Väsby Rock Festival is a relatively new rock festival in Sweden established in 2013. The festival was founded and organized by a group of 8 people devoted to melodic hard rock/metal. The event is held in the small town of Väsby just north of Stockholm. Strategically situated only 10 km from the Stockholm international airport of Arlanda makes it easy for international visitors to just fly in, stay at a hotel just beside the festival grounds, and then fly out again. This being said in comparison with the much larger Sweden Rock Festival which is held in the middle of nowhere out in the countryside where travel is much harder to obtain.
The small town of Väsby has been the epicenter of Swedish hard rock/metal for many years spawning bands like Europe, Candlemass, Easy Action, H.E.A.T. and Shotgun Messiah to just name a few. Among the organizers you will also find Bo Stagman (a.k.a. Zinny Zan of Shotgun Messiah/Easy Action/Zan Clan fame. The festival also focuses completely on the more melodic branch of the Heavy Metal tree. For me personally that means more bands that I really would like to see in a shorter time frame than for example at the Sweden Rock Festival. It also means less time to have food and beer which you can always do when there are some trash/death/black metal bands playing at Sweden Rock! For more on Decibel Geek and Sweden Rock 2015 follow this link: Sweden Rock Festival 2015.
This year I was armed with a press kit to cover the festival for Decibel Geek and it simply gives you access to the VIP area and the Press room. The press room was situated in the sports hall beside the football field (soccer in North America) where the stages are built on each side of the field and the stages taking turns on bands playing. There were not that many tables (in fact only two or three) in the press room so there was a bit of a shortage of working places. I stuck to taking notes in my mobile phone (at least I could charge it!), The VIP area was basically a lounge with a bar and a place to buy food. A lot of artists were hanging out in the VIP area but frankly; I did not have time to spend so much time here. There was always a band on stage that you either wanted to see or you bought some food, signed records or simply rested your legs for a short while. There was more food to choose from in the general area so I spent very limited time in the VIP section, unfortunately. I would really have liked to get my Danger Danger CD’s signed, though, but I was yet again unlucky in that department.
Learn some insights on how one of Europe’s leading festivals for Melodic hard rock works, why Eclipse´s two first albums will never be reissued, why the House of Lords original line up never played the Firefest Festival and why Jaded Heart hardly ever play in Sweden despite having 2 Swedes in the band and many more….
Day 1 (Friday, July 17th)
The day started with a car ride of approximately 200 km to Väsby with two friends from work. Being lazy and not booking my hotel in time meant I had to settle for a smaller hotel 5 km away while my friends had successfully booked a room at Scandic Infra Hotel which I later found out also was the home of some of the artists.. We had planned to be at the festival grounds well in time for the 220 Volt show which started at 2.15 pm, but for different reasons we barely made it in time. We had to check into two different hotels and while waiting for my friends to do their check in I spotted a group of Italians with denim jackets filled with patches (all the right gear LOL!). They gather around a guy that I recognize and after a while I see that it is Rob Marchello of Danger Danger. He gets his picture taken while his wife looks a bit bored. I have all my stuff packed away so I do not approach him to get my CD’s signed, thinking I could do that later (big mistake!). I hear the elevator buzz and out comes Ted Poley of Danger Danger along with my friends. Ted looks awfully tired and jetlagged. Being in a hurry I again do no not grab my CD booklets and have a chat with him thinking I can get it signed later (once again – big mistake!). We head off to the festival grounds 2km away and are just in time to get a wristband and press badge before 220 Volt enter the stage.
Master of the Ceremonies for the festival is the man, the myth, the legend – Mr. Kieran Dargan. For those of you who are not familiar with Kieran this is the guy that almost single handedly (well, with a little help from his friends) resurrected the melodic rock scene in the UK and most parts of Europe with his Firefest Festival at Nottingham Rock City. Having run the festival during ten years and eleven shows it ended on a high note last October. Mr. Dargan now focuses on his work with Rocktopia Records which so far has released two Ten albums and one In Faith album.
After having collected my press card I immediately headed out to the Väsby Rock Stage to catch one of my favorite Swedish bands 220 Volt. M.O.B. Is playing on the Zamora Stage and it sounds ok to me from afar. I am not familiar with the band and the only thing I actually know about them is that they played Sweden Rock Festival earlier this year.
220 Volt is a band I saw in March and wrote a review for at the Decibel Geek site: High Voltage in Sweden. Before heading out, I´m having an intense debate with a friend at Sweden Rock Magazine whether they suck or not. We can agree on that we disagree! My money is on that they are a great band and never play a bad gig and I am proven right this early afternoon. They have rearranged the order of the songs and added two older songs which fit really well into the set. They were added at the expense of songs from their latest outing Walking in Starlight. There is a decent crowd in front of the stage for being such an early hour. When the following bands play (Juno, Astral Doors and Eden’s Curse) the crowd in front of the stage is recognizably smaller which makes me wonder a bit why they put 220 Volt on such an early slot. The gig really lifts my mood and I feel happy heading off to get that meal I never had time for like I planned. A large burger and a bottle of Norrlands Guld (Swedish lager) does miracles and my stomach stops complaining. While I am having my meal I listen to Juno from a far, a band that I have just seen arriving at the hotel Scandic Infra an hour or two earlier. We all wonder how they got to the festival site in time and even had time to do a soundcheck. They sound a bit strange to me, like an AOR band with progressive influences. Not bad, but not my cup of tea really.
Time for some rest at the stand beside the pitch from where you actually have a good view of both stages. Astral Doors enter the Väsby Rock Stage and start their set as I head out to the 220 Volt signing sessions. There are still a couple of albums that I haven´t gotten a signature on yet. I do not dare to bring the Power Games and Mind Over Muscle CD booklets which I have on the Metal Rendezvous label. I know these are not legit and do not know how the guys would react. But hey, what do you do when CBS does not want to press them on CD and the band cannot get the rights back? I would easily buy a legit reissue any day, but there is none to be found… According to Mats Karlsson, who I spoke to earlier, a reissue won´t happen so I do not want to risk anything. I am clinging on to my bootlegs. Sorry guys! I´m missing drummer Peter Hermansson signature on Walking in Starlight which I really would like to have. When the guys arrive it is evident that Mats Karlsson is missing. Do not know where he went but new bass player Peter Hallgren, Thomas Drevin, Andy Engberg and Peter Hermansson are there. Andy gets to sign my Lion´s Share albums because I already have his signature on the latest album. Peter Hermansson starts laughing at the pictures on Eye to Eye and even more so the ones on the debut album. It is from a time when he still had hair and the haircut is kinda funny. I thank the guys for a great gig and let them know I am looking forward to catching them yet again in Gävle in September.
I let the ink dry on the booklets and set my sights for the VIP area to see if I can find Ted or Rob from Danger Danger and also to check it out for the first time. When I arrive I see Thomas Drevin of 220 Volt talking to the radio station Dist FM and I head on to check out the whole area. The Danger Danger guys are nowhere to be found and the VIP area is basically a lounge with a restaurant serving burgers with nachos and a bar. A little more quiet here so I guess it could be great. On my way back to check out the press room, I bump into Thomas Drevin, yet again, and tell him there is a patch missing on my denim jacket! He says they have to arrange for patches to be available as well. Well, we´ll see about that. I take that as a promise Thomas! I already got all the albums and the T-shirt so I will be waiting….
The press room is just a sports hall with a couple of tables in one of the corners. All of them are already occupied. I head out to listen to the rest of the Astral Doors gig. They are a decent melodic hard rock band, but I never can shake the feeling of trying to be Dio too much especially when it comes to lead vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson (also in Civil War). I become annoyed because I get the impression he is trying so hard to be Dio and he can never be that. There was only one Dio! Too bad because the songs are great and the band is a tight-knit unit. When they finish Eden´s Curse is introduced by Kieran Dargan on the Zamora Stage. It is a band he really likes and he had them at Firefest in 2014! Somehow I never got into them and after a couple of lineup changes they are now really an international band with members from the US, Scotland, Germany and with a Serbian singer! I head off to the signing session tent to get Zinny Zan´s signature on the first Easy Action album and primarily, the mighty Tony Martin for whom I have brought three Black Sabbath CD’s. There are quite a lot of people at the signing tent and in all the hurry I forgot Thomas Vikström despite bringing the Talk Of The Town CD’s. After a little time resting my feet it is time for the H.E.A.T signing session and they attract the biggest crowd on the first day, which is not surprising. I head back to catch the last of the Eden’s Curse gig. They sound really good, much better than I remember from Firefest where they were maybe the heaviest band on the bill. They play a melodic metal that does not directly hit you and takes some time to get into. The vocalist sounds really great and I think I have to take a closer look at this band… I also find time to head back to the VIP area once again where I spot Janne Mattsson from Sweden Rock Magazine so I head up to him for a short chat. We are soon joined by Sten Åge Nilsen from Ammunition/Wig Wam and Janne draws out a couple of Wig Wam CD’s for him to sign. There is also Tord Karlsson who displays old vintage T-shirts as a sort of an exhibition where we stand. He gives Sten an important task to try to find an old vintage Stage Dolls T-shirt for him. Sten wanders off to prepare for the gig and I return out to the general area. Madman´s Lullaby is now playing and I spot Kieran Dargan standing at the side of the pitch so I head up to him to say hello. I ask a little bit about what´s going on with his label Rocktopia Records and he says he’s looking into a couple of prospects, but he is not in the business to make money. He wants to release quality albums that he really likes first and foremost. When he is “attacked” by a bunch of other guys I take my leave to the stand to sit down for a while.
On the Väsby Rock Stage Madman´s Lullaby out of California is still rocking and I decide to sit down at the stand. To my ears, they sound like a generic sleaze band and what I hear does not make me interested in checking them out so I head off for a short food stop before Ammunition enter the Zamora Stage. I got introduced to this band by my friend and former work collegue that is also here at Väsby. I had listened to the album once before we blasted it in the car stereo on the trip down to Väsby. I was not convinced. A band that is sort of a Scandinavian superstar combo containing the cream of Scandinavian melodic hard rock musicians. Ammuniton has got Sten Åge Nilsen on vocals (former vocalist of Norwegian band Wig Wam), Erik Mårtensson of W.E.T/Eclipse as songwriter and guitarplayer and finally Robban Bäck on drums (Eclipse/W.E.T., ex-Sabaton). They are complimented by legendary Danish bass player Hal Patino (ex-King Diamond, Maltese Falcon, Pretty Maids) and Norwegians Jon Pettersen on guitar and Lasse Finnbrathen on keyboards. They put on a stunning performance and outplaying all previous bands. When I sum it up in the end this was one of the highlights of the festival. When they bring out the guitar and plunge into the ballad ”Road to Babylon” I get goosebumps on my arms. Nilsen‘s voice sounds great and Bäck/Mårtensson are as great as always. I think the band sounded much better live than on the album so I think I have to double back….
I return to the stand where you can sit down and rest your sore feet. The Väsby Rock Allstars enter the stage and I start watching them from the stand. The band includes Björn ”Grizzly” Höglund (ex-Easy Action) on drums, Nalle Påhlsson (ex-Treat, Therion) on bass, Soufian Maáoui (Houston) on bass, Chris Laney on guitar and Ludvig Turner on guitar (Reach, Adrenaline Rush, Swedish Idol). They have a couple of vocalists doing three songs each. They start out with Zinny Zan who does a couple of cover songs. Never been a fan of his earlier work and this performance does not change my mind so I head off to the signing tent get some signatures from Ammunition instead. I have printed a picture they can all sign and brought two CDs by Maltese Falcon for Hal Patino to sign. Hal looks really confused with the albums at first, looks reluctantly at them and then he says “I´ve heard about it” when it I put The Demo Years CD forward (released by No Remorse Records and an obscure release of the band’s demos). While I am signing Zinny Zan makes room for Annika Lewin (Take Cover) on the stage and she sings a couple of tunes with Väsby Rock Allstars. After the signing is done I can hear a familiar voice coming from the Väsby Rock Stage. It gets interesting when Thomas Vikström (ex-Talk Of The Town, ex-Candlemass) enters the stage. Thomas has got one of the strongest voices ever to come out of Scandinavia and he has got some heritage in that department as well with a father who is a famous opera singer. He sings two covers, ”The Last In Line” and ”Breaking The Law” which sounds really good but it is when he dusts off the old Talk Of The Town hit ”Free Like An Eagle” that things start heating up and get really interesting. I am blown away by this performance and Thomas hits all the notes perfectly and nails the screams and falsetto parts 100% even though it is almost 30 years since the Talk Of The Town debut album was released. Damn impressing! Makes me longing for a real Talk Of The Town reunion show! Can you arrange that Mr. Rosengren? That would impress me greatly!
Cherie Currie then enters the stage and sings three songs by The Runaways. They are a classic band, but I have never gotten into them. It sounds good and she sings “American Nights”, “Is it Day or Night” and “Cherry Bomb”. ”Grizzly” Höglund breaks his drums when they start off the second song and Cherie is forced to talk to the audience and keep the mood up. She seems a bit uneasy with the situation. The Väsby Rock Allstars finish with the greatest name on the bill – the legendary Black Sabbath shouter Tony Martin. He sings three songs from his Sabbath period. Tony announces the first song which according to him has never ever been played live before. The song is ”Call of the Wild” off the Headless Cross album. A great and surprising pick! He continues with two fantastic songs in ”The Shining” and ”Headless Cross”. I couldn´t have picked the songs better myself but Martin is on this day struggling with his vocals a bit and it sounds like he has caught a cold or something. The voice is not a strong as it used to be. Still a real treat to get to hear these classic Sabbath tunes that you grew up to played live with the original vocalist. Well done Väsby Rock!
When they finish it is time to rush over to the Zamora Stage for Väsby’s own hotshots H.E.A.T. Kieran sounds ecstatic when announcing a band he booked every year (almost) for Firefest Festival. I have seen them many times; both with Erik on vocals and his predecessor Kenny Leckremo. They are one of the most energetic bands ever to tread a stage. This night is no different and they set the stage on fire as usual. They also attract the biggest crowd of the day which might not be surprising. I caught them at Sweden Rock just one month earlier and the setlists are almost identical so no big surprises there…
I know Mr. Dargan just got a new tattoo on his arm and it is with the band that has been chosen to end day one. None other than the great Danger Danger! I have caught them on a couple of occasions and the show with the original five guys last October served as a worthy goodbye to the Firefest Festival. With that show like that in mind I know it will be hard (if not impossible) to beat that performance. Still I really enjoy the Danger Danger show. Ted has really woken up and is great as always. The mandatory “walk around” in the audience while singing is there as well. They play a set with the expected songs but it sounds tight and the sound is really great. Ted multiple times thanks the organizers of the festival and the audience for keeping melodic rock alive. Rob Marchello is a great and technical guitar player but I have a bit of a hard time accepting his Yngwie Malmsteen inspired solos with the fast flying guitar arpeggios. They sometimes become a bit soulless and over the top. Ted then announces that he will do something unique, something nobody else has ever done on a stage before. He is going to be tattooed onstage, live while performing and singing “Feels like love”. They bring on stage all the equipment and gear to perform a tattoo. He sings the lyrics without any hassle or complaints and gives credit to the guy doing the tattoo for not even making him bleed!
Anyway, Danger Danger show why they are the headliners of the event and put on one of the best performances of the day together with Ammunition and 220 Volt. My feet are really aching by the time they enter the stage and together with the cold take a bit of joy out of the performance for me. The crowd gets smaller at this late hour. I guess the going on at 00.00 hours is a bit late and the cold adds to that. There is a tough and dedicated crowd left and they stay for the entire set. Danger Danger end with “Naughty Naughty” during which a lot of other artists and organizers and enter the stage to sing along to this last anthem. This is one of the top performances of the day but still, they cannot reach the heights that the original five did last October and there is no “Goin Gone” off Cockroach that we got in England. A great song that should have been on the setlist even today.
I leave for the hotel with my two friends feeling very satisfied and extremely tired. Time to get some sleep to prepare for day 2….