Another October, another Firefest Friday review! Well, keep traditions running for as long as you can, I say…sadly, this appears to be one that won't last past next year. But let's not worry about the future for now, the very recent past is much more pressing!
The first band of the day has traditionally been a revelation, and this time around the honour belonged to The Magnificent. They certainly lived up to both those heady expectations, and their own modest name, even if they weren’t in quite the same league as Lionville or Serpentine, Friday openers from the previous two years. So much music has passed through my ears since these guys hit the stage that some of the specifics have abandoned me, but suffice to say their album is heading to an Amazon locker near me very shortly!
Eden’s Curse weren’t really my cup of tea, although their set did pick up towards the end with Unbreakable and the single from their latest album, the first to feature new vocalist Nikola Mijic. I’ve never heard Michael Eden (live or otherwise), so can’t compare the two, but Mijic made a reasonable account of himself, though his stage act appeared to consist of adjusting his jacket every 12 bloody seconds or so! Not a band warranting further investigation from me though.
My first real draw of the day, Work of Art, were up next and Lars Säfsund again proved he is one of the finest vocalists in the genre, although I have to say his performance last year with Lionville was even better (I didn’t catch Work of Art’s own set last year, but the consensus seems to be that this year’s return stopped slightly short of matching it). Some have said that the introduction of two new songs slowed the momentum mid-set, but they were great songs and seemed to get a pretty favourable reaction from where I was standing. Certainly the well-chosen selections from the first two albums were deserving crowd-pleasers one and all.
W.E.T. are a band I’ve semi-consciously avoided up until now – I’ve always been suspicious of groups put together by record label executives (Yes folks, I’ve just labelled W.E.T. as the One Direction of the Frontiers roster!), but my unwarranted cynicism was shattered within the first few minutes of their set and they unexpectedly won the coveted ‘my band of the day’ award (well, it would be coveted if people knew it existed, I’m sure).
This was my first time seeing Jeff Scott Soto live, and everything I’ve heard about him turned out to be spot on – great voice (you don’t get called in to rescue Journey mid-tour if you’re a slouch vocally, after all), great personality, great performer – the times where he and (the impossibly young-looking) Erik Mårtensson shared a mic were especially magical. Special mention must also go to drummer Robban Bäck (which sounded suspiciously like ‘Robin Beck’ when announced on stage, but amazingly enough they don’t look that similar, so such confusion was short-lived!), the finest skins-basher in sight on the night (and on Sunday as well, which I may or may not get to in a subsequent post!).
Speaking of such things most Firefests involve a few musicians doing double-duty somewhere on the bill, but with the standard 20-minute turnaround between acts, Robert Säll’s transition from Work of Art guitarist to W.E.T. keyboardist must be some kind of record? As great a musician and songwriter as he is, though, it must be said that, at this point in time at least, a beer-soaked set-list has greater stage presence. That said, when you’re sharing the stage with the likes of Lars or JSS maybe you don’t need to be super-exciting yourself (this is making me think of John Deacon for some reason…)
The other band on the bill that would have had me dishing out my cash regardless of the rest of the line-up was Dare, who stunned many by opening with a pair of rarely-heard tracks from fan-favourite – but crucially not band-favourite – Blood From Stone. While there wasn’t a duff moment in their set, the excitement levels did drop off a tad after this, but ending their slot with a brace of tunes from classic debut Out of the Silence was just what the doctor ordered – and ending with my personal favourite, The Raindance, was as good as it could possibly get. That album may be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but Darren Wharton’s voice remains as strong as ever. Seeing Vinny Burns on guitar was a treat as well, though second guitarist Richard Dews, who was mostly on acoustic, was equally fine, though he did make me devote far too much of the set to half-pondering which Game of Thrones character/actor he reminded me of!
After three cracking sets in a row I was prepared for a come-down and while recently reformed headliners Harem Scarem are favourites of the melodic rock scene, their appeal has always been lost on me. I was willing to be proved as wrong about them as I was about W.E.T. but after 5 songs had failed to invoke anything more positive than a ‘meh’ from me I left them to it. By all accounts the faithful were pleased with the set, so all good!
Overall then, yet another fantastic Friday evening of obscure and uncool melodic rock/AOR. Props as ever to Kieran and the gang for their organisation of this rather large undertaking – and special thanks for the warning on merch-closing times this year, the lack of which I moaned about this time last year!