Firefest VIII @ Rock City, Notts – Sunday 23rd October 2011

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Review by Harry Paterson and Pix by Sean Larkin

(Read Harry’s Friday review here and his Saturday review here)

Sunday: Day Two

Steve Newman turned in the best opening performance of the festival. With an extensive back catalogue from which to choose, coupled with his easy and relaxed charm, this was the perfect antidote to those pincer-gripping hangovers.

Obvious highlights were Over And Over Again, featuring guest strumming from Far Cry’s Pete Cry, the slightly newer direction of Heaven Knows and the obvious, but always effective, One Step Closer.

A fine example of Brits matching Yanks at their own game, there was little about which to complain. A job well done, Steve. 8/10

Given the unrelenting championing of White Widdow by Jailbreak Events’ Daren Phillips, there was a malicious satisfaction to be had when their first song signalled the oncoming carnage of a band dive-bombing to earth with credibility going up in sheets of scorching flames.

The last laugh, however, was firmly with Mr Phillips as the second song made it clear technical difficulties were to blame and the Australians were soon on top of their impressive game.

Jules Millis looks as if he’d be more at home fronting the Dogs D’Amour and while he might not be a great singer, he’s a great singer for this band. Somehow, he just fits.

Given that a Reckless Night for these chaps consists of “…rockin’ to the radio” it’s unlikely that Guns ‘n’ Roses crown as The Most Dangerous Band In The world will be under threat anytime soon but, lyrical limpness aside, this was undeniably good stuff.

Strangers In The Night was a treat and Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever, complete with corny, but unmistakably effective, who-oh-oh chorus, mean only one thing: this is a cracking act with whom you should acquaint yourself forthwith. 8/10

Is there a more unlikely looking bunch of rock stars than Alien? Sauntering on stage, with a shirt last worn by Eric Bristow, Jim Jidhed, and his extra terrestrial buddies, came across like your Dad and his mates off for a Sunday lunch session of arrows at the miners’ welfare.

However, while we continue with the darts metaphor, it has to be pointed out that they hit a triple twenty instantly as one of the most astonishing voices of any Firefest held a stunned and beguiled crowd absolutely in thrall.

Only One Woman was a bull’s eye and saw grizzled biker-types blinking furiously and swallowing golf ball-sized lumps as the cliché, not a dry eye in the house, sprang unavoidably to mind.

They could rock too and the contents of their 1988 debut spilled like treasure from a chest. The undisputed surprise of the weekend, they were never less than magical. Loving the alien? Indeed. 9/10

And so to another RTA. The eagerly awaited Kane Roberts was, bluntly, a crushing disappointment. The ex-Alice Cooper guitarist is certainly entitled to play Alice numbers but their inclusion at Firefest seemed out of place and, frankly, just didn’t work.

While Desmond Child-penned songs are a natural fit here, and Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore was beyond criticism, there were far too few moments like this.

Clearly struggling to recall lyrics accurately and visibly shrinking behind his mic stand and guitar, Roberts became increasingly withdrawn until he withdrew altogether a good ten minutes before the end of his allotted span. Not good. 6/10

By contrast, Mitch Malloy was greeted with near-hysteria, certainly among the audience’s female contingent. And, to be fair, he put in a decent shift with Anything At All, obviously, Stranded In The Middle Of Nowhere and newer cuts like Carry On, meeting with rapturous approval.

Some may find his predilection for the cliché of the big last-chorus key-change a touch predictable, and his voice certainly tends towards shouty the higher it goes, but it’d be a be a brave man who’d point that out to the slavish Malloy fangirls who licked up every sticky sweet note. 8/10

Firefest’s ace in the hole or joker in the pack? Full house or busted flush? For some, the opportunity to catch Coney Hatch’s first performance ever in the UK was an event that simply couldn’t be missed. On the other hand, 1985’s Friction aside, some clearly found it difficult to see the Canadian quartet as natural Firefest fodder. Their roots owe far more to the classic rock of the 70s and bands like Bad Company than, say, the radio-oriented gloss of Journey, Foreigner et al.

Didn’t matter, though. On every level theirs was an outstanding display of gutsy hard rock with their melodic credentials secured by pitch-perfect harmonies and an outstanding vocal performance from Carl Dixon. Twenty six years after Friction, he sounded as fresh and as strong as he did then and his effortless delivery was a privilege to witness.

All the hits and more were aired to the delight of one of the most physical and enthusiastic crowds of the weekend. Girl from Last Night’s Dream, She’s Gone and Hey Operator were just three of the highlights from a set that was as faultless as it was enjoyable.

There was delicious irony to be tasted, too, courtesy of the only band on this year’s Firefest bill without a keyboard player, blowing away the majority of their predecessors. The moment the first chord was struck, the weekend’s balls dropped and all over the venue Korgs sprouted stubble, Moogs got chest-hair and Roland synths wished they were guitars.

Busted flush? Hah! A royal flush and no mistake. In spades. 9/10

It’s tempting to deal with the elephant in Unruly Child’s room by ignoring it. After all, we should, and need, consider only the music. However, given the charged and emotional atmosphere, of which a significant contributory factor was the aforementioned elephant, it would be dishonest to so proceed.

The first performance anywhere of the reformed legends, with a post-op Free, was always going to attract attention. Let us then be clear, from the off, that the dignity and courage, following unimaginable adversity and personal anguish, displayed by Mz Free tonight was both a humbling and moving experience.

The character of that unique voice has, inevitably, altered. Revealing, on occasions, a strange androgynous quality but its remarkable musicality and almost evangelical communicative power remains entirely undiminished.

In terms of the overall performance, while far from perfect, it was clear why Unruly Child command such a loyal and dedicated cult following. When they got it right, they moved to a level of class most bands can only imagine.

Even within a genre, and at a festival, where sumptuous melodies and harmonic precision engineering is a given, the band were flawless and deserving of the highest appreciation.

Show Me The Money slithered and danced with hypnotic rhythmic compulsion, Take Me Down Nasty, while announced as such, acknowledged the Basement Demos with appropriately altered lyrics during the chorus and rocked like the proverbial hurricane.

As mentioned, the set wasn’t perfect and, at the midway point, sagged from too many ballads strung together. Mz Free’s understandably frequent, and coded, references to her personal situation also acted as a brake in parts and the energy faltered as a result.

Also, even as a holding manoeuvre, while technical difficulties are tackled and resolved, there is never any excuse for a bass solo. It’s just wrong. Bass players, no matter how accomplished, are music’s brick layers and who wants to see a wall built?

Flippancy aside, moments like Talk To Me and the aching, yet uplifting, When We Were Young provided powerful examples of this deeply special band’s emotional power and of their music’s ability to transcend this life, this reality and fashion entirely new worlds. World’s where better things are possible and, through the looking glass of the crowd’s love for Unruly Child and of the band’s reaction to it, those worlds were glimpsed tonight. 8/10

H’s Firefest Fab Five
W.E.T.
Coney Hatch
Unruly Child
Alien
White Widdow/Vega (tie for fifth place)

Check Sean’s photos from Sunday here:

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