© Adrian Hextall
Photos and Live Gig Review by Adrian Hextall
“So it begins”, says King Theoden with a deep sense of foreboding of what is to come before the Battle of Helm’s Deep in Peter Jackson’s second Lord of the Rings movie. A sense of foreboding also pervades at Rock City this year, as this is it, the last one, the Final Fling, the last hurrah of a fan led rock festival that is now about to deliver its 11th batch of melodic rock bands to the faithful fans that travel worldwide to attend.
Having started as a showcase for the now defunct Now & Then record label through ‘Gods of AOR / The Gods’ concerts, FireFest’s inaugural show was in Bradford before moving only six months later to its adopted home at Rock City in Nottingham.
Many bands have reformed, played, broken up, reformed and played again, such is the attraction for melodic and hard rock bands to play at the festival. Over the years the promoters have pulled out the stops to deliver reunions that fans clamoured for. White Sister and FM spring to mind as simply stunning reunion shows that might never have happened if not for the tenacity and determination of all those involved behind the scenes. This year is no different and over the course of the next three days fans will get to witness a reformed Babylon A.D. , a resurgent Autograph and more out of a total of 21 bands.
Angels or Kings
Firefest Friday opens with Angels or Kings, the winners of a Battle of the Bands contest that saw the final vote go down to the wire with the band nicking the win by a mere handful of votes. Grateful and somewhat in awe of the sense of occasion at playing first on the bill of what is assumed to be the final festival, Angels or Kings get off to a slightly shakey start before realising that they, as well as the crowd, are allowed to enjoy themselves and from that point onwards deliver a wonderfully tight set of melodic rock tracks in the vein of Foreigner. Another reformation act, the core of the original AoK band from the 1980s is bolstered by stunning vocalist Baz Jackson who wonderful pipes ensure that this time the band have something to look forward to in a career that was cut far too short first time around. Check out their début album ‘Kings of Nowhere’ for proof that these guys deserve to go far.
Setlist: A Harder Place / Ice Turned To Rain / Any Other Girl / If Her Tears Could Talk / Kings Of Nowhere
Next on stage are seasoned melodic rockers, Redrum. No strangers to the Firefest crowd, having played back in 2005, the band run through tracks from their debut and more recent (2013) release ‘Victims Of Our Circumstances‘. Michael Bormann has popped up as the front man of so many bands over the years, from the hard rock of Jaded Heart to the power metal of Bloodbound, he is another vocalist with a phenomenal set of pipes on him that really push the sound through the roof when needed. Given that it is only mid afternoon by the time they take to the stage, Rock City is already full and remains that way for the duration of the day. The band get a great response from the crowd and very soon another 35 odd minute set is concluded, kit is cleared from the stage and set ready for the next act from the 7 lined up for the day.
Formed back in 2000, Circus Maximus is a Norwegian progressive metal quintet from Oslo. They play an interesting mix of power and glam metal as well as prog rock and mix in some varied slants with synthesizers and keyboards. The last couple of years has seen no new musical output from them with last album ‘Nine’ being released back in 2012.
What they do however (and there is a theme that runs through the entire weekend thanks to the acts that have been booked to play) is deliver yet another tight set to the crowd. Their sound is quite heavy in comparison to what has gone before and although the fans at Firefest seem to err in favour of the more melodic \ AOR esque acts on the bills over the years, the Norwegians are warmly received and add a nice contrast to the opening two bands. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life and Circus Maximus do mix it up a little bit and draw people from the bar and back on to the floor to fill it up again as their set progresses.
Setlist: Architect Of Fortune / Namaste / I Am / The One / Arrival Of Love / Game Of Life / Last Goodbye
There are murmurs in the crowd that this could be it for Shy. Will Tony continue to sing with them, is it all over, what next for the veteran British band? Tony himself has posted on his website that he does not know if Shy will play together again so this is a set that both band and crowd make the most of in case it is in fact the last one for them.
A melodic rock and British musical institution, Tony Mills only has to stand and open his arms to the crowd to get a cheer such is the appreciation for what he has delivered over the years. Not surprisingly they play fan favourites from their back catalogue and as they finish with ‘Break Down The Walls’ and ‘Talk To Me’ it makes you wonder what a) they could have done with a longer set and b) why the band were never bigger than they were when they first started out in the 80s.
If it is the last time we get to see Shy, then it’s a great way to go out, a classy, professional set, warmly received and treasured by those present.
Setlist: Skydiving / Telephone / Can’t Fight The Nights / Emergency / Give It All You Got / When The Love Is Over / Breakaway / Break Down The Walls / Talk To Me
Well, that’s cutting it a little bit too close. Is he here, is he going to make it? Jakob Samuel has missed his flight and is on route to Rock City whilst Shy are still playing. Ten minutes before they go on stage, he arrives, and as the lights go down, he bounds on stage a consummate professional that looks like he takes these last minute panics in his stride every day. His look and feel is a mix of old and new Axl Rose at times, although he does seem to smile a lot more often than the latter! They put in a fantastic performance with the only downside that it is cut short to ensure that the remaining bands of the day are able to play and finish on time. Energised sums up the whole band perfectly and tracks like ‘Metal Will Stand Tall’, ‘Like No Tomorrow’ and of course ‘Caroline’ show why they are one of Sweden’s best rock exports of recent years. Guitarist Henrik Bergqvist, bassist Pontus Egberg and drummer Christian Lunqvist add to the mix which ensures the crowd are smiling as much as Jakob and help engage them to sing along to almost the whole set. Yet another that needs band the opportunity and backing to come over and tour in their own right so that audiences can experience a full set rather than the eight songs we are gifted today.
Setlist: Misery Loves Company / Metal Will Stand Tall / Cuts Like A Knife / Shut Up! / Like No Tomorrow / Seven Seas / Night Of Passion / Caroline
Social media is a blessing and a curse in equal measure. It helps people find and keep in touch with their favourite artists, spread the word and increase the size of a fan base and ensure they never miss a tour, new release or band update. Social media also sadly allows us to get drawn into pointless conversations as to who should be on a bill, whose set was not up to scratch and whether a band ‘did it’ for a particular individual. British rock champions, Ten, face such questions as their set begins and the Firefest Official facebook feed has several threads about the band with a mix of highly positive and negative comments. Pointless as I say because at the end of the day one person’s trash is another’s gold and the response Ten get from the crowd indicates that they are a treasure to the majority.
The slightly unusual intro music, ‘Remembrance For The Brave’ has recently been explained by Gary Hughes as a tribute to those who have served and died for their country and is a nice touch given 2014 sees centenary tributes all around the country in respect of World War 1.
New material slots in seamlessly with old as we see tracks from the debut album sitting pretty with ‘Battlefield’, ‘It’s Alive’ and ‘Alone In The Dark Tonight’ from new album ‘Albion‘ sounding like classic Ten alongside classics like ‘Spellbound’, ‘The Robe’ and ‘Red’. Much has been made of the return to the classic Ten sound with the new album and if the rest of it holds up to the three songs on offer tonight then the fans are in for a real treat.
The stage is packed as the band now sports three guitarists, a bass player, keyboardist, drummer and vocalist and even Rock City’s spacious capability is pushed somewhat as the artists all move around each other like a heavy metal ballet dance. With seven on stage, the sound could of course be a noise but credit to the sound desk as the wall of sound that does emanate is clear enough to pick out individual instruments, solos and of course Mr Hughes vocals.
A great set, an excellent way to bring to a close the list of support acts before headliners H.E.A.T take to the stage.
Setlist: Remembrance For The Brave / Fear The Force / Spellbound / The Robe / Apparition / Battlefield / The Lights Go Down / It’s Alive / Valentine / After The Love Has Gone / Alone In The Dark Tonight / Red / The Name Of The Rose
The performance here tonight now means that Swedish band H.E.A.T. have got the prize for most appearances at Firefest and yet again manage to deliver an energised, note perfect set from one of the most engaging bands on the planet.
Bounding on stage to Glenn Frey’s ‘The Heat Is On’ (of course), the band then spend the next 90 minutes showing the crowd why they deserve to break into the big time. If this was 1987, they would be selling millions and be bigger than Bon Jovi and fellow countrymen Europe. Everything has clearly clicked into place for them musically since Swedish Idol winner Erik Grönwall joined the band replacing Kenny Leckremo after their first two albums. He is a ball of energy and whilst many front men do indeed explode out of the traps for the opening few numbers, he maintains that level of energy and enthusiasm throughout the entire set, slowing down only a couple of times, once when he sports and acoustic guitar on ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ and also as he pauses to introduce a heartfelt tribute to Jimi Jamison before covering Survivor’s ‘Rebel Son’.
Often when lead singers change, original fans will state that the new material is ‘not like the old stuff’ but in H.E.A.T.’s case, this is simply not the case. The new material sees a band growing with every release and listening to the crowd tonight, the response is stronger (as are the sing alongs) on tracks like ‘A Shot At Redemption’, ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ and of course ‘Living On The Run’. Their own faith in the more recent material is evident as the last 2 (Grönwall fronted) albums make up the majority of the set.
Since Dave Dalone left the band in 2013, guitar duties have fallen solely to Eric Rivers and he does a fine job blending rhythm and solos on his own. The band sound overall is so strong, I’d be surprised if they recruit a second guitarist going forward. After all, Bon Jovi managed quite well with Ritchie Sambora as the lone guitarist. Open message to Jon – “Bring back Ritchie, it’s not Bon Jovi without him!”
A quick check of the social media aspects after their set already sees people wondering how the rest of the weekend can top this performance and ‘band of the festival’ is mentioned several times on many threads. It’s difficult to disagree and given the range of age and experience on offer over the three days, it’s also testament to such a young band that they can deliver everything to such a high degree. Brilliant stuff and a great way to end Day 1.
Setlist: The Heat is On (Glenn Frey song) / Point of No Return / A Shot At Redemption / Better Off Alone / Heartbreaker / It’s All About Tonight / Inferno / Tearing Down the Walls / Mannequin Show / Late Night Lady / In and Out of Trouble / Beg Beg Beg / Highway Star (Deep Purple cover) / All the Nights / Downtown / Rebel Son (Survivor cover) / Enemy in Me / Emergency / Encore: Living on the Run