DAY 2 – FIREHOUSE, BLACK N BLUE, PRETTY MAIDS, BABYLON AD, BOULEVARD, FROM THE FIRE, RAGE OF ANGELS
Day 2 also began with home grown talent in Rage Of Angels, formed by Ged Rylands who was playing guitar rather than the keyboards he is best known for with Ten and Tyketto.
While their debut album featured a range of guest singers on this occasion Rick Chase, journeyman of too many British AOR Bands to mention, stepped in for his live debut. He had a reassuringly eighties presence both with his soaring vocals and his Miami Vice style rolled jacket sleeves.
While the songs were longer than you would expect and slow burning the choruses of the likes of ‘See You Walking By’ and ‘Through It All’ – the latter even generating some audience participation – lodged themselves in my brain.
An impressive set ended with Tommy Denander coming on to trade bluesy guitar licks with Neil Fraser on ‘Spinning Wheel’ which had a different feel to the rest of the set.
… joining the lookalike games people were playing all weekend, the shaven headed giant on bass, feeling his way rather gingerly, looked like the legendary John McCoy, so I felt a personal sense of embarrassment when he was introduced as the former Gillan man.
From The Fire definitely fall into the category of bands that only Firefest could have exhumed from obscurity. Three original members were still present including singer JD Kelly – the dated big hair and flowery shirts of their album picture now giving way to receding hair and a brightly patterned jacket that belonged more to a jazz lounge than a hard rock festival.
His presence at his keyboard to the side of the stage meant that excellent guitarist Tommy Lafferty was pushed more into the spotlight than in his day job in Crown of Thorns.
Meanwhile joining the lookalike games people were playing all weekend, the shaven headed giant on bass, feeling his way rather gingerly, looked like the legendary John McCoy, so I felt a personal sense of embarrassment when he was introduced as the former Gillan man.
JD’s voice seems to have changed over the years but has character and depth, while occasionally his piano intros reminded me more of Bruce Hornsby. Playing the opening four songs from their album, after a tentative start with ‘Hold On’, ‘Same Song’ had a danceable groove to it, ‘Tears Cried In The Rain’ with some great piano playing came over as a classic AOR ballad right down to the title, and ‘Over Your Head’ proved they can still rock out.
They played a couple of new songs of which ‘Blame It On The Moon’ was the better while the beautiful Swedish songstress Issa was brought on to guest on the female part on the wonderful duet ‘Spark And Flame’, where her performance was probably more impressive than his. The piano led ‘Where Are You Now’ was wonderfully melodic, but ended a triumphant return to the stage far too soon.
Even more of a blast from the past was Canadians Boulevard, of whom nothing had been heard in 24 years since they released a pair of albums. Considering their time away it was remarkable how tight the band were and they had a smooth, almost funky feel to them.
They opened with the soothing melodies of ‘Dream On’ showing off that rarity at Firefest, a full-time saxophone, while the smooth choruses of ‘Need You Tonight’ and ‘Where Are You Now’ were highly listenable.
The vocals were top notch with silver haired David Forbes’ voice, reinforced by some high harmonies from keyboardist Andrew Johns. The moody atmospheric ‘Rainy Night In London’ was the one many fans had most waited for while ‘Crazy Life’ featured a tasty solo from guitarist David Corman. Not every song hit the mark for me but for many Boulevard were one of the bands of the festival.
Proving the adventurous choice of bands this year, one of the most mellow bands of all eleven Firefests were followed by one of the heaviest in Babylon AD who came over as an uncompromising, fewer frills version of a prime time Tesla. Singer Derek Davis was a pocket rocket and almost seemed to be shadow boxing on ‘Bad Blood’.
Among the aggression of the likes of ‘Hammer Swings Down’, and crowd favourite’ Bang Go the Bells’, there was a smattering of mellower moments. ‘Sally Danced’ built from quiet beginnings to be a sleazy blues in the mould of the ‘Philly sound’ that many bands of the day dabbled in and the ballad ‘Desperate’ was excellent. In total contrast a gloriously dumb ‘The Kid Goes Wild’ resulted in mass outbreaks of punching the air, and a cover of ‘Rats In The Cellar’ was unrecognisably heavy.
Once again considering how long it was since they played regularly, the band were stunningly on the money and an act I barely considered back in the day had proved a revelation.
After a trio of such pleasant surprises, Pretty Maids may have struggled for attention having played the festival four years ago and toured more recently. However, much as Treat did in the same slot last year, their set was fanatically received, predominantly by a big contingent from mainland Europe.
Their style is somewhat schizophrenic with Ronnie Atkins a great frontman but with a rough edge to his vocals and opener ‘Mother Of All Lies’ extremely heavy. Yet, a career spanning set – from eighties gems like ‘Love Games’ to the more recent ‘I See Ghosts’ and surprisingly melodic ‘Sad To See You Suffer’, the set hit one of the purple patches of the weekend with a trio of gems.
‘Rodeo’ had a number of people, myself included leaping in the air to its massive chorus and there were lusty singalongs to ‘Little Drops Of Heaven’ and ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’, with a sweet solo from Ken Hammer on this old Phil Lynott obscurity. The battle between keyboards and Ken’s guitar riffs to ‘Future World’ concluded what for me, as a relatively recent Pretty Maids convert, was one of the sets of the weekend.
Another coup for the organisers was to bring Black n Blue to the UK for the first time in 30 years. Along with the likes of Autograph, Dokken and Quiet Riot they were pioneers in the mid-eighties of the brasher, glammier style of American rock with its heart in LA, which was to dominate for the next few years.
However despite a long career B n B never achieved major success themselves and it was not hard to see why with some well played but derivative, often AC/DC influenced, material such as ‘Nasty Nasty’ and ‘Miss Misery’.
They unashamedly still had the glam metal look, notably singer Jaime St James who was almost a caricature of the larger than life frontman, while the two more recent recruits guitarists Brandon Cook and Stacey Blades were a well matched pair who gave the sound a beefy feel. Ironically it was a newer song ‘Target’ which was among the strongest.
However the gig really came to life with a home run of songs from their 1984 debut - suddenly memories came flooding back of being lent the album by the university friend who got me into all the American bands of the day. I was joining the fist punching to the likes of ‘The Strong Will Rock’, ‘Wicked Bitch’ and ‘Hold On To 18′.
I won’t be rushing out to rediscover their back catalogue but they were highly accomplished and fun performers and against expectations I thoroughly enjoyed their set.
…it was inevitable Firehouse would play a key role in the final Firefest as Saturday night headliner
As one of the best loved bands of the genre, not to mention one of Kieran Dargan’s favourites who he brought to these shores for the first time ever in pre-Firefest days, it was inevitable Firehouse would play a key role in the final Firefest as Saturday night headliner.
With ‘Shake And Tumble’ and the all-time classic hooks of ‘All She Wrote’ they got off to a good start despite CJ Snare’s questionable moustache and more significantly, a mix in which Michael Foster’s powerhouse drums were too high and the relative inaudibility of Bill Leverty’s distinctive guitar sound meant that there wasn’t much to hear other a pulsating rhythm.
‘Rock On The Radio’ (a song which could only have been written by Americans, the UK’s radio stations having a long history of prejudice against rock) came over much better as a live anthem, but for much of the set Firehouse failed to do what it said on the tin, the show having been billed as them playing their classic self-titled album in full, plus selected hits.
Instead they dropped the ball and, in between taking to keyboards for the syrupy ballad ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’, CJ’s still crystal clear voice was criminally underused, while the band diverted into the more obscure parts of their catalogue. Bill sang ‘Holding On’ with his gravelly style making for a rougher-edged, almost southern feel, and Michael sang ‘Door To Door’ with a head mike, which other than its ‘who-oah-oah’ chant seemed little more than a vehicle for a lengthy drum solo.
Later in the set the lame ‘Tryin To Make A Livin’ then went off in a strange direction with a lengthy keyboard and guitar jam more suited to a Black Crowes or Allman Brothers concert. It was nice to see a band taking chances and some of the choices may have pleased the diehards, but the original concept was surely better suited to the occasion.
Excellent versions of ‘Don’t Walk Away’ and the hard rocking ‘Overnight Sensation’ provided consolation, then too late in the set they pulled things round. ‘Love Of A Lifetime’ may be heavy on the schmaltz, but the way CJ’s almost angelic vocal delivery from behind his keyboard combined with Bill wrenching every note out of his solo reminded me of the best ballad moments of REO Speedwagon and Styx.
In stark contrast ‘Reach For The Sky’ showed the band at their hardest and I looked around to see everyone participating in one of the most loved melodic rock anthems to close in ‘Don’t Treat Me Bad’. Firehouse had restored respectability, but had fallen short of many of the impressive acts playing out of their skins that had preceded them.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Simon Dunkerley
Photo Gallery (25/26 October)
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Featured Albums w/c 22 February 2021 (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 RADAR Lost In The Atlantic (Escape Music)
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14:00-16:00 ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – The Darkest Days Are The Brightest (InsideOut Music)
Power Plays w/c 22 February 2021 (Mon-Fri)
DEAD REYNOLDS Bright Lights
ALLY VENABLE Road To Nowhere
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