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  ROCKINGHAM SHOWCASES THE OLD AND NEW FACES OF MELODIC ROCK ONCE AGAIN
Rockingham Festival: Trent University, Nottingham


ian sutherland
Words: Ian Sutherland, Photos: Sean Larkin

31st October 2017

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Rockingham has now established itself as an annual celebration of all things melodic and hard rock.

The third edition brought a capacity crowd to a hall in Nottingham's Trent University complex for three days of old school rock both from the eighties and inspired by bands from those days.

The basement nature of the venue gave credence to the feeling that what was once mainstream rock music is now an underground movement but the crowd and the bands here showed there's plenty of life in the genre yet.

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Blanc Faces

I was late on Day One and managed to miss openers Maverick so my first live music of the day came from Blanc Faces. An occasional vehicle for singer Robbie Leblanc, they played a set of smooth AOR led by the superb voice of the man up front.

A sizeable chunk of the crowd thought this was manna from heaven and there were smiles all around the hall.

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John Parr

Some of those smiles were lost when John Parr played next. The veteran rocker was a late replacement on the bill for Canadians Honeymoon Suite and many people were looking forward to hearing him dig into his AOR past.

Opening with a cover of Deep Purple's 'Highway Star' signalled that was not on the cards. The occasional old hit like 'Naughty Naughty' and 'St Elmo's Fire' were well received, but a selection of cover versions sprinkled through his set just infuriated many in a crowd filled with melodic rock aficionados.

It was left to fellow old school US rockers Kix to put the smiles back on people's faces and they managed to do that in style. Still touring regularly in their homeland this was a rare visit to the UK and keenly anticipated by many here, including me.

Looking extremely trim for guys who have been rocking since the late seventies they powered through a set of classics mixed with tunes from latest album 'Rock Your Face Off'.

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Kix

I love seeing a proper rock front man at work and singer Steve Whiteman is one of the best. A non-stop blur of energy he works the crowd mercilessly, demanding a reaction at all times and getting one. When he invited the lovely dancing girls of Hell On High Heelz on to the stage for 'Girl Money' it just added to that sense of irreverent fun.

In the end though it was the fact that they can throw in songs like 'Cold Blood' and 'Blow My Fuse' which shows what a class act they are. A triumphant performance, someone really needs to get these guys to do a proper UK tour.

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Kix

Day Two started early, especially for those that stayed up for the late night acoustic set from Harem Scarem and others in a local hotel. Considering that, a healthy sized crowd was assembled for Swedish AORsters Cruzh and their mix of keyboard led rock with a glam edge went down well enough but albeit a bit lightweight for my tastes.

Next up The Amorettes and their high energy in your face rock and roll was just what was needed to really get the day going. In a nicely crafted set they threw in some of their more melodic songs along the way and then ended with a real punch in the gut trio in 'Bull By The Horns', 'Give 'Em Hell' and 'Hot And Heavy'.

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The Amorettes

These three ladies were one of the heaviest bands on this bill, but made a lot of new friends and showed they are at home on any stage anywhere.

Vega kept those energy levels up, typically throwing themselves into a set of cheery melodic hard rock songs. They are hardworking guys who have been building a following and had many friends in the crowd today who cheered their every move.

American anthemic rockers Fortune seemed to have a lot of people interested in them after a well-received set the previous year. Despite some nice vocals the energy levels in the room dipped and I hoped that Dave Bickler, the "other" voice of Survivor would get things back on track.

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Vega

The man we have all sung along to on 'Eye Of The Tiger' has an unassuming stage presence but when he stuck to Survivor classics the whole hall was ecstatic to hear them delivered by the original singer. However, like John Parr he felt the need to throw covers into a short set and for me, playing songs by Free, Bad Company and The Beatles was a bit of a waste.

I suspect he and Parr did a set similar to what they do in the US and didn't tailor their performances to this hardcore audience which is a shame. There was a good old sing along to that Rocky movie theme tune though.

Canadian's Harem Scarem are beloved of many who search for that classic harmony vocal AOR sound and the place was packed to see then deliver a superb set of beautifully crafted music.

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Harem Scarem

Vocalist Harry Hess still has that strong, clear yet gritty voice and mixing classic tunes like 'Hard To Love' and 'If There Was A Time' with more recent stuff like 'Sinking Ship' they could do no wrong tonight. One of the sets of the weekend for most people.

There had been lots of chat about whether tonight's headline set by Vince Neil would be a car crash event after various tales of poor performances and outrageous demands. What we actually got in the end was a fun, enjoyable set full of classic tunes.

Advertised as "The Voice Of Mötley Crüe" this was Vince doing his legacy material backed by an extremely capable band, some of whom also play in Slaughter. Yes, he is a bigger guy than he used to be and time hasn't done that voice any favours but in the end few cared about that.

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Vince Neil

By the time he worked his way through 'Piece Of Your Action', 'Looks That Kill' and other Crüe classics the audience was on his side and loving the trip down memory lane. A set closing duo of 'Girls. Girls. Girls' and 'Wildside' including the added scantily clad attractions of Jenny and Julie from Hell On High Heelz showed everyone that the eighties may be gone but the spirit lives on.

An encore of 'Live Wire' just showed that Vince was loving it too. A great way to end day two.

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Vince Neil

Day Three, and spending whole days in an underground club venue is taking its toll. With a 1pm start it's the hardy souls who are there in time to catch Bailey. Nigel Bailey is a cheery likeable chap and has a fine set of pipes but I found his take on the melodic rock sound hard to warm to.

To be fair I felt the same about Moritz who were up next, worthy well played and sung stuff too but just not with the fire to get me going in the early afternoon. The fault may have lain with tired old me.

I expected more of the same from Airrace but they had a more muscular sound, a bit of a tougher classic rock edge which held the attention better. However, it wasn't until the entrance of Brother Firetribe that I really perked up and got involved in the on stage proceedings.

Nightwish guitarist Emmpu Vuorinen's side project is a far cry from his main band's bombastic output but their refined take on hard rock and AOR is a gift from the gods to many of the crowd here and they go down a storm.

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Brother Firetribe

Not too much in the way of on stage charisma is evident and some of the set is a bit one paced for me but the quality of the songs and the playing carries them through and they get a deserved encore.

Dare are more regularly seen at these kind of events and ex-Lizzy man Darren Wharton's band have carved themselves a unique niche with their Celtic AOR so a big crowd rocks out with them, loving every note.

Their folky version of Lizzy's 'Emerald' is a nice touch but it's originals like 'Abandon' and 'Return The Heart' which seal their warm reception to a solid set.

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Dare

Great White are in that unfortunate position that happens sometimes in veteran outfits where disputes between members lead to splits. With Jack Russell out on his own now, Mark Kendall and company have ex XYZ man Terry Ilous on vocals and what a good choice they made.

An excellent front man, he also added some stellar vocals to his cheery bonhomie and looked like he was really enjoying himself. Musically after a day of bands leaning towards the AOR side of things it was nice to hear some bluesy, dirty rock and roll.

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Great White

'Call It Rock And Roll' hit that spot very nicely as did the classic 'Rock Me'. When they slowed it down for tunes like 'House Of Broken Love' they were no less effective and by the time they closed with their take on Ian Hunter's 'Once Bitten Twice Shy' they had put in a solid bid for band of the day.

It was up to headliners Loverboy to beat them to that, but in the end they almost, but didn't quite make it. In their first UK visit since 1987 they did a set peppered with classic tunes but a ten minute plus bass/drum solo section really undermined their efforts.

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Loverboy

When they stuck to playing those great songs Mike Reno still has much of that great voice in there and 'Turn It Loose' and 'Working For The Weekend' were hugely well received. Surprisingly to me it was 'When It's Over' that was the highlight of the set, a great song beautifully performed, no wonder it's Reno's personal favourite.

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Loverboy

Overall this was a well-run and successful event. There were a few complaints around about lack of seats and food in the venue and it's a long slog spending three days in a club, but if Rockingham keeps putting together bills like this I am sure it will remain a regular highlight for the melodic rock fraternity.


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