Sunday, November 2, 2014

Anarchy In the U.K.: The Story of Two Canadians at Firefest (Featuring Photography From Shawn Irwin) Part 1 of 3

Nottingham, England, probably most well known in stories of Robin Hood, was the scene of the crime so to speak.  The population of the storied city swelled with tattooed, long haired rockers the weekend of October 23-26, 2014 with the arrival of the annual Firefest Festival.  It was almost like there were two types of group in town over the weekend: the long haired, tattooed rocker and the young, dressed to the nines, club going girl wandering the quaint British cobblestone streets of the pedestrian core.  I don’t know what the streets would look like on a normal weekend but I imagine just a little different.  In amongst this mix of two sects of society were two bald Canadian melodic rock fans on a quest to see bands that will, unfortunately, probably never grace Canadian soil.

2014 The Final Fling Line-up
Firefest began in 2005 with a one day event in May of that year featuring Firehouse, TNT and Pink Cream 69 among others.  Another one day event, Firefest II took place in November of that same year at Nottingham Rock City, the venue that would house the festival for the next ten years.  Over the next ten years of its operation Firefest would see the likes of bands such as House of Lords, Harem Scarem, Winger, Gotthard, Bonfire, FM, Tyketto, Jorn, Demon, White Sister, Treat, Honeymoon Suite, Lynch Mob, W.E.T., Lillian Axe, Brighton Rock, J.S.R.G. (Vixen), Hardline and Heaven's Edge to name only a few of my favorites.  The event grew from a one day show to a two day festival in 2007 and then to a three day extravaganza in 2011.  Firefest was started by a group of friends in conjunction with Fireworks Magazine, but unfortunately after ten years and eleven events, all with little to no corporate sponsorship the hard working and dedicated crew of about 40 have decided to make 2014's presentation The Final Fling.

Thursday October 23, 2014
After freshening up at the hotel Shawn and I set out to attend a CD listening party that we had pre-registered for.  There were to be two bands featured, In Faith, who we were unfamiliar with, and their There’s a Storm Coming album along with Ten, who we were familiar with, Shawn being a
big fan and their forthcoming Albion CD.  We arrived on foot at Rock City, a short walk from our hotel, The Hilton Nottingham.  Something was wrong for sure!  The place was packed out front with tons of alternative/punk style dressed young people…..this was certainly not our crowd!  A quick chat with a “Bobby” (policeman) resulted in confirmation we were in the wrong place.  As the rest of the Firefest events over the next three days are held here we had just assumed (making an ass out of you and me basically), that this was the place.  The only other place I knew to be hosting Firefest bands and crew was the Crowne Plaza Hotel where a good portion of them were staying.  Hope we're not late, let’s roll!  Arriving as the first attendees when we thought that we would be late, we entered the meeting room in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Nottingham.  Spying the merchandise table rather quickly….well the room was basically void of humans and we do have a radar for avenues to spend hard earned cash on nearly any and all rock swag!  There was a table set up at one end, the merchandise along the perpendicular wall and tables, almost like a wedding
 reception hall, just not as decorated filled the remaining space.  Being a big Ten fan Shawn immediately picked up the Albion CD for purchase and as we both like to support music he also grabbed In Faith, as did I.  There were a couple of staff Ten t-shirts not in use and so for purchasing both CD's we were also awarded a shirt, adding some value to the impossibly expensive once converted to Canadian price.  Everything here in Merry Old England does not seem as outrageously over priced as we had been warned about, that is, however, until you do the conversion back to Canadian and realize that everything is almost double!  A Burger King Meal shortly after arriving in London cost me near $13.00 Canadian!!  Lesson learned, don't do the conversions, better to fool yourself than suffer a heart attack!  We chose to sit at a round table in basically the centre of the room and very shortly were excitedly checking out the smorgasbord of cool and colorful band t-shirts that were on display on near every attendee filing in the doors.  Before long we were making new friends and the “rock talk” was thick around our table, I imagine similar at every table or group.  The crowd was electric with excitement and anticipation at not just the CD previews but the whole event and it was clear that this festival had created a family similar to what I experience on the Monsters of Rock Cruise.  Creating/starting our own little family we became quite friendly with Mikael from Sweden and Mike and Angela from Canada, we weren't the only crazy Canucks in the mix!.

In Faith - photo by Shawn Irwin
The DJ system PA soon erupted with "Radio", the lead track from In Faith’s There’s a Storm Coming.  Right away Shawn and I’s heads began to almost involuntarily bob with the great sounding record.  The sound was not fabulous back mid room where we sat, perhaps echoing off the ceiling and unfortunately the vocals seemed to get lost.  Never the less the album sounded great and we both are excited to play it when we arrive back in Canada (no CD capabilities in our room).  Reading the liner notes of the disc educated us that the album had been mastered by Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) in Toronto!  The members of In Faith, guitarist Tony Marshall, vocalist Pete Godfrey and drummer Pete Newdeck took seats behind the table after the first three tracks off the album were heard.  They were talking a little about the album which was basically inaudible for us as Shawn volunteered to take photos for the band and crew.  We
5 of Ten - photo by Shawn Irwin
continued to hear the remainder of the CD, some great melodic metal despite the poor and distorted sound.  Hard to describe the atmosphere in the room right now between all the crew and patrons as I met friends Kimmo, Phil & Sue and the band circulated, signing autographs and taking photos.  At the end of In Faith, Ten banners were quickly erected and the intro signified the playing of Albion.  The album again sounded great even through the poor, distorted, bass heavy, muffled and drowning vocals of the PA.  In the same fashion the members of Ten entered to seat themselves at the table after a couple of songs.  Ten consists of seven members three of them guitarists and I couldn't help but wonder if they were planning on adding three more members to actually get to  We queued up in the line forming at the table for autographs from the band as the album continued to play.  The sound was noticeably clearer up here near the front of the room as we excitedly readied our CD inlays.  All but two of the band were present and we shook
Shawn Irwin & Gary Hughes
hands, chatting briefly as we passed by the table.  Gary Hughes, vocalist, main songwriter and founder of Ten was all smiles, soaking in the accolades from the fans and was impressed that we had journeyed from Canada for the Firefest event.  Shawn was clearly in heaven taking photos, surrounded by a broad spectrum of rock tee shirts and making friends, awesome to see him so happy since I needled him into coming along!  The broad smile across his face as he got some photos with Gary Hughes and of Gary signing his albums told a story all its own.

(In Faith Website) (In Faith Facebook) (Ten Website) (Ten Facebook)

Too excited to actually sleep we scoured the streets, aimlessly wandering and marveling at all the very dressed up club going young ladies…God love Nottingham!  Our travels took us too make a terrible choice of late night food as we entered a Burger King sometime around 1 or 2am.  Finally back in the hotel room a little later on, the feeling of being a kid at summer camp continued with a symphony of farts going off in the room as we finally were able to get some sleep.

Friday October 24, 2014
The hotel breakfast buffet was a much better food selection on the heels of the flatulent inducing Burger King to get the day rolling.  Some vaguely directional, but mostly aimless wandering brought us to the Castle for brief explorations as well as other sites about Nottingham.  And to the venue just in time, we joined the line outside of Nottingham Rock City, excited for our first Firefest.  As we entered, collected wrist bands and so forth we quickly spotted the merchandise area, told you we had that radar for spending cash on awesome rock swag!  Firefest event tees were the order of the day and the venue was already decently full as we found our way upstairs to the stage area.

Angels or Kings - photo by Shawn Irwin
Angels or Kings had just launched into their opening number as we got up there.  The sound was surprisingly good right off.  Being totally unfamiliar with this group previously and our eyes constantly scouring around the venue made it difficult to concentrate on them as our excitement wouldn't let us.  I will say that they sounded quite good from what we did hear as we worked closer to the stage securing spots to the left side, two people back from the barrier and I will definitely search out their CD upon landing back in Canada.  Title track to the album, “Kings of Nowhere” was one that stuck out a little more for me, but everything sounded quite good.
(Angels or Kings Website) (Angels or Kings Facebook)

Michael Bormann - photo by Shawn Irwin
Quickly evident was the incredible job of the Firefest stage crew with set changes scheduled for only 20 minutes so far they were right on schedule as the curtain was lowered and RedRum opened with the intro, “One of Us”“Scream” followed, both off the Victims of Our Circumstances (2013) album that I had purchased the download for a couple of days prior to departure.  I clued in that this band who I again did not know too much about aside from a couple of quick album run-throughs was actually fronted by Michael Bormann (Silent Force/Bonfire/Powerworld).  “You Can’t Buy No Hero” (also from Victims of Our Circumstances) was great but what may have been titled “Waiting For You All My Life”, “Judgement Day” and “Heart To Heart” were all unfamiliar to me being from a different album.  They shut down their altogether too short stage time with “Dust In Your Eyes”, again from the 2013 release.  Just another example of a great band waiting to be discovered!
(RedRum Website) (RedRum Facebook)

Michael Eriksen - photo by Shawn Irwin
Circus Maximus was next after the 20 minute break for set changes.  With a very progressive and much heavier sound than many on the bill, they were not particularly my flavor.  That being said they played incredibly tightly and obviously had a loyal fan following in Rock City.  “I Am”, “The One", “Game of Life” and the fitting closer of “Last Goodbye” were all titles that I caught throughout their set.  At the end of the show guitar pics found their way into the audience and Shawn (ever so quick and totally sober) caught one in the air.  Turning over the small red triangular piece of plastic in his hands and then passing it to me for inspection we saw that it was just a generic pick.  Next to us were two Japanese (we found out later) young ladies, Naoko and Aki, who had been into every Circus Maximus stage move, hands in the air singing along throughout the whole set.  Shawn turned to me saying “I’m gonna give it to her”.  “Great idea” I agreed, “She’s obviously a fan and it would mean more to her than either of us”.  Turns out that this was definitely the right choice as after the event was all said and done on the Sunday night Naoko named Circus Maximus as her top band of the weekend!
(Circus Maximus Website) (Circus Maximus Facebook)

Tony Mills with Shy - photo by Shawn Irwin
“Please welcome back to Firefest….Shy!”  came the announcement as the curtain was again dropped on another blisteringly quick set switch.  “Skydiving” led the charge and Tony Mills' vocals were spot on.  I really enjoyed his time with TNT (although Tony Harnell is incredible in that band as well).  Concentrating heavily on the Excess All Areas (1985) album they ripped through “Telephone”, “Can’t Fight the Night” and “Emergency” each introduced by Tony Mills as he worked the song title into a statement, quip or sentence of introduction.  “Now that I see you guys have your singing voices on, let’s do the singing track.  Give it all you've got won’t you.” Is an example of Tony’s intros as “Give It All You've Got” was the next selection played.  I was very impressed with Shy so far overall, another example of a hidden European band that won’t get the recognition deserved here in North America.  A short and heartfelt statement
Tony Mills - photo by Shawn Irwin
on the passing of guitarist Steve Harris and also of a devoted fan of Shy served as a dedication to them both with “When the Love Is Over”.  “Breakaway” pumped things up again before Tony Mills proclaimed that they had Jesus on guitar, referring to the resemblance the guitarist possessed.  “Break Down the Walls” took us to “No Other Way” as a roadie was plastering more red duct tape to the bassist's instrument, something that started out as one piece but became several by the end of the song, holding in the patch cord and pickups as well….the show must go on!  Great job Shy, a definite highlight for me and excellent set.
(Shy Website) (Shy Facebook)

Jakob Samuel - photo by Shawn Irwin
With an almost Rockpile-ish (a Toronto rock club) feel to things in here “Please welcome back to Firefest, The Poodles” signified they were ready to go.  The curtain drop this time had a little hangup on our friend Andrew’s side of the stage as it snagged and wouldn't go all the way down.  Good thing the Poodles were not on the stage as yet and the few seconds it took to finagle the curtain down did not hamper anything.  “Misery Loves Company” got things going and they came out with a high energy on stage.  The crowd was definitely thicker now, but stubborn us that had been standing here in basically this exact same spot for 6 hours both still refused to leave for urinating, eating or leg stretching a feat that was getting more and more difficult by the moment.  “Metal Will Stand Tall” had the crowd singing along with the oooh, oooh, oooh’s.  After “Cuts Like A Knife”, “Shut Up!” and “Like No Tomorrow” it was time for the Swedes to take a Facebook photo of us,  we will have to check that out and see if there’s a couple of bald guys visible in the shot.  Singer, Jakob Samuel, told us that the band had been working on
Christian Lundqvist - photo by Shawn Irwin
 recording their next album and took a break to come here and play for us, he himself only getting in about 45 minutes ago.  “Seven Seas” and “Night of Passion” led us to a call out for any ladies named Caroline.  When no real response came back “Caroline” was instead dedicated to all the ladies in the audience.  Citing a technical issue as the reason they couldn't give us one last song (which I believe they’d already squeezed in one extra), they exited the stage with a final bow.  Another great set by a band unlikely to make the journey over seas to North America, such a shame really.
(The Poodles Website) (The Poodles Facebook)

Gary Hughes - photo by Shawn Irwin
One thing I noticed here at Nottingham Rock City was that after a band's set was finished, the majority of the crowd on the floor would disperse (aside from the die-hards in the front few rows) and an almost totally new group would move in for the next band, like the fans of a specific band switched each other out.  In this case I had the pleasure of meeting some Ten fans and members of something called The Ten Army (a Facebook fan group) as they tightened up behind us.  House lights dimmed, curtains dropped and a recorded intro, "Remembrance for the Brave", began emanating as the band of seven members took stage.  If they just added a mere three more members their name of Ten would take on more meaning I mused again, chuckling at my own silly little joke.  As the song opened up I thought that the sound was a bit muffled, something that we’d not particularly seen or heard as yet today.  A videographer had also joined them on stage carting a huge camera apparatus on his shoulders as he circulated around, filming all angles of the band and the audience.  With the sound improving as the song moved along, “Fear the Force" was the first full song treat.  With the intro and "Fear the Force" both off 1999's Spellbound album it was only fitting to remain there for the title track served up next.  It appeared there may be a little issue with the bass guitar due to some fiddling with amps in the background but overall “Spellbound” sounded much better, a favorite track of mine.  During the song I
Ten - photo by Shawn Irwin
marveled at how there was somehow still stage space for them to move around with the seven man membership of the band.  I also mused that since press photographers are normally only allowed in the photo pit area at the front of the stage for the first three songs of a performance a selection such as “The Robe”’s more than nine minutes is a photographers dream, allowing them in there longer for more shots. "Apparition" was delivered next and followed by "Battlefield" from the band's eleventh release, Albion, that we had gotten the preview for last night during the special listening party event.  The melodic rock masterpiece, 2012's Heresy & Creed album was represented next with "The Lights Go Down" before it was back to the forthcoming issue and "It's Alive".  It dawned on me that I had been noticing a higher count of female attendees than we generally see at home all day long here at Firefest as "Valentine" and "After the Love Has Gone" were the next treats.  Vocalist and great guy (from meeting him
Ten - photo by Shawn Irwin
yesterday) announced that they were filming the concert and that they wanted to see if they could set a Guiness World Record for the most video angles taken during a performance.  He asked as many as could to record the next selection, "Alone in the Dark Tonight", the lead single from Albion, and post on the Facebook page with our name underneath.  During "Red" a real Ten fan and husband to the young lady who had taken position behind us at the start of the show threw a Scottish flag onto the stage which Gary Hughes wore as a cape briefly before draping it over the drum kit.  Things ended another awesome performance with "The Name of the Rose" and for me the only thing missing from this first time catching Ten's live event was "Endless Symphony", a song that had been stuck bouncing around inside my head for weeks now.
(Ten Website) (Ten Facebook)

Erik Gronwall - photo by Shawn Irwin
This day of firsts, first Firefest, first time in Nottingham, first time seeing each and every band performing today continued with the evenings headliner, H.E.A.T.  I've long been an admirer of H.E.A.T's music first being introduced to them by my friend, Brighton Rock guitarist Greg Fraser, but Shawn had been unfamiliar until I let him listen to a couple of their albums the week prior to departure for this adventure.  As the time neared, the crowd got noticeably tighter and I began the two step bladder easing shuffle, I might have to tap out to use the washroom dammit, hold on just a little longer!  Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On" served as the intro music for this young Swedish band that seemed a huge hit with the younger female set, explaining perhaps why the gender's attendance was higher than at home.  In fact the Japanese girls were huge fans as was a Spanish young lady in front of us, but none so
Eric Rivers - photo by Shawn Irwin
 much as perhaps Alexandra from Poland.  She not only runs the H.E.A.T Polish Fansite, but also has H.E.A.T guitarist Eric Rivers' autograph tattooed....that's dedication!  "Point of No Return" off the 2014 issued Tearing Down the Walls album led the charge and charge is the 100% correct description as the band owned the stage with conviction hitting the crowd hard.  Gronwall was intense and jumping all over the stage in a huge display of high energy that would continue throughout the set.  Staying with the newest H.E.A.T offering was "A Shot At Redemption" followed by "Better Off Alone" which began a triple shot from Address the Nation including "Heartbreaker" and "It's All About Tonight".   "What an entertainer!" Shawn exclaimed referring to Erik Gronwall as I captured "Inferno" on video.  "Tearing Down the Walls" and "Mannequin Show" were next on the roster before we went back to the debut H.E.A.T release for "Late Night Lady".  "In and Out of Trouble" kept my fist high in the air and "Beg Beg Beg" came with a quick Swedish lesson and a snippet of the Deep Purple classic "Highway Star" included before wrapping up.  The conclusion of "Downtown" brought bassist Jimmy Jay (and his Ace Frehley caricature tattoo) to say a few heartfelt words on the passing of legend Jimi Jamison.  I was personally fortunate enough to have caught a portion of Jimi Jamison's set with Survivor at
Jona Tee/Eric Rivers/Jimmy Jay - photo by Shawn Irwin
 Sweden Rock Festival in 2013.  H.E.A.T next played a tribute to Jamison with Survivor's "Rebel Son" followed by "Emergency" to close off an incredible show stealing regular set.  During "Emergency", which marked a total of six of the eleven full length tracks on Tearing Down the Walls, Erik Gronwall plucked some lucky fan's cell phone from their hands and did a little selfie and crowd filming on their device for them.  H.E.A.T returned for the expected encore and what I hoped would be my all time favourite H.E.A.T track in "Breaking the Silence", but it was not to be as "Living On the Run" was the final song.  Oh well, If I can't hear "Breaking the Silence", then "Living On the Run" is quite possibly the best consolation.  A couple of the awesome Firefest staff were brought out on stage for a few moments to sing along and the emotion was high as the audience sang every word and the band gave all they had on the stage.  Things ended with Erik performing a stage dive and surfing around the crowd shortly before the band took a final bow.  They took a photo looking out at the crowd from the stage (in which Shawn and I can be spotted if you look closely) and proclaimed that they would be here for the next two days of the event to party with us all.  Great performance by a great bunch of guys, I was blown away and Shawn was more than a little impressed!
H.E.A.T and the Firefest crowd - photo by Kristian Heat Reuter of Reuter Music & Photography (Taken from H.E.A.T Facebook page)
(H.E.A.T Website) (H.E.A.T Facebook)

Finally a chance to use the facilities!  What an ugly mistake that choice was!  I would have been better off to urinate in my pants than endure the swallow of filth that greeted me in the men's toilets!  The long stainless steel troughs were shoulder to shoulder full so I chose an open stall on the far right.  I quickly found out why the stall was void of humans as I closed the door and stirred up the several million (not an exaggeration) fruit flies that swarmed me.  With the operation already underway there was no option other than hold my breath and nose for fear the flies would get in either as I finished my business.  The worst part was the complete audacity of Rock City to station an attendant with a tip dish ready to squirt soap into my hands or mist me with aftershave.  I told the gentleman (politely of course) that I felt it safer to not wash my hands in this bog of filth and would happily give him some money if he would only clean the place and not my hands!

Re-joining up with Mikael we exited the venue with not much aside from food (and maybe hand washing) on all our minds.  We closed out the evening at a restaurant called Frank & Benny's, I think, for a late dinner, beer and general chat about the awesomeness that we had just been a part of and witness to!

Top bands of the day-Shawn:                           Top bands of the day-Meister:
#3-H.E.A.T                                                            #3-Ten      
#2-The Poodles                                                     #2-Shy
#1-Ten                                                                     #1-H.E.A.T

Gallery of Shawn Irwin's photos: Bands arranged in order of play

Look for videos from the whole event coming soon to Decibel Geek's YouTube Channel

The Meister

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(Firefest Website) (Firefest Facebook)

(Fireworks/Rocktopia Website) (Fireworks Magazine Facebook)

(Blackstar Amps Website) (Blackstar Amps Facebook)

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