For a while it looked like this year would be without our annual pilgrimage to Nottingham. There was an announcement of Firefest returning, but it was just a false alarm, and apparently the festival is not going to return anytime soon. Then, David Herron and his troops announced that there would be a second Rockingham festival, although in a new location. Never mind I thought, ”I’m booking a hotel and time off work, NOTTINGHAM CALLS!” It didn’t hurt that some of the bands announced were the kind of acts that I couldn’t have dreamed of seeing, major surprises.
The new location was quite close to Rock City. The Level at Trent University Student Union building has been recently refurbished and it proved to be a nice place for this festival. A big stage, good lighting and nice bars with fast service and reasonable prices, at least compared to the bar prices here in Finland. Us press folks had an access to the VIP area too, which was a nice gesture from the organizers. Much appreciated!
The Friday’s line-up promised an easy start for the weekend, with only four bands playing. The honour of opening the festivities was given to ART NATION, a young Swedish band. Having seen them last winter in Stockholm, I knew were were in for a treat and the band didn’t disappoint. Lead by the charismatic vocalist Alexander Strandell (ex-Diamond Dawn), the band put on an energetic performance. Strandell might be in the limelight as a lead singer, but I noticed that guitarist Christoffer Borg took a bigger role than the last time, headbanging and throwing shapes like a young Yngwie.
Even though the band has only one album under their belt, they provided us a set of several hit-worthy tracks. The album opener, video song ”Need You To Understand” was the natural kick-off track, followed by ”I Want Out”, ”Start A Fire” and my personal favourite ”All In”. There was no time or need for ballads, so the band concentrated on their more uptempo songs. The tempo did slow down a little for the heavy ”Wage War Against The World”, but ”Don’t Wait For Salvation” and ”3000 Beats” returned it back to the ”up”-mode. Yes, a fine start for the weekend!
Next up was the only ”returning” act from last year, VALENTINE or to be more precise, Robby Valentine and his band. Last year his set divided opinions, some thought it was brilliant and some thought it was just way too strange. This year he had adjusted the setlist a little, dropping some of the weirdest songs but still concentrating heavily on the latest album of his, ”Bizarro World”. Just like last time, I would have liked to hear more ”classic tracks” from his early albums but Mr. Valentine plays what he wants to and this time it was the new stuff.
The Valentine band had changed a little, there was no keyboard player, apart from Robby himself. There were still layers of keys, choirs and effects… Robby kept himself busy switching from keys to guitar and back yet never missing a vocal line. He seemed a bit more comfortable on stage than last year, and does have an aura of a ”rockstar”, even if a little reluctant one. One cannot deny that he’s a bit of a musical genius, a master of his instruments and a vocalist with a considerable range.
Occasionally Robby shared the spotlight with Maria Catharina, featured female vocalist on some of the Valentine songs and the front woman of her own band Aniday. She wore the same (or similar) spandex catsuit than the last time, and I noticed that the male audience seemed to be a little bit more alert everytime she made an appearance.
This time we didn’t hear ”Bohemian Rhapsody” with Robby singing harmonies with himself, instead he played a less familiar Queen track called ”Ogre Battle” which didn’t require that much technical trickery. My favourite tracks were Valentine originals though: ”The Magic Breeze”, ”I Believe In Music”, Bizarro World’s standout tracks ”Close The Door” and ”Black Rain” and of course, the hit that kickstarted Robby’s career, ”Over And Over Again”. It’s a bonafide WimpPompRock classic!
I was looking forward to seeing LEE AARON. Back in the eighties she was the Metal Queen, who went AOR with her self-titled album in 1987, then toughened up her style a bit for ”Bodyrock” and ”Some Girls Do”. For the past twenty years she hasn’t done much rock stuff, but earlier this year she returned to rock with ”Fire And Gasoline”.
Lee Aaron had brought her whole band to Nottingham and they put on a solid show - with no backing tapes I might add. One third of the show contained songs from the new album, and they weren’t bad but they didn’t make me want to buy the album right away either. The rest of the set was made up of Lee’s biggest hits, such as ”Whatcha Do To My Body”, ”Powerline” and ”Barely Holding On”, which wasn’t a hit in her home country but a cult classic here in Europe. The inevitable set closer was ”Metal Queen”, with Lee herself on third guitar. She played guitar on a couple of other songs as well.
Lee Aaron’s performance was energetic and she sang really well, and the band impressed me too. The Metal Queen must have access to the same fountain of youth as some other 80’ies stars… Those of them who don’t seem to age like us mere mortals. Personal highlight of the set for me was ”Powerline” with its’ glorious keyboard dut-dut intro and anthemic chorus. I’m very glad Lee and the band added it to the setlist.
Friday’s headliners were TRIXTER, the US band that hit the big time with their 1990 debut album. They had a couple of number one hit videos on MTV and the album reached gold status. Their success was short-lived though, and the band split up in the mid-nineties. They reformed a few years ago and have now released two albums on Frontiers records.
The sound at the venue hadn’t been that great for the previous acts, and for Trixter it only got worse. The band was very loud and there was some kind of a buzzing noise in the background throughout their set. That made their set a little bit less enjoyable. As far as my untrained (and ringing) ears could tell, Trixter played without off-stage elements and I have to hand it to them, their vocals were superb.
The setlist contained half of the first album, three songs from the second album ”Hear!”, two from their comeback album ”New Audio Machine” and one from their latest one, ”Human Era”. I wouldn’t have minded if they had played more from it, as it’s a very good album. My favourites were ”Heart Of Steel” and ”Tattoos And Misery”, which sounded better than I remembered. I don’t know what happened during ”Road Of A Thousand Dreams”, it could have been on the favourite-list, but somehow it didn’t work live. It sounded a little chaotic.
The ”Hell On High Heelz” made two appearances on stage with Trixter, adding some visual content to the show. The smoke cannons were also in use and during the last song the room was filled with confetti, which probably caused a couple of nervous breakdowns among the cleaning staff.