There’s been some criticism of band knockout contests over the years.
But let’s be totally honest — without highly professional & properly organised events like HRH’s excellent annual Highway to Hell competitions — how the freakin’ heck are young bands supposed to burst out of their shells and onto the scene?
Through hard work, you might suggest…. Yeah, yeah!
We all know that new bands have to break their balls touring, relentlessly gigging, paying for studio time with meager earnings from T-shirt sales… etc etc. It’s all about toil. But sometimes musicians just need to get a break. And when an opportunity like Highway to Hell VI arrives, it is too good to miss.
Each year the fabuluxe people at HRH organize a hellabangin’ competition for rock newcomers.
It’s called Highway to Hell (Hell in his case being the superlative indoor festival Hard Rock Hell based in Pwllheli, North Wales.) This ‘highway’ is Britain’s only ‘Rock Factor’.
Over months, hundreds of band pass through preliminary stages. Only the Top Guns make it to the final lap.
This year the final round was a weekend of mind-blowingly awesome metal sets from the amazing venue at the O2 Academy Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England.
The best of new rock and metal acts from across the UK came to compete against each other. Hoping to peddle some influence and persuade a very critical crowd of judges that they were the best of the best. The prize was a record deal worth thousands of pounds. And also a valuable slot on stage at the best indoor rock festival in the world (Hard Rock Hell.)
But the bands knew it was gonna be hard. They knew they would need to be mentally strong. And physically dynamic. If they were to have a chance of grabbing the honour.
So after dozens of bands were crushed, blown away … Their hopes dashed … The Sheffield crowd was presented with the last seventeen bands.
Their musical careers were in the hands of a group of hard drinking, fast living and frantic loving critically-minded ‘A’ Listers who virtually eat ‘n’ sleep heavy metal. These arbiters (members of Hard Rock Hell’s secretive Dark Circle) were asked to judge each band’s performance against a set of strict criteria. The musicians had to play four songs (one had to be a cover) and they were told to play their ballz off.
The warrior weekend started early. On Saturday afternoon the competition began with a ballbusting, head-banging and head-swivelling show from of Bulletproof Rose. This band from Workington set the bar incredibly high with a remarkable performance.So the bands that followed had to offer something really extraordinary if they were to have any hope of winning.
One such stand-out performance was from Kent’s melodic rock band Crashgate who introduced some beach party fun early on with their bulging Baywatch antics and bouncy beach balls. Such a shame they didn’t dress as C.J though.
After a secret session from last year’s South Wales winners The Texas Flood — the judges and fans retired to their ‘Camp David ’ retreat (at the Holiday Inn) to round off the night with some more cold beers and to soothe their smashed ear-holes.
The next day, Sunday, started even earlier. The judges were asked to assemble at four in the afternoon. The first band to play was the visually appealing and incredibly hypnotic A Joker’s Rage fronted by a joker-faced clown named Zakk Taylor.
It was such an edifying spectacle and so truly original that we actually felt sorry for all those bands that were expected to follow the buffoonery!
But the next band to play was the immensely determined and totally enthralling Bigfoot. These mayhem-makers from Wigan put on a show that was jaw-droppingly good. Tight, fierce and edgy. And crammed with unbridled energy.
Towards the end of a packed evening of metal madness we witnessed the grizzled, growling and overtly bearded presence of Thirteen Stars. It was a stand-out, gritty and edgy set by this rock band from Cumbria.
The competition closed off with those loveable North Wales lads Bad Dog and their Indie Rock sounds.
Then, while votes were collected, the crowd was treated to another secret session, this time from Skam# the trio from Leicester.
It was a great close to a sensational and fabulous weekend.
Joint 1st place: Thirteen Stars and Bigfoot
Second place: A Jokers Rage
Joint Third Place: Crashgate & Stone Broken
Words & Images: @neilmach 2015 ©
Main Picture: Conjuring Fate