FIREFEST IV - Nottingham, UK October, 2007
For the fourth time in a row the melodic rock fans from around the globe gathered to Nottingham to party with some of the greatest melodic rock bands on earth. This year the first evening was held nearby Rock City in Nottingham Trent University, which had enough room for fans, but soundwise proved to be inconvenient for concerts. The second evening was spent in much more familiar surroundings, the Rock City, both nights being sold out. This year was more about melancholic goodbyes, as Harem Scarem, Tyketto and Demon played their final shows. That was supposed to be the case with FM too, but the band has now confirmed new shows for 2008.
For a rock fan Nottingham is one of the best places to be. The abundance of clubs is amazing and they're open till early morning hours. The hotels are also close to everything, but then again to familiarize yourself with the center of Nottingham only takes a short walk. And when in those early morning hours you reluctantly leave the cozy club, you can still go and grab yourself a snack somewhere. It must've been somewhere around 4 am that we found ourselves gorging through Indian cousine, hungry as hell after those long hours at Rock City, having an army of drinks to go. Nottingham and Firefest again managed to well entertain us.
STORMZONE from Belfast, Northern Ireland, released their debut "Caught In The Act" this year. Their classic rock influenced album has been well received everywhere, and the band was warmly welcomed to Firefest too. Opening the first day of Firefest right on time at 7.30 they played a very lean and professional thirty minute show, that shined on the vocal department, and hit right at home with the striking melodies. I was impressed having never heard the band before. Singer John ‘Harv' Harbinson (Sweet Savage, Emerald, Den Of Thieves) was not shy for speaches, and the full venue loved the band. Their guitarist Keith Harris had a brisk show touch, and the whole band was very lively and seemed to enjoy playing Firefest.
Setlist: Spellbound, Call Of The Wild, Falling Out Of Love, Rock On Through The Night, Tuggin' At My Heartstrings, Crying In The Rain, New World
STEVE GRIMMET BAND was up next for forty minutes. Vocalist Steve Grimmet (Lionsheart, Onslaught, Grim Reaper) has gained fame through his powerful and unique high range vocals, but sadly he couldn't do his best today. Steve's vocals were rough, and he had to put a lot effort on screaming, since his vocals were tuned lower than the band. His singing got much better towards the end though, and "Deja Vu" went much better already. The band (Ian Nash, Rich Walker, Pete Newdeck, Eric Ragno) clearly wasn't having it's best days, and it showed in everything. The bands performance was quite serious, and Steve's speaches negative, at the end of the set stating they've "taken too long already, so we're gonna fuck off. Some of you might be pleased about it", ending their set to "See You In Hell". Funnily the lightshow was mostly red on Friday, fitting the song perfectly.
Despite some of the faults the band sounded strong, and they were pleased to see those many Lionsheart album owners hands in the air, before playing "Deja Vu". "Somebody bought those fuckers then", was Steve's smily comment on Lionsheart album sales. The only one putting a bit effort on performance was Steve himself. The band performed with a casual look, only Steve wearing a very hot and heavy long leather jacket. Their keyboard player Eric Ragno was visiting UK for the first time. The band went through material from Lionsheart and their latest album "Personal Crisis", which proved the band is still in shape, the new songs rocked, and some liked the rough guitar sound, giving the band a heavier approach on the songs.
Setlist: Portrait (Lionsheart), Wait Forever, Can't Believe (Lionsheart), Karma, Lonely, Deja Vu (Lionsheart), So Cold (Lionsheart), See You In Hell (Grim Reaper)
The German SOUL DOCTOR came and showed how to rock. The band has just released their fourth album "Blood Runs Cold", and those few aired tracks in Firefest sounded great live. The band sounded as full and steady as always, and once again proved they've got what it takes to give a rocking evening. Tommy Heart returned once again to Firefest, playing here last year with Fair Warning, and his performance is always very cheerful, no matter what band he performs with. Soul Doctor guitarist Chris Lyne is another character in the band with a show of his own, not forgetting bassist Jogy Rautenberg (ex-Skew Siskin), who mostly plays in squat position. My eyes completely stuck to these guys, so I missed drummer Michael Wolpers show.
The doc's unfortunately suffered of various technical problems, Heart had to switch mikes, and guitars had their share from the problems, with sounds twirling around for starters. The doc's show was more louder than Grimmet's, maybe an unintentional move, but from hereon you really needed earplugs. In one hour the doc's convinced the crowd well, they were having more fun than with earlier bands. And even though I'm no big fan of bands playing cover songs, Soul Doctor always does great with their Led Zep ones.
Setlist included: Blood Runs Cold, Under Your Skin, Good Times Slippin' Away, Temptation, See You In Heaven, Eatin' On Me, Goodbye, Unspoken Words, Led Zeppelin medley (Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, Rock'n'Roll, Heartbreaker), What Do U Want, Soul Doctor
Wherever they go, they've got a following of their own. UK's DEMON performed in Sweden Rock 2003, a show I only heard, and this Blackfoot-sounding, 70's influenced group sounds strong live. They've been on the scene for decades, so the night could only get better with them. This was to be the bands last show in UK though, which casted a melancholic shadow to their set. As the doc's before them, Demon also played one hour, which of course is a short time for veterans, but they managed to bring out their best, it was a pleasure to watch them.
The bands shining star is singer Dave Hill, one of the most liveliest chaps on rock business I know. If this was your first Demon show, you experienced a bunch of hyped rascals, definately a feature for a rock band to strive for. The guitarists Ray Walmsley and David Cotterill played with sunglasses on, while their keyboardist Paul 'Fazza' Farrington playing half naked on the other side of the stage, giving humouristic touch to the show. And just when you thought it was all about basic rock, Hill took off with some high vocal parts and put all of his soul to the show. Ah, but what about the drummers. Somehow I managed once again to miss out what Demon drummer Neil Ogden delivered, as well as bassist Andy Dale's work, but all in all Demon was very professional and very entertaining. Too bad Demon decided to call it quits, such profession and charisma doesn't kick inside every cradle.
Setlist: Wonderland, Blackheath, Blues Skies In Red Square/Commercial Dynamite, Sign Of A Madman, Rememberance Day (A Song For Peace), Don't Break The Circle, Night Of The Demon
The main band for Friday was THRESHOLD, playing over an hours set. I was happy to see the band again after so many years, but some felt the urge to leave the venue after a few songs. Firefest wasn't exactly the right place for the complex band, and Threshold still being the quite melodic UK band didn't help at this point. Their fans weren't too pleased either, since the bands longtime singer Mac had just left the band, who recruited their original singer Damian Wilson back on the job. Even when I missed Mac's charismatic vocals, Wilson did a fine job too. His higher vocal style wasn't a turn-on for everyone though, and a clear void in dynamics was present. That was Mac's territory.
The vocal harmonies suffered from a bad mix, so what has become one of Threshold's most important trademarks was mostly missing, giving the show an even hollower impression. A completely different case was the performance itself. The band gave out a good vibe with their vigorous set, and some of the band members decided to take a walk among the crowd too, Wilson first STAGE DIVING (yep, that's right) to the crowd, then taking a walk back on stage while singing "Sanity's End". Before ending their set the band was introduced, guitarist Karl Groom still being the strongest force behind Threshold, although Wilson has strong performance skills too. Not a bad way to end the evening, but we still headed to the Rig for more entertainment.
Setlist: Slipstream, Pressure, Mission Profile, Sanity's End, Hollow, Exposed, Pilot In The Sky of Dreams, Light And Space, Fragmentation
Some stayed after the show for a while in the venue, but when we got to the Rig it was packed as usual. The music couldn't have been better, and you never know what you'll bump into in these places. This year saw an unforgettable dance performance from a young lady, and the guys must've been pleased to see some of those half naked women on the dance floor. It's not everywhere you can walk around wearing almost nothing but a fishnet on your skin. I wonder where was the entertainment for women then?
Saturday kicked off quite early, so some sleepyheads missed out the first bands, and some were still waiting in line outside when the first band JADED HEART started. They took the stage 12.35 with a forty minute set, but unfortunately the venue wasn't still awake enough to fully enjoy the band. Jaded Heart pulled their set through once again as well as they've always done, vocalist Johan Fahlberg getting better show by show, and they were very tight, growing more credible and energetic towards the end. Jaded Heart's showtime mostly fell on their latest album "Sinister Mind", a release that works live, and Fahlberg was great on the Michael Bormann era "Feels Like Home" too. Henning Wanner (White Lion) was seen on keys, Axel Kruse on drums, Michael Müller on bass and Peter Östros on guitar.
Setlist included: Sinister Mind, Justice Is Deserved, Going Under, Hellucinate, Paid My Dues (Anastacia cover), Hero, Feels Like Home
The former Adrian Gale, now known as Crunch, were the second band to play. Their singer Jamie Rowe has an eye for a good show, and since people were still not fully set on party mood, his gig opener, the theme song cut from the movie "Titanic", lightened up the mood. Rowe has a unique voice, which was a good match to Celine Dion. Some even thought his version was better than Dions, but I still prefer the Dion version, although Rowe's input was good. Rowe is a soulful showman, who lives the music out through his lively hands, that were moving all the time, everywhere.
Crunch wasn't all too familiar to the crowd, so their melodic rock took a while to sink in to everyone. The band had no snobbish elements, but performed with a simple rock look, playing honest rock with an easily approachable message. The Rock City sound wasn't the best this year, and most bands got their share from it. Crunch's backing vocals drowned somewhere beyond other noises, but in the middle of the set started working. Crunch's fifty minutes was enough to convince most who watched them though, despite the sound problems.
Setlist: My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion bit), Reap What You Sow, Crunch, No More Chances, Starting Over, Heartbreak Guaranteed, Without A Moments Notice, Over Said 'n' Done, Long Gone, Closer, Faith, Feel The Fire
What was the most waited show from this years Firefest among FM was VALENTINE from USA, who haven't played together in years, and never in UK. Hugo Valenti, the most serious frontman candidate ever on offer for Journey with his Steve Perry-everything, was about to blow up the fully packed venue with his amazing vocals. I'm sure none of us saw it coming, neither the band, but Valentine ended up being one of the best bands in Firefest IV. They played few songs off their classic debut with songs from Hugo's solo albums with an arena-like sound and atmosphere, greeted with Firefest's most ferocious applauces. Due to the failures in the electrical department Valentine's show delayed some, but no one really noticed it. The band played with a grave attitude, loosening it up occasionally, at least to Hugo's funny comments. Hugo is a frontman with many talents, and his most precious gift comes from his direct and warm way of handling the fans.
The one hour show highlights were the third song, the ballad "Tears In The Night" with its huge chorus, which set the crowd singing along loudly. The atmosphere was very thick by now, the crowd was feeling nostalgic and very excited. The sixth song "Never Said It Was Gonna Be Easy" was another moodlifter, where Hugo sang an amazing part, silencing the crowd with his brilliant performance. Most of the show went by listening to Hugo's vocals, those knockout pipes, and watching his performance. It was hard not to follow someone with such fond character. Valentine, with Adam Holland, Craig Pullman and Gerard Zappa, finished their set strangely not with a Journey cover, but with Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son", which proved for once and for all Hugo's talent. In the end Valentine proved to be damn good and professionally balanced band, who's show seemed to end too soon and short, that's how bloody good they were! Now if they'd only release that new album, which Hugo was hinting about.
Setlist: We'll Find A Way (Hugo), No Way, Tears In The Night, If You're Ever Lonely (Hugo), Golden Years (Open Skyz), Never Said It Was Gonna Be Easy, Tell It To My Heart (Hugo), None Of It Matters (Blackeyed Susan), Carry On Wayward Son (Kansas)
If Valentine was the sunshine of Saturday, JORN was the black swan of Firefest, spewing out mystery and darkness. Never have I seen him so melancholic and dispirited before as here, and his correspondence with the crowd wasn't smooth today. Maybe this was the dark side of Jorn, but it didn't convince most. Jorn stepped on stage with his eyes set to the floor, appearing despondent and very bluesy wearing black sunglasses, which he only took off in the end of the set during the Whitesnake-medley. Most of the set included material from "The Duke", not his best albums according to many fans, who were wondering the absence of more melodic songs, hoping also to hear material from his former bands, stuff from Millenium at least.
Whereas Valentine's one hour set seemed to end too soon, Jorn's seemed to go on forever. It was sad he had built such a heavy set that didn't go down at all to the crowd. The set also included too much cover songs. Even though Jorn sings them well, the fans still expected original material. Three cover songs all in all with the classic Whitesnake medley filled the set already full of the darker Jorn material. "Out To Every Nation" and the covers were his highlights. Better set next time then, with chin up high and a nice grin. Jorn can take his crowd and he has the voice, but this wasn't his day.
Setlist: We Brought The Angels Down, Blacksong, Duke Of Love, Are You Ready (Thin Lizzy), Cold Sweat (Thin Lizzy), Tungur Knivur, Stormcrow, Out To Every Nation, Abyss Of Evil, Whitesnake-medley (Come On, Sweet Talker), Stormbringer (Deep Purple)
There was around thirty minutes for a breather between the bands, and those breaks were in good use to grab a bite somewhere or whatever you wanted to do. Like last year, this year you could also buy all sorts of rarities from the venue and even meet the bands. I was introduced to Paul Logue from Eden's Curse, while Hugo posed somewhere else with my friends. Otherwise thirty minutes seems like a damn short time, especially while waiting to get some party booster in your hands in the long bar lines. People were in a good party mood by now, and the rest of the Saturday bands got the best out of the crowd, although Valentine's charm was hard to top.
The Canadian HAREM SCAREM got over an hours worth of showtime, being able to cover their releases quite well, although strangely leaving some of their best hits out. The band played a steady set, staying more in the middle course, than really cranking it up. The sounds tricked too, most bands didn't sound as pompous and full as they usually do live or on their albums, but at least Scarem was vocally very clear, the vocal department was awesome and the best part of their show, not forgetting singer Harry Hess' jokes, which were plenty. Their bassist Barry Donaghy has an interesting and funny playing style, being the bands second humourist after Hess. The band's background vocalist was Hess' newly wed wife, who was introduced to the crowd.
Live Harem Scarem is simply put a basic rock band with good guitar parts thrown in from Pete Lesperance and a powerful backing force from drummer Creighton Doane. They compete with the lighter entertainers, who put on a great but laid back show, drink beer on stage while playing "If There Was A Time", backed up with tambourines and guitar, but as was the case with Jorn, this wasn't their best days, or a set either. The band received a great welcome though and seemed to enjoy playing Firefest, Hess even joking about Backstreet Boys.
Setlist: Dagger, Human Nature, Caught Up In Your World, The Paint Thins, With A Little Love, Killing Me, If There Was A Time, Don't Come Easy, Voice Of Reason, Hard To Love, No Justice, Karma Cleansing
The clock was ticking close to seven by now, and after the mellower performance from the Scarem guys, the excitement could only grow stronger during the break for the next performer. The crowd was thrilled to see TYKETTO in UK. The band hasn't released new albums anymore, but now sold their special limited print cd "The Last Sunset Farewell 2007" on tour, including previously unreleased material such as demos etc. "Till The Summer Comes" was aired from it, and people fell in love with the song immediately.
Being Saturday's highlight, the only lowpoint was the short 75 minute showtime. The band was second after Valentine to rocket the atmosphere skyhigh, and after witnessing Danny Vaughn's gigs in Finland with Terry Brock earlier this year the reaction in Rock City wasn't too surprising. Vaughn performed to some thirty people in one venue in Finland, but did everything very professionally, showing the least bit of disappointment, but rocked like he was singing in a large arena. And like in Finland, also in UK Vaughn and Tyketto held the crowd tightly on their grip till the very last note, and the crowd participation was enormous. "Wings" had a great singalong, whereas "End Of The Summer Days" completely messed the fans heads.
Tyketto is definately a wild live band great to watch and listen, and their show in Firefest was also at the same time very relaxed. "Sail Away" included a funny vocal part with Vaughn prolonging the end scream, all the while taking time from his watch how long he can go on. The audience did better than him though, but I'm sure like Vaughn said, someone must've cheated. The band also played an acoustic version of "Standing Alone", with a beautiful guitar solo from Brooke St. James. The perfect ending for the show was "Forever Young", it works magics everytime. This energizer really makes you feel forever young over and over again. A great rush ran through our veins once again and as the band members, with bassist Jimi Kennedy and drummer Michael Clayton, sneaked out the stage one by one, the venue filled with bittersweet farewell tears.
Setlist included: Nothing But Love, Rescue Me, Wings, Meet Me In The Night, Catch My Fall, Standing Alone (acoustic), End Of The Summer Days, Burning Down Inside, Walk On Fire, Till The Summer Comes, Strength In Numbers, Sail Away, Last Sunset, Forever Young
After the sweaty Tyketto show it was unclear, whether the crowd still had energy left for this years Firefest headliner. FM, who would be shaking the last juices out from everyone for ninety minutes, was gonna play a dream come true set for FM fans. FM as a band (Andy Barnett, Merv Goldsworthy, Pete Jupp, Steve Overland, Jem Davis) hasn't been on stage in twelve years and for me this was the first time even seeing FM live, so you can bet your "behind" I was all hyped up about it, this was for sure going to be another unforgettable moment in my life. Being a fan since beginning I was very anxious to hear all their songs, especially the single release "Bad Luck", which is one of my vinyl treasures.
Ironically FM had just that, bad luck. Horribly the electricity fooled with them, forcing them to keep a long break near the end of the show. The guys didn't take too long wondering about it though, but came up with other entertainment, talking to the crowd and showing off the American flag that earlier swayed amongst the crowd. As the electricity started showing signs of returning, a guitar solo followed while waiting for the mikes to work, and finally FM got to finish "Other Side Of Midnight", which was cut off. They had two screens on both side of the stage showing personal and band videos during the show, and those screens also kicked off the show with a humourous touch. Eventhough FM's show was very emotional, including Steve Overland's vocals which still carry a very classic aor sound, the bad sounds killed the best edge and power from them. One of the encore and closing songs was "Frozen Heart", which the crowd started by singing the first lines. It sounded awesome and the band was touched by the appreciation showed by their fans. It was a sentimental 90 minutes both ways. This didn't end up being the bands last show as planned, so we'll be seeing the band more on stage in 2008.
Setlist: Breathe Fire, Face To Face, I Belong To The Night/That Girl, Run No More, All Or Nothing, Only The Strong Survive, Burning My Heart Down, Bad Luck, Closer To Heaven, Other Side Of Midnight, guitar solo, Blood And Gasoline, encore: Frozen Heart, I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Whitfield & Strong)
A sold out Firefest this year proved this sort of music isn't dying without a fight, so you can still expect to rock in Firefest V. After that it's a mystery, but it's the fans and music business that keep rock alive, please support your bands and spread the good word! We've done our part from Finland once again, and continue to do that, with our flag swaying proudly in Rock City wall. Thanks again to Fireworks and Bruce Mee, Rock City and Rig for the rock treat.
Report by Satu Reunanen, satu [at] rockunited.com
(c) 2007 RockUnited.Com
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