© Adrian Hextall
Photos and Live Gig Review by Adrian Hextall
So this is it, the big one, the final day. The opportunity for Firefest to go out in style is massive as the line up includes yet more ‘firsts’ for the public. It’s the first time Autograph and Brother Firetribe are playing in the UK. It’s also the first time the original line up of Danger Danger have played over here in years so expectations are also high.
An extra hour is afforded to everyone today thanks to the clocks turning back overnight and what a welcome hour it is. Bleary eyes are rubbed, stretches are done to remove aches and pains of standing for 10 hours straight two days running and the head is given a chance to catch up again thanks to copious amounts of coffee in the hotel restaurant. All that remains is the walk to Rock City where the queue again starts to build just after 12pm. There is a definite buzz in the queue as everyone recognises that the day is going to be something rather special.
Such is the quality of the bands on the bill today that we have Axxis, a band with over a dozen studio albums, compilations and live releases, opening the show. Contrast that to the opening band on Friday, Angels or Kings, who were selling copies of their début over the weekend.
Axxis released ‘Kingdom of the Night’ in 1989 and rarely play the UK so to see them on stage if only for a short 30-40 minute set is a real treat. That is until you speak to some of the German fans in the crowd who are fairly nonplussed about seeing them due the simple fact that “oh they play all the time in Germany, we can usually see them whenever we want”. How the other half lives! Regardless for those of us not lucky enough to live in the bands homeland, we lap up a set from Bernhard Weiss & Co. that includes tracks from their excellent debut and latest release as well.
Their set begins with ‘Kingdom of The Night II’, taken from the latest album of the same name which has been released as a double, white & black, set. The black incorporates the darker heavier numbers the band have become known for in the latter part of their career, with the white containing the lighter moments that were more common in the band’s earlier days. Highlights from the remainder of the set include ‘Living in a World’ and of course their signature tune ‘Kingdom of the Night’ which closes out their short slot. During that time, they are energised, invigorate the crowd and leave them ready for the remaining six bands of the day. Another example of a superb band that finishes a set 2-3 songs earlier than the crowd want. If you can, get over to Germany, I hear they may be touring soon!
Setlist: Kingdom of the Night II / Little War / Heavy Rain / Hall of Fame / Heaven in Black / Little Look Back / Living in a World / Kingdom of the Night
C.I.T.A/Guild Of Ages
C.I.T.A (Caught In The Act)/Guild Of Ages one of the only bands to have two names this weekend are an unknown to me. Founded in the late 80s we have another band that seems to have pulled out the stops to get back together and play at Firefest. They deliver a wonderfully crunchy set of hard rock numbers with some superb vocals from lead singer Danny Martinez. Martinez and Anthony Trujillo trade some meaty guitar licks and yet again we find ourselves in front of an energised band clearly enjoying being on stage in front of such a receptive crowd.
C.I.T.A /Guild Of Ages are one of those bands that immediately makes you want, upon hearing them live, to go out and check out the back catalogue. Guild of Ages ‘Citadel’ and ‘One’ from 2000 and 1995 respectively are well worth checking out although the guitars are pushed down in the mix with the keyboards brought to the front which is a shame as the way they are played today shows a band where the ‘crunch’ really works for them.
Let’s hope this show results in the new output as the band looked to be be on top form and clearly hungry for more.
Setlist: Stand Or Fall /From Now On / Say A Prayer / Heat of Emotion / Life Goes On / Silent Soldiers / Relapse of Reason / Everytime / Through The Years
Ah… The Guns ‘n’ Roses effect. “What is that?” I hear you ask. It’s that moment that divides a population as to whether or not a band should indeed be named after its’ original incarnation based on the fact that only the front man remains from that line-up. Touch have the same issue as the band that takes to the stage is more ‘Mark Mangold and Friends’ rather than the original line up that took to the stage at Donington Park in 1980 to open the first ever Monsters of Rock festival. As I return to the ever present social media sites to garner a view views on this and sound out the people around me, the opinion is certainly mixed. Some, like me, are happy to hear the songs played live on stage, others are firmly of the belief that if it is not possible, Blues Brothers style, to ‘get the band back together, then don’t play. The view on the usual social media sites also confirms the same.
What is key however, is that Mangold’s keyboard playing is as fresh and stylish as ever and the band he has assembled comprises some very high quality musicians who know the material very well indeed. Tommy Denander takes on a spot in the band for this set, rather than just as a guest musician and the interplay between him and Mangold, not surprisingly, is an impressive class in musicianship.
Highlights include ‘The Fire Never Dies‘ and of course ‘Don’t You Know What Love Is‘.
Setlist: Listen (Can You Feel It) /Black Star / Take It Back / When The Spirit Moves You / So High / Don’t You Know What Love Is / My Life Depends On You / The Fire Never Dies
Speaking to Kieran Dargan at one point over the weekend and congratulating him for finally managing, against all odds, to get Brother Firetribe to play, he confirms that the thanks lie solely with Pekka (Ansio Heino) the band’s enigmatic lead vocalist. “He made it happen” confirms Kieran, “It’s all down to him, I just asked them to play”. Modest words from the man who has been glued to the phone for the last 10 years convincing bands to reform for the fans and succeeding in so many cases.
So play they do and what a set Brother Firetribe deliver. As a fan of all three of their albums, it’s easy to wax lyrical about the band and what high quality output they have produced but the set they play today really is special. There are fans cheering for them before the curtain has even dropped and as they burst onto the stage for their hour long set Pekka’s grin, confirming his desire to be at the festival, is infectious.
One of the difficulties in getting the band together is of course the fact that Erno “Emppu” Vuorinen is the lead guitarist in Nightwish and as you might expect, that takes up a fair chunk of his spare time. Thankfully he is here tonight, again clearly enjoying being on stage with his ‘other’ band and plays some wonderful guitar licks and solos, showing how versatile he is given the difference in style of the two bands.
Pekka is a whirlwind on stage, never one stopping, and drawing the audience in, more and more, until they are all in his thrall by the end of the set. There are too many songs to indicate as highlights as the perfect sound, lighting and delivery from the band ensures that the hour is one of the best of the weekend. A top 5 band of the weekend overall without a shadow of a doubt. If only they would tour more often, there’s definitely a crowd wanting to come and see them.
Setlist: One Single Breath / Runaways / Love Is Not Enough / Midnite Queen / Trail of Tears / I’m on Fire / Wildest Dreams / Winner Takes It All (Sammy Hagar cover)/ Hanging by a Thread / For Better or for Worse / Heart Full of Fire / I Am Rock
Although not reforming and playing after a 20 plus year hiatus, Coney Hatch do have Firefest to thank for convincing them to do just that when, back in 2011, they reformed to play at Firefest VIII. On the back of that reunion show, they returned to Canada to discover record deals on the table, delivered album number 4 (cunningly titled ‘Four‘) and now find themselves back at Firefest playing not as a one off but a going concern once more.
It’s simple blues led hard rock that without a doubt has a place on the current music scene as that style is definitely in vogue at the moment. Catchy is certainly the word to describe their set. The band are relaxed and enjoy the opportunity to come back to Rock City in recognition of the support and career relaunch that Firefest has provided to them. They get a good reaction from the crowd who seems to like the newer material from ‘Four’ such as ‘Blown Away‘ and ‘Boys Club’ and with both Carl Dixon and Andy Curren sharing vocal duties, it keeps the set lively and interesting.
With some of the stage crew supplying backing vocals for closer ‘Devil’s Deck’ the stage is cleared for another reformation \ first for the UK and we are down to the final two bands of the day.
Setlist: Blown Away / Stand Up / Don’t Say Make Me / This Ain’t Love / She’s Gone / Marseilles / Boys Club / Down And Dirty / Connected / Hey Operator / Fallen Angel / Girl From Last Nights Dream / Monkey Bars / Devil’s Deck
After a chance meeting at the NAMM show in 2011, guitarist Steve Lynch and bassist Randy Rand agreed there was a desire to reform Autograph and get out there to play songs not heard live for over 25 years to a new and receptive audience. Two years later and with the blessing of original vocalist Steve Plunkett who bowed out due to work commitments elsewhere, the two acquired new vocalist and guitarist Simon Daniels and complete the current four piece with drummer Marc Wieland. With original keyboard player Steven Isham having passed away in 2009, the band have decided to lose the keyboards from the band and return to Rock City as a leaner, harder rock act. So the question of course is does it work?
There is certainly an element of nervousness both with the crowd and the band as well. For the crowd, the fear is whether or not the hype and expectation will be met. After all, Autograph are one of the most anticipated and requested bands at Firefest, again having been chased by Kieran and co. for many years. For the band themselves, they are presenting a different look, feel and sound to what may be expected of them.
It cetainly takes a few songs for the nerves to settle on both sides. Initially Daniels seems to struggle to engage the crowd and his spoken elements are met at times with silence or muted responses but, when the band play, the show a tight outfit that delivers all of the hots expected of them. The dual guitar approach in lieu of guitar / keyboard does add a much heavier element to the song but in a day when keyboard driven AOR struggles to find an audience, this may be a shrewd move by the band to engage a more diverse fan base.
By the time they are mid set, playing ‘All I’m Gonna Take’ and ‘Send Her to Me’ , the crowd are bouncing and having a great time and their are wide grins on the faces of the four band members on stage. From that point on they can do no wrong. Steve Lynch’s solo shows just why the band should be back on stage and why these songs need to be aired to another generation of rock fans. I for one would be first in the queue for new material from this new version of the band as there is a sense that they could deliver a solid, hard rock album with ease.
They close of course with ‘Turn Up The Radio‘ and even that sounds perfect without any of the original keyboard embellishments. The band leave the stage to rapturous applause. Hopefully we won’t have to wait quite so long to see them again.
Setlist: Deep End / Dance All Night / Loud and Clear / Bad Boy / Blondes in Black Cars / When the Sun Goes Down / All I’m Gonna Take / Send Her to Me / Cloud 10 / Guitar Solo / My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Isn’t Me / She Never Looked That Good for Me / Crazy World / Turn Up the Radio
To quote Shakespeare’s Henry V, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”. As the lights go down for the last band of the last Firefest, even regulars Danger Danger have managed to pull something rather special out of the bag for tonight’s show.
Not content with playing the festival with the current line up, the boys have managed to put aside old differences and what we have on stage is the classic original line up of Bruno Ravel
Steve West, Ted Poley, Kasey Smith and Andy Timmons. It’s a real treat to see the band that recorded the classic début and follow up ‘Screw It!’
As you might imagine, Ted Poley knows what it means to be headlining the final day at Firefest, he also knows how to work a crowd and in no time at all has them eating out of his hand as the band rattle through a 90 minute, 18 song set. seeing Ted and Kasey playing together on ‘One Step From Paradise’ brings a tear and numerous lighters are held aloft again. Ted also goes off on his now expected tour of the venue flanked by two burly security guards (just in case any of the ladies decide to throw themselves at Ted in a mad fit of passion – presumably), continually singing as he wanders through the crowd, up to the ‘posh’ seats in the balcony and back down before returning to the stage.
The main set closes with the classic triple of ‘Bang Bang’, ‘I Still Think About You’, and ‘Monkey Business’, before the band then close the set properly with, well there can only be one fitting end to a DD set and that is ‘Naughty Naughty‘. However, just as think it is all over, a few words from Bruno and Ted about the legacy of the festival and they add one more to the set. A cover of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ has never been more appropriate a finale to a show and sees the entire crew, Kieran, Bruce Mee, Tony Marshall and more take to the stage in the greatest sing-along the venue has ever seen. Members of bands that are still at the venue take to the stage as well and by the time the song finishes, there is not a dry eye in the house such is the emotion and love shared between all for this event.
Presentations and a short speech from Kieran thanking the bands, crew and of course the fans for everything that has made these festivals possible and the house lights come up and we drift out of the venue in recognition that a lasting legacy has been created this weekend.
Setlist: Crazy Nites / Rock America / Turn It On / C’est Loupe (Prelude) / Beat the Bullet / Don’t Walk Away / Keyboard Solo / One Step From Paradise (Ted & Kasey)/ Boys Will Be Boys / Feels Like Love / Theme for an Imaginary Western (Mountain cover) (instrumental) / Groove or Die / Goin’ Goin’ Gone / Don’t Blame It on Love / Bang Bang / I Still Think About You / Monkey Business / Encore: Naughty Naughty / Don’t Stop Believin’ (Journey cover) (w/Firefest crew on stage)
Firefest, The Final Fling, Sunday Gallery