It may be a long way to Tipperary, but it's also quite a slog to Prestatyn in North Wales from where I live. At the wheel is “The Metal Gnome” also known as JK, a man who, when he was told that the camp has a pool, seriously considered packing his mankini. Decency and the threat of arrest prevailed, however, and the pool is closed anyway. As we drive through Prestatyn, it's a little like visiting the land that time forgot, with some bizarre touches like a local car dealership called, simply, “Cars Of Prestatyn”. Perhaps the most bizarre discovery is that the local tattoo parlour is closed, just as a plethora of metalheads and biker types roll into town. The bleakness of the town prepares us slightly for the reality of the venue for the weekend's entertainment. Last year we were herded into Butlins holiday camp at Minehead, and whilst this was an odd feeling, the place was clean, modern and had seen a lick of paint recently. It's a standard British joke to compare holiday camps to prisoner of war camps, but in this case it seems eerily appropriate, from the bleak, featureless chalets to the imposing towers that look like they once had snipers atop them to stop holidaymakers escaping the horrors of the knobbly knees contest.

Check in is reasonably painless, although it's quite odd to find that in a 6 berth chalet there's only 3 plates, four forks and two cups. Oh, and no bog roll. It doesn't endear us to the place, and the fact that it's so cold even Finnish people would put on an extra jumper doesn't help. Due to the long journey and the wife farting about getting ready, we miss opening band Lethargy. We're prepared to miss Get Vegas as well, but it seems that everyone misses them as they are a no show. The only venue with any life in for the first afternoon is the optimistically titled “Stage 3”, in reality the on site pub. The stage itself is painfully small and the venue completely the wrong shape. It's stuffed to the brim with people and getting a drink requires a full military operation, so I don't bother. Big Linda (photo below, first from left) are in the middle of their set, and they sound pretty good, their fast paced blue rock nearly making me forgive them their silly name. Crowd reaction is good, if not ecstatic, but then again most people can't see them. The inclusion of a Thomas Dolby song is quite inspired, as it suits their psychedelic blues energy to a tee, and as they finish I can see why there is a bit of a fuss about them.

Next up are Heaven's Basement (photos above, second and third from left), a band that regular Rock United readers will recognise, mainly because I keep banging on about them. From the crowd reception it's apparent that I'm not alone in my appreciation of British rock's next big thing. Singer Richie Heavenz acts like he's the homecoming queen (he is Welsh, after all), leaping about as much as the stage will allow, belting out the likes of “Executioner's Day”, “Reign On My Parade” and the ever hummable “Such Is Life” to an audience that has suddenly become like a proper crowd. The band throw shapes and poses like Yngwie Malmsteen on acid and seem, as usual, to be having a great time. They're happy to play these small slots, but by this time next year I expect HB to be kicking it on bigger stages, as they certainly have the potential to make a dent of Airbourne proportions.

After this, it's time for a break, and we head off for some food. Although it's a school dinners type of arrangement, it's pretty tasty, and I head off to chat with Doro feeling contented, if still bloody cold. By the time I've finished, I've missed Glyder, the first band to break in the main stage. Apparently they were very good, and I'm a bit gutted I had to miss them. Following them are Benedictum (photo above, fourth from left), an American power metal band led by the imposing figure of Veronica Freeman. After seeing Twisted Sister last year in the Butlins nightclub, the Pontins main stage is a revelation. Normally used as a “Fun Factory” for kids, it's basically a big ballroom type of area with a big stage that allows for proper concert lighting and a big sound. There's a bar area right next to it, where someone has had the forethought to put an extra speaker, and it all seems just too good to be true. Benedictum themselves are a new one on me, but I find their music to be good, if not great. Freeman has a good, powerful voice and a captivating stage presence, coming across as a sexy woman who would happily kick your head clean off if you didn't treat her right. The likes of “Shellshock” and “Seasons Of Tragedy” make for good listening, and although I'm not driven to search them out on disc I enjoy the show.

After being bombarded with Budgie (below, the first two photos from the left) on the trip, we decide to leave JK (now christened Jiminy Krikkit as he tries to stop us doing bad things) and our other travelling companion Captain Jack (just don't ask) to watch them, as to be honest it all seemed a bit too hippy to be much fun. Instead we decide to take a look at The Textures, but after one song it's obvious it's going to be a bit too shouty for me, so Budgie win by default. I have to say that Budgie is an odd choice for a band name, even in the 70s. I guess all the cool bird names were taken, but even then Budgie must have been way down that list. We manage to make it back before they start, and it's a bit of a surprise to me when one of the three band members turns out to be Craig Goldy, currently filling in as guest guitarist with the band. There's a good deal of interest in the band anyway, as they are the first Welsh act to grace the main stage, despite the fact they have only released a single album in the last quarter of a century. It's always good to see a three piece who know what they're doing, and it's easy to appreciate just why Budgie are held in such high regard by some people. The music is best described as Led Zeppelin meet Rush, but without being as good as either of them. This isn't really a criticism, as both bands are superb, but it should give you an understanding of what the band are about. Vocalist and bassist Burke Shelley has a good set of pipes on him, and Craig Goldy plays up a storm at times, utilizing his single facial expression of stern concentration to scare small children. The problem I have with Budgie is that they seem to favour repetition over innovation, with their songs coming over like Zeppelin might have done if they hadn't really tried that hard. It's when the instrumental pieces are wheeled out that it all perks up, with some highly entertaining pieces that are forced to make themselves interesting in the absence of vocals. Having said that, when Shelley introduces the final song as being “For all the Metallica fans” it all gets interesting as Budgie belt out their best song “Breadfan”, covered by Metallica thanks, no doubt, to NWOBHM fan Lars Ulrich. It's a great song, and finally sees Budgie spread their wings (I apologise heartily for this clumsy metaphor) and fly.

At 10pm the press bar area opens, and unlike last year is actually handled quite well, with vodka, whiskey and amazingly sweet energy drinks available to all. But I'm not here for free alcohol, I'm here for Thin Lizzy (above, four last photos). Lizzy are a band that I've always admired but never seen, and even though Phil Lynott is no longer around I'm still looking forward to seeing the current incarnation. As they're the headliners on the first day, it's no surprise that there's a massive crowd filling the auditorium and spilling out into the bar area. The band come on to tumultuous applause, getting things off perfectly with “Jailbreak”, “Waiting For An Alibi” and “Don't Believe A Word”. The sound is loud and proud, with John Sykes and Scott Gorham giving the old songs a good bit of extra crunch whilst still retaining the classic twin guitar feel. Sykes is in fine voice, doing a difficult job well, although obviously lacking the pure charisma of Lynott. Behind the drum kit we get old hand Tommy Aldridge, who mid way through treats us to his traditional drum solo, including the bit where he hits the drums WITH HIS HANDS!!!!!! Okay, so it's not actually very impressive, but it seems to keep the old guy happy. In case you haven't guessed, I'm not a big fan of drum solos, especially when they're so long they're potentially taking the place of another song. There's a bizarre moment during “Still In Love With You”, when Zakk Wylde lumbers on to pour a drink on a noticeably pissed off Sykes, but everything else runs smoothly. There's a few unusual but very welcome song choices like “Southbound” (featuring a brilliant Gorham solo) and “Suicide”, but there's also plenty of old favourites to keep people happy. “The Boys Are Back In Town” makes an unsurprising appearance, and the encore of “Cold Sweat” and “Black Rose” goes down very well, but as much as I enjoy the set (and I really enjoy it), it's always a shame when a band doesn’t play your favourite song. In my case it's “Thunder & Lightning”, and I have a little huff that it isn't played. Personally, I blame the drum solo…

Technically, Thin Lizzy were Day One’s headliners, but as is the way with these things there’s a few more bands to keep people who don’t want to go bed early amused. As I don’t fancy the scarily named Cancer Bats (actually, they were supposed to be pretty good), I am happy to wait for Doro (photos above) and her crew to come and give us a dose of good old school heavy metal. This year sees Doro’s 25 th anniversary as a metal singer, and by now you’d think she’d have it down pat. Well, you’d be right, as from the off it’s pretty obvious that this lady is as good as she ever was. Many of the people who wandered off when Thin Lizzy finished drift back in again, lured by the startlingly good, powerful metal and the magnetic stage presence of this small German blonde. Doro looks great, as ever, and her voice is strong and melodic. The set is only an hour, but this gives the band plenty of time to bring out old favourites such as “Burning The Witches” and a frankly brilliant version of “Breaking The Law” That puts Doro’s old heroes Judas Priest to shame. It’s quite amusing to watch at times, as Doro seems to be obsessed with getting people to shout “Hey! Hey! Hey! every couple of minutes, like a tiny metal version of Danny Bowes, but it’s all in good humour, with a core of fans at the front all to happy to join in. It’s a good set, well appreciated by the crowd, but at 1.30 in the morning it’s time for me to get back to the chalet that heating forgot, so I can’t tell you if Welsh wonders Tigertailz were any good. Back at the chalet, I realise that the duvet provided is too short for normal sized people, with anyone over 6 foot having to decide which end they want to sacrifice to the cold. Mind you, it’s also paper thin, so it’s value as a duvet is only relative to the fact that with it you’re cold, and without it you’re really cold. Oh well, at least it’s better than a tent, if only for the fact it’s got an inside toilet.

Day two starts with the sight of a fat naked man cavorting on the grass between the chalet blocks. Whether he is doing it for a bet or is just mentally retarded we’ll never know, but he really should know better than to dance naked in this weather, as the cold means you’re never going to be quite at your male best. There’s a lot of Black Label Society back patches about today, so I decide to wear my It Bites shirt to fly the flag for wimpy rock. For whatever reason we end up trying to get out for about half an hour, with the fates conspiring to make me forget something different each time. This wandering about like an early Alzheimer’s sufferer makes us miss half of the first band of the day, Spit like This (below, two first photos from the left). It must be said that everyone here knows about Spit like This, as they have plastered their flyers and posters absolutely everywhere in an attempt to get people to come and see them. As I enter the second stage area it’s rather obvious that it’s a good tactic, because there’s bloody loads of people in for them. It must also be said that the band are the only ones to return after last year, which is just odd, really. Maybe one of their dads is the promoter or something. It’s not that they’re a bad band, and if I’m honest their shock rock has gotten better over the last 12 months. Singer Lord Zion has got better at playing with the crowd, and the band seem tighter as they deliver what can only be describes as a cross between goth rock, camp horror and panto. They still drag out (literally, transvestism fans) a fun version of “Sweet Transvestite”, and any band that has a song called “Sex, Drugs and Heavy Metal” can’t be all bad.

Having spent the first day mostly in the main stage area, it’s worth pointing out here that the second stage is another improvement on last year. It’s a smaller room, more like a nightclub, but with a decent sized stage and a large audience area uncluttered by tables and the like, although if you want to sit down there are areas to the side with reduced viewing. The sound is again pretty good, with a smaller lighting rig illuminating the bands. The plan is to stay here for the afternoon, and it’s good that the beer prices here are the same as down the high street, something else that is an improvement on Butlins, who seemed to be confusing beer with gold dust in their pricing. In contrast with the over packed shiteness of the pub known as Stage Three, this is a good place to see a few bands. The next one up have come all the way from Vancouver, and it’s to many a blank face that Pride Tiger (above, the third photo) take the stage. Being in the know, I have been looking forward to this, although It’s not until the second song (which follows a great instrumental) that I realise that the drummer is actually the singer. There’s not a lot of them about, and it’s good if you can pull it off. Fortunately, Matt Wood can drum and sing at the same time with no problems, and a crowd that starts of thinner than Posh Spice after a good vomit soon thickens and gets lively. It’s the bands first ever UK gig, and Wood’s birthday to boot, and they acquit themselves incredibly well, with a few people afterwards saying they were the best band of the weekend so far. Their music is unashamedly Thin Lizzy-esque, all pounding drums and bass, but at the same time raw and powerful with a heady sense of melody. As first gigs go, playing to a half empty room of hungover people may not be the best situation, but Pride Tiger give it their best, and their best is bloody good. In addition, I must thank Matt Wood for introducing me to the word “Bangover”, which is what you get from headbanging too much the night before, and I would like to encourage all you out there to use it as much as possible, unless I’m the only person who doesn’t already use it, and if that’s the case I apologise for wasting your time.

The next two bands, both from the heady NWOBHM days of old, have two things in common: They both once had a great album cover by Rodney Matthews, and I don’t own any records by either band. I’ve never been a big fan of the late 70s early 80s NWOBHM stuff, but am quite prepared to enjoy myself if the music is there, so settle in for Praying Mantis (above, two first photos from the left). Their sound is very firmly tooted in the 1970’s, and as a result I get a strong feeling I am watching the band Strange Fruit from the film “Still Crazy”. The Fruit were pretty good in the movie, but Praying Mantis just don’t move me, their songs trundling along in predictable fashion without any real killer instinct to be found. After 45 minutes I’m quite glad to see them go, with my impression of them a resounding “meh”. Continuing the theme of 70’s relics with animals in the name are Tygers Of Pan Tang (a brilliant band name in anyone’s book), who released the critically acclaimed “Animal Instinct” album earlier this year. Just that fact alone makes me intrigued, as by all accounts their music isn’t as old fashioned sounding as the likes of Praying Mantis and Budgie. From other audience members it becomes clear that this isn’t in any way the original band, with only guitarist Robb Weir surviving from the bands 1978 inception, and all of the others joining within the last 8 years. Front man Jacopo Meille, who is the bands fifth singer, only joined in 2004, so this is more like one Tyger and some other blokes. Nevertheless, whoever they are they certainly liven up the stage and blow away the cobwebs left by Praying Mantis. Only one track from the new album is aired (“Live For The Day”), and I have to say it’s good enough to have me making a mental note to check out the whole thing. Maybe it’s because they’re not really a 70s band in body, but TOPT really go to town, always moving and posing like proper rock stars, backed up by old songs that have been given a good kick up the arse (the band re recorded old classics on a recent album). Jacopo Meille is a seriously good front man, and if they were anything like this in the old days then it’s no surprise that they were at the forefront of the NWOBHM movement along with Maiden and Def Leppard. (TOPT photos: above, two last photos from the left)

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Waysted (photos above, the first three from the left) for a while now, having last come across them supporting Iron Maiden over 20 years ago. Since then they’ve split and reformed, but have marked that reformation with a great album, “The Harsh Reality”. When they come onstage there’s a good few fans who have come to see ex UFO bassist Pete Way, probably because you never know quite what he’s going to be like on stage. Today he’s wearing a Spice Girls reunion tour t-shirt, although he’s out done in the “what the…?” stakes by vocalist Fin Muir, who is wearing gleaming white long-shorts and a gleaming white Waysted jacket, looking like a mad ice cream salesman. Early in the set, Way takes to the mike to explain that the shirt is a birthday present from his wife, slurring his words so that everyone is in no doubt that he is not playing this gig totally, or even remotely, straight. Mind you, it really doesn’t matter as Waysted are a brilliant live band. Way keeps time as well as can be expected, despite often looking like he has absolutely no idea what’s going on, and the rest hammer out the songs with aplomb. Obvious praise has to go to Fin, a man so Scottish he should come pre dipped in batter, who has matured (well, physically at least) into a fine singer. His voice still has that Rod Stewart rasp, but his pitch and timing is excellent, as is his rapport with the crowd. The plunder their first few records for material, much to the delight of the old fans in attendance, as well as throwing ain a few new ones such as the catchy “Keepin It Sweet”. Waysted may not be trendy, but it’s good to see a great band on fine, fun loving form. If they play near you make sure to go and take a look, if only to see if Pete Way falls off the stage…

After a suitable break for some food and the chance to dip a toe in to the wide weird world of Waysted, we come back to the Second Stage, where Alestorm (photo above, the last one) are belching out some Pirate metal, which is like battle metal except you have to sing a bout wenches and put on a god awful west country accent (made worse by the fact the band are very Scottish). As a point of interest, Korpiklaani were supposed to precede Alestorm, but their backing track was knackered, so instead of having a go or at least trying something else for their fans they decided not to play at all. I’d just like to say that as they were all set up it’s a really sucky thing to do to the fans, and that Korpiklaani are officially the suckiest band of the weekend. Right, rant over. I had heard good things about Alestorm, who seemed to be a pirate version of the likes of Turisas, a fact emphasised by the section of the crowd waving plastic cutlasses and shouting “ARRGGHH!” at every opportunity. Amusing as this is, the fun can get sucked out if the music isn’t up to par. Alestorm certainly know how to bash out a tune, with vocalist Christopher Bowes doing a good job with his neck slung keyboard to inject the folk into this folk metal combo. Although entertaining, Alestorms appeal soon wavers as it becomes apparent that this pony really only has one trick. Last year we saw Turisas prove to be wildly entertaining and reasonably diverse, whereas Alestorm and their “True Scottish Pirate Metal” just end up seeming like a silly idea that got out of hand. It’s reasonably entertaining for twenty minutes or so, but I think I’d rather walk the plank that join them in future pillaging.

After Alestorm have finished up the evening sort or wears a bit thin. We catch some of Orange Goblin, who come across as just another heavy metal band, then decide to see what all the fuss about Clutch is. Well, having watched them I still don’t know, because despite the very enthusiastic crowd reaction I just can’t seem to appreciate their bass heavy stoner rock. In the end I just settle down and hope that Black Label Society (photos below, 3 first from the left)are everything they’re cracked up to be. The place is rammed and the anticipation palpable, with the band going so far as to drop a curtain in front of the stage whilst everything is set up, something so far unheard of. As the intro music, they choose “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, which is followed by some classical music (from “The Godfather” I think), then there’s a bit of the “Rocky” theme, then some sirens and a vocal intro (“Laydeeezz and gentlemen“ - and all that cock) and after that some keyboards. All this has taken several minutes, with the curtain still down, and anticipation is giving way to chuckling and yawning. As intros go, this is definitely the most boring ever. Eventually the curtain goes up to reveal the ever imposing Zakk Wylde and friends in front of a good old fashioned wall of Marshall amps. The music assaults the ears in just the way true metal always should, and there is much whooping and head banging, not to mention the promise of a few bangovers tomorrow. It’s all predictably hard and heavy with widdly solos every so often, but it’s all so samey that I start toi get bored before the set is half way through. It gets worse when Wylde decides to lob in a ten minute wanky solo spot that is not all that impressive. BLS seem to rely on volume and aggression to grab your attention instead of really memorable songs, although I could be in a minority with this opinion. There is a noticeable amount of wandering punters about an hour in, so I know that at least I’m not alone. The best part is when Wylde and Nick Catanese both don twin neck guitars for a memorably mellow instrumental piece that nicely counteracts all the thrashing that has gone before. Wylde is a decent front man with his aggressive egging on of the crowd, but his continual chest beating (literally, like a gorilla with a hard on) gets more and more hilarious as the gig goes on. Black Label Society are certainly a decent enough metal band, but afterwards I feel a little let down that they were headlining the weekend, as there are plenty of better bands out there.

Actually, one of those better bands is our old friends the Wildhearts (photos above, 4th and 5th from the left), who follow BLS in the early hours. Given an hour to wake up the crowd they do just that, delivering a very tight set comprising of all of the best songs from their catalogue. It’s all here, from “Sick Of Drugs” and “Caffeine Bomb” through to their brilliantly manic reworking of “Carmelita” from their recent covers album. The best way to describe their set would be ‘flawless’, as they never drop the ball from start to finish. The only drawback about the whole thing is that by watching them I miss Firewind, a band whom I am told later by the wife are the best of the weekend. For me, though, Thin Lizzy take that accolade, closely followed by Ginger and his manic merry men. Very honourable mentions go to Waysted and Heavens Bsement, as well as the tigers of the Pride and Pan Tang variety. In fact, it’s been a bloody good weekend all told, even though Jiminy Krikket and Captain Jack admit that if they ever come back they’ll seek out Bed & Breakfast rather than the scabby chalets. I can understand where they’re coming from with this, and hope that by the time Hammerfest rolls around next April the Pontins people can put a little more effort into making it into a place you want to go to rather one you have to put up with to hear great music. Nonetheless, all concerned can be secure in the knowledge that they put on a great event despite the drawbacks of Stalag Prestatyn, and let’s hope we get another next year.

Review & Photos by Alan Holloway, alan "at " rockunited.com
17 Dec 2008
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