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Z Rock 2011 @ The Asylum, Birmingham (15/5/11)

posted 25 Jul 2011, 15:45 by Paul Woodward
Review by Woody
Photo's by Paul Jasper
Last year’s Z Rock was going to be at JB’s in Dudley, but was cancelled for a few reasons but most notably the Club’s imminent closure didn’t help. Thankfully the Festival stayed in the Midlands, this time moving to the Asylum in Birmingham – where the festival had taken place in 2008.

Perhaps not the strongest of line-up’s as far as drawing a crowd is concerned, but there were quite a few bands I wanted to see and hats off to the organiser for having faith with some great British bands and giving them the opportunity to play. Although I think most melodic rock fans were a little bemused at the choice of today’s headliners – It Bites!

The turnout for the festival over the course of the day was really low, one friend even joking with me about ringing rent-a-crowd! Having said that the bands just got on with it and although I’m sure many were disheartened by the size of the audience they didn’t let it show! The venue did fill up a little bit more after 9 when the It Bites fans showed up – but even then it wasn’t anything to write home about.

Next year’s Z Rock 2012 has all ready been announced with Paul Sabu headlining, Legion, Arabia & Coldspell returning, with the additions of Shakra, Vanden Plas & Steele. This time the festival returns to the Black Country – The Robin 2 in Bilston (that’s in Wolverhampton to you non-Black Country folk) so along with proposed plans for Legion & Arabia to play shows in the Autumn to raise their profiles hopefully next year’s event will be better attended.

Opening today’s proceedings were Brummies Daylight Robbery who have recently reformed and feature well respected vocalist Tony Nicholl who has a great reputation locally for his work with popular rock covers band Rock$tar. I had seen the band literally a week before supporting Journey2Toto at The Robin and was quite impressed with what they had to offer! Today I had many grumbles about the sound most notably that the volume was set WAY to high so this hampered how the band’s came across – the sound guy really needed to turn the volume down from death metal roar to melodic rock goodness. Some of the levels and sound mixes hurt some bands today, but I suppose this is a downfall for festivals with only 20 minute changeovers and limited time for sound checking. So therefore Daylight Robbery didn’t sound anywhere near as good as they did at the Robin just 7 days prior – which is a shame as they are a really great band with some killer tunes. They did their best and performed professionally and made the most of their limited stage time. They opened and closed their set with probably their best songs, so we got “Cross Your Heart” to kick start things, with their sound putting me in mind of bands of the late 80’s early 90’s, think Firehouse and Tyketto - big chunky melodic riffs and huge bombastic fist pumping choruses. The riff to “Shame On You” is a killer, but the song failed to grab me the way it had done previously, completing the set was “Reunite”, “The Perfect Storm” & “Real Love Is The Answer”. The band closed with “While You Were Sleeping” which is by far my favourite song and highlight of their set. It’s a near perfect melodic rock number with a chorus to die for and it couldn’t have been better! They have an album due out in June, definitely worth investing in methinks!

I’ve been following Sacred Heart now since their first demo album “Lay It On The Line” was released in 2004. Another UK melodic rock band, but hard to pigeon hole as their sound combines quite heavy music and riffs with very smooth vocals and highly melodic choruses. Front man Paul Stead has the perfect voice for a pure AOR band, but Scared Heart is far from that – making their sound quite unique. I’ve only managed to see the band once before, supporting Bonfire a few years back although that was an acoustic slot with just Paul and guitarist Mark Stephenson. But today they are joined by rhythm section Darren Jhuboo (Bass) & Dave Thurlby (Drums), for a fully plugged in set!

Together they are really competent musicians and play near faultlessly with Paul’s vocals coming across really well and I have to say it was a very enjoyable performance. That said though there wasn’t a lot of movement on stage, maybe because they are used to playing smaller stages? The band did warrant applause after every song from those in attendance so I think they went down very well all in all! We got a good selection of songs spanning their 3 albums and a couple of new songs from the new album “Propaganda” due out in the autumn!

For my own personal tastes it was the lighter more traditional sounding melodic rock songs that were my highlights of the set “Top Of The Class” & closer “Nothing At All”. We also got “Rock N Roll Away”, “Lay It On The Line”, “Shake”, “On My Way” & “Perfect”. Along with “Nothing At All” and “Spit” and a song I think is called “Don’t Believe A Word” from the upcoming new album. They all sounded immense, so I’m really looking forward to the new album.

It was great to finally see the band play and hopefully not the last time they visit the Midlands – definitely worth checking out if they play near you!

I’m a huge fan of today’s third band Tara’s Secret, so was highly anticipating their performance! Their last performance in the West Midlands was supporting Danny Vaughn 3 years ago @ JB’s in Dudley – although that was an acoustic performance and their last electric performance was even longer ago than that! So given how rare it is to catch the guys locally you can understand that I was a little excited to FINALLY hear some of the monster tracks from their last album, 2009’s “Vertigo”.

Due to the rather dodgy sound today, it did put a dampener on proceedings for me as I’ll never know when I’ll get opportunity to see the band perform again – although there is rumours that the band may be supporting Legion & Coldspell later in the year at the Robin, so I can keep me fingers crossed. Despite the sound, the band soldiered on like pro’s and tried to deliver as good a performance as they could and entertain the small audience. I later learnt from a member of the band that they couldn’t hear themselves on stage so were flying blind, so it could have been much worse.

TS played a short but entertaining set of full on hard rocking songs, designed to go for the jugular and demand your attention and with me they achieved that, it’s not easy performing under these conditions and to a small crowd so the band deserve credit for just letting rip.

As a whole the band put a lot of fire into their performance Richie “Crazy Legs” Beardsley particularly ripping it up on his guitar playing with a near constant grin from ear to ear. Dave Deville (Bass) & new guy Simon Perkins (Drums) provided a great backbone to the band’s sound and its a fuller, heavier sound at that! Craig Chapman has taken to wearing a hat on stage, so sporting his Stetson, he tried to keep the band tight and in time even making the most of his guitar solos on “Homeland” proving he isn’t there just for decoration! Johnny’s humour and stage presence makes them always entertaining and keeps the audience attention inbetween songs – something that is unusual for front men in lesser known acts. Johnny’s vocals also stood out proving this band has a lot of potential to reach bigger stages.

I’ve been pestering TS for a long time to come and play in the West Midlands, so when Johnny spoke from stage about how long it had been since the band had been round here he asked me to confirm it had been 3 years by giving him the thumbs up if he was right! The band did get some good responses from the audience (or was it just me? I’m pretty sure there were more!).

Since the last time they have introduced an intro tape, woohooo! And it does do the job of building up some atmosphere, before Richie kicks in with the riff from “King Of Meville” from their second album “Tomorrow the World” and this pretty much sets up the agenda for the day to just ROCK!

They then blasted their way through some of their best songs highlighting the band’s classic rock side with huge melodic choruses. The bar room boogie of “She’s My Baby”, the catchy as hell “Natural High”, the sing-along “Vertigo” (So we runnnnnnnnn!!!!),  a rocked up version of “In Movies” which really worked well and a lot better than I thought it would! The full on rock and roll swagger of “Rock N Roll Beauty Queen” before finishing with mid-tempo ballad “Homeland” which whilst was a laid back finish to the set it was actually a quite nice touch, Johnny’s vocals coming across very poignantly and hats off (or Stetson should that be) for Craig’s guitar solo work on this one.

They slipped in a new one in the form of “Revenge Mile” and to put it bluntly it is FOOKING AWESOME! Definitely my highlight of the set and this was the first time I’d ever heard the song, it’s a full on hard rock song full of swagger and melody – think along the lines of the latest releases by Mr Big & Whitesnake and you’ll get the vibe of this one. I do believe it is time the band started work on the follow up to “Vertigo”.....let the nagging commence....

Despite the disappointing sound and a few problems with the mix, I really enjoyed their set and hopefully it won’t be another 3 years before they get back to the good ol’ Midlands!

Next up were Sweden’s Coldspell who are currently creating a right buzz in melodic rock circles with their second album “Out Of The Cold”, so a lot of fans moved closer to the stage. I really do need to investigate the band further and locate their albums cause everyone I speak to goes absolutely nuts about these guys, but to me based on what I’ve heard they’re just OK – maybe if I lived with their albums for a while I may change my mind.

As musicians they were faultless in their performance and they did get a very good response from the small but appreciative audience. They did seem a little apprehensive, maybe nervous onstage maybe they thought the audience would be considerably bigger I don’t know – but to me there was an air of just going through the motions to their performance. Their performance hasn’t really changed my opinion of the band, don’t get me wrong they aren’t bad but they are just OK – their songs and style is just not sticking with me enough to fully appreciate them.

Amongst their set we got “Heroes”, “Eye Of The Storm”, “Run For Your Life”, “One In A Million”, “Out Of The Cold”, “Time For Tide” & “Keep On Believin’”.

We then get an hour food and toilet break – and I have to say that the bogs at The Asylum are the most disgusting shitters I’ve ever had to pleasure of using, that bad I contemplated going elsewhere, like a sewage plant!

Up until the break everything had run smooth and on time, but German rockers Mad Max were at least half an hour late taking to the stage so I knew it was going to have a knock on effect for today’s proceedings. I know for many here today Mad Max were highly anticipated with this been the bands first UK appearance in 25 years and of today’s bands these guys were probably one of the biggest draws.

I’m a fan of the band but given some of their varied catalogue especially their newer material it could be an anti-climatic performance if the set list wasn’t right. Thankfully the band stuck to the classics and therefore got a good response from the crowd, had they put to many newer lesser known songs in the set I fear they would have lost the crowd.

The band’s years of playing experience showed and they didn’t let the small crowd deter or hinder their performance and they played as though to a packed venue. I was particularly impressed with front man Michael Voss, whose vocals were impressive and his stage presence entertaining – we shall soon see Michael back in the Black Country fronting Michael Schenker’s band at The Robin in July a gig I’m really looking forward to!

They delivered a tight set of highly melodic numbers, which I really enjoyed including “Night Of Passion”, “Stormchild”, “Rolling Thunder”, “Never say Never Again”, “Family Who Rock”, “Daddy’s Little Princess”, “Hollywood Angels” & “Fox On the Run”.

Next was to be a double bill of Z Records signed bands first up was Arabia who have a new album out in the very near future. I know the band from the “1001 Nights” release which was released over a decade ago, a decent album with some cracking melodic rock songs on albeit with a dark edge and atmosphere to them.

Arabia’s American front man John Blaze is joined by an all British backing band in the form of Vince O’Regan (Guitar), Steve Mckenna (Bass) Lee Morris (Drums) & Irvin Parratt (Keyboards) – Irvin made me chuckle as he was sound checking “1-2...1-2....7....cause that’s the number of the audience” hahaha! Not sure if this band was put together just as a backing band for John or whether this will be the new Arabia line-up, we shall soon see!

I think most people who were there would agree that Arabia stole the show and delivered the finest set of the day! Some of the sound problems seemed to have been sorted – although it was still WAY too loud. John Blaze is an eccentric front man and the audience really took to his expressive performance as he roamed the stage – even at one point coming down into the front of the audience. He was a pleasure to watch perform and his vocals matched the performance, a far stronger vocalist than I had previously thought based on the one and only Arabia album. John even had us in stitches as he tried to introduce Steve to one of the Asylum Nurses (the bar staff), “Have you met, Steve!”!

It’s a criminal shame that rhythm section of Steve Mckenna & Lee Morris are not full time members of an original melodic rock band – they are, and I know I’ve said this before, the best rhythm section in the country – ballsy and tight as hell! Both Steve & Lee seemed to be having the times of their lives and throwing themselves into every song and must really enjoy the Arabia material, as hair flew and Lee played with his drumsticks at every opportunity.  Vince did what he does best and threw out the Guitar riffs effortlessly whilst Irvin provided the essential keyboard work and as a whole the band were amazingly entertaining and I suppose some of it came from the fact regardless of what anyone else thought they were having a damn good time!

They kicked off with a duo of the catchiest and most instant tracks from the debut album “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” & “Darkside of Love”, which grabbed everyone’s attention and for anyone starting to feel the effects of a long day were suddenly rejuvenated!

I’ve heard new song “Welcome To The Freakshow” before and to be honest my jury is still out on it, but it went down really well live, so maybe it’ll grow on me. John slowed things down for the epic sounding “1001 Nights” before kicking the show back up a notch with “Love Love Me Do” & “No Place Like Home”. My favourite song from the band is “Til The Day I Die” a real full force fist pumping song – which unfortunately suffers from poor production on disc. Live it comes across just as hard as I thought it would, with a fantastic delivery the song was a real standout and true statement established by the band – definitely my highlight of the set. We also got the bluesy “So Tired”, “I Wanna be King” and another new song in the form of “Last Temptation” which really struck me with an amazing chorus but overall an awesome melodic rock tune – it makes me want the new album NOW!

They closed the show with a cover of “Brother Louie” which was another performance that captured the audience - leading to the female bar staff (the asylum nurses) dancing on the bar!.....which was nice.....The band left the stage to probably the best show of appreciation from the audience that I’d seen all day!

Arabia’s performance was a melodic rock fan boy’s dream – with stellar stage presence, a full on front man and most importantly a collection of highly melodic sing-along tunes to get ya rockin’! I for one will be first in the queue, should the band get some live dates later in the year! Outstanding!

Following a performance like this was always going to be hard and the pleasure fell to Z label mates Legion. An American fronted British band compromising of Phil Vincent (Vocals), Vince O’Regan (Guitar – Yes it’s Vince again!), Gavin Cooper (Bass), Steve Hopgood (Drums) joined by Irvin Parratt guesting on keyboards. I am a fan of the band and was really looking forward to their performance and hearing songs from both their albums live!

Unfortunately the band failed to get going, following the highly melodic sound of Arabia, Legion’s brand of heavy brooding rock failed to ignite the same passions in the crowd. The band played well, Vince obviously at ease and happy to be performing his own material and Gavin performed like a rock star making the most of the stage space. Regardless of this the band seemed to fall flat, it was their first live show and with Phil being from America maybe didn’t help and they need to notch a few more gigs on their belts to get the party started. Phil vocally was sound, but seemed very nervous and his performance lacked energy something he needs to work on if he wants the band to be an exciting prospect to see live.

Due to the schedule delay the band didn’t play a full set, but we got amongst others “Trouble”, “Coming For You”, “Long Way Down”, “Someday”, “Steal The Show”, “Living With The Past” & “Never Be The Same”.

There was a proposed 20 minute interval between Legion and tonight’s headliners IT BITES. Although how this was to be done with the whole backline being changed I do not know, so as you can guess it was more like an hour before the headliners took to the stage.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the proggy It Bites and have always thought they were an odd choice for headliners a view many melodic rockers share with me. I did like the bands last effort “The Tall Ships” so I thought I’d give the band the benefit of the doubt tonight. The It Bites fans had started to swell the crowd after 9pm, although the band didn’t hit the stage till 11pm.

They seemed a little annoyed at the lateness of their arrival on stage and shortened set length – which front man John Mitchell announced was going to be entitled a brush with IT Bites at Z Pop. John instantly wasn’t going to be doing with everyone standing to the rear of the venue and told (not asked) everyone to move forward, which they duly did.

The sound for It Bites was near perfect, volume toned right down; you could tell the band had their own sound guy with them immediately! We could have done with him all day! The band didn’t muck about and tried to fit in as much as they could into the following 40 minutes, to the loyal and excited It Bites fans in attendance who did go nuts and danced around. As a band they played really well and sounded great, song wise it was only really the Tall Ships material that really struck a chord with me – but this isn’t a reflection on performance more my own musical taste. As far as crowd noise was concerned It Bites won hands down over all that had preceded them!

Amongst the set list we got “Calling All The Heroes”, “Ghosts”, “Oh My God”, “Yellow Christian”, “Old Man & The Angel” & new tune “Map Of The Past” – which I quite liked too.

Overall a very long day, but enjoyable and it was nice to see and speak to a few familiar faces!