Now in its fourth year, anticipation had been steadily growing ever since the line up was announced in February for Rockingham, which accurately bills itself as ‘three days of the finest melodic hard rock from around the world’.
Proof of the way it has captured hearts is that it has even spawned a specially written anthem ‘Going to Rockingham’ which is a feat few festivals (Woodstock perhaps excepted) can claim. Indeed a band led by Charlie Castro from previous Rockingham favourites From the Fire introduced the proceedings with a live performance, complete with lyrics projected onto the backdrop for an enjoyable, if slightly kitsch, moment.
While this year’s line up was a little scaled down from last year when marquee names Loverboy and Vince Neil performed on a presumably large budget, it was still headlined by three bands in Warrant, Vixen and Nelson whose albums (‘Cherry Pie’, ‘Rev It Up’ and ‘After The Rain’ respectively) were on my own heavy rotation in 1990, perhaps the last great year of this scene’s heyday before the gale of grunge blew everything away.
But where this year’s festival scored over the previous three was the biggest diversity of acts to date, with the spectrum broadened at both ends, yet not in a way which undermined the Festival as a coherent whole.
DAY 1- VIXEN, PINK CREAM 69. MASSIVE, MASON HILL
As an example of such diversity Friday- once again featuring four bands as opposed to seven a day on the weekend- was kicked off by Mason Hill, the fast rising young Scots, whose opener ‘No Regret’ had the dark, almost grungey feel of an Audioslave. There is a real intensity to the singing of Scott Taylor that calls to mind Alter Bridge, which he was not afraid to express in almost anguished solo intros.
However as the set wore on this was applied to slightly brighter songs of which ‘Now You See Me’, with a fine solo from James Bird and ‘Against The Wall’ impressed, reminding me of a heavier version of former Rockingham openers turned headliners Stone Broken.
The brooding ‘Where I Belong’ closed the set and already seems to have been established as their ‘epic’. Though I felt their stage presence was a bit dour and could do with lightening up, it was a very impressive start and those attending their upcoming tour with Dan Reed Network should ensure they get there early.
If Mason Hill was pushing the boundaries of the conventional definition of melodic rock then they were blown wide open by Massive. Building a big following on the strength of extensive touring, they epitomise the no frills, shit-kicking rock’ n’roll most often associated with their fellow Australians from Rose Tattoo through to Airbourne, led by the compulsively manic figure of singer and guitarist Bard Marr, a whirling pocket ball of energy like Angus Young with Kurt Cobain’s hair.
Their raw energy, perhaps heavier than some of the aforementioned bands, impressed on songs like ‘Long Time Coming’, with an inevitable burst of ‘TNT’, ‘Bullet’ and an old song ‘Big Trend Setter’, while Ben Laguda was a very tasty lead guitarist.
I am fairly sure Brad introduced more than one song as a new one, and a raw cover of ‘Highway Star’ was an interesting diversion, but possibly not a song to play to their strengths, before ‘Ghost’ and ‘One By One’ closed the set.
They had divided opinion – the band made many new fans who congratulated them as they hung round outside the venue between the later sets, but in all honesty this set did feel a bit out of place at this most niche of festivals and I might have been more receptive to it on a different bill.
In contrast Pink Cream 69 have been mainstays of the scene since the end of the eighties, very much in the vein of contemporaries Bonfire and Fair Warning with whom they share a distinctively German sound and look, though singer David Readman brought some earthy Northern humour together with a rich, powerful voice.
Latest album ‘Headstrong’ was featured heavily with no less than five songs, of which ‘Land of Sorrow’ was the most interesting, and ‘Lost In Illusion’ also impressed, but as a casual fan I found myself longing for more songs I knew.
However oldies like ‘Living My Life For You’ and ‘Do You Like it Like That’ got a great reception from fans at the front relishing their first appearance (to my knowledge) in the UK for a decade. Their most famous song ‘Shame’ got people singing along to the chorus to close a solid set, but for me one of the less spectacular of the weekend.
The first headliner of the weekend in Vixen should be seen as genre pioneers. Though other all-female bands- The Runaways, Girlschool and Rock Goddess- had blazed a trail before, in this most testosterone fuelled of genres they bucked the trend as the only band of their ilk to enjoy significant success.
Good songs- albeit with some outside help- were integral to their success and, coming on stage to the strains of ‘Fox On The Run’, few could open with a stronger pair than ‘Rev It Up’ and the hook-filled ‘How Much Love’, the only problem being that the erratic sound that plagued the first day and proved a big talking point resulted in Janet Gardner’s vocals being rather buried.
They were followed by the more straight ahead rockers in ‘Cruising’ and ‘Bad Reputation’ before an intro from (male) keyboardist Tyson Leslie led into the mega ballad Cryin’, with a slightly different arrangement to the original.
Since their last appearance in this city at 2013’s Firefest there had been changes: the band name was restored instead of the JSRG moniker they then had to use for legal reasons, while Gina Stile had been replaced on guitar by Britt Lightning, aka Brittany Denaro. Her image and style fitted seamlessly into the band though I missed the heavier edge Gina’s guitar playing had brought.
The other main difference was that 2013 was an inevitably subdued performance overshadowed by the recent death of founding guitarist Jan Kuehnemund, On this occasion the atmosphere was far more joyful and the band’s good cheer transmitted itself to the crowd, Janet in particular entertaining with her anecdotes about British and American differences, even if not all of them hit the mark.
They also made the effort to give fans a bit more than a standard ‘Greatest Hits’ set- including a rare performance of ‘Only A Heartbeat Away’ which was melodic bliss, and a couple of new songs recorded for their recent ‘Live Fire’ album, although, while decent enough, neither ‘You Oughta Know By Now’ and ‘Big Brother’ had the memorable hooks of old.
There was also a surprise moment when mid song in ‘I Want You To Rock Me’; they went into a surprisingly authentic rendition of Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’, while when Janet vacated the stage, bassist Share Pedersen led a temporary power trio singing ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ and reigniting the ongoing debate about the Rockingham crowd’s appetite for classic rock cover versions.
However ‘Love Is A Killer’ remains a great power ballad while after an anecdote from Janet about some rare classic rock radio airplay, one of the highlights for me was the huge hooks of ‘Love Made Me’.
As the set moved into the home straight, it was great to hear ‘Streets of Paradise’ which I’d momentarily forgotten about, and together with others I cast aside all inhibitions to rock out and roar along to the chorus of the inevitable ‘Edge Of A Broken Heart’, complete with sparklers going off at the front of the stage. It made up for the rather disappointing Janet solo gig earlier this year when a raw version of this was the only Vixen song played.
It wasn’t a flawless set, but it was hard not to warm to their engaging stage presence, allied to a strong set of songs. As we all headed off- in my case for a traditional post-gig curry, the privileged to an after show party with a performance by Midnite City and acoustic sets from David Forbes of Boulevard and Ammunition’s Age Sten Nielsen- there was consensus that the weekend had got off to a fine start.
DAY 2- NELSON, TOKYO MOTOR FIST, BOULEVARD, AMMUNITION, BIGFOOT, WILDNESS, DEPARTED
There seemed fewer home grown acts at Rockingham this year, but one such, Departed opened the proceedings on Saturday. I’d seen them a couple of times before and found them decent but lacking songs, but this time I was left eating my words after a highly impressive performance.
The strong vocals and good stage presence of Marc Pascall and the Les Paul shape pulling Ben Brookland, once of the Treatment, led a set that was basic no frills hard rock but extremely well done.
Opening powerfully with ‘Superstitious’, ‘Pretty Little Thing’ stood out, not least for way the Cinderella/Guns’N’Roses esque intro gave the song greater dynamics, while ‘Dreaming’ had a Cult-like riff. By the time of ‘Are You Ready’, people were joining in on the anthemic ‘Light Up’ chorus. ‘Soulshaker’ had the bluesy feel of a Thunder or Skin and ‘Come On’ was a suitably rabble rousing climax to a quietly impressive set which was one of the revelations of the festival.
The world leader in this musical scene is Scandinavia and the latest in the line of hotly touted young bands Wildness were next on stage. I haven’t personally heard their debut album but friends were raving about them.
Sadly not only were they undermined by sound problems for a long time, while in a personal bugbear of mine, on opener ‘Shadowland’ I could hear not only taped keyboards but I was fairly certain backing vocals too.
Singer Gabriel Lindmark seemed over eager to do the partying and looked rather out of condition, panting heavily and getting the audience to do much of the singing, though the melodies on songs like ‘Alibi’ and ‘Collide’ still came through.
‘Highlands’ had the celtic rock feel that one of their influences Eclipse carry off so well, while ‘War Inside My Head’ showed a heavier side to the band. Their potential still shone through in places while of the two guitarists Pontus Skold really impressed.
Gabriel’s attitude, throwing beer into the monitors and a water bottle into the audience, were all rock star poses best reserved for when you have made the big time. It had been a disappointing display which could perhaps be attributed to first night nerves.
Bigfoot in contrast were highly professional- the long-haired young Wigan band have made spectacular strides in a brief career and have been headlining their own shows. I approached with some trepidation my first sighting of them without former singer Ant Ellis whose chirpy charm was a big part of their stage act, but I needn’t have worried as from opener ‘Tell Me A Lie’, his replacement Sean Seabrook revealed a strong commanding voice and a confident, more conventional stage presence.
They were one of the heavier acts on the bill and on the likes of ‘Run’ and ‘Prisoner of War’, the twin guitars of Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh even reminded me of ‘Screaming For Vengeance’-era Judas Priest. After the even heavier ‘Freakshow’, the pace dropped with the balladry of ‘Forever Alone’ and the more melodic ‘The Fear’.
Ironically the old favourite ‘Blame It On The Dog’, where they make a big thing of audience participation has become the weakest of the set but the final song ‘Uninvited’ blew away any cobwebs.
At this stage the unlikely score in this melodic rock international was England 2 Scandinavia 1, but Ammunition levelled the score. Boasting the charismatic former WigWam singer Age Sten Nilsen and the cream of Scandinavian players with a long CV, most notably Eric Martensson as one of two lead guitarists, they made a false start when after ‘Virtual Reality Boy’ they stopped the set for an impromptu soundcheck, as sound issues were still manifesting themselves and they could not hear what was coming through the front monitors.
After that point it was a highly enjoyable set of brash party anthems with strong choruses and fun themes such as ‘Tear Your City Down’, complete with the obligatory who-oahs and ‘Tie Me Down’. There was a slight change of pace in the middle, with the bluesy Whitesnake feel of a mighty, dramatic ‘Road To Babylon’ and ‘Wild Card’ having the air of Cinderella in their more blues and country rock influenced moments.
However the likes of ‘Freedom Finder’, ‘Silverback’ and ‘Wrecking Crew’ were all wildly received party anthems, though it was interesting that they closed with ‘Eye For An Eye’, with a more subdued arrangement and a deeper lyrical theme.
On the lighter edge of the Rockingham spectrum were Boulevard but the Canadians’ appearance was one of the most eagerly awaited of the weekend, not least by those who had seen their starring role at the final Firefest four years ago.
David Forbes’ tongue was as silver smooth as his grown out hair, and at times was supported by the high harmonies of keyboardist Andrew Johns, while the presence of a full time sax player in Mark Holden really fleshed out the band sound.
After they opened with ‘Never Give Up’, soothing melodies graced old favourites such as the lite AOR of ‘Dream On’ and ‘Missing Persons’ with a 90125-era Yes vibe to it, and a generous portion of new songs from reunion album ‘Luminescence’, with the likes of ‘Out Of The Blue’ even having a smooth touch of Steely Dan jazziness.
However, after a very agreeable ‘Crazy Life’ their set went into another dimension when out of the blue, a gospel choir from Leeds in purple cloaks were brought on to add an emotional dimension to the ballad ‘Confirmation’- it was a stroke of a genius and many were reduced to near tears, though the danger was the next two or three songs were anti-climactic.
They closed a class set with the enjoyable ‘Laugh Or Cry’ and ‘Talk To Me’, compensating from omitting it four years ago to complete a set that for many was their favourite of the weekend.
Though the exclusives seemed somewhat fewer than in recent years, Rockingham still pulled off a coup when they persuaded Tokyo Motor Fist to play their first ever show after their self titled CD was one of the very best albums of 2017.
Unsurprisingly they proved an entertaining live act with the larger than life presence of Danger Danger singer Ted Poley and Trixter guitarist Steve Brown grinning his way through some great poses during his never less than melodic solos.
Opening with ‘Falling Apart At The Seams’, ‘Shameless’ drew from Diving For Pearls but is a catchy classic for our times, while ‘Love’ and the more up tempo ‘Done To Me’ had a definite Def Leppard vibe, appropriately so given that Steve has in the past deputised for both their guitarists.
It was a set of two halves, as after ‘Put Me To Shame’ they then moved onto material from their own careers, beginning with the Rainbow connections of Greg Smith and veteran drummer Chuck Burgi who was keeping things crisp and simple. They brought on Ged Rylands to add guest keyboards to ‘Street Of Dreams’ with Greg, who looks like an junior Dave Meniketti, doing a remarkably good Joe Lynn Turner impression on the epitome of the band’s AOR phase, leading some of the Scandinavian guests in particular to go crazy.
Steve then showed that he is a more than respectable singer in his own right on Trixter’s ‘One In A Million’ though DD’s ‘Monkey Business’ while still fun, did sound rather ragged.
Greg seemed equally comfortable singing in a totally different style when covering ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’ by his current boss Ted Nugent, leading me to think he was the hidden vocal talent in the band, while the acoustic strumming of Steve led into a singalong to the Trixter anthem ‘Give It To Me Good’.
No party atmosphere could be complete without another Danger Danger classic and ‘Bang Bang’ certainly delivered that, before the band reminded us of the original purposes of their set by finishing with ‘Picking Up The Pieces’, epitomising their up tempo, feel good melodic rock. It was my favourite set of the festival to date and like the other DD offshoot The Defiants a couple of years ago, a perfect balance of new songs and those from band members’ history.
After a swift changeover, Nelson came on stage 20 minutes earlier than advertised, which I hope inconvenienced nobody, to allow them to play a full set. They appeared to make a false start as only one twin, bassist Matthew, seemed to be on stage with a long-haired bunch of sidemen playing a Cheap Trick-like opener ‘Hello Hello’, but he stopped the show and on rushed brother Gunnar, with slightly longer hair, and the song gave way to one of the sure-fire classics from Nelson’s first album ‘After The Rain’ in ‘I Can Hardly Wait’.
The two brothers ooze charisma with their easy patter and toothy smiles, which in another world might have been put to use persuading a congregation in Middle America to hand all their money to God. They said they made no apology for being criticised for smiling too much at their only other UK appearance at Firefest in 2010, leaving me to make a mental note to check whether I had been the critic in question.
That set revolved largely around the first album, but on this occasion it was very varied: for every favourite like ‘More Than Ever’ with the crowd singing the ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah’ refrain on the chorus, there were different songs like the countryish ‘Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes’, written by Howard Stern apparently, and a new song in ‘1000 Wild Horses’ Which was in similar mould, plus a song from the band Matthew has with guitarist JJ Farris, which did little for me.
However two of their own originals from later albums were highly impressive- should have been hit ‘Girl Like That’ had fantastic summery harmonies and ‘Ghostdance’, with a catchy chant, had a little more guitar crunch.
In a mid set acoustic interlude which showed off their instinctive harmonising, the twins played the classic first album ballad ‘Only Time Will Tell’ together with ‘Cross My Broken Heart’ (it was good to see the underrated sophomore ‘Because They Can’ album acknowledged) and ‘Keep One Heart’. Their self-deprecating humour was also tickled by spotting a group of fans sporting long blonde wigs in homage to their look back in the day.
After an introduction when one of the twins said many people had latched onto its positive musical message, the classic ‘After The Rain’ took the atmosphere to new heights, usual roles being slightly reversed with Matthew the primary vocalist and Gunnar pulling rank on the other two lead guitarists with the solo.
‘You’re All I Need Tonight’ excelled as it went on, though oddly their last studio album ‘Peace’ was ignored completely. However they still diverted into other areas- one of father Ricky’s old songs, ‘Garden Party’ was surprisingly enjoyable with its catchy ‘You can’t please everyone so you’ve gotta please yourself’ chorus.
In contrast though my palm was in my face when guitarist Scotty Brancher was allowed to play and sing ‘Whole Lotta Love’, suggesting they hadn’t been following the Rockingham do’s and don’ts that had been circulating on Facebook before the festival, including that Led Zeppelin and other staple covers were a turn off for this discerning audience.
That faux pas was forgotten though with a memorable climax in their US no 1 hit ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love And Affection’, given a harder edge by a guitar jam at the end of the song. There was a further surprise in the encores when Steve Brown returned, defining the adjective ‘exuberant’ and they played more covers in the Outfield’s ‘Your Love’ (Gunnar joking he’d been given a song outside his vocal range) and ‘You Really Got Me’.
While I might have preferred to hear more of their own material, this was a fun set, in places heavier than their detractors might expect, and the Nelson twins demonstrated the true meaning of showmanship.
DAY 3- WARRANT, PRETTY MAIDS, GLASS TIGER,FIND ME, WHITE WIDDOW, AGE OF REFLECTION, CREYE
I ensured I arrived on time on the final days despite squeezing in my usual Sunday roast at a nearby pub, and judging from the bigger than expected crowd I was not alone in wanting to get there early to see Creye, the latest young Scandi sensations. After an EP, their debut album has only just appeared, but the singer on it, Robin Jidhed, was not appearing. Instead August Rauer, a dead ringer for England footballer Eric Dier, fitted in seamlessly amongst his short haired bandmates and carried off the vocals with aplomb.
As they opened with ‘Straight To the Top’, the classic uptempo but very melodic sound reminded me of HEAT at the comparable stage of their career before they moved in a tougher direction. ‘Miracles’ impressed with August playing an acoustic guitar to the intro and ‘Nothing To Lose’ even drew comparisons with Survivor’s ‘Burning Heart’.
The highlights were left to last with ‘Desperately Lovin’ a slice of classic AOR and set closer ‘Holding On’ a contender for song of the year. Unlike Wildness the day before, they had fully justified the hype.
It also set a high standard for Age of Reflection to follow. Ploughing a very similar musical furrow (might (as their acronym might reveal!) but more mature in years, the Swedes refused to be overshadowed. Apparently a tad rockier than on their debut album, according to friends, they delivered a set of high class songs, opening with ‘Borderline’ but my favourites were ‘Evelyn’ and the supremely melodic ‘Now And Forever’.
A new song ‘Go’ showed a tougher edge to it, while in contrast on ‘Every Time’, singer Lars Nygren had the confidence to ask us to light up our phones in accompaniment. Lead guitarist Jonas Nordquist was particularly impressive and quietly they delivered a set every bit as good as the young pretenders.
About to make it five albums under their belt since they burst on the scene in 2010, there was a danger that White Widdow would suffer in comparison through over familiarity, but they now have the opportunity to cherry pick the strongest songs from those albums.
Appropriately dressed all in white, singer Jules Millis is one of the characters of the scene but didn’t appear quite as hyperactive as usual. His vocals were all the better for it, and the band backing vocals were a very effective part of their sound.
The set started a tad slowly, despite a first album favourite in ‘Tokyo Rain’ but excellence in the shape of ‘Living For The Night’ and ‘Angel’ provided a mid-set lift, while the song with which they made their breakthrough, ‘Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever’ remains a prime time slice of AOR both lyrically and musically.
White WIddow have always endeared themselves to me by name dropping as influences some of the cult 80’s bands that always used to top best of lists in fanzines and websites devoured by anoraks like me. So following covers by the likes of Aviator in the past, this time they closed with a very authentic cover of Icon’s ‘Danger Calling’. Three successes out of three at this point.
One of the highlights of last year’s Rockingham was a superb performance by Blanc Faces which left singer Robbie LeBlanc overcome by emotion, so it was fitting that he made a return visit, but with his more recent project Find Me.
Expectations were high not least as they rarely, if ever, play live and Robbie and band mastermind Daniel Flores on the drum kit assembled a crack band, including a guitar pairing of Philip Lindstrand who appeared last year with Blanc Faces and rising melodic rock go to person Michael Palace, in a period Miami Vice t-shirt.
The songs such as ‘Nowhere to Hide’, ‘No Tears in Paradise’ and the stirring ‘Unbreakable’ were given a real veneer of class by Robbie whose voice combined a crystal smoothness with a power which made light of the various problems experienced by other vocalists earlier in the weekend in their voices coming through high enough in the mix. Special mention should also go to the backing vocals of keyboardist Rolf Pilotti.
It took already fine melodic rock numbers like the ballad ‘Forever’ into another dimension but mid set came the two highlights- first, with guest keyboardist Irvin Parratt, an emotional acoustic rendition of one of Blanc Faces’ best in ‘A Little Too Late’, then, paying tribute to Jimi Jamison, he was one of the few singers who could tap into the late Survivor singer’s power and emotion.
The fact he did so to one of their less well known numbers in ‘Desperate Dreams’ only added to the thrill of what will go down as one of the great Rockingham 2018 moments alongside Boulevard’s gospel choir. The title track of last album ‘Dark Angel’ was as heavy as it got before more classic AOR in ‘Road to Nowhere’ finished arguably the set of the weekend….until now.
The curveball in the original Rockingham line up announcement, that few could have predicted, was Glass Tiger. On paper they were one of the biggest names on the bill – joining only Nelson and Warrant as holders of a top 2 USA singles hit back in the day.
However the Canadians had not played the UK since 1991, and more seriously against the Rockingham strapline of ‘melodic hard rock’ they failed the second definition and arguably were on the fringes of the third. They played a masterstroke for anyone who feared they might be too poppy, opening with ‘Animal Heart’ whose strong choruses allied to some suitably AOR keyboards from Sam Reid was one of their rockier songs.
The likes of ‘Someday’ and ‘I Will Be There’ may have lacked crashing powerchords, but were agreeable songs expertly delivered and on top of that Alan Frew, recovered from serious illness and with a Scottish accent betraying barely a hint of his adult life in Canada, was both a pitch perfect vocalist and a frontman with an almost comic sense of timing- indeed it was no surprise to learn that he makes a living outside the nostalgia circuit from public speaking.
‘All I Can Do’ was a duet between Alan and curly haired singer backing singer Carmela Long, while highlights that broke the Rockingham mould included a drinking song they wrote with the Chieftains, ‘My Song’ when a bouncing Nottingham students union was turned for four minutes into a convivial rural bar in rural Ireland, and the equally celtic flavoured ‘My Town’, preceded by some hilarious remarks by Alan about how the song had given an ungrateful Rod Stewart his big career break.
‘Rhythm of Your Love’ got into a great groove, people picked up on the ‘love gives life’ chorus of ‘Diamond Sun’ and ‘The Thin Red Line was another with a celtic, almost Big Country-ish flavour. Despite joking earlier that it wouldn’t be in the set, Alan ended with ‘Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone’, whose melodies had the crowd bouncing and he led a protracted but very entertaining audience participation section.
These seasoned pros knew exactly how to deliver a set and I marked them as band of the weekend, allied to a sense of shame that back in the eighties I returned a couple of their albums to the Record and Tape Exchange as they hadn’t been rock enough.
The third day of Rockingham had very much been on the AOR side to date but it was time for the guitars to be cranked up as Pretty Maids took the stage ,albeit now a worrying 20 minutes late. A taped intro of various dissembling American presidents like Clinton and Nixon- with the opportunity missed to update for the current incumbent- led into the dark, angry sounds of ‘Mother of All Lies’ while the title track of most recent album ‘Kingmaker’ and ‘We Came To Rock’ sounded very impressive. Commanding the audience and working the stage, old trooper Ronnie Atkins reminded me of a Danish Biff Byford.
The middle of the set got heavier and for me less accessible, with the likes of ‘Pandemonium’ but ‘Rodeo’ had the crowd jumping, ballad ‘Little Drops of Heaven’ is always a favourite which got people swaying, and the gig was warming up nicely with an old favourite from ‘Red Hot And Heavy’ with the riffing of founder member Ken Hammer and Chris Laney of almost Accept-like intensity.
Despite the set deadline looming, fists were punching to ‘Future World’ and a forest of hands were clapping to the intro of ‘Love Games’ and the atmosphere was just getting better and better….until Ronnie’s microphone suddenly went dead. Within seconds, as he took it to the side of the stage the whole band had their power unceremoniously pulled and I sensed we would not be hearing the last of this.
Headliners Warrant were playing their first UK show for over 20 years (after an abortive booking for Firefest in 2011) and it was clear from the way their own backdrops were being assembled that they saw themselves as bringing their own show with an old school style cocksure attitude. This feeling was confirmed when they came on stage, neither guitarist taking their shades off all evening and bassist Jerry Dixon still rocking the elegantly wasted LA rock star look.
They opened in fast and furious style with ‘Sure Feels Food To Me’ before several of us were bouncing to one of their cock rock anthems in Down Boys, while it was good to hear ‘Big Talk’- a song which was shortly to take on new meaning- with its Lizzy like harmony guitars. Singer Robert Mason- the only non-original member- was doing a good job and was something of whirling dervish, looking like a cross between Uriah Heep’s Bernie Shaw and a younger Ricky Medlocke.
‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich’ and ‘32 Pennies’ were distinctly heavier than on record, with much of the credit due to Joey Allen, looking the most new school metal of the band members and with a rough-edged, though still melodic guitar style, shown on the more frantic numbers like ‘So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against the Law)’ Meantime, not to be outdone, second guitarist Erik Turner played some very melodic guitar lines to ‘Sometimes She Cries’, making it one of my favourite songs of the set.
Robert had been carrying the unenviable task of putting his own stamp on the songs that will always be associated with their singer and songwriter, the late Jani Lane, and only on the first ballad of the set in ‘I See Red’, did he fall short of those high standards. I did wonder whether they might ignore last year’s all-new ‘Louder Harder Faster’ album completely, but they eventually dropped in a rather ordinary song in ‘Only Broken Heart’.
Warrant were one of the most unfairly derided bands of the era, and it was fitting that two of the highlights of their set were ‘Machine Gun’ and ‘Hole In My Wall’ which showcased the heavier and more complex material from 1992’s ‘Dog Eat Dog’ which proved that like their contemporaries Winger, Warrant had more depth to them than the misleading stereotyping might suggest.
While the band were playing, all was fine, but there seemed to be a number of interruptions while they fixed sound issues, accompanied by some unintelligible band banter. Whereas Nelson and Vixen had radiated bonhomie, I felt they failed to understand the special dynamic of a UK festival crowd and this one in particular. Robert lacked the same warmth as those bands and seemed uncomfortable as the link man, and the last straw was when at one stage he addressed us as ‘kids’, which was ironic given the average age must have been around 50.
Nevertheless ‘Heaven’ came over superbly live as a power ballad, as did ‘Blind Faith’ to a lesser extent a couple of songs later, while the title track from ‘Louder Harder Faster’ featured some audience participation.
With the curfew approaching I was worried that some of my favourites from ‘Cherry Pie’ had been omitted so was relieved when a taped bluegrass style intro led into Joey playing the swampy guitar intro to a superb ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.
There was of course only one song to go, but then came the No 1 in the TV programme ‘most shocking moments in Rockingham history’, should it ever be made. After asking us whether we had enjoyed the bands, Robert tore into Pretty Maids for overrunning and insulted them in the crudest and most disrespectful manner with a three word farewell featuring both ‘F’ and ‘C’ words.
Rather than boo, the audience seemed in sheer disbelief as to what they had heard, although at least we now knew where the orders to shut off the power must have come from.
As it turned out there was a fun atmosphere for a ‘Cherry Pie’ tougher than on record but the fruit involved had a very sour taste. It overshadowed what was otherwise a headline-worthy performance and certainly provided a talking point for the gig post-mortems.
Nevertheless the controversy could not overshadow a special weekend of real camaraderie and almost uniformly high performances with most bands bringing their A game. In fact it may even have been my favourite of the four Rockinghams to date.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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