After a year of absence, the prestigious Gods of AOR festival made its return (albeit under a different name) and not surprisingly this was very much to the delight of numerous melodic hard rock fans. There were however a few changes made with the organisation: biggest change was that Now and Then Records was no longer in control. Bruce Mee and his team from Fireworks Magazine are now in charge of the festival and evidently a name change was in order. However the tradition of a bill full of AOR & melodic rock bands was kept in honour and that alone was enough for yours truly to make a near 400 mile drive to Bradford, near Manchester, to witness the first edition of Firefest. Arriving late on Friday night I was too tired to catch the pre-show with Dante Fox and House of Shakira, in spite of the latter playing their whole debut album ‘Lint’ with original singer Mikael Eriksson as special guest. I was however able to hear a couple of opinions on the show and they were nothing but positive.
Anyway after a good night's sleep at the Holiday Inn, I headed to the Town & Country Club around noon where a few hundred punters were already cueing up. The whole event was scheduled to start at 12.30 PM but due to sound check problems it was nearly 12.45 PM when English rockers Pride took the stage for a rock marathon that would end approximately some 14 hours later. Based on the South coast of England these guys were no strangers to this particular venue as they had already played here at the 2003 Gods festival. Recently they had added new guitar player Tony Marshall to their line-up and that seemed to work extremely well leaving all the space for guitarist Chris Green to display his wonderful melodic solos. Add to that the vocals of Matt Mitchell and you get a bunch of mainstream hard rock tunes with great hooks. With already two albums under their belt Pride had no trouble at all to warm things up.
Even more experienced then Pride were House Of Shakira, who have been trying hard to make it since their introduction to the scene in '91. Their debut however didn't see the light until '97 but it immediately earned them a spot on the melodic rock map. Just as Pride they had played the Gods before and today they proved once more they rightfully deserved a place on this bill. Their set was well balanced with songs from almost every album. Great harmony vocals and a lot of non-rock influences are the basic sound ingredients of this Swedish quintet who played an honourable set.
Next on stage were M.ILL.ION, another Swedish act, who have released five albums since ’89. Just like House of Shakira they’ve had their share of problems with several record labels but fortunately this hasn’t effected their song writing skills as new release ‘Kingsize’ proved. With Jonas Hermansson they have a young and talented guitar player with an adult rock sound. The volume was turned all the way up to ten but we were still able to hear the Hammond organs quite clearly. And since this is a big part of the band's sound it added the finishing touch to their rocking performance.
With their roots going back as far as 1974 Legs Diamond were the oldest band on stage today, with only Michael Prince and Roger Romeo remaining as original members. In the late seventies they were about to make it into the big time but somehow, somewhere things didn’t quite work out the way they were supposed to. Skipping a few years every now and then, this band remained active and only recently singer Rick Sanford decided to quit. His place was taken by none other than ex-Wild Horses/Montrose front man John Levesque who still has a remarkable strong voice and although I wasn't very familiar with their music Legs Diamond made a good impression on me.
After a five-year break, Michael Voss (ex-Mad Max/Bonfire) decide to make a new Casanova album last year entitled ‘Beauty Must Die’. Once again it oozes with great sing along AOR songs so we can safely say that not much had changed over the years, but then again why should it. The catchy songs went down well and no one seemed to notice Michael Voss's German accent. Towards the end of their performance Silver band mate Gary Barden took the stage for a rocking version of ‘Doctor Doctor’ (UFO). And while it can't be denied that time is catching up with him, he still has a good voice.
Wrongfully announced as Pink Cream 69, the intro tape was already running while some members of Dare were still in the dressing room. But Darren Wharton, who incidentally dreamed of this scenario the night before, couldn't be bothered and was smiling their bad entrée away. Since the release of ‘Belief’ a successful change in musical style has been made to folk rock, but it’s still their debut ‘Out Of The Silence’ that most easily (and often!) finds its way to my CD player. A fact that Wharton is fully aware of because almost half of this classic album was played with especially ‘King of Spades’, dedicated to colleague Phil Lynott, bringing a moment full of emotion. Good music doesn’t always have to be hard or loud, as Dare proved with their performance, resulting in the first personal highlight for me. Don’t wait too long with that new album guys!!!
German rockers Pink Cream 69, with English singer David Readman, were on next and they played without a doubt the heaviest set of all. After ten years they were finally back on British soil and for Readman this was actually his first gig with the band in the UK. The departure of Andy Deris to Halloween is long forgotten and Pink Cream 69 were sounding solid as a rock. ‘Do You Like It Like That’ and personal favourite ‘Shame’ were the highlights of a show that excelled in craftsmanship and experience making theirs a hard act to follow.
Unless you listen to the name Firehouse. Their debut rocked like a ton of bricks and in homeland America alone they sold a few million copies of it. But after their second release grunge had started to rear its ugly head with the well-known consequences. However Firehouse kept on making records and after a short tour last year with Vaughn, they were back in the UK for one gig. But what a gig it turned out to be! Opening cuts ‘Lover’s Lane’ and ‘All She Wrote’ immediately served up the energetic and bombastic rock sound we all know from the band's records. The hair is a little shorter but the talent of originals Bill Leverty, CJ Snare and Michael Foster is still there. And as to prove it Foster played a short but powerful drum solo. Everybody sang along to the sweet ballad ‘Love Of A Lifetime’ (which reached # 3 in the US charts) ‘til ‘Overnight Sensation’ speeded things up again. Firehouse played a lot of older songs (which evidently are their better ones) and they still played each one with a lot of enthusiasm. Together with Ratt, Cinderella and Quiet Riot they are part of a package that is unfortunately only touring in the US this summer. But I really hope to see them again soon in Europe.
Although mainly from Norway, TNT is another group we can only dream of seeing on stage on our shores. Last year’s ‘New Religion’ finally brought back those great tunes we first heard on classics ‘Tell No Tales’ and ‘Intuition’. And it just turned out that most of the songs played tonight were from these albums. Proceedings were started however with new cut ‘Invisible Noise’. Seeing TNT for the very first time was a dream come true. Something I had been wishing for ever since I heard them way back in the eighties. When they hit the stage my eyes were drawn immediately to the right side of the stage where a guy called Ronnie LeTekro was playing guitar. Actually he was swinging and slapping it while his fingers were running full speed along the fret board, but what came out of the speakers was pure magic: an avalanche of sublime riffs and solos. This guy was dancing and jumping around without ever missing a single note and at one point I saw Bill Leverty looking in awe from the side of the stage. Mixed with those high-pitched vocals of Tony Harnell and the solid rhythm section; you had all the ingredients for a first class rock show, which is exactly what we got. ‘Caught Between The Tigers’, ‘Intuition’, ‘10.000 Lovers’ and ‘Shine On’ together with newies ‘She Needs Me’ and ‘Give Me A Sign’ all passed in review and it was clear Soul SirkUS would have to come out strong if they wanted to do the same, let alone improve this performance.
A super group with Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Malmsteen), Neal Schon (Journey, Hardline), Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake) en Virgil Donati (Ring of Fire, Planet X) simply demands high expectations but I for one feel a little bit let down. Just like the CD this concert started of great with ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘New Position’ followed by ‘My Sanctuary’. Soto is a great singer and entertainer and as a big Journey fan it was absolutely great to see Neal Schon in front of my steaming eyes. As a headliner they had the luxury of being able to play a full set including a lot of great songs from their past. So why not throw in a couple of Journey songs? Soto’s got the voice and it’s what the fans love to hear. Instead of that we got ‘Voodoo Chile’ (Jimi Hendrix) with a guitar solo, an instrumental freak-out moment from Schon, Mendoza & Donati and a bass solo. This jam session was perhaps a lot of fun for them but was not what most fans wanted to hear. After that they slowed things down with mister Soto taking place behind the piano for his solo moment. He dished out short versions of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Queen) and ‘Who’s Crying Now’ (Journey), unfortunately without Schon, which was a real shame. But when ‘Purple Rain’ turned into ‘Faithfully’, Schon finally walked back onstage and delivered a steaming solo, resulting in a fantastic moment. Although far from bad I can’t help but be disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high? However this first Firefest attended by around 1.000 melodic rockers was a great day full of great music with hopefully a second edition next year. Didn’t I just hear someone mentioning Night Ranger?
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Next show definitely won't be as long. Less bands for sure.
The reason it won't be over TWO days: Your production/venue/security etc costs double! And people have to take a holiday on Monday, especially those from abroad. So it will remain a one-day event (well, one and a half, counting Friday evening).
But twice a year? Hmmmmmmm.............
Currently Firefest is a long haul. What's needed is a Firefest Weekend! Split the bill in half and have it over two days instead of one. Or hold the event twice a year, say every 6 months. Again, half the bands that currently occupy the bill so the days are not as long. Just a suggestion but I think this way people won't get to tired.
It was a fantastic day ( all be it very long ) and the bands were on the whole wonderful , especially Firehouse / TNT / Legs Diamond and surprisingly Dare . The only gripe i have is after being on your feet for upwards of fourteen hours , we still had to wait for Soul Sirkus to come on stage at one PM , This must stop . Either we need less bands at these festivals or better organization , by this i mean a running time that doesn't see people leaving while the headliner is still playing because they are to tired to stay . I myself went with three friends and only i remained until the end . Firefest was a triumph but it was also much to long a day , which in the end i'm sure spoiled it for many fans . I'll be there next year but i hope that they finish earlier .
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Firefest (Soul SirkUS, TNT, Firehouse, Pink Cream 69, Dare, Casanova, Legs Diamond, M.ILL.ION, House Of Shakira, Pride)
May 7, 2005
Town & Country Club, Bradford