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Firefest Vi @ Firefest VI, Nottingham (UK)

FIREFEST VI
in Friday, 23 October 2009 at Firefest VI
by Grigoris Chronis

 The annual revival of everything about AOR_Melodic Rock music - held in the beautiful city of Nottingham, UK - is the 'dream come true' for followers of the genre. Indeed, 'Firefest' is a two-day event made by fans for fans and this could be witnessed all over in this occasion. The 'Firefest' team again did a fantastic job, the schedule was intact, the sound was - most times - in a more than satisfactory level, all the bands performed in good mood (the least) and with great respect for the crowd heading over to Nottingham from all over England and Europe (maybe most distant territories had some representatives over there). For those thinking of AOR/Melodic Rock music being a long gone dead sound, things proved to be quite different those two days in late October 2009.

Traveling by bus from London Stansted airport, I had more than three hours to plan almost everything regarding the fest's activities. The Friday show would take place in Trent University Student Union's hall with a starting time of 7:00pm plus the legendary Rock City venue would host Saturday's main day from 12:15pm onwards. Further non-fest activities - already put on schedule - would include enough of town sightseeing, a rich walk at Sherwood forest (home of Robin Hood), a visit to England's oldest inn named Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem with dozens of beers over-included while drifting around other remarkable Nottinghamshire pubs. This town is lovely, indeed; small enough to walk through (or all over), big enough for diversity and - surely - proud enough to be the center of the melodic Hard Rock world once a year.

Months ago, 'Firefest VI' was not a sure event to be organized. Still, as soon as the first names were announced in late spring it was inevitable core fans would once again support the organizers' faithful attempt to overcome all obstacles (funds, I guess,  etc) in order to present a frank party_celebration and nothing less.

Friday - Trent University Students Union

Running late, due to an overwhelming lunch full of burgers and beer, I was quite surprised to see lots of faces outside the hall. Meeting Phil (organizers team) and getting our photo pass was a pleasant and fast process but trying to leave my coat at the reception plus fighting for my first beer at the bar - while getting familiar to the hall's facilities - resulted in missing nearly all of LOST WEEKEND's opening set. Friends and colleagues found inside insisted on a generous gig but in a mediocre sound (something that would improve once and for all afterwards). Sorry guys…


One of the main reasons visiting this year's fest was ECLIPSE. Their latest Are You Ready To Rock CD was a 2008 highlight and it seemed many fans were looking forward to the Swedish quintet's appearance. Well, ECLIPSE surely overlapped every expectation by providing us with a killer performance and an equally great setlist. Erik Martensson seems to be not more than 20 years old - he may actually be, haha - but he's a mature 'pro' while singing loud, melodic and clear. Guitarist Magnus Henriksson was ample and sincere in his guitar duties while the whole band was in top mood while easily carrying their vibe around the venue. Some slight mistakes went unnoticed, I guess, to the hearing of classy tracks (most - if not all - of them from their latest CD) like Breaking My Heart Again, To Mend A Broken Heart (already a classic?) and Wylde One. It seems, though,  ECLIPSE were 'pushed' to end their set, hence Million Miles Away was half-chopped. Would love to see ECLIPSE again onstage, really.

ECLIPSE setlist:

01. Breaking My Heart Again
02. Hometown Calling
03. Unbreakable
04. To mend A Broken Heart
05. Always Standing
06. Wylde One
07. Under The Gun
08. Young Guns
09. Hard Time Loving You
10. Million Miles Away


BAD HABIT was never - for a strange reason - my hottest cup of tea, really. So, standing a little bit back after paying a generous visit to the merchandise stall, I have to say I eventually enjoyed the veteran Swedish band's recital. The so-called premiere melodic rockers achieved an impressive performance - enough samples were present, though - and most of the fans surely enjoyed BAD HABIT's setlist, including tracks from their After Hours breakthrough LP back in 1989 up to this year's Above And Beyond CD. Bax Fehling had a crystal clear Scandinavian AOR voice and Hal Marabel organized the band's stage activity in such a way few fans would have a problem. More mellow moments filled the club with a sentimental air while groovy pieces resulted in non-stop dancing. Tracks like Sad But True, I Swear and Rowena left their mark that evening, for sure. Still, BAD HABIT also omitted songs from their list.

BAD HABIT setlist:

01. To Love You
02. Sad But True
03. I Swear
04. Walk Of Life
05. I Don't Want You
06. A Lot To Learn
07. Rowena
08. Another Night


To cut a long story short, the objective spectator would possibly baptize H.E.A.T. as the whole fest's MVP. The young band - taking the world by storm with their self-titled debut album a year ago scored the highest of grades in instrumentation, sound, attitude and overall vibe. Delivering most - if not all - of their phenomenal 2008 album (Never Let Go and Feel It Again are personal passions), plus giving a generous take on their Eurovision-related 1,000 Miles tune, the Swedish band showed avidly why melody and hardrockin' music can go together to the maximum of satisfaction (a guy even proposed to his girlfriend onstage - hope he has not regretted…). The whole venue was jumping up and down, Kenny Leckremo's vocals were s-u-p-e-r-b and watching H.E.A.T. performing for nearly an hour was an event rarely seen even in renowned bands of the genre. Thus, simply fantastic.

H.E.A.T. setlist:

01. There For You
02. Late Nite Lady
03. Straight For Your heart
04. Bring The Stars
05. Cry
06. Feel It Again
07. Never Let Go
08. 1,000 Miles
09. Keep On Dreaming
10. Stay


Chattin' around while loosing control on beerz consumed, it was time for the headliners of this first day. TREAT - a personal all-time fave - had a huge logo banner up in the back reminding us of their class an' history, while I was feeling a little bit anxious watching at my clock ticking 20 minutes to midnight. On a tight English schedule the Swedish legends would have less time than initially announced to show off…and that sadly happened. Rushing to complete their setlist, which obviously did not occur (since e.g. World Of Promises did not make it…), TREAT had to fight both the clock plus H.E.A.T.'s dynamic set. In my eyes and ears, they did get even the score in case b but the suspicious_experienced spectator could understand something was going wrong. Nonetheless, TREAT served a generous set including many classic hits like Sole Survivor, Ready For The Taking, Get You On The Run and Conspiracy plus a new (good!) cut from their forthcoming album Coup De Grace (to be released in spring 2010). Jamie Borger (TALISMAN, LAST AUTUMN'S DREAM, SWEDISH EROTICA) was a real monster on the drums, Anders Wikstrom was impressive in his guitar duties and Robert Ernlund still is a living legend. Really hope many juvenile fans got the experience plus it's a pity TREAT did not have a smooth run in their gig.

TREAT setlist:

01. Changes
02. Ready For The Taking
03. Gimme One More Night
04. Lovestroke
05. Take Me On Your Wings
06. No Way Without You
07. Sole Survivor
08. Get You On The Run
09. Party All Over
10. Conspiracy

Leaving the Students Union hall was - again - a demonic procedure. Hurt feet, enough alcohol consumed…you know the story. Thankfully, day one was as good as expected and the expectation was even higher for next day's main event. Really why does a foreign visitor still has to walk for miles to find a place to fill his stomach after midnight in England?

Saturday - Rock City

Waking up at 8:00am quite in a hangover blitz, rapidly considering you have to spend another 10+ hours standing is not the best thought a man can come across usually, but - hey - that's Rock 'n' Roll, even in the morning! Quite fascinated by the previous day's quality, I was looking forward to another crushing day, this time at a well-known venue such as Rock City. Traditional English breakfast is not my cup of tea - while a cup of tea actually is - but, thanx God of proteins, a slutty burger is always around to be found…


Right on time, while gossiping for the previous evening's ups (quite everything) and downs (nearly nothing), AIRRACE was onstage ready to deliver their hardrockin' shots. The band was always mostly known for singer Keith Murell's participation in the ranks of Irish rockers MAMA'S BOYS plus Jason Bonham's mark in the original lineup, but in no way these facts should overlap the band's one and only album's quality. Shaft Of Light (1984) included a set of impressive British melodic Rock cuts and most of them were played during AIRRACE's set. For a band being out of service for many many years, their performance was rather remarkable and it was a surprise to see many fans being familiar to tracks like First One Over The Line, Didn't Wanna Lose Ya, Brief Encounter and Not Really Me. The sound was exciting, the band was in top mood, the crowd wanted more and the day was beginning in maximum contentment.
AIRRACE setlist:

01. Caught In The Game
02. Open Your Eyes
03. Not Really Me
04. Promise To Call
05. First One Over The Line
06. Didn't Wanna Lose Ya
07. One Step Ahead
08. Brief Encounter


Regulations against smoking…running out to get high and then back in just before Swedish ABBA-meets-Metal heroes THE POODLES climbed onstage. Not a core fan of this act, but rather curious to check out their dynamics, what I witnessed was a tight-ass band really giving a hard time to every disbeliever. Even if their style was somehow controversial for this fest's ideals, THE POODLES - fronted by the superb voice of Jakob Samuel - performed with dignity and non-stop enthusiasm for nearly 50 minutes. With a strong fan base in the front rows, their music was a glad mismatch and resulted in an interesting recital with familiar tracks like Too Much Of Everything, Caroline, Seven Seas, Metal Will Stand Tall and Night Of Passion holding the key role. Their sound was very good and - waving goodbye - THE POODLES proved to eventually be a fitting piece in the billing.

THE POODLES setlist:

01. Too Much Of Everything
02. Caroline
03. Seven Seas
04. Metal Will Stand Tall
05. Like No Tomorrow
06. One Out Of Ten
07. Thunderball
08. Night Of Passion


Shocked seeing - but applauding - a guy in a CANNIBAL CORPSE T-Shirt among the crowd (Music unites, right? - Fuck yeah!…), it was time for the mentors of this sound_style to take their position onstage. DRIVE, SHE SAID (and Mark Mangold in particular) can as well consider themselves to be a great influence for everyone involved into melodic Rock the last two decades. In an audience ranging from teenagers to classic rockers, Mark and Al Fritsch portrayed a small piece of their history, driving everybody nuts from the early beginning with Don't You Know What Love Is (a TOUCH classic). Well, Mark had serious problems with his keys sound plus his microphone never really worked, while Al was at time out of tune in his chords but the overall experience was so majestic that his voice and only topped every single malfunction. If This Is Love was widely sung by the crowd too, plus Look At What You Got and I Found Someone/Fool's Game (yes, Mark Mangold has credits in both CHER and Michael Bolton tunes) raised hell. DRIVE, SHE SAID stepped down after 50 minutes of classic melodic Rock the way they helped shaping. Thank you, indeed.

DRIVE, SHE SAID setlist (the most I can recall of, at least):

01. Don't You Know What Love Is
02. Maybe It's Love
03. If This Is Love
04. Drivin' Wheel
05. Hard Way Home
06. I Found Someone
07. Fool's Game


(Report by Alekos Letter 7 Touloumis)
Next on the billing was ROMEO'S DAUGHTER, a band having a relatively good AOR following with their two albums years ago (Romeo's Daughter and Delectable), featuring Leigh Matty, an impressive singer boasting an equally bombastic outlook. It's no wonder the band's appearance was hailed as the fest's best kept secret by many fans (ROMEO'S DAUGHTER called it quits in 1993). Their sound was really down-to-earth and 100% in the AOR philosophy, with Matty doing magic in an astonishing vocal performance and the crowd being spellbound. Guitarist Craig Joiner supported some really fitting back-up singing while keyboardist Tony Mitman added an expressive sonic layer. ROMEO'S DAUGHTER presented all their classic hits mixing rockers and ballads, eventually gaining a grand applaud from a 'gone mad' crowd. Rumors speak the band is on the works for a comeback album in 2010 and we cannot wish something less than a similarly hearty and thumping effort.

ROMEO'S DAUGHTER setlist:
01. Wild Child
02. Velvet Tongue
03. Stay With Me Tonight
04. Attracted To The Animal
05. Colour You A Smile
06. Inside Out
07. I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night
08. Heaven In The Backseat
09. Hymn
10. Don't Break My Heart


Stuffed by a fat-excessive burger meal at Trinity Square, now grabbing a couple of beers to feel intact again (or so I prayed), it was time for another blast from the past to hit the stage. WHITE SISTER - the American heavy melodic rockers from the 80s - achieved a monumental performance in 2008's fest and decided to come back in order to punish us once more with their bombastic music. Dennis Churchill-Dries and Gary Brandon - both handling vocal duties - were more than impressive in their singing (possibly the greatest voices heard that evening) and the whole band performed a demonic set setting Rock City on fire. Even spectators not familiar with this great band bowed to their knees in front of WHITE SISTER's class. Nearly the whole White Sister debut was played live and - loyal core fans know - tracks like Can't say No, Love Don't Make It Right, Straight Form The Heart and Don't Say That You're Mine need no special introduction in order to assume what the atmosphere was at the time. WHITE SISTER had a great sound backing their gig and I'd put them among top acts playing live at 'Firefest'…ever.

WHITE SISTER setlist:

01. Don't Say That You're Mine
02. Straight From The Heart
03. Promises
04. Can't Say No
05. All In One Night
06. Doublecrossed
07. Save Me Tonight
08. Love Don't Make It Right
09. Whips


Eagerly searching for a stair step to rest my feet for a while, CROWN OF THORNS was already fixing their equipment. And then…MOTORHEAD featuring Jean Beauvoir stormed in, haha! Yeap, the band's sound was so dirty and over-the-top that we looked each other in fear. Serious, now: their performance was good, very good, but the sound was not that supportive, especially in more melodic cuts like e.g. Dying For Love. Thus, CROWN OF THORNS' set was the dirty rockin' side of the festival, with exploding tracks like Hike It Up, Are You Ready? and The Healer feeding power. Jean's voice was clear and swaying, Michael Paige confirmed he's the man for the job and -in a few words - one hour passed by leaving the crowd with weird emotions. Not bad, no way, but surely mixed.


Would these Canadian melodic rockers justify their position in the fest's lineup? After three songs performed by HONEYMOON SUITE I was not so sure; the sound was clear but quite dim and Johnnie Dee seemed like an over-mature old rocker (just like I listened to him in the band's latest album - sorry!) singing in vain. Thankfully, things got a lot better and 60 minutes afterwards a sweet taste was left. Classic hits like Burning In Love, Feel It Again, Looking Out For #1, New Girl Now and Love Changes Everything (a classic…) paved the way and there were enough times HONEYMOON SUITE showed they deserve(d) way more than finally receive(d) from the melodic Rock world.
HONEYMOON SUITE setlist (in random order):

01. New Girl Now
02. Feel It Again
03. Say You Don't Know Me
04. Looking Out For #1
05. She Ain't Alright
06. Bad Attitude
07. Burning In Love
08. What Does It Take
09. Still Lovin' You
10. Love Changes Everything


In a (nearly or fully?) sold out festival, the main attraction would be none else than Steve Overland and FM. Following their historic performance in 'Firefest IV' (also stamped on DVD), the classic British Rock band was the headliner everyone would demand for; Steve Overland (WILDLIFE, OVERLAND, THE LADDER, SO!) still is a hero in Britain - and so pleased was I to check this out that evening - and the news for a brand new FM album combined would result in nothing less than a packed venue waiting for a great gig. And that's exactly what was served. Great sound, an ultra-tight band (with new guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick filling in for Andy Barnett), a number of 1,500 - 2,000 fans thirsty for good music and things turned out to be quite sensational, to be honest. Everyone singing to the lyrics of Face To Face, That Girl, Don't Stop, Only The Strong Survive, Blood And Gasoline and Burning My Heart Down is not an every day occasion and the smile in Steve's face was the wide proof magic was in the air. So much positive energy (the stage was invaded by an '80s FM incarnation' hair-masked group consisting of fest organizers and other bands' members for a final take on Prince's Purple Rain), a fistful of high emotions…and Frozen Heart with Bad Luck on top filling the night with perfection. A unique experience, alone worth the money and time traveling to England.

FM setlist:

01. Wildside
02. Face To Face
03. That Girl
04. Don't Stop
05. Only The Strong Survive
06. Blood And Gasoline
07. Dangerous
08. Hard Day In Hell
09. Burning My Heart Down
10. I Heard It Through The Grapevine
11. Frozen Heart
12. Bad Luck
13. Purple Rain

We'd originally said that 'Firefest V' was going to be the last one, and with the current state of the economy, both in the UK and abroad, maybe the sensible thing would have been to stick to what we said and go back to our normal lives. However, the support and encouragement we've had from melodic Rock fans everywhere has been overwhelming, and after a few weeks of rest and recuperation 'the show none of us wanted to do' became 'the show that some of us wanted to do' and then with everyone finally back on board it was full steam ahead for 'Firefest VI'. Judging from the time schedule, the crowd's reactions, the facilities, the level of the bands' performances, the general vibe and the resulting sweet shell-shock, we really hope we'll read the same announcement next year…and then book tickets to Nottingham for one (more) splendid festival.

(photos by Vagia Anagnostou)

ECLIPSE

BAD HABIT

HEAT

TREAT

AIRRACE

THE POODLES

DRIVE, SHE SAID

ROMEO'S DAUGHTER

WHITE SISTER

CROWN OF THORNS

HONEYMOON SUITE

FM

Ticket Price: 22€


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