19th - 21st October 2018
Review by Ryan Dainty
Rockingham has become an essential part of rocks social calendar after taking over the crown created by Firefest. Rockingham 2018 blasted off in fine style with ‘Going to Rockingham’ the festival’s new and very own specially penned anthem written and performed by Charlie Castro of From the Fire fame along with Gannet Ries, Nigel Bailey, Irvin Parratt and Age of Reflection’s Jonas Nordqvist, all forming somewhat minor level supergroup. The song itself is enough to get things off on an upbeat positive note if albeit absolutely and unashamedly oozing cheddar from all pores, but not a bad thing in this instance!
Mason Hill from Glasgow are first up to blaze the trail and hit it from the off. They play hard, heavy in your face Rock that still retains the essential elements of ear bending catchy tunes with a melodious edge. The sound is not the best, but they may not have noticed as when you’re the opening act at a great UK rock festival who cares about that! The songs like the new single ‘Hold On’ and new track that I had not heard before ‘Dancing With The Devil’ are enough to elevate the crowd early on the Friday night.
Sometimes the toughest task is winning over a staunch crowd that are clearly more well-tuned to the AOR/Melodic rock stylings than the approach of a band like Mason Hill, but all seemed to hit the mark and the show rolled on!
Next up, Massive led by Brad Marr who were effectively mid-way through a mammoth 50 plus date tour. The guys did look a tad jaded but when you have played 24 shows up to this point with little sleep or breaks it is understandable. I recall seeing them on the rising stage at Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016 and certain band members ending up sleeping under a tree in Mote Park! (I am sure that it was partly due to nowhere to stay and alcohol induced but hey!) This has an influence on the overall performance plus the guys were battling with a sound system that wasn’t their friend on the night. Although they didn’t play their best show ever they thrashed out their set in true dishevelled rock n roll style, even breaking the kick pedal on the first use! They paid homage to AC/DC with ‘TNT’ thrown into the cover’s pot along with Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ and closed off their set with the thumping ‘One By One’.
Pink Cream 69 seemed to be much anticipated by the now growing audience they were clearly always going to be drawing from their most recent release, ‘Headstrong’. They do this in professional style chucking in all the rock star shapes and poses that any self-respecting band would be proud of. Something I didn’t realise is that vocalist David Readman comes from Burnley, a fact that he shared with the crowd when he told them he used to live up the bloody road! They play a tight set with their heady mixture of ‘Melodic Power Rock’ if there is such a thing and ensure that there is plenty of older stuff in their set to appease the fans.
So, it came to the much-anticipated Vixen headlining the first day of Rockingham 2018. There was a fair spread of Vixen shirts and Baseball caps on display and for the first time today there was some difficulty in moving around the crowd such was the pull of the ladies from the US. They had not been to the UK since 2016 so fans of the band were clearly keen to see one of the most successful all female bands of the 80’s era hair metal genre.
I must say how impressive these ladies still look and sound! Janet Gardner still kills it on vocals and Share Ross, Roxy Petrucci, Britt Lightning and Tyler Leslie – Keyboards and Road Manager all doing an excellent job of delivering a polished and competent performance.
The setlist of songs follows true to their most recent musical release the live greatest hits record – ‘Live Fire’ and it’s all kicked off with the up-tempo ‘Rev it Up’ from their second album of the same name. The crowd are clearly buoyed by watching their heroines from the 80’s and the place is bristling with anticipation as they swiftly play on with ‘How Much Love’, which has me and the crowd singing along with one of their best loved tracks also from the second album. ‘Cruisin’ and ‘Bad Reputation’ follow on and the latter even displaying some unexpected Pyro’s introduced….as big as fireworks can get indoors anyway without the health and safety police losing their minds!
As mentioned the tracks followed the recent live release and includes a great performance of the old Ray Charles number – ‘I don’t need no Doctor’ covered by countless bands, W.A.S.P, Humble Pie etc. but now a live Vixen staple it seems and one that sees vocal duties taken by Share on Bass. Not a fan of the song but gets a great reception from the crowd.
This really is a greatest-hits show and it hits the mark in respect of the what the fans want to see and hear as they do great justice to the balladic ‘Love is a Killer’. The night is closed off with nothing less than what is expected from an encore performance in the shape of ‘Edge of a Broken Heart’ which strangely is not actually their most successful single but probably their most well-known song (most successful overall being Cryin’) it stands the test of time and it’s clear that the time to sing along arrives once more. I can’t help myself but to join in with all concerned to sing the night out! A great performance from the band but very much like the bands before them, they suffered from a sound system that clearly needs some tweaking before Day 2 of Rockingham commences!
As day two dawns it is clearly too early for some revelers as the crowd is spartan in places with an easy route to the bar for all. Departed are intent on smashing through any mid-day blues that may still be in existence though and launch into ‘Superstition’ which goes down like the first pint and leaves you wanting more and there is no time for chat and it’s straight into ‘All I Want’ and its hands high clapping for the audience in attendance. Lead man Mark Pascal works the crowd just enough and the house lights go on to expose the VIP’ers upstairs propping up the balcony rail. They all look like they need a damn good shake to get with the festivities! ‘All the Way’ and ‘Are you Ready’ follow on and it is clear that at least for now the sound issues of yesterday are well sorted. They close with ‘Come on’ and to coin their name into a phrase they Departed the stage having ripped Rockingham and Trent Uni a proverbial new one and things were off to a great start on day two.
Wildness from Sweden are making their UK debut with this show and what a show to get your debut at - Rockingham. It does not start well however as guitarist’s Adam Holmström and Pontus Sköld suffer respective problems including severe feedback which the crew work hard to manically try and fix, the bass is buzzing akin to day one and overshadows the sound and lead man Gabriel Lindmark seems to have breathing difficulties. As the set goes on it does improve and the overall performance indicates that these guys can cut it and they do get a decent reception from the ever-expanding crowd.
Bigfoot thundered onto the stage next and through my own geographical placement (or living in Plymouth!) it is the first time I have caught them live with new singer Sean Seabrook and man what a guy. Like a huge grizzly bear he owns the stage belting out tune after tune and it’s like they have been together as a tight unit for years! This is in your face, kick you in the balls hard rock at its best and for me one of the bands of the weekend. They play a brilliant set which includes kicking off with ‘Tell Me a Lie’, ‘Prisoner of War, ‘Freakshow’ and the ballad ‘Forever Alone’ wedged in the middle closing off with ‘Uninvited’. I could have watched this much, much longer I’m telling you!
The next band up are clearly one that the crowd have been waiting for as Ammunition take to the stage, setting the tone with ‘Virtual Reality Boy’ which goes down a storm before the show hits the skids as frontman Age Sten Nilsen remonstrates that he can’t hear anything through the monitors at all and the sound issues return, however the techs launch onto the stage to try and sort the problems as soon as they occur and at the point of replacing the mic, Erik Martensson leads the crowd into an impromptu rendition of Free’s ‘Alright Now’ and once things are indeed alright again they press on with ‘Tear Your City Down’. This is one band of the weekend that are in demand and the audience loved everything that these guys threw at them which also included, ‘Tie Me Down’, ‘Wild Card’, ‘Wrecking Crew’ and closed with an ‘Eye For An Eye’. All in all Ammunition delivered great rock songs overflowing with irresistible choruses and melodies.
Boulevard, fresh from playing the after party the previous night, are another band that seem to garner a big following. The sound here is of course very much Saxophone driven melodic rock which sits a touch on the Pop side of things. The ‘Luminescence’ album released last year which was their first for long while was well received as they are graciously welcomed onto the Rockingham stage by an audience that are keen to lap it all up and they start proceedings with ‘Never Give Up’. Frontman David Forbes has a great voice and it’s all delivered with the utmost precision with songs such as, ‘Out of the Blue’, Crazy Life’ and ‘Confirmation’ all hitting the mark. The latter song, ‘Confirmation’ sees the ten-voice Leeds Pop up Gospel Choir join the band onstage and this was the something special that was promised earlier on from Boulevard, this has got to be the first time a pop up gospel choir has appeared at a UK festival, it was all delivered with great style and well appreciated with the crowd.
Now it’s onto to one of the bands I was really looking forward to seeing, Tokyo Motor Fist. The last time I caught Ted Poley live was back at Firefest with Danger, Danger at ‘The Final Fling’ in 2014. Leaving me with the emotional memory of him leading the collective efforts from the Festival closer ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. TMF are Ted, Steve Brown (Trixter, Leppard etc), Chuck Burgi (Billy Joel) and Greg Smith (Tyketto, Ted Nugent etc). This was TMF’s first appearance not just in the UK but THE first time debuting on stage together anywhere worldwide! They rip into ‘Fallin’ Apart’ from the TMF album and this seems the right pick, high energy number to lift the crowd again and get the place rocking and it’s then straight into ‘Shameless’ in all its candy coated, Danger, Danger-esque exquisiteness and it has anyone who knows the words singing along with great gusto or maybe that was just me! Seeing as this band is a collective of great individuals that bring so much to the party it is of no surprise to me that they bring a host of differing songs from their own individual careers to the mix, Greg takes up the vocal reins and delivers a cover of Rainbow’s ‘Street Of Dreams’ and ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’ by Ted Nugent. Steve delivers the vocals with consummate ease on ‘One In A Million’ and ‘Give It To Me Good’ both of Trixter fame and it’s obvious why Def Leppard recruited this guy for their tour as he brings so much to the live show. ‘Monkey Business’ and the truly anthemic ‘Bang, Bang’ are of course covered by Ted’s vocal duties the former massively off key when the song starts but this does not put anyone off and just leaves me wincing for a moment there. The whole set is rounded off beautifully in the form of ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ and the promise of a further Tokyo Motor Fist album in the offing for the future from Mr Poley himself.
Then onto Nelson the day two headliners who back in the day they were proclaimed the Timotei twins by the UK rock musical press. However, much time has passed since then and only the 80’ and 90’s generation will remember those words and that amusement has long since faded. Matthew takes to the stage first with the band and they plough into ‘Hello, Hello’, but the sound is terrible and leaves me thinking it should be renamed ‘Goodbye, Goodbye’ such was the cacophony of white noise that offended my ears. Gunnar joins his twin and as they play ‘I Can Hardly Wait’ I start to forgive the opener but I do notice that a few of the crowd leave at this point and whether it is due to not liking what they see or self-preservation for Day three it will remain an unknown. ‘More Than Ever’ from the debut is followed by ‘A Girl Like That’. The brothers do a fine job with a trio of acoustic numbers in the form of ‘Only Time Will Tell’, ‘Cross My Broken Heart’ and ‘Keep One Heart’ and then back to the electrics with ‘After The Rain’, before amongst others chucking in a cover of Zepp’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ which I can seriously do without hearing or seeing. It’s back on track and their truly magnificent, pop rock soaked pomp of ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection) and the crowd and myself unashamedly sing along with Nelsons best known and most revered song of all time. They really should have closed the night with Love and Affection but choose to do a further two cover songs, ‘Your Love’ by The Outfield with Steve Brown on guitar and lastly with ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks. Sorry as I have a relative staunch dislike of bands that have a reasonable depth of songs doing cover songs my response would be ‘You Really Ain’t Got Me’! Although their set had its moments it is far too drenched in nostalgic cover songs that overall I could have seriously lived without.
Creye kicked off the 3rd and final instalment of Rockingham, the band that have seemed to be a bit of a proverbial revolving door in regards to lead singer duties even prior to the release of their debut album with the forewarning in the lead up to Rockingham that Robin Jidhed who recorded vocals on the release would not be the singer at the Festival. This followed pretty much the same outcome of what happened at Melodic Rock Fest Sweden where a different vocalist was used. This time around August Rauer took up the mantle of frontman and new keyboard player Joel Selsfors who made his debut in Malmo, replaced the departed Joel Ronning. Musically these guys did not essentially bring anything new to the AOR/Melodic Rock table as there are so many Swedish bands around now splashing about in the same genre that it is hard to distinguish one from the other but that said they do handle the whole affair like a band that has played together and belies their years and this only their third show together. August excelled with his vocal ability as did the accomplished playing ability and sound of all concerned, Andreas Gullstrand on Lead Guitar, Frederik Joakimson on Rhythm, Gustaf Orsta on Bass and Arvid Filipson on Drums. They blast through a setlist that consists of most of the tracks from the album starting with ‘Straight To The Top’ and including ‘Different State Of Mind’, ‘Miracle’, ‘Cristina’ and the wickedly catchy ‘Desperately Lovin’ finishing their tight and accomplished set with ‘Never Too Late’, these guys on this evidence are destined for bigger things in the future.
Next to take the stage were Age of Reflection probably start their set at least ten minutes or so late and start to set the tone for later in the night. They mount their challenge to win the crowd over with a guitar solo at the front end of their set which is the oddest choice from axeman Carl Berglund before coming to a total halt in proceedings, this was not a problem with the sound system or any technical difficulties that had been experienced by others over the last couple of days, there were simply not ready to start proper! After this they seemed to find it hard to ignite a crowd that had enjoyed the Creye set so much and really only achieved a tepid reception from the crowd at best. This is a shame as their songs such as ‘Borderline’, ‘In the Heat Of The Night’ and ‘The Mirror Never Lies’ probably deserved a much better response but on this showing the evidence wasn’t there to back it up.
White Widdow all the way from Australia are up next and with bands running further and further behind it meant that these guys hit the stage at least 15 minutes over the allotted time. Frontman Jules Mills worked the Rockingham stage from one end to the other and worked the audience in equal measures. This is by no means a mean feat with total AOR musical excellence over flowing here. They have great choruses and melodies with some decent sounding backing vocals all on display and for the first time of hearing them this is some fair praise indeed. They covered much ground on their 5-album career thus far from ‘Stranded’ to a cover of Icon’s ‘Danger Calling’ to round off what was a great set from these antipodean travellers.
Robbie LaBlanc makes a seriously welcome appearance with Find Me, the project that he and Daniel Flores put together and now have two releases behind them with one on the way so to speak in 2019. Along with Philip Lindstrand of East Temple Avenue and Strong this is somewhat of another AOR behemoth of a group and they get a rip-roaring reception to the proceedings. All the signs are here that this is one of the highlights of the weekend for the fans in attendance and Robbie’s voice hits the silky smooth spots where others may have failed to reach effortlessly hitting the high notes when required, they play with such ease that it is clear that these guys are hitting all the sweet spots and at the top of their craft at this gig. From the opener ‘Nowhere to Hide’ and new track ‘No Tears In Paradise’ to their cover of ‘Desperate Dreams’ by Survivor until the finisher which comes in the shape of ‘The Road To Nowhere’ this is one polished performance by all and in particular by Robbie himself.
Now, I have to apologise for the break in the review now. This was somewhat due to needing to get to an interview with Midnite City’s Rob Wylde, Shawn Charvette and Miles Meakin after they played a storming gig at their album launch show on Friday. I needed not only sustenance but to make a hasty retreat back up the road to the Crowne Plaza and finish the prep and planning of the aforementioned!
This meant that I did not see either set by Glass Tiger or Pretty Maids which although disappointing was something that could not be helped. I did however return in time to hear the mutterings of some saying that it was the first time they had heard a band ‘Booed’ at Rockingham etc, this was of course due to the plug being pulled on their set mid-way through a song. A fact that was lost in the initial transpiring of the story.
So, the band or Villains of the piece Warrant or mainly Robert Mason get to take the stage at least 45 minutes after Maids were pulled unceremoniously. Jani is 7 years gone and even longer than that from Warrant but some still harp on about this being a Jani Lane cover band, they cannot just be happy that they have continued with the great songs that Jani wrote and left in his legacy to be carried forward. Anyway, it is many a year since Warrant have graced UK stages by my reckoning it was 1994 I’m sure and this was the chance to capture the best moments of the bands albums and enjoy the moment. To be honest I was just willing to hear these songs from one of my favourite bands regardless of anything. This was a total greatest hits package in my opinion and should have satiated the die-hard fans here from the off with ‘Sure Feels Good To Me’ and ‘Down Boys’ with ‘I Saw Red’, Sometimes She Cries’ and ‘Heaven’ sandwiched in between a set that also tipped it’s retrospective hat to the ‘Dog Eat Dog’ album and ‘Hole In My Wall’ and ‘Machine Gun’. Mason of course put’s his own take on the songs which after ten years in the role is no surprise of course but he at this point it seems he has clearly been left alone with the liquor cabinet at some point earlier in the evening as he creates an unnecessary time stealing moment in the set to request a bottle of Tequila which he clearly parades around the stage to purport the image of hard edged Rock frontman. Only two tracks make the cut for the show from the newest release, those being ‘Only Broken Heart’ and ‘Louder, Harder, Faster’ this seems just about the limit as the crowd were clearly here to witness the penultimate song, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ which has every 80’s and 90’s fan of the genre singing their asses off and then some! The end came in more ways than one in the form of ‘Cherry Pie’ just prior to this, Robert was told that they needed to call time on their set early due to the over running and that they had 5 minutes to play. This incensed the frontman and he launched into tirade of abuse for Pretty Maids and the well documented ‘F*#k those C#*ts’ levelled at them for continuing to play when they were told to stop. This did sour the moment for the clearly dismayed Pretty Maids fans in attendance and slipped down like a cold cup of sick for what seemed the majority. Robert seemed to get a lukewarm response after that when he asked the crowd ‘If he starts something, would they have the good sense to finish it’ and then came ‘Cherry Pie’ which still hit home with me and most of the crowd but a section of them were incensed to the point that they voted with their feet.
Well, there was the initial sound problems which dogged all the bands on Day 1 and somewhat rolled over into Day 2 in patches. The problems raised by certain factions with comments about students in charge of sound systems, drum kits falling apart, techs having to hold drum kits together mid songs, bands staring blankly pointing to PA’s asking to up the sound as they couldn’t hear anything at all, other reviews tearing bands apart for their sound as a band and a certain band member’s lack of height, which crossed the line into personal abuse as opposed to reviewing the actual act in front them! Then of course the Masongate/Pretty Maids moment which has had fans seething ever since with Robert Mason of Warrant for a total moment of madness (which I realise is not his first ever offence), Wine and Tequila fuelled, badly chosen and ill-informed set of words which has of course led to him being lambasted both in the UK and Internationally. But putting all of this aside, we can all just reflect once more on a fantastic weekend which, apart from certain things was ran extremely well and Rich Cliffe and all the Rockingham team that help make this happen should once again be roundly applauded for putting this festival of Melodic Rock/AOR call it what you will, on once more and let's hope that long may it continue.