Thankfully, Firefest Sunday was free of the previous day's technical
hitches and Swedes Grand Design kicked things off on time. They
perhaps lacked the originality to stand out from the crowd, but songs
like opener 'No Time for Love', 'Piece of the Action' and 'Love
Sensation' all impressed and there was a very Hysteria- era Def Leppard
feel to some of the arrangements.
Next up was Newman, one of the few bands of the weekend to have
played Firefest before, albeit the Friday warm up in 2006.
band leader Steve Newman is an engaging and energetic frontman, and the
band belied their relative lack of live experience with new guitarist
Shaun Bessant showing the requisite amount of flash.
amazing to think Steve has been making quality albums since way back in
1997 and he managed to dip into most of them during the set. It was also
an insight into how his style has evolved with the traditional Brit AOR
of 'If Its Love' from the debut contrasting with the harder-edged rock
of newer songs such as 'Hero to Zero', 'Primitive Soul' and 'Heaven
Knows'. 'Stay with Me' was a mid-tempo song that with the right breaks
could get radio 2 airplay a la FM, 'Coming Back to You' seemed to get
the best reception, and he got the crowd to participate as 'One Step
Closer' ended a solid set.
them twice some years ago and thinking they were a bit lifeless, I
feared Stage Dolls would be a let down, but how wrong I was.
traditional trio bolstered with a keyboard player, they were among the
tightest of units I saw all weekend, topped by the crisp lead guitar and
slightly Bryan Adams-esque vocals of lanky lead singer Torstein Flakne.
a few songs from new album 'Always' (which is a grower) but their gamble
in playing their best known song, 'Love Cries', two songs in paid off as
it won the crowd over.
The bar was
raised though with two marvellous ballads, 'Hard to Say Goodbye' and
'Love Dont Bother Me', that slowly built to a storming crescendo, and
the more straight ahead 'Commandos'.
ending with two of the driving anthems from their classic 1989
self-titled album, 'Wings of Steel' and 'Still in Love', they came back
for an encore of 'Soldiers Gun' and it was easy to see why it was
dedicated to Philip Lynott with some very Celtic keyboard textures. My
doubts were dispelled with the remaining question mark whether it was
Rik Mayall or Jasper Carrott that jovial bassist Terje Storli most
famous for persuading long defunct bands to bury historical hatchets and
reform after a long absence, and as a result Strangeways were the
most eagerly awaited band of the weekend for some.
opening with 'Love Lies Dying', then the first album's 'Breaking Down
the Barriers' they seemed to be enjoying themselves, with drummer Jim
Drummond and keyboardist 'Munch Moore' shining despite the years taking
its toll on their hair, while Terry Brock's singing was as fine as ever,
together with his dry southern wit.
after pressure from promoter Kieran Dargan, the classic 'Only a Fool'
made its way into the set, as did about four songs from the patchy
comeback album 'Perfect World'.
Ian Stewart's guitar work was tasteful and understated, and his closing
solo to 'Never Gonna Lose It' drew warm applause, but their comeback
fell a shade short of the impact of some of the other bands, largely
because of a curiously paced set, which ended with the lengthy, slow
'Bushfires' from the first album.
In contrast, former Survivor singer Jimi Jamison fairly tore the roof
off with his debut set in the UK.
in black, he was devoid of gimmicks and unnecessary chat but let his
classic voice and the quality of his back catalogue do the talking. From
the moment he opened with 'Caught in the Game', followed by Its the
'Singer Not the Song', it was clear he had correctly judged the mood of
the majority of those present, who wanted to hear primarily Survivor
material and not only the obvious.
the crowd at the front virtually took over 'High on You' for him, before
'Is This Love', one of the rare moments where his Scandinavian band
specially convened for the occasion didn't quite hold it together, and 'Didnt
Know it Was Love', which I never expected to hear on a UK stage in my
the great Survivor songs, with all Jim Peterik's melodramatic writing
trademarks, 'I See You in Everyone', saw respected guitarist Tommy
Denander take off into a lengthy solo, before a dip into Jimi's solo
works with 'A Dream Too Far' and the excellent title track from his last
album 'Crossroads Moment'.
was another Survivor classic whose rarity made it even more memorable,
before the set (interestingly devoid of any ballads) moved into familiar
soundtrack territory with 'Burning Heart', the Baywatch theme 'I'm
Always Here' for which he thanked David Hasselhoff for the royalties,
and of course 'Eye of the Tiger', with the crowd chanting as Tommy drew
out the song. Within seconds, I had bumped into two friends who
separately agreed with me that this set was possibly the finest Firefest
Maids had the handicap of following, rather than preceding him, as
they had been delayed travelling. The crowd appeared thinner with people
popping out for a break, but at the same time their diehard fans were
creating quite an atmosphere at the front with pockets of pogoing
hardly surprising as the veteran Danes had not played the UK since 1985.
Singer Ronnie Atkins, whose cragginess together with fellow founder
member Ken Hammer surely means the band name now fails the Trade
Descriptions Act came over as a cross between between Biff Byford and
they straddled all the bases between AOR ballads and power metal, with
guitar and keyboards reinforcing each other nicely, and though not
hugely familiar with their material I enjoyed the likes of 'Rodeo' and
'Little Drops of Heaven'. However it was the oldies from the eighties -
'Love Games' and encores of 'Future World' and 'Red Hot and Heavy' that
most delighted their fans.
the festival were Nelson, playing their first British shows ever.
The 'Timotei Twins', Gunnar (guitar)and Matthew (bass) have long lost
their blonde locks, replaced by shorter, artfully styled crops, but they
sure still know how to entertain, even though their gleaming toothy
smiles and relentless positivity give them the air of over enthusiastic
American 'life coaches'.
For a band
always derided as pink and fluffy, any doubters would have been
astonished to see a band with no keyboards and no less than three
guitarists, including Mark Slaughter, and the likes of 'Ghostdance' -
the stand out cut from 1998's 'Silence is Broken' - featured some
unexpectedly aggressive guitar solos.
'A Girl Like That 'showcased their love of the softer harmony sounds of
the Beatles and Eagles.
The two share the majority of the vocals and it is hard to tell their
harmony singing apart but Gunnar was generally the frontman, taking more
of the lead vocals and giving a brilliant rendition of 'Only Time Will
Tell', stripped of the lush orchestration on record.
Unsurprisingly, their debut 'After the Rain' formed the bulk of the set,
with 'Fill You Up' and 'More Than Ever' early in proceedings, and the
title track again coming over much harder with guitarists swapping
However, in contrast to Jimi Jamison, they slightly overdid the cabaret
cheese, with unconvincing tales of why they had not toured in so long, a
drum solo followed by some absolutely pointless dancing, and an
instrumental, although it does have to be said that the speed and
fluency of guitarist Neil Zaza marked him down as a superstar in the
Mark Slaughter also got to sing his cock rock anthem 'Up All Night', and
though I was never a Slaughter fan, the crowd reaction more than
justified this indulgence.
new album 'Lightning Strikes Twice' was barely played, if at all, but
they finished in spectacular style with 'Everywhere I go', building from
its balladic origins into a frenzied extended guitar jam with all three
lead guitarists soloing in turn.
the No 1 hit 'Can't Live Without Your Love' and Affection was the
encore, but again it was 'de fluffed' with some extended guitar work as
the whole crowd were singing along.
The bar had been set very high at the previous six Firefests but general
consensus was that, for variety and quality across the board, this was
the best yet. Promoter Kieran Dargan left the stage with a quick 'see
you next year' - and that is a commitment I fully intend to keep.