The First 75: A personal perspective (issues 46-60)

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 46-60

(by Paul Jerome Smith)

46 (July/Aug 2011) had Nikki Sixx as its cover star and an interview with him inside alongside ones with Jerry Dixon of Warrant, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, Jonathan Cain of Journey and Jack Blades of Night Ranger - not bad for starters in a packed 100 page issue! My blockbuster contribution (jointly with Gary Marshall) was an interview with Trans-Siberian Orchestra maestro Paul O'Neill before their debut UK gig in London in March which we attended and reviewed in the same issue. I also interviewed Max Riedler of Napalm Records for the Labels series. Reviews from me comprised ones for Poor Genetic Material, Ceramoniah, Dorian Opera, Steve Miller Band, Images Of Eden, Factory Of Dreams, C-Sides and Credo.


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47 (Sept/Oct 2011) was another 100-pager and was accompanied by the usual CD filled with interesting music to explore. Dream Theater were featured on the cover with an interview with keyboardist Jordan Rudess inside. By this time, many of the feature interviews were with bands and artists that had been previously featured, but one of the strengths of Fireworks has always been support for new talent, so this time there were features about Lionville, Beth Hart, Night By Night, and from me an interview with Gordon Tittsworth about Images Of Eden. My other feature in the this issue was with Dave Robinson of Festival Music for the Labels series, while reviews were of new releases from Alta Via, Sean Filkins, and Mostly Autumn - a prog rock trio of albums.


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96 pages but no CD comprised the Nov/Dec 2011 issue: 48. Alister Strachan and Carl Buxton both joined the writing team from this issue, two more very enthusiastic individuals with music rather than blood in their veins! Bruce's Editorial mentioned two shocking scenarios in relation to bands and Firefest, one of which had appeared (Bonfire) and one of which was booked to appear, paid in advance and then withdrew - Warrant. Sadly, in my time of being associated with the small melodic rock scene I have encountered or heard about far too many instances of - frankly - shocking behaviour by bands, labels, promoters et al. some of which have faded away while others are still out there. I have been personally financially affected by one instance as some of you know and recently I was asked by a band member whether I had recently seen "a certain person" and I think they were quite surprised how angry I became!! Still, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger....
48 was also the issue where I succeeded Phil Ashcroft as Reviews Editor, and one of the main changes I implemented immediately was to have the reviews in each section in alphabetical sequence (and live reviews in date order). As regards this issue, Chickenfoot appeared on the cover with Sammy Hagar interviewed within. The usual mixture of the old (including Lindsay Buckingham, Chris Squire of Yes, Rob Bendelow of Saracen and Alice Cooper) and the new (including Issa, Serpentine, Syndicate and Furyon) were the subjects of interview features. I interviewed Markus Steffen and Dave Bertok of the wonderful Subsignal and the equally wonderful Olly Hahn of SPV/Steamhammer for the Labels series. Reviews for this issue from my ears and then pen (or rather keyboard) were of new releases by Axel Rudi Pell, Captain Black Beard, Cosmograf, Europe, R.U.S.T., Subsignal and Wardrum plus the Various Artists compilation 'Melody & Malice' and a new DVD from Solstice.


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A louche image of Black Country Communion polluted the cover (in my opinion!) of 86-page 49 (Jan/Feb 2012) which was the first to have contributions from the enigmatic Steve Swift, whom I invited to join the team and another contributor still with the magazine as it reaches its 75th issue. Bruce, in his Editorial wrote "Wow issue #49! Only one away from the magical half century. Truly, if you'd told me 11 years ago when we were putting together #1 that we would still be doing the magazine in 2011, I would have called you crazy. Well maybe we are the crazy ones...." Maybe, Bruce.....!! As I continue with this personal perspective of the first 75 I am wondering what you will be saying in the Editorial for that issue!

Anyway, for 49 I went all proggy and interviewed Guy Manning, Rob Reed and Tina Booth of Magenta, Ian Jones of Karnataka and Clive Nolan, while for the Labels series I spoke with Peter Purnell of Angel Air Records. I allocated myself new album reviews by Awake, Cornerstone®, Houston, Fredde Gredde, Kaisas, Magenta, Manning, Mostly Autumn, Pain Of Salvation, Van Canto and the Various Artists compilation '15 Years Metal Addiction'. Firefest 2011 was reviewed at the start of the 'Firin' On All Six!' live reviews section and was, of course, the first time I had allocated reviews out to members of the writing team who were present. It all went very pleasingly... Among the other interviews in the issue were ones with Brian Howe, Myrath, Morton, Glyder, Grand Illusion, The Magnificent and Alfonzetti.


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50 (the magical half century, and with the sultry Amy Lee of Evanescence on the cover!) Dated for Mar/Apr 2012 and complete with an excellent sampler CD, this was an 80-page issue that reflected a fairly quiet start to the year. There was even enough space available for Bruce to include a 2½ page feature 'The Fireworks Story'. Of course, I read this avidly at the time, but I have not done so again for this, my own personal perspective, for which I have revisited every issue from the very first right up to date here in 2016! I had a couple of features in the issue: one with the three members of Magenta to discuss their projects outside of the band and one with Simon Shedwell of British band Awake. There was no Label feature in this issue, as the one I had invited failed to respond in time; indeed nothing was ever forthcoming as they were insistent on it being done by telephone and I was concerned about getting all the Polish names right. That'll give you some idea as to which label it was going to be! Perhaps I should have asked Alexandra Mrozowska to do it??!! Reviews covered in this issue were by Also Eden, Arrayan Path, Damian Wilson, Evergrey, Iona, Peter Gee, Salva, Stratovarius, Sunchild, The Quill, Wallner/Vain and White Willow. I also gave a read to Stephen Lambe's book 'Citizens Of Hope & Glory: The Story Of Progressive Rock' of which my review began "Let's face it, I am a music whore" and then quickly went on to qualify what I meant!! Hmmm....


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The May/June 2012 issue (51) had 88 pages and a 19-track CD to enable the discovery of music from some lesser-known bands. The huge rise in postal costs that had been announced were absorbed for UK subscribers, but rates for European readers had to increase for re-subscriptions / new subscriptions. The Labels feature returned - with Scarlet Records - and I also interviewed Dave Bainbridge of Iona following up my review of their album 'Another Realm' in the previous magazine. This was a long interview only a part of which was shown in the magazine, but was published in its complete form on Rocktopia. Indeed, the website now frequently has complete interviews for which there is no space in the magazine: and this can lead to some very difficult decision-making as to which ones go where. This issue was notable for a feature celebrating Rory Gallagher's legacy, but there were lots of interesting interview too, including ones with Unisonic, Trixter, Mad Max, D-A-D, Shinedown, Kissin' Dynamite, It Bites, H.E.A.T., Europe and Halestorm. I gave myself reviews of new albums from Absynth Aura, Headcharger, John Hackett, Kyshera, Magicfolk, Mariana Hollow (The), Morpheus Rising, Morrow's Memory, Paul Cusick and Pythia,


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52 (July/Aug 2012) once again had more pages - 96 - and another 19 track CD of music from lesser-known bands, including Morre, Brent Enman, Dragonsclaw and Electric Earth. Ian Parry joined the Fireworks team from this issue. Reissue label Yesterrock appeared in the Labels series and once again there were some fascinating interviews, including one with artist Roger Dean, although the one with Geddy Lee of Rush (also the cover stars of the issue) was - perhaps - the absolute highlight. [Having become Reviews Editor a few issues earlier, by this time I was fully acquainted with the favourite bands of many of the Fireworks writers. Rush featured very prominently in more than a few of the writers' lists! However, perhaps I was the only member of the team to see them live on both the '2112' and 'Farewell To Kings' tours??!! I will admit to cowardice in not trampling on Phil Ashcroft's toes in the allocation of Rush reviews...and the review of 'Clockwork Angels' by Phil, of course, was one of the three lead reviews of the issue]. My quota of reviews comprised new releases by Chris Fry, Delain, Hard Riot and Troy Donockley: quite a light load for the Reviews Editor - but I was away on holiday in the USA in the middle of the production period for this issue.


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The next one, 53 (Sept/Oct 2012) was a straight 80 pages but with the usual free CD and with Ritchie and Candice on the cover, and a FIVE page feature interview inside! Other interviews included ones with Ugly Kid Joe, Lita Ford, Lit, Nick Simper, Ian Gillan and Ginger Wildheart. The labels series continued with the Kscope division of Snapper Music whose marketing director Johnny Wilks I interviewed. Reviews that I allocated to myself covered new releases from Brockmann & Andrade, Citizen Cain, Coronatus, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Effloresce, Galahad, IO Earth, Izz, Mostly Autumn and Sunchild and a DVD from Talon. Some great stuff there...


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It was back up to 96 pages for 54 (Nov/Dec 2012) and it was absolutely crammed with good stuff, including interviews with Doro, Tommy Denander, Threshold, Magnum, Ten, Reverence, Rick Springfield, Neal Morse, Nathan James...who??!! Well, I think we all know now! My features for this issue included an interview with inspirational Welsh musician and composer Rob Reed along with his brother Steve to talk about the amazing 'Kompendium' release, one with Dave Cureton of IO Earth and a third with George Andrade and Steve Brockmann about their rock opera album 'Airs'. As for reviews, I assessed new releases from Distorted Harmony, Knight Fury, Kompendium, Marauder, Rob Gould, Sacred Blood and Wardrum and reissues from The Steve Miller Band and, er, Brewers Droop. Never heard of 'em? Well Mark Knopfler (you've heard of him?) was a one-time member as was a guy by the name of Steve Darrington, who attended the same school as me in High Wycombe and was responsible for some of my early musical discoveries. In his Editorial, Bruce was quite rightly chortling about Firefest 2012 being completely sold out for all three days. He also noted the lack of a cover CD and explained why this was and that in future CDs would only appear "on special occasions". The time-consuming business of chasing payment for the tracks was cited as the predominant reason for this but he also pointed out that subscribers would still benefit from CDs from various sources (including the Classic Rock Society) being sent with their copies.


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55 (Jan/Feb 2013, again 96 pages) had rock megaliths Led Zeppelin (now, of course with Jason Bonham on drums, who was interviewed inside) on the cover. And, yikes, yours truly provided the Editorial, Bruce having decided he would like me to "have a go". Well, this allowed me to mention the new 'Short, Sharp Shots of Rock' column produced by Steven Reid, and which has gone on from strength to strength ever since. As Reviews Ed I was finding that more and more EPs, mini CDs (call them whatever you want) were heading my way, and many of them were really rather good and deserving of some sort of coverage. But there was no way of accommodating them into the standard run of reviews. So, in discussion with Steven about this, the new column was born wherein the best ones began to receive appropriate coverage - in Steven's inimitable style! It was a development that Bruce really thought would work well too... There was no Label Feature in the previous issue, but this returned with an interview with the wonderful Max Vaccaro of earMUSIC. It did take a while to get through to him, but once I peeled away the veneers of gatekeepers in the company, the result was a fascinating insight. I also interviewed Stefano Lionetti about his wonderful Lionville release. Among the other very readable interviews in this issue were ones with Jimi Jamison, Steve Lukather, Orianthi, Halestorm, Daughtry, Fozzy and Willie Dowling of Jackdaw 4. Five pages were consumed by the detailed review of Firefest 2012, while my album reviews for the issue were of the new releases from Lionville, Alan Reed, All Too Human, Curved Air, Fools For Rowan, Dio, Ensiferum, Focus, Joe Beier, John Galgano, Manning, Nektar plus re-releases from Dan Fogelberg, GTS, SRC and The Intersphere.


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56 (Mar/Apr 2013) had an image of Michael Schenker on the front cover, but on the back was an advert for Firefest X, proclaiming that early bird tickets had all gone! In this issue, the Fireworks team 'Staff Writers' were identified for the first time. In his Editorial, which James did this time, he mentioned a couple of matters that were under discussion by the Editorial team (1) type size (this would slightly increase from the following issue) and (2) reviews - are there too many, and should a scoring system be introduced. He was keen that the magazine was able to continue offering an appropriate balance of material. He also included a reminder about Rocktopia and that a download version of the magazine would in future be offered. Besides one with Michael Schenker, other interviews in this issue included ones with Dennis Ward, John Corabi, Rob Cottingham (about his 'Captain Blue' release), Ged Rylands, Mikko Von Hertzen, Robben Ford, Michael Sweet and Justin Hayward. I provided interviews with the Swedish band Graveyard and Mark Appleton of Manchester UK-based label Rocksector. This was to prove to be the final instalment in the series. As for reviews, I covered new releases from Cailyn, Galderia, Magenta, Matthew Southern Comfort, Nine Stones Close, Pastore, The R.P.O. (playing the music of Rush!), Yotangor, Wintersun and Zoner. I also covered two re-releases by Ian Matthews and a DVD from Hammerfall.


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Ah ha!!....there was a CD with issue 57 (May/June 2013), another 96 page issue, and once again James did the Editorial in order to feedback on the points raised in the previous issue. From this issue and as planned the text size was increased. However, although there were some in favour of scores being added to reviews, this was not an overwhelming view, so a change was not implemented here. Another fine selection of interviews included ones with Biff Byford, Roger Hodgson, Steve Overland, Pete Newdeck, Maxi Nil (Visions Of Atlantis), Georg Neuhauser (Serenity), Charlotte Wessels, Mr Lordi, David Coverdale and Tobias Sammet while my contribution was an interview with Matt Kleiber of French band Karelia. Reviews that emanated from my desk assessed new releases from Axe, Beto Vazquez Infinity, Christiano Roversi, Elysium Theory, Eric Johnson, Inner Odyssey, Karelia, Materya, Orianthi, Silhouette, Thieves' Kitchen and Various Artists 'All For Metal III' and re-releases from the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Barclay James Harvest. A writer with the alias of J J Lee joined for this issue. She would in due course be revealed as Sophie Brownlee...and now an Assistant Editor.


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"Our Biggest Ever Issue" announced the flash in the top left corner of the cover to 58 (Jul/Aug 2013). It was a mighty 112 pages and my magazine collection has a copy purchased at Eason's in Derry, Northern Ireland! I do like buying copies of the magazine in different places! Yes, I'm weird!! The present Fireworks/Rocktopia team has assembled as a result of many different factors. In this issue, I reviewed a book by author Michael Anthony: 'Words And Music: Excursions In The Art Of Rock Fandom' and was so taken with both the content and Michael's writing style that I discussed with Bruce whether we might invite Michael to join the team. One of the great things about having Bruce as the head honcho of Fireworks is that he always encourages new ideas. They don't always receive agreement, but in this instance the reply was "go for it"! I was delighted to get a very positive reaction to my approach... New album reviews by me in this issue came from Adler, Eclipse Prophecy, Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman, IO Earth, Poltergeist, White Pigeon plus reissues from Beggars Opera, D.A.D., Mad River, Nektar and Pavlov's Dog. I interviewed the aforementioned Gordon Giltyrap and Oliver Wakeman about their collaborative album and also keyboard maestro Mistheria about the Artlantica release (reviewed by Dave Cockett in the same issue). There were very many fabulous interview features in such a large issue, including ones covering Airbourne, Black Star Riders, Jorn, Hinder, Blackmore's Night, Rush, Dark Moor, Masterplan, Skid Row, Deep Purple and Status Quo.


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59 (Sept/Oct 2013) returned to the more usual 96 pages and once again had an accompanying CD. However, as an innovation, this time it housed MP3 tracks: 52 of them! It also contained Nicky Baldrian's regular column 'The Music Is Out There' which had appeared within the magazine for the final time in the previous issue and allowed this to have many more pages than could be afforded within the magazine itself. Indeed, the .PDF file on this CD ran to a massive 16 pages! Thus it could be argued that Fireworks 59 actually had 112 pages...!! This one also marked the debut onto the team of 'Woody' (Paul Woodward) who, besides writing for the magazine, is the News Editor for Rocktopia (Fireworks never having covered "news"). Once again I was invited to provide the Editorial and this gave me the opportunity to reference my Blog on Rocktopia. Unfortunately this has ground to a halt over the past couple of years, not for lacking items to write about but rather lacking the time to sit at the computer to do them justice. However, I do hope to recommence at sometime, but with shorter and more frequent postings. I provided a single interview for this issue - with Bruce Watson of Big Country - while once again the magazine was stuffed with a feast of other hugely readable interviews including ones with cover star Sammy Hagar, Jon Oliva, Robin Beck, Harry Hess, Tarja, Billy Sheehan, Victor Smolski, Steve Newman and John Elefante. I suggested and introduced one further change to the reviews section from this issue: Festival reviews now appeared as standalone features of one or two pages: and this time there were three Festivals covered: Download, Dames Of Darkness and Hi Rock in this way. I allocated myself the usual raft of album reviews to complete, this time covering newies from Big Country, Civil War, Judy Dyble, Kingbathmat, Nektar, Morild, Rivera/Bomma, Split Sofa and Stonecraft, oldies from the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Ray Thomas plus a new (live) DVD from Mostly Autumn.


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It was another 96 pages plus disc of 68 MP3 tracks and .PDF file for issue 60 (Nov/Dec 2013) and three new writers strengthened the team from this issue: Lara Kisel - also a member of the Firefest crew, Western Canadian correspondent Bruce E J Atkinson and Michael Anthony (see previously). Steven Reid and Ant Heeks also became Assistant Editors at this point. Bruce explained his personal pleasure at seeing such a good issue (with Def Leppard on the cover), given that so many involved with the magazine also had their hands to the pump in preparing for Firefest (ably demonstrating the value of having the Assistant Editors). Among the excellent features and interviews were ones covering Fergie Frederiksen, Ted Nugent, Myles Kennedy, John Waite, Terry Reid, Seventh Key's Billy Greer, Joe Bonamassa, Martin Barre, David Reece and Joe Elliott with one from me talking with Daniel Myhr of Sabaton splintered band, Civil War. In the reviews section I covered new releases from Blue October, Magenta, Ontofield, The War Of 1812 Rock Opera, Soldier, White Wizzard and Zarbo plus reissues from both Gordon Giltrap and Magenta. But change was afoot....

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