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Added by Central Electronic Brain     January 12, 2014    
 
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Hard Rock Hell AOR 2013 - Magna Centre, Rotherham (UK) - 6th & 7th April 2013

Fireworks Magazine had a formidable team present at this inaugural event, comprising Bruce Mee (BLM), Carl Buxton (CB) and Monica Castedo-Lopez (MCL). One of them even joined Kip Winger on stage!

The Magna Centre, Rotherham is a disused steel works that has been turned into a combination of museum and live concert venue. There were rumours about poor sound quality, but actually the bands in the main AOR hall generally sounded great and the stage was quite impressive...although the less said about the AOR second "stage" the better.
What hadn't been widely made clear was just how damned cold it can get inside the place. The AOR main room was nippy on the Saturday, but the main Prog room was a quite incredible -2C! That is just not comfortable at all, and the news that the festival would move to Wales next year was greeted with some relief.

The team couldn't cover all acts on all stages, but managed to cover the majority of the main artists...


Saturday 6 April


Last time I saw Dante Fox was at Firefest last year, where vocalist Sue Willetts was criticised for her stage presence and lack of crowd interaction. No such worries here though, as she laughed and joked her way through the set, displaying that awesome voice despite suffering the effects of a cold. Ably supported by the excellent, and hugely underrated, Tim Manford on guitar the band ripped through storming versions of old favourites such as 'Firing My Heart, 'Lost And Lonely' and 'I Can't Sleep' along with a full four songs from their last album 'Under The Seven Skies'. Their recent excellent EP was represented by the superb duo of 'Goodbye To Yesterday' and 'Who Stole The Innocence' before ending the set with their usual rousing rendition of 'Remember'. A resounding success for one of the UK's hardest working AOR bands. (BLM)

Romeo's Daughter vocalist Leigh Matty amazingly doesn't appear much different to how she was nearly 25 years ago and bedecked all in black, with her black hair and trademark fringe, she cut a rather stark figure on stage. The familiar opening keyboard refrain of 'Heaven In The Back Seat' commenced proceedings and a large part of the audience warmed to these now veterans of the AOR scene. Matty quickly got into her stride as guitarist Craig Joiner offered us all the tasty riffs without the frills. The band ran through such delights as 'Velvet Tongue', 'Inside Out' and crowd pleaser 'I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night' from their debut alongside newbies from their recent 'Rapture' release, to which a large part of the audience gave a lukewarm response, probably due to unfamiliarity. Only the single 'Attracted To The Animal' received an airing from second album 'Delectable' but they signed off with the fabulous 'Wild Child' and won the audience over with their brand of inoffensive catchy melodic AOR. (CB)

Danny Vaughn, the legendary voice of Tyketto, conquered the main stage audience in no time. His aim was to concentrate on his newly re-issued first two albums, 'Soldiers & Sailors On Riverside' and 'Fearless' and hence started his set with 'Bad Water' from the former. His charismatic stage presence and extraordinary voice shone through Tyketto tracks such as 'Meet Me In The Night', 'Battle Lines' and 'Seasons' and was backed by a magnificent band that included the talents of Jon Sudbury on guitar and the rhythm section of The Union, Chris Childs and Dave McClusky. In a peculiar yet interesting way, the band slowly walked out of the stage leaving the American singer on his own with his acoustic guitar for the end of the beautiful 'The Voice', with which the set came to an early end. (MCL)

In over 25 years I have never seen FM give a bad show, and Steve, Merv and the boys were certainly not going to break such a winning streak tonight! Opening up in front of a packed crowd with new song 'Tough Love' was a brave choice, but following that up with a clutch of classics like 'I Belong To The Night', 'That Girl', 'Don't Stop' and 'Love Lies Dying' put the band on Easy Street and the crowd were lapping it up. Another brace of newbies, 'Over You' and recent single 'Crosstown Train' fitted in perfectly alongside the likes of 'The Other Side of Midnight', 'Frozen Heart' and set closer 'Burning My Heart Down'. Throughout, the band worked the songs and the crowd like a well-oiled machine, Steve Overland's impassioned vocals simply the cherry on an exquisitely sumptuous cake. 'Rockville' proved there's still gold to be mined by these boys, and long may it continue. (BLM)

Tesla, the inimitable working man's band, graced the main stage as headliners on their only UK show this year and delivered a performance that was the icing on the cake of a most enjoyable day. Their set incorporated classics such as 'Hang Tough', 'Heaven's Trail', 'Getting Better', 'The Way It Is' and 'Edison's Medicine' and the bigger than life 'Signs' and 'What You Give', which, for yours truly, represented the highlights. I was surprised to see the four original members, drummer Troy Luccketta, bassist Brian Wheat, guitarist Frank Hannon and lead vocalist Jeff Keith, were not joined by Dave Rude, the guitarist that joined the band in 2006 replacing original axeman Tommy Skeoch; but later learned that Tommy Armstrong-Leavitt was only standing in temporarily as Rude had become a dad a few weeks before the show. Hannon's neat playing and warm personality together with Keith's humbleness and unique raspy voice made fans feel closer to the band and had smiley faces all around to the sound of their rock tunes that urge one to forget your worries, even after the encore 'Little Suzi' hit the last note. Although, personally, I would have moved the opener 'I Wanna Live' from their latest delivery 'Forever More' (2008) to a later spot on their set, the Sacramento group looked happy and at ease playing in front of a room crowded with fans only too willing to sing along, and, they did an absolutely brilliant job. (MCL)

Going on at midnight to close Saturday's proceedings, Vega weren't exactly given a favourable time slot as many of the audience were catching their last shuttle bus back to the hotel after a long day, but nevertheless Nick and co. still know how to work an audience, and in choosing to open with the magnificent and uplifting title track of their debut 'Kiss Of Life', just brought home how good this band really is. Racing through 'Not There For You' and 'Saviour', from sophomore effort 'What The Hell!', the remaining fans were appreciating what they were witnessing and hearing on stage. The bombastic melody of 'Into The Wild' and the gloriously catchy 'White Knuckle Ride' drew things to a close and it was left to rabble-rouser and audience participation number 'Hands In The Air' to send the remaining fans back to their accommodation happy. (CB)

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Sunday 7 April


I really enjoyed the debut album from Sweden's Nubian Rose, and in Sofia Lilja they have a singer of immense talent. However, in the live environment her high-pitched vocals sometimes came across as quite irritating and her less than fluent English between songs was rather off-putting as well. But she did get one of the biggest reactions of the day, when switching from black leather to a skin-tight Union Jack cat-suit mid set! From a personal point of view, I was disappointed to find the new songs aired depressingly bland, although the highlights from the album certainly translated well to the live arena, and the finishing duo of 'Ever See Your Face' and 'Mountain' brought their set to a satisfying conclusion. (BLM)

It appears quite difficult to imagine a bunch of young guys writing and performing colossal songs to a phenomenal sound, yet this is exactly what H.E.A.T are all about. With only three albums under their belt, the Swedish hurricane took the stage by storm and owned every single inch of it, starting off with the tremendous 'Breaking The Silence' and relentlessly delivering powerful songs such as 'Beg, Beg, Beg' and more melodic anthems such as 'Falling Down'. And if anyone out there was reluctant to the unconventional image of new singer Erik Grönwall, they surely were shocked by his maniac moves on stage and also utterly and positively impressed by his extraordinary vocal ability. Always a pleasure to receive such a young energetic collective. (MCL)

Ten have been fairly active on the live scene over the past year, and the chance to display their harder-edged material to a larger audience, many of whom wouldn't have been familiar with the band, certainly didn't disappoint. In a set based around indisputable classics such as 'Spellbound', 'The Robe', 'Ten Fathoms Deep' and 'Red', the three new tracks from current album 'Heresy And Creed' didn't disappoint, 'Arabian Nights', 'Gunrunning' and 'Unbelievable' all slotting in seamlessly. Throw in the delicately sumptuous ballad 'Valentine' and raucous set closer, the seminal 'Name Of The Rose', and we really did have a set to give us an example of British hard rock at its best. Gary Hughes still has the power and clarity in his voice, and for me, Dan Mitchell was the guitarist of the day, gloriously entertaining in his virtuosity. (BLM)

Uli Jon Roth achieved the unique distinction of playing on both the Prog stage on Saturday and the AOR stage on Sunday. Both sets were different and the former Scorpions guitarist was at times mesmerising with his unique tone and fluid playing, utilised on his custom Sky guitars that have extra frets to emulate the high notes of a violin. He may be 58 years old but his playing is in the premier league class, recalling a certain other former Scorpion, Michael Schenker. With Owen Davidson on bass and vocals, Uli gave us a masterclass in guitar perfection covering songs from his Electric Sun and Sky Of Avalon releases and old Scorpions classics, singing 'Fly To The Rainbow' himself whilst Davidson covered 'Pictured Life', 'Sails Of Charon', 'In Trance' and an epic 'We'll Burn The Sky' before dueting on an extended 'Dark Lady'. For sheer nostalgia this couldn't have been bettered! (CB)

Being the only performer to appear solo and for an acoustic set must be both really brave and scary, but Kip Winger is no stranger to delighting audiences around the globe with acoustic versions of his 25-year band Winger, as well as his solo material. Understandably, on this occasion he opted to play safe and chose a repertoire vastly comprised of the big Winger hits, such as 'Easy Come Easy Go', 'Headed For A Heartbreak', and 'Madalaine', albeit setting off with 'Cross', a solo composition that did not achieve the welcome it would otherwise deserve in a different setting. It was interesting to see how many of us found ourselves singing along to every lyric, but our very own Carl Buxton made it even further jumping on the stage when Kip asked for someone to join him for the breath taking 'Miles Away', and a great job he did too! With 'Seventeen' Winger closed his acoustic set in a most satisfying way proving he just requires his voice and a guitar to entertain an audience. (MCL)

Skid Row are nowhere near the AOR label (and let's face it, neither were many other acts on the bill this weekend), although here they were headlining day 2 of this fun-loving festival. But don't misunderstand me I loved every minute of their performance, which as expected, was heavier and punkier than anybody else's. Long gone is Sebastian Bach, who was replaced 14 years ago by Johnny Solinger, a singer and frontman in his own right, in the 'new' Skid Row that still features founding members Rachel Bolan, Dave 'Snake' Sabu and Scotti Hill, plus drummer Rob Hammersmith. Notwithstanding, their set comprised old classics from the Bach era: the aggressive 'Slave To The Grind', 'Piece Of Me' and 'Monkey Business', hand in hand with the ballads '18 And Life', 'In A Darkened Room' and of course 'I Remember You', which nowadays has an edgier sound but still that amazing acoustic guitar. The five-piece even played a new, at the time, unreleased track, 'Let's Go', from their latest EP 'United World Rebellion: Chapter 1' that follows the in-your-face vibe of their heavier tunes. At one point Bolan took on mic duties to perform their Ramones cover of 'Psycho Therapy' and by 00.05hrs the band disappeared from the stage too soon after the encores 'Riot Act', 'Get The Fuck Out' and the obligatory 'Youth Gone Wild', still finishing 20 minutes earlier than scheduled and after having started about 15 minutes late. Despite the short set, Skid Row showed they've still got much left in them, even if perhaps not to everyone's taste in this AOR audience. (MCL)

Hitting the stage well after midnight and performing a greatest hits package across his back catalogue, Jeff Scott Soto opened the show with songs from his latest album 'Damage Control' and with the likes of '21st Century', 'Broken Man' (with JSS on piano), 'Look Inside Your Heart' and the title track, he certainly won't be without future live classics. Switching to the more memorable numbers in his repertoire including 'Eyes Of Love' and W.E.T.'s 'One Love' got the audience really grooving and he even ran through a Talisman medley that would have made the late and very much missed Marcel Jacob proud. Special guest Nathan James appeared for the encore to help belt out 'Stand Up And Shout' and it was every bit as good as you'd imagine. With his sharp wit and banter Jeff always delivers and tonight, despite the ridiculous hour, was no exception. (CB)


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