The First 75: A personal perspective (issues 1-15)

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 1-15

(by Paul Jerome Smith)

The Charity for which I was working at the time was based in an office in Stockport and my role enabled me to travel around the whole of Greater Manchester in support of the volunteers whom I managed. By the end of May 2000, I had become aware of the upcoming publication of a new magazine devoted to melodic rock and felt this would satisfy the void that had been left by the cessation (after issue 44 in August 1999) of what to me had become the essential (and quite wonderful) 'Hard Roxx' magazine. This final print issue came with HARD ROXX TASTER VOL. 12 - in those days essential for hearing tracks from upcoming albums, and this one included ones from Jimi Jamison's Survivor, Danny Danzi, Steelhouse Lane and Guild Of Ages. Contributors included Alan Holloway, Dave Cockett, Gary Marshall, Mike Newdeck, Rob Evans, Dave Reynolds and Kieran Dargan...

It would have been one day in early June that I planned a route that would take me near to Dunnock Close in Offerton, the HQ address for the new magazine. Without question, I wished to take out a subscription to the new magazine and thought I would post my cheque through the front door of Number 10. However, something made me knock on the front door first - and to my surprise Bruce Mee was at home and invited me in. He has never told me so, but I might just have been the magazine's first subscriber! What he did tell me was that the first issue was due to arrive the next day, and he would get my copy sent out immediately. He asked me whether I had ever done any writing for a music magazine. Although I answered in the negative, Bruce was extremely encouraging - so I said I would have a go, and he suggested I might review an album I had recently purchased as a trial run...So, I (eventually) departed (with a stack of CDs) to continue my normal working day.

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Fireworks Magazine issue #1 duly arrived a couple of days later, cover dated July - August 2000 complete with a very useful 17 track CD. 56 glossy pages filled with reviews and interviews from writers including Dave Cockett, Rob Evans and Kieran Dargan (albeit repeatedly shown as "Dargon"!!) Phil and Sue Ashcroft were there right from the start too... Bruce's Editorial suggested..."Our immediate goal is to increase circulation to make it cost effective to add more colour and more pages....the touch-paper has been lit!" And so it had...and at the special introductory price of £3.00 (it went up to £4.00 from the following issue).

There was a hiatus before this appeared, cover dated November - December 2000, but - as Bruce explained in his editorial - it was designed to coincide with the Gods 2000 show at Maximes in Wigan. He also explained why the magazine didn't include (and never has included) news. It would be out of date before the magazine was received from the printers, and this was readily available at various on-line sources in any case.

Yay!! My first contribution also appeared: a review of 'Wishmaster' by Nightwish and was to pave the way for me to continue as a member of the team. Little did I know what I had let myself in for...and I don't just mean the magazine! For those of you who have never seen any of the early issues, you will not be aware that in those days the magazine was mainly printed in black and white, only the cover and the four middle pages being in colour. There was another 17 track sampler and interviews included House Of Lords, Joe Lynn Turner, Gary Hughes (Ten), Mitch Malloy and Westworld.

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Issue 3
(March - April 2001) featured Bob Catley on the cover to coincide with his third solo album, 'Middle Earth'. Other key interviews included Pretty Maids, Doro, David Coverdale and Nelson. It was also the first where I was actually listed as a contributor. My reviews of the latest albums by The Hellacopters, Freedom Call, Steve Walsh, Dark Moor and Karnataka (a band I am still keenly following to this day) were published while The Gods 2000 show (which I had attended) was reviewed in detail across 3½ pages.

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July - August 2001 was the cover date on issue 4 and featured Crystal Ball on the front and a three-page interview inside. Other key interviews were with Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Poison and Gotthard. In his Editorial, Bruce confirmed the availability of the magazine in major Virgin stores (remember them?) and selected HMV stores. The cover CD also reappeared and included 16 tracks from bands including Threshold, 91 Suite and Seventh Key. The result of the Readers' Poll was included with voting in no fewer than 17 categories! (Classic Rock Magazine: eat your heart out!!) Kevin Chalfant and Lana Lane won as best male and female vocalists respectively. My review contributions in this issue covered Avantasia, Arise From Thorns, Van Zant, Ayreon and Savatage.

Issue 5 of "The Firecracking Hard Rock Magazine!" was dated September - October 2001 and was the first to list my friend Gary Marshall as a contributor, another whose writings had previously featured in Hard Roxx. The (in)famous Kelv Hellrazer was another new contributor (and yet another whose words had graced Hard Roxx). This issue (featuring Danny Vaughn on the cover) also came with the fourth CD sampler and some cracking tracks from the likes of Jorn, Stan Bush, Dare, Karnataka and Last Tribe. My second interview (with Karnataka) was published, others included being with Terry Brock, 38 Special, Harem Scarem and Legs Diamond. My album reviews covered ones from Mostly Autumn, Tempest, Last Tribe, Alchemy VII, Eric Johnson and Union Vol 4 (Frontiers/Now & Then sampler). I can remember being not well-pleased regarding the Eric Johnson review as the wrong album title and label had been ascribed to it in the heading. Proof reading is so much better now!

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Amazingly, issue 6 followed immediately (cover dated November - December 2001) and was maintaining a consistent 60 pages every issue. Looking at the list of writers, Kelv Hellrazer was gone! However, stalwart writer Mike Newdeck (another ex-Hard Roxx staffer) joined the team and has remained ever since. There was no CD this time, but a feast of interviews including ones with Giant, Shooting Star, Saracen, Gregg Rolie and Ten (who were also featured on the cover). A Mostly Autumn interview was credited to me, but careful reading revealed that Jon Hinchliffe was actually the author! However, I did provide reviews of albums by Devin Townsend, Neal Morse, Evergrey, Uriah Heep, Status Quo, Diamond Head, NDV, Pallas, Demon, Robin Brock and The Flower Kings: another motley assortment. Boob of the issue had to be the heading for the interview with The Hooters' Eric Bazilian by Andrew McNeice. Unfortunately, the name was rendered as 'Eric Brazilion'!! Yes, proof reading is definitely so much better now!!

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Another gap (cover dated March - April 2002) preceded issue 7 that included a review of The Gods 2001, the writers' Best of 2001 (my five were albums by Threshold, Mostly Autumn, Terry Brock, Avantasia and Demon). Talking of Demon, my interview with their charismatic frontman Dave Hill is included in this issue - and remains possibly my favourite face-to-face interview for the magazine. Elsewhere interviews with Magnum, Axxis, Joe Lynne Turner, Harem Scarem (shown on the magazine cover) and Carl Dixon were included. Rob Lamothe, Black Sabbath, Deadline, Nektar, Jordan Rudess, Nightshade CDs were reviewed by yours truly along with a Nightwish DVD and books about Asia and Free. Mónica Castedo-López was listed as a contributor for the first time.

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June - July 2002 was the time-frame for issue 8, notable for being the first time that Phil Ashcroft was shown as Reviews Editor, but also the first time that all the reviews were not listed on page 3 - and that has continued to this day. Fireworks sampler volume 5 was included with the magazine, and included tracks from Dio, Harem Scarem, Ten, Hardline and Honeymoon Suite. In addition to the usual 60 pages there was a 4-page Gods 2002 preview. My contributions to the issue comprised an interview with Magnus Karlsson (then promoting Last Tribe) and album reviews of Magenta, Running Wild and Last Tribe. Bruce's interview with RJD was a real highlight of the issue.

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Issue 9 (August -September 2002) included a listing of the winners of the previous issue's Dio competition and I note that one of these was John Tucker, who in due course was to become a member of the Fireworks writing team! Primal Fear, Honeymoon Suite, Poison, Dokken, Eric Martin and Rick Wakeman were among the featured interviews and The Gods show at the remarkable Pennington's in Bradford received a thorough review. Reviews of the latest from Blind Guardian, Axel Rudi Pell, Everon and Falconer were my contributions to the issue.

Issue 10 covered November - December 2002 with Def Leppard on the cover in an alluring blue hue! The band had the main feature interview too, but Wishbone Ash, Joe Satriani, Threshold, Roger Glover and Sebastian Bach were among those also featured. Although he had contributed to the previous magazine, Andy Brailsford is first listed as a contributor this time. Nightwish, Freedom Call, October Baby, Ricocher and Quecia received my review appraisal. That the last named band did not make it beyond a second album is one of my biggest regrets of my time associated with Fireworks.

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The best of 2002 were included in the March - April 2003 issue (11) and my five came from Spock's Beard, Harem Scarem, Vanden Plas, Nightwish and 7 Months (remember them?) By now, the magazine had definitely settled into a routine, although the cover featured an unusual shot of Doro, also the key interview of the issue. Others included Hammerfall, Jeff Scott Soto, Symphony X, FM, Stratovarius, Karnataka and Bowling For Soup. My review contributions covered the new albums from Everon, Karnataka, Celesty, Steve Howe, Arwen, Freternia and Axenstar.

Sampler volume 6 came with issue 12 (June - July 2003), an intoxicating mixture of music from the likes of Talisman, Bob Catley, Power Quest, Nexx and Johnny Lima: 19 tracks in total. This issue once again had an extra Four page preview of the 2003 Gods show in Bradford. Interviews included ones with Gotthard, Mitch Malloy, Helloween, Evergrey, XYZ, Power Quest and Toto. A smaller, much less readable font was used for the Reviews, so - magnifying glass at the ready - my reviews covered California Guitar Trio, Deeds, Procol Harum, Sylvan, Steel Attack and Spektrum.

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The magazine was by now continuing for longer than Bruce had dared to expect and number 13 (September - October 2003) came with TNT on the cover. Would it all blow up in his face? Well, as we now know, this has not happened. However, this was only a 52 page issue: signs and portents? Four pages of this were devoted to a review of the Gods Festival while the three page colour interview was with Gary Hughes talking about his wonderful 'Once And Future King' albums, that remain among my most treasured discs in a 15000 album music library! Fleetwood Mac, The Rembrandts, The Hellacopters and John Sloman all had new releases that I reviewed for this issue.

Issue 14 (December 2003/January 2004) was to be something of a landmark issue, featuring as it did The Darkness on the cover! This one had 56 pages, and was the last one to have Sebastian Kozak as producer of the magazine's design and graphics. Dave Reynolds joined the writing team (another name from the old Hard Roxx team!) Firehouse, Harem Scarem, Johnny Lima, Twisted Sister and The Darkness were among the featured interviews as was mine with Erik Norlander. I also co-ordinated the review of the Bloodstock 2003 Festival, which will long be remembered by yours truly for my first sighting of Nightwish! I also covered the latest releases from Sonata Arctica, Live, Blues Traveler, Mermaid Kiss, October Project, Carl Carlton & The Songdogs and Mythologic.

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Issue 15 (March/April 2004) was the first one to be designed by our current Art Editor, James Gaden and the delay caused by the transition was to some extent ameliorated by the largest issue thus far (68 pages!) Besides losing Seb Kozak, Rob Evans was among several others who departed at this time. There was an interesting selection of feature interviews including ones with Tesla, Enchant, Starz, House Of Lords, Nickelback and Zon. My review contributions in this revamped issue covered new album releases from Falconer, Vhäldemar, Rough Silk, Dark Moor, Eric Woolfson's Poe, Anathema and Axenstar along with a new Karnataka DVD. The writers' favourites from 2003 were also published: mine being by Gary Hughes, Bob Catley, Pride Of Lions, Nexx and Karnataka.

Continue reading:

Issues 16 - 30
Issues 31 - 45
Issues 46 - 60
Issues 61 - 75

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