There’s an old saying that all good things must, eventually, come to an end, and so it is that, after a run of 11 years, Firefest this year (apparently) threw its final fling, with a combination of established favourites who had graced its stage over the past decade or so, a hitlist of those the organisers had sought to do so and the usual smattering of new acts.
And it was to one of the latter that the onerous task of opening this year’s proceedings fell, in the form of unsigned Mancunians Angels Or Kings – a band who actually came together after meeting at Firefest a number of years earlier. They get things off to an extremely strong start, their swirling keyboards, crunching guitar riffs and great use of vocal harmonies placing them very much in the Dare/FM school of UK AOR. With the passion and commitment they showed so obviously in this early slot, together with the charisma of vocalist Barrie Jackson and a fine collection of songs (from their just-released ‘Kings Of Nowhere’ album), on the strength of this performance AOK won’t remain unsigned for much later.
The hair gets a helluva lot bigger as Greece’s Redrum invite the growing audience to ‘Scream If You Want It’ – and the crowd duly obliges on both counts! Led by former Jaded Heart vocalist Michael Bormann, they are very reminiscent of 1987-era Whitesnake – as evidenced on the likes of ‘Judgement Day’ in particular – especially in the twin guitar harmonies of Athan Kazakis and Panos Baxevanis… But, that’s no bad comparison, and the sextet deliver a well-choreographed and extremely crowd-pleasing set despite the still somewhat early hour.
Norway’s Circus Maximus are the first band to make a ‘proper’ entrance, with the darkened stage swathed in purple light as the four musicians make their way on stage, before vocalist Michael Eriksen bounds to the front. CM are the heaviest band of the afternoon so far, and their progressive sound is very much in contrast to the rest of the bill – and, indeed, seems somewhat out of place at first. Neverthless, its passion and musical perfection goes down well with the majority of those present, and also quickly wins over any wavers on the outskirts of the arena. Eriksen has a reach, deep voice and a commending charisma, although, as the set progressed, he struggled to hit the high notes – something particularly obvious on the appropriate closer ‘Last Goodbye’ – and seemed much more comfortable at the bottom end of his range.
Setlist: Architect Of Fortune / Namaste / I Am / The One / Arrival Of Love / Game Of Life / Last Goodbye
As the first day reached its midway point, Brit AOR veterans Shy really showed their pedigree: having been one of my “guilty secrets” away back in mid-80s, I was really looking forward to seeing them live for the first time in more than decades – and they did not disappoint! Not letting early technical problems with Roy Davis’ band spoil the party, the band launch into an obviously crowd-pleasing “greatest hits” set extracted from the full range of their back catalogue, from the suitably soaring ‘Sky Diving’ through the towering ‘Telephone’ to an extremely tight version of ‘Can’t Fight The Nights’ to the tumultuous ‘Break Down The Walls – with one of the highlights being the beautiful and heartfelt ‘When The Love Is Over’, which is dedicated to fallen friends and leaves hardly a dry eye in the house. It’s a set which proves that Shy are one of the most criminally over-looked bands of their era and should have been much more of a force on the international stage.
Setlist: Skydiving / Telephone / Can’t Fight The Nights / Emergency / Give It All You Got / When The Love Is Over / Breakaway / Break Down The Walls / Talk To Me
There is somewhat of a Spinal Tap moment at the start of The Poodles set, as the curtain covering the stage during changeovers fails to drop at the first attempt… and, indeed, it sort of summarizes the band’s day to date, as singer Jakob Samuel had missed his flight and only made it to the venue from Heathrow just ten minutes before they were due on stage. But, this does not stop the frontman – who looks like a cross between Vince Neil and Michael Monroe and also has a stage mannerism similar to both – whipping around the stage like a whirling dervish (almost as if he is setting the bar for his headlining countrymen. It’s an energetic performance from both Samuel and the other three band members – guitarist Henrik Bergqvist, bassist Pontus Egberg and drummer Christian Lunqvist – which results in a cheesy but tight and proficient collection of crowd-pleasing clap-a-long singalong anthems played in the best Scandi-sleaze style, the highlights of which are ‘Shut Up’, ‘Like No Tomorrow’ and ‘Night Of Passion’, which threatens to raise the roof before, to the disappointment of both the band and fans, their over-running set is cut short.
Setlist: Misery Loves Company / Metal Will Stand Tall / Cuts Like A Knife / Shut Up! / Like No Tomorrow / Seven Seas / Night Of Passion / Caroline
Manchester’s Ten bring a feel of the suitably sweeping epic to proceedings with their triple guitar attack and their beautiful, rich soundscapes, which soar around the room, diving into its darkest recesses and re-emerging, triumphant, to hold everyone spellbound (sic) in their rapturous embrace. Like the majority of the bands over the weekend, this was my first time catching Ten in the live arena, and they truly brought the atmosphere and scope of their studio output to life: the twin lead guitars of Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott work incredibly well together, weaving melodious musical patterns with the skill of true craftsmen, while vocalist Gary Hughes is the consummate frontman, urging both his band and faithful followers to give it their all – and then some. They unveil a couple of tracks from their forthcoming new album ‘Albion’, including the majestic and brooding ‘Battlefield’ and the mid-paced ‘it’s Alive’, while closer ‘The Name Of The Rose’, in best festival fashion, brings another superb set to a typically tumultuous finale.
Setlist: Remembrance For The Brave / Fear The Force / Spellbound / The Robe / Apparition / Battlefield / The Lights Go Down / It’s Alive / Valentine / After The Love Has Gone / Alone In The Dark Tonight / Red / The Name Of The Rose
As mentioned above, this was my first time seeing many of the bands on the Firefest bill live, and one I had been particularly looking forward to was H.E.A.T, as I have been a fan of their recorded output since their slow-burning (in terms of commercial success, that is) debut album. With Glenn Frey’s ‘The Heat Is On’ building anticipation, vocalist Erik Grönwall explodes onto the stage like a greyhound out of the trap – and doesn’t stop in a performance that is wall-to-wall energy: the singer is like a jack-in-the-box on speed, only slowing down when tied to an acoustic guitar for ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, the title track from their magnificent last album. Grönwall obviously has studied the great frontmen, from Jagger to Tyler, Rose to Roth, but adds his own Machiavellian twist to the role: he and the band also have a respect for their heritage, as evinced during their heartfelt rendition of ‘Rebel Son’, dedicated to the late Jimi Jamison.
The band last year trimmed down from a six piece to a quintet, following the departure of rhythm guitarist Dave Dalone, and this has served to make them tighter musically, with the likes of ‘Beg, Beg, Beg’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ having a harder edge which matches that of ‘Point Of No Return’, ‘Mannequin Show’, ‘A Shot At Redemption’ and ‘Emergency’ perfectly, and proved just why H.E.A.T not only justify all the hype (and soaked knickers!) but are most definitely one of the hottest bands around at the moment (sic). It well and truly made the first leg of team PM’s trip from the Emerald isle worth the venture.
Photographs by Sean Larkin.