October. The summer is truly over and the winter is around the corner. Not the greatest month... damn right it is! For several year it's been Rocktober and we've taken our annual trip to Nottingham, where the merry men and women spend three days enjoying quality rock music. Don't know about Robin Hood, he might have been lurking in the VIP area.
The third Rockingham festival was probably the most successful of them. Saturday was sold out and the other days were nicely attended as well. Musically speaking, the previous two provided more ”goosebumps moments” but still, this was easily the best rockin' weekend of the year again.
The first band of Friday for me was playing at the famous pub Tap 'n Tumbler before the festival. MIDNIGHT CITY played their first gig and they sounded very good. I actually didn't see their gig, because the pub was totally crammed, and I had no chance the get nowhere near the stage. That's a first for me - I've been to a gig but never saw the band! Apparently they had their CD available there too, but I didn't see a merch stand either.
MAVERICK were the first band of the festival, and they kicked it off with a good set. They were heavier than most of the other bands, but had plenty of melody and hooks in their songs, so I enjoyed them. The Mavericks are young(ish) guys so they had energy and hunger to win the crowd over, which I think they did. Sure there were some who thought that they played "wallet chain rock" which wasn't particularly interesting or even suitable to a melodic rock festival. I have to disagree, I thought the were the best opening act of the festival's history so far.
The band's setlist featured mostly songs from their latest album "Big Red", including the rousing opener "All For One", the video song "Asylum" and "Whiskey Lover". A couple of choice cuts from the band's previous album were also played. Vocalist David Balfour was great, he nailed all the "big notes" with ease and style, and the rest of the band were energetic and entertaining. Good stuff!
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In contrast to the Skid Row'ish hard rocking openers, BLANC FACES represented the traditional AOR style. Led by the La Blanc brothers Robbie and Brian, Blanc Faces played smooth and safe AOR in the vein of Journey and Foreigner. Brian played bass and Robbie sang and played rhythm guitar, while the rest of the musicians included Philip Lindstrand on guitar, Irvin Parratt on keys and a drummer whose name I didn't catch.
The band's slick AOR was pleasant enough, and Robbie La Blanc has a voice that's tailor-made for this kind of material. He was one of the best vocalists of this festival, no doubt about it. Interestingly, the band had plenty of vocal power in them, but for the couple of first songs they were holding that power back, there were hardly any backing vocals. They seemed to gradually add them to the songs, and when Lindstrand broke a string, the brothers entertained us with some amazing harmonies, singing parts of Grand Funk Railroad's "I'm Your Captain" and Toto's "Georgy Porgy".
The band's set was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me, there were some exceptionally enjoyable moments but there were also songs that were a bit bland. Maybe a couple of songs from Robbie's other project, the slightly more edgy FIND ME would have spiced the set nicely. I would have certainly preferred them to the "Stay With Me" cover.
Cover material percentage: 18 %
JOHN PARR was announced as a replacement for Honeymoon Suite, who were afraid to come to UK or something strange like that. I was pretty disappointed when Suite cancelled, but John Parr seemed like a decent replacement, and I was really looking forward to seeing him perform. I was even counting on him to be the surprise winner of the festival. His set proved to be a major disappointment, not because he couldn't deliver but because of poor song choices.
John Parr still has the voice and he's in great shape, looking almost younger than back in the eighties. He also had a skilled group of musicians backing him up, so this could have been a great gig... things started to go wrong straight from the beginning, when he opened with Deep Purple's "Highway Star". Okay, it's a classic, but when you're playing to an audience that's full of AOR enthusiastics, there's no need to play standard covers! Especially if you have a rather large back catalogue of very good AOR songs! Maybe Parr hadn't really checked out what kind of a festival Rockingham was, or maybe they hadn't had the time or desire to practise new songs to the setlist, I don't know.
Thankfully Parr continued with some of his own songs, the kind of stuff we were hoping to hear - "Naughty Naughty", "Restless Heart" and the Gillette commercial "The Best A Man Can Get". No, he didn't sing about the razorblades, the lyrics were changed. But just as things were going smoothly, Parr went "solo" and played a never-ending acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well". After what seemed like 15 minutes of acoustic strumming and soloing the band joined him and oh well, "Oh Well" just went on and on.
I might be wrong about the timeline but I believe we got some Parr-written songs next, "Time" and "Under A Raging Moon" originally recorded by Roger Daltrey. After that it was time for... A Beatles Medley?! What? No "Love Grammar", "Starting All Over Again" , "Don't Leave Your Mark On Me" or "Two Hearts"? A Beatles Medley?
The band did end their gig with "St. Elmo's Fire" which was nice, but maybe a little bit too much damage had been done already. The name on the screen behind the band was John Parr, but we only got about half a set of John Parr's songs.
Cover material percentage: 33 % (timewise even bigger)
Friday's headliners were KIX. I have most of their albums but I wouldn't call myself a big fan. I was looking forward to seeing them live though, since just about everyone who has seen them has praised their live show. Now I know why - they are a very good live band and especially Steve Whiteman is first class frontman. He's was in constant motion throughout the set, cracked good jokes and sang very well - a true entertainer!
I guess it says a lot about Kix when I enjoyed their show even though some of the songs weren't particularly interesting. The showmanship rescued the weaker tracks, and made the good songs even better. Some of the highlights for me were "Midnite Dynamite", "Cold Blood", "Get It While It's Hot" and the hit ballad "Don't Close Your Eyes". The dance duo Hell On High Heelz made their first appearance of the weekend during a Kix song that just screams for a couple dancers -"Girl Money".
All in all, the Kix set was a balanced one with mostly their classic tracks and a couple of newer ones from their latest album, both of which sounded better live. No extended solos, no pub rock covers...just great hard rockin' entertainment. This is how it's done.
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