Once again it’s off to Nottingham, wedged nicely in the middle of the country and, on this weekend’s evidence, full of girls who like wearing the shortest skirts you’ve ever imagined. Seriously, never mind that it’s Halloween weekend, with late October in Britain not being known for it’s tropical temperatures - if you aren’t showing the maximum amount of leg, you ain’t welcome in Nottingham! Anyway, we’re not here to look at girl’s legs (it’s just a lucky perk), as it’s time for yet another Firefest, without a doubt the finest melodic rock event on the U.K.



Once again, the fire festivities start on Friday night, although sensibly it’s just three bands, enough to whet the appetite but not enough to kill any enthusiasm. For the second year running it’s been moved from the tiny “Rig” at Nottingham Rock City to the nearby University, where this year the alcohol is actually well priced, with a load of hairy old tarts (and their women) being charged student prices, which is excellent. The floor is as sticky as ever, and I have a feeling I’m probably treading in the same beer mucus as last year, but it’s a small gripe when everything else is so good, especially the line up.

Opening, rather surprisingly, are the Finnish fabulous four Reckless Love. Straight off, two things are evident. One is that the sound is about 100% percent better than last year, and the second is that lead singer Olli Herman is a bona fide superstar in the making. It’s like someone put him together from parts cannibalised from the greats, most evidently Dave Lee Roth (at his peak) and fellow Finn Mike Monroe. His enthusiasm, and indeed that of the rest of the band, is highly infectious, as they run through the tracks from their incredibly well received debut album. It’s all smiles and bounces through “Feel My Heat”, “Badass” and “So Yeah” to name three, as well as the horrendously catchy single “Beautiful Bomb”. Olli climbs up on the speakers a couple of times, and in true rock god fashion goes through a few costume changes and shows off his six pack to the hordes of adoring females, whilst the men try not to look at the bulge in his oh-so-tight strides. This has been my first time for Reckless Love, and on this evidence I want more, the more reckless the better.

The place is packed, but between bands I spot axe master Tommy Denander, and the wife swears the singer from Brother Firetribe is about somewhere. As I’m generally rubbish at recognising people (including close family), I don’t try too hard, and wander back to the main area for another hotly tipped band, Crazy Lixx. At first it seems they are benefiting from an extra guitarist, giving them a crunchier sound than Reckless Love, but the downside is that their songs, whilst perfectly good, aren’t as madly enjoyable. “Rock In A Hard Place” and “Blame It On Love” certainly go down well, along with the rest of their stuff, but I find it hard to get overly excited, although the band certainly seem to be going hell bent for leather up on the stage. There’s occasional hints of classic era Def Leppard and Skid Row, more so than on their CD, and they deliver a rousing and popular performance, despite my grumpiness.

The third and final act of the night are already Firefest veterans, although this is the first time most people have clapped eyes on new H.E.A.T singer Erik Gronwall, who joined them due to the previous chap’s poor health. Over here, it’s staggeringly improbable that anyone would win one of those TV singing shows and go off to join a kick ass melodic rock band, but it seems that you Europeans have much better taste than us, so whilst we’re getting bland pop chopsticks you get Erik, a skinny ball of energy with a fine voice and a slight hint of madness in his eyes. Looking like a cross between young versions of Billy Idol and Graham Bonnet, he does his best to rule the stage and get the point across that H.E.A.T are still very much a going concern. There’s no new material aired (although I understand they are writing some), but what we do get is pretty much a faultless setlist of AOR gems, like “1000 Miles”, “Never Let Go”, “Who Will Stop The Rain” and plenty of others culled from their two albums. As a band, they’re very tight, although they still look like they were styled by a lunatic who was given £100 to spend in a charity shop in 1987. A nice touch was a mic stand made from a pool cue, and full marks to drummer Crash, who managed to perform a solo spot without being at all boring. Hopefully Erik Will stay with the band, as he seems to be having a whale of a time, as are the audience. Good as they are, they still don’t manage to beat Reckless Love’s performance, but there’s certainly plenty more H.E.A.T to be expected from this band in the future.




There is a saying that concerns the best laid plans of mice and men, and it seems rather appropriate on Saturday afternoon, as a new mixing desk doesn’t sit up and beg like it’s supposed to, resulting in openers Grand Illusion going on an hour and a half after they were supposed to. Thankfully, it seems all teething problems have been well and truly sorted, as the band sound fantastic. They’re new to me, and I’m quite struck by the very high voice of Per Svennson, as when he really goes for it I get a headache! When they slow down a little for the beautiful ballad “Emily” I finally get to appreciate his superb voice fully, as he’s not having to compete with the rest of the band quite so much. Speaking of the band, full marks are definitely awarded to guitarist Ola af Trampe, who may look like he belongs in Weezer but plays like an absolute master, his solos a flurry of notes that liven up every song. A good opener to the Festival ‘proper’, Grand Illusion tick all the right boxes.

I would have liked to see Beggars & Thieves, but alas I was called away for an interview and missed the whole set. My helper, who stayed to report on them, gave me this handy little review: “You would really have liked them.” Well, thanks for that, then. Our photographer did snap a few photos of them, as you can see above.

I manage to catch the set from Banaglore Choir, a band who have waited a massive 18 years between two very good albums. The first, “On Target” is pretty much a classic of melodic hard rock that deserves it’s status, and I was pleased that the 2010 follow up “Cadence” was a very enjoyable album as well, even if not the classic the original was. We’ve been promised a selection from both albums, and the band don’t disappoint, and we get full blooded versions of the likes of “Loaded Gun” and the power ballad “If The Good Die Young”, as well as my personal favourtie “Angel In Black”, as well as some great new tracks, including the blistering “Martyr”. The band are agreeably tight, with Reece stalking the stage in a rather Coverdale-y way, clearly enjoying the adoration of the fans, many of whom do their best to drown him out on the older material. It’s a full blooded set from a full blooded band, full of raw power and some fantastic melody, and the day is getting better and better.


After the volume of Bangalore Choir, it’s back to more traditional melodic music with the arrival of Shotgun Symphony, the New Jersey band that threw out a handful of albums in the Nineties. I remember their 1993 debut myself, but I don’t think I ever caught up with any of the others. With this in mind, it’s great that they start off with a brilliant track that I know well, namely “Highway To Tomorrow”, an upbeat rocker that positively sparkles with energy. Their music seems to be a lively, perfect mix of keyboards and guitar, never allowing one to kill off the other as many bands do. Couple this with some fine vocals from Tracy White and you have a band that can’t really fail to entertain at a Firefest show. It’s an hour that seems to pass in half that time, and it’s so cool to see a pure melodic rock band with no other pretensions come all the way to entertain us.


Another previous engagement sadly robs me of the vast majority of Bonfire’s set, with not even my trusty assistant to provide an in depth report. We return just in time to see them belt out two wonderful songs: “Sweet Obsession” and “Champion”, both of which sound really fantastic. Despite the fact that everything is still overrunning by just under an hour, they decide to throw in an extra song, “I’m On My Way”, dedicated to the sadly missed Steve Lee of Gotthard. It’s a sad and sort of uplifting moment, and the song is a well chosen Gotthard cover.


I’ve been looking forward to seeing Dare ever since they were announced, mainly because I have a great fondness for their first two albums, “Out Of The Silence” and “Blood From Stone”. It’s a good job, as Darren Wharton and co don’t waste any time farting about, opening with perhaps their most famous track from the debut, namely “Abandon”. Interestingly, they don’t have a bassist, and instead opt for Richard Dews on acoustic guitar to back up Marc Robets keyboards and the lead guitar of the almost legendary Vinnie Burns. Vocalist Wharton is in fine form and looks absolutely stoked to be here as they run straight through 4 songs from the debut before wandering off into more recent territory. I haven’t yet heard the latest album, but from the songs aired tonight I really should do something about that! Together on stage for the first time in 20 years, Wharton and Burns seem very at home, with Wharton grinning like a kid at Christmas and Burns pulling off some brilliant guitar with what seems like little effort on his part. The highlight for me is a wonderful rendition of “The Raindance”, plus a nice bonus in the shape of “King of Spades”, dedicated, of course, to Phil Lynott. It’s a shame that “We Don’t Need A Reason” isn’t rolled out (probably because Wharton doesn’t really think it fits with Dare), but regardless of this Dare are by far the best, most entertaining band of the day. Love it.



And so we come to Lynch Mob, featuring the guitar work of George Lynch, but I’m sure you knew that anyway. Let’s not forget vocalist Oni Logan, mind, as it’s his voice that has kept things together for the last 20 years (on and off). Their recent album “Smoke & Mirrors” was pretty good, but I have been a bit worries that they’re just not, well, melodic enough for Firefest. This is pretty much backed up as the band come out in a barrage of power chords and attitude, banging out “River Of Love” and others I can’t name like there’s no tomorrow. The crowd seems to be having a good time, although there is certainly a little thinning out as the set goes on. There’s a couple of nice tracks from the new album, including the catchy “21st Century Man “ and “Revolution Heroes”, but after an hour it just seems to be dragging, as there’s not enough variety or melody in the songs for me. There’s no doubting the talent on show, especially when Lynch belts out the instrumental “Mr Scary”, but I’m not excited, not overawed, I’m just there.

We decide to leave as the club starts letting in pissheads in fancy dress from the outside (we’re an hour late, remember), many of whom come to check out the band. I can’t see myself regretting missing out on any of the set, suffice to say that Lynch Mob fans were delirious, but I had much more fun with Dare on the day. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow…



And just like magic, or more likely nature, tomorrow appears, withy the promise of some great performances and no mixing desk mishaps. It’s co organiser Bruce Mee’s birthday, and Rock United dutifully arranged to have “Happy Birthday Bruce” displayed in 50 foot firework letters to celebrate. Unfortunately, it was in Finland, so Bruce didn’t see it, but we would like to assure him it was totally awesome, although no one thought to take pictures. Anyway… on to day two, and we’re lucky enough to get new(ish) Swedes Grand Design to open, and to be fair they do a pretty good job. Despite sounding like Def Leppard on their only album “Time Elevation”, live they are a much heavier kettle of Swedish Meatballs. They belt out a short set in a way that encompasses the terms “Heavy” and “Melodic” quite well, and the audience seems to appreciate their effort. Frontman and serial band hoper Pelle Saether seems to be having a good time, and although he’s unlikely to win any awards for his vocals he does a good enough job. The band only have one album out, and although it’s a cliché I still giggle when songs are introduced as from “Our debut album” with a wry smile. Okay, so it’s not The Two Ronnies, but surely that’s a good thing! The set meanders a little in the middle, but on balance this is a good start to the day.


The next slot sees the Firefest debut of Newman. Some of you may remember that last year in my review I started the “Newman For Firefest” campaign, although to be honest I never actually followed this up with leaflets, telly adverts of naked bingo. Nevertheless, I feel that I am partially responsible for Newman being here this year, no matter what the organisers say. Newman is Steve Newman, a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter who has recently released a superb album, “Balance” that I was very nice about a few months ago. Despite the drawback of being a Brit, Newman has managed to produce quality melodic rock for just over ten years, and there’s plenty of people who are happy to finally see him play live, at a festival he has attended as a fan since it was The Gods. The choice of opener is spot on, being the same as the album, “Hero To Zero”, a fast paced rocker with plenty of melody. It’s apparent that Newman is having a whale of a time, especially when he interacts with second guitarist Shaun Bessant, who has a mean set of fingers and one of those small goatees you see on Mexicans who smuggle themselves into the U.S. Newman’s voice does the job, and he at least pronounces ‘Nottingham’ properly, and it’s always nice to see him have a real go on the guitar. The set rolls along like a fast, rolling thing (hey, sometimes you just go blank, okay?), and the music is simply excellent. There’s “Primitive Soul”, “Tumbledown” and “Heaven Knows”, whilst the band finish with a 9 minute version of possibly their best known song “One Step Closer”, a ten year old melodic rock classic. Steve Newman may not be as well knows as some of the more European bands out there, but you get the feeling that if he had been born a thousand years to the East he would be much bigger by now. For a band second on, Newman lift the bar substantially, and personally I would encourage you to check them out if you like melodic rock with a good edge.


Whilst Newman is a bit of a mystery to many of the crowd, The Stage Dolls seem to have absolutely loads of fans in, although poor old me has never even listened to the Norwegian foursome. I am reliably informed (by their label manager) that they still get gold records in Norway after 25 years of recording, so I sit back and expect something special. I am not disappointed. More than anything else, Stage Dolls remind me of Def Leppard at full strength, all melody with big, crunchy guitars and choruses that everyone has to sing along to. Vocalist and guitarist Torstein Flanke is a bona fide star, possessing a good voice and a mean ability to sling his six string. They’re the sort of band that will have you grinning from ear to ear even if you haven’t ever seen them before. I find myself singing along and going “Woah woah” with everyone else, despite wondering who the hell they were not half an hour ago. The manage to deliver an amazing power ballad (“Hard To Say Goodbye”) and the best singalong of the day (“Still In Love”) without breaking a sweat, and by the end it’s abundantly cleat why they are still a force in melodic rock they simply know how to write and perform a bloody good song! Unsurprisingly, my new mission is to go and get some of their stuff, and that’s exactly what a good festival appearance should do.


My history with Strangeways is an odd one, as it jumps from adoration in 1987, with the release of “Native Sons”, to boredom with the release of “Perfect World”, this years under produced album full of middle of the road yawn fests. As soon as they start, it’s quite obvious that Strangeways live in 2010 are a real force to be reckoned with, mainly due to Mr Terry Brock. The southern gentleman on lead vocals is nothing short of amazing from the start, and when they play the new album’s title track three songs in it is a totally different beast to the version on the album. With crystal clear sound and guitars up loud, it’s a superb song, with Brock wringing every drop of emotion out of every note. Straight after, the classic soppiness of “Only A Fool” causes me to put down “WOW!” in my notebook, as a good but lightweight song is given solid steel wings as Brock’s voice teaches it to soar. It may seem that I’m attributing Brock a bit too much credit, but it really can’t be overstated. Strangewways have some good songs, sure, but Brock gives them a live punch that few other singers could. A solid but unexciting set becomes more entertaining through his vocals, and Strangeways manage to just about deserve their place here today.



There’s a bit of a switch next, as Pretty Maids are still farting about trying to get to the venue due to dodgy flights, and it’s decided that Jimi Jamison will go on instead of them. The voice of Survivor, Jamison is used to having audiences hang on his every word, and I would by lying if I said that we weren’t perfectly happy to do so. With such a brilliant selection of tracks at his disposal, there’s no way he can go wrong, unless he just can’t cut it any more, and straight off it’s pretty damned certain this isn’t the case. With the assistance of various members of H.E.A.T plus guitar slinger for hire Tommy Denander, Jimi Jamison delivers the sort of set you dream of. As he belts through “Caught In the Game”, “Is This Love”, “High On You” and Didn’t Know It Was Love” we don’t care that there’s no one else from Survivor on the stage. He sounds, quite simply, perfect, and the backing band are tight as fuck to boot. He looks smart and even manages to pull of sunglasses indoors, which is a talent in itself. His voice is like honey with cream on top of a massive pile of bacon - my god this is exactly what I wanted. When he sings, it’s automatically the 80s again, no matter what it is he’s singing. If Jimi Jamison sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit” it would be an 80s classic. Go on… imagine it in your head,,, isn’t it great!! Just when we’re wondering if he’ll give in to popular demand, he breaks out the Holy Trinity. I mean, I’m overjoyed that he’s played “Rebel Son”, but everyone else goes MENTAL when he rolls out “Burning Heart”, “I’m Always Here” (from Baywatch) and the cheesetastic “Eye Of The Tiger” . This is what we came here for, and this is why we love melodic rock - music that can lift your spirits when done by the right person. I comment to H.E.A.T singer Erik Gronwall that he has just witnessed a master class, and his accurate response is that it was “Fucking amazing.” That about sums it up.



And so we finally get to the headliners, as we duck out during Pretty Maids for some grub. [Ed: thankfully our photographer doesn't need such things as food, so he didn't miss the opportunity to shoot the Maids... does that sound weird? No? Enjoy the photos above.]



Apparently NOT names after a character in The Simpsons, Nelson have never played the UK. In the past, our cruel press nicknamed the pretty boys “The Timotei Twins”, and it’s immediately apparent that they’ve spent the past 20 years in suspended animation, as they look great. They sound pretty good as well, with Gunnar on rhythm and Matthew on bass, backed up yo many people’s surprise by Mark Slaughter on lead. Yep, that’s Mark Slaughter of Slaughter, a man who could have played himself pretty far up the bill if he’d wanted. Weird, sure, but what the heck. Nelson’s set is, in a word, Nice. They play some catchy tunes without any real balls, and regrettably don’t touch their new album, which is brimming with upbeat songs full of balls. I get the weirdest feeling that I’m at a Christian rock festival, even though the twins don’t preach anything apart from having a good time. When they let Mark sing on “Up All Night” things wake up a bit, but poor Mark’s backing vocal mic isn’t turned up enough for him to really have a good go. Climaxing with the much better live than in the studio “Love And Affection”, Nelson leave the stage having done a very good job, but for me it should have been Jimi Jamison up there at the end of the night.

Once again, Firefest has provided something for everyone, and it’s been a brilliant weekend. In lieu of real awards, here’s Rock United’s Firefest Gongs:

Best Set - Jimi Jamison
Biggest Smile - Newman
Best Surprise - Stage Dolls
Biggest Tarts (in a good way) - Reckless Love
Hardest Workers - H.E.A.T
Worst Dressed - H.E.A.T
Best Dressed - Everyone Else

Top 6...

1) Jimi Jamison
2) Reckless Love
3) Dare
4) Newman
5) Stage Dolls
6) H.E.A.T

And next year? How about John Parr, as we need more Brits so they can pronounce “Nottingham” correctly…


Report by Alan Holloway, alan [at] rockunited.com
Photos by Kari Carda Helenius, carda [at] metalphotos.com

(c) 2010 RockUnited.Com

The Firefest logo again borrowed from