FIREFEST – NOTTHINGHAM, ROCK CITY Saturday 20 October
We recharged our batteries during a rather short night, but after an extended typical English breakfast we were again ready to go all the way at Rock City! We even took a little stroll in the neighborhood, picked up the camera and went straight to the gates that granted access to the AOR heaven!
The in California born JOHNNY LIMA had the honor to warm up the crowd for this second day. His career started in 1996 when he released his debut album, but it was with his third platter “Made In California” he’s got the most attention. The tanned dude with the straight blond hair kicked of his set with the appropriate “Made In California”. Johnny himself looks like a real rock star. Dressed in full black leather outfit and with dark sunglasses on his nose and a bandana in his hair he delivered the goods. He got an immediate response from the front rows and seemed to have the time of his life. All the other tracks (but two) came from his latest album “Livin’ Out Loud”. “Wildflower” did get the crowd going and the mood was set. He continued with two new tracks. With the first “My Revolution” he picked up his guitar and gave the audience a rough and heavy track. But the keys in this track gave it a melodic and smoother touch. The other new one “Blame It On Love” was really catchy and the many attendees started to clap their hands. Here you definitely could hear that Johnny’s voice sounds a lot like Jon Bon Jovi and I even heard some Bono influences. The gig get better with each song and the reaction of the crowd was also growing. He ended his great performance with the song “Hard To Say Goodbye”. Johnny even jumped in the photopit to shake hands with the people on the front rows! A more then nice gesture to the fans! I would like to have heard some of his earlier stuff as well (a track from “Shine On”), but with a timeslot of 40 minutes you can’t play it all. But I’m sure he left the stage with a big smile
Next up on stage was the Swedish WORK OF ART. Their debut “Artwork” was pure solid gold in the AOR world in 2008 and when they even topped it three years later with the cracker “In Progress”, my expectations for this act were very high. From the first note of “The Rain” I knew I was gonna be pleased. The sound was just perfect: crystal clear and it had the right volume. As a matter of fact, you can tell this for all the bands that appeared on Firefest. Soundman Pontus Norgren did an awesome job again. Frontman Lars Säflund smiled even more then when he was on stage with Lionville the day before. The interaction between Lars and guitarist Robert Säll was simply contagious! We got a nice mixture of songs from both albums, but the second one got the upper hand! After the fresh sounding “Nature Of This Game” they opened that first album and took out “Cover Me” and “Camelia”. “Emelie” was another highlight, mainly delivered by the TOTO influences on keys! The temperature at the venue rose with the extremely catchy “Never Love Again”. The sound the band produced was practically the same like on the albums, or maybe the guitar sounded a little bit rougher! But the polished AOR with powerful vocals and an outstanding instrumentation was for me pure melodic heaven. The finale consisted of the smashing “The Great Fall”, with a thunderous bass from Andreas Passmark and wonderful harmony vocals. This dream came to an end with the killer opening track “ Why Do I?” from their debut album. What a performance this was!
I was looking forward on seeing ROBIN BECK through my camera lens! Who hadn’t a crush on her when she was all over TV land with her clip “First Time”? Her AOR debut album “Trouble Or Nothing” was a real killer, but I personally kept following her other releases! But I was more than happily surprised with her latest release “The Great Escape”. Robin began with “If You Were A Woman (And I Was Your man)” and immediately you could see and feel the interaction between Robin and her husband James Christian. He played the bass and also did the backing vocals! When the set continued with “Don’t Lose Any Sleep” I had to force myself on taking some pics because I spontaneous starting to sing along! J I got what I came for because with “Hold Back The Night” and “Save Up All Your Tears” we got four tracks in a row from that wonderful “Trouble Or Nothing” album. Then the time was ripe for a new song and Robin’s choice fell on “That All Depends”. On her latest album this track is a duet with the mighty Joe Lynn Turner. But James took over his role and it resulted in a fine piece of visual spectacle on stage. Robin has a fine sense of humor and she turned out to be a great entertainer! She started to tease James on stage and it made me think on the interaction between Meatloaf and Ellen Foley on stage during “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. She asked James if he would be good to her and when he reply with a convincing yes, she answered: “We’ll see tonight!”. The keys on this track from Eric Ragno deserves to be mentioned because the man knows how to touch the keys. And when we’re at it, let’s put the spotlight also on the guitar skills from Tommy Denander and drumming of B.J. Zampa. Things slowed down a bit with that awesome ballad “Tears In The Rain” where Robin proved that her voice is still top notch. The backing vocals from James were a treat for the inner ear! “You’re The One” from the new album was dedicated to Bruce Mee. Robin again teased James with saying: “James you’re the one, but actually Bruce Mee is the one!”. James played along and replied: “I’ll kick your ass Bruce Mee!”. It was time for the crowd to shout along with the oh-oh-oh’s and eh-eh-eh’s during the smashing “Hide Your Heart”. Rock City came close to its boiling point when “First Time” came along. That song has such a nice build up and begs you to sing along. So we all did!! The set ended with a heavy version of Glen Burtnick’s 1987 killer track “Follow You”. I must say that Robin still has it and she put down an awesome show with a dream of a set list and a great sense of humor!!
After the babe from Miami, Florida the stage was taken by three guys from Toronto, Canada. SANTERS got my attention back in 1982 with their second album “Racing Time”. Later on I also found the debut “Shot Down In Flames” and the third “Guitar Alley”. The recording for the fourth album “Top Secrecy” was almost done when Triumph approached Rick Santers to tour with them. The album finally saw the light of day in 1999. In 2010 the band got back in action and played a few shows in Canada and things started rolling again. Santers started with the guitar frenzy of “Winter Freeze” and they produced a hard but clear sound. Some people decided to skip this one, probably because there weren’t any keys to be heard. But man, did they miss a hell of a show. Agreed, with only three people on stage there isn’t that much movement! But Rick Lazaroff tortured his bass in all kinda positions and his bass sounds more than once very jazzy! The face expressions of singer/guitarist Rick were also nice to look at. The band is known for its longer instrumental parts in the songs and that leaves the interaction of crowd a bit behind. But when you look past that you see a band that gives al they got and enjoys playing for a crowd. The band plays a bit harder that on the albums. Things slow down a bit with the melodic “Dreamer” and that’s the perfect opportunity for Rich to show off his vocal talents. We even experience an old school moment when we watched a drum solo and the crowd responded with a natural ease. We also get a very nice version from Free’s all time classic rock tune “All Right Now”. Their hour long set gets its conclusion with the catchy “Road To Morocco”.
Not ABC but XYZ was up next. The LA based guys stole my melodic heart with their first two albums in 1989 en 1991, but died a slow dead with the coming of the grunge wave. The spark to ignite the crowd immediately went over at Firefest when they started with a soaring guitar version of “Come On N’ Love Me” and a furious “Maggy”, both from the debut album. Terry Ilous is a real stage animal and his voice has withstand amazingly the test of time. Tony Marcus throws one hard riff after another to the audience and bassist Pat Fontaine uses every square inch of the stage. The bluesy intro from “Follow The Night” really gives me goosebumps and Terry is a natural talker and proves to be an almost stand-up comedian as well! J Just Terry and Tony stay on the stage for an acoustic set. We get to hear spine chilling versions of “After the rain” and “When I Find Love”. Two acoustic guitars and the phenomenal voice of Terry gets Rock City quiet and as a reward they even throw in a third one with “Souvenirs”. They continued with the raw sounding riff from “Face Down In The Gutter” and the crowd goes wild. The band closes their abc…. Euh XYZ with a steaming version of “Inside Out”. Never in my wildest dreams I thought to hear seven from the ten tracks from that debut album, but they did! And how, what a performance that was. Could did be topped?
Last year MITCH MALLOY’s set was so close to heaven that he just had to come back. His debut album from 1992 is considered as one of the greatest melodic rock albums and should be in the collection of any AOR lover. Mitch decided to focus on that first and latest album, because he believes that they are his best. This party started with the anthem “Mission Of Love” from 1992 and continued with “Falling To Pieces” from album “II”. Mitch has an unbelievable look. He’s very tall, has shiny white teeth and is he has the looks of a model. And I don’t even have mentioned his long curly blond hair! J Besides that he has an extremely strong voice and can hit the highest notes with ease. Three of his band mates stood the day before on stage with Lionville. The rising star Alessandro Del Vecchio is known for his keyboard wizardry and both bassist Anna Portalupi and guitarist Mario Percudani are both excellent musicians. We get six tracks from his debut album and five from album “II”. Mitch demonstrates his vocal skills on the stunning ballad “Love Never Dies”. The set list is completed with “It’s About Love” from “Shine” and the new “Shine”. During the latter Bruno Ravel (bass player from Danger Danger) joins him on stage to handle the bass. The awesome set closes with the super melodic “All My Friends”. Mitch proved with his third visit here at Firefest that he is an ultimate performer and knows how to entertain and interact with the crowd.
Headliner for the second day were the Swiss guys from GOTTHARD. I did attend to the 2010 edition of Firefest and I do remember that several bands payed a tribute to the then recently and tragically deceased Gotthard frontman Steve Lee. The band had put out 13 albums and many believed that the band would bleed out and it would never be the same. But Leo Leoni surprised friend and foe with the latest album “Firebirth” with new singer Nic Maeder. That they are proud of that new platter would be confirmed that night because they played seven tracks from “Firebirth”. “Dream On” from “Lipservice” opened the set and you could see that Nic has found his place in the band and his vocal skills were more than average. It was followed by “Gone Too Far”. First track from “Firebirth” was the album opener “Starlight”. This rocking tune confirmed the position of Nic, because the boy also played guitar while singing! The guy looks a bit like Jani Lane (also deceased, singer from Warrant). The man proved to be a worthy replacement for Mr. Steve Lee when he sang the light bluesy “Remember It’s Me”. But the band also picked songs from their early releases. They threw in the groovy rocker “Sister Moon” from 1996. Of course the Deep Purple cover “Hush”, from their debut, could not be missing. The several na-na-na’s were song lustily by the whole attending music lovers. Steve Lee got his own moment, because “One Life, One Soul” was played in his honor. That was a very emotional moment in the set. The rock meter went up in the red with the old rocker “Fist In Your Face” and the talkbox was used during “Mountain Mama”. The band was on a roll and the crowd loved every single second of it. The whole show was a sequence of highlights and this mind blowing concert came to a fitting end with a blistering version of “Anytime Anywhere”. And I thought the day before that Tyketto could not be topped. Man was I wrong!
For the second day in a row I didn’t see or heard any bad played song and when every song was finished the band got a huge positive vibe from the crowd. Isn’t that the reason why they come to Firefest? I wondered on the way to the hotel what the last day would be like!
Text and Photo ‘s by Rik Bauters