With the clocks having gone back in the middle of the night to give us a much-needed extra hour in bed, the PM team arrived for the third and final day of the 11th and final (?) Firefest with not a great deal of anticipation, as Sunday’s bill, on paper at least, looked the least promising of the weekend… but, what an eye-opening afternoon and evening it actually turned out to be, with the most diverse collection of acts yet.
Even the most experienced of journalists cannot be expected to know every metal band on the planet, and therefore I was very surprised that I had not come across Axxis before in their 25 years in the business… Their hard-hitting and energetic traditional German metal gets the large early crowd jumping and singing as early as the third number; Harvey Keitel lookalike vocalist Bernhard Weiss and bassist Rob Schomaker display great interaction with the audience and really get them fired up for the rest of the day with their collection of fist-pumping, arm-waving anthems, such as ‘Living In A World Of Shame And Glory’.
Next up are the band with the most unusual/intriguing name of the weekend, C.I.T.A/Guild Of Ages – a choice of monicker which reflects the dual names by which they have been known over the years… The Colorado four piece – another act who seemingly have come out of retirement just for this occasion – deliver hard, crunching riffs combined with huge harmonies and extremely impressive vocals from Danny Martinez. The songs are beautifully crafted, built around the most basic of principles but done so to impressive effect – aided by some stunning musicianship. Definitely a surprise package.
Touch‘s place in rock folklore was cemented many moons ago (more than some of the PM team care to admit remembering), when they were the first band to play the first ever Monsters Of Rock bash at Donington in 1980: the band split up shortly afterwards, but leader Mark Mangold is determined to revisit old glories by basing this afternoon’s set around that very same one from nigh on a quarter of a century ago. In an afternoon characterized by its contrasting styles, Touch’s blues and jazz edged prog rock resembles an amalgam of Deep Purple and Styx jamming with Saga and is captivating for some present and a distraction for others: but, then, isn’t that the beauty of a festival line up? An inevitable highlight is ‘Don’t You Know What Love Is?’, with Mangold’s glorious keyboards counterpointing Tommy Denander’s soaring guitar work, while closer ‘The Fire Never Dies’ evokes the spirit shown by many of the bands over the weekend.
Keeping up the theme of contrasting styles, Finland’s Brother Firetribe – one of the acts the Firefest team had been chasing for several years – receive a rapturous reception even before the curtain at the front of the stage into the pit below, and the quintet certainly gets off to a boisterous start. The first few songs, such as ‘Runaways’ and ‘Midnite Queen’, come across as slightly heavier retro Euro pop rock, very much in the vein of A-Ha or Roxette, but with chunkier riffs propping up the catchy tunes and choruses. Heart throb frontman Pekka Ansio Heino has a strong voice if a somewhat slightly cocky attitude – at least at the outset, while Emppu Vuorinen does his best to add some crunch to proceedings with his impressive guitar work.
The crowd is the most split yet, with a considerable proportion singing along to the likes of ‘I’m On Fire’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’ – both strong AOR songs – with many more standing bemused and unimpressed around the edges of the room: however, as things get heavier, especially on the likes of ‘For Better Or For Worse’ from their new album ‘Diamonds In The Firepit’, and by the end of their allotted 45 minutes their Ebola-like infectiousness has won over a large percentage of those present.
Setlist: One Single Breath / Runaways / Love Is Not Enough / Midnite Queen / Desperately / Trail Of Tears / I’m On Fire / Wildest Dreams / Winner Takes It All / Hanging By A Thread / For Better Or For Worse / Heart Full Of Fire / I Am Rock
Coney Hatch, meanwhile, were returning to the stage which was responsible for re-invograting their career, as bassist Andy Curren informs the audience, regaling us with the story of how, after making their UK debut at Firefest some four years ago, they had returned home to Canada to find two different record deals being offered their way: the result was last year’s “comeback” album ‘Four’. Returning to, er, return the favour, the four Canucks deliver a romper-stomper set of hard ‘n’ heavy bluesy hard rock which slides, struts and swaggers from the speakers and strolls around the room with laconic ease; foot stompers such as ‘Don’t Say Make Me’ and the simple but effective ‘This Ain’t Love’, with its typically winding solo, sit easily alongside the bar room blooze of ‘Marseilles’ and more commercial offerings such as ‘She’s Gone’ and debut single ‘Hey Operator’.
The band are as eased and relaxed as their material: Curren even has brought his family along for the ride, and gets the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to his eldest daughter. There are a couple of tracks from the aforementioned ‘Four’ album, including the rambunctious ‘Boys Club’, the suitably monickered ‘Down And Dirty’ and the acidic ‘Connected’, all of which go down very well, while the last third of the set is suitably festival-friendly “greatest hits” collection, including the uplifting ‘Girl From Last Night’s Dream’, with several of the stage crew joining in on gang vocals for closer ‘Devil’s Deck’. Another great set from another re-invigorated band who owe their revival to this most special of festivals.
Setlist: Blown Away / Stand Up / Don’t Say Make Me / This Ain’t Love / She’s Gone / Marseilles / Boys Club / Down And Dirty / Connected / Hey Operator / Fallen Angel / Girl From Last Night’s Dream / Monkey Bars / Devil’s Deck
Personally speaking, one of the most eagerly anticipated acts of the weekend was Autograph: as an isolated rocker growing up in what our American brethren might well refer to as a “hick town”, I literally grabbed every release by anyone with long hair and a guitar round their shoulders – and, to me, big-hair radio-friendly hard rock sat more than comfortably alongside Satan-inducing black metal (and still does to this day).
Having returned from a lengthy hiatus a few years back – albeit without original vocalist Steve Plunkett, and also minus the parping keyboards – the Autograph of today is a much heavier proposition than that of yore: Simon Daniels’ vocals are deeper than his predecessor and the guitars have a grunt and grind to them that updates the songs to magnificent, relevant effect. The huge choruses are still there, of course, as is the band’s massive positive attitude, as they bring the sound and spirit of the Eighties smack bang up to date and keep the hair metal flag flying high in the 21st century.
The only disappointment was the omission of ‘That’s The Stuff’, due to their set running slightly over, but that did not seriously detract from the overall impact and enjoyment of one of the truly outstanding bands of the weekend.
Deep End / Dance All Night / Loud And Clear / Bad Boy / Blondes In Black Cars / When The Sun Goes Down / All I’m Gonna Take / Send Her To Me / Cloud 10 / guitar solo / My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Isn’t Me / She Never Looked That Good For Me / Crazy World / Turn Up The Radio
In my review of day one, I referred to guilty pleasures: back in the mid-Eighties, Danger Danger most definitely fell into that category – it was extremely hard for anyone not to be drawn to their cheesy, tongue-in-cheek brand of simplistic sleaze rock. But, then, it was just as hard to resist the catchy inanity – or inane catchiness – of the likes of ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Monkey Business’ and, of course, ‘Naughty Naughty’.
Look up the word ‘charisma’ in the Oxford Dictionary of Heavy Metal Clichés, and name Ted Poley sits very high at the top of the list of examples cited – and the frontman definitely proves this tonight as he leads the classic line-up of Danger Danger through what can only be described as an equally classic set. The five re-united musicians play with a verve and enthusiasm which they have probably not shown since the late Eighties: like most of the bands over the weekend, Poley knows he is among friends (this is the band’s fourth appearance at Firefest) and interacts easily with those gathered in front of the stage – even going for a walk among them, on what he describes, accurately, as “probably the stickiest floor in the world” – on not one but two occasions, during ‘Don’t Walk Away’ and the powerful ‘I Still Think About You’. The singer is aided by Bruno Ravel, who cracks jokes (especially about the length of his between song raps) and demonstrates a laconic ease which counterpoints, and complements, Poley’s energy.
But, it’s what happens after the “main” set that both makes it special and defines the essence of Firefest: with the dying chords of the momentous “sleaze rock national fucking anthem” (to use Ravel’s word’s) ‘Naughty Naughty’ still ringing around the arena, the band remain on stage, where they invited “a few friends” to them… these turn out to be the entire Firefest crew, together with the like’s of Erik Gronwall, Simon Daniels and Tommy Denander, among others, for one of the biggest mass singalongs you’re ever likely to witness, as both the band and everyone present urges those responsible for this most special of festivals to ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and bringing down the curtain in truly special style…
Crazy Nites / Rock America / Turn It On / Beat The Bullet / Don’t Walk Away / keyboard solo / One Step From Paradise / Boys Will Be Boys / Feels Like Love / guitar solo / Goin’ Goin’ Gone / Don’t Blame It On Love / Bang Bang / I Still Think About You / Monkey Business
Encore: Naughty Naughty / Don’t Stop Believin’
So, was this indeed Firefest’s Final Fling? Well, it would appear that the answer is a double-edged sword: yes, Firefest, as everyone has known and loved it is no more; however, PlanetMosh’s sources indicate that the organizers are already working on a new project, with a larger venue – and even some of the acts – already booked for next year… so, watch this space!
Photographs by Sean Larkin.