Now in its second year, the ‘Just Say Yes’ and ARFM charity melodic rock fundraiser was a must on several grounds. First of all, in its own right as raising a substantial amount for a charity supporting young people with cancer. On more mundane musical grounds, it was a showcase for British melodic rock bands who rarely get a chance to perform live, it was something to look forward in the traditional post-Christmas gig desert (though I managed to see both Michael Schenker and FM either side on a long gigging weekend!), and a chance for like minded melodic rock ‘gig buddies’ to meet up (and in some cases over indulge!).
Indeed there was a relaxed and friendly underground vibe – a lower key Firefest without the international contingent perhaps, but it reminded me more of the festivals such as The Gods and Phoenix Rising that laid the hard yards in the late nineties when this style of music was driven completely underground.
Held again at a conveniently located and decently appointed function suite near the centre of Derby, last year’s three band bill was doubled in size to six, representing virtually all corners of the UK. Opening proceedings were Fahran, who featured singer Matt Black, well known in this field for his work with the likes of Serpentine and A Foreigner’s Journey.
However their musical style was very different, with the sight of a bassist in Slipknot T-shirt swinging his head violently a tell tale sign that they were comfortably the heaviest band on view. Hair flailing and swapping solos, guitarists Jake and Chris were a formidable pair and I am sure that with songs like ‘Ashes’ and ‘A Thousand Nights’ they are a band to watch but in all honesty rather mismatched on this bill.
Next up was a first ever live appearance by Lifeline, whose album on Escape Music last year brought together two of the British scene’s cult vocalists in Nigel (Three Lions) Bailey and Lee Small, whose many credits included a stunning performance on Shy’s last album.
For a first gig they appeared very assured, and it was fascinating to see how the two voices – Nigel’s rich and deep, Lee’s soaring in a manner that will always resemble Glenn Hughes- alternated and reinforced each other, even if Lee’s mannerisms were rather quirky.
The songs were punchy and melodic such as opener ‘Destination Zero’ while the ballads ‘Feels Like Love’ and ‘Now His Angel’s Gone’, the latter sung by Nigel alone, were impressive. However the guitar work of Paul Hume (Lawless), in tandem with Nigel, propelled rockier material like ‘Far From Home’ and single ‘Jezebel’. A highly promising performance and one which sent me straight to the merchandise stall to invest in the CD.
Next up were No Hot Ashes, something of a coup as the well connected reformed Northern Irish rockers have graced stages such as Download and Ramblin Man in the last couple of years, and this showed with a very accomplished performance. Since I saw them at Rockingham they have gone down from two guitarists to one but that mattered little with the keyboard heavy strains of opener ‘No More Goodbyes’ coming across like a mix of FM and Shy.
Familiar numbers like ‘Glow’ were accompanied by interesting insights into a forthcoming Frontiers Records release including ‘Come Alive’ and ‘Satisfy Me’, showing some slight tweaks from the AOR norm. One of the endearing features of their show is always the family tales Eamon Nancarrow tells behind his songs, giving the ballad ‘Bolders’ and the more rock n roll feel of ‘Little Johnny Redhead’ a personal touch.
Helpfully not only had the organisers built in a half-time meal break but the venue laid on food including a very respectable Chicken Balti which saved us from chancing the local fast food hotspots. Anticipation grew for Blood Red Saints, who emerging from the ashes of In Faith, have just delivered a first album full of the best of British style melodic rock.
Pete Godfrey is a vocal talent who has lain undiscovered a long time and it was significant that he even warmed up with a snatch of FM as his vocal style is very influenced by Steve Overland. After a tentative start with ‘Kicking Up Dust’, ‘Mercy’ really warmed up a healthy crowd at the front but it was the ballads ‘Best of Me’ and ‘Love Set Me Up Again’ which stood out with some superbly emotive singing from Pete.
They looked like they were having fun on stage especially the banter between Pete and drummer Pete Newdeck, teasing the latter for a heavier number ‘Dirty Secret’ he contributed to the set.
The surprise was to see them cover the Signal AOR classic ‘Does it Feel Like Love’, although it did inevitably fall short of the majesty of the original which even an attempted audience participation could not hide.
However momentum was restored with the likes of ‘Better Days’ and ‘Unbreakable’ great uptempo songs with guitarist Lee Revill playing with great fluency though he cut an introverted presence under his hat. A version of ‘Dangerous’ far better than the recorded one ended a fine set.
Newman were probably the veterans of the day as Steve Newman has, hard to believe, been making quality self-financed records for nearly 20 years now and they also seemed to have the most dedicated fans. Opening with the title track from the current ‘Elegance Machine’ album, when they switched back to an oldie in ‘Every Moment’ there were several fists punching the air.
Usually when I have seen Newman tour, it has been a 45 minute festival or support slot but on this occasion a generous 80 minute setlist allowed them to pick and choose from across their career in ‘Greatest Hits’ style fashion.
These ranged from recent songs such as the progressive ‘She Walks in Silence’ with some falsetto screams from Steve and the almost angry ‘Had Enough’ to older moments such as ‘Primitive Soul’ and ‘Heaven Knows’, the sublime melodies of ‘Stay with Me’ and ‘Feel Her Again’ and the punchy dynamics of ‘Pray for the Day’.
They were also perhaps the most extrovert stage performers of the day, notably pose-pulling guitarist Shaun Bessant, while the jovial Pete Newdeck was doing a double stint on drums and Pete Godfrey spontaneously joined the fun during ‘If Its Love’, a piece of classic Brit AOR dating back to the first album.
Having previously focused just on singing, a far more assured frontman these days, Steve belatedly strapped on a guitar for the smouldering bluesy ‘Fire With Fire’ to join, and traditional closer ‘One Step Closer’ featured both twin lead guitars and audience participation. Probably the most enjoyable Newman show I have seen over the years, the good news is they plan to tour more extensively.
Awaiting Hand of Dimes, I was putting it about that their more laid back set that I witnessed a year or two back supporting FM might struggle to match Newman’s energy. However I was left eating humble pie.
Former Skin singer Neville MacDonald still has an enormous bluesy roar to go with his winning smile and the songs like openers ‘Looking at You’ and ‘Bad Reputation’ were given the spacious arrangements to show that off, much in the way Free and Bad Co did with Paul Rodgers voice.
His fellow former Kooga bandmate Neil Garland added some great keyboard work, not to mention harmonica on the likes of ‘Stranger in my Home Town’ while hiding behind shades the guitar work of Colin Edwards was tasteful.
‘Angels and Demons’ and ‘Jacobs Ladder’ were both lengthier, atmospheric pieces that created a real mood. With only an EP released so far, their exposure has been limited but the likes of Pinstriped Arrogance got a great reaction from those in the know, while a number of new songs such as ‘Come the Hour, Come the Man’ showed promise, while there was even a cover of Family’s ‘Burlesque’.
The rousing slow burning ‘Sail On’ which could become a real anthem ended the set, but – perhaps surprisingly given how the band dissolved in acrimony a couple of years ago – he encored with one of Skin’s classics in ‘House of Love’, one of the best songs Whitesnake never wrote, then went further back to his and Neil’s Kooga days with a stunningly stark, emotional vocal display on the haunting, stripped back ‘Gabrielle’ (but no ‘Across the Water’ sadly). Another generous hour and a quarter set ended with a funky cover of ‘Join Together’ which showed off what a skilled band of players Nev has assembled.
More healthily attended than I imagined, with bands mingling with fans, and with over £4000 raised through tickets, merchandise and raffle, the event was a success on every level, and Sue Birbeck and the team from ARFM Radio are already working on a new line up of bands for next year. I for one will certainly be making this a fixture in the festival calendar.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year Pete Feenstra presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Tuesdays at 19:00 BST (GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon. This show was first broadcast on 14 July.
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