FIREFEST WRAPS UP ON A HIGH NOTE
Show Date: October 23, 2011
Location: Nottingham, England
Venue: Rock City
Reviewer: Dirk Ballerstaedt
Festival Website: www.thefirefest.com
The sun was out during all three days of the Firefest Festival, not your typical English weather (the rain came once the festival was finished), and every morning there was a beautiful sunrise that I could view from the ninth floor of my hotel. Sunday morning, with the sun shining, I went to the Nottingham Castle and walked through the old parts of the city — it was awesome to see Nottingham lying down in front of me.
I got to the festival shortly before 1 pm, just in time to catch the first band Newman. Fronted by singer Steve Newman, he took us on a journey throughout his entire career, and did a good job during his forty minute show — the band also recruited some new fans with their British AOR sound. Newman were a great way to kick off the final day of Firefest.
White Widdow, the Australian melodic rockers with tons of keyboards, followed. Even though the voice of singer Jules Millis had suffered a bit from the three day party, it was nothing to criticize the band over, and the quality of White Widdow‘s songs were high enough to overcome any vocal problems. The band played the same program as I had seen four weeks earlier at the German H.E.A.T. Festival, and I was most impressed by “Tokyo Rain”, “Change Of Passion”, “Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever” and the strong “Cross To Bare”. White Widdow have recreated that massive and bombastic arena sound of the mid-’80s, most recently on their second album ‘Serenade’. If you’ve never heard of this band just check out their 2010 debut and you’ll have found a new group with the classic AOR sound (and its cliches) you’ve been searching for.
Firefest contained several surprises for me, and one of them was courtesy of Sweden’s Alien. In the ’80s Alien did very well in their home country, and even got some respect within the music scene, but soon the type of music they played was ignored. The group kicked off their set with some powerful AOR hard rock, the style that Scandinavian bands seem to create so successfully, with the song “Brave New World”. But as lead-singer Jim Jidhed began to sing a cover of The Marbles‘ “Only One Woman” it was as if the audience stood there speechless because of the extraordinaire and immaculate singing — it was vocal art at its best, and some of the prettiest singing I’ve heard in awhile. Alien said goodbye with the tune “Tears Don’t Put Out The Fire” and hopefully it won’t take another eternity for this cool band to reunite again. It was a lovely show filled with many great moments.
Which brings me to one of the reasons I took the trip to Nottingham — Kane Roberts, the great guitarist who was so massive and muscular back when he played a big part in Alice Cooper‘s mid-’80s comeback with the records ‘Constrictor’ and “Raise Your Fist And Yell’. I always liked Kane Robert‘s aggressive, but also melodic, guitar playing that was just amazing on those two albums. Then, during the same period, Roberts released his first solo debut in 1987 that was a fine piece of hair-metal that included melodic songs and powerful rockers. While Alice Cooper ventured into pop-metal, and got more and more famous with “Poison”, Roberts did another solo album, 1991’s ‘Saints And Sinners’, which also explored mainstream pop-metal with great guitar work. After that excellent solo album Roberts disappeared until he resurfaced with the ‘Under A Wild Sky’ album as Phoenix Down back in 1999 — a CD that was alright, but it couldn’t beat ‘Saints And Sinners’.
So, I was hell-bent to see Kane Roberts‘ Firefest performance. He came out with smaller muscles, shorter hair, and for a few minutes it seemed like he felt a bit uncomfortable on the stage. Alongside the musicians of Talon, Kane Roberts began his set with “Wild Nights” and then “Twisted” — and the people loved it! He then performed two cuts from the Alice Cooper years, “Freedom” and “Prince Of Darkness”, which were pretty cool to hear live, and followed those up with a longer version of KISS‘ “Take It Off” (which Kane co-wrote) and the heavily demanded “Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore” (the massive Desmond Child written ballad that was also covered by Cher). Roberts they played “Rebel Heart”, one of my favorites from the ‘Saints And Sinners’ album, before two dancing girls walked onto the stage as Roberts introduced “Dance Little Sister”.
Approximately fifteen minutes before his allowed playing time came to an end, Kane Roberts left the stage. It was a pity, and I’m not sure why he ended his show early (maybe he was jetlagged or was experiencing technical difficulties on stage?) — regardless, it was pleasure to see that one of my hair-metal heroes was still alive and displaying his incredible guitar skills. He even said that, hopefully, there would be a new album released in 2012!
Then some girls and women flocked to the front row to see what may be one of the prettiest male faces in rock these days… Mitch Malloy, a solo AOR rocker who also has a taste of rhythm ‘n’ blues in his blood. Malloy began his set with “Mission Of Love” (sounding a bit like Bad English) and proceeded to blow us all away. I never knew that Mitch Malloy could be so in-your-face as he just let the songs explode — it was an honor to discover his music for the first time in a live setting. Songs like “Stranded In The Middle Of Nowhere”, “Our Love Will Never Die”, “Carry On”, “I’m The One” and “Anything At All” demonstrated quit well how well he gelled with his Italian band, and it was fun watching the musicians and absolutely worth seeing.
I remember it well, how I bought my first Coney Hatch album back in 1982 and loved it from beginning to end. One year later came ‘Outa Hand’, followed by ‘Friction’ in 1985, and how I loved those Canadian melodic rockers that were fronted by two lead-singers in Carl Dixon and Andy Curran. However I never had the pleasure to see them live because they didn’t tour much in Europe, only a support slot on Iron Maiden‘s ‘Powerslave’ tour back in 1983. So I figured going to Firefest would be the perfect chance to see the band, instead waiting another thirty years or so.
Carl Dixon is doing solo albums these days, but in my opinion Coney Hatch should be his number one priority. Sure they probably couldn’t return with albums as classic as the debut or ‘Friction’, nobody expects that, but a handful of cool new songs would be greatly appreciated. Life is too short to make bad decisions and never record again as a band — and the bottom line is that Coney Hatch‘s music lasts forever.
The group started their set with “We Got The Night”, followed by “Don’t Say Make Me” and “You Ain’t Got Me”, and Carl Dixon‘s (who had a serious accident years ago and was sporting scars on his face) voice was stronger than back in the day. Even when Andy Curran took over lead vocals on songs like “Stand Up”, “Love Poison” and the groovy “Monkey Bars” it was totally party time — and then came the other tracks like “Hey Operator”, “First Time For Everything”, “She’s Gone”, “Girl From Last Night’s Dream”, and “Fantasy” (the last three off the AOR smash ‘Friction’). Finally, as guitar wizard Steve Shelski played the opening riff of “Devil’s Deck”, the club’s foundation began to shake and ended the show that rocked me like nothing else had over the last few months. I liked the tough rock attitude of the band — I liked Andy Curran, who wore a Boston shirt, a pork pie hat and had a lot of fun on stage — and I liked Carl Dixon‘s cool performance. This band should definitely do more things together.
As the reunited Unruly Child walked on stage to a packed club, everyone had high expectations of the group that released the awesome ‘Worlds Collide’ in 2010. Then the band of Marcie Free (from ’80s bands such as King Kobra and Signal) on lead vocals, Bruce Gowdy on guitars, Jay Schellen on drums, Guy Allison on keyboards, and Larry Antonino on bass, kicked off their set with “Love Is Blind” before playing highly demanded tracks like “Show Me The Money”, “Tell Another Lie”, “You Don’t Understand”, “Lay Down Your Arms”, “When Love Is Gone” and the exploding “Take Me Down Nasty” (from the classic 1992 Beau Hill produced self-titled debut). Marcie herself had a warm aura and charisma, her voice sounded great as the fans ate out of her hands, and she had talked about her faith, passion of living and love of God. She was sometimes checking lines from a lyric book, but who really cares — other singers have teleprompter… so what?
As “Who Cries Now” came on everyone was singing, dancing, or lightly head-banging — while “On The Rise” and “When We Were Young” finished the too short show with a delicious finale. Unruly Child was always a band with great musicians who have the ability to combine AOR and hard rock with art-rock, and I was nothing more than touched by their beautiful performance.
You can’t go back in time again, but it will be interesting to see if the band’s that played this year’s Firefest Festival can continue exploring new paths. Many of these bands have been given a second chance, to record albums or go on tour, and Firefest represented ALL of them in a good light. A special thank you goes out to the members of Valentine and Talon, who did very well in accompanying the solo artists Steve Augeri, Kane Roberts, and Jeff Paris. It’s not easy to tell you who was the best at Firefest as I was touched, moved, grooved, and rocked by almost all the acts, but the bands/artists that went the extra mile in performing were the amazing Coney Hatch, the majestic Unruly Child, the awesome Terry Brock, the wild and crazy Silent Rage, the cool Steve Augeri, the rocking Jimi Jamison, and the voice of Alien‘s Jim Jidhed.
May the promoters of Firefest, Kieran Dargan and Bruce Mee, and the entire staff create another fabulous, excellent festival next year… just for the glory of melodic rock. I can’t wait!