I’ve been known to do silly stuff in my life. Mostly it’s meant I’ve traveled to really strange places to see a band I really like. Seen some rather remote places in Finland, on the kind of “hop in the car, drive for 5 hours, ask questions later” -trips. Well, not too many of those, actually. I’ve become too fond of nice hotel breakfasts to not plan my trips at all. Plus it has to be summer vacation for me to be able to do that, as a rule.
Anyway. I think my trip to the UK qualifies as a silly thing to do. Kinda. I was heading for the Firefest X -festival, the tenth Nottingham based music festival dedicated to melodic rock, or AOR. The reason? The festival’s opening act, The Magnificent‘s gig, was what I went there for. Because I know three of the guys in the band, one I even consider a friend.
The Magnificent is a band that was meant to be only a studio project of the Finnish guitarist Torsti Spoof (of Leverage, from which I know him originally) and the Norwegian vocalist Michael Eriksen (of Circus Maximus). They made an excellent self-titled album back in 2011 and even though the album was well received, they were never going to play live.
Never say never, you should know that by now. To my delight the guys accepted the invite to come and play in Nottingham in October 2013. My friend Sami Norrbacka, who plays the bass in the band, was stoked when he messaged me about the news almost a year ago. I was thrilled for him and the rest of the band. What an opportunity!
And at that exact moment I started seriously planning traveling to the UK to see this unique gig. I knew some other friends of mine were “regulars” at Firefest, so I knew I wouldn’t be the only Finn.
Fast forward to October 18th this year… Nottingham Rock City, the venue for the festival, people standing in line to get in… I had heard people saying they were looking forward to seeing The Magnificent on stage. How cool was that? The guys of the band had, I guess, been worried that they’d have to play to an empty venue.
No such luck. The place was full by the time they were stepping on the stage. Later I heard it was the first time in Firefest history that the venue was full when the opening act started. It might not be the truth, but The Magnificent had a stellar crowd to play to in any case.
And what a show! The band played with such positive energy and feel good vibes that I couldn’t stop smiling. I had a permission to shoot the entire gig in the photo pit, instead of the regular three first songs that the photopass holders were limited to, and I took an advantage of it. 600+ frames in 40 minutes… Mind you, I have to rely on numbers, because my gear isn’t exactly optimal for rock photography.
I could’ve easily watched & listened to a full 90 minute set by these guys. Sure, their album doesn’t exactly have 90 minutes worth of songs, but hey, I wouldn’t have minded a few repeated ones… The vocalist, Michael, is ridiculously good – but heck, so are all the other guys, too! The line-up of the band wasn’t identical to the line-up on the album, but I don’t see that it had any effect on the performance, at least not in the negative sense. The Magnificent may have played at 3.20 pm on a Friday afternoon, but they gave a 150% to an appreciative crowd.
After the gig the feedback had, apparently, been really supportive and people had been asking that they make a second album. Oh my goodness, how I wish they do! And I wouldn’t mind having to travel a bit to see another gig, either. A girl can dream, right?
The rest of Firefest X Friday was quite excellent as well. Eden’s Curse, Work of Art, W.E.T., Dare, Harem Scarem. I especially liked Work of Art and W.E.T., both new acquaintances to me. By the time Harem Scarem got on stage, I was starving and my feet were killing me after all the standing around (and three days of walking in London…), plus I was chatting with a bunch of Finnish friends, so I wasn’t concentrating on the gig that much. However, the whole day was a solid set of excellent rock and even though I didn’t stay for Saturday & Sunday, I have to say my impressions of the festival were really positive. (I wouldn’t have minded a few seats by the bar or somewhere, though. We mere mortals weren’t allowed in the upstairs area, where I think some seating was available…)
While Firefest kept on rockin’ in Rock City on Saturday, I did a bit of touristy stuff (visited the Nottingham Castle, that is) and hopped on a train to Cardiff. My plans included a quiet evening at the (lovely) hotel, cheap Chinese take-away food and NO walking. And a Sunday of touristy stuff & shopping and most importantly, of prog rocking!
I had the opportunity to add the gig of Von Hertzen Brothers (my absolute favourite band in the world at the moment) to my short list of UK Tour dates when they announced quite a while back that they’d be touring the UK at exactly the same time as I was. How could I resist?
I couldn’t. So I there I was, outside the Cardiff Globe, in the rain on a Sunday evening, waiting to get in to see my fave prog rock brothers. Made a few new friends while standing there (hi guys, thanks again for the beers and the company!) and had an altogether smashing time. And I wasn’t even in yet! (I just love Wales!)
VHB had a supporting act I didn’t know, a band called Touchstone. They played a bit heavier prog rock, more to the side of prog metal than the brothers’ stuff. Young female vocalist did a good job, although I have to say that the mixing wasn’t in her favour that night, her voice got overridden by the band. But all in all the performance was really good and I ended up buying their latest album, Oceans of Time, because I thought the band deserved a second listening. Some of their songs reminded me of Xandria, some even a bit of Dream Theater, which is never bad in my books. And I love the fact that on gigs like these I can bump into new bands I wouldn’t ever have found otherwise.
But VHB? They were stellar! The crowd in the Globe was small (perhaps a hundred, probably max 150) and it was interesting to see that whereas in Finland the Brothers are clearly followed by a mainly female audience (well, no surprises there…), in Cardiff, where the band is mostly unknown, the crowd consisted mostly of middle-aging men. Or that’s how it seemed, anyway. Lots of prog rock band shirts, black, long(ish) hair… A proper prog audience, that is. And the band really did play a fab gig. I’ve seen so many of them that I can say that it really is the trademark of this particular band to always give their all.
As an extra fun bonus to end the excellent night of prog rockin’ in Cardiff I was able to chat with all of the brothers for a while. They were a bit surprised to bump into a Finnish speaking fan in Cardiff, I think… However, even the ever-so-elusive bassist brother Jonne came to greet the fans and we had a lovely little talk about traveling, gigs in the UK and whatnot. Mikko gave me a big sweaty hug for my birthday (which was on the next day) and Kie had a few moments to comment on their experiences on the tour. Such genuinely nice guys, these brothers.
So there. That was the rock part of my tour. The lights in the Cardiff Globe were so dim that I have very few shots from there, but on the other hand, it was very nice to concentrate on listening and bouncing around happily when VHB played.
I wouldn’t hesitate at all to repeat this tour next year. VHB, better start planning another UK tour in October, I might want to see you there again – before that, on New Year’s Eve in Helsinki… Heh. And The Magnificent, please, a second album? Pretty please? And more gigs? Finland would be fine, too.
Long live rock’n’roll, it’s the best. (Right alongside photography, of course. Hahah!)