The First 75: A personal perspective (issues 31-45)

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 31-45

(by Paul Jerome Smith)

A further eight pages were added for issue 31 (Mar/Apr 2008) and another one with two free CDs! Bruce declared Firefest IV a sold out success in his Editorial and also mentioned that the DVDs shot at the festival (of which there was also a review in the magazine) were "coming along nicely." He did rather bemoan the fact that the line-up for Firefest V was taking time to finalise and was becoming wearisome getting responses from bands and/or agents. My workload for the issue comprised reviews of reissues by Solstice and Wishbone Ash, new releases by House Of Games, Magica, Waterclime, Steel Assassin, Goodbye Thrill, Mind's Eye (and my top album of 2007), Icarus Witch, The Eagles, Burning Saviours, Magicfolk, Early Warning System, David Arkenstone, Sinamore, Svartsot, Syrah, Manning, Joe Bonamassa, Liquid Horizons, Empire, The Citadel, Graveyard and Darkwater. There was also the usual Label feature while major interviews from my writing colleagues included ones with Rob Rock, Work Of Art, The Poodles, SAHB, Richie Kotzen, Doro, Ted Poley, Bobby Kimball, Helloween (the cover stars for the issue) and Rick Emmett.


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Once again there were 96 pages for issue 32 (June/July 2008) and another 2 CDs. David Coverdale looks out imperiously from the cover. Keiran Dargan's interview with the man touches some fascinating elements: especially regarding contractual matters. Other key interviews in the issue included ones with Jon Oliva, Axel Rudi Pell, Triumph, Nancy Wilson, Glenn Hughes and Francis Dunnery. The Label feature focused on Progrock Records of USA, the interview being with Company President, Shawn Gordon. My other interview for the issue was with Steve Balsamo, vocalist with south Wales band The Storys and "Swansea's resident designer-stubbled sex symbol"! New album reviews that I did were from To-Mera, Obskuria, Ancara, Indigo Dying, Jaded Sun, Panic Room, Ken Hensley, A Chinese Firedrill, Delight and The Storys. Although not listed among the contributors, this was the first issue to feature writing from two of the current stalwarts of the Fireworks team: Az Chaudhry and Ian Johnson. Nor were they listed for umpteen issues subsequently!!


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The next issue (33) covered Sept/Oct 2008 and had Journey on the cover, and revealed Arnel Pineda as their new singer in the interview with Jonathan Cain. Other important interviews included ones with M.ill.ion, Cristina Scabbia, Winger, Dokken, Silent Rage, ZZ Top, Sebastian Bach, Ratt and Steve Overland, while I provided interviews with the band Panic Room (this was a very lengthy one!) and with Derek Oliver of Rock Candy records for the latest in the labels series. As for reviews, I covered new releases from Expedition Delta, The Dreaming Tree, Ghost Circus, Invisigoth, Everon, Moongarden and Simon Says - and I bet none of you reading up to this point have ALL of those in your collections, do you??!! It was another excellent 96-page issue, and again had two free CDs with it!


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Nov/Dec 2008 issue 34 went up to 100 pages and - for the very first time - was in full colour (but with no increase in cover price). Furthermore, there were THREE free CDs!! It was a great issue to have on sale at Firefest V. I had three interviews in this issue: with Michael Lennon of Venice, with Asis Nasseri of Haggard, and with Markus Wosgien and Nils Wasko of AFM for the record labels series. The reviews all appeared in one section for the first time, and the front page of album reviews featured three new releases rather than just two as previously. I provided several reviews as usual: this time they were from Sylvan, The Cotton Soeterboek Band, Venice, Haggard, Jaugernaut (A D), Silent Call and Odin's Court. There were some major interviews in this issue too: and I must mention the ones with REO Speedwagon, Crown Of Thorns, Blackmore's Night, Morten Harket and Todd Rundgren. Unfortunately, for all its good points, there were - unfortunately - several serious errors of repetition in this issue, especially at the start of the live (Firin' On All Six') reviews!


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Issue 35 was again 100 pages (back to 2 CDs this time) and was dated for Mar/Apr 2009. Bruce's editorial comment after Firefest V was "We'll never do a full weekend again..." Really, buddy??!! Ha, ha..... This issue had Saxon on the cover and Neil Daniels' interview with Biff Byford as the main feature inside. Elsewhere there ware features and interviews about/with 3 Doors Down, Alice Cooper, Pendragon, It Bites, Axel Rudi Pell, Rick Springfield, Rush...indeed the usual fabulous range of stuff for readers to get stuck into. The label feature covered Bruce Donachie's AOR-FM Records and I also interviewed Oz Knozz and The Reasoning. Reviews from me in that issue included new releases from Factory Of Dreams, Voodoo Circle, The Reasoning, Kivimetsan Druidi, Magenta, Oz Knozz, Unsun, Marshall Law, Jefferson Starship, Freemanhill, re-releases from ELP plus some contributions among the live reviews. Another current key member of the writing and editorial team made his writing debut in this issue: Ant Heeks (who isn't that old after all!!) and another debutant not yet listed on page 3!

By contrast, current staff writer Duncan Jamieson first appeared in 36 (June/July 2009) and was listed among the contributors (but still no mention of Ian Johnson, Az Chaudhry or Ant Heeks...) Firefest 6 was announced (just the Friday night and all day Saturday!) Just the one CD this time around but still 100 pages. The untimely death of Gregg Fulkerson of Blue Tears was marked by a heartfelt obituary from Kieran Dargan. New supergroup Chickenfoot was on the cover and corresponding interview (with Joe Satriani) inside. Other key interviews included ones with Steve Augeri, Ian Gillan, Shinedown, Billy Sheehan, Ted Poley, Tigertailz and Luke Morley of Thunder. I undertook an interview with the wonderful Jess Harnell while the label feature covered Frontiers Records. Album reviews from yours truly covered new releases from Manning, Almah, Dawn Of Destiny, PO90° and Magician.


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It was again 2 CDs to accompany issue 37 (Sept/Oct 2009) whose cover stars were the mighty Dream Theater. The price was increased to £5.00 from this issue: still remarkably good value for money. The loss of another star from our Universe, Marcel Jacob, was mentioned by Bruce editorially, the sad news only arriving the day before he wrote his comments for the issue. Besides an interview with Dream Theater, other ones of note included ones with Vinnie Moore, Europe, Anvil, John Waite, Fair Warning, Paul Shortino, Magnum, Stryper, Tim "Ripper" Owens and The Poodles. I interviewed Ken Golden of The Laser's Edge for the label feature and also provided a brief update about The Reasoning plus a lengthy Roswell Six feature. Reviews I penned covered new releases by Charlemagne, Gynger Lynn, High Noon, Pistol Dawn, Joyfocus, Delain and Votum plus a new DVD from Pendragon.

The mighty Kiss featured on the cover of 38 (Dec 2009/Jan 2010), and an interesting interview with Paul Stanley inside. The only feature interview from me in that issue covered Spinefarm for the labels series, but there was an absolute treasure-trove of interviews with the likes of W.A.S.P., Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mr. Big, Steve Hackett, Yes, Gotthard, Guilt Machine, Subsignal and Russ Ballard. My only other contributions for the issue comprised a review of the new album by Brave and my first book review (of the book 'Last Shop Standing - Whatever Happened To Record Shops?') which I can still thoroughly recommend as a read if you have not already clapped your eyes on it! Once again two free CDs accompanied the magazine.

2010 was a difficult year for me personally as events led me to succumb to a terrible period of clinical depression that lasted for months and months. For the first three weeks of being affected by "black dog" (as Winston Churchill called it) I could not and did not listen to any music. But then one day I took myself out of the house and ended up in Preston, where - thankfully - one of the last proper record shops remained (and, indeed, still does to this day: Action Records on Church Street). Something drew me in and of all things, a live recording by The Doors was being played. I had never heard this before and I was mesmerized and continued scouring the racks of CDs long after this had finished. This, and the great support of Bruce and my many friends at Fireworks helped me to eventually overcome this shocking illness (it took over a year) and at the end of 2010 I also retired from paid work.


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My contributions to 39 (Mar/April 2010) were finalised before this had hit me. Interviews with Beto Vazquez, Fire and Lars Eric Mattsson about his company Lion Records for the label series were complemented by reviews of new releases by Paul Cusick, Swampdawump, Karnataka, Robin Trower, Therion, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Dr Grind, Felony, Sgt Roxx, Strike Twice, Blackberry Smoke, Kimberley Dahme, Yotangor, Fire, Panic Room, Kentucky Headhunters, Oceans Of Night, Jolly, Empires Of Eden, Gargamel, Believe and Tara's Secret and three DVD reviews: Loud & Clear, Joe Bonamassa and Various Artists: Live At Wacken 2008. I was also one of the team whose review of Firefest VI appeared in this issue. Phew!! Phil Ashcroft sat in for the Editor in writing the Editorial as Bruce was in hospital at the crucial time, so it was he who brought news of the crushing blow to the magazine that the closure of all Borders stores caused, as they were the biggest High Street (or Retail Park) outlet for Fireworks. On a brighter note, it was the very first issue to feature the knowledgeable contributions from (now one of the Deputy Editors) Steven Reid. Some key interviews in the issue included ones with Papa Roach, Airbourne, Giant, Wildhearts, Mastedon, Stage Dolls, Transatlantic and Foreigner. Just the one free CD accompanied this issue...


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...as was also the case with 40 (Jun/Jul 2010) which was the first issue where Rob McKenzie's contributions began to appear. Bruce was back in the Editorial hot seat and among other matters he talked about Firefest 2010, which would have....a Friday night show (for those already in town)!! May I gently refer you back to issue 35 in this regard??!! No? Oh never mind....!! Perhaps the most important announcement in the Editorial was of the launch of the Rocktopia web site in conjunction and co-operation with Berny Kellerer of Transistor Pictures. Once again there were many juicy interviews in this 96 page issue, including one with cover star Sammy Hagar and others with Masterplan, Y&T, Coheed & Cambria, Fozzy, Serpentine, Michael Monroe and Asia. The label feature covered Avenue Of Allies Music with Gregor Klee and my other interviews for the issue were with Ian Jones of Karnataka and Shane Lankford of Orphan Project. Reviews of albums by The Eden House, Heavenly, Manfred Mann's Earthband, The Dreamside and Magenta and a DVD from Axel Rudi Pell completed my contributions for the issue. This was a 96-page magazine, and the next few issues continued to have this number of pages.


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Slash appeared on the cover of 41 (Sept/Oct 2010), another issue with a single free CD and the first to receive distribution via WH Smith and some independent retailers - another significant landmark in the history of the magazine. The passing of RJD was also recorded in Bruce's Editorial and he took the opportunity to re-publish an interview that had originally appeared in Boulevard Magazine. My contributions to the issue comprised interviews with Venice, with Pierpaolo "Zorro 11" Monti of Shining Line and Emil Westerdahl about his record labels Ulterium and Inner Wound along with reviews of albums by Pictorial Wand, Sabaton, Shining Line, The Steve Miller Band, Arryan Path, Hazy Hamlet, Raven, Venice, Thunderstone, Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash and a DVD by Ten Years After. Another great selection of interviews were published and in addition to the one with Slash there were notable ones with John Norum, Peter Frampton, Joe Elliott, Thin Lizzy, Blind Guardian, Heart and Black Country Communion.


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Issue 42 (Nov/Dec 2010) had Vince Neil on the cover, the chance to interview him being taken when he was in London to attend the induction of Mötley Crue into the Kerrang Hall Of Fame. Halford, Liv Kristine, Tarja, Terry Brock, Skin, Dweezil Zappa, Ronnie Wood and Zakk Wylde were also among the artists interviewed for this issue while I interviewed Robert John Godfrey of The Enid, David Reece of Bangalore Choir and Stephen Craig of Eonian Records. My album reviews were of releases from Inner Wish, Bangalore Choir, Silent Fall, Therion, Moonmadness, China, Winter In Eden, Emerald, The Enid, IO Earth, Voxen and Talon. One of Fireworks' current US-based writers, Brent Rusche, began contributing from this issue.


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Mr Big looked out from the cover of issue 43 (Jan/Feb 2011), another 96 page issue crammed with very readable content, including interviews with dUg of Kings X, Shawn Pelata of Line Of Fire, Yngwie Malmsteen, Phenomena's Tom Galley, Michael Bormann, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan of Status Quo, Michael Monroe, Arjen Lucassen (re his Star One Project), Richard Marx, Nelson and Eric Martin and Billy Sheehan of Mr Big. Meanwhile, I interviewed Henrik Båth of Darkwater, Frank Bornemann of Eloy and Phivos Papadopoulos of Pitch Black Records for the labels series. As for reviews, I contributed ones for new albums by Walter Egan, Ansoticca, District 97, Delain, Darkwater, Curved Air, Fire, Amberian Dawn, Mostly Autumn, Heleno Vale's Soulspell Metal Opera, Magenta, re-releases from Sabaton and several live reviews (including Bangalore Choir, Newman and Pretty Maids at Firefest 2010.


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44 (Mar/Apr 2011) an 88-page issue, was accompanied by two CDs, one of which just might have provided some of you with a first hearing of the band Ghost. Interviews included ones with Danny Vaughn, Ralph Scheepers, Robert Fleishman, Robin Beck, John Waite, Gary Hughes (Ten) and three of the guys from Pallas. Once again I had several interview features for the magazine: with Brian Josh and Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn, with Andrew McNeice about his Melodicrock Records, with Jess Harnell about the Rock Sugar project, and Heleno Vale about his Soulspell Metal Opera. A very diverse selection! As for reviews, releases from Pictures Of Pain, Alexis, Solstice, Silent Time, Signum Regis, Beto Vazquez Infinity, Forgotten Tales, Shadyon, Galderia, Flag, Manning, From The Bogs Of Aughiska and Morild as well as a couple of Various Artist-type compilations. Then there was Eloy's 'The Legacy Box' DVD... So many treasures in this issue for me, ones that I daresay I might not have found but for my association with the magazine!


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It was back to one CD for 45 (May/Jun 2011) - but what gems there were on it! This issue saw the arrival of Alexandra Mrozowska to the writing team, and thirty issues later she is still a contributor. Having been very active on Rocktopia, Dave Scott was invited to join the Fireworks team, and this was also his first issue! A couple of years later and he was to become Reviews Editor!! In his Editorial Bruce announced a further expansion in the availability of Fireworks - in RS McColl Group (including Martins) shops, although my experience in finding it in these has been very mixed and owing to the small size of many of these, I do not think it is available far beyond the first couple of weeks from publication date if their copies remain unsold. My contributions to the issue comprised reviews of new albums from Bombay Black, Liam Davison, Emerald Sun, China, Kingfisher Sky and an interview with Carrie Sharp of Femme Metal Records for the Labels series. Other interesting reading came in the interviews (among many others) with Ruud Jolie of Within Temptation about his Maiden United side project, Carmine Appice and David Michael Philips about King Kobra, Lenny Wolf about Kingdom Come, Richard Page about Mr Mister with Liv Kristine about Leaves' Eyes and with David Coverdale (who was also on that issue's cover).

Continue reading:

Issues 1 - 15
Issues 16 - 30
Issues 46 - 60
Issues 61 - 75

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