Fireworks

Firefest 2010 - The Review


FIREFEST 2010 – Nottingham, October 29th, 30th and 31st


Review by Phil Ashcroft (PA), Bruce Mee (BM), Gary Marshall (GM), Paul Jerome Smith (PJS), Monica Castedo-Lopez (MCL), Steven Reid (SR) and Mark Warburton (MW).

Photos by Sue Ashcroft & Marty Moffatt

(Click here to read the full review for Firefest VI)


Friday 29th October – Trent University Student Union, Nottingham

Like last years Firefest, the Friday night bill had a decidedly Scandinavian slant to it, comprising three bands formed fairly recently. Initially the show was meant to be staged in The Rig (Rock City’s claustrophobic basement), but after selling out quickly it was moved to it’s regular home, the Trent University Students Union building, which despite being double the capacity of The Rig, also sold out pretty quickly. By the time the show started the venue was packed to the rafters, including a healthy number of younger fans, which is surely a good sign for the future of the UK’s foremost melodic rock festival.  (PA)


Reckless Love


In the time since the start of the year, when Finnish glam rockers Reckless Love were confirmed as the festival openers, a lot has happened to the band, including a slot at the prestigious Download Festival and their own headline UK tour. It’s probably true that their current status is higher than the two bands above them on this bill, but nevertheless they were booked as openers so that’s exactly what they did. A fun band in the best traditions of Poison, Motley Crue and fellow countrymen Hanoi Rocks, Reckless Love definitely won’t win any awards for originality or musicianship, but give them seventy-five minutes and a decent sound mix and they’ll certainly put on a show.


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The simple riff to ‘Feel My Heat’ gets things under way with singer Olli Herman high-kicking his way across the stage, one of several similarities to David Lee Roth in the frontman’s act, although his cool entrance is almost ruined when he tries to stand on the monitor, tips it over and almost ends up in the front row. Undaunted he climbs onto the P.A. during ‘Wild Side’ to peel off his denim jacket to reveal the first of a series of ripped t-shirts to screams from the young girls at the front. Vocally he’s a bit hit and miss, putting so much into the performance that he doesn’t always hit the notes, but luckily he has a lot of help from his bandmates, the audience and a few recorded samples to make the songs closer to the album versions. One thing you can say about Reckless Love is that they certainly look like a cohesive unit, with guitarist Pepe and spiky-haired bassist Jalle Verne throwing shapes whilst providing solid, if unspectacular, instrumentation, whilst the striking Hessu Maxx twirls his drumsticks and grins manically from behind his drumkit.

Olli leads the band through the inanely catchy ‘So Yeah’ and ‘Romance’ before the momentum is broken by a clichéd guitar solo showcase from Pepe. Things get back on track with ‘Love Machine’ and the well delivered ballad ‘Sex’ before Olli drives the girls wild by ripping off his t-shirt during the crowd sing-along ‘Born To Rock’. A short drum solo by Maxx is largely ineffective but the band end the best received set by any Firefest opener with arguably their best two pop-rock anthems, ‘Back To Paradise’ and ‘Beautiful Bomb’, despite an awkwardly untogether ending to the former and Herman not making it back to the stage in time for the last verse of the latter after going walkabout in the crowd.


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They re-emerged to deliver a three song encore that sandwiched a messy version of Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ between the only two songs from their self-titled album that hadn’t already been played; the punky ‘Badass’ and the catchy ‘One More Time’. Reckless Love undoubtedly have more style than substance, but the reaction of the crowd and the fact that they’re bringing younger fans into the genre shouldn’t be overlooked. (PA)

Setlist : Feel My Heat / Wild Side / So Yeah / Romance / Guitar Solo / Love Machine / Sex / Born To Rock / Drum Solo / Back To Paradise / Beautiful Bomb. Encore : Badass / Hysteria / One More Time


Crazy Lixx


On paper Sweden’s Crazy Lixx are the least well known of the nights bands as only the true UK glam aficionados will have seen them before, as support to Hardcore Superstar on their 2007 mini-tour. Those dates resulted in the band eventually losing guitarist Vic Zine to the headliners, but since then singer Danny Rexon and co. have gone from strength to strength with young replacement guitarist and songwriter Andy Dawson.


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Despite the amount of eyeliner on stage Crazy Lixx have actually gotten far less glam of late, preferring a grittier melodic hard rock sound that blends elements of Kiss, Def Leppard and Tesla, with Rexon sounding like a mixture of the main singers in those bands. Resplendent in his Union Jack shirt, Rexon and his band’s entrance seems a little muted after the O.T.T. reception given to Reckless Love, but it soon becomes apparent as they get to the melodic chorus of ‘Rock And A Hard Place’ that Crazy Lixx are a class act indeed, with superb backing vocals, a skilled rhythm section (Loke Rivano – bass, and Joel Cirera – drums) and slick twin guitar action from Dawson and additional rhythm guitarist Christian Edvardsson. As the set continues with the big rocker ‘Lock Up Your Daughter’ and the Kiss-like ‘Dr. Hollywood’ it becomes apparent just what a find guitarist Dawson is with a series of catchy riffs and fine melodic solos, whilst Rexon himself easily recreates his recorded vocals of ‘Want It’, ‘Make Ends Meet’ and the riff-heavy ‘Voodoo Woman’.


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Having succeeded in winning over a large portion of a crowd who previously didn’t know who they were, Crazy Lixx continue to dish out classy hard rock for the remainder of their set, the Danger Danger-esque ‘Blame It On Love’ giving way to the song that all the rock radio stations have been playing, and with good reason as ’21 ‘Til I Die’ has a chorus that stays in your head for weeks. Dawson again stars on ‘Road To Babylon’, whilst ‘My Medicine (R.O.C.K.)’ has a funky Aerosmith riff and a chorus Def Leppard would have been proud of. Going back to their debut album ‘Loud Minority’, the upbeat ‘Heroes Are Forever’ brings the set to a satisfying climax. If I have one criticism it’s that the Crazy Lixx set came across like a series of well rehearsed individual songs rather than a smoothly run show, but if they continue with the current two guitar line-up then I’m sure that’s something that will come in time. I have a feeling that the best is yet to come from Crazy Lixx, but all the pieces are in place and they certainly have the talent to become a force to be reckoned with. (PA)

Setlist : Rock And A Hard Place / Lock Up Your Daughter / Dr. Hollywood / Want It / Make Ends Meet / Voodoo Woman / Blame It On Love / 21 ‘Til I Die / Road To Babylon / My Medicine (R.O.C.K.) / Heroes Are Forever 


H.E.A.T.


There was a genuine heart-felt sense of remorse within the melodic rock community when it was announced lead vocalist Kenny Leckremo was leaving the band only a matter of months after the release of their second CD ‘Freedom Rock’. I guess he wanted his freedom, but the question on everyone’s lips was ‘How will they follow that?’ and more than a few lamented that this was the death of the band that many had anointed the saviours of melodic rock. Well, it seemed the boys had pulled a master-stroke by selecting Swedish Pop Idol winner Erik Grönwall, whose many performances on Youtube of classics by the likes of Queen, Skid Row and Iron Maiden were certainly encouraging. However, having seen the band 2 weeks prior to Firefest at the Heat Festival in Stuttgart, I was rather less than encouraged, Erik’s vocals being lost in a rather muddy mix, leaving me impressed by his stage presence but missing the power and rich passion of their previous vocalist.
But fast forward to Firefest, and just as with Bangalore Choir it’s amazing what a difference 2 weeks can make. With a superior sound mix and an almost fanatical audience, H.E.A.T. and Erik Grönwall come alive. The guy never stops; from the opening chords of ‘Beg Beg Beg’ to the last notes of ‘Keep On Dreaming’ he is just a non-stop whirlwind of energy and talent, bringing the final link to the H.E.A.T. puzzle, and hopefully opening doors that had previously, almost certainly remained firmly closed.


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It still has to be said that the songs have a different feel to them with Erik fronting the band, but this is not to diminish the sheer vitality and catchiness of the material. Many detractors have dismissed them as doing nothing new, which is true, but when it’s as much fun as this with songs like ‘Nobody Loves You Like I Do’, ‘Danger Road’, ‘Straight For Your Heart’ or the superlative ‘Who Will Stop the Rain’ when Erik straps on an acoustic guitar to add that final touch of class, then who really cares?


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The cover of Skid Row’s ’18 And Life’ paid homage to Erik’s past endeavours, but really, it’s the future direction of the band now that is of paramount interest and I, for one, am very interested to see which road they will take. The king is dead. Long live the king! (BM)

Setlist : Beg Beg Beg / Late Night Lady / Nobody Loves You Like I Do / Everybody Wants To Be Someone / Danger Road/ Straight For Your Heart / Never Let Go / 1,000 Miles / High On Love / Who Will Stop The Rain / There For You / 18 And Life / We’re Gonna Make It In The End / Keep On Dreaming


Saturday 30th October – Rock City, Nottingham


Grand Illusion


On the first of the two main days in the familiar setting of Nottingham’s Rock City, it’s Halloween tonight so the venue has a strict 10pm curfew before the main hall turns into the annual Halloween party. With seven bands playing on the day and no room for error, the old Dr. Pepper catchphrase of “What’s the worst that can happen?” springs to mind as the sound desk dies after a lengthy Lynch Mob soundcheck. The venue was packed and openers Grand Illusion were left standing on the stage behind the curtain for an hour while a suitable replacement was found.


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It’s not really surprising then that the sound at the beginning didn’t do the Swedes any favours with both ‘All Out Of Love’ and ‘157th Breakdown’ suffering from low guitar, keyboards and backing vocals. The lack of instrumental backing made the vocals of Peter Sundell sound very raw, especially in his higher register which grated on the nerves. Sound man Pontus Norgren (Talisman/The Poodles/Hammerfall) started to get to grips with the new desk and the smattering of applause that greeted oldie ‘Gone For Good’ soon became more widespread for the great ballad ‘Emily’.


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For this performance long-time co-singer Per Svensson sang his parts from behind keyboards and as the sound improved the band visibly relaxed, with beaming smiles spreading across the faces of bassist Anders Rydholm and Peter Sundell, who up to that time had looked like a deer caught in the headlights. The band began to interact more with each other and with the crowd and it soon became obvious that the new album ‘Brand New World’ was the one that most people were familiar with as the polite applause for their second oldie ‘I Refuse’ turned to widespread recognition for the title track from the latest record. Guitarist Ola af Trampe added some fiery lead work to the upbeat ‘Never Find Her Alone’, and as all the bands had agreed to drop a song to make back the time lost by the earlier technical problems, their set ended far too soon with a killer version of perhaps their rockiest tune, ‘I’m Alive’. Grand Illusion displayed their talent and professionalism by dragging victory from the jaws of defeat, and under such circumstances what more could you ask? (PA)

Setlist : All Out Of Love / 157th Breakdown / Gone For Good / Emily / I Refuse / Brand New World / Never Find Her Alone / I’m Alive


Beggars & Thieves


I’m not sure what it is about my luck in the reviewing stakes for Firefest down the years but it feels that I always seem to get to cover the bands that fail to deliver the goods and the same was the case this year with the Saturday accolade going to Beggars & Thieves. After Grand Illusion had played a particularly impressive set of lush, hook laden and very well received melodic rock it was a shame that B&T were unable to maintain the momentum that had been established. From my perspective this was down to the lack of enough great memorable tunes with hooks and choruses that would engage the crowd.


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The set started well enough with ‘No More Broken Dreams’ and new song ‘Stone Alone’, both with their lovely riffs and strong choruses. However, the following ‘In Between’ was too dark and trippy for this event and from the balcony one could see that the crowd started to drift away as interest waned. ‘Kill Me’ turned into a guitar workout by Ronnie Mancuso whilst ‘Shine A Light’ was rather too repetitive. Although it was a nice touch to dedicate ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ to Gotthard’s Steve Lee (RIP), who was killed in a road accident just outside Beggars & Thieves’ home city of Las Vegas recently, it says something about their available tunes that they played a cover in a short set. Another new song, ‘Innocence’ began to redress the balance somewhat as it sounded like a strong rock number. Next up was the band’s eponymous song, which is clearly their best track by some distance and it was noticeable that the crowd were suddenly energised and singing along with great gusto.


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The set was wrapped up with another new song, ‘We Are the Broken Hearted’ and I was left with the same feeling as I had after Tall Stories at Firefest V, wrong band for the audience that this festival attracts. (GM)

Setlist : No More Broken Dreams / Stone Alone / In Between / Kill Me / Shine a Light / Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door / Innocence / Beggars & Thieves / We Are the Broken Hearted


Bangalore Choir


The loud cheer that greeted the barefoot David Reece and his chums plus a great choice of opening song from the new album immediately raised the momentum of FireFest 2010 onto another level. The charismatic Mr Reece certainly knew how to animate the audience and was clearly genuinely honoured to be in our “backyard” for Bangalore Choir’s debut gig in the UK. The sound quality and balance was excellent from where I was standing and the vocal harmonies were totally nailed throughout, but especially on the next two songs. ‘Martyr’ is a great, great song and my favourite from new album ‘Cadence’, and I’m sure this song by itself will have caused a scurrying to the merch desk after the set.


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The sequencing of the songs kept a nice balance and the rocking ‘Doin’ The Dance’ was supplanted by the mid-tempo power ballad ‘Loaded Gun’ to continue the good mix between the (mainly) older and newer material. The next song was dedicated to the great singers that we’ve lost this year and was specifically dedicated to Ronnie James Dio and Steve Lee: and was certainly the emotional high point of the set. By the end, the band had totally won the audience over, and I have seen them mentioned as one of the top five bands of the weekend in many people’s lists, and the best band of all in some. The “wow factor” was put firmly in place by concluding their set with ‘Angel In Black’ and ‘All Or Nothin’ and the audience reaction raised the Rock City roof more than a few inches! This was a quite amazing UK debut from the band and I’m sure we’ll be seeing them again sometime soon! (PJS)


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Setlist : Power Trippin’ / Just One Night / Martyr / Doin’ The Dance / Loaded Gun / If The Good Die Young (We’ll Live Forever) / Living Your Dreams Everyday / Slippin’ Away / Freight Train Rollin’ / Angel In Black / All Or Nothin’ 


Shotgun Symphony


As much as I was looking forward to seeing Saraya at Firefest 2010, I was nonetheless delighted when it was announced that Shotgun Symphony would be replacing them because they have been firm favourites of mine since their debut album and subsequent appearance at the very first Gods Of AOR event in 1993. I’ll admit that of all the bands on the bill my greatest anticipation was of seeing Shotgun Symphony once again and they certainly didn’t disappoint. I am sure I spent the entire set grinning like a fool as they delivered a set list I could barely have improved on had they asked me to choose it for them. The band actually called it a day eight years ago and had to be persuaded to reform for this event, but unless you had been told this fact there is no way you would have guessed based on this performance, which was brilliantly presented and absolutely perfect for this event. There was absolutely no messing from the band as one sure fire melodic rock gem was quickly followed by another which kept both the energy and entertainment levels at their highest.


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The opening moments of first track, ‘Highway To Tomorrow’ quickly established that they were as tight a unit as they ever were and in Chris O’Hara they have found themselves a drummer who drives the band to even greater heights. In Tracy White they have a superb vocalist who didn’t miss a note and whose power and range are undiminished by time. That said it has to be acknowledged that every member of the band was in absolutely splendid form with several people mentioning to me that they felt guitarist Mike Maino was playing better than ever. I have always been impressed with the band’s vocal arrangements and both Maino and bassist, Ed Avila gave sterling performances in the backing vocal department which goes to make the songs stand out as classics of the genre.


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In a set this good it’s hard to pick out highlights but I have to mention the spine-tingling renditions of ‘What Happens To Love?’, ‘Broken Promises’ and ‘Goodbye To The Night’, each of which was utterly wonderful. There was not a weak track in sight and the only disappointment being that they had to drop ‘On The Line Of Fire’ from the set to help overcome the technical issues earlier in the day. The crowd were singing along and clearly loved what they heard, but I’d expected nothing less. Let’s hope that this is the re-birth of the band and that a new album is on the horizon. (GM)

Setlist : Highway To Tomorrow / What Happens To Love / Way Back Home / Turn Around / Broken Promises / Lost Child / She’s In Love / Running / Bitter Sweet Poison / Goodbye To The Night / Believe In Me


Bonfire


Well, it’s a bit of a no-brainer that I was going to review this band, having talked the guys into performing my favourite ever album in its entirety, ‘Fireworks’, as a kind of birthday present to myself. Due to the one hour delay all bands had to cut one song from their set, and I happened to be passing Bonfire in the hotel while they were discussing whether to drop ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Rock Me Now’ - luckily my vote was decisive and the terminally dull ‘Rock Me Now’ didn’t see the light of day. What may surprise people is that Claus was really nervous about performing many of these songs, which hadn’t been played live in almost 20 years. A secret gig in Germany two weeks prior to Firefest eased some of those worries, and in fact got the band quite animated. “This really works,” they told me, excitedly before the show. And yes, it really did!
From the opening frenetic riff of ‘Ready For Reaction’ to the cheers that greeted the last chord of ‘Champion’, this was like being transported back in time to 1988 and witnessing Bonfire in all their youth-enfused glory. On stage, the guys were having a blast, and they had the crowd eating out of their hands – and when the opening chords of dance-floor favourite ‘Sweet Obsession’ blasted out of the speakers, the roar was deafening as the audience acclaimed the Ingolstadt boys like home-coming heroes.


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As said at the start, ‘Fireworks’ is my all-time favourite album, which each track – with the one obvious exception – a true classic, but it was with their unanticipated encore that Bonfire really scaled the heights this night, as Claus told us of their profound shock at the loss of Gotthard’s Steve Lee, a band they had toured with together and found so incredibly friendly and accommodating. The band then finished with an amazing version of Gotthard’s ‘I’m On My Way’, and it’s safe to say there was hardly a dry eye in the venue - the perfect conclusion to the most perfect set from Germany’s finest. Later that night Claus and I discussed the possibility of a ‘Point Blank’ show in the future – fingers crossed! (BM)

Setlist : Ready For Reaction / Never Mind / Don’t Get Me Wrong / Sleeping All / Alone / Give It A Try / Fantasy / American Nights / Sweet Obsession / Champion / I’m On My Way (Gotthard cover)


Dare


It had been 19 years since guitarist Vinny Burns had last graced a UK stage with Dare, so the anticipation for the Firefest set – based around a celebration of their acclaimed debut ‘Out Of The Silence’ – was palpable. As the band entered on stage, a cheer rose from the audience, an appreciation which intensified as the keyboard intro to ‘Abandon’ filled the venue. A strange choice for opening track as it is their most well known song, but certainly the perfect way to get the audience excitement levels raised, and the following triumvirate of ‘Into The Fire’, ‘Runaway’ and ‘Raindance’, with Vinny caressing his guitar and peeling off the riffs as if he had never been away, led many to believe we were witnessing what could well be the highlight of the weekend. However, after that initial, delightful, delicious delve into ‘Out Of The Silence’, the band took a detour through more recent releases with ‘Silent Thunder’, ‘Dreams Of Fire’, ‘Dublin’ and ‘Shelter In The Storm’ before returning once again to the debut for the Phil Lynott dedicated ‘King Of Spades’.


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It’s not that latter day Dare are unworthy of exploration, but after such a brilliant opening it represented something of a disconcerting lull for those who weren’t so familiar with the new songs, and finishing with ‘I Will Return’ from latest release ‘Arc Of The Dawn’ then ‘Sea Of Roses’ from 2004’s ‘Beneath the Shining Water’ was perhaps not the wisest decision of the day.


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Darren Wharton’s voice is still as velvety sumptuous as ever, and with Vinny adding the crunch to Richie Dews colour, this was still a sublime performance by a band back on the top of their game, but with a little more thought in the set-list order, this could have been a show the fans would still be speaking of in hushed, revered tones rather than one of missed opportunities. (BM)

Setlist : Abandon / Into The Fire / Runaway / Raindance / Silent Thunder / Dreams Of Fire / Dublin / Shelter In The Storm / King Of Spades / I Will Return / Sea Of Roses


Lynch Mob


Breaking the Firefest curse of the last few years when bands lower on the bill have outdone the headliners, this time around, in my eyes, the best results of the day were scored by the band headlining the proceedings, the monstrous Lynch Mob who are back to their successful beginnings. Whilst Bonfire gathered the most fan reaction and offered the most touching interaction with the audience, Lynch Mob showcased the most outstanding musicianship and technical ability by far. In fact, it was so jaw-dropping that this for me was the best act on the programme of the entire Firefest 2010 weekend. The truly fantastic and exhilarating four-piece featured two original members: the amazing and soulful Oni Logan on vocals and of course the 80s innovative and inspirational icon George Lynch on guitar, accompanied by two major names in rock: the super phenomenal and extraordinary Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Billy Idol, Foreigner, Ozzy, etc, etc) on drums and the ever energetic and solid Robbie Crane (Ratt, Vince Neil, Addler’s Appetite) on bass.


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I must confess I was slightly hesitant of what George Lynch would present us with after his last appearance in London in March 2008 when he was booked to do a clinic that the promoters falsely advertised as a show without George’s awareness, resulting in a sadly catastrophic evening. Another issue that was disconcerting when Lynch Mob set foot on the stage at the late time of 9.30pm was a fear of a set slaughtered short due to the announced 10pm curfew of the venue and the earlier technical problems that affected the day’s start time. Fortunately, Lynch Mob were allowed to play until 10.40pm, and the only aspect to be afraid of on this 2010 one-off UK appearance was the scary brilliance of their performance.
Hitting it off with ‘She’s Evil But She’s Mine’ from the highly acclaimed Lynch Mob debut album ‘Wicked Sensation’, the band set the tone to the splendour that was right there in front of us after an absence of almost 20 years on a British stage: a terrifically tight four piece and an overall great selection of ten killer songs . Two classics from that first album, ‘River Of Love’ and ‘Hell Child’, were next on the set to the delights of the audience reminding us all, including my brother Vic Rivera of Crunch, who was my companion watching this band, of that feeling on first listening to that 1990 masterpiece.
Next up Oni addressed the audience and gave way to three tracks from the newest Lynch Mob album, 2009‘s ‘Smoke And Mirrors’, which is a perfectly fresh and punchy follow-up to the debut. Thus, the in-your-face ‘Revolution Heroes’, the slower ‘Let The Music Be Your Master’ and the powerful ‘21st Century Man’ were played with full passion and chemistry. George Lynch gained the nickname of Mr Scary from the instrumental killer Dokken song that earned this band a Grammy nomination, hence it was only fair and natural that ‘Mr Scary’ formed part of the night’s repertoire, and what a mighty performance this was. Set in the Dokken mood, the band carried on to play ‘Into The Fire’ before closing the set with the Lynch Mob supreme trademark ‘Wicked Sensation’ that everyone was eagerly expecting, and during which Oni encouraged the audience to sing. Not knowing they were graced with time for an encore, George, who had been throwing guitar picks at the audience, had to ask for one of them back as they were called to perform the last track of the night, surprisingly another Dokken hit, the ever mighty ‘Tooth And Nail’.


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At all times, the four celebrated musicians appeared to enjoy their delivery. Oni proved he still has the voice and took ownership of the stage while Robbie danced confidently and unstoppably whilst strumming the four strings. For some Brian stole the show by masterfully hitting every piece of his massive drum kit and adding visual entertainment with his constant stick flips, but as he later explained to yours truly at the bar, this kind of performance is what his boss expects of him, as it quite rightly should be. George, who was ever more static on stage than the rest of his band mates, did nevertheless an exceptionally fantastic job on the six strings, silencing those who may have doubts on his present abilities. A perfect end to a fantastic day. (MCL)

Setlist : She’s Evil But She’s Mine / River Of Love / Hell Child / Revolution Heroes / Let The Music Be Your Master / 21st Century Man / Mr Scary (Dokken) / Into The Fire (Dokken) / Wicked Sensation / Encore : Tooth And Nail (Dokken)

 
Sunday, 31st October – Rock City, Nottingham

 

Grand Design


The opening slot on the final day of a three day festival is never the easiest position on the bill. The venue is at its emptiest (although to be fair, there was a healthy turnout even at midday) and those people who have turned out are still the worse for wear after the previous day’s exuberances. So with that in mind a band really needs to come out with all guns blazing to make a lasting impression, and while they were nowhere near as impressive as yesterday’s openers Grand Illusion, the other “Grand” on the bill made for an entertaining start to the day. That said, kicking off with the mid-paced ‘No Time For Love’ wasn’t the smartest move and the lukewarm reception it received showed that a more uptempo track would have shaken off those hangovers much more effectively, however following that up with the harder hitting ‘Slugged Out’ did get things going.


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Prowling round the stage in a vintage military jacket, frontman (and the band’s main songwriter) Pelle Saether looked every bit the rock and roll ringmaster and as he and his charges gained momentum with the more Def Leppard like ‘Piece Of The Action’, the crowd really began to get into the suave, melodic brand of rock that Grand Design do so well. The closing duo of ‘Air It Out’ and ‘Love Sensation’ showed the five piece at their classy best, although it was a little bit of a shame that it was quite so obvious that they were using backing tracks to boost the vocals. This was Grand Design’s first visit to these shores and while there is time for the band to become a sharper, more focused live force, hopefully it won’t be their last. (SR)

Setlist : No Time For Love / Slugged Out / Piece Of The Action / Sad Sound Of Goodbye / Air It Out / Love Sensation


Newman


This was an emotional appearance at FireFest for Steve Newman for reasons that I think are now well understood. Right from the outset of the band’s performance (videoed for posterity) a full Rock City was grabbed by the scruff of the neck as songs from right across the Newman catalogue had an impressive airing that benefited from a resonant, dynamic and clear sound and a band performance that was really “up there” – not least from new lead guitarist Shaun Bessant whose showmanship and playing were a complete revelation! Despite fighting a cold, Steve Newman still managed to harness his lungs to full capacity. He belted out songs that can be regarded as “quite polite” as recorded over the years but were now beefed up and energised considerably. I think the audience were initially quite stunned by what they were hearing and seeing and it was not until fourth song ‘Primitive Soul’ that they opened up when asked “what do you think of our new guitar player?” This song also featured a bizarre action freeze that really flummoxed the crowd but helped to ensure great acclaim when the song really finished!


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The rest of the set also drew a great response from a packed Rock City, and the choice of songs demonstrated the depth of material from the keyboards-drenched AOR of ‘If It’s Love’ to the iconic ‘One Step Closer’. The fan favourite brought proceedings to a climactic close with the crowd encouraged to sing along with the chorus – and which they did enthusiastically!


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This was the gig where Newman the band and Steve Newman the musician came of age, as will be revealed for all to see on the forthcoming DVD. (PJS)

Setlist : Hero To Zero / Endless / Every Moment / Primitive Soul / Stay With Me / Tumbledown / If It’s Love / Coming Home Tonight / Heaven Knows / One Step Closer


Stage Dolls


There were certainly less thrills, spills and showmanship in Stage Dolls set than some of the other bands at this year’s Firefest, but even though they were clad in plain old jeans and shirts, this was a band more than happy (and capable) of letting their music do the talking. Bursting out of the blocks with ‘24/7’ bassist Terje Storli and guitarist/singer Torstein Flakne were obviously intent on having a ball and judging by the loudest sing-a-long of the weekend so far that met ‘Love Cries’, so was everyone in the crowd. Even when they changed the focus with the piano and vocal intro to slower song ‘Hard To Say Goodbye’, Stage Dolls never lost any momentum, but the huge burst of energy that is ‘Commandos’, which really let drummer Morten Skogstad show his chops, and ‘Love Don’t Bother Me’, got such a huge reception that all four band members (keyboard player Ronny Wikmark augments the band’s sound on stage) looked genuinely touched.


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Having hit such a peak, there was a slight worry that it could have been all downhill from there, but with the melody infused groove of ‘Heart To Heart’ being quickly followed by ‘Wings Of Steel’, ‘Still In Love’ and ‘Soldier’s Gun’, the latter of which was dedicated to the late great Phil Lynott, Stage Dolls had managed to keep the best for last. In a weekend filled with great performances, Stage Dolls proved that they’ve still got the energy, passion and most importantly the songs to please their fans and I would guess they also gained some new admirers with this fantastic performance. (SR)

Setlist : 24/7 / Love Cries / Always / Rollin' / Hard To Say Goodbye / Commandos / Love Don't Bother Me / Heart To Heart / Wings Of Steel / Still in Love / Soldier's Gun


Strangeways

 
I was over the moon when I heard the news of the Strangeways reunion with American singer Terry Brock when the Firefest 2010 line-up was announced. This was a major surprise to me and many other people and even more with the band recording a brand new Strangeways album with guitarist Ian J Stewart, drummer Jim Drummond, new bassist Warren Jolly and keyboard player Dave "Munch " Moore.  So it had been 22 years since the band had performed together in the live arena and although I had seen Terry Brock live quite a few times over the past few years, I had never witnessed Strangeways play together. The band take the stage to tumultuous applause and its clear that so many people in this packed Rock City audience are here for Strangeways.


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Without delay the band launch straight into the mesmerising 'Love Lies Dying' from the magnificent 1988 opus 'Walk In The Fire', Terry's vocals are outstanding as ever and band certainly don't look like they haven’t played together for such a long time. Next track on offer is the up-tempo rocker 'Breakin Down The Barriers' from the bands self-titled debut release, which showcases how good of a guitarist Ian J Stewart really is. Again the sound quality in the venue is excellent with both vocals and guitars as clear as a bell. The title track from the bands new release 'Perfect World' is aired next, and although there has been some unfair criticism regarding the quality of the production on the album, it’s live where these new songs really come to life, as Terry is such a consummate vocalist he has the crowd transfixed on the stage to appreciate his soaring performance. The new material goes down really well before the song they have to play, according to Mr Dargan, the excellent  'Only A Fool' from ‘Native Sons’, kicks into life. With the track being a real fan favourite it goes down a storm with the very appreciative crowd.


Strangeways_Firefest_2


The atmosphere is electric and Strangeways don't disappoint us as they strike up the chords of the unforgettable classic 'Empty Streets', its a truly awe inspiring performance and my only question is why has it taken them so long to get back together when they can perform as effortlessly as this. The band take a small breather before airing another track from their excellent new album, the future classic 'Time' with Terry stating this one was written for the fans. Its an instant hit with the crowd before the band merge the track into a personal favourite of mine, 'After The Hurt Is Gone' from ‘Walk In The Fire’, which takes me back to my youth when I purchased the album from the now defunct Shades record shop in London. We are then treated to another track from the new album, 'Borderlines' with its upbeat country rock feel and again the song really comes alive in the arena. The audience is blown away by the next two tracks, both from ‘Native Sons’, first up is the storming rocker 'Where Do We Go From Here' with Terry's voice as strong as the first track he delivered in this amazing set, and the appreciative crowd lap it up. Then without pause for breath we move into the final song in the set, the awe-inspiring 'Never Gonna Lose It' which features a truly magnificent guitar solo from the very impressive Ian J Stewart. The band briefly leave the stage before they are quickly ushered back on by a very excitable Mr Dargan for a much deserved encore of 'Say What You Want' from the excellent ‘Perfect World’ release before finally bringing this inspired set to a close. An excellent and well received performance, just don't leave it another 22 years to come back please boys. (MW)

Setlist : Love Lies Dying / Breaking Down The Barriers / Perfect World / Only A Fool / Empty Streets / Time / After The Hurt Is Gone / Borderlines / Where Do We Go From Here / Never Gonna Lose It / Say What You Want

 

Jimi Jamison

 
To say i was excited at the prospect of seeing Jimi Jamison perform on British soil for the very first time would be the understatement of the year. The set kicked off with a surprising choice, the classic Bickler-era 'Caught In The Game', and from the very first bar the sound quality was the best i have ever heard at a Firefest, courtesy of Mr Pontus Norgren. Jimi's vocals were silky smooth and the crowd instantly lapped it up as the band moved into 'It’s The Singer, Not The Song' from the 80s classic 'Vital Signs'. You could tell Jimi was loving every minute of his first British live performance, as he was prowling the stage like he owned it. Without a pause for breath we hear the unmistakable keyboard intro to 'High On You', with the crowd in awe of Jimi's consummate singing quality and stage presence, it’s like being back in 1984 all over again. Next track on offer is a personal favourite of mine, 'Didn't Know It Was Love' from the 1988 Survivor opus 'Too Hot To Sleep'. By this point Jimi had totally captivated the whole audience and had them eating out of the palm of his hand. The atmosphere was truly electric as Jimi and his very talented backing band, which included three of the young guys from H.E.A.T. who must have been in their element playing these Survivor classics, together with guitar virtuoso Tommy Denander, who complimented Jimi's wonderful vocal performance with his outstanding licks. Next up and another hit from Vital Signs was the truly mesmerising 'I See You In Everyone', and at this point of the show my good friend and Fireworks reviews editor, Mr Phil Ashcroft tapped me on the shoulder and said “I wish he would play something we know - ha ha”. Jimi then showcases the excellent 'A Dream Too Far' from his 1999 solo release 'Empires', with the title track from Jimi's sublime 'Crossroads Moment' following on swiftly, which for me fits in so well with the set that it would not have been out of place on the 'Too Hot To Sleep' release.


jimi_jamison_firefest_1


The following salvo of four songs that close the set take my breath away, starting with the killer track 'Rebel Son' from the 1986 release 'When Seconds Count' with Jimi's vocals sounding as strong as they have ever been together with some awesome guitar work from Mr Denander. Without delay the intro to the Rocky IV anthem 'Burning Heart' is belted out and the whole of the Rock City crowd goes wild, with the bands young keyboard player sporting a rather nifty Rocky IV t shirt to boot. Again the vocals are spot on with the backing band looking like they had been playing with Jimi for years. At this point I turn to Mr Ashcroft and he looks as moved as I am witnessing this truly outstanding performance from the former Survivor vocalist. Jimi then turns to the crowd  and asks “Is David Hasselhoff in the house?” and we all know what is coming next, the unforgettable Baywatch theme tune 'I’m Always Here'.


jimi_jamison_firefest_2


Everyone around me goes completely nuts and sings every verse with Jimi, it was mind-blowing. This brings the set to a rousing close, before Jimi and his band return to the stage for a much deserved encore. You could tell that Mr Jamison was truly overwhelmed by the response and love from the crowd, he gives his thankyou's before the Survivor song that everyone knows and loves is cranked out, 'Eye Of The Tiger' from Rocky III. This gets the very appreciative crowd bouncing before bringing this magnificent spectacle to a close. This was a truly magical performance from one of the ultimate Gods of AOR. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely! Put in simple terms, Jimi Jamison's performance was truly phenomenal and in my humble opinion the best ever live performance I have witnessed in seven Firefests. (MW)
 
Setlist : Caught In The Game / It’s The Singer, Not The Song / High On You / Is This Love / Didn’t Know It Was Love / I See You In Everyone / A Dream Too Far / Reach / Crossroads Moment / Rebel Son / Burning Heart / I’m Always Here (Baywatch Theme) / Eye Of The Tiger


Pretty Maids  


There were some missed heartbeats behind the scenes when firstly a rescheduling of the band’s flight from Paris caused their appearance to be elevated to the penultimate slot of the day, and then again once they were en route from the airport when their transport became ensnarled in a motorway queue for many hours following a serious accident! Consequently, the band arrived at Rock City less than 30 minutes before they went on stage and had even changed clothes in the van – not that you would have known it from the way they ripped into the first two songs from their latest album ‘Pandemonium’. They did this to a half-full auditorium, but as their set progressed so the audience returned.


prettymaids_firefest_1


From my position in Rock City, the vocals were initially rather indistinct - in stark contrast with those of Jimi Jamison, although clarity improved markedly during the set.  Also in stark contrast from all who had preceded them was the bombastic, high energy hard rock for which Pretty Maids are renowned, and as Ronnie Atkins promised, it was clear that they intended to “kick ass”: and this they surely did. Apart from the opening two songs and also ‘Little Drops Of Heaven’ later on, it was a set that focused firmly upon earlier, well-known and popular songs from the band’s first four albums, plus the up-tempo ballad ‘Walk Away’ from ‘Scream’. It was also the usual scenario for Pretty Maids in trying to get a balance between their bombastic rockers, mid-tempo songs and emotional ballads, and I felt that the choice of songs – although largely shaped by the sets for their previous few gigs – was appropriately tweaked for a tremendously memorable Firefest debut, although having to follow Jimi Jamison was always going to be an unenviable task.


prettymaids_firefest_2


Nevertheless, this was a helluva crowd-pleasing set, and their participation on the band’s chosen cover song for the day, Phil Lynott’s ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ (from the band’s ‘Sin-Decade’ album) showed this to be a tremendously shrewd choice.
As the show was running to time, Pretty Maids gave us a very popular two song encore, comprising the title tracks from their first couple of albums and it was drawn to my attention that drummer Alan Tschicaja appeared as a man possessed during the first of these! Well, in fact the whole band “rawked” and seemed genuinely pleased to be back in the UK after a 25-year absence, and to have finally graced the Firefest stage after the palaver earlier in the day. Taking a bow to the sounds of Monty Python’s ‘Sit On My Face’ was an amusing if somewhat bizarre conclusion to their well-received set. (PJS)

Setlist :  Pandemonium / I.N.V.U / Walk Away / Savage Heart / Back To Back / Rodeo / Little Drops Of Heaven / Please Don’t Leave Me / Love Games / Encore : Future World / Red Hot & Heavy


Nelson


It seems painfully hard to believe that, for reasons beyond their control, the melodic rock maestros Nelson had never graced a UK stage in their over 20-year-spanning career. However, thank you to Firefest, another curse was broken when the American twin sensation, who came into the spotlight on the release of their massively successful debut album ‘After The Rain’ back in 1990, were finally baptised on this side of the pond.

Your señorita truly, like many of the fans of that first record, from which the contagious hit ‘(I Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection’ reached number one in the charts of their homeland, was very much looking forward to seeing the twins in action. After the energetic and in-your-face performance of Pretty Maids, perhaps one of the heavier bands on the bill this year, I was dubious the show would get any better than that and thought perhaps Nelson would sound too mellow after this. I am extremely delighted to admit my initial thought had no justification whatsoever as Nelson rocked the house to the bone. The six-piece band comprised of Matthew Nelson on bass, Gunnar Nelson on guitar, Neil Zaza (what an amazing discovery - highly recommended to check his solo discography for he is a phenomenal six stringer) also on guitar, Brian Burwell on drums and a very special guest: none other than Mark Slaughter of Slaughter as a third guitarist and backing vocalist, sounded majestic.


nelson_firefest_1


As it couldn’t have been otherwise, quite a few tracks (six, to be precise) from their celebrated debut album resonated radiantly on the PA system at Nottingham Rock City to general audience acclaim, kicking off with the infectious ‘Fill You Up’ and closing with an expanded version of ‘Everywhere I Go’. Throughout the set the brothers shared those sweet vocals they are renowned for, although Gunnar sang in a lower register than the album on the adorable hits ‘Only Time Will Tell’ and ‘After The Rain’, yet kept the same key in the strong ‘More Than Ever’. Surprisingly, there weren’t any tracks from their magnificent new album, ‘Lightning Strikes Twice’ that was due for release the week after Firefest and would have been a perfect opportunity to showcase some of those splendid new tracks. Instead, they chose to play songs from lesser known albums, such as ‘Ghostdance’ from 1997‘s ‘The Silence Is Broken’, ‘A Girl Like That’ from 1999‘s ‘Life’ and ‘Invisible Man from 2004‘s ‘Unreleased Transcontinental’ and left out what I considered would be an obvious choice,  ‘Bits And Pieces’, also from the debut.

When a drum solo started I thought they could use the time to play another song, nonetheless, when Brian got off the kit to be replaced by Matthew and walked to the front of the stage to do some fashionable break dancing, I changed my mind as it was a very original touch. After this, Neil Zaza became the centre of attention as he started a guitar solo that developed into an exquisite instrumental song with the band playing his absolutely mind-blowing ‘I’m All Right’. Generous as they are, the Nelson brothers had another surprise in store and conceded time in the spotlight to their very special guest, playing the Slaughter hit ‘Up All Night’ with Mark taking the mic duties to the delight of the fans, despite the low volume of his mic (it seems the sound technician, the adorable Pontus Norgren of HammerFall and ex-The Poodles fame, had not been informed Mark‘s mic would be use for lead vocals too).


nelson_firefest_2


For the encore, their number one hit ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection’ sent the crowd wild and put a massive smile on my happy face, as it was an impeccable ending to a sublime weekend. Yes, unfortunately a small number of things went wrong, including two guitar amps blowing up during their show, one after the other, quickly replaced by Tony Marshall and his team so that the show didn’t have to stop. Notwithstanding, it was overall an incredible debut for Nelson on a UK stage. The long blonde manes are long gone, but the joy they transmit with their music and the passion they perform it with clearly remains intact, and I can’t wait for their comeback in 2011. (MCL)

Setlist : Fill You Up / Evermore / More Than Ever / Ghostdance / Only Time Will Tell’ / A Girl Like That / Drum solo / I’m All Right (Neil Zaza) / After The Rain / Up All Night’ (Slaughter) / Invisible Man / Everywhere I Go / Encore : (Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection


covers

FIREWORKS MAGAZINE


This review will be published in the full colour, glossy Fireworks Magazine Issue #43, on sale on Dec 9th and available at selected WHSmiths (Rocktopia WHSmith store locator) or direct from the Rocktopia shop.

As well as this fully illustrated review, Fireworks #43 also features interviews with Mr Big, Huey Lewis And The News, Nelson, Paul Gilbert, Status Quo, Yngwie Malmsteen and many more. Fireworks also includes in depth reviews of all the latest releases, reissues, DVDs and live concerts.

Downloadable PDF versions can be bought from MelodicRock.com

Back issues are also available here in the Rocktopia shop, although some issues are completely sold out. To avoid missing out, why not subscribe? Guarantee yourself six issues of the finest melodic rock magazine on the planet by taking out a subscription, and you'll get one FREE!

Looking for the full Firefest VI review? Please click here!


 

from the 1988 Survivor opus
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Comments (3)add comment

FrankK said:

...
Many thanks for this GREAT review! I cannot wait for Firefest 2011!!! smilies/cool.gif
 
March 27, 2011
Votes: +1

JAOR said:

...
GOOD review! See you all at Firefest 2011! smilies/grin.gif
 
July 15, 2011
Votes: +1

BSmith said:

...
Thanks for the in-depth review. Already purchased two tickets for 2011 ... counting the days, LOL! smilies/wink.gif
 
July 29, 2011
Votes: +1

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