”It’s That Time - That Time Of Year” as Mark Slaughter once sang… and no, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about FIREFEST, the highlight of a melodic rock fan’s year. The festival has taken place in Nottingham for several years in a row, and this year it was to be held for the last time. As we headed to the airport, that little piece of information was pushed to darkest corner of our minds. Instead we were determined to enjoy the weekend of great music and friends.

We made the wise decision to start our journey on thursday, so that we had some time to recover of the early flights and traveling. After a two-hour drive to the airport, two flights, two trains and a taxi, we arrived to our first hotel, the Welbeck next to the Rock City venue. There were a lot of young, gloomy looking kids in black hanging in the area, waiting for the gig of emo-core band Asking Alexandria and possibly hoping to meet their heroes. We had other plans - first some shopping, a dinner and then a release party at the nearby Crowne Plaza hotel.

I guess it’s the sign of the times but the shopping wasn’t nearly as fun as it had been a year ago in the Victoria shopping centre. The place was going through a renovation, and some shops we used to visit had been closed. There was no ”That’s Entertainment” anymore, and the HMV store had been reduced to half of its’ original size I think. It seemed like they were concentrating in selling ”Best Of” compilations only… I didn’t find anything to purchase from there. Sad. But back to the rock biz...

The release party was in honor of the two first releases of Rocktopia Records. The label was founded some time ago by Bruce Mee and Kieran Dargan, the two gentlemen who are behind Firefest as well. The debut In Faith album was the first album to be introduced to the world, or at least to the two hundred people present there. If you’ve read my review of it you know that I consider it to be one of the best debut albums in years, and the reception it got was very good - many of the attendees visited the the merch table and bought themselves a copy of it. The band was happy to chat and pose for photos with the fans, even with some weird foreign web-journos…

The presentation of Ten’s new ”Albion” album was a bit more lavish, with some wall decorations put up and a life-size cardboard cutout of the album’s cover girl placed next to the band’s table. Only 5 of the 7 men of Ten were present though, guitarist John Halliwell and bass player Steve McKenna were nowhere to be seen. ARFM radio personality Steve Price interviewed Gary Hughes, who gave a brief introduction to the album and told us why the band had hired not one but two new lead guitarists (Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott). A signing session followed, with dozens of people lining up to get their CDs signed.

The Rocktopia showcase was a nice, easy-going event, in which we met a lot of our old Firefest friends and some new ones. Some of the Finnish Firefest group decided to head to the nearby pub afterwards, but having been more or less awake since 3 in the morning, me and Mira decided to call it a day and headed to our hotel.




For the Final Fling, the friday’s festivities had been once again expanded. Last year the number of bands increased from 4 to 6, and now there were seven bands playing on friday too. I really wanted to see the opening act Angels Or Kings, the winners of the unsigned band competition and chosen by the Firefest fans to this prestigious slot. They’ve been signed by AOR Heaven since the competition, and their rather excellent first album has just been released.


AOK had only 20 minutes to make an impression, and I feel that they took advantage of that. They played just about all of my favorite tracks from the album, concentrating on catchy uptempo material. The had taken a guest keyboard player (a Reb Beach lookalike Dave Ellis) to enhance their sound, and indeed, the glorious keyboard parps on the album were duplicated nicely on stage. Vocalist Barrie Jackson poured out his soul to the songs and impressed many with his raspy voice, while the guitarist duo of Tony Bell and Steve Kenny added hard-edged riffs when a bit of edge was needed, not to mention some tasty, melodic solos to the right spots. The tall bass player Rob Naylor was a rather impressive character, not necessarily looking like a typical AOR musician but then again, is there such a thing anyway? Behind the drum kit was longtime AOK drummer Andy Chemmey. Interesting piece of information: Both Rob and Tony were lefties, it’s not often that you’ll get two left-handed players in one band.


Any Other Girl
A Harder Place
Ice Turned To Rain
If Her Tears Could Talk
Kings Of Nowhere


Barrie Jackson - vocals
Tony Bell - guitar
Steve Kenny - guitar
Rob Naylor - bass
Andy Chemmey - drums
Dave Ellis - keyboards



Despite their logo being left out of some Firefest merch thanks to some freak accident, the Greek rockers Redrum were very much a part of friday’s line-up. This was actually Redrum’s second Firefest show, they were a part of the one-off Firefest Greece in 2005. The band is fronted by Michael Bormann, a German singer whose CV includes bands like Jaded Heart, Zeno and Silent Force. He was recently participating in The Voice Of Germany too, and raised his profile with that.


After the ”One Of Us” intro that opens the band’s latest album ”Victimss Of Circumstances”, the curtain that covered the stage between bands was taken down, and Redrum appeared to be one of the ”hairiest” bands of the weekend. Each one of the band members had long, flowing locks and an image straight from the ”golden days” of the late eighties. Unsuprisingly, their music took us back to the era too. Bormann showed why his services are much in demand, he’s a natural-born frontman and a great singer. Even though he was the one in the limelight, it didn’t seem like ”Bormann & backing band”, it was Redrum The Band on stage. With a very limited time to play, we only got five songs, out of which my favorite was the catchy ”You Can't Buy No Hero”. I wasn’t familiar with the two tracks from the first album, but really liked the AOR-friendly ”Heart To Heart”. The set was closed with the band’s first video track from the latest album, the moody ”Dust In Your Eyes”. A good set, leaving the fans craving for more.


One of Us
You Can't Buy No Hero
Judgement Day
Heart to Heart
Dust In Your Eyes


Michael Bormann - vocals
Athan Kazakis - guitar
Panos Baxevanis - guitar
Marco Grasshoff - keys
Alex Kidd - bass
Thanos Sarketzis - drums



One of the more left field choices in the line-up was Norwegian prog metal band Circus Maximus. Last year their vocalist Michael Erikson impressed the Firefest crowd with his other band project The Magnificent, so it was somewhat appropriate that he’d be given the chance to showcase his main band too.

With more than a few rather melodic songs in the band’s repertoire, Circus Maximus could have played a tailor-made set for Firefest, but they decided to give us the real CM experience. They kicked off the show with a lengthy instrumental part, and it took a few minutes before Erikson even entered the stage. The second song ”Namaste” was probably the first (and last?) in the history of Firefest to feature growling vocals, provided by the band’s drummer Truls Haugen. As the set went on, the band did show some mercy to the more purist AOR fans in the audience and played their more melodic tracks like ”Arrival of Love” and ”Game Of Life”. I just wonder how many of those purists endured the uncompromising progmetal-attack of the first few songs… My verdict: superb musicianship, great vocals, but maybe a bit too much on the prog side for me.

Architect of Fortune
I Am
The One
Arrival of Love
Game of Life
Last Goodbye

Michael Erikson - vocals
Lasse Finbraten - keyboards
Mars Haugen - guitar
Truls Haugen - drums
Glen Cato Mollen - bass



After the devastating news of the passing of Shy guitarist Steve Harris, I thought I had lost my chances of seeing the band live. Fortunately the good people of Firefest proved me wrong, and convinced the band to play one more show. The line-up of the Firefest gig featured two original members; vocalist Tony Mills and bass player Roy Davis, along with long-time members Joe Basketts (keys) and Bob Richards (drums). The guitar players Neil Hibbs and Carl Anthony Wright came on board to the Steve Harris tribute show last year and were invited to be part of the Firefest show as well. As far as I know the band has no plans to continue, this was just a one-off show.

I was a bit worried whether this gig would turn out to be a disaster, as Mills has had his share of health problems lately and the band hasn’t been playing together actively. Luckily the band had rehearsed well and Mills was in decent condition. The band opened with the laid-back ”Skydiving”, giving Mills the opportunity warm up his voice before the more demanding tracks. ”Telephone” from the classic ”Excess All Areas” was up next, and when Mills reached out for the highest notes, the crowd gave him well-deserved cheers. It seemed like he really concentrated on hitting the high notes. ”Can’t Fight The Nights” sounded even better. The swirling keyboard intro to the Michael Bolton-penned ”Emergency” was sadly inaudible to where I was standing, but the song turned into a good sing-along anyway. Crowd participation was a major part of ”Give It All You’ve Got” too. It’s hardly one of the band’s finest moments for me but decent live song with its’ simple chorus. The song reminds me of Slade’s eighties’ material actually.

The ballad ”When The Love Is Over” was played as a tribute to Steve Harris, and it was quite touching. The band’s biggest hit ”Break Down The Walls” got also the biggest reaction out of the crowd and why not, it’s a song written to be played live with all the ”call-answer” vocal hooks.

All in all, it was great to hear all the old classics live for the first time, and even though it’s been almost 30 years since they were recorded, Mills was still able to sing them quite well. If anything, he seemed to take more liberties with the lower-range parts than the highs.


Can't Fight the Nights
Give It All You've Got
When the Love Is Over
Break Down the Walls
No Other Way


Tony Mills - vocals
Roy Davis - bass
Joe Basketts - keyboards
Bob Richards - drums
Neil Hibbs - guitar
Carl Anthony Wright - guitar



The Poodles kept us waiting for a while, and because of some ”technical difficulties” their set was cut short. Those things were a bit disappointing, but I have to say that everything in between was great! The band played a storming set, and especially vocalist Jakob Samuel proved to be one in the premium league of frontmen. I am not the greatest fan of his voice, but that didn’t matter at all. He simply owned the stage and was in total command of the whole room. The low-key, ”one of the blokes”-type of approach by Tony Mills and Samuel’s energetic performance were like night and day.

The band’s setlist contained songs from most of their albums. The two tracks from their latest one ”Tour De Force” weren’t among my favorites but they worked okay in a live setting. The rest of the set was pretty flawless, with Poodle-hits like ”Cuts Like A Knife”, ”Seven Seas” and the superb ”Night of Passion”. 8 songs were simply not enough! Apparently Mr. Samuel had only arrived to Nottingham some 45 minutes before their showtime, maybe that has something to do with their rather short set. Who knows.


Misery Loves Company
Metal Will Stand Tall
Cuts Like a Knife
Shut Up!
Like No Tomorrow
Seven Seas
Night of Passion


Jakob Samuel - vocals
Henrik Bergvist - guitar
Christian Lundqvist - drums
Oskar Söderman - bass


With seven musicians, the Firefest stage was quite crowded for Ten. If they had tried really hard, I think they could’ve added a couple of back-up singers and maybe a bagpipe player to the line-up… the band’s called ”TEN” after all. Anyway, it was probably a good thing that the new guitarists weren’t as lively as Gary Hughes and the big-haired duo of Steve McKenna and Chris Halliwell. Someone might have gotten hurt up there on stage!

Compared to the previous Ten show two years ago, I thought the band was better this time. The setlist contained some nice surprises and the best of the new album ”Albion”. The added third guitarist didn’t turn the show into a guitar battle, both new guys played with restraint. It seemed like they were still searching for their place in the band, but the others seemed to be offering support and encouragement. With a few more shows under their belt, this new 7—piece Ten could very well be a frighteningly good live band.

The show started with an intro that we unfortunately missed, but I was happy to hear ”Fear The Force” from ”Spellbound”, followed by the album’s powerful title track. ”The Robe” was a track of epic propotions, lasting around nine minutes, complete with the choir-section in the middle. For that the band had a little help from an offstage source. ”Apparition” wasn’t a particularly interesting track but it was followed by three fine melodic numbers, two of them from ”Albion” and ”The Lights Go Down” representing the band’s previous album ”Heresy And Greed”. The ballad ”Valentine” gave the band a bit of a break for a couple of minutes, before exploding into a full-blown power ballad. Me being a grumpy old man, I kept thinking that ”the band has so many great ballads, why play this, which isn’t one of them?”. The grumpiness was gone when the classic ”After The Love Is Gone” was aired, followed by the catchy ”Alone In The Dark Tonight” from the new album. The band asked people to film that song, so that they could compile a music video with the most camera angles and enter it to the ”Guinness Book of Records”. I filmed for 30 seconds, then got bored of holding my hand up… why do people want to do that for several songs in a row? Most cameras produce lousy audio anyway, and I’d rather watch the set in Real Life Super Ultra HD with my own eyes.

The set was rounded out with two Ten fan favorites, the celtic-flavoured ”Red” and ”The Name Of The Rose” and the diehards went crazy. Good songs both, if not my ultimate favorites. I guess they are the kind of songs that need to be played at every Ten concert, especially the latter which was a big hit for the band in Japan.


Remembrance for the Brave
Fear the Force
The Robe
The Lights Go Down
It's Alive
After the Love Has Gone
Alone in the Dark Tonight
The Name of the Rose


Gary Hughes - vocals
John Halliwell - guitar
Dann Rosingana - guitar
Steve Grocott - guitar
Steve McKenna - bass
Darrel Treece-Birch - keyboards
Max Yates - drums


Well I was expecting it. Having seen the band a few times before and being very impressed each time, I knew that they wouldn’t disappoint. And they didn’t. On the first day of The Final Fling we saw H.E.A.T. play the kind of a gig that will be remembered for years to come. The band was on fire, the crowd was on fire, excellent sound, excellent lights, great setlist, some cool surprises - I couldn’t have asked for much more. Right now, H.E.A.T. are on top of their game and they can go head to head with any band out there. Any band.

As vocalist Erik Grönwall said, his first gig was at Firefest 2010 when he was a ”short-haired fag from Idol”. In four years the band has climbed up the ladder and are now a headlining act, and Erik’s ”still a fag from Idol but the hair’s longer so you can’t judge me”. Well, I guess it’s safe to say that the Firefest crowd wasn’t judging him, they were worshipping him!
He truly is a one of a kind frontman with a seemingly endless reserve of energy. He only stopped moving for the gorgeous ballad ”All The Nights”, but the energy level didn’t drop, he put all of it into his singing. For the rest of the show, mr. Bolt Of Lightning kept on bouncing around the stage. His antics seemed 100% natural, the guy just lets the music take over and doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether he looks ”cool” or not.

Seven songs from the latest ”Tearing Down The Walls” album were played, as the band is on tour supporting it. Maybe a bit much, but they were certainly superb sounding and brilliant, so I can’t complain. The anthemic title track was one of the fan favorites, as was ”Mannequin Show” (Britney who?). The aforementioned ”All The Nights” was a breathtaking performance by Grönwall and the keyboard maestro Jona Tee. From the already classic ”Address The Nation” the band played six songs. The Kenny-era albums weren’t heavily featured, with only song from both of them included. ”Late Night Lady” and ”Beg Beg Beg” seem to be the band’s favorites, but both albums do have several better songs I would have rather heard. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy those two, especially ”Beg Beg Beg” is a bouncy, fun live song.

The biggest surprise and one of the festival’s highlights was the tribute to Jimi Jamison. Bass player Jimmy Jay and Jona Tee had the privilege of being in his backing band twice, so it was only natural that they’d want to pay their respect to the great AOR legend. Their version of the Survivor classic ”Rebel Son” was one the most moving moments of the whole festival.


Point of No Return
A Shot At Redemption
Better Off Alone
It's All About Tonight
Tearing Down the Walls
Mannequin Show
Late Night Lady
In and Out of Trouble
Beg Beg Beg with a bit of Highway Star
All the Nights
Rebel Son
Enemy in Me
Living on the Run

Erik Grönwall - vocals
Eric Rivers - guitar
Jona Tee - keyboards
Jimmy Jay - bass
Crash - drums





Saturday’s openers were ex-Ten keyboard player Ged Ryland’s band Rage of Angels. Their last year’s debut album featured several vocalists, but for the live shows the band has settled for one vocalist. Rick Chase (Alibi, Double Cross, Voyager UK) made his debut with the band at Firefest, and he did a great job under the circumstances. I heard that they hadn’t rehearsed much together, apparently Mr. Chase’s addition to the line-up was a rather last minute one.

Rage Of Angels played a short set of 6 songs, out of which my favorites were ”Through It All” and ”Over And Over”, although I quite liked them all. I didn’t care too much for ”Falling” on the album where it was sung by Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear, but the Chase-sung live version sounded better. The rather long jam session during ”Spinnin’ Wheel” was a bit unnecessary, the song just seemed to go on and on and on… but it does that on the album as well. Guitar fans probably got a kick out of seeing guest star Tommy Denander trading licks with Rylands (who plays guitar in this band, not keys) and Neil Fraser. But overall, a solid performance.


See You Walking By
Through It All
Over and Over
Spinnin Wheel


Ged Rylands - guitar
Rick Chase - vocals
Neil Fraser - guitar
Irvin Parratt - keyboards
Joao Colaco - drums
Gav Cooper - bass


Next band was definitely one for the ”AOR Anoraks” - the one-album wonder from 1991 called FROM THE FIRE. Their sole album ”Thirty Days, Dirty Nights” earned itself a real ”cult classic” status soon after it was released, thanks to a selection of great AOR songs, fine production by Jean Beauvoir and praise from Kerrang!-magazine. I remember trying to get me a copy of it for years (this was before internet, remember), the album didn’t seem to find its’ way to Finland… then I found it from a mail-order second-hand store a few years later.

Back in the day, the band had a kind of a gypsy-glam image with frills and strange shirts. If there was anyone expecting the band to return to the stage in over-the-top clothes and big hairdos, they got a cold wake-up call - FTF 2014 is four ordinary-looking guys playing classy melodic rock. Vocalist J.D. Kelly also played the keyboards, so there was no frontman as such, which had a big impact on the band’s performance. Musicwise the band was excellent, they played the best songs of their classic album and two new ones from their 2014 release ”Evil Men Do”, but there wasn’t much happening on stage. The new bass player John McCoy (Gillan, Mammoth) did have an impressive presence, but basically he was just glued to his spot, as was guitarist Tommy Lafferty. When they introduced guest star ISSA to the stage, things improved a little, especially when the song she sang with the band was one of the more uptempo ones, the brilliant ”Spark And Flame”.

J.D. Kelly’s voice had changed over the years, but not necessarily for the worse. When back in 1991 he sounded a lot like Danny Vaughn, I’d say he has now a bit raspy, latter-day Steve Perryish sound. I haven’t heard the band’s new album yet, but if the two new songs are anything to go by, they have moved to a more mellow style that reminded me a little bit of Elton John.



Hold On
Same Song
Tears Cried In The Rain
Over Your Head
In Your Dreams
Spark And Flame
Blame It On The Moon
Where Are You Now


J.D. Kelly - vocals, keyboards
Tommy Lafferty - guitar
Michael Sciotto - drums
John McCoy - bass



Well, if From The Fire was one for the AOR anoraks, the same could be said of Boulevard. This Canadian band released two albums, their debut in 1988 and the acclaimed ”Into The Street” in 1990. Once again Kieran Dargan used his magic powers to lure them out of retirement. This Mr. Dargan, he’s something special, isn’t he?

I don’t know what people were expecting of Boulevard, but they surprised most of the audience. The band was in excellent shape, and especially vocalist David Forbes has been getting a lot of compliments for his performance. Indeed, his vocals were immaculate, and I can’t forget keyboardist Andrew Johns who added some really high-pitched, soaring vocals to some of the songs. Not to mention some comedic moments! I’d also say that Mark Holden’s saxophone was more upfront than on the albums.

The band started their set with the fantastic AOR of ”Dream On”, sounding really good from the start. Other highlights of the set for me were the infectious ”Lead Me On”, ”Crazy Life” and one of THE vocal performances of the festival, ”Rainy Day In London”. Apart from ”Dream On”, the songs from the first album didn’t really appeal to me as much as the ones from ”Into The Street”. I would have rather heard my favorite Boulevard song ”Where Is The Love” than the poppy ”Never Give Up” or ”Missing Persons”. The latter was quite funny though, Johns’ vocal parts reminded me of the ”In The Year 2000” sketch of Conan O’Brien’s show.

In a recent poll on the Firefest Facebook place, the Boulevard gig was voted as the fourth best gig of the festival, which is a really great achievement. They were up against many more well-known bands with an established fan base. By the way, was this a Firefest First - two bands playing in a row had a song by the same name, ”Where Are You Now”?


Dream On
Western Skies
Lead Me On
Need You Tonight
Where Are You Now
Missing Persons
Rainy Day In London
Far From Over
Crazy Life
Never Give Up


David Forbes - vocals
Andrew Johns - keyboards
Mark Holden - saxophone
Randall Stoll - drums
Tom Christiansen - bass
David Corman - guitar



After the two somewhat mellow AOR bands Babylon A.D. were exactly what the party needed. Opening with two killer riff monsters ”Back In Babylon” and ”Hammer Swings Down” the band shook up the building and woke everyone up from the pink and fluffy AOR dream… not necessarily what everyone wanted, but it worked for me. Vocalist Derek Davis was very intense, a friend of mine actually thought he was a bit scary!

They slowed it down with ”Shot O’ Love”, only to kick into gear again with ”Bad Blood”, the video track from the second album ”Nothing Sacred”. Apparently thanks to Kieran’s subtle suggestion (or was it an ultimatum?) the band played their superb ballad ”So Savage The Heart” from the same album too. A rather fine first half of the set!¨

On the second half of the set my attention started to wander at times. ”Maryanne” was good, but the more recent track ”Loveblind” sounded like it had been written under the influence of grunge. Their hit ”Bang Go The Bells” was one of the set highlights again, only to be followed by the semi-acoustic ”Sally Danced”, a song I have never liked. It lead the way into two B.A.D. hits though, the balladic ”Desperate” and the Robocop movie song ”The Kid Goes Wild”. I would have been happy to leave it at that, but the band had one more track to play, a cover of Aerosmith’s ”Rats In The Cellar”.

Somehow Babylon A.D. reminded me of last year’s Heavens Edge, a very energetic American band with a charismatic frontman. Yeah, I liked it a lot.



Back in Babylon
Hammer Swings Down
Shot o' Love
Bad Blood
So Savage The Heart
Bang Go the Bells
Sally Danced
The Kid Goes Wild
Rats In The Cellar


Derek Davis - vocals
Dan De La Rosa - guitar
Ron Freschi - guitar
Jamey Pacheco - drums
Robb Reid - bass



Danish melodic metal legends Pretty Maids are one of the few eighties’ bands who are still releasing album after album of quality material. As you see from the setlist, they can easily throw in several recent songs yet the quality never suffers. Tracks like ”Little Drops Of Heaven” and ”Sad To See You Suffer” are already new PM classics.

Vocalist Ronnie Atkins didn’t have one of his best days at Firefest. He struggled with the high notes and his facial expressions revealed more than their fair share of pain. Still, even though he was a bit under the weather, Atkins ruled the stage like a frontman should.

Pretty Maids started with a couple of their heavier, recent tracks, giving nightmares to those who were hoping for a return to the pink and fluffy AOR dreams. The 80’ies classic ”Love Games” and the new song ”My Soul To Take” were more melodic and AOR’ish. With a snippet of ”Another Brick In The Wall” the band cranked it up again, with ”I.N.V.U.” being a big crowd favorite. After the very heavy ”I See Ghosts” the band eased up a little and played a few of their most melodic tracks in a row. We got the two aforementioned new PM classics, ”Rodeo” from the band’s breakthrough album ”Future World” and the band’s cover of the Phil Lynott-penned ”Please Don’t Leave Me”. Nice! The set was closed with the speed metallic ”Future World”.


Mother of All Lies
Nuclear Boomerang
Love Games
My Soul to Take
I See Ghosts
Sad to See You Suffer
Little Drops of Heaven
Please Don't Leave Me
Future World


Ronnie Atkins - vocals
Ken Hammer - guitar
Rene Shades - bass
Allan Tschicaja - drums
Morten Sandager - keyboards


L.A. based rockers Black’n Blue played a decent set of good-time rock’n roll. I’m not a huge fan of theirs, but do like their first two albums and I was happy to hear several songs from them. I was secretly hoping for them to indulge the AOR crowd and play ”I’ll Be There For You”, written by Jonathan Cain of Journey, but I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t. The band did play their own AOR hit ”Miss Mystery”, which was one of the most popular songs of the set.

The band didn’t with their usual line-up, as their guitarist Shawn Sonnenschein hadn’t been able to travel to UK. The band had hired a very good stand-in, Stacey Blades who’s played in L.A. Guns, Roxx Gang and several other bands. He was a good fit for BNB, he looked the part and played very well. You couldn’t tell that the band had only had one rehearsal, and an acoustic one at that!

Jaime St. James sang well and was a excellent frontman. The whole band put on a good rock show with some synchronized head banging and other essential hair metal moves. All of them seemed to have smiles on their faces throughout the show, so I assume they were pretty impressed by the reception they got!


Get Wise To The Rise
Stop the Lightning
Rockin' on Heaven's Door
Nasty Nasty
Miss Mystery
Chains Around Heaven
The Strong Will Rock
Wicked Bitch
School of Hard Knocks
Hold on to 18
I'm the King


Jaime St. James - vocals
Patrick Young - bass
Pete Holmes - drums
Brandon Cook - guitar
Stacey Blades - guitar


A lot has been said about the Firehouse set, and not all of it has been good. Okay, they didn’t steal the show with their performance but it had its’ moments, both good and bad. They started very strongly with
two classics from the first album, ”Shake & Tumble” and the great ”All She Wrote”. ”You’re Too Bad” wasn’t very interesting, I’ve always considered as a bit of a filler, but the anthemic ”Rock On The Radio” steered the show back to the right direction… then C.J. Snare went to his keyboards and let Bill Leverty to take the limelight. A guitar solo lead into a song called ”Holding On” sung by Leverty, which was frankly quite boring. The hit ballad ”When I Look Into Your Eyes” turned into a major sing-along, even though Snare was still stuck behind the keyboards.

It has to be said that there’s a lot of vocal power in Firehouse. With ”Door To Door” they introduced the third lead vocalist of the set. Drummer Michael Foster sang this catchy, ”WhoaWhoa”-heavy track and did it rather well. It also has to be said that Foster gets my vote as the most entertaining drummer of the festival, his playing was fun to watch. I’ve could have done without the long drum solo though.

After the intro of ”Hold Your Fire”, Snare did the wise thing and stepped away from the keyboard. That made the show a bit more lively. The bluesy ”Don’t Walk Away” worked well, but ”Trying To Make A Living” failed to impress - maybe I wasn’t ready for this kind of a ”harsh reality song” at this party! Or the keyboard solo… ”Overnight Sensation” was more like it, one of my all-time favorite Firehouse tunes. The second ballad of the set was of course ”Love Of A Lifetime”, an important song for many people in the audience and a big hit for the band.

The end of the set was as strong as the beginning, with ”Reach For The Sky” and the breakthrough hit ”Don’t Treat Me Bad”. If only the band hadn’t lost the plot so many times between… and no, they didn’t play all the songs from the first album.


Shake & Tumble
All She Wrote
You're Too Bad
Rock On The Radio
Holding On
When I Look Into Your Eyes
Door To Door
Hold Your Fire
Don't Walk Away
Trying to Make a Living
Overnight Sensation/Perfect Lie
Love of a Lifetime
Reach For The Sky
Don't Treat Me Bad


C.J. Snare - vocals, keyboards
Bill Leverty - guitar, vocals
Michael Foster - drums, vocals
Allen McKenzie - bass




Sunday’s or even the whole festival’s surprise act for me was Axxis. I wasn’t really expecting much. Back in 1989 I bought their ”Kingdom Of The Night” LP and liked it, but as years went by I rarely ever listened to it. I heard the next couple of albums too, and liked a few tracks from them, but then I pretty much lost touch with the band. The next time I took time to listen to their songs was with the ”reDISCOvered” album, but that was more out of curiousity than genuine desire to hear Axxis. On that album, the band put their stamp on some rather peculiar song choices like ”My Heart Will Go On” and ”Staying Alive”. It was… well, strange.

At Firefest, Axxis really made the most out of their allocated time. They played their catchy metal anthems with precision and exuberance. Even the tracks I hadn’t heard before like ”Hall Of Fame” worked fine, and the Axxis classixx like ”Little Look Back” and ”Living In A World” got the crowd singing along. Vocalist Bernhard Weiss had some funny stage moves, it looked like he tried to constantly punch the floor. Now that he’s got that little mustache he looks so unmistakably German, I could imagine seeing him in a biergarten somewhere dressed in the traditional lederhosen-outfit! His high-pitched vocals are a bit of an acquired taste, but he can certainly sing. The rest of the band was very good too, so all in all Axxis has to be counted as one of the winners of the festival. My interest in them has been renewed!


Kingdom of the Night II
Little War
Heavy Rain
Hall of Fame
Heaven in Black
Little Look Back
Living in a World
Kingdom of the Night


Bernhard Weiss - vocals
Harry Oellers - keyboards
Rob Shomaker - bass
Marco Wriedt - guitar
Dirk Brand - drums




Originally known as Caught In The Act, this U.S. band was forced to change their name because of a Dutch boy band. Now that boy band has vanished into thin air some time in 1999 and hardly anybody remembers them, but Guild Of Ages has been reunited and the packed Rock City was eager to check them out.

It was evident from the start that the band was in great shape, they sounded good and vocalist/guitarist Danny Martinez had the aura of a superstar. He really is the King of Cool! The band played mostly tracks from the two album released under the CITA name, including my favorites ”Say A Prayer” and ”Through The Years”. What has been my problem with all the CITA/GOA albums has been the number of plodding midtempo tracks, for some reason the band has always been really keen on writing them. Those songs dominated the setlist, so I wasn’t as enthusiastic about their show as I hoped to be. If they had made some different song choices, they would have been one of the best bands of the festival for me, now they were merely good. A lot of people have named them as one of their favorite acts of the festival though, so I’m in the minority.


Stand Or Fall
From Now On
Say A Prayer
Heat of Emotion
Life Goes On
Silent Soldiers
Relapse of Reason
Through The Years


Danny Martinez - vocals, guitar
Anthony Trujillo - guitar
James Lostetter - bass
Steve Stuntz - drums


Mark Mangold is a bit of a legend among AOR songwriters. He’s written classic songs for Michael Bolton, Cher and Benny Mardones to name a few, not to mention his own band Drive, She Said, American Tears and the band that performed at Firefest, Touch. Touch released only one album back in 1980, which is considered an AOR classic, even though it didn’t sell millions. The band had the honor of opening the first Monsters Of Rock festival during their short lifespan, and they also scored a couple of minor hits. They recorded a second album with producer Todd Rundgren, but their record company decided not to release it. It was finally released in 1998 as a part of the ”Complete Works” 2-CD set.

With the original members of Touch being busy doing whatever they are doing, Mark Mangold put together an all-star, all-Swedish line-up for Firefest. On guitars he had the one and only Tommy Denander, Ken Sandin of Alien played the bass and drummer Pontus Engborg was behind the cans. Vocalist of the ”Swedish Touch” was Göran Edman, known for his work with Madison, Yngwie Malmsteen, Kharma and dozens of others.

Touch played mostly songs from their first album. The last song of the set was dedicated to Firefest, ”The Fire Never Dies”. I have no idea whether it’s a new song or something else, haven’t heard it before. The highlights for me were ”So High” and ”Don’t You Know What Love Is”. I spoke with Mangold the previous night and he said that they’d been asked to play Touch originals only, so although Bolton’s ”Fools Game” or Cher’s ”I Found Someone” would have gone down a storm, they weren’t in the cards this time.

Musically the band was good, but I wasn’t really impressed by Edman. He sang mostly okay, but the moments between the songs were a bit akward. Sure enough, the Touch songs are difficult for any vocalist. Still, even though this wasn’t the ”original” Touch, it was better than no Touch at all, and I’m glad to be given the opportunity to hear these classic songs live.


Listen (Can You Feel It)
Black Star
Take It Back
When The Spirit Moves You
So High
Don't You Know What Love Is
My Life Depends On You
The Fire Never Dies


Mark Mangold - keyboards, vocals
Göran Edman - vocals
Tommy Denander - guitar
Ken Sandin - bass
Pontus Engborg - drums



Finland! Even though Firefest isn’t the Olympics or anything, I felt really proud when ”our boys” finally made it to the Firefest and totally won over the crowd. To be honest, I had no doubt that they’d do it. Having been to a few of their gigs here in Finland, I knew that their energy and songs are impossible to resist, and at Firefest they were playing to a melodic rock-loving crowd.

It didn’t start with a bang though. There was anticipation in the air when the intro tape played, and ”One Single Breath” did get a great reception. Still, as I looked around, there were a lot of people standing with their arms folded, as if they weren’t totally buying it… it didn’t help that the sound wasn’t the best, Emppu’s guitar was quite buried for the first three tracks or so. Pekka’s voice hadn’t quite opened up either.

The turning point of the gig was ”Midnight Queen”, a BFT classic from the first album. From that moment forward the band couldn’t do anything wrong. Hard as they tried to kill the buzz with the slightly dull ”Hanging By A Thread”, they couldn’t. We ate it up, only to be rewarded with the lethal dose of hits saved for the last. The new album’s single ”For Better or for Worse”, ”Heart Full Of Fire” and ”I Am Rock” turned Rock City into a BFT church and we were all religious fanatics! Before the show, the guys had wondered whether ”I Am Rock” would work as well as it usually does at home, where its’ popularity has been boosted by being a theme song to a TV-series. The Firefest choir answered the question very loudly - the song was the biggest sing-along of the festival at that point of the evening. Yes, it worked.

The BFT gig has been voted as the third favorite by the Firefest crowd. Not too bad for a fun ”side-project”!


One Single Breath
Love Is Not Enough
Midnite Queen
Trail of Tears
I'm on Fire
Wildest Dreams
Winner Takes It All
Hanging by a Thread
For Better or for Worse
Heart Full of Fire
I Am Rock


Pekka Ansio Heino - vocals
Emppu Vuorinen - guitar
Jason Flinck - bass
Tomppa Nikulainen - keyboards
Hannes Pirilä - drums


Canadian classic rockers Coney Hatch were one of the most popular bands of Firefest 2011, so it was no surprise that they were invited to take part in The Final Fling. I have never really gotten into them except for a few songs from ”Friction”, so I wasn’t expecting much. Now that I’ve seen them live, my feelings haven’t changed. They are a tight band and Carl Dixon is a fine singer, but apart from the songs I already liked before I really didn’t find any new favorites. Tracks like ”Blown Away” and ”Stand Up” are the kind of riff-rock that just doesn’t connect with me. Apparently they are the kind of songs that the band plays on the other side of Atlantic, Dixon said that it’s only at Firefest where people want to hear songs from ”Friction”. Thankfully they played some of those for us, including the awesome ”She’s Gone” and ”Girl From Last Nights Dream”.


Blown Away
Stand Up
Don't Say Make Me
This Ain't Love
She's Gone
Boys Club
Down And Dirty
Hey Operator
Fallen Angel
Girl From Last Nights Dream
Monkey Bars
Devil's Deck


Carl Dixon - guitar, vocals
Andt Curran - bass, vocals
Dave ”Thumper” Ketchum - drums
Michael Borkosky - guitar



Before the festival, Autograph’s inclusion was one of the most controversial ones. A lot of people, me included, were wondering whether they could cut it with a very different line-up to the classic one. The eighties’ Autograph had a very keyboard-driven sound and Steve Plunkett’s unique voice was a major part of their charm. Now, with no keys and a new frontman, would they be able to justify using the name?

Autograph 2014 is a different beast to the original one, but not as much as one could imagine. Simon Daniels (ex-Jailhouse) is a worthy replacement to Plunkett, he can nail the songs vocally and his guitar playing adds an additional layer to the songs. With guitarist Steve Lynch and bassist Randy Rand providing solid background vocals, the sound of the band hasn’t really changed that much. It’s a bit heavier and maybe a little less polished, but the melodies haven’t disappeared anywhere.

My favorites of their set were ”All I’m Gonna Take”, ”Send Her To Me” and the superb ”She Never Looked That Good For Me”. I also liked ”Blondes In Black Cars” more than I remembered, it was a fun live song. Maybe a ballad like ”More Than A Million Times” could have added some variety to the set, some Autograph songs tend to sound a bit too similar to each other. Oh yeah, that unknown little song from the early eighties called ”Turn Up The Radio” did raise a few cheers…


Deep End
Dance All Night
Loud and Clear
Bad Boy
Blondes in Black Cars
When the Sun Goes Down
All I'm Gonna Take
Send Her to Me
Cloud 10
My Girlfriend's Boyfriend Isn't Me
She Never Looked That Good for Me
Crazy World
Turn Up the Radio


Simon Daniels - vocals, guitar
Steve Lynch - guitar
Randy Rand - bass
Marc Wieland - drums



Having already headlined Firefest 2012, Danger Danger had to do something special for their second headlining appearance. Mr. Dargan had an idea - how about reuniting the original line-up of the first two albums? As it was the 25th anniversary of the first D2 album, the guys in the band figured out that this was the perfect way to celebrate it. Fast forward to Sunday evening, 26th of November and we’re at Rock City, watching Poley, West, Ravel, Timmons and Smith playing one D2 classic after another and loving every minute of it!

The first two D2 albums are full of party anthems and AOR hits, and that’s what we got. There were a couple of surprises thrown in too. First one of them was the beautiful, stripped down version of ”One Step From Paradise” with only Kasey Smith and Ted Poley. Andy Timmons added a tribute to Jack Bruce to his solo spot (a snippet of Mountain’s ”Theme for an Imaginary Western”) before launching into ”Groove Or Die”. I was very positively surprised to hear ”Goin’ Goin’ Gone”, a less-known but great song from ”Cockroach”.

Some of the biggest hits were saved to the end of the show, including ”Bang Bang”, ”Naughty Naughty” and possibly my favorite D2 song of them all, ”Don’t Blame It On Love”. Once they were played, the band wanted to dedicate a song to the great Firefest crew and the crowd, and they had chosen ”the biggest melodic rock song of all time”, Journey’s ”Don’t Stop Believin’”. They hadn’t rehearsed it at all, but I guess that every melodic rock musician has played it at some point of their career… The FF crew joined the band on stage and we witnessed what was probably the most emotional performance in the Firefest history. Words fail to describe those few minutes, just take a look at the photos and check it out on YouTube.

Crazy Nites
Rock America
Turn It On
Beat the Bullet
Don't Walk Away
Keyboard Solo
One Step From Paradise
Boys Will Be Boys
Feels Like Love
Theme for an Imaginary Western/Groove or Die
Goin' Goin' Gone
Don't Blame It on Love
Bang Bang
I Still Think About You
Monkey Business
Naughty Naughty
Don't Stop Believin'

Ted Poley - vocals
Bruno Ravel - bass
Steve West - drums
Andy Timmons - guitar
Kasey Smith - keyboards



So there you have it, our take on The Final Fling. Just like the previous two, it was one of the greatest weekends of my life, and I believe Mira, my wife and RockUnited.Com photographer feels the same way. It’s just not a weekend of our favorite bands, it’s the people, the town, the atmosphere. We’re already missing it! I just can’t believe there won’t be a next time…

Special Thanks to Kieran, Bruce, Phil and the rest of the Firefest team for everything.

Review by Kimmo Toivonen
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen
Some additional photos by KT

Additional photos available at @ Facebook