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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Taylor

HRH NWOCR is it over?

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

HRH NWOCR Jan 2023

January. A cold miserable month, usually a bit tight on the old bank balance (even more so now, right? Thanks Britain) but HRH kicks off early with its NWOCR edition at the O2 Academy Leicester, a welcomed new year return to music for most who aren’t fussed about the festivities and just want normality. And with all the free tickets around for this one, it’s probably an easy win for most.

The line up on first look seemed a varied mix of some newer bands and a few who have been flying the NWOCR flag for some time now. Having not originally planned to go myself, it wasn’t until I opted to cover for Riff Yard that I spent much time looking at it. Some stood out to me, but was it worth a whole weekend when I’d probably single those bands out and see them at their own shows?

I’ll start by saying, it’s nice to have bands coming to Leicester. Over the years, it seems to have dropped off the main tour radar – unless a local band. Once a bustling music scene and host to heavy rock and metal icons at the DeMontfort Hall and The Charlotte et al, it now seems a mere speck on the calendar – missing out to Nottingham and Birmingham. Is that a fan problem? I don’t think so. Is it a venue problem? More likely. But if a band does include Leicester on the tour run, I’m chuffed. Not far to go on a school night and even better on a weekend, not so far to get back once I’ve had a beer or two. It’s familiar (I’m from Leicester, I know, pity me), and if it’s not at the O2, parking nearby to most places isn’t bad.

But HRH is at the O2. Being a lone female covering the gig, I didn’t really want to have to park streets and streets away in the dark, which is what happened the last time I attended this festival (Jan 2022) but fortunately that time I had taken a lift with friends. Before arriving that day, I had reached out to a contact of mine who kindly found out how I could park on site at the University (the O2 is on Uni grounds) but sadly on arriving, none of the barriers were up and I couldn’t get in. Roadside parking it is then. I was SO lucky, found a spot right by the entrance – 30 second walk away. But it was pay and display until 6pm for £2. I had a quid on me. And that was my trolley pound. I’d had back-to-back commitments all day and I had rushed to the city to catch Sweet Electric. *

I’m going to pause here and explain that, and OK yes, perhaps I didn’t do enough digging on say splits and set times, but it was a day late plan for me to go along and as far as I could see, the information was practically non-existent online via the websites or any socials. I did find some screenshots of the running order, after trawling Facebook and finding them in the comments of one of the bands posts that were playing at the weekend. So, I’d saved them and thought nothing more of it. Seen as I didn’t see any announcements, news or updates on HRH’s pages, I assumed I’d got the info I needed to plan my day. I’d intended to get there to see Brad Marr’s German ensemble at 6pm, but he has informed a few hours before that their set had been moved to 4.30pm.

*So now you’re up to date. I arrived at 4.40pm. Great, I’ll catch at least half an hour. Nope. Couldn’t pay for parking, there was nowhere obviously safe nearby so to avoid a fine from the parking wombles, waited with my car from 5-6pm to ensure I had somewhere sensible to return to my car later. I had to miss them completely. Could have left my car, but in an industry where most people do this for the love of the game, not something I could risk a fine for.

So my first question here is, when the O2 Academy building is on the site of one of the most popular establishments in the city, why could they not have negotiated parking for their event for Media and guests? Or did they, but it just wasn’t communicated? When the majority of Press and Media covering these events are doing it at their own expense, sometimes it’s the little things like this that save inconvenience, that matter. I don’t want any pity. I made my choices; I’m just frustrated that I had to.

Parking stress done with, accreditation was nice and easy, handled by the lovely beaming face at the desk that greeted me, and on into VIP/Royalty I went – upstairs level looking down over stage 1. Bar right there on your left as you go in. Nice. I caught the end of Collateral who as usual, entertained and continued to dominate the stage, hair flowing and sweat pouring. The room was busy, but I’m distracted immediately by regretting forgetting my ACS custom earplugs. Granted, you’re by some pretty large speakers up there but it was loaded up on the top end, the bottom end of the bass was almost drowning in feel and both left the vocals out on an island. If I’m honest, that wasn’t representative of the sound I am used to from Collateral either, whom I’d seen only recently supporting H.E.A.T in Brixton. So, I knew it was either the room, the sound set-up or perhaps I was just simply in the wrong place. As I watched on, enjoying what was left of their show, using the pillar I’d found to shield my right ear, Massive’s Brad Marr appeared at the bar behind me pleading woes of his German credit card not working. Of course, the O2 Academies are now also cashless venues, so I took pity on the pint sized Australian as he had ventured out into the minus temps to take cash out that couldn’t even be exchanged, and got him a pint of Carling. I did have some making up to do being as I had just missed Sweet Electric’s debut UK show.

We decided we’d chance an interview. Slightly unplanned but hey, spontaneity is the spice of life and all that. We went off in search of a quiet corner. Hm. Not the easiest of tasks. Of course, there is nowhere, so we bundled ourselves into a lift for 10 minutes and carried it out there, only actually being interrupted once by an onsite medic, who we decided was awesome enough to make the final cut. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out on our YouTube page, it’ll pass at least 5 minutes of your day. At least you know at The Riff Yard that what you get is real.

Managed to peek at Silver Jet on stage 2, a punkier sounding group of whom I’m not familiar, they had a humble gathering but the sound in this room is almost deafening. Guitar riffs drowned by again, overbearing bass. The band themselves weren’t for me, but the half-filled room of what I would say are loyal fans, seemed to be enjoying them.

The vibe overall felt different for this year’s iteration of the New Wave of Classic Rock for HRH. Almost quieter, less excitement? It felt that the night ahead was a strange mix of bands, almost in the wrong order. I’d go as far as saying that none of them were quite headliner material from this point on. Which reminds me, I did find the set times – in the HRH app. I really dislike when organisations make you download something just to access simple information. But maybe I am just old-school. Oh, and they were completely different timings to what I had nabbed from some random Facebook user. Everything you see on the internet is true, duh. It did seem though that even with this information now in my armoury, that bands were finishing sets earlier than indicated. Meaning due to watching a chunk of the Sons of Liberty set and bumping into friends along the way, I ended up bumbling into the second room to find Mad Haven packing up with almost 10 minutes left on the schedule. Fortunately, I have seen the boys before and can vouch for their catchy tunes, just hope they can forgive me. I did enjoy the southern bluesy rock n’ roll from Sons of Liberty though and they clearly had quite a few fans in this crowd, as suddenly I noticed their t-shirts in almost every direction. An older group of guys, but young at heart even with that classic biker rock sound.

Following a catch up with countless friends in the corridor, and perhaps a cider, I popped my head in to see what Stage 2’s headliner Pearler had to offer. I don’t know these guys but a welcome change in tone as they pump out somewhat heavier riffs than my ears had become complacent to during the night. There was a generous gathering for the more traditional heavy metal sound filling the room. Remnants of middle-era Metallica rattled around my head as I watched – and I couldn’t help but feel this genre doesn’t really know what it wants to identify as anymore. Was this a New Wave of Classic Rock? Or is this the genre where bands trying to breakthrough are thrown into the sea with a couple of arm bands as they float around trying to find which island to wash up on to?

If you’re like me, and like a bit of variety in your music, I welcomed the differing sounds coming from Pearler. I can’t put my finger on the style of this Welsh band, a hint of doom, a dash of punk, some grunge and heavy rock thrown in for good measure, but I still can’t hear classic rock. I like them, I’m just not sure of their placement at this festival. I guess thinking now, I felt a little the same about Silver Jet. And if I was to think even harder, perhaps I feel this about quite a few bands in this genre.

I wandered back to stage 1. There were two bands left to go, one of which I had never heard of and one I knew of but had never listened to. What I do know is, that neither seemed to be the right choice for this line up or time of day for the main stage.

Much more bluesy and a bit middle-of-the-road, The Jokers were up. It’s now 9pm the crowd has petered out to a mere half the room, stage 2 is done, and there’s a handful of loiterers at the bar. The sound in this room continued to cut through you (so no, I wasn’t just stood in the wrong place earlier) with more than a few uncomfortable bass moments. They were OK to listen to, but as far as stage presence and entertainment value go, I’m afraid to say the general crowd response seemed bored. And it kinda sucks when the most animated the crowd were, was when the band played their cover of The Who’s Pinball Wizard – a mod rockers classic, this didn’t really make any sense, but it probably did enough to just hold the crowd for a bit. OK, one song that people could sing back to.

As The Jokers finished and PA blasted out some well-known tunes, I couldn’t help but feel if I had a few shots and continued to listen to the DJ, it could have been a bit more enjoyable. And I have never needed a drink to have fun at a gig. I also try to be open minded. But nothing musically punched me in the face in the few hours I had been there, which at the latter end of the day, I’d expect at least one gem.

As the evening dwindled, so did the punters, which left for a very disappointing crowd for headliners, VEGA. I did quite like them. I know they pop up on a fair few of these festival line-ups typically and so felt they would be a bit more popular. Chunkier riffs, 80s squeals, more energy, I liked their sound, but something still seemed amiss with the atmosphere. Maybe it’s just because the room had emptied a fair amount. This was a stark comparison to the size of the crowd for 2021’s edition headliners Massive Wagons and Wayward Sons. VEGA seemed to be a little more stadium rock-esque than I’d expected, with a polished main vocals and tight melodic backing vocals. But I still wasn’t blown away, and I was really hoping that they were going to save the day.

It's a huge shame for the bands. I’ve played at gigs where your only audience are the bar staff and the guitarists doting parents, and had to suck it up as a paid practice, and I can’t help but feel these bands feel that similar level of dejection – maybe less like a practice but perhaps not the festival experience they would expect, or is it? Is HRH coming to a point where this is now the expectation?

Far be it from me to be an expert, but when you’re in this industry, it’s hard to ignore the mutterings of bands not being paid or treated too well. But I will leave that there.

What I can say is, there was a level of confusion in the crowd from the people that I did speak to. Comments ranged from “I don’t understand this line up” to “Who are these bands?” to “I’m only here because I won free tickets” or “I’m only here because I knew all my mates would be” … and the most common line I heard was, “I’m only here for South of Salem tomorrow”.

As it turns out, I couldn’t attend day 2, but I know South of Salem, seem them a number of times, and if you’ve seen them, even if you don’t love them, you can’t deny they pull in a big following and put on a good show. The number of people I heard say they were only attending to see South of Salem on the Sunday was interesting – and they didn’t even headline.

Having since spoken to friends who were there and seeing photos appear on Facebook from the time South of Salem finished their set at 8.30pm on a Sunday evening, I am happy to say I was right in my predictions that their crowd filled the room – was busier than 10pm the night prior – and subsequently again, heard that by the time the next band came on, the room was half empty again.

Photo via the South of Salem Facebook page.

There are many, many bands in the NWOCR genre that I absolutely love. But it does feel lately that it has become muddied and saturated. The industry as a whole, thanks to the pandemic, is saturated - which of course doesn’t help. We’ve almost got too much to choose from. Clashes are all too common, tour runs are in a nonsense order logistically due to venue availability, and everyone’s trying to make up for lost time. It is really hard out there. And this article feels somewhat negative when I read back. But sadly, I just don’t feel it deserved anything more. I will always support bands and the music scene. But when the event is not well planned or executed, it’s hard to see everything in the same light. I feel the bands selected on day 1 were failed by the festival. I can’t make a full comment on every band as I wasn’t able to see everyone due to other commitments, but the glimpse I got was enough for me. So many people were saying the same things and the lack of people left standing at the end of the day spoke volumes.

Overall, I enjoyed catching up with friends, nabbing an interview with Brad and meeting the guys in Sweet Electric (who took me under their wing and provided perfectly executed German entertainment in conversation), hearing some new music and seeing the festival from another perspective. But HRH have got some making up to do for this one.

If you’d like to catch up with my interview with Brad Marr, subscribe to Riff Yard Media on Youtube and follow us on all socials for reviews, music news and more.

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