Ten great years of melodic rock festivals at Nottingham’s Rock City seemed to have come to an emotional end with the final ever Firefest last year. However just 12 months on with the Rock City organisation having taken on the mantle of organising the Rockingham Festival, most if not all of the same faithful were attending another, with a similar format of three days of a mix of cult melodic rock artists from the genre’s heyday, the odd act persuaded to reform and some of the newer generation of standard bearers.
It was like going to your favourite pub under a new landlord – the building and the clientele were still there, but there were the odd different touches, with the international flags and on stage announcements gone but new features like the band logos projected onto the rear of the stage and guns at the front throwing out smoke and confetti.
DAY 1- TOM KEIFER, ECLIPSE, ROBERT TEPPER, ROMEO’S DAUGHTER, SERPENTINE, SANTA CRUZ
Santa Cruz had the honour of being the first ever Rockingham artists. The hirsute young Finns have a dynamic high energy stage act with singer Archie Kuosmanen and his co guitarist Johnny Parkkonen racing deep into the crowd, and stretch the boundaries of melodic rock with their uncompromising style.
The songs were a little heavy for my taste yet had well placed melodic refrains on the likes of ‘Renegades’ and ‘Nothing Compares To You’. ‘Wasted And Wounded’ was their best song and I was expecting it to be the last with the set time already reached but they still slipped in a further track in ‘Aiming High’. There was something of the young and hungry Guns ‘n Roses about them and a band to watch for those who like their rock a bit more aggressive and sleazy.
One of the few UK acts on the bill, Serpentine have had several line up changes and a new singer in the diminutive Adam Payne. He has a slightly earthier tone than his predecessor Matt Black which suited a series of new songs from the Gary Hughes produced and co-penned ‘Circle of Knives’ of which ‘Season Of The Witch’ and ‘The Hardest Fall’ were the most impressive and the Ten influence shone through on the likes of ‘Tragedienne’.
However on ‘Lonely Nights’, featuring a sweet solo from Chris Gould, looking like a junior Zakk Wylde with his bullseye guitar, Adam proved he could replicate the searing tones of Tony Mills on the original. A classy ‘Whatever Heartache’ reminded us that the Welshmen are one of the best pure AOR bands to have come out of these shores in recent years.
For Romeo’s Daughter this was a triumphant return. As ever sophisticated singer Leigh Matty reminded us, the rapturous reception they received when persuaded to reform as a one-off for Firefest 2009 led to a more permanent reunion that has now resulted in two further albums.
I missed the start of their set, going out for a food break and caught out by a very swift changeover and returned to see them mainly showcasing newer stuff – the country rock-ish ‘Bittersweet’ and rousing ‘Alive’ showed they have come back sounding very fresh, even if the experimental grooves of ‘Touch’ did not work for me.
Belatedly they returned to first album classics and after ‘Velvet Tongue’ and ‘Inside Out’, featuring the beginning of a sing-along, ‘Cry Myself To Sleep At Night’ featured a sweet solo from understated guitarist Craig Joiner, and after an unconvincing start ‘Wild Child’ rocked the place. It was a bit frustrating then at the set was curtailed with the likes of ‘HeavenIn The Backseat’ absent and the balance had swung perhaps too much in favour of the new material for a festival show.
Next was one of the blasts from the past in Robert Tepper. I saw him play acoustically a couple of years ago at Melodic Rock Fest in Chicago and as he has moved in a more mellow direction was expecting the same, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him with a full electric band drawn from Madrid’s music scene.
Coming on stage with the suave looks of a veteran Hollywood actor or newscaster he nevertheless put his heart and soul into opener ‘Another Time Another Place’ and the rousing anthems ‘Soul Survivor’.
His band featured two backing singers in Gabrielle De Val who was outstanding on the duet ‘Fighting For You’, and Indigo Balboa who looked like a seventies porn star, while his band initially looked a little ragged but did justice to the material.
All was going well with songs like ‘The Unforgiven’ which could have, and maybe did, come off an eighties brat pack movie, the heartfelt ballad ‘If Thats What You Call Loving’, and ‘No Rest For The Wounded Heart’ with Robert sounding like an AOR Springsteen . Even better was a classy version of ‘Le Bel Age’ which he wrote but which Pat Benatar made more famous.
However his set was derailed when the keyboard stand collapsed mid song and after an interminable wait for the crew it could not be fixed. All set long he had been teasing that his classic Rocky IV hit ‘No Easy Way Out’ was on the way, and with time running out he had to perform it without its trademark eighties keyboards and his other classic ‘Angel Of The City’ had to be omitted, It was an unfortunate end to what was nevertheless a triumphant comeback and to many people one of the surprises of the weekend.
Moving to the more contemporary Eclipse are one of the current darlings of the scene. Only two years ago they were opening up Firefest but they proved here they were worthy of a second top billing. The unique characteristic of the Swedes is that they manage to be blisteringly heavy yet typically Scandinavian melodic at the same time, showcased by an opening salvo from new album ‘Armageddonize’ in ‘I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry’ and ‘Stand On Your Feet’.
Erik Martensson makes the role of front man look so effortless and ‘Wake Me Up’ was rapturously received while ‘Battlegrounds’ even got a knot of people near me pogoing in delight, though ‘Blood Of the Enemies’ was an example of their one downside, that some songs repeat the same themes. To the surprise and delight of many, to celebrate Jeff Scott Soto’s 50th birthday they played ‘One Love’ from W.E.T. in which they moonlight with him.
‘Breakdown’ got a terrific groove going while ‘Bleed And Scream’ is now a signature melodic rock classic and during set closer ‘Breaking My Heart Again’ Erik worked the front of the stage warmly shaking every fan by the hand. The set certainly flew by and they deserved the biggest plaudits of the festival yet.
Getting Tom Keifer to headline was something of a coup for Rockingham’s debut. Cinderella are currently on hiatus but as their singer, main songwriter and guitarist the difference between solo artist and band was not as great as for most other acts.
With a specially designed stage set and the most professional band of the day, featuring former Winger and Alice Cooper keyboardist Paul Taylor, the quality bar was raised even further. As the intro tape of ‘Bad Seamstress Blues’ gave way to ‘Falling Apart At The Seams’, the gravel voiced singer who seems frozen in his 1980’s glam peak was on fine form with no hint of the vocal problems that affected his later years touring.
‘It’s Not Enough’ and the beautiful ‘Different Light’ showcased his excellent ‘The Way Life Goes’ solo album, but were not too much of a cultural shift from his parent band. However it was debut album favourites in ‘Somebody Save Me’ and ‘Shake Me’ that got the best reaction, perhaps too much so from two rowdy long haired retro glamsters next to me.
An oldie and a newie in ‘Heartbreak Station’ and ‘The Flower Song’ showed how misunderstood Tom was, being just at ease playing countrified acoustic blues as the glam metal Cinderella were pigeonholed into.
The ballads were truly superb in ‘Don’t Know What You Got Till Its Gone’ and ‘Nobody’s Fool’, with Tom’s anguished vocals, pouring out his emotion into his singing, and ‘Coming Home’ climaxed in a twin guitar jam. ‘Solid Ground’ nestled very comfortably alongside Cinderella material and ‘Shelter Me’ with a girl backing singer and crowd sing-along ended the set.
Indeed it was only in the encores that his midas touch failed with two covers that seemed to misjudge the mood in ‘It’s Only Rock n Roll’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, though again he poured his heart and soul into the song. Nevertheless perhaps his most universally loved song in ‘Gypsy Road’ ended an outstanding set and one which at 85 minutes was longer than Cinderella’s latter day headline sets.
It was a great start to the first day of Rockingham which ended with promoter Dave Herron DJing in the Black Cherry Lounge downstairs, handing out inflatable guitars and other goodies and playing a special set of melodic rock favourites and obscurities.
DAY 2- GOTTHARD, DAN REED NETWORK, JIM PETERIK, ELECTRIC BOYS, LAST AUTUMN’S DREAM, VEGA, CARE OF NIGHT
Day 2 began with the follically challenged Care Of Night, the latest in a long production line of Swedes who had been receiving rave reviews. In contrast to the likes of Santa Cruz and Eclipse they were firmly at the pink and fluffy end of melodic rock with a very traditional keyboard driven AOR.
Oddly though the weak link was singer Calle Schonberg, sporting the geek chic look of big glasses and a Star Wars T-shirt, who sounded slightly flat in places but this was more than compensated for by excellent harmony vocals. Old school AOR in the mould of Work of Art like ‘Give Me Strength’ and ‘Please Remember’ impressed and in particular set closer ‘Cassandra’, surely one of the most overused girl’s names in song titles.
Vega were one of the very few UK based acts but are accomplished stage performers and indeed the moves of singer Nick Workman are those of a man who would be comfortable playing stadia, not least as with his hair grown out his stage moves were reminding me even more of Joe Elliott, whose Down n Outz Vega supported last year.
Their instantly catchy choruses and refrains on songs like opener ‘What The Hell’, ‘White Knuckle Ride’ and ‘All Or Nothing’ had people enthusiastically punching the air particularly on the ‘who-oahs’ to first album classic ‘Kiss Of Life’.
New album Stereo Messiah was represented by the title track and ‘Gonna Need Some Love Tonight’ which saw rapid fire guitarist Marcus Thurston showing his paces and ‘Hands In The Air’ closed a superb set, being as sing-along as the title would suggest. However I felt slightly uneasy as it remains a mystery why they haven’t broken bigger beyond this relatively narrow scene and a fourth album could be now or never on that front.
Back to more Swedes with Last Autumns Dream who are an interesting case. It was their UK debut and to my knowledge they rarely play live, yet have made eleven albums with changing line-ups since 2004, though I was only familiar with the first. Singer Michael Erlandsson was a good frontman with a slightly raspy edge to his voice give their typically European melodic rock a little more grit, other than on the excellent ballad ‘Another Night’.
The band were tight and there was an intriguing cover choice in Wizzard’s seventies classic ‘See My Baby Jive’, while ‘Again And Again’ had a more AOR feel though set closer ‘Rock n Roll Is Saving My Soul’ was more straight ahead. While I won’t be rushing out to discover the extensive back catalogue they made for very enjoyable listening.
While Firefest specialised in bands with a scarcity value, many not seen or heard from in 20 years, and insisted the UK shows were exclusives, the Rockingham line-up was linked in with a couple of tours and as a result Electric Boys in the middle of a tour with Dan Reed Network were one of the bands who are regular visitors to these shores.
Conny Bloom remains as cool as ever though he was likened by one person to Russell Brand and he and Franco Santione weave their guitars together in that effortless funky groove. It was the old numbers like ‘Psychedelic Eyes’ and ‘Electrified’ that impressed but the effect was lessened by some very ordinary and unmemorable more recent songs.
Conny mentioned that they were celebrating a 25th anniversary of their ‘Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride’ debut, but I actually preferred their more classic rock sounding follow-up ‘Groovus Maximus’ so was pleased to hear a double in ‘Mary In The Mystery World’ complete with singalong and ‘Knee Deep In You’.
The set got better as it progressed with old favourites ‘Captain Of My Soul’ and ‘Rags To Riches’ and closed with the inevitable ‘All Lips And Hips’ though I could have done without them bringing on a couple of dancers with ‘tramp stamps’ which seemed an unnecessary reversion to the decadent days of the glam scene.
One of Rockingham’s coups was to bring legendary Survivor founder and songwriter to the stars Jim Peterik over for his first UK show other than a guest appearance with Two Fires at the Gods festival in 2000, still talked of in revered tones by those of us who were there. As a friend who knows him in the USA once told me ‘Jim always marches to the sound of his own drum’ and proof came in his stage garb of pink shirt and PVC waistcoat and trousers.
Opening with ‘Rocking Into The Night’ made more famous by 38 Special, the sound was certainly rocky enough and indeed as I and others punched the air to the ‘other’ Rocky song ‘Burning Heart’ he and Mario Percudani from his predominantly Italian band extended it with some heavy guitar work.
In ‘an evening with’ style he told the stories behind many of the songs he had written and it was inevitable that the late Survivor singer Jimi Jamison would be the focus of many of them, including The ‘Search Is Over’, delivered by Jim at a piano in his rich baritone and a surprise when ‘I Can’t Hold Back saw a remarkable soaring vocal performance from keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio.
A juxtaposition of ‘Vehicle’ which he made a No 1 hit with the Ides of March and the stirring Pride of Lions classic ‘Sound of Home’, Alessandro repeating his vocal feats, was a reminder of the sheer longevity of his career though it was Survivor classics that got the best reception – a slightly rearranged ‘High On You’, ‘Man Against the World’ with a superlative vocal effort by Alessandro, accompanied by just Jim’s piano, and ‘Is This Love’ where Jim stripped the song back to allow people to sing it.
After some of the favourites he had co-written for other artists in Sammy Hagar’s ‘Heavy Metal’ and a 38 Special double of ‘Caught Up In You’ and ‘Hold On Loosely’, it was inevitable he would close with the song that keeps more royalty cheques coming in than any other in ‘Eye Of The Tiger’.
It was a lengthy version as he jammed on guitar and carried it through the crowd but it would have been a brave organiser to stop him. The result was the longest set of the day but it had been a privilege to hear this legendary figure showcase his catalogue with such a great blend of showmanship and humility.
For many others Dan Reed Network were the stars of the show. The pioneering multi racial funk rockers have only reformed relatively recently after a long absence and as they were ecstatically welcomed it seemed appropriate they opened with ‘Resurrect’. There was a joyful atmosphere on stage as Dan bounced up and down and went into the front of the crowd and Brion James smiled broadly as he reeled off lashings of taut dextrous guitar work.
Their set combined a marvellously loose-limbed groove with instantly recognisable songs – ‘Under My Skin’, ‘Forgot To Make Her Mine’, ‘Rainbow Child’, ‘Ritual’ and ‘Cruise Together’, together with a couple of slightly harder edged songs in ‘Make it Easy’ and ‘Come Back Baby’, and ‘Baby Now I’ (the sole pick from ‘The Heat’).
The pace only dropped with ‘Baby Don’t Fade’ becoming a longer jam with some solo slots then after ‘Tiger In A Dress’ included a snatch of the Who’s ‘Eminence Front’, an encore of ‘Get To You’, again slightly cheapened by those dancers, ended a glorious set.
In a way it was an easy victory to trot out the oldies and it will be fascinating to see what they come up with in future now they have agreed to release a new album, but it would be churlish not to leave that thought for another day.
The bar had been set very high for headliners Gotthard, who struggled to live up to expectations. Unfortunately for me the Swiss band have faltered since a hot streak of albums in the second half of the 2000’s. While their show was very professional, the opening duo from their latest album ‘Bang’ of the title track and ‘Get Up And Move On’ were average hard rock by numbers, and even older favourites like ‘Sister Moon’ and ‘Mountain Mama’ seemed rather tired and lacking in spark, though there were a few highlights like ‘Master Of Illusion’.
While the tragic death of charismatic singer Steve Lee set them back, replacement Nic Maeder cannot be faulted and was a fine frontman, looking far more at ease on stage than when Gotthard headlined Firefest on 2012.
Indeed his emotional delivery of ‘One Life One Soul’, which Steve had made his own and another ballad in ‘Remember It’s Me’ were highlights of the set. The latest album received quite a bit of an airing with ‘What You Get’ with its heavy keyboards standing out with a retro seventies feel.
The gig was taking an awful long time to come to the boil but finally did so as Nic divided the crowd into two and orchestrated a sing-along to the earworm chorus of ‘Starlight’ and their cover of ‘Hush’ may have been kitsch and elongated by solo slots from the band members, but really got the crowd going.
For me 2005’s ‘Lipservice’ will always be Gotthard’s crowning glory but I had to wait until the penultimate song of the set an hour into the set before being rewarded with any classics from the album – ‘Lift You Up’ with its catchy glitter rock type beat had the faithful jumping up and down at the front, and ‘Anytime Anywhere’, with its memorable hook even before the big chorus was reached, was the sole encore.
Ultimately it had been an enjoyable set, but after the enduring songwriting class of Jim Peterik and sheer joy of Dan Reed Network they lacked the same inspiration by comparison.
DAY 3- DOKKEN, GIUFFRIA, ROBBY VALENTINE, STAN BUSH, ROYAL HUNT, AMMUNITION, NO HOT ASHES, ISSA
With the clocks going back there was an extra hour for people to recover, notably from a wild melodic rock night at the Salutation pub, and a healthy crowd were there from the outset to watch Issa. It was something of a family affair for the willowy blonde with the Norwegian gone Yorkshire accent, with baby on the way and husband James Martin from Vega on keyboards in a minor melodic rock supergroup with the Pete’s Godfrey and Newdeck from In Faith.
Her material lacks a little identity so it was telling that a cover of Aviator’s ‘Can’t Stop’ was the most impressive part of the opening half of the set, but the hooks of ‘Only You’ and ‘I’m Alive’ were most agreeable and it was a shame that just as she was about to play the title track from new album ‘Crossfire’, time constraints forced the plug to be pulled.
There was then an equally brief set from No Hot Ashes, the reformed Northern Irish band who have been regulars on the circuit for the past 12 months. While I did have to chuckle at their rather military looking logo and the resemblance of one of their guitarists to the late John Peel, I thoroughly enjoyed their set pitched somewhere between the eighties Brit AOR of FM or Shy and a more straight ahead hard rock approach.
Singer Eamon Nancarrow looked like he was moonlighting from venue security but has a great voice, unleashing some high pitched screams on ‘Blow’ which had a big hook, but tender on the ballad ‘Boulders’. ‘Diane’ owed rather too much to Kenny Loggins’ ‘Footloose’, while ’Little Johnny Redhead’ ended a fun set on a different note with a guitar heavy, almost boogie feel.
Yet another new Scandinavian band in Ammunition came highly recommended by a number of friends who had seen them last summer at the Vasby Rock Festival in Sweden. They are led by the frilly shirted Age Sten Nilsen, former singer of glam rock revivalists Wig Wam, who was one of the best frontmen of the weekend, working the crowd and reminding me both in mannerisms and delivery of Alice Cooper at times. ‘Do You Like It’ was a perfect call to arms opener while old WigWam favourite ‘Gonna Get You Someday’ was enthusiastically received.
The stakhanovite Eclipse boys were also doing a double weekend shift with Erik Martensson this time one of two guitarists and playing the flashier solos to prove there is no end to his talents, and Magnus Henriksen filling in on bass.
With Age donning an acoustic guitar, ‘On The Road To Babylon’ was a mighty, bluesy semi-ballad reminiscent of Whitesnake that was one of the songs of the weekend but in the second half of the set a number of other more metallic numbers like ‘Silverback’ were disappointingly average. Wig Wam’s famous song ‘In My Dreams’ closed the set and got a repatutorus reception, but overall they fell a little short of my highest expectations.
Even the most dedicated melodic rock fans need a break in proceedings, and mine came during (predominately) Danish rockers Royal Hunt who blend progressive metal heaviness with catchy, up-tempo melodic rock, and added a different style to Sunday’s line-up of artists. My friend Chris Taylor had been anticipating their arrival above all others so I let him take up the story:
No sooner have the band broken into the rolling bass and crunchy riffs of their first song; the title track of their 2001 album ‘The Mission’, it quickly becomes noticeable how loud Jonas Larson’s guitar is in the entire sound, something that would continue for their entire set. Nonetheless, the members all give powerful and energetic performances, with front man D.C. Cooper’s distinct vocal quality and impressive range, combined with the band’s talent for vocal harmonies, becoming instantly praiseworthy.
This is succeeded by the recognizable, radio-friendly favourite ‘Half Past Loneliness’; a sure crowd-pleaser, which showcases André Andersen’s enthusiastic, virtuoso style of performance, as he swings between the series of keyboards and synthesizers surrounding him, and the band all appear to be enjoying themselves. Following this are the infectiously progressive ‘River of Pain’, complete with Hammond solo, the rhythm-driven ‘Tearing Down the World’, and ‘Message to God’ with its catchy chorus in which D.C. Cooper’s powerful tones are supplemented by the rest of the band’s backing vocals, along with backing tracked female voices.
The epic and lengthy ‘Time Will Tell’ stands to demonstrate that even at 50, D.C. is still capable of hitting high notes with considerable strength, and throughout the show he impresses the audience, confidently strutting about the stage.
They finished the show with two of the newer songs in their extensive catalogue; ‘May You Never (Walk Alone)’ from the recently released album, and ‘A Life to Die For’, which goes down phenomenally with the audience, and features an impressive hybrid of guitar solo and string-synthesizer, not to mention an exceptionally memorable chorus. Without a shadow of a doubt, Royal Hunt are tight in their coordination, consistent in their capabilities and left a huge impression on me that made them one of my favourite acts of the festival.
Having returned to catch the last half of Royal Hunt’s set I was back in place for an artist in Stan Bush closer to my own tastes on the more AOR end of the spectrum. He appeared more confident on stage than when I have seen him in the past and opened with a couple of songs from his latest album ‘The Ultimate’ in the title track and ‘Heat Of The Battle’, delivered in typically rousing emotional style sandwiched by an oldie in ‘Heaven’.
The revelation of the set was just how good his specially assembled band of UK musicians were with Bailey brothers Nigel and Andy adding spot on harmonies to flesh out the vocals and Adrian Boyd, a new name to me, remarkably fluent as he reeled off one searing guitar solo after another.
Those who came to Stan via his ‘Barrage’ album were rewarded by a double of ‘Primitive Lover’ and, as he strapped on an acoustic guitar, ‘Love Don’t Lie’ with his voice cracking with emotion to match the look of desperate heartbreak that always seems to be in his eye.
’Hard to Find An Easy Way’, dedicated to late co-writer Brett Walker, had a classic heartland rock feel, ‘I Never Fall’ was another epic while the pace was taken down for ‘Dream The Dream’, another of those stirring anthems that could form part of a motivational self-help DVD.
He ended with a double from the Transformers movies of ‘Dare’ and the better known ‘The Touch’, with people singing along and an encore of ‘In This Life’ with another epic solo from Adrian completed without a doubt the best of the four sets I have seen over the years from this cult AOR legend.
For a few people I know Dutch keyboard wizard Robby Valentine’s first UK appearance was the biggest draw of the festival, while others probably wondered who he was or were puzzled not to see the Hugo-fronted AOR Band of the same name. He cut a strikingly androgynous figure with his eyeliner, long hair, fey manner and what seemed an almost military uniform with the band’s logo emblazoned on all the band members clothing.
The music was remarkably genre defying – the lush ‘I Believe In Music’ and an almost vaudeville piano number were reminders that he is a huge Queen fan who had recorded tribute albums and played at conventions.
However in a musical volte face he switched to guitar, duetted with singer Maria Catharina and a couple of songs mixed the feel some of the symphonic power metal bands with even the likes of Marilyn Manson while new song ‘Black Rain’ had an epic feel.
There were then gasps of amazement as with his band he pulled off ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, before encoring with another side to his wide musical palette in ‘Over And Over Again’ a lush soft rock ballad out wimping Chicago and Air Supply. It was an intriguing set that divided opinion from people I spoke to but full credit to Rockingham for taking a chance beyond the usual suspects.
They also pulled off one the coups that Firefest used to be famous for in persuading Giuffria to reform for the show for the first time in nearly 30 years, albeit in the absence of the man who gave his name to the band legendary keyboard wizard Gregg.
My worry was that singer David Glen Eisley, who has been absent from the business many years, might no longer cut it but as they opened, as on their debut album, with ‘Do Me Right’ the sound was superb and barring a couple of occasions his distinctive slightly rough-edged voice was on great form. After an unfamiliar number (possibly ‘Can’t Call it Love Anymore’) the band sounded superb on ‘Don’t Tear Me Down’ and this was looking like triumphant return even if ‘Trouble Again’ preceded by a long introduction by David in his slow drawl, did meander a bit.
However after a technical hitch with am amp buzzing that took ages to fix, the set gradually came off the rails. To hear a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What Its Worth’ was slightly bizarre, but then again with his hat, sideburns and mustard waistcoat and trousers David looked like a Woodstock veteran these days, then a five minute guitar solo from a very static Craig Goldy and a particularly boring one at that misread the appetite of the crowd.
Even their US hit and most commercial moment ‘Call To The Heart’ was rearranged, with a largely acoustic treatment for the first half, and though interesting to hear it was near criminal to see the unused keyboard player standing arms folded during the song. ‘Line Of Fire’ however was a superb piece of heavy pomp and a reminder of when their star shone all too briefly.
The second album ‘Silk And Steel’ was completely ignored and while this may have made sense to Craig who by then had left to join Dio, as the more AOR of the two efforts it was one this crowd expected to hear something from.
Instead we got an interminable medley of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’ and, horror of horrors, with their time running out a drum solo from the admittedly rock solid Alan Krigger. The finale of ‘Turn Me On’ could not save a patchy display which completely misread the crowd they were playing to and left nearly everyone disappointed.
It also served as something of an atmosphere dampener with only Dokken to close the festival. As one of the bands that people like myself liked to name drop to prove we were discerning metal fans in the mid eighties, on one level they were worthy headliners. However even when I last saw them in the UK a decade ago singer Don Dokken was a shadow of his former self, so I viewed them with a mixture of hope and trepidation.
As they opened with ‘Kiss Of Death’, already one of the heaviest songs in the Dokken repertoire but made more so by an ear-splittingly loud sound, when Don strolled on stage and opened his mouth it was bad news. He sang in a lower register throughout, barely attempted to get out of the same vocal range and worse still cut an uninterested figure.
During the more melodic ‘Into The Fire’ and the welcome return to the set of the ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’-featured ‘Dream Warriors’, my enjoyment was tempered by hearing a pale shadow of the once powerful soaring vocals. Only occasionally such as on ‘Breaking The Chains’ did the gig really spark into life.
The shame was that the band were exemplary: drummer Mick Brown was a real powerhouse though his noises off to Don between songs should have been left in 1980’s sunset strip, bassist Chris McCarvill played stylishly and contributed spot on backing vocals, while the extraordinary guitar gymnastics of John Levin, who bizarrely was previously their attorney, replicated those of George Lynch and ensured he was not missed.
It was also a set that did not just hark back to Dokken’s 1980’s glory days but dipped into the many albums they have recorded since reforming in the mid nineties with the likes of ‘Sunless Days’, ‘Too High To Fly’, where John took off into an extended blues solo that lasted several minutes and ‘The Maddest Hatter’ which saw the band again stretching out.
It may be heresy but it was tempting to think the show would have been better had Don done a Gregg Giuffria and absented himself from his own band. Moreover as a friend of mine put it, he radiated negative energy, There were bad tempered jibes against the road crew and he slagged off the crowd and pretended to end the show several times. While all part of his wind-up act this was in danger of becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.
By the end I could not even summon my usual enthusiasm for the ballad ‘Alone Again’ and classic ‘In My Dreams’, and some audience participation on ‘It’s Not Love’ fell rather flat, though the rapid fire riffage of ‘Tooth And Nail’ was enjoyable enough.
The Sunday night crowd had thinned substantially before a series of encores, by which time the set really felt like it was dragging, though they closed on a relatively high note with the surprise of one of their earliest songs ‘Paris Is Burning’.
It was a shame that the last two acts of the weekend, and two of the biggest, proved to be the most disappointing. In other respects this was a memorable weekend of a variety of melodic rock, old and new, with some performances that will not be forgotten in a hurry. Any sceptics who chose to stay away missed out and with a healthy turnout, hopefully foundations have been put in place for the future and Rockingham Festival will continue to be a regular gathering of like-minded music fans and a must-see event in the future festival calendar.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
Additional reporting: Chris Taylor
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Featured Albums w/c 16 March (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 ARKADO Never Say Never (AOR Heaven)
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THE SONIC DAWN Children Of The Night (indie)
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THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE The Sky Will Turn (Metropolis Records)
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