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Firefest VI

Nottingham, 23-24 October 2009

Since its inception in 2005, the Firefest festival now reigns supreme as almost a world convention for those of us who have kept the melodic rock flag flying in the face of media indifference and changing musical tastes.

As usual, the two day festival attracted fans from all over the world, with the Greek, Italian and Spanish contingents particularly well represented, and indeed walking around the town I kept bumping into people in what seemed an unofficial contest to wear the most obscure tour t-shirt possible.


After last year’s weekend marathon, this year Firefest reverted to a full Saturday with a Friday night appetiser in a nearby Student Union.

Journeymen Yorkshiremen Lost Weekend opened proceedings and really seemed to have raised their game. I have not always been their biggest fan, finding them more akin to a wet weekend, but on this occasion a couple of new songs showing off their UFO influences, and their version of Spirit of Man which they wrote for Magnum’s Bob Catley hit the mark.

Having raved about last year’s Are You Ready to Rock album – describing it as having ‘more hooks than a school cloakroom’- it was great to finally see Eclipse live, and despite some sound problems, they went down a storm with their balls out yet infectious, fist-in-the- air songs like Breaking my Heart Again and Young Guns.

All but one song came from said album, and among the stand out moments were the anthemic Unbreakable, and Under the Gun with great keyboard and guitar solos.

Capable of appealing to a variety of audiences, even fans of Euro power metal, if they could get some prestige support slots they could go far.

Fellow Swedes Bad Habit have been making albums on and off for two decades, but I’m afraid alone among the Firefest bands they did not really do it for me - not helped by intrusive backing tapes which drowned out the sound, and the fact they had to cut their set short.

There was no doubt though that most of the crowd had come to see young sensations H.E.A.T. and led by the charismatic Kenny Leckremo in his cowboy jacket, they did not disappoint.

The irresistibly catchy songs from their debut – There for You, Straight to Your Heart, Keep on Dreaming and other modern day classics - and their high energy stage show rubbed off on an audience as fired up as any I have seen at Firefest. The big ballad Cry showed off Kenny’s impressive pipes and we even saw a marriage proposal on stage, though my enjoyment of their set was spoiled slightly by a ridiculously loud sound.

Carping aside, their display showed melodic rock is not solely a nostalgia trip and the response to them suggests they really should be headlining these types of festivals.

The crowd thinned out notably for headliners Treat, which was ironic as, together with Europe, back in the eighties they set the template for Scandinavian melodic rock that H.E.A.T. are now ploughing.

Their stage craft was excellent with singer Robert Ernlund, still with his blonde poodle perm, working the crowd and Anders Wikstrom striking guitar poses that reminded me of Gary Moore’s metal years.

The Organised Crime album featured heavily with the likes of Ready for the Taking and Gimme One More Night, plus the gorgeously melodic Get You on the Run.

Sole Survivor was arguably the highlight, but sadly a strict curfew meant that after cramming in some great singalongs in Party All Over and Conspiracy, a highly enjoyable set was cut short after 50 minutes, a rather anti-climactic end to the evening.


No rest for the wicked as after a soak in the bath and an early pub lunch, I was in Rock City at midday and relieved to be in a venue with better sound and lights than the night before.

When the line-up was announced in the spring, a bolt from the blue was the reformation of Airrace 25 years after they released a classic debut album of British AOR in Shaft of Light only to split soon after.

Having seen them on support slots three times in the summer, the surprise factor had gone but they still got the day off to a great start. With ever superb singer Keith Murrell keeping chat to a minimum, they managed to squeeze seven songs from the newly reissued album (One Step Over the Line and the melodramatic Brief Encounter being the highlights) , in addition to new song One Step Ahead, all in a 35 minute set.

The Poodles, photo by Andy Nathan

In what was a fairly traditional AOR main line-up, Swedish glam rockers The Poodles were slightly the odd band out, and may have fitted better with their fellow countrymen the night before. Nevertheless singer Jake Samuel, who cut a striking figure is he hit the stage in top hat and frock coat, has a fine voice with the soaring range of TNT's Tony Harnell or even a more melodic Axl Rose, and I was very impressed with material like Metal Will Stand Tall, the ballad One out of Ten, Seven Seas and One Night of Passion.

Drive She Said, photo by Andy Nathan

Another blast from the past was Drive She Said, last on UK shores in 1992, who surprisingly opened with their trump card, Don’t you know what love is, the pomp rock classic first recorded by keyboardist Mark Mangold with Touch. Singer Al Fritsch, who also shared guitar duties, was on fine vocal form, and the set was far harder than I would have expected with an emphasis on their rockier moments like the Purple-esque Drivin Wheel and Hard Way Home.

Unfortunately though technical difficulties rendered the keyboards that were such a big part of their sound almost inaudible. Nevertheless Hard to Hold was stunning, followed by versions of two classic songs Mark co-wrote- Cher’s I Found Someone and Michael Bolton’s Fools Game.

Oddly though, after a couple of lesser known numbers their set ended abruptly after 45 minutes, and it felt as if the set had been played in the wrong order.

Romeo's Daughter, photo by Andy Nathan

Every year at Firefest, the promoters manage to exhume long defunct cult bands who go down a storm and following in the footsteps of Valentine and White Sister, this time it was the turn of Romeo’s Daughter, back together for the first time in 16 years. Raven haired, black clad ‘posh bird’ Leigh Matty remains a stunning focal point, while Craig Joiner’s hat has been replaced by a shaven head but I was mightily impressed by his economical but soulful guitar work.

Interestingly, the band played nearly all of their self-titled debut, and only the catchy Attracted to the Animal from the rockier ‘Delectable’ follow up. This made for a relatively mellow set, but it just got better and better as it went on and the likes of Cry Myself to Sleep, Heaven in the Backseat and Don’t Break my Heart had the crowd eating out of their hand.

White Sister, photo by Andy Nathan

White Sister had been in that position last year and delivered another classic performance, albeit this time without the element of surprise.

The Californians are natural entertainers and showmen, notably keyboardist and vocalist Gary Brandon, who took lead on both new songs aired, All in One Night and Double Crossed, and ventured into the crowd to lead a great singalong during Love Don’t Make it Right.

However Dennis Churchill-Dries’ singing is in a league of its own and the emotion and range he put into Save Me Tonight defined great AOR and even eclipsed the classic Promises as the highlight of the set.

Crown Of Thorns, photo by Andy Nathan

The bar was constantly being raised quality wise, but Crown of Thorns managed to rise to the occasion. I have found their recent albums rather lacklustre, but they tore the place up with a fiery performance, with the guitars of Tommy Lafferty and charismatic singer Jean Beauvoir creating a thick wall of sound.

They opened with the title track from recent album Faith, also featuring the heavy Rock Ready, and dropped in Motorcycle Loretta with its great driving chorus. However the bulk of the 50 minute set was culled from their classic debut album- Hike it Up, Are You Ready, with bassist Michael Paige delivering perhaps the only ever rap at Firefest, and ballad Standing On the Corner for Ya, before the set was over all too soon with a tremendous 1-2 punch of Dying for your Love and The Healer.

My pre-gig thoughts were that if a band were going to fall flat, it might be Honeymoon Suite, whose second place on the bill appeared a tad generous. I was left eating my words as the seasoned Canadians enjoyed one of the best sounds of the day and made things look so effortless.

The guitar solos from Peter Frampton lookalike Derry Grehan were crisp and fluid, singer Johnnie Dee barely missed a note, while Peter Nunn’s keyboards were in the right place in the mix and helped the songs stay true to their originals.

A couple of songs from the recent Clifton Hill release were breezy slices of pop rock, but people wanted to hear stuff from their 80’s heyday and a great set list with the likes of Other Side of Midnight, Burning in Love, Feel it Again, Bad Attitude and closer New Girl Now delivered just that. Bringing them back for an encore of Love Changes Everything was well deserved.

FM, photo by Andy Nathan

FM returned to the stage where two years ago they made a comeback after 12 years away to the tears of grown men. This time there were fewer FM t-shirts and less of a sense of anticipation, but they went down equally well.

Their trump card will always be Steve Overland whose wondrously soulful vocals have not suffered for a lack of recent live work, and lit up classics like Only the Strong Survive and Blood and Gasoline.

Since last time the clown-like Andy Barnett has been replaced on guitar by Jim Kirkpatrick, who was mightily impressive and able to handle both the older AOR material (Face to Face, That Girl) and the bluesier stuff with passion and feeling. His stage manner though was diffident, which did place the visual focus up front too much on Steve.

The set also featured a couple of changes from the norm with old B- side favourite Dangerous, and the bluesy Hard Day in Hell with a guest sax player, before finishing with Burning my Heart Down and Heard It Through The Grapevine.

After an encore of Frozen Heart, to my relief they slipped in my favourite Bad Luck when it looked like they were not going to play it, but there was one final twist in the tail: a cover of Purple Rain with the Firefest crew all lending a hand, dressed up as the band in their big-haired eighties days, together with Leigh Matty (bassist Merv Goldsworthy’s partner), members of White Sister and Classic Rock’s Dave Ling, modelling the pink suit that Merv made so infamous!

In terms of consistency of performance from all the bands, this was probably the best Firefest yet, and I and my fellow melodic rock fanatics who were present will take away some great memories until (hopefully) Firefest 7, same time same place next year.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan

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