Well it's that time of year again for the Melodic Rock Spectacular that is known as Firefest, a Festival that I have frequented many times through its existence. The two things that was very noticeable with this festival was the quality of the acts that these guys put on year on year and 2012 is no exception to this rule and secondly something that confirms the previous statement, the fact that the Festival was sold out, which is a tall order especially considering today's climate. This was very much an international affair that so people travel from as far as Japan and South America. I tip my cap to the promoters and can only recommend that in 2013 you do no miss this extravaganza. So without further ado, let me present to you the highlights of what was witnessed by myself and a highly appreciative audience.
Unfortunately due to circumstance beyond my control I missed Lionville, but they certain seemed to have cause quite a buzz in the room, even to the stage of where several people commented that they were the band of the night, (make of that what you will), and all but the last number by Dante Fox, performing the storming Stevie Lange number Remember; Sue Willets and co were on fine form, Sue's powerful vocal's really marked the spot. The other two bands that I unfortunately missed where XYZ and Lillian Axe who again on talking to various people where bands that gave good accounts of theirselves. I have included their Setlist respectively for the curious out there.
Ten hit the stage running as they were met with a loud applause, a band that was really popular with the crowd and especially the TEN Army. Even with this new line the band really showcased their experience and the quality of their back catalogue. From the opening intro tape that offered snippets from their back catalogue, they meant business and it certainly appeared that the band were at home on this stage. Again it had been some years since I have seen this band live but they have lost none of their vitality, being a stunning live tour de force. From the opening song The Lights Go Down, the band offered up a perfect set that ran to about an hour long that included Spellbound, Gunrunning, Ten Fathoms Deep, After The Love Has Gone, Unbelievable, Red and the stunning The Name Of The Rose, well It wouldn't have been a proper TEN show without that classic. The new numbers from their latest album Heresy and Creed, Gunrunning and Unbelievable slotted well into the set, songs that flowed with the same meter as their older more familiar songs. I have always loved Gary Hughes style and approach and tonight s show reinforced that even more. Like their albums that are made up of the best tracks recorded, so was this live set being the perfect window for those unfamiliar and pleasing those who know this band.
Danny Vaughn is quite an enigmatic entity and is highly regarded by many and tonight like many of the bands that played the festival, the setting was just right for their presentation, a set that was well received as Danny and the band worked their way through their songs as he strutted his stuff, living the moment as he confidently worked the crowd for all its was worth. The soundstage was at its best for this set as the room had really warmed up; his melodic tones reached every corner of the room filling it with passion. The band played a combination of old and new that was accepted and expected; the audience was attentive and responded fittingly at the end of each song. The fitting opening number Strength in Numbers hit the mark as did the newer songs like Faithless, the new single off his album. Another real highlight was Here's Hoping it Hurts that saw Danny strumming the acoustic and the band filling in the blank spaces an angst ridden song, but it was the familiar songs like Sail Away, Standing Alone that had the whole crowd singing, Rescue Me and Forever Young that tore the building down sending the crowd into a frenzy making it a perfect closure to day one.
Well, well Well…… The start of day two and Johnny Lima hit the stage with his formidable good time rock n roll stance never being one afraid to get the party going. It had been a long time since I've seen this guy play, in fact it was back when the Gods Festival existed, a somewhat precursor to Firefest. The audience accepted the invitation and accordingly played along to his antics. As the band played Johnny worked every inch of the stage really living the moment and in all honesty this was the way a festival should be opened. Lima's voice reminded me of early Brett Michael's solo work and at times Jon Bon Jovi. Throughout the set the band offered up such gems as Wildflowers, new song My Revolution a heavier number which saw Johnny pick up his guitar. Changing tact Blame it on Love was up next which was more melodic than the previous song and the anthemic Caught in the Middle from his Livin' it Loud album. As ever Lima played a storming set as ever.
Work of Art
Today was the first of a few firsts for me, as Works of Art were not a band I have seen before. They certainly set the bar for the day's proceedings presenting their take on melodic rock which I might add was highly infectious and in all honesty Work of Art made the statement of how this genre should be done. The trio were complemented by two additional musicians to bolster the sound that came across as a mix of Journey, Toto and Giant. For me they were certainly the band of the day, make no mistake of that, there wasn't one person who wasn't being moved or rocked by what these guys were playing. The music just exuded confidence, character and vitality. Lars Safsund is definitely a force to be reckoned with as are the band. It is hard to believe that they have only recorded two albums both being perfect examples of the genre and based on their performance one can only expect great things from this band making them for me the band of the Festival and a band that has maturity beyond its age. This was just a faultless showcase of their talent that won them new fans as well as delighting their existing ones. The broad smiles on the faces of each member said it all really and the only downside to this magnificent display that it was way too short.
Being the first time, pardon the pun, Robin has played the U.K, there was no better or fitting occasion for her to do so. There was quite a buzz about her appearance at the festival and for me it was one of the highlights. Robin and the band presented a greatest hits package of her songs which included, set opener If I You Were a Woman and I Was a Man, Don't Lose Any Sleep, Hold Back the Night, You'll be the One Crying, Hide You're your Heart and the obligatory First Time. The band were certainly having fun, interacting with each other, a band that consisted of some very familiar faces especially those of her husband James Christian, yes he of House of Lords, one of melodic rocks most prolific guitarist Tommy Denander and House of Lords drummer B J Zampa. Robin's approach was somewhat feisty, full of energy and animated as her sultry tones filled the venue, unbelieving of what she was witnessing but feeding off the energy none the less. Mr Denander really offered up a smorgasbord of guitar dexterity without even breaking a sweat, playing all those sweet solos that give you goosebumps whilst the rest of the band played along and Robin adding the icing to the cake. All I can say is Robin don't leave it too long before you return.
Oh wow Santers, what can I say? The Canadian power trio and firm favourite of mine hadn't played the U.K before either, another first for the organisers, walked onto the hallowed ground that is the Firefest Stage, an appearance that has been 30 years in the waiting. The guys were certainly not fazed by this as they presented their 60 minute set that called in at all the points along their career. As a band they were well honed, the band that stood out from the rest with presented their fast, sleek and powerful hard rock, that did sound a bit muggy at times, but that was a small price to pay. The Santers brothers Rick on guitar, Mark on drums were complimented by their long time cohort Rick Lazaroff on bass. As a band they plied their trades well, which like the fellow compatriots Brighton Rock, was a really journey to yesteryear, which, might I add included a rather proficient drum solo from Mark part way through the set. How's that for confidence? If I was to put a list of songs together for the band to play then this set would have practically nailed it, a set that included Winter Freeze, Mistreated Heart, The Rapper, Black magic, Road to Morocco, You Turn Me On, Can't Shake You, Time After Time and a rather good rendition of Free's All Right Now.
Setlist: Come On n Love me, Maggy, off To The Sun, What Keeps me Loving You, After The Rain, When I find Love, Fire and Water, Souvenirs, Face Down In the Gutter, Inside out.
As ever Mitch Malloy is a somewhat golden boy that just doesn't seem to be able to put a foot wrong, playing a set that was full of amazing melodies. There's no surprise that the Van Halen brothers offered him the job, which didn't come to fruition for various reason. Mitch and his Italian counterparts and might I add a highly complementary bunch of musicians that were definitely burning the place up, creating their own energy and atmosphere. As a showman Mitch was definitely on fire something that was confirmed by the way in which the crowd were responding making him another one of the day's highlights. From the opening song Mission of Love and touching on Shine, Our Love Will Never Die, Forever and set closer Anything At All the crowd swaggered and swayed singing along with his infectious approach as he took time out to throw a few of those mandatory rock poses, displaying a Cheshire cat smile with the whitest teeth I've ever seen. Vocally Mitch was pitch perfect throughout as the band punctuated the music offering him a platform to work from making it another highlight of the festival.
This was always going to be an emotional journey for the band and the sea of Gotthard fans that filled the building. Messieurs Leoni, Scherer, Lynn, Habegger and Maeder gave a succinct account of themselves playing their heavier melodic music that really did have a character all of its own, that travelled through their back catalogue pin pointing all the perfect moments from their illustrious career thus far. It can't have been easy for Nic Maeder filling the shoes of their former vocalist Steve Lee, but in all honesty Nic did a rather excellent job. The band just wanted to play with precision, which they did; their interactions were balanced, powerful, pushing all the right buttons, again being a band that could do no wrong as they set the room alight. One Life, One Soul as song that was dedicated to the memory of Steve Lee sent shivers down the spine, a stunning ballad that was so intense the air was electric. This was counterbalanced by the likes of the more generic orientated Fist in Your Face and a rather stunning version of Mountain Mama and the anthemic Lift You Up that brought the set to a close. The crowd weren't having this and called for more, the band obliged offering up Master of illusion form their Domino Effect album and show closer the Bon Jovi inflected Anytime Anywhere a song that also brought day two to a close, throwing the gauntlet down for day three.
So day three of this rather excellent festival dawned and New Jersey's Farcry were the band to set the mood and boy did they succeed with their guitar orientated rock, another band that were so happy to be playing, a band that wanted to take you on their forty minute or so set. Opening such occasion can't be an easy task but this did not faze the band one iota. This was music that was built on big choruses; big guitar passages, dynamic and pyrotechnic lead breaks that worked on so many different levels. The whole set was just full of energy as the band played She's crazy, Over and Over (again), Nothing You Can Do, Better Than This the stand out song of the set, Have It All, Too Hot to Hold, Fine Line, Love Won't Wait. The sound for day three was at its best something that was noticeable, complimenting the music and heightening the experience. Farcry were received with open arms and one gets the feeling that they will be back. A highly recommended band indeed.
This again was a first for many including myself; the cult singer Fiona brought her quality performance to the festival, an experience that I have waited for some time to witness and participate in as was the case for Santers. Having been away for a while, this set was a welcomed by all, although Fiona seemed and looked somewhat bemused and nervous by the response she received. The band that participated was more or less the same as Robin Becks which added to the occasion and confirmed that this was going to be a performance that was going to be spectacular……. And boy was it. As with Robin, Fiona soaked up the energy from the crowd and fed it back through her performance. It's hard to believe that her eponymous album was release twenty seven years ago. Once she had settled, the band kicked into Ain't that Just Like Love and All Over Now from her Beyond The Pale album which had a harder edge than the original versions, the beauty being that Fiona has lost none of its prowess. It wasn't long though before the stunning Hang Your heart On Me form her debut filled the room, bringing back so many memories as did Hearts of Fire and Talk To Me. As with all good things the far too short set had to come to a close and the choice of song was somewhat of a surprise to these ears a song that has been firm favourite of mine since I first heard it in 1982, Shadows of the Night, yes the song that was made famous by Pat Benatar. Fiona's tone offered a new dimension to the song making it darker which again brought another rather stunning set to a close.
D.C Cooper, a man that never stays still, a man that lives the moment, working his way through his adept vocal spectrum hitting all the notes with precision, punctuating the musical prose with his stage craft like a well-oiled machine. D.C is another master of stage presence, who didn't stay within the confines of his chosen arena, leaving the stage to participate with the crowd. Keyboardist Andre Andersen was no less enigmatic in his presence, working the crowd from his many keyboards. Royal Hunt were a somewhat interesting selection as they tend to lean more towards the prog end of the market which isn't a bad thing, proving that this festival is all about diversity, something that added another dimension. The audience appreciated this as fists were raised high, clapping abound, people singing along, what more could you ask for? D.C may not have been the original vocalist on some of these songs, but one thing that is for sure, he made them his own. The band offered up perfect renditions of The Mission, Message to God amongst others and a storming version of Stranded. No sooner had the set started the band left the stage, which for me was far too short a set that closed their 20th anniversary tour. This was not the first and might I add definitely not the last time I will go and see this band, I just love their whole approach.
Oh these boys were so happy to be performing here in the U.K. to such a receptive audience. This was quite evident by the massive smiles on their face and their hi intensity performance. Brighton Rock were the perfect response to all things past with their dirtier and earthier sound taking everyone back to the late 80's earlier 90's big hair band day. Canada has produced some rather excellent bands and Gerry McGhee, Steve Skreebs, Greg Fraser and co didn't let the side down. The band opened the set playing before McGhee entered with mic and stand in hand, venomously spitting out the lyrics to Unleash the Rage from their Take a Deep Breath album a song with power and balls, raising the roof, a theme throughout their whole set in all honesty a 180 degree shift to Royal Hunts approach. No less impressive was Hanging High and Dry from the same album. The approach may have been generic and by numbers but time has by no means dampened their appetite or attitude. To complement their set the band include more goodies like Barricade, Hollywood Shuffle, We Came to Rock, Power Overload, Bulletproof and a fantastic version of Nightstalker, the highlight of their set that was as menacing as the title suggests. This was another trip down memory lane, but Brighton Rock made it feel like it was only yesterday a perfect response to Royal Hunt, who got massive thumbs up from this quarter. Thanks for the trip boys.
SETLIST: Deepfreeze, Misery loves Company, All's Fair In Love and War, Babylon, True Believer, The World Stopped Turning, Ghost Of Winter, No Matter What, Show A Little Love
Like a machine in perpetual motion that was permanently being tweaked to get the best results was how the day was going. Every band that played bettered the previous as if it was some form of competition. The amazing thing being though was that there was no clash of egos and this was certainly true of the Stage Dolls being for me the band of the day. The band were met with rapturous applause and at stage commented about how they wished they could play to this crowd every day, such was the reaction they got. As elder statesmen who have grown old gracefully, their music is just as relevant today as it was back in its day. Even when they played the more straight forward Left Foot Boogie; but it was for me songs like the beautiful Love Don't Bother Me, the powerful Sorry (Is All I Can Say), the infectious Still In Love and the poignant Celtic inflected Soldier's Gun. The Stage Dolls provided a mature and stunning set that rewarded as much as it entertained.
Well what can be said about the Danger Danger set? Ted Poley and the boys were the perfect party band to close the ninth Firefest with their high octane, good time partying approach. The audience were more than pleased to see these boys; the response was unbelievable as the band entered the stage. From the opening notes of Rock America Ted struck all the poses, whipping the crowd into frenzy, a crowd that were not going to accept anything less, this was a masterclass in stage performance. Big smiles filled he faces of the quartet, the crowd reciprocated as they hung on every note that was presented, good time rock and roll, songs that were anthemic as much as they were entertaining. Next up was Beat the Bullet and Shot at Love, songs they pulled from their back catalogue; even the newer tracks like Killing Love off Revolve fitted into the set perfectly. The trip didn't stop there as the band went on to play more classics such as Feel's Like Love, Bang Bang and the fantastic ballad I Still Think about You. The stage couldn't contain Ted either as he went for a walk around the building whilst offering his songs to the crowd. Bruno Ravel and the band participated in some great stage banter, a bit too much at times, as they teased the band playing snippets from Kiss's God of Thunder and Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath again proving that whatever they did tonight would turn to gold, not being able to put a foot wrong. Crazy Nite brought the set to a close, but it was pretty obvious that the band were not finished with entertaining. The encore included Monkey Business seeing Mitch Malloy participating; reciprocating the favour that Bruno had done 24 hours or so earlier in his set. The real highlight though was Naughty Naughty which was a real crowd pleaser which became a who's who as Robin Beck, James Christian, Tommy Denander, Mitch Malloy and Terry Illious entered the stage adding to the whole affair and really summing up what this whole festival was about.
All in all 2012's Firefest was Stunning stuff indeed making it one of those folk lore I was there moments. FIREFEST is THE melodic festival. Accept No substitutes