Anarchy in the U.K. – The Story of Two Canadians at Firefest: The Final Fling (Photography by Shawn Irwin) Part 3 of 3

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Marty/Meister/Shawn ready to rock

On this third and final day of concerts at 2014’s Firefest: The Final Fling here in Nottingham, England we were still quite energized and were up and attacking the Hilton buffet once again at a reasonable hour.  Shawn, proudly sporting his newly acquired Black ‘N Blue shirt, was ahead of me in the line as I noticed the gentleman ahead of him was wearing the same shirt.  He also had similar dark rimmed glasses and a shaved head. My quip of  “Hey, you two must shop at the same store!” served as the opening to meet Marty who pointed out that all three of us must use the same barber!  Turns out that this gentleman is none other than the roommate that Decibel Geek Podcast writer Derik Novak will be partnered with when he embarks on his first Monsters of Rock Cruise in 2015!  When Derik told me that he wanted to set sail I introduced him (via Facebook) to my good cruise friend Tony as I knew Tony was searching for another roommate for his cabin.  It turns out that Marty will be Derik‘s roommate on the ship, facilitated by Tony, awesome to randomly meet here!  The connections of my rock family never cease to astound me.

With that Shawn and I were off in search of a chocolate store, of which we’d seen many during late night wanderings but had trouble finding this morning, so that he could bring some chocolate home for his wife.  During our chocolate void stroll we happened across Geert from Belgium, a friend met on the MORC cruises.  He joined us as we searched and came across a couple of places that were not
The scene of our coffee substitute – photo by Geert Fieuw
yet open for business on this Sunday morning.  We decided that a coffee was in order and after more aimless wandering, not finding anywhere that was overly appealing for our coffee we somehow ended up entering The Ned Ludd which was not so much of a coffee shop but a pub.  Strange to find a pub open at this hour for us Canadians.  I substituted my coffee with a beer, a local brew of some sort that was quite delicious and a fitting start to the day.  Geert enjoyed a pricey brew from Belgium while Shawn had tea as we chatted about Firefest, MORC, bands in general and Geert’s band, Beyond the Labyrinth, which I’m anxious to hear.  Parting ways we secured the precious chocolate package and dropped it off at the hotel, not wanting to carry it into Rock City, of course.
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Once inside Nottingham Rock City we again made a strict beeline for the merchandise room to see what the wares of the day would include.  While there were several top choices, as there have been each day (no Pretty Maids merchandise yesterday was a disappointment, however), we both quickly settled on the personalized to Firefest Coney Hatch t-shirts.  They depicted the cover art of the 1982 debut Coney Hatch album and on the back had “Firefest 2014: The Final Fling, Rock City-Nottingham, October 26, 2014” with “Sold-Out” stamped across it at an angle.
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Shawn was ready to enter the photo pit again and I told him that he would like this first band of the day for sure.  He was unfamiliar with them, but I had several of their releases and had caught a portion of their performance at Sweden Rock 2013.  I took up residence in basically the same spot that we had started every day so far, hey why break tradition?  Axxis from Germany blasted onto the stage and ripped through an awesome opener with
Bernhard Weiss – photo by Shawn Irwin
“Kingdom of the Night II”.  Vocalist, Bernhard Weiss, immediately captivated the early crowd with his staggeringly powerful voice and the tightness of the band backed him up with vigor.  “Little War” was their next choice and I was astounded at the amazing stage presence of these guys.  Weiss paused ever so quickly to inform us that they were now faced with the challenge of giving us 25 years of Axxis in about 40 minutes, so he had to talk very fast.  This short chat was very humorous and showed the engaging charisma of Bernhard Weiss.  They incited the crowd extremely quickly with a couple of “hey, hey” follow alongs but stayed true to their word and got underway again rapidly with “Heavy Rain” , a new cut for me which sounded awesome.  “Hall of Fame” nipped closely at “Heavy Rain”’s heels and “Heaven in Black” from the 2000 Back to the Kingdom album right behind that presentation.  “Little Look Back”, the incredible “Living in a World” and the original “Kingdom of the Night” served to bring their stage time to an end.  I was fortunate enough to have rather quick reflexes and good hand-eye coordination so far this morning as I snatched a guitar pick out of the air as it was poised to fly over my head (well I hadn’t been drinking much yet).  Shawn was also impressed by Axxis and I suspect he will be asking me to borrow a few CD’s.
(Axxis Website) (Axxis Facebook)
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Guild of Ages – photo by Shawn Irwin<
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One thing for certain is that every band brought their “A” game and had a loyal legion of fans cheering them on, but unfortunately not everything appeals to everyone and not every band today personally appealed to me. C.I.T.A./Guild of Ages were the next band to grace the Firefest stage on this last day and I was completely in the dark about them.  What I believe was titled “Stand or Fall” was the first selection followed by “From Now On”, some investigating of setlist.fm later educated me.  They struck me as a little modern sounding, which is not usually my taste.  “Say a Prayer” came prior to “Heat of Emotion” which we were told was the title track to their second CD.  I began talking with Mike, a sure sign that the band is having troubles maintaining my attention.  My ears did perk up at what I thought may have been called “Axe” but that doesn’t seem to match up.  In any case it was their best sounding yet I thought.  Mike, who was more familiar told me that they were now playing a medley of songs, but it was too late for me.  It was definitely a difficult task to follow what Axxis had just laid down on the Rock City stage, but personally, I couldn’t catch the buzz from these guys at all and I completely stopped paying attention, beginning to scope the audience for girls and drinking a few beers.
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There were many countries’ flags clinging to the railing banister of the upper balcony and after Guild of Ages‘ set we quickly ran down and set up with Shawn to grab a photo of Mike, Angela and I on the upper balcony hanging over the Canadian Flag.  What a cool (and totally geeky) tourist thing to do, but I love every minute of it!  I headed back down to see Shawn and ran across a surprising sight along the way.  In Toronto it’s, naturally, extremely common to spot people of all ages and walks of life supporting their local baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, but to see a Blue Jays jersey at Nottingham Rock City?  I hesitated only a few seconds as I blinked the surprise away from my eyes and yep, there was still a Jays jersey.  I descended on the young lady with an outstretched arm, finger pointing, “You’re from Toronto?” almost more of a statement than a question.
“No.” came the response.  “Well, definitely Canada then?”.  Again, “No”.  “What?”, I was confused (perhaps the early effects of beverage consumption).  It turns out that this lovely couple from the UK are huge Toronto Blue Jays baseball fans and went to a whopping 10-12 games this past season at the Rogers Centre in Toronto!  Now, I’m a Jays fan as well, I have a friend with season tickets and if I don’t accompany him to the game he often passes the tickets along to me at no cost.  I live approximately 45 minutes from the ballpark stadium and I didn’t go to as many games as that this year, maybe only about 8 total for me!  Awesome to meet David and Suzanne who also are familiar with my local concert haunt, The Rockpile Bar & Nightclub and often try to catch a rock show while they’re here for the ball games.  Keep in touch and we’ll definitely catch up with you next season at a game or show, cheers.
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Tommy Denander – by Shawn Irwin

Touch was our next band, again an unknown to me.  Picking up some history on them before, during and after the show, I learned that Touch was original keyboard player Mark Mangold, with the help of four Swedes.  Tommy Denander was the guitarist and always a pleasure to watch, but while he was awesome my interest began to wane after about the fourth track.  A few more songs and I was really fading fast and not just because Touch were failing to entertain me.  I was suddenly so very, very sleepy as I moved back a bit and stood towards the rear of the crowd near the fruit fly infested loos.  I had to fight to keep from falling asleep standing up right then and there, the weekend catching up with me perhaps as the adrenaline wore off or am I just getting old?  Overall I was able to grab titles (with a little help from setlist.fm) like “Listen (Can You Feel It)”, “Take it Back”, “When the Spirit Moves You”, “So High”, “Don’t You Know What Love Is” and “The Fire Never Dies”.  Unfortunately, Touch became a casualty of my mood and therefore failed to captivate me.  But, there were many on the floor, once again, that disagreed with me as evidenced by way of their cheers and clapping.  That’s one of the beauties of Firefest is that every band has fans and a good number of them!

(Touch Facebook)

Pekka Heino – photo by Shawn Irwin

The much hyped (to me anyway) Brother Firetribe appeared next, led onto the stage with the assistance of a recorded intro.  I had been hearing the praises of these guys sung to me by Decibel Geek Photographer Brian back home and by Kimmo at RockUnited.com.  I had done some pre-Firefest listening via YouTube to familiarize myself with the Finnish-born Brother Firetribe‘s catalog in preparation for this event.  I have to be honest, nothing that I had heard particularly grabbed me, but often seeing a band live will make me an instant fan, so I wasn’t too worried.  “One SingleBreath” opened their set, “Runaways” following closely on it’s heels.  By the time of their third song, “Love Is Not Enough”, the crowd was in a frenzy, applauding, cheering and singing along enthusiastically.  What am I missing here?  I just am not catching Brother Firetribe’s buzz at all.  Is there something wrong with me?  To be frank, I find it all to be mostly generic, basically each track sounding indistinguishable from the next.  The False Metal album, also released under the different name of Break Out, supplied “Midnite Queen” next.  “Trail of Tears” (the best yet for me),  and “I’m on Fire” were played as I fought, unsuccessfully, to stay awake once again.  I had a perch in the far corner of the upper balcony and I felt myself going down, catching and snapping awake before I actually stumbled.  The security guard was right next to me patrolling the gated entrance to the VIP and I thought for sure he would kick me out, but thankfully he either didn’t notice or perhaps didn’t care.  To try and jolt myself alive, I videoed the next one, giving myself something tangible to concentrate on, which seemed to help.  A couple of songs later and “For Better or Worse”, “Heart Full of Fire” and “I Am Rock” wrapped things up as I spotted Scott’s friends close by on the railing.  Once again, the Firetribe fans were loving the whole set and I may have even been the lone person in Rock City not moved by their presentation.
(Brother Firetribe Website) (Brother Firetribe Facebook)

Carl Dixon – photo by Shawn Irwin

After passing the seemingly short time between set changes (the crew still standing to the impressive 20 min change arounds) chatting with a couple of friends of Decibel Geek listener and shirt wearer from yesterday, Scott.  Unfortunately, Scott was only able to be in attendance for the Saturday’s events making it even more remarkable that I came across him proudly displaying his DBG shirt!  Both these other gents were looking forward to Coney Hatch‘s set, up next.  As was so eloquently put by one, “No one sounds quite like Coney Hatch“.  The Canuck band led off with the first single, “Blown Away”, from their latest CD, aptly titled Four.  For any of those that don’t know this story, “Blown Away” perhaps almost never came to be.  The band debuted the song at a show in Toronto and while the music had been down for sometime vocalist, Carl Dixon, had just completed the lyrics the night previous to the show.  As a result, he hadn’t yet committed them to his memory and had three pieces of lined paper taped to a stage monitor to guide him through the song.  The day after the event, Carl sent out a distress signal via Facebook, the lyrics were gone!  He’d forgotten to retrieve them from the stage after the show and they had been the only copy in existence!  Some bonehead fan had pilfered them from the stage while others were grabbing setlists and discarded guitar picks.  Once word of the distress call reached me, the bonehead, I immediately scanned the three sheets and sent them via email back to Carl.  I just thought they were an awesome stage souvenir like a setlist for a fan such as myself!  The Andy Curran (bassist) sung “Stand Up” from Coney Hatch‘s 1982 debut album was next followed by “Don’t Say Make Me” from 1983’s Outa Hand.  The 1985 Friction album was represented next with “This Ain’t Love” and “She’s Gone” before bassist Andy Curran took the mike and led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to his daughter, who was in attendance.  The Coney set was heavy on the 2013 Four album with “Marseilles”, “Boys Club”, “Down and Dirty” and “Connected” all being served up in succession next.  After “Marseilles” the boys took a moment to thank Kieran Dargan.  The last time that Coney Hatch played at Firefest (in 2011) had been their first time playing in the U.K. and when they got home there were some record deal offers born out of their Firefest performance.  If it hadn’t been for Firefest there wouldn’t have been a Four record, so once again thanks Firefest!  Back to the debut now for “Hey Operator” as I remarked how much I love Andy Curran‘s stage manner and his sometimes goofy and aloof moves.  “Fallen Angel” saw a snippet of the Golden Earring classic “Radar Love” sandwiched in the middle of the song, but also saw Carl break a guitar string as roadies scrambled to replace his guitar.  “Girl From Last Night’s Dream” containing a lot of emotion and connection, as did their whole performance, came before the “two punch to the gut” closer of “Monkey Bars” and “Devil’s Deck”.  Great job boys, a sentiment echoed by my balcony partners.
(Coney Hatch Website) (Coney Hatch Facebook)

Steve Lynch/Randy Rand – photo by Shawn Irwin

In a similar experience as Babylon A.D. had shown yesterday, Autograph blasted onto the stage, hard and heavy with “Deep End”.  Prior to departing Canada I had been singing the praises of the 2014 Autograph over Facebook to some friends that would be in attendance at Firefest.  They were concerned with the absence of original vocalist Steve Plunkett and the lack of keyboards.  Having seen these guys four times already this year I knew that there was nothing to worry about.  Originals, bassist Randy Rand and guitarist Steve Lynch (read my Lynch interview here) have been joined by drummer Marc Wieland and vocalist/guitarist Simon Daniels.  Wieland is an animal pounding the skins behind the kit and Daniels handles the material with ease and charisma while thickening up the mix with the addition of his rhythm guitar.  All this fits incredibly well with the talents of criminally underrated guitarist Steve Lynch and super cool bassist Randy Rand.  I knew they would be turning some heads here in Nottingham.  A triple shot off their third release, Loud and Clear was expertly delivered in “Dance All Night”, “Loud and Clear” and “Bad Boy”.  Autograph was effectively winning over the crowd from what I could see and judging by the remark I heard uttered nearby me of “Punkett who?”.  “Blondes in Black Cars” led us into “When the Sun Goes Down” which included a short display of Lynch‘s guitar talents.  The 1984 Sign in Please

Simon Daniels – photo by Shawn Irwin

debut album (the first record I ever bought with my own money) was well represented next with “All I’m Gonna Take” (can’t help singing along for this one, apologies on my tone deafness to those within earshot), “Send Her To Me” and “Cloud 10”.  Mr. Lynch took a few moments next to showcase his talents for a short, tasteful guitar solo.  I’m normally not too much of a solo fan especially if they drone on, but this one worked well for me before the song about a loser, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Isn’t Me”.  Such a classic line that one and as Daniels often quips, the following song, “She Never Looked That Good For Me”, must also be about the same dude.  “Crazy World” was next in line, but the smash hit and signature song of “Turn Up the Radio” closed the set with every attendee singing right along with the band.  Autograph turned it up and brought the house down!  Are you ready to turn it up?  Hell Yeah!
(Autograph Website) (Autograph Facebook)

Ted Poley – photo by Shawn Irwin

I have to be totally honest, I’ve never been a huge Danger Danger fan aside from “Naughty Naughty” of course.  Yes, I have all the albums, but I just find that the fare contained is a little light and poppy for me.  That being said over the last three years between Monsters of Rock Cruises, a Toronto performance, and Sweden Rock Festival I’ve seen Ted Poley either acoustic, electric or with Danger Danger a total of nine times!  The first time I saw Poley was on 2013’s Monsters of Rock Cruise, during which I was in a terribly hungover daze and fog.  That show made me a fan, such a charismatic performer, and I even knew the material better than I thought and found myself singing along.  Feeling that I knew what to expect, or so I thought, from this closing performance on the last ever Firefest: The Final Fling I was looking forward to Danger Danger.  The whole original band reunited for this special event, Danger Danger featured Ted Poley on vocals, Bruno Ravel on bass, Steve West on drums, Andy Timmons on guitar and Kasey Smith on keys.

Andy Timmons/Ted Poley – photo by Shawn Irwin

“Crazy Nites” led the set and immediately Ted Poley was all over the stage, on fire with presence and energy.  “Rock America” had me singing away and “Turn It On” saw a red plastic construction streamer reading “Danger” threading it’s way, unwinding from it’s origin on the right side of the venue, throughout the crowd as it was passed along from hand to hand.  The red streamer even made it’s way around and up to the upper balcony.  After “Beat the Bullet” Ted announced that it was tradition for him to take a walk even on the world’s stickiest floors!  So, during “Don’t Walk Away” he toured the crowd, singing away all the while.  Ted circled around a good portion of the packed lower floor, sometimes pausing to sing to a young lady in front of him.  The momentum was running high, but was quickly brought down a notch with another yawner solo that went on just a little too long, this time keyboards.  Ted and Kasey performed “One Step From Paradise” by them selves and the rest of the band rejoined the stage for “Boys Will Be Boys”.  “Feels Like Love” was next but I started to lose interest fast after that.

Bruno Ravel – photo by Shawn Irwin

What setlist.fm shows as “Theme For An Imaginary Western” (an instrumental Mountain cover) followed by “Groove or Die” seemed little more than another noodling solo snoozefest to me.  You guys see the Firehouse show yesterday by chance?  Thankfully from there on out it was a firecracker of a performance starting with “Goin’, Goin’ Gone” a song originally showing up on the Cockroach album.  This would be the first time this song was played live with this roster we were informed as now a yellow plastic construction streamer began to thread through the crowd prompting the statement “We are Caution Caution” from the stage.  The conclusion of “Don’t Blame It On Love” brought some lighthearted banter from Bruno Ravel as he thanked the crew, every band in the world and also Whitesnake for not playing Firefest as a lead in for “Bang Bang”.  “I Still Think About You” brought Mr. Poley out into the crowd again, this time making it up the stairs to the upper level, but not actually onto the balcony.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t miss a note during this foray, what a consummate frontman!

Ted Poley – photo by Shawn Irwin

“Monkey Business” took us to the sleaze rock national anthem and official end of the show with the signature song, “Naughty Naughty”.  Every single person in the crowd was singing along on “Naughty Naughty” and even though it was officially the end they wanted to play one more.  They chose “the biggest melodic rock song in history, something that everyone would know the words to.  We have never rehearsed this song or played it before so let’s see how it goes.”  Journey‘s “Don’t Stop Believing” definitely had everyone singing along and I could see many of the crew hugging each other at the side of the stage, bringing a tear to my eye, something happening again now as I write this.  Members of some of the other bands flooded the stage along side members of the Firefest crew and just kept coming until the entire stage was totally packed, everyone singing.  It was hard to fight back a tear, a fight that much of the assemblage was losing, as the crowd chanting of “Kieran” prompted a heartfelt speech.  The presentation of a book with the signatures of many fans presented to Kieran Dargan pretty much dissolved the last stand of those not yet shedding tears.  As the stage began to empty out the crowd continued to sing in a little a cappella led by Denander and crew member/In Faith guitarist Tony Marshall.

Firefest: The Final Fling- the final moments on stage “Don’t Stop Believin'” – photo by Shawn Irwin

(Danger Danger Website) (Danger Danger Facebook)

And so closed Firefest: The Final Fling.  After ten years and eleven events the crew has decided to retire.  While I’m thankful to have been able to be a part of this momentous occasion, I’m tinged with regrets and self ass kickings for not venturing over here sooner to partake in some of the previous events.  I met many new friends and right from the get go at the CD listening party knew that I was becoming part of something very special.  The family atmosphere was thick throughout the entire weekend from the fans to the crew to the bands, something that I felt included in immediately even though we were new to the game.  Certainly one of the best festivals that I have ever attended in all respects, my hats off to absolutely everyone in the crew, the bands and the attendees.  Thank you so very much for an awesome weekend packed with great music and new friends.  Please don’t let this be the end.

Top bands of the day-Shawn:                      Top bands of the day-Meister:
#3-Coney Hatch                                              #3-Axxis/Danger Danger
#2-Autograph                                                   #2-Coney Hatch
#1-Danger Danger                                           #1-Autograph

Gallery of Shawn Irwin’s Photography: Firefest, October 26, 2014 (Arranged by order of play)

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