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Rock City, Nottingham 19-21 October 2012
established as something of a mecca for melodic rock fans from across
the world, Firefest just becomes bigger and more successful. The ninth
show, and eighth at its traditional Rock City location, was a weekend
sell out for the first time.
Part of this
is accounted for by the usual mix of the genre's favourite bands and
cult acts exhumed from obscurity that we thought would never be seen
live again, and perhaps their most diverse bill to date.
as important is the unique spirit this festival has managed to generate,
and when first timers experience it they are guaranteed to return and
bring more friends next time.
TYKETTO, TEN, DANTE FOX, LIONVILLE
Friday evening has grown over the years from a low key pub event to a
full blown four band bill in the main room at Rock City, and this year's
featured three bands who have been regulars on the live circuit in the
though were Lionville, who opened with a piece of classic prime
time AOR in 'Here by My Side', and proved that Italy has become a rising
force in the AOR world, though their trump card were the clean, soaring
vocals of ponytailed Swede Lars Safsund, of whom more anon.
Marx and Brice Gaitsch penned World Without Your Love was another great
number but sadly after just 25 minutes the set was curtailed, leaving me
curious to discover more.
have been treading the boards on and off for many years now, and stuck
to old favourites like 'Lost and Lonely Heart', 'Under The City Lights'
and 'I Can't Sleep' but this was the most polished I have seen and heard
has a great voice that even has the power of Heart's Ann Wilson at
times, while guitarist Tim Manford's enthusiastic shape pulling is
A good new
song was aired in 'Who Stole the Innocenc'e while the forceful hooks of
'Walking the Line' and their cover of 'Remember' ended an excellent set.
Yet something was missing in a muted crowd reception and Sue's apparent
discomfort at being on stage and working an audience counts against them
as live performers.
In the days
of Firefest's predecessor festival, The Gods, Ten were virtually
the house band, so it was perhaps surprising that this was the first
time they had played Firefest.
curtain dropped and they opened with the lively 'Lights Go Down' from
their brand new 'Heresy and Creed' album, two changes struck me from
their low key comeback tour earlier this year - one was that singer Gary
Hughes, resplendent in military jacket, had dispensed with his curls and
was reminding me of Alan Shearer. The other and more significant was
their act was so much more polished, aided by the larger stage.
It was tough
for a band with a penchant for epic songs to condense them into a 50
minute set, but they mixed another two newies - 'Gun Running' and
'Unbelievable', which both have a bouncy lightness of touch not always
associated with Ten - with old favourites, including 'Spellbound', the
epic 'Ten Fathoms Deep' with some almost Deep Purple like heavy
keyboards, 'After the Love Has Gone' which will always remind me of the
old melodic rock nights at Maximes in Wigan, the celtic tinged romp of
'Red', and 'Name of the Rose', with talented guitarist Dan Mitchell
soloing with almost Satriani like speed and fluency.
set Ten may have taken a significant step towards reversing years of
under activity and working their way back into public consciousness.
were appropriate headliners as few bands are more revered in the melodic
rock word, keeping the flag flying during the locust years of the
their last headlining appearance in 2008, this one came with added
authenticity as all four original members including guitarist Brooke St
James were present, having recorded a new (and slightly disappointing)
album in 'Dig in Deep'.
opening with 'Strength in Numbers', which is one of my less favourite
tracks, newie 'Faithless' proved a worthy addition to their live canon
with some powerful drumming from Michael Clayton.
will always be the songs from the classic debut 'Don't Come Easy' that
have mythical status among Firefesters, beginning with 'Burning Down
Inside'. The atmosphere was superb as people sang along to 'Standing
Alone', after Danny Vaughn expressed his pride in having written a song
that has personal meaning to so many people.
previous years, Tyketto now come across as a tad mellower and more
polished, aided by a keyboard player in Ged Rylands and with Brooke
perhaps a more tasteful yet restrained player than when a young hot
other new songs, the bile releasing 'Here's Hoping It Hurts' and 'Fight
Left in Me' came over much more powerfully live and sat comfortably
alongside six songs from the debut and four from 'Strength in Numbers'.
explained his bonds with the festival including meeting his now wife on
a previous visit, and then dedicating her favourite song, which was the
classic 'Wings', which I had been beginning to fear would be omitted
with time ticking on.
the encore was 'Forever Young', which is the nearest melodic rock has to
a national anthem, with Danny begging the crowd to jump up and down as
much as they could, which was a perfect end to a set of pure quality and
an excellent start to the weekend.
MITCH MALLOY, GOTTHARD, XYZ, SANTERS, ROBIN BECK, WORK OF ART, JOHNNY
former Gods regular making his Firefest debut, Johnny Lima,
kicked off Saturday proceedings with the autobiographical 'Made in
California', as if you could not tell from his LA hair metal meets biker
Backed by a
hairy band of German musicians, his music and image seems to have
toughened somewhat in the decade since I saw him,with 'Wild Flower' even
sounding a bit like late eighties Motley Crue.
The Bon Jovi-isms
of his early years are less prominent though on a couple of the slower
numbers like 'Blame It On Love' and 'Hard to Say Goodbye' there was
still a Jon Bon Jovi esque catch to his voice.
would have preferred some of his older material an increasingly
enjoyable set featured strong catchy songs like 'Caught In The Middle'.
A mark deducted though for his incessant and exaggerated name checks for
Firefest, the crowd fills up gradually during the day but Work of Art,
led by guitarist Robert Sall (also of W.E.T. who were such a hit at last
year's Firefest) have generated such a buzz that the floor was packed in
the run up to their appearance.
They did not
disappoint with the same Toto-esque west coast class they have shown on
their two albums to date, albeit somewhat rockier. Opening with 'The
Rain' and 'Nature of the Game' from their last 'In Progress' album, the
crystal clear, soaring yet techincally perfect vocals of Lars Safsund,
on his second shift of the weekend, lifted the songs into a higher gear.
also got a look in with the likes of 'Cover Me', but for me the
highlight was 'The Great Fall', which upped the tempo a few notches when
it was threatening to get a touch bland, and though they were not the
most visually exciting, the sheer quality they showed was worthy of a
higher spot on the bill.
It is not
often, if ever, that Firefest features someone to have sung a UK No 1
hit (even Jimi Jamison joined Survivor after Eye of the Tiger), but in
the first of the cult acts brought out of the wilderness, Robin Beck,
we had one such.
started tentatively, catching her breath between songs, her diminutive
frame still packs a surprisingly gutsy voice, not to mention a quirky,
brunt of much of her caustic humour was husband and House of Lords
singer James Christian, playing bass in a band of some of melodic rock's
most prolific and respected artists such as Tommy Denander and Eric
delight she opened with not one, but a quartet of songs from her
'Trouble or Nothing' debut which saw the big hit machines of the day
like Desmond Child and Diane Warren contribute most of the songs with
typically big choruses: the feisty 'If You Were a Woman and I was a
Man', made more famous by Bonnie Tyler, 'Don't Lose any Sleep', the
Alice Cooper penned 'Hold Back the Night', with a great wall of vocals
from her band and 'Save Up all Your Tears', a hit for her in Europe but
only for Cher here.
A duet with
James on 'That All Depends What You Do Tonight' and 'You Are the One',
dedicated to co-promoter Bruce Mee, were fresh but melodic and lost
nothing by comparison with first album classics in another ballad in
'Tears in the Rain' and the much covered 'Hide Your Heart' which had me
and a fair few others at the front rocking out.
'The First Time' ended the set, in a far more powerful version than the
original with great guitar solo from Tommy whose style was perfectly
suited to this type of music, but she even returned for an as yet
unreleased song 'Follow You'. She was an early contender for act of the
weekend and I hope this was not a one off return for her.
striking paydirt last year with Coney Hatch, Firefest tried to repeat
the feat this year with another Canadian act who had not been here in
close on 30 years in Santers. They were one of the biggest draws
for me, but in hindsight not a great fit for the bill.
suddenly felt very sparse just hosting a power trio- guitarist and
singer Rick Santers,his brother Mark on drums and ponytailed bassist
Rick Lazaroff – who were not the most visually inspiring performers.
good start with 'Winter Freeze', the Coney Hatch esque 'Mistreatin
Heart' and 'Black Magic', the set- especially when numbers from their
1981 debut 'Shot Down in Flames' were played – descended too often into
musically tight but slightly dated bluesy classic rock in the mould of
Pat Travers or early Rush or Triumph , with the trio regularly diverting
to sit and eat at Rock City many chose the set to disappear for a
comfort break and a drum solo and a cover of 'All Right Now' further
seemed to misread the mood.
the set was redeemed in its closing stages by 'Can't Shake You', while
if fellow Canucks Rush took the 'Passage to Bangkok', the galloping
'Road to Morocco' was a suitable end to Santers' Firefest journey. I did
enjoy Santers for the most part but they will have been the Marmite band
of the festival, dividing opinion.
back for their first UK show in over 20 years were the heaviest band of
the day with a brand of unoriginal but dynamic and muscular hard rock
such as 'Come On and Love Me' and 'Maggi', topped off by some superb
vocals from Terry Ilous (even if his spoken voice was a bizarre hybrid
of accents from his native France to Woody Allen style New York Jew!)
Night' with its bluesy, smoky feel demonstrated exactly why Great White
enlisted him to replace Jack Russell, but in a total change of pace and
a bold move he and guitarist Tony Marcus played a trio of acoustic
songs, seemingly spontaneously.
in the Gutter' and 'Inside Out' ended an excellent set in more typically
aggressive and crowd pleasing style, and having largely passed me by in
the day at the turn of the nineties, this set was a real incentive to
check out their material.
Mitch Malloy is a familiar visitor to Firefest and was making his
second appearance in successive years, again backed by the Italian
musicians who form the basis of Lionville including bassist Ana
Portaluppi and Marco Percudani whose guitar solos had a great
understated melodic feel to them.
formula was unchanged as, looking the all American hero with his flowing
hair and perfect gnashers, he opened with a storming 'Mission of Love'.
For most of
the set he alternated favourites from his classic debut such as
'Stranded in the Middle of Nowhere', on which his voice sounded rather
strained, and the bluesy 'Over the Water' with a series of excellent
cuts from last year's back-to-AOR-roots 'Malloy II' and interestingly
the likes of the crisp modern pop rocker 'Falling to Pieces' and 'Love
Song' seemed to go down almost as well. Surprisingly the reissued 'Shine
on' was barely promoted in his main set other than with 'Its About
Will Never Die' was a beautiful stripped down version showcasing Mitch's
yearning, slightly heartbroken voice before the band kicked in, and then
he cast off his guitar to work the crowd during a rousing 'Forever'.
main set early he surprisingly returned with Danger Danger bassist Bruno
Ravel guesting on 'Shine' before one of the genre's guaranteed dance
floor fillers, 'Anything at All' had everyone clapping and singing
curiously he chose to end not on that note, but with the country rock
flavoured 'All my Friends'. His enjoyable performance was on a par with
last year's, and yet the set was too similar to be able to make quite
such an impression this time round, especially on a weekend when we were
being spoiled by so many rare performances.
were worthy headliners on their first tour since the tragic freak death
of singer Steve Lee, and were a little late appearing while their own
sound and lights were set up. Steve both had a special voice and was a
magnetic live performer, giving Swiss-Australian replacement Nic Maeder
a near impossible job following in his footsteps.
a cracking opener in 'Dream On' and 'Gone Too Far', it was clear that
his band mates have chosen well: his voice is not too dissimilar and he
fronted the band like a seasoned professional.
ranging from selections from new album 'Firebirth' including semi
ballads 'Remember Its Me' and 'Shine', and lead off single 'Starlight'
with its instantly catchy vocal effects, to oldies like the irresistible
'Top of the World', this was looking like a triumphant return. The
tribute to Steve was heartfelt but low key and, accompanied only by
piano, Nic's delivery of 'One Life, One Soul' did his memory proud.
the gig wore on I found myself enjoying it somewhat less than their
previous shows. Possibly set up for the larger halls they play in
Europe, a combination of a deafeningly loud sound and strobe lighting
illuminating a darkened stage made me feel as if I was at a nightclub.
Too much of
the music was run of the mill sub AC/DC numbers such as 'Fist in Your
Face' and 'Ride On', with the emphasis on thick guitar riffing rather
than melody while 'Mountain Mama' saw guitarist Leo Leoni playing his
talk box and adding some high pitched screams.
though were cast aside when the beats of 'Lift U Up' had the whole of
the front jumping to what has become something of a party anthem; indeed
the chant from it rang around the crowd for some while after the band
left the stage.
tight curfew loomed but they squeezed in two encores, an almost
unrecognisably heavy 'Master of Illusion', followed by 'Anytime
Anywhere', perhaps my all time favourite Gotthard song from their
standout album 'Lipservice', even if the keyboards blasted through
ridiculously loud, at least where I was stood.
masters' reversion to a rawer sound may not have been quite to my taste,
but this gig was still a triumphant illustration that one of the best
melodic rock bands of the last two decades have emerged from a dark time
and can face the future with confidence.
DANGER, STAGE DOLLS, LILLIAN AXE, BRIGHTON ROCK, ROYAL HUNT, FIONA, FARCRY
It was a
case of third time lucky for me as I finally got to see Sunday openers
Farcry. On the undercard at Melodic Rock Fest in Illinois in
2010, they were the only band I missed after a food order failed to
arrive, and I then returned to find people raving about them. They were
then booked for 2011's Firefest but rising air fares from the USA put
paid to their trip.
thoroughly impressed with a set of well constructed songs which had a
classic hard rock edge to them, and new singer Mike Ledesma was a real
asset with his strong vocal range. Songs such as the impressive pair of
openers 'She's Crazy' and 'Over and Over Again' were driven by Pete
Fry's lead guitar but Eric Ragno came on to add keyboards to a great
story song 'Better Than This', while Mike sang quite brilliantly on the
ballad 'Fine Line'. They were thoroughly worth the two year wait.
(Flanagan) was the second eighties rock chick brought back into the
spotlight after a long absence: slender in a black dress, like Robin
Beck the years had been kind to her, and she also shared largely the
same band of melodic rock's top players.
opening with a pair of songs from her first album in nearly 20 years,
'Unbroken' - of which 'Loved along the Way' borrowed the unmistakeable
keyboard melody of Jefferson Starship's Jane - I was delighted to hear a
pair of classics from (IMO) easily her finest album, 1992's 'Squeeze',
in 'Aint That Just Like Love' and 'Squeeze'.
how awful the eponymous film was, in which she starred with Bob Dylan
and Rupert Everett, 'Hearts of Fire' also impressed the further it went
on, while my ageing memories were stirred even more by a pair from her
1985 debut: 'Hang Your Heart on Me' had the big hooks and
keyboard-guitar balance so typical of that era, and 'Talk to Me' was
more stripped back and bluesier. It was also noticeable that her voice
has developed a huskier, almost Stevie Nicks like edge over the years.
she finished up with a slightly different version of 'Shadows of the
Night', made famous by her contemporary Pat Benatar. Fiona's biggest
difficulty was that comparisons were always going to be made to the more
naturally outgoing Robin Beck, who had set the bar extremely high the
previous day, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to see her perform
songs I have lived with for so long.
One of the
selling points of this year's Firefest was that the most diverse bill
yet offered something for everyone. In my case, my tendencies towards
the 'fluffier' side of melodic rock meant that there were now a trio of
bands, Royal Hunt, Brighton Rock and Lillian Axe with whom I was either
unfamiliar or had little interest in.
Yet I bumped
into other acquaintances from the London rock scene, who would consider
the label AOR a deterrent rather than an enticement, who were most
eagerly anticipating the self same bands, and indeed there seemed to be
a higher than usual quotient of hair flailing and fists punching in
front of the stage.
After 2 ½
days taking station near the front, I was more than happy to watch from
the side over a couple of beers and catch up with people I had managed
to miss all weekend.
Royal Hunt were possibly the heaviest and certainly most progressive
act in Firefest's history, with the soaring vocals of returning singer
DC Cooper and the keyboard wizardry of Andre Andersson with his double
bank of keyboards, not to mention a large band with two female backing
singers. I enjoyed them but it was frustrating not to be able to catch
song titles to explore them further.
Brighton Rock were last here a decade ago at Z Rock, since when
singer Gerry McGhee appears to have become more hirsute.
generated quite an atmosphere with their uncompromising approach, metal
poses that were clichéd in the nicest possible way and Gerry whipping up
The set was
comprised of hard hitting songs like 'Young Wild and Free' and 'Hangin
High and Dry', with the sole exception of the ballad 'One More Try'.
However Gerry's gravelly rasp - akin to AC/DC's Brian Johnson - is
something of an acquired taste and despite the great riffs of a song
like 'Power Overload', prevented me from fully enjoying them.
For a band I
had personally written off, Lillian Axe were a pleasant surprise
Back in the day I had found them one of the less original and memorable
of the hair metal brigade and even left a show early at the Marquee in
with just one original member in muscular armed Steve Blaze with his red
guitar and an excellent new singer and frontman in Brian C Jones, a
series of hard hitting yet catchy songs like 'Misery Loves Company',
'Love and War' and in particular 'True Believer' made a favourable
I was very
surprised to gather they had actually made eleven albums in their long
career and one from their latest, 'Camelot', was the heaviest in the
set, but the ballad 'Streets of Winter' and set closers 'Show a Little
Love' and their cover of Badfinger's 'No Matter What' were more
commercial anthems and received among the best response so far all
weekend. To quote George W Bush, I think I may have misunderestimated
them for all these years.
Stage Dolls were perhaps surprisingly high on the bill, given
that two years ago they had only been fifth on the bill and have quite a
low key approach. However from the opener 'Always', with some very Bryan
Adams sounding vocals from lean singer and guitarist Torstein Flakne,
their sheer class carried the day.
classic 'Love Cries', which nearly dented the US top 40 back in 1989,
was slipped in surprisingly early before bassist Terje Storli, whose
turned round baseball cap gave him the appearance of Kevin the Teenager
but played by Rik Mayall, led some crowd participation during 'Left Foot
With no new
product, they dipped into their long back catalogue for gems such as
'Commandos' and the moody 'Tail Lights', but the highlights for me were
a pair of understated but classy ballads from 1991's 'Stripped', 'Sorry
is All I can Say' and 'Love Don't Bother Me', with the crowd joining in.
classics 'Wings of Steel' and 'Love Cries' picked up the pace before
they finished with oldie 'Soldiers Gun', very celtic flavoured keyboards
giving it the air of Big County or Wild Frontier era Gary Moore. As with
Mitch Malloy, as 'repeats' for Firefest the sense of surprise was not
there, but they were still one of my favourite bands of the whole
Danger have been third and second on the bill on previous visits
here, but if a party band was needed to end the weekend on a high note,
then the New Jersey cock rockers were the perfect people to send for.
life as ever Ted Poley is a great frontman, even to the extent of diving
into the crowd and going on a tour of the dancefloor and balcony during
'Don't Walk Away', while the heart and soul of the band, bassist Bruno
Ravel effectively acted as the MC for the festivities, even if at times
there was perhaps too much banter at the expense of the music.
Best of all,
the set - mainly drawn from the first two albums - generally focused on
the songs with the strongest and most melodic hooks; opener 'Rock
America' (though I could have done without the obvious taped keyboards),
'Beat the Bullet' and 'Don't Blame it On Love' to name but three.
Leppard-esque 'Shot of Love' was the sole number from 'Cockroach', which
always makes me regret it was shelved for so long after record company
politics, band disputes and the onset of grunge.
couple of songs from 2009's triumphant 'Revolve' comeback, the slower
paced 'Killing Love' and 'Hearts on the Highway', as demanded by
co-promoter Kieran Dargan show a more mature and slightly mellower side
despite his rather androgynous appearance - accentuated by borrowing one
of Bruno's psychedelic shirts form the eighties - Swedish guitarist Rob
Marcello showed stunning effortless rapid fire technique, plus a sweet
solo on the pure AOR of 'Feels Like Love', and it occurred to me he is
house rocked to one classic after another with the catchy 'Bang Bang',
the ballad 'I Still Think About you' with the whole crowd signing along
and 'Crazy Nites', so good that a rock club in London I used to frequent
was named after it.
It is a
tradition for the Firefest crew to let their hair down after so much
hard work so I was braced for some surprises and fun during the encores
which saw DD in single entendre territory.
'Monkey Business', the stage was invaded by people in monkey costumes
throwing bananas, although one was thrown back and hit Mitch Malloy who
was on stage in a reciprocation of the previous day's favour.
took requests from the crowd which the band had no intention of
performing but played a few bars, while 'Naughty Naughty' saw the likes
of Robin Beck, Terry Ilous and James Christian joining the party and the
unforced joy from these seasoned pros said everything about the special
atmosphere that had been bubbling all weekend and which Danger Danger
brought to the boil.
Dargan expressed what I and many others had been thinking all weekend
when in his traditional thank you speech he described Firefest as being
like an extended family that comes together every year.
It also has
to be said that the stage presentation becomes slicker every year with
the lights and sound the best I can remember.
If there was
perhaps not the stand out performance that Jimi Jamison and Coney Hatch
had provided in previous years the attendance and all round quality of
performances made this probably the most successful Firefest yet.
extra special acts to mark the tenth Firefest next year would be the
icing on the cake, but the way people were already reserving their
hotels for next year suggests most of us cannot wait to return
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