FIREFEST, 25th & 26th Oct 2008, Nottingham, UK.
The organisers of the Firefest melodic rock festival stated before the event that the fifth one would also be the last one. That would have been a blow to the scene, but happily Bruce, Kieran & Co have already announced that thanks to the great reception, there will be a Firefest 6.
Nottingham is well known for many reasons. Perhaps the most famous one is their reverence for a legend involving a guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, despite the likelihood that it’s all a load of old cobblers, as likely to be true as a recent description of Axl Rose’s ego as “Quite tiny, actually”. One thing that will stay with me about Nottingham after our recent stay there will be that quite a few of the pubs we visited smelled of vomit. Okay, so it’s perhaps not the most constructive criticism of what seems to be a pretty normal city otherwise, but trust me when I say that it’s true.
We were in the city for the fifth annual Firefest offering at one of Nottingham’s other famous things, Rock City. In case you are wondering, it did smell a bit vomity on the first night, but afterwards the only scents were sweaty rockers and hairspray. “Firesfest”, for the uninitiated, is a melding of “Festival”, which is what it is (in the loosest sense of the word), and “Fired”, which is what Fireworks magazine will do to me if I don’t say how bloody amazing it was. Ha Ha - only kidding, of course. It is the Fire(works)Fest(ival), one of those things that the organisers sweat blood over every year then swear “never again” until about five minutes after it’s finished and someone idly asks if they reckon Outside Edge would reform for next year. (If you don’t know who they are I’m not at all surprised, but I bought a really good single by them in the 80’s).
I mention the last bit above because getting people to reform seems to be one of the talents that the Firefest organizers seem to have in spades, possibly in hearts, diamonds and clubs as well. Last year, for example, it was them that got FM to get back together. The oddest addition to this years line up (for me, anyway) was White Sister, not seen of heard of for about 20 years but quite happy to turn up and deliver a blinding set on the Sunday night. In addition, we had four bands who had never played the UK before, including RockUnited faves H.E.A.T. You have to admit, getting sixteen bands to play over a single weekend in a sweaty nightclub with no more than twenty minutes between sets is quite an achievement. Okay, so fifteen minutes between sets would have been really impressive, but maybe I’m just being too picky…
On the Friday night there was a ‘meet and greet’ in the smaller club area, which mainly involved lots of people getting their photo taken with Hugo from Valentine. To be honest, he was the only one I recognised, which is a little embarrassing considering I’ve been listening to this sort of stuff for twenty five years or more now. Our evening mainly consisted of looking at big haired people and wondering if they were in a band but being too embarrassed to ask them in case they were the lead singer of Firehouse or something. One highlight was an excellent short acoustic set by a couple of blokes out of Loud & Clear, which made us look forward to seeing them the next day, and another was the fact that the ludicrously well put together programme was only five quid! Oh sure, for most people being in the same room as megastars of melodic rock (providing they could recognize them) is a highlight, but give me a well put together colour programme at a bargain price (not to mention £12 t-shirts) and I’ll have a bloody great time.
For ten hours on Saturday and Sunday,Rock City’s main club area was rocked by some of the best melodic rock acts that didn’t want lots of cash for their services. This is why they can’t get Bon Jovi, as it is well known he always insists that a solid gold turd be included as part of his rider, as well as a pair of underpants made out of fifty pound notes. Whilst there was plenty of people who joyfully sang along with every song, I mainly stood there hearing stuff for the first time and being rather impressed for the most part. Hearing LA’s Talon, the first band on Saturday, encouraged me to go and buy not just their new album (which is excellent), but a t-shirt as well. After their little set the night before it was also good to see Loud & Clear perform as a full band, throwing out rather tired party rock that made it seem like the band had got together and realised that their all time favourite songs were “Just Like Paradise” And “Lick It Up”, then proceeded to base their whole style around them. It’s lucky for them that singer Josh Harnell is the living embodiment of the word ‘irrepressible’, managing to take absolutely nothing at all seriously and in the process making the band about twice as watchable as they would otherwise be.
It’s good when a band makes you remember just why you like all this melodic rock stuff by making it all so much fun, but there’s plenty of others who would benefit from having a bit of frontman fire under their collective bonnet. Day two saw Tall Stories totally fail to ‘rock da house’ as Steve Augeri used his stunning voice to sing some rather dull songs, and back on Day one Paul Laine laid down nearly an hour of average material that really made me wonder what Danger Danger ever saw in him. This was highlighted at the end of Day Two as the band themselves lit up the place like those torches they always used to use on The X Files but could never find in the shops. Ted Poley leapt around the stage like a hyperactive teenager on a diet of sugar and Sunny D, and when he got Laine out to sing a song it was like someone had sucked all the fun out of the room. It was like a band replacing Dave Lee Roth with, I dunno… Sammy Hagar or something.
Hardest worker of the weekend was England’s own David Readman, who did a great set with Pink Cream 69 on Day One, then returned early the next day to do songs from his well received solo album. Seems like a nice guy, and not just because he pronounced “Nottingham” correctly. This had been bugging me a lot, as all the American singers insisted on saying Notting-HAM, when it’s actually Notting-UM, despite the spelling. Readman also endeared himself to the UK part of the crowd by confessing to have eaten a ‘crisp butty’ - a UK culinary delight that needs more recognition at rock festivals. Mind you, it has to be said that the UK part of the crowd was probably the minority, as the place was riddled with what can only be called ‘bloody foreigners’. Just kidding, of course, as it was brilliant to see people coming from all over the planet just to support quality melodic rock music (and Paul Laine/Tall Stories as well).
Strangest set of the weekend goes without a doubt to H.E.A.T, who arrived without a lead singer, having themselves been rushed in as substitute for the flight cancellation afflicted Pretty Maids. It seems Kenny Leckremo has had a bit of heart trouble and was a bit busy recovering from surgery to sing (wimp!), and so emergency measures were taken. The first of these was the introduction of Eclipse singer Eric Martensson for a few band songs and a Europe cover, all of which he handled without any problems, whilst cheekily wearing his own bands t-shirt. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any odder, none other than Pekka Heino from Leverage/Brother Firetribe was trundled out to have a go as well. Okay, so he didn’t do a great job on either “Fool For Your Loving” or “Living On A Prayer” but it was great to see him, with both singers belting out a version of Journey’s “Separate Ways” that must have had Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto wondering why they ever bothered trying.
There was a bit of competition for the Best Band award, with my other half steadfastly refusing to believe anyone was better than David Readman and his Pink Creamy associates. As I’m the one writing this, however, my word is law and I have to throw the accolade firmly at the feet of Danny Vaughan and Tyketto, who closed Day One with a fantastic set of three and a half minute wonders that epitomised all that I love about melodic rock. Honourable mentions are, unsurprisingly, many. Valentine produced a great set which included some very promising songs from their new album, one of which came bundled with some local choirboys who sounded like they’d had too much communion wine beforehand. Danger Danger , White Sister and Firehouse also predictably rocked the joint with unashamed hair rock for portly party people. To say it was like the Eighties again is an understatement, and overall the whole festival just brought back happy memories of a genre of music that will always have a place in my collection.
Oh yeah… very special mention has to go to Jeff Scott Soto, mainly because I don’t quite understand the man. He’s new to me, but from his biography it seems that he has trouble, shall we say, settling in to play with other boys. He nearly sang full time for Queen, nearly worked out with Journey, that sort of thing. At least with his solo stuff he can’t kick himself out of the band! His set was like some bizarre talent show audition, with each cover or change in style screaming “Look at me - I’m hugely talented!”. Okay, so he is talented, but I just couldn’t shake the impression that I was watching a huge ego onstage, like a crazed Star Trek villain. It didn’t help that he closed the set with a medley that included “We Will Rock You”, “Kung Fu Fighting”, “Play that Funky Music”, “Macho Man” and even “Stayin’ Alive”.
Anyway, all in all a fantastic time was had, except for the fact that I must be getting old because my bloody feet hurt from about midway through Day 1. With nowhere to sit, Rock City will forever be cemented in my mind as the place that gave me pleasure by putting on a great show but caused me pain by not giving everyone a personal beanbag to flop down in. Maybe next year, huh guys…
Report by Alan Holloway, alan [at] rockunited.com
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The Firefest logo borrowed from