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Nottingham Rock City, 26 November 2005


The second Firefest festival of the year was an even stronger line-up than the first, boasting many of the dancefloor fillers of the glory days of melodic rock. Kurt Cobain would have been spinning in his grave at the thought of a parade of the types of band grunge was meant to kill off attracting a crowd of around 1000 to Rock City, which proved an ideal venue.

However the day began with two bands from the heavier end of the rock spectrum. Power Quest earned a very warm reception for an opening band and many new to them were pleasantly surprised by the songs, especially from the latest ‘Magic never dies’ CD. Despite the power metal tag, they were actually more in a mainstream European melodic rock tradition, albeit at a much speedier tempo.

Balance of Power (watched by a fan who’d flown over from Canada) had a darker and heavier sound but their new American singer made for a substantial improvement on the previous time I saw them, some of the more impressive songs reminding me of Queensryche in places.

There was an unexpectedly large crowd down the front for Shy and the band seemed more relaxed on stage than when I last saw them in 2002, while the reintroduction of a keyboard player made for a more balanced sound.

Oddly they completely ignored their last album, but after opening with Breakaway and Skydiving they played to their strengths with a quartet from 1987’s all-time Brit AOR classic Excess All areas- Emergency, When the love is over, Can’t fight the nights and Break down the walls.

Tony Mills can still hit most of those stunning high notes, though his angry stage persona seemed at odds with the music, and his solo on lengthy closer No Other Way showed Steve Harris to be one of the most underrated guitarists.

15 years after their debut album became one of my all-time cult favourites, it was a huge thrill for me to see Blue Tears twice in two days. Their appearance at the Friday night pre-show had been stunning, though this one was an anti-climax, a lot shorter at a mere 35 minutes and ragged in places- perhaps hardly surprising as the line-up had changed at short notice with the ubiquitous Paul Hodson admirable on keyboards.

Opening with the anthemic Rock you to heaven from the recently released ‘Mad Bad and Dangerous to know’ album of unreleased stuff the set took in a new song Let it Rain, and Rise Above from the underrated Attraction 65 project.

But die-hard fans, many of them from mainland Europe, lapped up the debut classics Take This Heart, Thunder in the Night, Blue Tears and the irresistible Rockin with the Radio, all some of the greatest anthems Bon Jovi never wrote. Mainman Gregg Fulkerson is a man of few words but an excellent lead guitarist while on the evidence of set closers One step over the line and Live it up, his voice has mutated from Jon Bon Jovi’s to Bruce Springsteen’s!

The crowd seemed at its most packed for Vaughn and they delivered my favourite set of the day. I’ve seen Danny Vaughn many times in different incarnations but this time he played only three Tyketto songs- Wings, Rescue me and Forever Young to close which whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Instead, much of the set dipped into other parts of his past with three from his Waysted days (Black n Blue, Sing to the Night and Heaven Tonight), and a brace from recent classic From the Inside (Blessing in Disguise and Nothing at All).

But most impressive of all were a trio from the Flesh and Blood project- opener Feel the Power almost out-funked Glenn Hughes, Riverside was bluesy with Danny on harmonica, and Blues for Daze simply stunning with both Danny and guitarist Pat Heath like men possessed. His home-grown band was tight and aggressive and Danny remains a master at working the crowd.

Danger Danger have a similar ability to please the crowd and though opinions on them vary, their party anthems always bring a smile to my face. Ted Poley was on good form, both vocally and with his trademark Carry On humour, although bassist Bruno Ravel very much appears the band leader.

The choice of set seemed to vary a bit from their Spring tour and Beat the Bullet and Don’t blame it on love added quality to the set, while it was great to hear Shot of Love sung by Ted for the first time. I Still Think About You was rapturously received and Monkey Business and a rather ragged encore of Naughty Naughty delighted their many fans.

For me, Harem Scarem’s brand of melodic rock is slightly different from many of the other bands, with a denser, rock-solid sound and shorter but dextrous solos from Pete Lesperance. Harry Hess’s casual manner also goes against the stereotype of the rock frontman, yet his voice was perfect throughout and he also showed a dry sense of humour.

Firefest organisers Kieran Dargan and Bruce Mee were among his targets as were fans desperate for material from ‘Mood Swings’. The Canadians opened with six songs drawn equally from the last three albums under the HS moniker before (reluctantly?) giving the fans what they wanted with Change Comes Around and an excellent stripped-down version of Honestly, dropping in a couple from the controversial Voice of Reason album before crowd favourite Saviours Never Cry and two encores, Hard to Love which remains my favourite song of theirs, and a powerful No Justice. For many people I spoke to, they were the band of the day.

To get headliners House of Lords to play their first UK show since 1989 was a real coup for the organisers, and James Christian, a bit jowlier than in the old album photos and looking like a coach driver in his maroon jacket, even struggled through the pain barrier after a recent accident.

Opening with Sahara and Chains of Love, much of the set was devoted to their debut with the likes of Pleasure Palace, Edge of your Life and Love don’t Lie all showcasing some exceptional musicianship from the likes of Lanny Cordola and Chuck Wright.

Talk about Love was the sole pick from ‘Demons Down’ while a trio from The Power and the Myth allowed the band to stretch out and jam more and had me wondering whether the poor album reviews hadn’t unfairly discouraged me from buying. Highli

ghts for me came back to back in the catchy I Wanna Be Loved and a superb version of Can’t Find My Way Home, with James adding guitar.

After Ken Mary’s drum solo they ended with Slip of the Tongue, but there was no encore so the concert ended in slight anti-climax, not to mention early for the first time in all the festivals I’ve attended!

Still, those of us who weren’t too tired could enjoy 4 hours of melodic and classic rock anthems, beer and meeting both friends and musicians in The Rig club downstairs. Big thanks to the organisers for working so hard to make the event such success, and the good news is that, after the better than expected turnout, there will hopefully be a Firefest 3 in 2006!

Review: Andy Nathan

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