© Adrian Hextall
Photos and Live Gig Review by Adrian Hextall
3 days of music, 3 days of drinking and three days of meeting up with old mates and new, acquired in many cases over the course of many Firefests of years gone by. With Friday safely behind us, what can be done to encourage the masses to arrive on time on Day 2? Thankfully, 11 Firefests into the proceedings, the team have recognised that a solid band is needed to draw people in and before the doors open, the queue already stretches up Talbot Street and around the corner. By the time Rage of Angels take to the stage, the bar is once again doing brisk business as people top up their quota and head down to the front to commence Day 2 proper.
Rage of Angels
Rage of Angels is the brainchild of original Ten keyboard player Ged Rylands and the band name actually comes from a lyric written by Firefest’s very own Bruce Mee that Ged was impressed enough with to write the accompanying music and will be heard (I believe) on album number 2.
They begin proceedings with the title track from début album ‘Dreamworld’ and the audience immediately settle down and pay attention as this is something pretty special. Although the album itself was built around Ged’s vision and a multitude of special guests, the line up on stage today including guitarist Neil Fraser and frontman Rick Chase deliver a tight set and look the complete package and not like a group of hired hands. Surprise (?? – I think it would be a surprise if he didn’t play at this festival) guest Tommy Denander joins them on stage for a couple of numbers in what will be one of several appearances during the festival.
A classy display and as always with the early bands, two songs shorter than the audience wants. The crowd really warms to them and then sadly they exit the stage leaving us wanting more.
Setlist: Dreamworld / See You Walking By / Falling / Through It All / Over and Over / Spinnin Wheel
From The Fire
Back in the early ’90s, Kelly, From the Fire specialised in the kind of album-oriented rock being put out by Boston, Bon Jovi and Journey. Of course, as anyone present at Firefest knows, the early 90s were not kind to bands like From The Fire and as such they broke up in 1992. Tommy Lafferty made a successful career with Crown of Thorns and it’s great to see him again on stage with former band mates. Driven by a call from Lafferty, Kelly and Paul Morris reconvened and recorded a new album and find themselves on stage ably supported by the legendary John McCoy on bass playing tracks from old and new that sit together very comfortably indeed.
It’s certainly smooth, very slick and heightened when the beautiful Issa Oversveen joins them on stage to help perform a vocal duet. This is the sort of band and reunion that Firefest and the organisers pride themselves in. A recent Newsday article in the US saw Kieran Dragan wrote in an email. “It’s like hoping to see one of your favourite bands sometime after 20 years of waiting, and then suddenly, after waiting 20 odd years — you finally have that opportunity.”
The style of music certainly raises a lot of smiles on the faces of people in the audience, especially those who prefer their AOR over their Hard Rock and that silky AOR segues perfectly into the next band up, Boulevard.
Canada’s Boulevard are also playing their début UK show. Again, another big deal for the faithful who thought this day and performance would never come so expectation as to what the band will deliver is very high indeed. A ten song set allows them time to make the most of their reunion and play to those who have waited for so long. They open with ‘Dream On’, and the immediate highlight is vocalist David Forbes voice which has clearly not lost any of it’s power or energy in that 20 year gap. When they play ‘Where Are You Now’ it’s with a wry smile as the answer could be so different. Instead they are finally playing a UK stage in front of 1800 people to an excellent reception.
Maintaining the slick AOR sound of the previous band, there is so much sweet sugary music on offer that at times, it feels like a harder number would be appreciated but referring to the wonderful t’internet and social media platforms, that view it seems is in the majority. Crowd comments certainly suggest that the band have answered a call that has been broadcasting for years and most definitely allowed people to tick off their ‘must see before I die’ list.
Setlist: Dream On / Western Skies / Lead Me On / Need You Tonight / Where Are You Now / Missing Persons / Rainy Day in London / Far From Over / Crazy Life / Never Give Up
From one person’s bucket list to another. This is the band I had been waiting to see for years and as the stage lights dimmed, this was it. Babylon A.D., a band I’d gotten into on the back of their début album back in 1989. The first three tracks that open the album, ‘Bang go The Bells’, ‘Hammer Swings Down’ and ‘Caught Up In The Crossfire’ just did it for me and from that moment I was hooked. The future looked very bright indeed for the band when follow up album ‘Nothing Sacred‘ came out, containing stand out tracks like ‘So Savage The Heart’ and ‘Redemption’ but then a ten year gap ensued before ‘American Blitzkrieg’ came out which moved the band firmly away from their original sound and fared less well. A break, a reformation (see the pattern here ?) and 2014 once again finds the band fired up and on stage for the first time ever in the UK.
So has the wait been worthwhile? Absolutely!! Opening with ‘Back In Babylon‘, very fitting given the time we’have had to wait to see them live, they then proceed to spend the next hour re-energising a crowd who had spent the last 2 hours slowly slipping into a sugar and saccharin induced coma. The energy flowing from the band is immense. Robb Reid is like a whirlwind on stage, flying around and screaming into his mike like his life depends on it. Derek Davis has also lost none of the power in his voice and those high vocal range tracks that really push him like ‘Maryanne’, the aforementioned ‘…Bells’ and ‘The Kid Goes Wild’ prove that point in spades.
‘Desperate‘ is one of the few moments where the band manage to dial it down slightly and it’s heart warming to see so many lighters appear in the hands of the crowds held aloft as Davis sings.. ” Baby I’m desperate, I’m burning fire for you”.
The main body of the set finishes with ‘The Kid Goes Wild’ the track that gained them exposure on the back of the Robocop 2 soundtrack and they then find time for one more and close out with a cover of Aerosmith’s ‘Rats In The Cellar’.
An amazing set and one of the best bands of the weekend in my humble opinion.
Setlist: Back in Babylon / Hammer Swings Down / Shot o’ Love / Bad Blood / So Savage the Heart / Maryanne / Loveblind / Bang Go the Bells /Sally Danced / Desperate / The Kid Goes Wild / Rats in the Cellar (Aerosmith cover)
The excellent Pretty Maids continue the energetic tone of the day and the crowd hardly has time to draw a breath after Babylon A.D. have finished before the Danes hit the stage all guns blazing with the a one / two of ‘Mother of All Lies‘ and ‘Nuclear Boomerang‘, the latter being one of their most recent singles and one that shows the band have still ‘got it’ when it comes to producing pounding, anthemic hard rock songs. After 30 years of music, Ronnie Atkins knows how to work a crowd and his voice is still in fine form. Long term partner in crime, Ken Hammer, may well be a little comfortable with good living these days but it does not detract from a slick professional performance from the band. Bassist Rene Shades bounds around, looking every inch the bass players answer to Slash and over the course of some 11 songs deliver a fan friendly selection of tracks covering all areas of their career. ‘Love Games’ gets aired early on much to the delight of the crowd, followed by ‘My Soul To Take’ before things take a slight tangent path.
Now, if there was one gripe, it’s that a short set should contain your own material when you have such a back catalogue to chose from so the inclusion of not one but two covers tonight seems a little unnecessary. A cover of ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part 2‘ does at least result in some excellent chant along moments from the crowd but that could so easily have been achieved with one of their own excellent tracks as well.
‘Future World’ of course finishes their set and leaves everyone with a wide grin. A great set, just marred slightly with the two covers that should have been used to play their own material instead.
Setlist: Mother of All Lies / Nuclear Boomerang / Love Games / My Soul to Take / Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd cover)/ I.N.V.U. / I See Ghosts / Sad to See You Suffer / Rodeo / Little Drops of Heaven / Please Don’t Leave Me (John Sykes cover) / Future World
Black ‘N Blue
Although not playing here in the UK for the first time, it is nonetheless 30 years since Black ‘N Blue have played these fair shores. Frontman Jaime St James appears to have decided on the same stage outfit he wore last time he was here as well as the leather jacket he sports is covered in (shudder) tassels, which I’m afraid in this day and age is a huge no-no. Everyone else is decked out in tattoos, jeans and bandanas so they all certainly look the part but what about the music.
Their sound is not a million miles away from the stomp along rock and roll that AC\DC have produced over the years and certainly explains why Carle Norton, the man tasked with helping me review the Saturday and a massive AC\DC fan, looks to be enjoying their set so much. The band are, as you might expect, tight and polished but to me lack something that the previous two bands have delivered. It does create a slight dip in energy for me but a lot of other people in the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves to I’ll settle for an ‘each to their own’ in this particular case.
Brandon Cook and Stacey Blades interact with each other well and manage to engage the crowd well on each others respective sides of the stage. They do however get the best response from the crowd when the settle into tracks from their 1984 début and the crowd at that point seems to re-energise the band and they definitely finish with a flourish and not a whimper. ‘’The Strong Will Rock’, ‘Wicked Bitch’, and ‘School Of Hard Knocks’ provide the latter highlights and the band are afforded an encore with ‘I’m The King‘.
Setlist: Get Wise To The Rise / Stop the Lightning / Autoblast / Rockin’ on Heaven’s Door / Nasty Nasty / Miss Mystery / Chains Around Heaven / Target / The Strong Will Rock / Guitar Solo / Wicked Bitch / School of Hard Knocks / Hold on to 18 / Encore: I’m the King
Former Firefest headliners and (almost always) guaranteed to deliver on the night, Firehouse close out the middle day of the festival.
There is an element of Beatlemania when CJ Snare comes onto stage, such is the impact he still has on the ladies (and a few of the guys) in the audience. ‘Shake and Tumble’, ‘All She Wrote’ and ‘You’re Too Bad’ are playing in quick succession and CJ, ever the perfect front man, soon has the audience eating out of his hand. They do mix things up a little during the et tonight and ‘Holding On’ sees Bill Leverty on vocal duty, also delivering a wildly inventive guitar solo in the process. Michael Foster then goes on to sing my favourite track from theoir most recent output, ‘Door to Door‘ from ‘Prime Time’.
CJ then returns front and centre to deliver a storming vocal performance on ‘Hold Your Fire’ followed by ‘Don’t Walk Away‘. Lighters are once again lofted high during ‘Love Of A Lifetime’ a song that holds a very special place for me personally and as I wipe away a tear of joy, the band finish with ‘Reach For The Sky’ and ‘Don’t Treat Me Bad’.
The lights then come up, and we trudge out, achy, slighty fuzzy due to the excellent beers on tap and most of all happy, looking forward to repeating it all over again, one last time on the final day of the final Firefest.
As a final footnote, we look again to social media and the mutterings to get a view on the Firehouse set. As a long time fan of the band, I will happily stand up and say they delivered a set that ticked all of the boxes for me and sees them in my top five bands of the weekend overall. However as we left at the end of their set, there was a lot of muttering from people in the crowd and online about ‘unnecessary musical interludes and solos’. Maybe I’m biased and enjoy seeing one of my favourite bands enjoy themselves as much as the crowd does but the solos for me did not detract from the set the band delivered. Hit after hit was rolled out to the fans, taking into account most of the band’s career (Category 5 missed out again though – ‘Can’t Stop The Pain‘ or ‘Acid Rain‘ would fit perfectly guys !!) including material up to and including ‘Prime Time’ as well.
Setlist: Shake & Tumble / All She Wrote / You’re Too Bad / Rock On The Radio / Holding On (Bill Leverty on vocals,extended w/guitar solo)/ When I Look Into Your Eyes / Door To Door ((Michael Foster on vocals,w/drum solo and extended jam) / Hold Your Fire / Don’t Walk Away / Trying to Make a Living (extended w/keyboard solo) / Overnight Sensation (w/snippet of “Perfect Lie”) / Love of a Lifetime / Reach For The Sky / Don’t Treat Me Bad (w/snippet of “Free Ride”)