Rockingham 2017

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Rockingham 2017

Rockingham 2017 - Trent University, Nottingham (UK) - 20-22 October 2017

Friday 20th October

Kicking off proceedings were Northern Ireland's Maverick. While in appearance they have a somewhat heavier image than this festival usually goes for (singer David Balfour has a Mohawk and reminds me of a latter-day Geoff Tate), they are enjoyable and melodic, and ultimately are an entertaining opener that fit right in. Balfour, in fact, has an easy-going charm, is comfortable with his audience and he has a full-bodied voice with a bit of a Queensrÿche Tate era scream thrown in. He has a fine voice and can reach high notes effortlessly and even reminds me at times a little of Dave Meniketti in tone. With great songs accessible to first hearing like 'Whisky Lover', they go down well.

Maverick Rockingham 2017 Live

Next up we took a definite step towards AOR with Blanc Faces. Robbie Le Blanc's clear, bright voice is a joy to hear. One really touching part of the performance is that he is almost in tears to get such a great reception, commenting that this kind of music "doesn't exist" in the USA anymore. They're a class act, delivering lyrical bluesy guitar and fast shredding solos, and all is going well until guitarist Philip Lindstrand breaks a guitar string, but bassist and other Le Blanc brother Brian takes charge and they deliver a couple of pared down covers of 'I'm Your Captain' and 'Georgy Porgy' as a kind of funky fill in – with great harmonies it all reminds a little of Hall and Oates. Soon as Lindstrand is back, they get return to the business of rocking. Brian Le Blanc quips that the interlude was the best part of the night and it certainly made it a memorable show!

Blanc Faces Rockingham 2017 Live

Lord knows why John Parr thought it would be a good idea to do a set with so many covers. It was a surprise when he started with 'Highway Star' but the crowd go with it. Rewarded by a great version of 'Naughty Naughty' and popular 'The Best', and then with the riffs of 'Restless Heart' and 'Time', things seem to be back on track and he treats the crowd to a bit of cheeky banter – "I feel like a 20 year old... so any offers?" There's an energetic and passionate performance of 'Under A Raging Moon' that sees him punching his fist in the air. However, it's not long before there's a long passage of Fleetwood Mac and Beatles covers that leaves the crowd (gagging for a rare chance to see his own work live) frankly unimpressed. As cover after cover happens, the energy dips irretrievably. He appears slightly reluctant to do 'St Elmo's Fire' (it is unclear why), and while things recover a bit, there was a lot of complaining from the audience afterwards. It's not that the versions he does of classic covers are bad, it's just not what people wanted to see from him.

John Parr Rockingham 2017 Live

Kix, however, deliver in spades! Apparently, they play for seventy minutes, but it seems much less and is testament to the enjoyable whirlwind they are. Conscious that they were best known in the UK for their classic albums, they do a lot of early material such as 'The Itch', 'Sex' and 'Midnite Dynamite' which are faithful to the records. Steve Whiteman is his usual frenetic self, shaking and thrusting his hips, all hair and limbs, while the guitarists jump on crates at the front for impact, including a scorching solo from Ronnie Younkins during 'No Ring Around Rosie'. Whiteman admits that since they haven't been to the UK for twenty-five years, they were wondering if people would know who they are, but no such fear. The crowd enthusiastically sing along to Whiteman's mock vocal coach exercises and to the rare classic treats. We get 'Love Me With Your Top Down' and 'Wheels In Motion' from the new album, and being roaring tracks the audience receives them very well. For a change of pace, Whiteman dons his beret and glasses for ballad 'Don't Close Your Eyes', but it's not long before we are rocking again with 'Girl Money' complete with exotic dancers; Whiteman pretends to leave with them and quips he's getting married. During 'Cold Blood', Brian Damage gets another turn on the box to deliver a superb bluesy Joe Perry style solo that he follows with a more Rock 'n' Roll style one for 'Blow My Fuse'. The audience sing-along to the verses in 'Blow My Fuse' and they are an unforgettable first night headliner.

Kix Rockingham 2017 Live

For VIPs, there's an acoustic show at the Crown Plaza and the lucky ones see acoustic medleys from The Amorettes, Blood Red Saints, Issa, Rob Wylde and others. There's some fine vocal work and there's no doubt these are rare gems for true fans.

Saturday 21 October

Openers for Saturday are Scandinavian band Cruzh, now fronted by Philip Lindstrand who played guitar with Blanc Faces yesterday. With a bandana, he's a bit of a Gary Cherone look-alike and they certainly strike me as a band eager to follow in Eclipse's footsteps, providing melodic, catchy Rock songs with an emphasis on harmonies. They seem a young band in development with some strange Flock Of Seagulls type haircuts going on, but as a result, there's a bit of a party atmosphere which is no bad thing.

Cruzh Rockingham 2017 Live

The Amorettes are one of the more Metal acts on the bill and they give a hi-energy performance that gets the ball well and truly rolling for a Saturday after the night before. Armed with a piercing Amazon-like cry, Gill Montgomery has control of her crowd like a veteran. Bassist Heather McKay ammunitions the crowd like Steve Harris and contributes some impressive backing vocals, while sister Hannah McKay beats hell out of the drums. There's nothing delicate about these girls who are clearly inspired by hard rocking bands like AC/DC and Iron Maiden, and vocalist Montgomery does a mean Angus Young shred. Their stage craft is now honed to a fine art, no doubt after extensive touring. They get the crowd shouting along to 'Hot And Heavy' and wake them up like a slap in the face.

The Amorettes Rockingham 2017 Live

After The Amorettes, the crowd are primed well for Vega who get a great reception and crowd participation from the off. Nick Workman is a confident front-man who always gives a good energetic show and is an impressively tall Viking-like figure who bounces around the stage like Joey Tempest. He has supreme control of his voice which is on top form with great Falsetto. However, it was a nice surprise not only to get excellent musicianship (shredding, finger tapping, plenty of whammy) from the rest of the band, but also improved crowd engagement making them more entertaining to watch than on other occasions I had seen them. Eventually, after jumping and circling kicks, and launching himself into the pit to engage the crowd, we get Workman by name and nature. The crowd respond to his efforts with enthusiastic "hey hey hey" chant. It is nice to see most of the band finally working as hard as their singer and understanding it's not just the music and quality of the playing, it's also the show.

Vega Rockingham 2017 Live

Fortune are middle of the road AOR and immensely likeable singer Larry Greene is a charismatic front-man. However, while they seem to get a great reception and are back by popular demand, they lack that final spark for me. The guitar is low in the mix to start, although this does seem to improve. The lively guitar solo in 'Heart Is A Lonely Hunter' perks things up a bit, the solo on 'Dearborn Station' is a beautiful plaintiff soulful cry and I enjoy 'Through The Fire' from the 'Top Gun' movie. However, it is a bit samey at times and perhaps could have done with more contrast in the set.

Fortune Rockingham 2017 Live

For a lot of people seeing Dave Bickler from Survivor is all about hearing the famous 'Eye Of The Tiger' live with its distinctive vocal and punchy guitar riff. It is the encore and was great and more than satisfies everyone. However, like Parr, he seems to have suffered a bout of modesty about the riches in his own material and that of Survivor. As such we get three excellent covers in'Can't Get Enough', 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' and 'All Right Now', but again, it tests the crowd's patience. They are more than familiar with Bickler's material and are anxious to hear as much of his own stuff as possible, which seems to be a bit of a surprise to him. He has an understated stage presence and just about gets away with his set without losing energy by playing 'Caught In The Game', and just about enough original material to keep the crowd on side, but it is touch and go after the third cover and the encore saves his bacon.

Dave Bickler Rockingham 2017 Live

Harem Scarem give us great vocal work from Harry Hess which is clear and powerful, and they also include one song from their drummer Darren Smith who has a great voice with nuances like Dave Meniketti. There's plenty of shredding and some Brian May style guitar playing which is something special, epic, grand and passionate and there's also some titanic riffs and blistering solos, but arguably their stage presentation is less inspired. They have a big harmonic sound like the Scandinavia greats such as Eclipse, but they did not have the X-factor for me.

Vince Neil, backed by most of the excellent Slaughter band including veteran crowd pleaser Dana Strum and charismatic drummer Zoltan with his death defying leaps, are more entertaining for me. Neil seems far happier in this team-orientated environment that any later show with Mötley Crüe and he enthusiastically throws himself into the Crüe classics, punching his fist in the air. 'Dr Feelgood', 'Piece Of Your Action' and 'Looks That Kill' give us a high energy start before we slow down for 'Home Sweet Home'. Neil never had the greatest voice, but like Davy Vain he is unmistakable and his slightly tinny tone gives him an individuality that has value by itself. The audience are behind him and sing really loudly. The addition of exotic dancers for 'Girls, Girls, Girls' gives the show a bit more of a Crüe feel. Neil is very down to earth with the crowd and he has them eating out of his hand for 'Wildside'. The encore 'Live Wire' is well judged as the first album was totally cult in the UK. Neil leaves thanking the crowd and promising he can't wait to come back. He might have got a smaller audience than Mötley Crüe had, but I guarantee you he's enjoying himself a whole lot more and that translates through to his performance, and in turn to crowd appreciation. He's a bit of a phenomena and adds star quality sufficient to make him the highlight of the evening and day.

Vince Neil Rockingham 2017 Live

Review and photos by Dawn Osborne

Sunday 22 October

I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed upon the announcement of this year's Rockingham line-up. As the time approached I grew more excited, mainly because I thoroughly enjoy the weekend in Nottingham and the company of the people that attend. On paper, Sunday looked the strongest of the three, though the high on which Saturday finished was going to be tough to follow.

First up on the last day were Bailey. Nigel Bailey and his bandmates acted as the backing band for Kevin Chalfant in 2016 and also for Bickler on the previous night this year. Not only did it give the guys the opportunity to play some stone cold classic AOR/Melodic Rock songs, but it also highlighted their calibre as musicians and probably gave them more stage time than anyone else. I admit to being unfamiliar with the Bailey solo release and the Three Lions album, yet I still warm to the music and as an opening act they certainly prove their worth. 'Bad Reputation', 'Holy Water' and 'In The Name Of The King' are highly melodic and 'Jezebel' features a nice light-hearted cameo by Pete Godfrey (Blood Red Saints).

Bailey Rockingham 2017 Live

Moritz began life in 1986 but initially the project was short-lived. They resurfaced again a few years ago and have since recorded albums receiving great critical acclaim from many Melodic Rock journalists. They are another band that has eluded my radar, so I was interested to see if the hype was justified. The songs have a strong AOR flavour and in Pete Scallan they have a vocalist with great a voice. Unfortunately for me, though the performance is good, the Melodic Rock market is overly saturated with this kind of material at the moment and I don't think Moritz have a big enough identity to make them stand out enough from the rest. 'To The Moon And Back' and 'Should've Been Gone' are pleasant enough songs and the bluesy 'You Don't Know What Love Is' showcases Scallan's voice really well, but I think by day three, I was wilting slightly and in the mood for something with more of an edge and a bit more uplifting.

Moritz Rockingham 2017 Live

It is hard to believe that the debut Airrace album is now thirty-three years old. The main selling point originally was a certain Jason Bonham on drums and a very American sound from a British band. Guitarist Laurie Mansworth is now the only original member, but he is well supported by musicians who give those old songs and some not so old songs a new lease of life. 'Caught In The Game' and 'Not Really Me' may well be thirty-three years old but they sound fresh, and though their diminutive singer Adam Payne has only been with the band a short while, he seems very comfortable with the material and has an enthusiastic stage presence. 'I Don't Care' benefits from a beefier arrangement and if the new songs 'Eyes Like Ice' and 'Men From The Boys' (good riff underpinned by strong Hammond sound) are anything to go by then the next album should be worth waiting for. The 'First One Over The Line' hook still resonates, and it is also great to get the keyboard intro from Linda Kelsey Foster for 'Brief Encounter' to bring the set to a close all too quickly. I wasn't expecting great things but was very impressed.

Airrace Rockingham 2017 Live

I have all four Brother Firetribe albums but was disappointed by the sound the last time they played in Nottingham. I was hoping for something better this time round, but once more, when I left the venue for some air and a quick between band drink, I felt it was an opportunity missed. The sound seems rather flat after the high-energy Airrace performance and there is something of a going through the motions feel to proceedings. Emppu Vourinen's guitar is too low in the mix to have an impact and the songs come across as pedestrian and lightweight. The crowd seem to enjoy the set so maybe it is another case of Melodic Rock overload on my part. The studio versions of 'Indelible Heroes', 'One Single Breath', 'Heart Of The Matter' and 'For Better Or For Worse' should transfer to the live environment with a more in-your-face sound, but they vary very little from song to song and I don't think Pekka Ansio Heino has a strong enough personality on the day to lift them to a higher level. By the time 'Shock' comes around, it was more a case of "stop" and if it were not for the ultra-sticky floor rooting me to the spot, I would have taken my chance to get some fresh air sooner.

Brother Firetribe Rockingham 2017 Live

I have lost track of the number of times I have seen Dare since the first time in the late eighties. Their popularity has fluctuated somewhat in the intervening years and, to a degree, the change of musical style from AOR/Melodic Rock to something with a more laid-back Celtic feel has divided their fan-base. The return of Vinny Burns on guitar has seen a rejuvenation of sorts and more material from the first two albums is now included in the live set. It is my hope that we would get an opening song with a bit more punch than 'Sea Of Roses' and when they follow this with 'Home', 'I'll Hear You Pray' and 'Days Of Summer', I resign myself to the fact that Darren Wharton had gone for on a more mature set-list than one filled with older favourites. I appreciate it can be a difficult balancing act and not everyone will be pleased, I just think they could mix it up more at the beginning. A re-arranged version of Thin Lizzy's 'Emerald' is a nice surprise and from then they treat the crowd to songs they really want to hear. 'Wings Of Fire' and 'We Don't Need A Reason' blow away a few cobwebs and then Dare plunder 'Out Of The Silence' with all the songs everyone is expecting. They will always have a place in my heart, but I think I need to avoid them for a while to appreciate them once more.

Dare Rockingham 2017 Live

The first time I saw Great White (in 1984 I think) they were on the receiving end of some very barbed responses from a distinctly hostile and partisan Whitesnake crowd. Then front-man Jack Russell failed to endear himself by giving as good as he got, but a few years later they had redeemed themselves on the back of some quality studio albums and strong live performances. Of course, Russell is no longer a part of this line-up, his place having been taken several years ago by former XYZ singer Terry Ilous. I really did not know what to expect from the band, but left for another drink after their set feeling entertained and very pleasantly surprised. Ilous is an engaging front-man with a great set of pipes who seems as though he has always been part of the band. Mark Kendall's guitar suffers occasionally from a poor sound, but he adds some nice Blues touches, especially during 'House Of Broken Love'. 'Save Your Love' is a bit of a misfire musically but is still a great opportunity for Illouis to show what a good voice he has. There are plenty of chances for crowd participation and the likes of 'Lady Red Light', 'Desert Moon' and 'Mista Bone' are almost karaoke-like. The five guys seem to be genuinely having a good time and though there is no 'Face The Day', we still get 'Rock Me' and 'Once Bitten Twice Shy'. Hopefully Great White can make it over again in the near future as I believe they would prove to be a decent draw, even as part of a similar festival as Rockingham.

Great White Rockingham 2017 Live

Finally, to the main event. I've been hoping for a Loverboy appearance since the early days of Firefest so was more than happy when their name was mentioned for this weekend. They have a great catalogue of songs and tour regularly in America, alongside other artists of their ilk. After an hour of their set to say I am feeling disappointed would be a big understatement. It is obvious from the start that singer Mike Reno has health issues. He has put on a lot of weight and constantly seems to be struggling around the stage. He also has a strange singing style that sees him lift the microphone up and down in front of his mouth, a style that affects his delivery. 'Notorious' is a nice up-tempo opening number, but lacks the power I was expecting. 'The Lucky Ones' and 'Queen Of The Broken Hearts' follows but there seems to be no urgency or energy about the band, aside from drummer Matt Frenette. Then we get a fifteen minute version of 'Take Me To The Top' which includes a mid-song breakdown, featuring a Doug Johnson saxophone solo (which is lost in the mix for the first half) that segues into The Doors' 'Riders On The Storm'. It seems to last forever and is the last thing anyone needs after being on their feet all day. The crowd seem to deflate but they recover a little during 'This Could Be The Night' (with a great Reno vocal) and 'The Kid Is Hot Tonite', when everyone finally seems to come alive. After over fifty minutes, we've heard only seven songs and at this point I am becoming very frustrated. 'When It's Over' isn't bad, but then the band introductions began during 'Hot Girls In Love' and we also get a lengthy drum and bass solo. For me that was enough, and I retire to the pub and a seat. I believe (and fully expect) 'Working For The Weekend', 'Turn Me Loose' and 'Lovin' Every Minute Of It' to bring things to a close, but they were not the classy closing act I was expecting and the choice between whimper and bang is an easy one for me.

Loverboy Rockingham 2017 Live

My thanks to the Rockingham crew for a very well run and organised event. As with all festivals of this kind, there were disappointments and nice surprises. It would seem another weekend in Nottingham next October is guaranteed so I have twelve months to decide which t-shirts to pack – see you there.

Review by Dave Bott, photos by Sam Compton

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