening night, they provide the perfect soundtrack for the heavy drinking and party atmosphere (which by now is reaching its crescendo!) Belting out tracks like Killer Carousel and 36 Insane the crowd were lapping it up. Featuring a mid set appearance from the Area 51 fire girls, the guys really know how to put on a great show, finishing off with a cracking rendition of the Osmond's Crazy Horses! Can't wait to see these Glaswegians again next year!

Unfortunately due to our early start and, shall we say adventurous journey to HRH we had to call it a night before seeing Fireroad and Krusher but we only heard good things the following morning as we were preparing for our days busy itinerary.


After an interesting start to our early morning talking breakfast in the local Spar shop with Skindreds Benji Webbe, we took off to see what the day had in store...

Heading over to Bonga Wonga, the new stage for the unplugged sets we caught the delightful Mia Klose set. After seeing her perform earlier in the year at HRH AOR in Rotherham I was looking forward to seeing how she would cut the set back to perform acoustically. The Swedish bombshell oozed confidence as she took to the stage with her two guitarists. Her controlled yet powerful voice suited the uncut stage perfectly and she seemed clearly blown away by the amount of people gathered eagerly watching her. In a weird way, the best part of the set for me was when there was a technical glitch and all the power switched off, yet Mia kept on singing and the guys kept on playing - now that's a true unplugged session!

Not long after that we had to make a run for our first interview of the day with Skindred so we unfortunately missed a few bands but had a great time chatting made up Caribbean breakfasts followed by our next interview with Mia Klose.

We then caught Skindred's unplugged set which I have to admit, blew me away. Opening with Pressure, Benji's voice was amazing and although he admitted he wasn't used to singing properly and had forgotten words, he put on a cracking show with amazing passion and a fair bit of crowd participation too. Also treating us to a version of new single Kill The Power I couldn't wait to see their main set on stage one later.

We then made a quick trip up to HRH Heaven to catch the end of the fabulous Tygers of PanTang set, another welcome return to the HRH regulars. Tracks like Story so Far and Don't Touch me There received a great reaction from the crowd. Whilst the music isn't particularly sophisticated, the Tygers produce catchy rock that holds the crowds interest. After suffering several line up changes, these guys have never quite managed to hit the limelight which is a shame seeing that they've been around since 1978. Finishing off with Euthanasia, the crowd were sporting huge smiles, clearly enjoying the veterans performance.

Following on from the other tremendous acts at HRH Heaven were the Scottish quintet Logan. Yet another new discovery for me, their music has been described as post grunge but there was a definite classic grunge vibe from Kenny Collins vocals backed by Mick Colls guitar work. Make it Happen and Make No Mistake were phenomenal and the lighting and smoke helped create a stunning atmosphere (although I'm not sure some of the photographers in the pit would agree.) Surprisingly unsigned, these guys have been around for a decade and have an impressive back catalogue of support slots to their name. I think 2014 could well be the year for them!

There was quite a buzz surrounding the next band to take to HRH Heaven, mostly from the men folk getting over excited by the all girl metal band Crucified Barbara. Maybe that's due to the fact that there really aren't many of them around, but in all fairness I was impressed. Power metal riffs overlaying classic metal fills made for a great show. Vocals reminiscent of Bonnie Tyler from front woman Mia Coldheart and tracks like I am the Crucifier and new track Shut Your Mouth got the crowd clapping along and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Finally managing to make the trip over to the Jagermeister Stage resulted in seeing a band that will definitely be one to look out for. A hard rock outfit hailing from Scunthorpe, Skarlett Riot sit very comfortably between Halestorm and The Distillers and to say they are impressive is an understatement! Amazingly catchy riffs and a vocalist that couldn't possibly have been born to do anything other than sing with her multi faceted rich voice. The band is surprisingly tight and accomplished and I can honestly hear each track on the radio especially super catchy Turn Me Down. I can't wait to see what 2014 has in stores for these multi talented musicians.

Next came the delightful Enuff Z'Nuff who I've never had the pleasure of seeing on stage but after our Thursday interview with Chip and Johnny, I couldn't wait to see what they would get up to on stage. There were a few live errors like forgetting which Country they were actually in and Chip introducing a song they'd already played, but the soft vocals and pop harmonies made the majority of the crowd forgive them. A strange combination of styles (both visual and musically) bizarrely worked especially on tracks like Love Train and the classic Fly High Michelle. Then came the most impressive, yet slightly surreal moment I think I have ever witnessed at a rock festival...a full on pop medley featuring The Proclaimers, Bryan Adams, Journey, Carly Rae Jepson and Miley Cyrus which the crowd sang along to without hesitation and pure joy. So bizarre yet so perfect - pure genius.

A bit of a strange mix next, in the form of Swedish sleaze band Sister. Somewhat of a clash of styles, they seem to be well known on the scene with a unique blend of metal, sleaze and punk. For the mere 35 minutes that Sister had on stage they had the crowd eating out of their hands, so it would have been great to see what energy they could have created with a longer set. Featuring classic rock riffs and much angrier, darker lyrical content, they invigorate the crowd especially on Bullshit and Backstabbing

And so back to HRH Heaven to see the first of the main headline acts to, quite frankly rock out, in the form of Black Star Riders. Opening with All Hell Breaks Loose was immensely fitting as the packed out crowd did indeed go mental! The room was full to the brim of banging heads and audible excitement at the mention of the life changing new album, which of course we can trust him on because he's Irish. Playing new tracks including catchy single Bound For Glory and Hey Judas interspersed with the Thin Lizzy classics, the two very different eras blended well and pleased the massively mixed age group. The crowd went expectedly crazy for tunes including Jailbreak and Are you Ready and the Irish cap was tipped to Phil Lynotts memory during Emerald. The harmonica made an outing for Cowboy Song and the excitement was palpable for an amazing performance of The Boys are Back in Town which was a massive crowd pleaser. There was also time for an incredible encore of Whiskey in the Jar and a cover of Bob Seger's Rosalie which saw them being joined on stage by Phil Campbell. An outstanding set that proves that The Riders are coming all guns blazing and will be here for a while to come!

Now please excuse me if I become a little mushy during this review, but I have a real soft spot for Welsh Reggae Rockers Skindred. Seeing as I'd already met, interviewed and seen the acoustic set I was extremely excited to bear witness to a full Skindred set in all its glory and I was by no means disappointed. Following a double intro of Thunderstruck and the Star Wars Imperial March the guys took to the stage with recently released teaser track Ninja and the crowd were already eating out of Benjis hands. A master of his craft, he exudes an insane confidence that comes easily to his charming yet commanding nature that the wild crowd laps up. However good the Skindred albums are, they really do come into their own on stage. The set is packed full of classic crowd favourites like Rat Race and Cut Dem but nothing compares to the reaction to the intro to Pressure and Nobody. After a brief exit from the stage, the band re-entered to The Prodigy's Breathe and closed HRH Heaven with an amazing rendition of Warning that featured the Newport Helicopter. After that I walked back to our apartment buzzing with the biggest grin on my face.


So now we come to the third and final day of HRH VII and people are clearly slightly more heavy headed than they were on Friday as they make their way up to HRH Heaven to see Italian Metallers Arthemis. An unenviable task of opening the stage, but kudos to the guys for waking up the sleepy crowd. After seeing these guys back at Hammerfest I know that they would step up to the challenge with ease. A fantastic mix of thrash riffs and operatic vocals, Fabio seemed genuinely humbled at the turnout.

After seeing The Treatment last year on tour with Steel Panther, I couldn't wait to see the Cambridgeshire guys take to the stage again. Taking a surprisingly early slot, the room was packed out as the set opened with Drink, F*ck, Fight reminding everyone as to why these guys have bagged so many impressive support slots over their relatively short career. Most notably being their current tour with Aussie Rockers Airbourne who would take to the same stage later on. The Treatment play heavy rock and they play it well. This backed with their brilliant song writing ability makes for a set reminiscent of early Aerosmith. It was great to see the band carrying on after the distressing news that guitarist Dan Brooklands father is terminally ill and stand in guitarist Jake Pattinson is an incredible addition to the line up. I Bleed Rock and Roll and Alley of the Dogs are great tracks in their own right but The Doctor and closing track Shake The Mountain are most certainly new anthems! A great job and I can't wait to see them on their headline tour next year!

After yet more interviews, we made our way back up to catch the inimitable Blaze Bayley at HRH Heaven. As part of the reason many revellers had made the trip to North Wales, there was a certain amount of pressure on this ex Iron Maiden front man and judging by the grin on his face he was up to the challenge. Being part of the Ex maiden double header (Paul Dianno was to take to the stage after Blaze) really had attracted an impressive crowd and Bayley performed an excellent selection of tracks from his time with the band. Ably backed by his own talented backing band, he rolled back the years kicking things off with Lord of The Flies. Featuring other tracks like Blood on the Worlds Hands and The Clansman Blaze really did go down a storm.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for his touring partner Paul Di'Anno as he announced he "had the shits, so sorry if I disappear quickly" before even hobbling half way across the stage. After shouting his way through the Maiden back catalogue, the audience really don't seem to be enjoying themselves much. The band, which are conveniently the same group that backed Bayley put in a stellar performance, but Di'Anno charges through the songs at double pace ruining the act. Being joined on stage by Blaze for an encore of "Iron Maiden" made the set somewhat slightly more enjoyable but the show should have ended there rather than Di'Anno slipping into a Sex Pistols cover of Holidays in the Sun, a possible nod to his retirement?

After a quick dash across to the Jagermeister Stage, I managed to catch the last part of Swedish Metallers Fatal Smile and in all honesty I wish I'd left the Di'Anno set to catch these guys in their entirety. Well and truly firing up the HRH crowd, these guys are theatrical metal at its best and I shall definitely be keeping an eye on any future appearances.

Michael Monroe has been in the business for over thirty years and hasn't really changed much during that time. Back at HRH Heaven, he was as flamboyant as ever, performing a set full of new material as well as classics dating back to his Hanoi Rocks days like Motorvatin' and Malibu Beach Nightmare. A real talent both as a front man and as a saxophonist, he delivered an impressive performance and has definitely won me over.

Now we move to the main act of the weekend for me as Aussies Airbourne take to the stage to the most ridiculously hyped up crowd I've seen in a long time! The excitement was literally electric throughout the whole set and of course it really wouldn't be an Airbourne gig without frontman Joel O'Keefe going walkabout through the adoring crowd. He pretty much completed a lap of the entire room still playing his guitar! It was truly something to behold. Also complete with some humorous banter where Joel seemed genuinely shocked that a woman atop someone's shoulder caught a can of beer and suggesting that she should play for England in the Ashes which momentarily turned the crowd against him, but it didn't last long! Featuring a mixture of songs taking in the classics from the bands three album discography as well as the anthemic Back in the Game and Diamonds in the Rough which saw the crowd throw their hands into the air in diamond shapes prove that these guys are indeed a force to be reckoned with! Followed with a three song encore, Joel ascended the Marshall stacks to rapturous applause, followed by yet another lap of the room and smashing beer cans off his head alongside Black Spiders frontman Pete "Spider" Spiby, this amazing no frills performance was intense and pretty much puts most of today other bands to shame!

Unfortunately due to the show running a little late, my body and brain were completely battered and so we made our way back to our chalet to reflect on what can only be described as a truly incredible weekend. Many more new friends made and many dreams answered in the form of our interviews we came away wanting to do it all over again. Massive congratulations are due to all that make this festival the experience it is. You all do a cracking job and make ours so much more fun!

Jo Lloyd