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Robin 2, Bilston 5-6 May 2012
going since 1999 Z Rock is actually the longest running melodic rock
festival in Europe. But since the healthy festivals of the early days,
it has been plagued by artist disputes that have spilled over into
internet forums, shifting line ups and increasingly poor attendance.
first UK shows from two acts who garnered a lot of coverage in the 80's
- Prophet and Paul Sabu - and a very suitable new home in the well
appointed Robin 2 in the Black Country, I hoped that this year might
start to revive the festival's fortunes, but the event was notable for
a turnout that at no point in the weekend could be measured in three
figures rather than two.
Day 1 - 5
opened proceedings and I was already disappointed that guitarist
Lawrence Archer was no longer part of the line-up, while to add to their
woes their rhythm guitarist had been involved in a motorcycle accident
so new guitarist Rob Woolverson had to combine rhythm and lead duties.
material from their original days in their early 80's with those from
the comeback 'Sudden Impulse' CD, there was a workmanlike and slightly
dated feel to many of the numbers, but singer Reuben Archer, who at 68
embodies the spirit of rock n roll and refusing to grow old, plugged
away gamely, even getting the sparse crowd to sing along to Send Me Down
Aerosmith-like 'Having Fun', 'Missing You', with some pleasingly fluent lead
guitar work, and the excellent title track from 1983's 'Hurricane Town'
were all highlights of what ultimately turned out to be a well-received
shifted to the following day after a crucial keyboard failed to arrive,
Shakra were next up on their debut UK appearance. I was looking
forward to seeing the Swiss rockers, who have been likened to fellow
countrymen Gotthard, but with the odd exception, such as 'Now or Never'
and set closer 'Rising High', a succession of unmemorable songs, with no
variation in tempo, left me unmoved.
Prakesh had a fine set of pipes, capable of hitting the high notes and
reminding me at times of Jeff Scott Soto, but their riffery was more
metallic than I expected and, combined with a rather dull stage
presence, they left me disappointed, although there were some who really
enjoyed their set.
one of the few bands still releasing new material on the Z label, had
failed to impress me last year and this was no exception. Singer Phil
Vincent looked only marginally less stiff on stage while the hard
working Vince O'Regan's shredding seemed to take the songs off at a
tangent. Though Trouble was a decent song they failed to win me over
second time around.
other band members then did a double shift, backing American singer John
Blaze in Arabia, who had been the surprise package of last year's
Yorker is an extrovert performer and from the moment they opened with
perhaps their strongest number 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' they were
the first act to really grab the crowd by the scruff of the neck.
ballads '1001 Nights' and 'No Place Like Home', and the title track of their
new album 'Welcome to the Freak Show' impressed, but the set reached a
high point with the catchy 'Till The Day I Die', reminding me of cult AOR
band Aviator's Frontline, and 'So Tired', which would not have been out of
place on either of the most recent Whitesnake albums.
helped by a bizarre costume change with John returning in overcoat and
beret, the set did however lose a bit of its early momentum before
closing with covers of 'Brother Louie', which they seemed unsuited to, and
Aerosmith's 'Walking the Dog', which hit the sweet spot.
For me and
many others, the first ever UK appearance of the recently reformed
Prophet was the festival's must see. The New Jersey-ites are the
missing link in a trail of pomp rock that stretches from Kansas to
Shotgun Symphony with a trio of releases, of which 1988's 'Cycle of the
Moon' is a stone cold classic.
diminutive, dapper gentlemen at the signing stall were unrecognisable
from the big haired figures on the video I had dug up from YouTube in
the moment they came on stage to 'Restless Hunger', their musical polish
was outstanding, despite this only being their second show since
choruses of 'Can't Hide Love' and the dynamic title track were early picks
from 'Cycle of the Moon': lead singer (and James May lookalike) Russ Arcara was note perfect other than wisely not attempting some of his
high pitched yelps of old, while Ken Dubman was a slick guitarist, his
solo on Piece of Mind showing his skills to particular effect.
bassist Scott Metaxas took up stools and broke out the acoustic guitars
with the latter also singing 'Tomorrow Never Comes', which provided a
welcome change of pace before 'Street Secrets' rocked harder than on their
debut album and 'Power Play', with some great keyboard guitar interplay
also impressed, while songs like 'Asylum' and 'Frontline' took on a fresh
dimension in the live environment.
have been hit 'Sound of A Breaking Heart' demanded that the AOR poses came
out before 'Redline Rider' ended the set on a more fast and furious note.
musical chops were amply demonstrated both by the instrumental
'Hyperspace', and an encore cover of Rush's 'Red Barchetta' and Prophet had
exceeded any realistic expectations. Hopefully this will whet their
appetite for a return to the UK to bigger crowds such as at a future
is another cult figure from the eighties with legendary status among the
cognoscenti. Lest we forget, his 1988 'Only Child' album was awarded an
'L' by Kerrang as they deemed their usual 5k ranking insufficient.
UK debut, to the best of my knowledge, he was introduced as the king of
AOR, but as one friend said to me, AOR requires keyboards. Instead, they
and sundry other vocal and instrumental effects were all on a laptop,
which stubbornly refused to load in time with the rest of his
Anglo-Scandinavian band , with the result that the effect of opening
with his 1985 classic Angeline was lost as they tried and failed to
start several times.
For a while
the set settled down and, though Paul - bizarrely dressed in what seemed
like a pair of leggings- was now a little fuller of face and rather
rougher of voice than of old, selections from 'Only Child like Just Ask',
'I Wanna Touch' and 'I Believe in You' brought memories flooding back. They
were interspersed with new material from his 'Bangkok Rules' album, which
paled in comparison, being less melodic with the bass too loud, or in
the case of 'Back the Jacks', almost with an industrial feel.
technical gremlins soon got the better of him, and a tired audience
endured with great patience the ridiculous scenario where between every
song the band spent several minutes tuning up and ensuring they were in
sync with the laptop.
This was not
helped by some utterly incomprehensible between song 'banter' from the
man himself, which increasingly people ignored and chatted over. The
logical solution was to admit defeat but they ploughed on and I sat
through some rather boring new songs, waiting for the classic title
track from 1985's 'Heartbreak' to bring a train wreck of a set to a
Day 2 - 6
even sparser than the first day had an obvious talking point after the
farce of the previous evening. However spirits were lifted by young
Southampton based Summers, who belied their relative inexperience
with a lively and assured performance. Inspired by the great bands of
the eighties scene, but allied to a youthful freshness and a more
contemporary image, they were highly listenable with instant hooks and
clean solos from the two lead guitarists.
material was admittedly a tad clichéd, but hopefully they will develop
their own style and the likes of 'Superhero', with a great pop rock hook,
'Shot in the Dark' and the Def Leppard style backing vocals of 'Sometimes'
were particular highlights, while 'Let's Go Round' was a Poison for the new
heartening to see that the UK can produce bands like this to rank with
the new breed of melodic rock - Reckless Love, Heat, Houston et al -
coming out of Scandinavia.
Riot, fronted by long forgotten former Wrathchild frontman Rocky
Shades, were possibly out of place on the bill and yet I really enjoyed
a thoroughly listenable set, not to mention being greatly entertained by
Rocky: more specifically his Lenny Peters specs, and yellow and black
strides which were straight from the mid eighties, which offset the
stripy t-shirt of excellent young guitarist Joss Riot.
eponymous track kicked things off in lively style and 'That's What Sunday
Mornings Were Made For' and the semi ballad 'My Paradise' were fine songs,
while the Wrathchild oldie 'Trash Queen' brought back memories of when
their sleazy glam sadly arrived on the scene a couple of years too early
before their style broke into the mainstream.
were another band for whom I had low expectations having been
disappointed by their appearances at the Gods many years ago. But in the
intervening years the Norwegians seemed to have greatly brushed up their
stage act and were responded to with enthusiasm as they played a
selection from all 3 albums.
'Believe' got things off to a good start, and semi ballads 'Heaven Aint
That Far Away', reminding me of Nelson's 'After the Rain', and 'Till We
Become the Sun' impressed me, as did the keyboard heavy 'Talk To Me' and
Bon Jovi inspired 'Restless Nights'.
Patrick Simonsen, who bears a passing resemblance to Thom Yorke, has a
rough-edged voice which either gives their sound a fresh dimension or
detracts from the melodicity (is that a word?) of their music, depending
on your point of view.
people's surprise, Paul Sabu was back and the compere announced
he would be atoning for his self confessed foul up (expletive deleted)
with a greatest hits set. Well, up to a point. Though he opened with a
song not played the previous night, the WASP-covered 'Scream Until You
Like It', with several of the vocal lines missing, the set was almost an
identical mix of old and new to the night before, but in a different
I did enjoy
new song 'Rocked and Loaded', but found myself even more aware of the
pre-recorded parts while Paul's live vocals sounded off key in places
and at other times had the harsh tones of a Gene Simmons.
the set descended into the same lengthy between song gaps, which, with
proceedings running nearly 2 hours late as a result of lengthy
changeovers, were as welcome as a tray of bacon butties at a Barmitzvah.
was saved by Michael Bormann agreeing to appear simultaneously
with his band Redrum and segue into a solo set originally planned as the
headline. The former Jaded Heart singer may have put on some pounds over
the years, but was a consummate professional and showman with his strong
vocals delivered with barely a trace of an accent.
highly entertaining, pulling metal poses, and were perhaps the rockiest
band of the day but in the likes of 'Ready For The Big Ones' and 'Judgement
Day' also had the tunes to impress.
One of the
best heavy numbers, 'Come Take Me Higher', saw them double up with the new
personnel who then joined Michael for a solo set, mixing solo material
with Jaded Heart favourites like 'Inside Out', 'The Dream Is Over', and his
vocal tour de force of the Beatles' 'Help'.
This set was
perhaps slightly less cohesive than Redrum's, but still enjoyable and
Michael showed what a showman he is by taking the drum kit for an encore
of Jaded Heart's anti war epic 'Live And Let Die'.
ticking on sleazy looking Swedish rockers Bai Bang had to make do
with a 40 minute set, and also had their second guitarist unexpectedly
having to fill in on drums.
was impressed with their stage craft and the humble attitude of singer
Diddi Kastenholt, and their music, though basic, had good choruses,
notably on the party anthems 'Come On' and 'Big Time Party'. However it was
the more mid pocket Die for You and Diddi's ballad tribute to his late
brother, 'Only The Best Die Young' that had more depth to them. They would
be welcome additions to a variety of melodic or glam bills on this
played the last two Firefests, Newman now have the big game
experience to rise above the disappointment of having to wait until 11
o'clock to take the stage before a small and diehard crowd and you would
not have known it from the energy with which Steve Newman approached his
spanned what has become a lengthy career, from the classic Brit AOR of
'If It's Love' from his 1997 debut, with a great solo from rapid fire
guitarist Shaun Bessant; to an excellent early double from 2000's 'Dance
In The Fire', 'Every Moment' and 'Pray For The Day'; to the lush balladry of
'Stay With Me' and 'Coming Home Tonight', with a huge anthemic sound to it.
material such as 'Heaven Knows' and 'Primitive Soul' seem to have more space
in their grooves, and not only the band but Steve's live singing voice
seems to have come on in leaps and bounds over the past two or three
He seemed to
appreciate the efforts of those who stayed at the front to sing along as
a sadly truncated set still found room to end with 'One Step Close',
which has become their signature song. I would love to witness more live
shows in better circumstances from a dramatically improved outfit.
Sadly it was
half past midnight when notional headliners Dynazty took the
stage, and a curfew cut their set to a little over half an hour which
seemed unfair on them.
long-haired young Swedes seem to have been building something of a name
for themselves, and their sound was tight and aggressive, topped by
soaring vocals from Nils Molin, with songs like 'Lights Out In Candyland'
hitting you between the eyes.
rushed their climax with the raw but catchy' Land of Broken Dreams' and
'Bring the Thunder', but had shown enough to demonstrate their time will
come in more promising circumstances.
Z Rock 2012
may not be remembered happily, and yet Prophet's performance and a
series of pleasantly surprising displays on the Sunday showed that both
classic and current melodic rock is in a healthy state given the right
use the direction keys on your keyboard to navigate easily through the
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