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Nottingham, 23-24 October 2009
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.
DAY 1 -
NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY, 23 OCTOBER 2009
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.
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
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.
DAY TWO- NOTTINGHAM ROCK CITY- 24 OCTOBER 2009
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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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