On 1 October 2006, the second United Forces Of Rock festival was held in Ludwigsburg, Germany, near Stuttgart. The venue was a very cool club called Rockfabrik, and the place was sold out.
The line-up featured bands from three labels: Frontiers, Escape Music and AOR Heaven. German hard rock magazine Rock It! was heavily involved in the organisation as well.
Kimmo and Mira of RockUnited.Com travelled to the festival from Finland, and this is their detailed report of the event.
Our festival experience started already on Saturday, when we met the Mad Max guys at their hotel, where all the bands were staying. Mira has been in contact with the Mad Max guitarist Jürgen for some time, and now it was time meet Jürgen and the rest of the guys face to face.
The hotel seemed to have been taken over by rock'n rollers, as there were guys who looked like "they must be in a band" left and right! And indeed they were... The first people we met were the Mad Max guys and Gary Barden, who was hanging out with them in the bar. They all turned out to be extremely nice and friendly, and we started chatting with them. Gary Barden remembered me sending him some interview questions, and while he hadn't had the chance to answer them via e-mail, it didn't take us too long to set up an improvised interview session there on the spot. Needless to say, this kind of face-to-face interview turned out better than any e-mail interview ever could.
The hours passed fast as we spent time talking to the Mad Max guys, discussing their future plans and some "good old times" of the eighties. The band's unofficial fifth member and a good friend, keyboard player Henning Wanner was there as well, and we had a nice chat with him as well. He is also a member of Jaded Heart and Tramp's White Lion, who are going to be touring in Europe later this year.
We also met several other nice and interesting people, including the "legendary" Tony "TonyM" Marshall of Danny Vaughn band, Thomas Seeburger and Tommy Strobel of Human Zoo, Fredrik Bergh of Bloodbound, Danny Vaughn and Mario from Frontiers Records. Birgitt Schwanke, the PR lady of the UFOR festival was there too, and it was nice to meet her after exchanging several e-mails.
On sunday, we arrived to Ludwigsburg well before the starting time of the festival, as we were invited to the listening session of the new Danny Vaughn album. There were around 30 of us, who got the very first preview of the new album "Traveller". Naturally the band was there as well, and they seemed to be in a great mood. They surely had a reason to be happy and confident about the new album, because if the five songs we got to hear are anything to go by, it's going to be a very good one. There's a strong Tyketto vibe, and it sounds like the natural successor to "Strenghth In Numbers". The twin-guitar attack of Pat Heath and Tony Marshall ensures that it's going to be a hard rockin' effort, but at the same time, it was highly melodic. To me it sounded like a "summer album", bright'n breezy, yet quite heavy. Out of the five songs, my favourite was probably "Restless Blood" (an excellent hook there and a cool whoa-whoa sing-along section!), with "Traveller" and "Miracle Days" following close behind. "Lifted" and "Badlands Rain" weren't far behind either.
After the listening session, we were quickly escorted away from the artists' area. The backstage passes we had didn't actually get us backstage, we were only allowed to stay in the second floor area leading to the third floor "backstage". That was kind of a surreal place, there was hardly anyone there, only a staff member or two making sure that no-one entered the actual artists' area without the necessary permits. Well, at least we had a place to get away from the sauna-like conditions of the actual festival floor. Some food and beverages for us poor journalists would have been nice... thankfully the Rockfabrik does have a mexican-styled bar which served food as well.
The sales stalls at UFOR were a bit disappointing when it came to T-shirts. There were only a very limited selection of shirts available, I believe only Bloodbound and Vaughn had shirts of their own for sale, in addition to the official festival shirts. I Don't know why the other bands didn't have merchandise available, this would have been a perfect time to make quite a few euros! The CD selection was much better though, and we did some nice purchases. I'm only kicking myself for not purchasing the new Talisman for mere 15 euros... what was I thinking?
As the clock struck 2 p.m., the latest addition to the line-up took the stage. I'm talking about Lichtenstein's pride and joy Lovechild of course, a new hard rock band featuring a couple of former Satrox members. The opening slot was originally reserved for Prayer from Finland, but they had to cancel their gig because of some internal problems. It wasn't easy for Lovechild to try and win over the crowd, as virtually no-one has heard their album yet. Their brand of riff-driven melodic hard rock didn't sound too bad though, I was constantly reminded of bands like XYZ, Gotthard and Dokken during their set. The band sounded tight, and the vocalist Werner Schweizer impressed me with his excellent deliverry. The band's set was plagued by techical problems, to the extent of them having to stop for a few minutes as the bass drum broke! Still, I believe that they made a few new friends at Rockfabrik.
The second band of the day was Bloodbound, those painted men from Sweden. They seemed to have some fanatical fans, and they were generally very well received. This was the first gig of the new line up, and considering that they had borrowed equipment and that the new singer Kristian Andrén had been ill for several days, they did quite well. Most of the songs from "Nosferatu" were played, with the title track being the biggest "hit", judging by the crowd reactions.
The band's image is controversial, but at least it separates them from the hundreds of other melodic metal groups. At UFOR they were probably the most visual band (along with the "white" Mad Max), and funnily enough, some of the guys walked among the crowd with their make-up long after their show had ended... spooky looking fellas! The band's stage image does need to be refined though, as the painted face doesn't look too convincing if mixed with "normal" red longsleeved T-shirt, like the one that Kristian was wearing. Well, maybe he forgot his "metal god" outfit home?
Former MSG vocalist and current frontman of both Silver and Statetrooper, not to mention a solo artist Gary Barden was quite nervous about his show the previous day. He was backed by a band called Scenes (Chris Lorey - gt, Hannes Farrenkopf - bs, Florian Wenzel - kbs, Hendrik Edelthalhammer - drs) and two additional guitarists, Chris Lyne and Andreas Veckrodt. With only a very limited rehearsal time together, Gary and the band had a bit of a challenge in their hands. The classic MSG tracks (including "Armed And Ready " and "Attack Of The Mad Axeman") in the set list were quite demanding, as the fans knew them by heart and expected to hear faithful renditions.
Due to our hectic interviewing schedule, I personally missed Gary's set completely, but Mira managed to catch a few tracks. She wasn't too familiar with Gary's music, but liked what she heard. Gary's performance was energetic and entertaining, and the backing band did a good job too. Needless to say that I was very disappointed that I didn't get to hear a single song by Gary... but at least I got to meet this extremely nice rock legend the previous night.
Kip Winger's set and our interviewing schedule overlapped quite a bit, but at least we were able to catch a few songs of his. We didn't get that close to the stage though, so unfortunately the quality of the photos isn't that high. Kip's performance provided some relief for the ringing ears, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't intense. He is a captivating perfomer and in total command of his instruments - his voice and the 12-string acoustic guitar. Many of the Kip Winger solo songs are rather introspective and most definitely not sing-along songs, but wisely Kip played several of the more familiar tracks by the band that carries his name ("Winger" of course!). I was a bit pissed off for having to drag myself upstairs for an interview just as Kip started "Rainbow In The Rose", one of my favourite Winger songs. As we returned after finishing the interview, Kip was already playing his last couple of songs. The last track was "Miles Away", which was immensely popular and turned into a big sing-along celebration.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Danny Vaughn, former vocalist of Waysted and Tyketto. He has always been very high on my list of favourite singers, but his last couple of solo albums haven't made much of an impression. The five songs off the new album played at the listening party did tell us that there might be something quite special around the corner... and there was.
The Danny Vaughn band was made up of 4 highly talented U.K. musicians, guitarists Pat Heath and Tony Marshall, bass player Steve McKenna and Drummer Lee Morris, not forgetting the man himself, Danny Vaughn on vocals and guitar. From the first notes of Tyketto classic "Rescue Me" one could tell that these guys had only one goal in mind, and that was to rock the house! Danny proved that he is indeed a world-class frontman with endless amounts of energy and a voice to match, and the rest of the guys provided a solid backbeat for him. Pat Heath showed his skills as the lead guitarist, but Mr. Marshall aka the infamous messageboard persona "TonyM" was equally impressive with his guitarwork and excellent backing vocals. Both guys of the rhythm section provided good backing vocals as well.
The set was a near-perfect "Best Of Danny Vaughn" collection of songs, including Tyketto's "Rescue Me", "Wings", "Meet Me In The Night" and "Forever Young". I'll have to say that hearing these tracks was probably the most thrilling moment of the festival for me, I was completely blown away... From Danny's older solo material the highlights were "Is That All There Is?" (my favourite track off "Sailors and Soldiers..." album) and "Fearless". It was cool to hear the guys play a couple of songs from the excellent From The Inside album as well, "Anything At All" and "Blessing In Disguise". "Suddenly" or "Stop" wouldn't have gone amiss either, but one can't have it all!
The three new songs in the set were "Traveller", "Badlands Rain" and the heavy rocker "Warriors Way", which is bound to be a live favourite. The guys were obviously very excited in playing these new songs, and the stomping "Warriors Way" saw them put on a big headbanging show, with hair swinging all over the stage!
The last song of the set was the immortal classic "Forever Young", which may not have been sold millions of CDs but for all of us melodic rock fans is among the most beloved songs of all time. I bet that majority of the audience would agree with me on that...
The Danny Vaughn set didn't leave much to be desired, although I wouldn't have minded if it had been a little bit longer! He does have a big back catalogue, and maybe a song from Waysted's "Save Your Prayers" would have been cool, not to mention such Tyketto classics as "Burning Down Inside", "The End Of The Summer Days" or "Standing Alone".
German Christian rockers Mad Max had a tough job to follow Vaughn, but they did have the "home field advantage". The most popular T-shirt among the audience seemed to be a Mad Max one, and it appeared that their show was one of the most awaited ones. The guys released their new EP "In White" on 29 Sept. and as a celebration of that, they were all dressed... in white. Had they been playing right after Bloodbound, their "angelic" appearance would have been even more striking, but anyways, they did leave an impression.
One of the busiest men in melodic rock, producer/songwriter/singer/guitarist Michael Voss lead his troops to the stage and kicked off the set with two tracks from their previous album "Night Of White Rock", namely "Homeless" and "Hope To See You". The band suffered of techical problems during these first two songs, as the PA system didn't work properly on one side of the stage, but the techical staff managed to sort it out.
The third track was a "blast from the past", "Night Of Passion" from the album by the same name, released back in 1986. This song was a nice surprise for me, as I've always held that album in high regard. The lyrics of the album may not include the Christian message of the band's current material, and I'm not too sure whether they will include these old songs in the setlist at those Christian shows they play sometimes.
Two other songs off "Night Of Passion" were played as well, "Hearts On Fire" and the Sweet-cover "Fox On The Run" which everyone seemed to recognize. It was probably the biggest crowd favourite of the set. Otherwise it was mostly tracks from "NOWR", including the Dokken-like "Losin' It", the sing-along anthem "Raise Your Voice" and the big ballad "Unbelieveble", which prompted some people to take out their lighters. From the new EP the band played the keyboards/vocal version of "Bad Day In Heaven" and another sing-along song, "Open The Eyes Of My Heart". It was kind of funny to see all these hard rockers in the audience singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" with a happy look on their face... that just goes to show that hard rockers aren't narrowminded or anti-religious.
Michael Voss was the star of the show with his fine vocals and guitarplaying, but guitarist Jürgen Breforth and bassist Roland Bergmann didn't stand in the shadows either. Jürgen enjoyed his time on stage, pumping out those riffs and throwing rock 'n roll shapes with "Vossi". Roland sang a lot of the backing vocals and was the steady foundation of the Mad Max sound with drummer Axel Kruse, who took the limelight every now and then too. Keyboard player Henning Wanner may not be an official member of the band, but proved to be a big part of the bands' sound with his keys and fine backing vocals. As we spoke to the band prior the show, they mentioned that Mad Max is more like a family than just a band, and you could tell that. Some minor problems with the equipment didn't seem to take out the fun, this "family in white" was really enjoying themselves.
HOUSE OF LORDS
I missed the first few songs of the House Of Lords set because of an interview, but saw most of their set. The band seemed to be very popular, and the front of the stage was filled with people all the way to the first bar area. I had to stay quite far from the stage as I didn't feel like elbowing myself to the front rows, which did make my HOL experience a bit less intense. Unlike many may have expected, the bands' set didn't rely on past glories. A few classic HOL tracks were played but surprisingly a large number of "World Upside Down" tracks were in the set list too: "I'm Free", "These Are The Times", "All The Way To Heaven" were among the ones I heard. From the earlier albums, the band played "Edge Of Your Life", "Can't Find My Way Home", "I Wanna Be Loved" and "Pleasure Palace". Mira reported that she heard "Rock Bottom" and "Love Don't Lie" as I was busy doing the interview.
The House Of Lords line-up at UFOR consisted of original vocalist James Christian, guitarist Jimi Bell, drummer B.J. Zampa and bassist Chris McCarvill, who has replaced Jeff Kent quite recently. One ingredient was missing - there was no keyboard player! This meant that the band had to use tapes to fill the sound... I guess it's easier to use them than to hire a keyboard player, but I wasn't that impressed by it. I'm pretty sure that some of the backing vocals were from a tape as well. Still, it was cool to see James & the guys rocking out, the members of the band are great musicians and James Christian is still one of the greatest rock vocalists in my books.
Danish hard rockers Pretty Maids were one of the later additions, replacing Talisman. They have recently re-actived themselves and have a new album coming out in November 2006, so this gig was a chance for them to show that there's still life in these maids... it didn't start well, as the techical problems raised their ugly head during the first bars of the opening track "Back To Back". "Now that was a start", said vocalist Ronnie Atkins and the band left the stage. After a few minutes of tweaking the equipment the band took another go at it, and this time it seemed to work out ok.
Pretty Maids didn't rely on past glories either, playing no less than four tracks from the new album "Wake Up To The New World". They all sounded good, and having heard the album, I'm glad to say that it's most definitely a much better album than their disappointing previous one "Planet Panic".
As for the older material, they played a well-balanced selection of tracks from all three decades they've been around. The eighties stuff like "Future World", "Red, Hot & Heavy" and "Love Games" were big crowd pleasers, but so was the hit ballad "Please Don't Leave Me" too. My personal favourite was the catchy "Wouldn't Miss You" from their "Carpe Diem" album. I would have liked to hear something from my favourite PM album "Jump The Gun", but that didn't happen.
By the time Fair Warning took the stage, the techical problems and whatnots had taken their toll on the schedule. We were pretty sure that we'd miss the last train back to Stuttgart, but were determined not to let that bother us. After all, it's not everyday one has a chance to see one of their all-time favourite bands live, especially when that band doesn't do extensive European tours.
It had been a long day and we were pretty tired, but all that vanished when Tommy Heart and co. kicked off "Angels Of Heaven". Aided by a couple of additional musicians (a keyboard player and an additional guitarist), Fair Warning played an excellent set. Although the band does have a new album out, they decided to concentrate on the songs that everyone knew, which might have been a good decision considering it was well past midnight already. Only two songs from "Brother's Keeper" were played, "Generation Jedi" and "Still I Believe". Oddly enough they didn't play the single "Don't Keep Me Waiting"...It was quite absurd that we did hear it over the PA as we had been waiting for FW to take the stage for something like 45 minutes!
There were songs from each one the previous FW albums in the setlist. The fantastic first album got the biggest share I guess, with "Longing For Love", "When Love Fails", "Out On The Run", "Long Gone" and "Take Me Up". From "Rainmaker" they performed "Don't Give Up", "Desert Song", "Burning Heart" and "Get A Little Closer", while from the "Go" album we were treated to the aforementioned "Angels...", "Save Me", "I'll Be There" and "Man On The Moon". The "Four" was represented by "I Fight" (see a nice photo below). I think the band played at least one more song, but I just can't remember it.
Out of the FW members, the vocalist Tommy Heart made the biggest impression. He really seemed to enjoy the show, and was all smiles for most of the time. Guitarist Helge Engelke seemed to concetrate on the music very carefully, and did some amazing things with his custom-made guitar. Bassist Ule W. Ritgen and drummer C.C. Behrens did their job well, but didn't leave that much of an impression... except for Ule's loud flower shirt! The two "helping hands" helped out the band very well, and I believe the sound would have been quite inadequate without their presence on stage.
The festivities ended sometime past 2:30 am, and we did miss our train. Well, we took the first morning train which departed a bit later... but it was all worth it.
All in all the festival was a great experience. It took some time for us to plan the trip and arrange the flights, trains and hotels, but in the end I think we were rewarded for our efforts. My personal favourites were Danny Vaughn, Fair Warning and Mad Max. As for disappointments... none of the bands really disappointed me, but some of them weren't as good as I had hoped them to be. The biggest disappointment was the fact that I missed some performances thanks to the interview schedule, but then again, I got to meet some really cool people.
Mira's most eagerly awaited performers were Fair Warning and Danny Vaughn. Mad Max she had already seen in May this year, but she was looking forward to their show too. Her expectations were totally fullfilled, as all three acts played excellent sets. She also found the other bands cool but not that phenomenal as the three aforementioned. Mira enjoyed the wonderful rockin' athmosphere a lot and it felt like we were all united in the name of rock! : )
Special thanks: Birgitt Schwanke; Sandra (Undercover Promotions); Elio Bordi & Mario De Riso (Frontiers); Jürgen, Henning, Michael, Axel & Roland (Mad Max).
Cheers to all the cool artists we chatted with, including Gary Barden; Fredrik of Bloodbound; Helge & Tommy of Fair Warning; Kip Winger; Danny, Steve & Tony of Danny Vaughn; Ken & Ronnie of Pretty Maids; Thomas & Tommy of Human Zoo; Michael Bormann.
Report and some photos by Kimmo Toivonen,
Check out RockUnited's UFOR 2006 special for more interviews etc.