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Nottingham Rock City, 28 October 2006

For the third time in 18 months the Firefest organisers assembled a stellar line-up of melodic hard rock, and the event proved even more of a gathering of the clans for ever, a healthy 1200 crowd at Rock City including faces from as far away as Brazil, America and Australia as well as what seemed like hundreds from mainland Europe.

The fun actually began the night before in Rock City's Rig room with a pre-fest party, as people renewed old friendships and caught sets from four bands.

Midlands rockers Alibi, an acoustic set from Bad Habit which caught fire late on with songs from their 'Adult Orientation' album from way back and a great cover of Who's Cryin' Now, Southern rednecks Bombay Black who heavied things up, and Brighton's Steve Newman ending a seven year break from live performance and his band enthusiastically rattling through ten tracks with a generous selection from the Sign of the Modern Times album and a cover of Crazy Horses.

Having stayed for a melodic rock club night in the Rig till 2am, I was running late for Firefest itself and missed half of Nexx, the female-fronted Spaniards, although their last song sounded excellent.

Having been into them for 20 years, the first ever appearance on UK soil by Treat was always going to be a highlight for me. They were well-oiled and professional but clearly enjoying themselves, and with a well-chosen set including a series of classics such as Sole Survivor, Get You on the Run and A World of Promises, even if time ran out before they could play anthem Rev it Up.

The thought occurred to me that back in the late 80's, had they been better looking, they and not Europe might have been the Swedish act that broke into the big time.

Looking like a cross between Twisted Sister and a heavy metal Village People with the singer even taking the stage in a headdress, former Norwegian Eurovision candidates WigWam certainly made an impact. They wowed the crowd but I found myself in a minority who were unimpressed: reminding me of some of the less talented glam bands from the 80's, their material was basic in the extreme and playing two AC/DC covers was just a cliché. Maybe I just had a sense of humour failure!

With the focus moving from Scandinavia to Germany, Fair Warning had a hard act to follow WigWam though mulleted singer Tommy Heart tried his best, racing all over the stage to whip up the crowd and taking his voice to the limit.

Established fans lapped them up, but the songs were perhaps too samey to win many new converts, though Out on the Run and Longing for Love from their 1992 debut remain classic slices of melodic guitar driven rock and ballad Still I Believe and the rocking Burning Heart ended the set on a high.

Fellow countrymen Bonfire are masters at working a crowd and after opening with Day 911 and But We Still Rock from their fine current Strike X album, wisely stuck to a set of tried and trusted numbers. There was surprising variety from the insistent riffing of Under Blue Skies to the acoustic Give it a Try, but it was catchy anthems such as Hard on Me and songs from the classic Fireworks album (which gave its name to the magazine that organises Firefest) such as Never Mind, American Nights, Sweet Obsession- singer Claus Lessman taking a trip into the crowd- and Ready for Reaction that really got people's juices flowing.

But Gotthard are possibly the hottest property in melodic rock right now and expectation had reached fever pitch at a packed front of the stage when the experienced Swiss rockers came on and did not disappoint. They have added a keyboard player since last year's tour but singer Steve Lee still comes over as a cross between Steven Tyler and David Coverdale, and made light of some brief technical hitches.

The stunning opening 1-2 from last year's classic Lipservice album- All I Need and Dream On set the tone for their set, with the massive hooks and choruses of the likes of Top of the World, I Wonder and Said and Done balanced by longer, bluesier numbers such as Mountain Mama, Firedance and Sister Moon, guitarist Leo Leoni really whipping up a storm on this one. Let it Be a rare quieter moment, but featured some gorgeous twin guitar solos from him and Freddy Scherer.

The glam pastiche Lift U Up and Anytime, Anywhere- perhaps the best melodic rock anthem of recent years finished the best set of the day and had people jumping at the front. They were my band of the day and my only gripe was that their covers of Hush and Mighty Quinn, which brought them popularity in Europe in the 1990's, are perhaps no longer necessary.

So far the day had been characterised by European accents, 80's hairstyles and rock clobber, big choruses and a sense of fun. When Winger hit the stage late at 9.40, we were in different territory. The likes of guitarist Reb Beach and his able sidekick John Roth and drummer Rod Morgenstein were great musicians, but 80's anthems like Loosen Up and Seventeen were instead given a dark and heavy delivery, while the pair of new songs (Generica and Right Up Ahead) failed to really enthuse the crowd.

Worse still, Kip Winger delivered his vocals in a monotonic bark, almost verging on rap in places, and - perhaps unnerved by technical difficulties - appeared aggressively hostile, berating the crowd for not showing enough enthusiasm.

The continuity of the show was not helped when he forsook his bass guitar to sit behind a keyboard for several songs, but to be fair the set picked up late on, Headed for a Heartbreak giving way to the irresistible choruses of Can't Get Enough, Easy Come Easy Go and encore Madeleine (but no Miles Away), before a venue curfew curtailed a 70 minute set.

All day a big crowd were hugely appreciative, and most of us will all be back for Firefest 4 the same time next year.

Review by Andy Nathan

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