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Z Rock 2011
The Asylum, Birmingham 15 May 2011
chequered history, it's amazing to report that Z Rock is now 12 years
old, albeit less well attended than it was in the early 2000's when for
a few years the Z records label boasted a stellar roster of some of
melodic hard rock's better known acts.
beleaguered Z supremo Mark Alger took a different approach to crafting a
line-up, booking It Bites, an established name but from a different
genre, to headline and pull in a different group of punters in addition
to us melodic rock diehards.
built rock venue in a Birmingham industrial estate with the air of a
giant barn, The Asylum was sadly sparsely filled as local band
Daylight Robbery opened proceedings and were a pleasant surprise.
For a new
band, they were very musically polished, if at times melodramatic, with
the slightly progressive, pompy air of a Shotgun Symphony. With songs
like Cross My Heart and Real Love is the Answer with some spot on
harmonies, I marked them down as a band to watch.
Next up were
two of the UK's hardest working melodic rock bands, making the most of
increasingly rare gig opportunities. First up were Sacred Heart,
noticeably heavier than when I last saw them about five years ago.
were solid and tight with some surprisingly metallic riffing from
impressive lead guitarist Mark Stephenson and singer and guitarist Paul
Stead - however I found my attention to songs like Lay it On the Line
and Rock n Roll Away distracted by the way his Bluetooth-like headset
gave him the air of a nightclub bouncer.
I had been
looking forward to Tara's Secret, but was personally disappointed
that they had forsaken the keyboards that are a big part of their
recorded sound, with Craig Chapman switching to guitar.
appeared a bit cluttered, and I later discovered they had been unable to
hear what was coming out of their monitors, but they plugged on
enthusiastically with songs such as the title track form the last album
Vertigo and Homeland.
The bar was
raised, as to be honest was the sound from the mixing desk, when Swedes
Coldspell took the stage, and having heard others rave about them
I was full of anticipation. Opener Heroes got their set off to a fine
start, but for a while I was disappointed in the relative lack of hooks
while singer Niklas Swedentorp (sic) lacked stage presence.
had been wrongly been expecting the fluff of fellow countrymen such as
Heat and Houston, whereas they are serious musicians steeped in classic
slowly came together for me with the likes of the more accessible One in
a Million and the title track from their current sophomore release, Out
From the Cold. An ultimately triumphant set finished with Keep on
Believing, with keyboards straight out of Deep Purple's Perfect
Strangers, and Straight Things Out.
hour long break and sharing a giant pizza dripping with grease, it was
back to find proceedings running late and next on were Germans Mad
Max, led by the prolific Michael Voss, now also MSG's new singer. To
my shame, until seeing a lone fan at the front in a 1985/86 tour
T-shirt, I was only vaguely aware they had been going on and off for so
archetypally German in the mould of Bonfire and Fair Warning, with solid
riffing topped off by Michael's raspy vocals and the occasional high
pitched scream. As so many Teutonic bands do - against the national
stereotype! - their sense of fun on stage also won over the audience.
songs seemed to be taken from their earlier albums and sounded a touch
dated with an air of early 80's Saxon. But as the set progressed the
likes of Family of Rock and Little Princess were much more convincing,
as was Hollywood Angels from one of Michael's' other bands Casanova.
They closed with a rather cheesy cover of Fox on the Run but it had me
singing along to close a thoroughly enjoyable set.
Next up were
Arabia, who I had found no more than average at Z Rock back in
2002 so expectations were not high. But from the moment charismatic
frontman and sole original member John Blaze came on stage, looking like
David Coverdale right down to the mike stand twirling, and sounding not
unlike him, they were a revelation.
rich ballads 1001 Nights and No Place like Home, rockers like Love Love
Me Do or the bluesy So Tired, nearly every song hit me between the eyes.
to the band of UK melodic rock stalwarts - guitarist Vince O'Regan,
keyboardist Irvine Parratt, bassist Steve McKenna and drummer Lee Morris
- who formed a truly outstanding band but it was the keyboard driven,
catchy Till the Day I Die that was my personal highlight. That was until
they surprisingly ended with a cover of Hot Chocolate's Brother Louie,
which got the Asylum's barmaids, dressed in nurse's uniforms, dancing on
top of the bar!
After a long
changeover, Legion, who have released two albums on Z, took the
stage with Vince O'Regan and Irvine Parratt doing a double shift.
Unfortunately singer Phil Vincent, despite being a well respected name
in the AOR world and with a solid voice reminding me of Triumph's Gil
Moore, looked ill at ease out front, standing stiffly in his baseball
cap and shades.
this uncertainly transmitted itself to the band and, for all Vince's
rapid guitar shredding, I must admit the songs did not leap out at me
either and appeared a tad samey.
surrounded by the same faces all day, it was slightly unnerving that
around 70 It Bites fans had changed the nature of the crowd.
However they also brought in their own sound man and equipment, with the
result that after an hour's changeover they hit the stage at 11, over an
hour and a quarter later than billed. I was surprised to hear them open
with their massive hit Calling All the Heroes, which was probably a good
idea to hook in those such as myself less familiar with their catalogue.
imaginative keyboard passages from the rather miserable looking John
Beck, and arrangements and harmonies that at times reminded me of the
cleverness of 10cc, they were very listenable.
lead guitarist John Mitchell wears the mantle of the departed Francis
Dunnery lightly and also had a dry sense of humour which helped quell
some of the discontent at them coming on late and having their set
new song was aired alongside material from their last album The Tall
Ships, and oldies like Old Man and the Angel, but as the curfew fell
they ended with the very catchy Kiss Like Judas, and I was taken by
surprise to see so many of their fans pogo-ing up and down.
There is no
getting away from the fact this was a disappointingly attended show. And
yet, with eight acts covering a range of bases, all playing their hearts
out, and the likes of Arabia and Mad Max a revelation, it was a
thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding 11 hours for those of us who did make
the effort. Former Kerrang favourite Paul Sabu is promised for 2012 -
lets hope he pulls the punters back in.
photos by Andy Nathan
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