Firefest IX @ Nottingham Rock City, Friday 19 October 2012

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Review by Paul Quinton and photos by Sean Larkin

There comes a time at the end of each summer, when melodic rock and AOR fans feel a certain yearning, an emotional draw that they just know leads to Nottingham. The annual Firefest is surely the single best and best-run event of its type and size anywhere in the world, and yet again Keiran Dargan, Bruce Mee and the rest of the crew not only put together a bill that was as attractive as it was surprising, but for the very first time, the whole festival sold out all three days. A tremendous achievement, and thoroughly well deserved.

Twenty to six on a Friday evening must be a thankless time to go on and play, but even so there looked to be a fairly full house for Italy’s LIONVILLE, who let neither the time nor the pressure faze them, grabbed the opportunity with both hands and turned in an absolutely sparkling set. It was pure AOR, with a fine set of songs with great hooks, particularly well sung by Lars Safsund and the single song from their new album, due next month, sounds as if this could soon be a band to be reckoned with. I especially liked their cover of Richard Marx’s ‘World Without Your Love’, which was even an improvement on the original. Great band, we can have them back any time.

One of the West Midlands’ best bands, DANTE FOX, must have felt the pressure following such a fine set from Lionville, and to be frank, they never really got to grips with the challenge. They’re a good outfit and Sue Willetts is a fine singer, but they weren’t helped by a mix that didn’t highlight her voice a lot of the time. Although the set was filled with some of their better known numbers, plus a single song from their forthcoming album ‘Lost Man’s Ground’, the set could have done with a good deal more oomph, to use the technical term, and it would have helped if Sue had tried to engage with the audience more. ‘Firing My Heart’ sounded really good, and the new song ‘Who Stole The Innocence’, also had a lot of good things about it, but overall, this wasn’t Dante Fox’s finest hour.

TEN playing the 2002 Gods Festival in Bradford was one of the highlights of my youth, but then the band seemed almost to go into hibernation. But now, with an almost completely new lineup and a second new album in as many years due out imminently, the band seem almost reborn, although their ‘return’ tour earlier this year was a little disappointing. However, this was much more like it. With new material and what seems to be a settled line up, the band appear to have a lot of confidence in the future and it flowed through this set. There was a nicely worked opener with sound clips from the back catalogue mixed together, before the band went straight into ‘The Lights Go Down’. If the start was a little tentative, the set was galvanised by a mesmerising ‘After The Love Has Gone’, and with the crowd fully behind them, the band turned in a fine set. There are still some issues, the mix never seemed quite right, and new guitarist Dan Mitchell can often be too elaborate. Technically he’s awesome, but while being something of an anonymous presence at times, he’s definitely someone who won’t play one note when he can play about fifteen, which tends to overshadow how good everything else is. The set finished with a triumphant ‘Red’ and an epic ‘Name of The Rose, and they got a great reception at the end. There’s an awful lot to like about Ten, and building on this set with some steady roadwork should lift them up several notches in the table.

TYKETTO’s last appearance at Firefest, in 2007, was supposed to be their last, but all concerned soon realised that the band meant so much to them, it just couldn’t be allowed to fade away. This wasn’t the first return engagement, but it was the first with the original line-up, with Brooke St.James back on guitar and augmennted by former Ten keyboard maestro Ged Rylands. Tonight the band were greeted as conquering heroes as they opened their 75-minute set with a thunderous ‘Strength In Numbers’, and worked their way up from there. As expected, the majority of the set was taken from the first two albums, with some additions from the new ‘Dig In Deep’ album, and when you consider some of the detritus that headlines theatres and arenas these days, it’s continually astonishing and frustrating that a band this consistently good, this loved and with such a powerful connection with its fans, is not far, far, bigger than it is. Tonight Tyketto owned Rock City, it was one of the best performances I can remember at Firefest. It maybe didn’t have the emotion of the famous White Sister set in 2008 and the exuberance of Jimi Jamison in 2010, but for sheer stage presence, intensity and for having probably the best frontman of the whole event in Danny Vaughn, it was right up with the very best. As ever, the set ended with ‘Forever Young’, a blistering version that, with the wild crowd response, had me checking to make sure the roof of Rock City was still secured. If that was Friday, the rest of Firefest had a lot to live up to.

And you can see more shots from the Friday show here: