Firefest VIII @ Rock City, Notts – Friday 21st October 2011

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Review by Harry Paterson and pix by Sean Larkin

(You can read about Saturday here and Sunday here)

While the appearance of keyboards at Bloodstock provoke anything from mild suspicion all the way through to outright hate and derision, here, at Firefest, the keyboard is king.

For at least one weekend a year, the guys who play ‘em, the guys who look like off-duty accountants and science nerds, need fear no sand kicked in their faces.

With the sort of hair-styles cut at home by their mums and neatly-ironed, button-down, sensible-shirts a-plenty, that most sensitive of musicians seeks refuge at Nottingham’s annual extravaganza of wimp rock.

Fortunately, that keyboard candy-floss is blended with stick-of-rock hardness that can only produce the tastiest of rock’s confectionary: AOR, melodic rock, call it what you will.

And so, the scene now appropriately set, let Midlands Rocks be your guide as we take you through the entire weekend of melodic loveliness.

Friday: Pre-Show

5.40pm anywhere in the world, while being an acceptable hour to commence cocktail-quaffing operations, is a decidedly nasty time for any self-respecting rockers to ply their rock.

Make that hour the opening slot on an eighteen-band bill and that nastiness is suddenly elevated to poisoned chalice-heights of potential disaster.

Fortunately, no one told Serpentine and the Cardiff rockers opened proceedings with an admirable sparkle, exhibiting, in the process, at least three jewels in their crown: Philadelphia, Lonely Nights and front man, Matt Black. 7/10

Houston, we have a problem. That being the jarring re-entry to Planet Reality after the retro-80s Swedes, backed, incongruously, by what looked like the Lostprophets, finished their sunny-natured, feel-good set.

A certain awkwardness and inexperience aside, not to mention the odd obvious mistake, Houston’s sincerity and obvious love for 80s AOR succeeded in transporting us back to that most wonderful of decades.

So much so that stumbling outside for a post-set smoke, one was stunned to be met by a dull and chilly October night in 2011, instead of a warm July the 4th from 1987.

Apart from anything else, how can you not love a band that brings something new to AOR’s national anthem, Don’t You Know What Love Is? 7/10

Black cowboy hat, black shirt, black boots plus big-assed acoustic guitar, Terry Brock came over like a Black Metal Garth Brooks. Or maybe Glen Benton pretending to be Roy Orbison.

Jesus, can you imagine such a thing?

In any event, it mattered little. The illness that would see his second set of the weekend, with his Strangeways band mates, wrecked was already making itself apparent as he visibly struggled.

Diamond Blue, of course, was marvellous but the rest was, sadly, not. 6/10

Jim Jamison is an old pro and rather than struggle and fail to reach his former glories, he wisely decided to have his band detune. Burning Heart, then, sounded as great as it did back in its Rocky heyday (somebody please tell David Coverdale this is how you handle age-induced diminishing ability with dignity).

The perfect closer to the Friday pre-show, he rolled out all the tunes you’d expect and a joyous and buoyant mob rolled along with them. Oceans was cool, Rebel Son fiery and The Singer, Not The Song was a nice touch in sly message-sending.

The inevitable closing couplet of the Baywatch theme and Eye of The Tiger (the singer not the song, right, Jim?) confirmed Mr Jamison as a consummate entertainer and the perfect Firefest aperitif. 8/10

And you can see Sean’ photos from the Friday night here:

 

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