Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Punky Meadows


Interview by Phil Ashcroft

There are few moderately successful bands who can claim to still inspire devotion in their followers over thirty-five years after their career effectively came to an end. One such band is Angel, who with a legacy of six great albums, larger than life personalities and legendary, special effects-laden shows, still nestle in the hearts of fans and top many a discerning listener's reformation wish list. Sadly, only keyboard player Gregg Giuffria went on to have any success with his bands Giuffria and House Of Lords before retiring from the music business. Guitarist Punky Meadows and bassist Felix Robinson were unheard of for many years, whilst singer Frank Dimino and drummer Barry Brandt put together an Angel line-up (including Lillian Axe mastermind Stevie Blaze!) to play sporadic shows and release a largely un-Angel like album in 1999. However, following on from Frank Dimino's recent solo album, Punky Meadows – the subject of the Frank Zappa song 'Punky's Whips' – has also returned with a great new album out called 'Fallen Angel'. During a long phonecall to his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, the positively buoyant guitarist had a lot to say...

"I left L.A. in 1988 because I hated the music business," states Punky in his inimitable quickfire delivery. "I love playing music but I never liked the business side, it's cutthroat and musicians get taken advantage of with publishing and everything, you know how that story goes? I got tired of it, and also the music scene had changed a lot, so I came back to the East coast and started my own business, and I was successful with that and just washed my hands of the whole music thing. I never stopped playing, I'm a guitar player and music's in my blood, I play the guitar every single night and I love doing it, even when I wasn't recording or playing professionally I would sit on the couch every night with my guitar and write songs. I got into Country music for a while and I've always been a blues player, I grew up on the English blues guys and that was my schooling; Jeff Beck, Page, Clapton and Gary Moore, those were my heroes. I just had a great time playing and my business was successful too, so I wasn't stressed out with any kind of financial problems, it was a good change for me."

Like a lot of old-school musicians, the internet has played a large part in Punky's acceptance of his past. "About eight years ago I got on Facebook and started seeing how much all these fans loved Angel and one guy started an Angel fans group page, so it was really cool to see that and to see how many people we inspired. People would say it was because of me that they started playing guitar, and before social media you didn't know about things like that. Back when we were on the road I'd play a gig and then afterwards you'd meet the fans, they'd say we were great and shake our hands and then we'd move on to the next town, After that was over I didn't really speak to anyone about the band or my playing for many years, you just think you were one of a million bands that those fans met and said nice things to. Then coming on Facebook they were all coming forward saying how much they loved the band and our playing, and seeing all the pictures and seeing their comments made me realise that maybe we were a pretty cool band. I'd washed my hands of Angel and the whole music scene, but seeing all that kinda opened my eyes and inspired me and made me realise just how much we affected a lot of people. I didn't have any pipe dreams about making music, it's hard to get back into the business when you've been away for so long. I didn't want to put together a cover band and go out and play other people's music in clubs, I wanted to play my own songs. So, two DJ's, Keith Roth and Danny Farrow Anniello asked me to do an interview on their radio show in New York City called The Electric Ballroom, they advertised it on Facebook and when I went to do the interview there were so many people tuning in from all over the world that the website crashed, but after they got it back up again all these people started posting that it was great to hear me, and Keith Roth said that in seventeen years of interviewing every rock star imaginable he had never seen that happen before. I was dumbfounded myself, I guess it was just because nobody had heard from me in years so it was a mystery and everybody wanted to find out what I was all about. Because of that I started getting offered record deals and people asking me if I would like to do a record."

He continues, "I've been friends with Danny for a long time, he was a big fan of mine, we used to correspond through letters before Facebook, and he said "Do you wanna do a solo album?" and I said "Yeah, I would love to!" I'd been writing a lot of songs and I got real excited about it, Danny flew down from New York to my home in Charlotte, we got together in my music room and we started putting the songs together. We both loved the same kind of stuff, so I said if we were going to make an album I'd like to incorporate a lot of different styles, I wanted it to be an album of songs, I didn't want it to be a heavy metal album with the guitarist widdling all over the neck at ten thousand miles an hour and the singer up in the stratosphere, I wanted to have songs with melodies that people could sing along to but they would still kick-ass. If you listen to the songs they're very melodic and commercially oriented, like the songs from the sixties and the seventies, whereas heavy metal music today is all about trying to impress people with your manual dexterity and not about the feeling of the song. I would say "Don't impress me, inspire me!" When I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan or Gary Moore play, I'm inspired and it makes me want to play. That's what I wanted to do with this album, and sure the guys are kicking ass, but Chandler's a great singer and there are big harmony vocals, and that's what's coming across in the reviews, everyone that's heard it is really getting what we were trying to do. I'm really excited about that, we knew we had a good record and the reviews are confirming that. I actually like listening to the record, I'm very proud of it and I'm also very glad I got to do this now, people only heard me thirty years ago but I want to show what I can do now because I think I'm a better guitar player and songwriter now than I was then. Even Eddie Trunk said he was worried if I could still play because a lot of guys are coming back years later and they don't play as well or they try to make a record that's too modern and doesn't appeal to their fan base, but after he heard the first track he sat back and smiled and said I nailed it. I'm excited about it and it's selling pretty well on pre-sales, it went on pre-sale two months ago and I paid the record label back in the first week, and it's still selling well so I hope it'll chart and be the record that will bring rock back!" laughs Meadows with his tongue firmly in his cheek. "It was the first time I'd produced an album too and I'm pretty proud of that, so after years of sitting around playing my songs in my music room and fantasizing about making an album again, it all ended up coming together so naturally. Danny and I put these songs together really easily and it flowed so well, it was such great fun to do."

"Before I started recording the album I didn't even have a band," says the guitarist. "So I started auditioning people, I knew I was going to have Felix (Robinson) from Angel play bass because he would always be my first choice, he's a killer bass player and he can play anything – rock, pop, heavy metal, soul, country, just about any form of music imaginable. I'd known Danny Farrow since about 1998, he came down from New York to see me, he was a big Angel fan and he brought me photos and memorabilia that he had, and he's also a really good sculptor and he brought a figure of me that he'd made. So we got in touch again through Facebook a few years ago, by which time I'd sold my Tanning Salon chain and retired to North Carolina and I'd invested the money I'd made in property. He came down to North Carolina and we played guitar and wrote songs. It soon became obvious that we made a good songwriting team, he's a good guitar player and a great singer too, so we got Felix and drummer Bobby Pantella, who plays with Monster Magnet, and Bobby also had a recording studio. Danny and Bobby knew each other because they both live in New Jersey, so we all had a conference call together and talked about how we were going to do things. It was funny for me because I was so out of the loop with how things are recorded, back in the old days we would play together in the studio and work towards the best take of the basic track, but nowadays you record on your own and play to a click track and you build in the drums and bass and rhythm guitars. I said "What? There's no way that would work. It would be terrible, how would you get a groove going?", and they said "I promise you, this is how we do it, it's going to be OK!" So I said I'd try it and I flew up to New Jersey and Danny, Bobby, Felix and myself rehearsed for three days, I showed them the tunes and then we went into Bobby's studio with the click track and put down my guitars for seventeen songs in two days, and then Bobby put all the drums down in the next two days. He came in and he kicked ass, I knew he was a hell of a drummer but to remember all those songs after a couple of rehearsals, I was so impressed! Felix came in the day after and got all his bass tracks down and it sounded fantastic. I came back home and put all the solos and acoustic guitars down at a studio here, so then we had to start auditioning singers so we put a call out and got loads of audition tapes and photos. Danny had this guy he knew called Chandler Mogel who sang with a group called Outloud from Greece. So we had Chandler sing on 'Straight Shooter' as an audition, I wasn't sure when I first heard him, he sounded a bit too eighties for me and in the band he was in he was singing real high all the time, which is cool but I wasn't sure that was where we wanted to go with the record, but he sang 'Straight Shooter' the way it should be sung and I knew he was our guy. So I said "Dude, you're in!" and he was thrilled, some of his idols had auditioned for the gig and he got it. I went up to Jersey to meet him and he had a friend called Charlie Calv, and Charlie had said to him, "You're going to play with Punky? I love Angel, I know every keyboard part Gregg Giuffria ever did, he's one of my biggest influences, I would really like to get this gig!" So I said, "Bring him in, let's try it!" and he put down all the keyboard parts in two days and created a lot of great stuff, he was a super nice guy too and had all kinds of tricks, then the next time I was up we recorded all the vocals and harmonies in about four or five days. I wanted a lot of back-up vocals on this record, I didn't want it to be just one singer, I wanted harmonies like The Eagles. This album is very diversified, all the songs are different so every time you turn a corner you're going to get a different kind of song. I loved bands like The Beatles and Queen, where you put the album on and go "I wonder what kind of song we're going to get next?". A lot of the heavy metal bands now, you hear the first song, you've pretty much heard the whole album, All the guys in the band were great and adapted to whatever style I wanted to do, they really put their heart and souls into everything."

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

Most of the songs are brand new but Punky has a wealth of material to choose from "There's nothing left over from Angel," he says, anticipating my question. "A couple of the riffs and ideas I'd recorded when I was playing in my music room over the last few years, I just see what comes out and if there's something I think is interesting I'll hum it or play it into a tape recorder. Sometimes you write a whole song because it just takes off on its own and pretty much writes itself, but once I knew I was going to do this album I sat down and started working on new songs. Parts of 'Shadow Man' I've had hanging around for years, I used to play that riff when I was in bar bands as a kid, it was a soul/R & B song back then, so I updated it and made it more of rock song, the verse, bridge and breakdown were all new. Stuff like 'I Wanna Be Your Drug' is almost a bubblegum song that I came up with in the studio, but I grew up on The Monkees so I have no shame. Other songs I put together pretty quickly, we ended up with seventeen songs on the special edition. Everyone was saying we had nearly enough songs to make up the next album but I'm pretty quick once I get down to work and I wanted to give fans their money's worth. I have songs already for the next album and Danny has some too. I just do what I love and hopefully others will love it too. The worst thing you can do is try to be something you're not and try to please everybody, if you do what you love and other people don't dig it, well, at least you pleased yourself," he laughs.

"If you listen to a song like 'Leavin' Tonight', my heart and soul is in that, the way I play guitar on that is like the way Gary Moore would have played it. It's me and it's my style, but it's the blues and there's a lot of soul and emotion in that song, in fact I didn't listen to it for a few days after I recorded it and when I played it back I got a tear in my eye, I said "Wow! Is that me playing that?" That's where I am as a guitar player, I'm more into heart and soul and feel than technique, I can shred and I occasionally do on the album on 'Shake Shake' and that kind of stuff, but I grew up on the famous blues players and that's where I'm at."

Punky's certainly very happy that the reviews have vindicated the leap back into the music world. "They've been great," he gushes, "in fact I haven't seen a bad review yet. Some people have said they don't like a certain song or something, but all in all most of the reviewers get it and understand what I'm doing. There were a lot of people who weren't expecting anything, like Eddie Trunk, and another guy from one of the New York magazines said the same thing, that he was worried about me until he put the first song on and then he relaxed because he knew I'd done a good job. Another thing in the reviews is everybody is picking a different favourite song, which I guess is a good thing and means there are a lot of good songs on the record, if everybody picked the same song then there's probably only one good song on there."

Inevitably, I steer the conversation around to the five members of Angel all getting together to receive a Rock Legends award in Las Vegas last month, recently deceased original bass player Mickie Jones was also honoured. "It was really exciting!", says Meadows, "we got the biggest standing ovation of the night. That was neat and everything's falling into place right now. When I walk around town here everybody knows I was a rock star, I never cut my hair or changed the way that I dressed, my hair is still black and long and sticking out like a crow on top. I was never one of those guys who changed when they came offstage and took off their costume and cut their hair, I was never that kind of guy, so it's great to be hanging out again with other people from my tribe. When I was at the awards show everybody looked like me, all these eighties rockers were coming up to me and telling me how much I inspired them to learn the guitar and make music, and how much they love Angel and that they're glad I'm back. I'm so glad to be back too."

"We got to walk the red carpet, and people were screaming and taking pictures," he continues. "I hadn't done that since the seventies, it was like a dream. People were shouting our names, then we got to sit in the audience while there were bands playing and people got their awards, but before each one they had two huge TV screens where they would show a synopsis of the band. Eddie Trunk gave a speech, and he did a great job, and then introduced us, everybody gave us a standing ovation and just went wild, It was nice to be recognised because Angel never made it really big, for different reasons, I think if MTV had been around then we'd have had a better chance, we'd have been a perfect MTV type of band because we were very visual. Before MTV you had to go out and tour every little town in the States in order to build a following unless you had a hit record, in those days they weren't playing Kiss and Angel, although Kiss had 'Beth' eventually and became a national act, radio stations were playing Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton, a lot of soft-rock stuff, but Angel could never get any airplay. At first we were too heavy and progressive with our first two albums, so we were encouraged to get more commercial, but Angel broke up before that elusive hit because Casablanca Records fell apart, and before MTV you had to tour relentlessly to be seen, whereas when it came in MTV could break bands all across the country overnight, It was exciting to finally get some credit at the awards show because we were among the first hair metal bands, us, Aerosmith, Kiss and Cheap Trick were the first bands doing that kind of commercial hard rock stuff. We caught on in Japan alongside all those, when we went there it was like Beatlemania, it was crazy, so finally having someone in our own country telling us how much they appreciated us was a great thing. We didn't make any money but at least we made a lot of people happy, and that's important to all of us."

Unusually for a band who went through a stressful time, the members of Angel remained friends and there was no awkwardness when they met up. "No, that's never been a problem with us," explains Punky. "Angel fell apart because after Casablanca got into trouble, Neil Bogart, the president of Casablanca, he was fired and the label lost the support of Polydor, the mothership. Casablanca was run by a bunch of college kids and it was falling apart by the time we put out 'Live Without A Net', they couldn't promote it, so we wanted to get out of the contract and sign with someone else, but they wouldn't let us. They stopped it because we were still under contract, they didn't want to do anything with us but wouldn't let us leave, so Gregg and I started another band and Frank joined someone else, we splintered because we couldn't do anything else as Angel. Things didn't work out that well for any of us really, Gregg did OK for a while but I got sick of the scene and moved back East. Gregg got a tear in his eye when we did the Eddie Trunk thing, we all got really emotional about it. Everybody was saying "So are you going to put Angel back together, at least for a reunion tour?" As you know, Frank and Barry put together a version of Angel quite a while later and they asked me to do it, but I said I didn't want to unless it was all of us, it has to be Gregg, Felix, Frank, Barry and myself or it wouldn't be the same. Also I said someone would have to bankroll it, it wouldn't be enough to just put on the white costumes and play in clubs, it would have to be the whole show with the effects and props like Kiss. I wouldn't want to tarnish our past with a low-budget show, I'd rather leave it in the memories of people who saw it than do that, it would be really uncool to do something half-assed. Gregg was really successful in the gaming industry in Las Vegas and he said he would bankroll it, he said he'd love to do just two nights at the Hard Rock Café or House Of Blues in Las Vegas, put it out there and let fans from all over the world fly in, do a great show and make sure we're well-rehearsed and it looks and sounds great, and then just cap it, be done with it. That's an idea, I'd be up for that and it's probably the only way we'd do it. Gregg also said that now Frank and I have paved the way with new records, he'd really like to do something."

"After the awards show we had a VIP party in the lounge upstairs and everybody was running up to Angel, it was funny because the guy who was organising it kept insisting we were at the front in all the photos, in front of Twisted Sister and the Scorpions, he was ushering us around like we were royalty, it was hilarious! Like I said, it was fun but it was like a dream because it was so surreal, like it never happened, except I have an award sitting downstairs that says it did! My first and only award. We got one each and we also got one for our original bass player Mickie Jones, which I'll send to his sister. Like I said, we didn't make any money and we got a lot of hard knocks about our image and everything, people would categorize us because of that, but with all the positive feedback recently I can at least go to my grave saying "Well, some people dug us!" We were a rock band first and foremost, and in the early days we stood out a bit when bands would go on before us in jeans and t-shirts, and then we would come out like Bowie and Mott The Hoople. We were a glam rock band and thought we looked really cool, we put eye make-up on and we all became whores on stage. It was a fun time, it was like musicians had suddenly gone from black and white to colour, so we went out to California and signed to Casablanca because the Kiss guys loved Angel so much. Gene talked those guys into signing us unseen, we played in a club called Bogart's and Gene, Paul and Ace came down because they'd just played at the Capitol Centre in Washington D.C., they saw us and thought we were fantastic, I remember Gene saying "Wow! Glitter hits D.C." A few days later we got a call from Neil Bogart and he said Gene had told him to sign us, so Neil had the idea that he would fly us all to Anaheim so we could open up for Kiss and he could check us out. So he phoned Gene to make sure that they were OK with it and Gene said "You have to sign those guys, but under no circumstances will Angel ever, ever open for Kiss!" So he signed us and it was his idea that we be the opposite of Kiss, they dressed all in black and we would wear all white. It was a cool concept and fitted into the spectacular show we had in mind, it was a kind of androgynous look but it really made sense to fit in with the name. I designed all my costumes anyway so I had fun doing that, and then we got the whole magic thing going on with the illusionist Doug Henning, appearing onstage and disappearing again, all the flashpots, we loved doing all that stuff and the audiences all went crazy for it. We got a lot of flak in the media for the image and we tried to drop it for the 'Bad Publicity' album, we tried to get out of the costumes and just wanted to be a rock n' roll band like everybody else. So we did the 'Bad Publicity' cover of us in normal rock clothes, drinking and hanging out with groupies, and when Neil Bogart saw it he said "I didn't sign a punk band, get the costumes back on and do a different cover!" So we changed the cover and changed the title to 'Sinful', but the last tour we did with David Krebs - he managed Aerosmith, AC/DC and Ted Nugent, and once actually asked Mickie and I to join the New York Dolls – David put us on the Rock N' Roll Marathon tour and we did it without our costumes, we still looked cool in great jackets and jeans but a lot of people were disappointed, it was like when Kiss decided to take their make-up off. The funny thing is we were sick of the concept then, but when I joined Facebook and saw all these pictures of us I thought "That looks pretty fucking cool!" It really did look like we came from Heaven or somewhere and I could see now why people were disappointed when we stopped, the photos from that last tour just don't have the same effect, we could have been anybody. Kiss took the make-up off and immediately went to playing smaller venues, then when they got Ace and Peter back and put the make-up back on they were selling out arenas again. Artists have fragile egos sometimes and they don't think they're being taken seriously as musicians if they have a gimmick like that, but the reality is that it's part of why the fans love them, so it's better to stick to your guns and ignore those who don't get it."

Going back to Punky's solo band, exciting things are happening. He says, "As you know, we're doing B.B. Kings on July 4th in New York City, that's our release party and we're rehearsing for that right now, but soon after that we'll get a booking agent and hopefully go on tour. Escape Music was talking about us hopefully doing some festivals in Europe, That's the plan so far but I'm taking things one step at a time."

Punky-Meadows Interview

Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Robbie Valentine


For over a quarter of a century Dutch multi instrumentalist and AOR/Pomp Rock god Robby Valentine has produced top quality music but to many, particularly here in the UK, he still remains a somewhat overlooked figure. I caught up with the man himself recently to mull over his debut solo UK gig earlier this year and the recently released double album of his two most recent releases, 'Bizarro World' and 'The Queen Album' in Japan, his musical influences and his plans for the future.

It's been a while since the Liverpool show and I want to know, now that you've had time to reflect on it, how do you think it went?

Yeah, actually when we arrived we were kind of a little bit disappointed about the turn out. We thought it would be bigger but the people who were there made up for it so well, the response of the people who were singing along and cheering us, it was amazing and actually we were kind of spoiled by that. Two weeks later we had a club show in Holland. We did just Queen tributes and they were sold out and we were still on a high from the Liverpool crowd where people made us feel like real rock stars, we forgot we were in Holland and people are a little bit more reserved.

You say you were disappointed. Would you have liked to come over to England earlier perhaps, maybe a few years earlier?

Of course. I mean I would love to go there, I was just disappointed about the turn out which we thought was going to be more crowded. It doesn't matter anyway in the end; the atmosphere there was just electric and if that happens it doesn't matter if there are 50 people or 500, it doesn't matter to me.

You've recently signed a deal with King records in Japan and is this a one album only deal or does it mean you are going to be recording for King records in the future?

Well they have an option for a new album. I think we just see how it goes. If they are satisfied with the sales or we are satisfied with them, I don't know.

How has it sold in Japan anyway?

Well I don't know about figures, we keep asking them but we hear that the download site, Amazon and those kinds of things many times were out of stock and so the signs look good, but then we asked the label what figures are we talking about but they never really answer us. It's going well anyway, more than they expected, I think.

Obviously in the past you were with a major label and then you went and did it on your own and now you're back with a label again. When you're doing it on your own what sort of barriers did you come up against? Was it more difficult doing it on your own than it would have been with a label?

Well it's hard to compare because when I was with Polygram, Polydor and Universal later on, it was a different time to right now At least with our new material we keep all the rights and we don't have to worry about the promotion. If you don't reach that many people that's a shame but my experience with a label in the end with Japan was in the beginning it went very well, then we signed a deal for a couple of albums and people got fired, and it's a major so you're not their priority and they pay an advance but they don't really do much for promotion, so I think my last three albums in Japan got put out relatively unnoticed. Yeah, that was kind of a shame. I don't know how the situation being with a label nowadays is...probably not really too great.

In the past you did the Queen album with crowd funding. Have you actually thought about doing that again in the future?

Well I think that will happen again. Of course I will try to sign to a label first but the advances and the things they're doing for it and they want to own so many things, like merchandise, a lot of your publishing and in the end I don't see that it's useful to be part of a label. Going on your own, you're not reaching too many people so it's a bit of a strange situation.

A lot of your songs, to me anyway, seem as if they're very personal to you. Do you find that when you're writing these songs it is in some ways cathartic and helps you get rid of a lot of the emotions you've got inside you?

Usually they are autobiographical. For example, I wrote 'Dear Dad' for my father but I think the feeling comes across if you're feeling it yourself that way, then I think people can translate it to their own situation.

On the back of that, you have become a father. Has that actually changed the way you look at things and maybe write songs?

Well to be honest since I became a father I didn't really write too many songs. It's hard to, I mean actually its taking 95% of my time, being a father...and it's great, it's wonderful!

Which leads to my next question. When you're not doing music what do you do in your down time, so it's obviously being a father most of the time!

Yeah, playing with my kid and that's wonderful but actually when I used to write songs when I really felt down and depressed that got me inspired, but now I'm a father and Maria and I, although we're not married yet, we're together for nine years and our little girl is four years old, so I can't write about painful stuff anymore. I'll have to find different sources to write about and that's hard.

A lot of your music is very bombastic, pomp type material. I was wondering have you actually ever considered doing some sort of rock opera?

Yeah, I did back in '93. I wrote a 45 minute rock opera for an insurance company's 100 year anniversary but they weren't really satisfied with the way I mixed it up, and then I said I can't do anything anymore with it so I never used it again and they didn't use it but I always had the plan to re-write it and re-record it, but it turns out then when I started out I was a really big fan of epic pieces of music but the last 10-15 years, maybe 20, I'm getting kind of bored of that kind of music...chord changes and different kind of bombastic pieces.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

I know what you mean because a lot of the songs on 'Bizarro World' are actually, I'm not going to say simple, but they are actually very direct. You get straight into the chorus pretty quickly, So are those the sort of things you are going to be looking to write then maybe in the future?

Yeah, that's the way I like it. I get kind of bored of all this strange sideways melodies.

So what artists, although obviously we know all about your love for everything Queen, what and who are you listening to at the moment?

I don't really listen to anything at the moment. My old heroes are Jeff Lynne and John Waite from The Babys. I mean it's always about the songs for me,

On 'Bizarro World' I can hear little bits of Muse in there.

Yeah that's right. I was inspired by Muse and I also like Adam Lambert, his first solo album. 30 Seconds to Mars also, I was a big fan of their second album.

Something I've always been fascinated by is your recording process because obviously you do it all in your own now, don't you? So how do you actually start off say writing/doing a song in the studio?

When I start a recording it's already been developed in my head. When I get an idea in my head I record it on my little memo recorder and then I work it out and when I've got everything figured out in my head then I start to record with the drums and build it up with piano, guitars, bass. The last album, everything I did by myself but it needs to be more. I mean I have a great band now, one of the best rhythm sections I could ever dream of, and I would be crazy not to use them. I already have four or five songs in my head and this summer I plan to record with them but I don't want to do it all by myself anymore, it's getting boring.

You seem to be a master of all the instruments you play. Are there any instruments that you actually struggle with?

I'm not really that good on bass. My main instrument is the piano but I record the bass, but if I have to play bass live, the things I record, it's getting difficult and I really have to practise hard. The same with the guitar, like when I recreate the Queen stuff it doesn't come easy, it's 'punch in, punch out' so I'm always struggling with guitar and bass on the albums.

What are your career highlights and lowlights.

I remember the first band show in Japan in '96, that was one of the highlights. It was the first time I really felt like a rock star and everybody sang my songs, everybody sang along and was cheering and it was amazing. I must say also the highlights are the Queen conventions I play. Of course in '93 we did support Brian May and that was absolutely one of my the dreams come true, also having a hit with my first single in '91 and it was on the radio every day for a couple of months – that was amazing.

On the downside, has there been any sort of very low times in your career?

Yeah, lots of them. Okay, I could come up with some really low's just when you have a record out and nobody cares, presenting it to all the record companies and nobody cares, on the radio nobody cares...that's really like the basic theme in my career the past 20 years that everything I put out, they don't care. It's about, 'Oh, he's still got that long hair and his makeup, oh we don't even want to listen to it.' Those kinds of things I'm hearing all the time, so that's quite depressing.

Okay, so do you feel that maybe you were born out of time, if that makes sense.

I think so. Have you seen the American television series Vinyl? I wish I lived in that era. The music was still like it's supposed to be. Nowadays it's nothing, just commercial. There's no place for a weirdo like me!!

Of your own songs, what's your favourite song – or is that too difficult a question?

I hate them all after I've finished them! Maybe it's because first I'm hearing them in my head and then I have to record it for hundreds and hundreds of hours and then it's finished. The songs that I don't hate are 'Bizarro World' but every now and then I hear a favourite of mine, I don't know, it's hard to remember.

It's probably hard to be objective about your own work. It's just I was wondering what song you were probably most proud of in your career?

Back in the day I was really proud of 'No Turning Back' but I wrote it 25 years ago. I remember when I demoed it and then we recorded it with a band in the studio and I remember when the engineer mixed it and it was so overwhelming. I was really proud of that. After a while you get bored of your own stuff.

You talked about meeting Brian May, so he's obviously one of your heroes. Was it everything that you thought it would be?

Actually, I could never dream that anybody of Queen would know about me and when Brian heard a demo of mine which he was presented with by the girl from the Dutch fan club, then I met him in Holland in '92 and he knew me. He was so kind and friendly and it was amazing that one of the guys who was on the wall in my bedroom and was my big hero appreciated my music, and one year later he invited me for a show and he wrote me many letters. I'm still so fortunate that this happened and he's such a friendly, nice person. That's also one of the highlights...that one of my heroes recognised me and talked to me.

Obviously you're a huge fan of Queen. Did you actually ever get to see them with Freddie?

Yes, in '78 when I was nine years old and I saw them again in '79 and '81, '84 and '86. I was fortunate my parents were always really supportive with me and I obviously was a big fan since 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at 6/7 years old and my Dad went to stand in line to get the tickets and that was fantastic.

What's your favourite Queen album?

I think all the albums from the '70s are great but I always get back to 'Jazz', I really loved that. I loved the Mercury songs, every one of them. All of the albums have got favourite tracks and all of them have songs you skip too.

Finally, last question which I think you've already answered. I was going to ask you about your future plans and you said you've already got about 4-5 songs ready in the pipeline.

Yes. I'm disappointed because I wanted to release a new album by the end of the year but I'm going to have to hurry up writing songs and it doesn't come easy. After the summer I won't book any shows so that I can concentrate [on writing] but in September we are playing at a Dutch Queen convention and we've got a couple of gigs in Holland with Valentine and in October we play Rockingham Festival.

Oh, you're coming back are you?

Yeah, it's crazy; the day before that we have got a Queen show until very late, so it's going to be without any sleep, but I'm looking forward to it all. It's been two years since 'Bizarro World' so it's time for new stuff from me.

robby-valentine interview

Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Gaetano Di Falco

State Of The Art: An interview with GAETANO DI FALCO

When vinyl was king, album artwork was an intrinsically important part of the package; who can forget the joy of those glorious gate-fold sleeves displaying examples of stunning artwork or imaginative designs? For me, many a day spent flicking through album racks in independent record stores in the 80s and 90s resulted in frequent purchases based solely on superb cover art. For example, Meat Loaf's 'Bat Out Of Hell' was bought simply on the basis on that cover before a single note was ever heard. The coming of the digital age might have made music more convenient and portable, but those little CD booklets pale in comparison beside their vinyl predecessors, perhaps one of the reasons vinyl is making somewhat of a comeback in recent years.

Being a science-fiction and fantasy fan, I was always drawn towards covers that displayed these themes; artists such as Rodney Matthews, Chris Achilleos and my personal favourite, Luis Royo. When working with the band Ten at Now And Then Records, we had the pleasure of working with Royo on the album covers for 'Spellbound' and 'Babylon', while Chris Achilleos provided the artwork for 'Return To Evermore' and Gary Hughes' awesome two-part King Arthur project, 'Once And Future King'. When we signed Ten for Rocktopia Records back in 2014 we once again wanted a visually striking album cover for 'Albion', and remembering the excellent painted cover on the recently released Johnny Lima album I got in touch with the young Italian illustrator Gaetano Di Falco. Here I found a like-minded, hard-working, easy going soul-mate who was not only into the same music as myself, but was someone who could take our ideas and turn them into the most striking realities. Gaetano's artwork was 'Albion' was so magnificent we just had to revisit those halcyon days and release it as a limited edition, glorious double gate-fold LP. We continued our relationship with Gaetano for a further three Ten CD covers, all of them striking and helping fuse the combined quality of amazing art with superb music.

Star-Fighter by Gaetano-Di-Falco
"Star Fighter" by Gaetano Di Falco

With many new bands today looking for striking artwork to help promote their releases, and with Fireworks wanting to look beyond the latest musical releases, I took the chance to chat to Gaetano about his work and display some more of his wonderful creations.

For the young Gaetano, it seemed painting was always going to be his destiny. "I've always loved to draw. It was my innate passion. Since I was a child my favourite "toys" were pencils and markers. I used to draw everywhere in my house, even on the walls. I remember that when I was 10, all my classroom mates wanted drawings made by me, even the teacher was fascinated with my drawings. I'm born in a family of painters so brushes and colours were very familiar to me. The art of drawing was always present in my life, I cannot remember a day in my life in which I have not imagined an epic scene and translated it on paper."

To perfect his talent, Gaetano attended art school in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, after which he went on to learn a lot about the business working for books and advertising at a private studio. "When you work for advertising you have to understand what the customers want so you learn how to translate requests from third parties into an artwork as required. It's extremely important as an illustrator to be able to understand at once customers wishes about how the art must be done, especially in the music business when working for commission."

Take-My-Soul by Gaetano-Di-Falco

"Take My Soul" by Guetano Di Falco

To this day Gaetano doesn't really consider his love of painting like a business, but more of a deep passion, although the potential for earning quickly became apparent. "I do it firstly for my own satisfaction. I think I saw the potential when people started to ask me to supply work under commission. When I used to work for big companies illustrating for advertising, at the same time I always followed my deep love for fantasy and sci-fi art, making illustrations inspired by my own taste, simply for fun. Some were very raw sketches or just layouts and I never sold them because they were for my own pleasure but people loved them. Then I improved my style very much so that today I feel it's really my own and I started to paid work doing illustrations for rock bands."

It had always been Gaetano's dream to see his work on an album cover, and he finally achieved his dream. "Music and painting are the two halves of my soul, my innate passion. I was born as rocker and I started to buy my first albums when I was only 13 years old. I've been fascinated by the illustrations of album covers and it was a dream to see my own work on such a cover one day. My very first album cover was for an Italian heavy metal band, not a famous one, and I did lots of album covers for underground bands at the beginning. The first that I did for a famous artist was for Revolution Renaissance, Timo Tolkki's project featuring artists like Michael Kiske and Tobias Sammet.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

Take a look at Gaetano's web-page and it becomes quickly apparent that he shares the love of the female form with the greats Boris Vallejo, Chris Achilleos and Luis Royo before him. But his inspiration runs deeper than mere female beauty. "Everything inspires me, even if the theme of beautiful women has a dominant part in my art. I like to illustrate mainly beautiful women because the theme of Amazons and Valkyries is my favourite one. I could be considered a pin-up fantasy artist but I love to illustrate everything, even the most horrific scenes and sci-fi themes. I don't illustrate women just because I want to represent beauty at its finest. My women are always strong warriors or goddesses with a very heavy metal and rock attitude but there's also a deeper meaning in my art that can be considered in a certain way like an allegory. I love to illustrate women as warriors because in history they always had to fight for their rights; for this reason you can see their fierce attitude in my art. I'm also Italian and I love the Renaissance period; my roots and my taste in art belong to this awesome. I love to illustrate everything and turn even the most simple scene in something magic, as my idea of art is to amaze the viewer with something crazy and breath-taking. I love everything that is crazy and magic."

The-Earth-Shrine by Gaetano-Di-Falco

"The Earth Shrine" by Gaetano Di Falco

With music being an equal passion, Gaetano has almost three thousand albums and listens to them all. A self-confessed "rocker to the bone" he explains how music is really important to his work. "It really inspires me while I draw so is a very important part of my creative process. If I have to create an album cover for a band it's a must for me to listen to the sound of the band, or even better to the whole album on which I'll have to work as I want to reflect the spirit, sound and the soul of the band in the art too. The album cover must translate into an image the music and the feelings of the album itself. When I have the opportunity to listen to the music I close my eyes and I try to paint images in my mind, to feel what the music teaches to me and then I try to do my best to translate my visions.

If I have to pick my favourite band, well, I must say that Aerosmith are the ones that took my soul since I was a kid, especially their early work. But I really love metal bands like Judas Priest, Metallica, Pantera, Warlock etc especially the 80s/90s period of those bands but I also love so much also music from the 70s. I am a huge fan of bands like Jefferson Airplane, Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, The Who and early David Bowie. They all wrote such amazing masterpieces. If I should name a more recent band that today I really like in the heavy metal scene. my preference would be Within Temptation — lovely voice and sound. I'd love to make an illustration for them one day.

Twilight-Of-The-Gods by Gaetano-Di-Falco

"Twilight Of The Gods" by Gaetano Di Falco

Like most artists, when asked to name their favourite piece of work there is no immediate answer. "This is a very hard question and usually I always answer that my favourite album cover is ... the next! I've had the pleasure to work and collaborate with so many wonderful artists, every album cover and/or collaboration has something special for me, or taught me something. I had the pleasure and the honour to collaborate with artists like Manowar, Hellion, Ten, House Of Lords, Robin Beck among others. Usually I give my best when I have complete control over the artistic process. I can understand by the style of the band and by the sound of the music what would be the perfect illustration to do, but too often things are imposed on me even in every detail."

Computer illustrating certainly seems to be the way of the future, as compared to the old brush and canvas method. As Gaetano strongly attains, "They simply cannot be compared in my opinion. There are illustrators and there are painters. I do love both schools and both need a lot of patience, techniques and dedication. I use a pen tablet as all the illustrators do and there's no photo manipulation in my art; for example, the hairs of my models —whose bodies are totally illustrated and not photos — are painted one by one; it's really an exhausting thing to do but you achieve an amazing result. They are two different jobs and ways to make art, both amazing and fascinating. I still love to make drawings with my pencils even if I never show them, I keep them for myself and often I mix the old fashioned style with the versatility of the digital art in a way to obtain something fresh and amazing. Art is always about experiments but if you have to work on album covers or other kind of commissioned work today, people want you to work in digital as the timelines are always frenetic and changes on the art must be done quickly, even a few minutes before the delivery of the final art — something that is impossible to do if you work with brushes. An old fashioned paint job is almost a take it or leave it, while an illustration with digital airbrush can be adjusted and perfected every time. It happened to me that a band wanted, after the art was already approved and only one day before the delivery, the main figure in the scene moved from the left to the right. How can you do that if not in digital?"

The-Warrior-Princess by Gaetano-Di-Falco

"The Warrior Princess" by Gaetano Di Falco

With such a crazy amount of talent and passion, we really should be seeing a lot more of Gaetano Di Falco's work in the business. Anyone wishing to contact him can visit his website at or and send an email using the contact section or write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , where Gaetano will always respond very quickly . His website is the only place to see all his artworks and illustrations, and at the bottom of the page you can find a Facebook icon link to his personal profile. Any band looking for some quality artwork should head over there right now ...

Gaetano-Di-Falco Interview

Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Andree Theander

The Theander Expression: An interview with ANDREE THEANDER

Interview by Brent Rusche

The supremely gifted multi-instrumentalist Andree Theander returns to the scene with 'Wonderful Anticipation,' the second from the band sporting his namesake, The Theander Expression. Those familiar with the impressive 'Strange Nostalgia' back in 2012 would easily welcome a follow-up. The wait is finally over and happily worth every minute because The Theander Expression serves up another blissful collection of West Coast AOR. 'Wonderful Anticipation' is an effortless progression in the life of the band and possesses all the earmarks which made the debut so memorable. Thankfully for myself, I was given the opportunity to reprise my role and conduct another interview with Andree to discuss the latest release.

BR - Wow, I cannot believe four years has passed since we last spoke to discuss 'Strange Nostalgia and really excited to discuss the new album of which I think is fantastic.

AT - Oh, thank you very much. Yeah, it has been a few years for sure, but we finally get to talk again.

BR - Following up 'Strange Nostalgia' was no easy task, but proof be known, I think you did just that with 'Wonderful Anticipation.' It is every bit just as polished as its predecessor and consistent from the first note to the last. The commonly regarded philosophy is that you have your entire life to write your first record while all subsequent albums are completed under some sort of time constraint. Was 'Wonderful Anticipation' any more difficult to write and record as compared with 'Strange Nostalgia' and did you feel any additional sense of pressure when gearing up to write and record?

AT - Wow, you are very well prepared for this interview! [laughs] Everything you say is absolutely true. I did have many years to make the first album but it wasn't that difficult to make a follow up. I was actually writing for different musical projects that I was anticipating, but all the songs ended up becoming 'Wonderful Anticipation.' I am always writing music with my "partners in crime" and it all came to me pretty naturally so it wasn't that difficult.

BR - The last time we spoke, you suggested that The Theander Expression might be put on hiatus while you pursued other musical endeavors. Have you worked with other artists/bands in the years between the first and second albums and if so, who were they?

AT - Unfortunately, nothing really happened with any of those projects that I had in mind. It is hard to understand that it has been four years since we last spoke...time goes very, very fast. I gathered the best songs that I thought I had, finished them and made them into another Expression album. I was a bit worried about the different styles of the songs. I don't know if you can hear that or what your thoughts are, but I think some of the songs are a little more Pop-oriented while some are a bit more Hard Rock.

BR - I did hear a difference and feel the songs were a bit more straightforward on 'Wonderful Anticipation.' For myself, 'Strange Nostalgia' was a bit more delicate. I really have a hard time (if I needed to) deciding which album I prefer. My feeling is that 'Wonderful Anticipation' is a perfect answer...a natural progression (if you will) to the debut. Taken together, the two album transition seamlessly. You show a noticeable growth on the new album.

AT - Great, I am very happy to hear that. Thank you for those words.

BR - Certainly well deserved.

BR - Did you consciously set out to deliver an album with a specific concept or common theme that runs throughout 'Wonderful Anticipation?' such as venting personal frustration in your life or something else? Is there any common thread to the music?

AT - No, I had no concept in mind for the album. It was just a group of songs that I had been writing for quite some time. As I said before, I thought these tracks would end up being a different project or different band altogether. In the end, I simply gathered the best material that I had and make another The Theander Expression album because that was the solution that felt best for me.

BR - How many songs did you compose for the album? If there were, will any of those tracks not included be released in the future?

AT - Yes, I hope so. I recorded 12 tracks and 11 made it onto the album. At the start of recording, I knew not everything I wrote would end up on the record but had no idea as to which ones would not be included. The one additional song that did not make it onto the album is called 'Voodoo Life.' It just didn't seem to fit with the rest of album lyrically or sound-wise, so I left it out. However, I hope to release it in one way or another in the future, even if I just posted it as a video or something like that.

BR - This time around, you worked with almost completely different personnel. While some of the drumming features returning member Hermin Furin (Work Of Art), the drum throne also features Bengan Andersson. Was this because Hermin's schedule prevented him from performing on all tracks or did you specifically choose a drummer whose style you felt was most appropriate for the song?

AT - It was mostly to fit song. I thought Bengan's playing was more appropriate for some of the tracks. He owns a studio close to where I live and where I recorded all but the instruments for 'Wonderful Anticipation.' However, I also wanted to try something new and get a different sound. I wanted to continue to record with Hermin because he is a good friend and great drummer and everything works very well with him. It is not because I felt Hermin couldn't perform on those tracks, but i just wanted to try something different and in the end, enjoyed Bengan's performance.

Andree-Theander Interview

BR - Additionally, you employed all different vocalists this time around: Christian Erikkson, Christoffer Sarnefalt and even yourself of which 'Into The Valley' is a personal favorite! What influenced your decision to use new talent instead of bringing back Christian Hedgren and Goran Edman and what inspired you to take on some of the vocal duties?

AT - Firstly, Christian (Eriksson) is the same Christian (Hedgren) that sang on the first album. Since the last album, he has returned to using his original surname so like Herman, makes a return for this album. As for using Christoffer, I performed a couple of gigs which were all cover songs and was amazed by the way he was singing and like Bengan on drums, wanted to try someone new in the vocal spot for my band and thought it turned out very well and kept those tracks. We also co-wrote the lyrics for the songs he sang on as well. When it comes to my own singing, I have always been singing in one way or another and always record the demo vocals for every track. When it came time to record vocals for 'Into The Valley' for instance, it worked pretty well with my voice and when the others heard it they said, "Who is singing this one? It sounds pretty good!" So we ended up keeping the vocals I recorded myself which also included 'The Loner' and 'State Of Flow' where I am singing the low parts and Christian is doing the higher harmonies in the chorus.

BR - Also, Michael Ottosson and Linus Abrahamson did not return to reprise their roles on keyboards and bass respectively both of which were largely performed by you. Were logistics strictly to blame or was the decision influenced by any sort of budgeting concerns for the album?

AT – Um, no. I wanted to try and see how far I could take things on my own. Much like Boston and how they did their first album. Tom Scholz was a huge inspiration for this album because he pretty much did everything on his own...the keyboards, guitars and most of the bass tracks as well. I wanted to try and do something like that on my own.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

BR – So, it was ultimately a personal challenge.

AT – Yeah, but it is even that much more impressive since he did it back in the '70's in his own studio. [laughs] For me, doing that sort of thing now is much easier.

BR – Well, that certainly is a classic album and a great one to gain inspiration from. As I have said during our first interview, your guitar playing is outstanding and above reproach. Your insane technique is perfectly executed on the solo for 'Someday (I'll Be There To Meet You),' especially on the last phrase. Your extended legato phrases are not only hypnotizing, but every note is so well defined. How much of your time is spent keeping your chops in such sublime form?

AT – Too little time, but I don't know! [laughs] Wow, I am very happy to hear that. Thank you so much for those kind words. The legato technique that I use is something I came up with which must be over 10 years ago now and use it all the time. It just comes naturally and don't really think much about it.

BR - How did it materialize for Erik Martensson (Eclipse, W.E.T.) to contribute backing vocals on that same tune?

AT – We recorded Christian's vocals at his studio (Blowout Productions). So, it was natural that he contributed to the album with some background singing on those tracks. In addition to 'Someday...,' Erik also contributed backgrounds for 'You Always Ran Away' and 'Never Surrender.'

BR - Did you use mostly the same guitar equipment (guitars, amplifiers, effects) for this record as you did for the last one?

AT – No, it was a bit different this time. I used a Suhr Corso amp and it sounds amazing. I also used a few different Marshalls. When it comes to guitars, they are mostly the same like the green Fender Strat and white Gibson Les Paul. I did not use the black Schecter this time and instead used a red Hagstrom Northern Series Swede guitar that you can see in the promo new toy! [laughs]

BR - How do you think you have improved/matured since the release of 'Strange Nostalgia' with regard to songwriting, playing guitar, production and even personally?

AT - Uh, not much! [laughs] I feel like the same person. Of course, I am trying to constantly get better and improve in every aspect you speak of.

BR - If you do decide to perform the music live, will you include all vocalists to perform the songs as they did on the albums or will you choose one person to sing the entire set?

AT – It all depends on so many different things. Actually, we haven't been playing this live yet and I'm sure that we will, either. Including all vocalists would be the perfect solution, of course.

BR - The album seems to have a circular feel where the last song 'State Of Flow' gently returns the listener back to the graceful introduction instrumental of 'Anticipation Anthem,' and restarting the sonic experience. Was that simply coincidental or a conscious effort?

AT – No, not at all. That is the first time that I hear that. That is very cool, I never noticed it myself so it was completely accidental. Again, the songs are not related and do not tell a story.

BR – The sequencing of the tracks is really well thought out and the album flows effortlessly.

AT – What do you think of the lyrics this time?

BR – The phrases are ultimately less "wordy" this time which I'm sure makes it easier for the vocalist to sing. However I personally love the lyrical density of 'Strange Nostalgia,' especially with phrases like, "I'm no pundit with such pride, it's only my two cents." I also love your word choice, a lot of which many a person whose native language is English would not even know! "Sanguine" is a particular favorite, one of which you used again. Although different, your approach to lyrics and how they fit the music this time remains as consistent as the debut. 'Wonderful Anticipation' is that perfect, natural progression from 'Strange Nostalgia' and am hard pressed to pick a favorite [album]. The quality of music that you have released thus far is simply enviable.

AT – OK, thank you very much. I was actually reading a forum online where people were saying that the lyrics were too strange...they didn't seem to "get it." They didn't like it and described them as "horrible."

BR – Wow, I am shocked to hear that. I cannot point out any fault, musically, lyrically or production-wise that would suggest it is any less of an album than the first.

AT – This time around, it seems that people either love it or hate it.

BR - Is there is no significance/meaning to the five quotations marked as Memory Codex: in the liner notes.

AT – I'm sad to say, no. Carl [Beckston] designed the artwork and booklet layout and decided to those things himself.

BR – What is on the horizon for Andree Theander...are you going to try and bring The Theander Expression to a live setting, will you pursue other musical outlets or start working with other musicians?

AT – Yeah, I will try to do that once again and do not think it will end up as another The Theander Expression album. Honestly, I'm really tired right now because nothing really has happens with this project. But I am always happy and grateful when I hear something positive or seems to like it very much like you do. I can't thank you enough for your support.

BR - Have you ever thought about capitalizing on your guitar playing with online instructional content like videos?

AT - Yes, I have been thinking about doing something like that at some point. I know you would probably enjoy that, so maybe! However, have no specific plans at the moment.

BR – Every time I hear you play, your music urges me to pick up the guitar. While you pull inspiration from Tom Scholz, I garner my inspiration from The Theander Expression.

AT – Thank you very much. I don't know what to say. I am just sitting here with a huge smile on my face. It is all good to hear.

BR – Again, congratulations on a new album with 'Wonderful Anticipation.'

Theander-Expression Wonderful-Anticipation

The First 75: A personal perspective (issues 61-75)

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 61-75

(by Paul Jerome Smith)


This (paraphrased) is what Bruce wrote in his Editorial for issue 61 (Jan/Feb 2014)..."Paul Jerome Smith steps down as Reviews Editor and features editor after this issue..... I still remember the first time I met Paul and....soon realised not only what a wonderful person he was" (please excuse my blushes) "but that he also possessed a hefty knowledge (and record collection!) of a wide range of rock music stretching from way back in the 60s to the present day. I quickly brought Paul onboard our fledgling magazine where he has remained for the past 13 years, the last few as Reviews Editor where he brought an unbelievable amount of order and structure to our chaotic magazine. Paul has been the father figure to our rapidly expanding group of writers, a trait honed in the many years spent working for the Prince's Trust as mentor manager....."

Bruce's wonderful words (and there were more!) brought a tear to my eye (well, I am a Piscean!!) But being Reviews Editor had become a mammoth and ever-present task in my life and as I was approaching the age of 65 (yes, really!) and having so many other things I wanted to do knew that I needed to step down in order to be able to stand any sort of chance of accomplishing them. I had alerted Bruce and James to my intentions at a management meeting at the start of 2013, and I was left with the task of identifying my replacement. Two potential candidates - and very close friends (although not geographically) of mine - had recently stepped down from the magazine for very good personal and family reasons but I was fortunate in looking at a wonderful team of individuals with the skills and competences required. I was unfortunate in looking at a team who mainly simply didn't have the time to give any more than they currently were. However, there was one individual, who although he was working, I knew to be unhappy in his role and was kept going by the possibilities for attending gigs, writing reviews and doing interviews provided by Fireworks. He also always had a very positive outlook and I was being drawn to broaching the matter with him, so discussed my thoughts with Bruce and James - very important as the person concerned had only been with the magazine from issue 45. Meanwhile, there was work to be done for 61, and having noticed that most of the book reviews were being written by Rob McKenzie, wondered whether he might like to assume responsibility for a column devoted to book reviews, in just the same way that Steven Reid had done with coverage of shorter format CD releases. He seemed delighted to have been asked, and so from this issue became another of the Assistant Editors while meanwhile Mark Donnelly was a new addition to the team.

Six pages were devoted to a review of the 10th anniversary Firefest, while an advert on the back cover provided the line-up for Firefest - The Final Fling in October 2014. My final interview for the magazine (or, was it? on) was with Guy Manning, whose band had just released their 14th album! Of course, I also reviewed this along with new releases from Blood Of Vangogh, Clannad, Corky Laing And The Perfect Child, Floating Worlds, Marcus Reeves, Matthew Good, Various Artists - Teenage Dirtbags and reissues from Jefferson Airplane and Savatage. Interviews with Michael Schenker, Michael Sweet, Joey Tempest, Roine Stolt, Tom Scholz and Mat Sinner provided fascinating insights as usual.


After the main work for this issue had been completed, I invited Dave Scott to visit for several days to discuss and experience some of the processes of the Reviews Editor role that I was so delighted he had agreed to accept. It did seem a little strange, I must admit, not seeing my name in number 62 (Mar/Apr 2014) but it was a cracking 104 page issue with 42 (yes, 42!!) interviews - eat yer heart out other magazines that pretend to cover the rock and metal scene!! And was it possible to tell that a new Reviews Editor was in place? Not at all...Dave took the template I had developed and this was to be the beginning of him taking the Reviews section to the next level. Very impressive stuff, with new albums from House Of Lords, Magnum and Within Temptation leading the way. If readers could see the amazing spreadsheet he produces for each issue and the number of albums that are demoed for possible inclusion within the reviews pages, you would be gobsmacked! Another aspect that was specially pleasing for me to see was the excellent new 'Bookmark' books review feature page from Rob McKenzie.


Wow!! 63 (May/Jun 2014), 100 pages and 71 MP3 tracks on the accompanying CD...of a PERFECTLY BOUND magazine (i.e. one with a spine, and incorporating lyric quotes)! Yet, all that Bruce said in his Editorial - and then just briefly at the end was "And I hope you like the new look magazine - the lyric quotes...are just for fun! 33 interviews covered the wide spectrum between Sebastian Bach, Ron Keel, H.e.a.t, California Breed, Linda And The Punch, Three Lions, Stan Bush, Gus G, Gotthard, Vanden Plas and so on.... Mr "front of the Firefest queue" Dave Crompton was this issue's new writer - yet another excellent addition to the team, and one who had also been a long-time subscriber to the magazine. New releases from Alien, Gotthard and H.e.a.t. graced the front of the Reviews section while the Firefest Final Fling advert revealed the entire festival 80% sold...


These lyric quotes on the spines of the perfectly bound Fireworks started to frustrate me so I had to use t'internet to discover that "Don't hide in doorways, you may find the key that opens up your soul" comes from 'Don't Talk To Strangers' from Dio's 'Holy Diver' album. I've had it for years - but goes to show that I don't really pay much attention to most lyrics, the overall sound of a song being more important as a rule. This links well with the somewhat philosophical focus of much of Bruce's Editorial in 64 (Jul/Aug 2014: 100 pages and 73 MP3 tracks on the accompanying CD) where he concludes by remarking "...what I'm saying is that for myself, it is the music I am a fan of, not specifically the artist."

A great picture of a performing Doro graced the cover of the magazine, which went on to become a bigger selling issue. (How important to sales is the band or artist on the cover? It's one of those things that have been chewed over at length, and not just once!!) No fewer than four Festivals received extensive review coverage in this issue while the three lead new album reviews were from Night Ranger, Tesla and Seven: very interesting choices, I thought. There were 30 feature interviews, including firsts with Eric Ragno, KXM, WAMI, The Parlotones, Night By Night, Elvenking and Sunstrike, if I'm not mistaken, along with "regulars" such as Lzzy Hale, Danny Vaughn, Joe Elliott, Tobi Sammet and Steve Lukather. This was the first issue to become available at some of WH Smith's railway station and airport outlets.


(Sept/Oct 2014) continued the run of 100 page issues (for perfect binding, the pagination have to be in multiples of 4) but there was no CD this time. Helen Bradley-Owers made her writing debut while Bruce waxed lyrical in his Editorial about "collectors editions", and specifically about vinyl albums and revealed something about him that I didn't know - a complete collection of Kiss vinyl picture discs!! (Fireworks has at last two other writers who either have or would give their eye teeth for these!!) I too have some collectable vinyl - unplayed and unopened of course, but I still have about 1500 properly played and listened to from the days before I began buying CDs, including what I am told is a very valuable first pressing of Led Zeppelin's debut album from ...well, whenever it was! There were no fewer than 35 feature interviews in this issue including one with Billy Sheehan of cover stars Mr Big.

The three albums selected to front the Reviews section were from A.O.R., Threshold and Work Of Art. It was another great issue! There was also an important change within the Reviews section from this issue: each review stated in the heading the musical genre represented by the release. Now, had I still been Reviews Editor, I think I would have strongly resisted this change! I know I made my views heard at the time, but on this my advice was not adopted. Of course for quite a lot of releases, it is very easy to assign a genre. But for quite a few the distinction is on a fine line. Then there are the bands and artists whose output floats across several genres between albums, not all of their output being from the same genre each time. Then there are the albums that have songs/tracks from umpteen different genres within a release. Finally the editorial team decided to give the writers a restricted choice of genres from which to select for each review. I personally abhor "BLUES/SOUL" as one of these: soul music has no place in a rock magazine! If there is going to be a genre it should be "BLUES ROCK"! (In due course the 'SOUL' bit was dropped...!!) Then there is "SOUTHERN/COUNTRY/FOLK"!! These are very unhappy bedfellows in my view, and - if genres are going to continued - should be separated into "SOUTHERN ROCK", "COUNTRY ROCK" AND "FOLK ROCK" (as Fireworks does not cover Country music or Folk music as such). However, while on the subject of "ROCK" - the categories (sorry, genres) you will find are "ROCK", "MELODIC ROCK" and "HARD ROCK" but despite stating that the magazine covers it, there's no "CLASSIC ROCK" genre (and I'm not even quite sure what this is, anyway!!) Sorry, but this is the one aspect through the history of the wonderful Fireworks Magazine where I have fundamentally disagreed with something that has been implemented. It is not only a crutch for the lazy reader (I'm sure Fireworks does not have these) but also a far from precise device.


There were some who wondered why on Earth Godsmack were featured on the front of 66 (Nov/Dec 2014). Dave Scott was given a first go at writing the Editorial and the reason for the choice of cover band was explained by him. "As Fireworks continues to improve and expand into new territories, we're happy to announce that from this issue the magazine is now widely distributed across the USA." The concern, of course was that there was a worry that it might appeal less on the magazine shelves in Britain. Dave also gave some idea of the vast number of albums that he was sifting through for possible inclusion in every issue. This was many more than in my time, because he was accepting digital promos, whereas I rigidly insisted upon physical promos only. And they were forthcoming too, because the promotional personnel knew that I would not relent on this principle, so if they wanted a particular album to be considered for inclusion in Fireworks they knew what to do. I got on wonderfully well with most of the promotional guys and gals, but there were a couple with whom the relationship was not how I wanted it to be, mainly because they were forever trying to circumvent my requirements. As for trying to squeeze stuff in after the Press Date...well, I believe it has become worse since my retirement from a front-line role with the magazine. Mike Ainscoe joined the Fireworks team with this issue, and meant that once again there was someone from Bury in Lancashire (or is it "Greater Manchester"?) producing copy for the magazine. 33 interviews were published, including ones with Counting Crows, Deborah Bonham, In Faith, Flying Colors, Vega, Liv Kristine and The Pineapple Thief (as well as Godsmack, of course!) while new albums from Ten, Mr Big and Flying Colors kicked off the Reviews section.


Skillet graced the cover of the next issue (67: Jan/Feb 2015) and they were among 35 bands to have interview features in this issue, among the others being ones with John Taglieri, Jimmy Barnes, Nubian Rose, Robby Valentine, Harem Scarem, Amaranthe, Crazy Lixx and Russell Allen. The review of the absolutely wonderful Firefest: The Final Fling covered an amazing seven pages, while a writer's poll revealed they thought that albums from H.e.a.t., Within Temptation, Night Ranger, Flying Colors and Work Of Art were the best of 2014. All are to be found in my music library... Indeed nine of the top 10 are there, the exception being Mr. Big's 'The Stories We Could Tell' - and having made that surprising discovery, I have now ordered it!! My name appeared on the contributor's list in this issue: as I undertook an interview with the fascinating Dan Swanö about the wonderful new album 'Retribution' from his band Nightingale. Indeed this was such a long interview, that (as with some other interviews) the full version can be found here, on Rocktopia, in the Fireworks section. Incidentally, Bruce tells the amusing story of getting confused between Nightingale and Skylark in his Editorial! At which point I will just obtusively mention that besides loving the music of both of these bands, one of my favourite pieces of Classical Music is 'The Lark Ascending' by Ralph Vaughan Williams, that was inspired by a poem written by George Meredith. That is always 16 minutes of "shivers down the spine" time for me... But I digress....

Fireworks-Magazine 68 Cover

68: Mar/Apr 2015 saw James writing the Editorial in his inimitable, humorous style..."with Bruce deciding for some unfathomable reason that he would rather be in Canada for a fortnight than...helping put the finishing touches to this issue..." . This just went to show what a solid team the magazine has: and congratulations to all on another sparkling issue (with another 35 interviews) is certainly in order. I also contributed (nearly anonymously) to this issue Rob McKenzie included two book reviews (of mighty tomes) I had written. Without reading the Editorial, I wonder how many regular readers noticed the subtle change that happened to the front cover with this issue? Instead of listing bands/artists to be found in the issue along the top and bottom strips, seven of the genres covered by Fireworks were listed instead....Not, perhaps, a major change, but one that in discussion was felt to be worthwhile trying! (Seen in retrospect now, it was, perhaps, the small step that lead onto the much larger step of a relaunch...) Among the interviews were ones with Eclipse, The Answer, China Sky, Leah, UFO, Blackberry Smoke, Blind Guardian, Toto, Scorpions (also shown on the cover of this issue), Skarlett Riot and Gandalf's Fist while the three featured reviews of new releases came from Revolution Saints, China Sky and Toto.


The CD (this time with 68 MP3 tracks and 22 page .PDF file) made a return with issue 69 (May/Jun 2015), but the number of pages went down to 84. A moody looking David Coverdale occupied the cover position, and his discussion with Dave Scott was the main feature interview of the issue, although other interviews: including ones with Lzzy Hale, Richie Kotzen, Francis Rossi, Neal Morse, Tommy Denander, Michael Schenker, Gunnar Nelson, Steve Hackett and Tuomas Holopainen highlight that this was another fabulous magazine. Nightwish, Radioactive and Whitesnake' provided the three featured new releases.

Fireworks-Magazine 70 Cover

70 (Jul/Aug 2015) was another 84-page issue but this time the accompanying CD had 71 MP3 tracks to go with the 22 page .PDF file. My copy still has this attached, and I bought it in the Glasgow Sauchiehall Street branch of WH Smith. I had a nice chat with the manager there, and explained why it would be appreciated if Fireworks could be displayed in a more prominent position. He appeared very supportive when I explained why, so I hope that the store is doing this. Half the battle for an independent magazine such as Fireworks is actually being seen, as that is an important way to pick up casual sales and potentially regular new readers. The headline new releases for the issue came from Kamelot, Ten and the solo album '1' from Dennis Churchill Dries (of White Sister and Tattoo Rodeo) while the 22 Feature interviews once again covered a wide range of solo artists and bands including Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, Michael Des Barres, Steve Vai along with Europe, Kamelot, Symphony X, Helloween and Ten.

FW71-Section Cover

Well, it was back to having the names of some of the bands featured in 71 (Sep/Oct 2015) on the top and bottom strips of the front cover. This was discussed, and I did have my say (in my current role as "Consultant") as I felt that it was really too soon for any difference in sales to be noted. However, a strapline under the magazine title was reintroduced and no longer showed "THE MELODIC ROCK MAGAZINE" (as it has always been far more than that) and instead had "CLASSIC ROCK ▪ BLUES ▪ METAL ▪ PROGRESSIVE". Did anyone notice? Did anybody (outside of the Fireworks team) really care? It was at this point that we began to take more notice of sales figures once we got them on an outlet by outlet basis, and I started going around as many of these locally to me as possible. Our publisher didn't like the fact that I had done this "under cover" as it were! They said I should have given the stores notice of my intention to visit. Really?!! That made me think that possibly at least some of the stores might be treating our independent title less favourably than ones from the major publishers. The jury is still out on this point, but at least it is realised that we are watching the situation very keenly! Regular Fireworks reader and subscriber Dawn Osborne joined the writing team in this issue along with Enrico Navella. It was another great issue with 28 interviews including ones with Glenn Hughes, Mike Tramp, Tim Bowness as well as with cover stars Candice Night and Ritchie Blackmore. Two major festivals were reviewed: Sweden Rock and Download while the new albums chosen as the lead reviews were by Blackmore's Night, Newman and Ozone. Once again, James did the Editorial and also conducted his third interview with the Blackmore's Night pair, and the sixth to be carried in Fireworks. The pair can be quite elusive in providing interview opportunities for other music magazines, and James explained that a strong feeling of trust had developed between them and Fireworks. What they say is what is reported; nothing is fabricated or put into an alternative context. Yet another way in which it would appear that the bands and artists interviewed by the Fireworks team are so comfortable with the magazine's personnel. If there is any editing (or, perhaps I should say "when"), it is for length and relevance, as sometimes the discussions (in person and on the telephone or SKYPE) continue for a VERY long time!

Fireworks 72 Section

Fireworks 72 (Nov/Dec 2015) was increased to 100 pages so that - as Bruce explained in his Editorial - the interviews with Def Leppard and W.A.S.P. could be included in the magazine in their entirety, so good were they. Indeed, there was a superabundance of excellent feature interviews, including ones with Mark Slaughter, Stryper, Joel Hoekstra, Billy Sherwood, Shinedown and Queensrÿche. Also interviewed (by Ian Johnson) was the guitarist from Riverside: 40-year old Piotr Grudzinski, little expecting that he would very soon be one of far too many from the musical world who would no longer be with us. With this issue the free CD contained 78 MP3 tracks and four .PDF files, while writer Mick Parry joined the Fireworks team.

Fireworks-Magazine-73 Section

It was back to 84 pages with magazine 73 (Jan/Feb 2016) and once again there was a CD with MP3 tracks etc. My Reviews Editor successor Dave Scott decided that to celebrate the start of his third year in the role, I should contribute a review...and so I did, and wrote about the wonderful Progressive album by Gazpacho, 'Molok'. The three lead reviews came from Avantasia, Inglorious and Phantasma while among the excellent interviews was an exclusive with Thunder about the band's comeback. Others that caught my eye were Avantasia, Primal Fear, Ugly Kid Joe, Axel Rudi Pell and Resurrection Kings (twice! - well that's what is says in the index on page 3 - although the second one should have read "Reverence"!) Several members of the team spend the weekend before an issue goes off to the printers proofing the draft from James. I think this only goes to show that by the end of all of this ones eyes are completely glazed and the body feels "knucking fackered!! But it was Bruce's Editorial that I am sure took some digesting by the magazine's faithful readers. Issue 74 would see the magazine relaunched, with new graphics, published Quarterly, more pages (at least 120 per issue) and the first price increase since issue 37 (the Sept/Oct 2009 issue)!! I don't wish to comment any more about this than Bruce revealed in what he wrote, but I can assure you that a huge amount of discussion had taken place behind the scenes over a very lengthy period...

Fireworks 74-Section-Thumb

So, what about "new look" issue 74 (Spring 2016)? Well, it really was nearly "all change". A massive 132 page issue (plus CD with 79 MP3 tracks and a 34 page .PDF file) it came with a dominant ROCK & METAL banner below a less prominent F I R E W O R K S. There had been intense debate about this for some time. The magazine name had been chosen initially to pay homage to one of the great melodic rock albums of the pre-grunge era. But there was a concern that the title had become too esoteric and had not permeated deeply enough into the psyche of the rock and metal music buying public. Hence the decision to strengthen the rock & metal message on the cover. Not everyone agreed, and as with all things only time will tell. The team is confident about its offering between the covers, and I have to say that the new presentational elements of the issue I found to be absolutely stunning. I have always thought of James Gaden as being a splendid graphic designer, whose ideas and approaches have grown as the magazine's longevity has increased, but here he demonstrated a complete gear shift, and a great response to ideas and suggestions that had been extensively discussed. The redesigned magazine header alone took many hours of discussion and alternative presentations. Fireworks has always been a labour of love and I have to congratulate the entire team on a magnificent magazine. The writing team was strengthened once again with the addition of Caesar Barton (who had previously written for Classic Rock: AOR magazine) and Paul Sabin (whom some of you might have met at Space Elevator gigs - as he is their official photographer!) The editorial side of things was also strengthened with Sophie Brownlee, Az Chaudhry and Dave Crompton stepping up to become Assistant Editors while Steven Reid and Ant Heeks were promoted to Deputy Editors (Features and Reviews respectively). The new cover price was confirmed as being £5.99 and new Subscription arrangements came into force with the publication of this issue. The cost of these was not increased, but the number of issues to be received was reduced from 6 to 5. However, given the extra number of pages per issue (a minimum of 26 more when compared with issue 73) and it will immediately be apparent that readers will be getting more "bang for their buck"!

FW75 Cover Thumb

And so we reach 75 (Summer 2016) - and as I look at the cover of this in the Fireworks internal Dropbox system (the magazine is away being printed as I type these words), all I can do is think "WOW!!" As far as I am concerned, it has the most striking imagery in the magazine's 16 year history. The magazine again has 132 pages and 78 MP3 songs on the accompanying CD and a 38 page .PDF!! The writing team has grown once again, and Mark Ashby, Simon Ramsey and Malcolm Smith further strengthen the already excellent family of writers for the magazine. As for the content...well, I will let you investigate that for yourselves!

And by the way, I do not use the term "family" lightly. Compared with the music magazines published by the corporate behemoths, Fireworks is a cottage industry, with most of any profit made ploughed back into the enterprise which, of course, includes the on-line companion, Rocktopia, so capably led by Berny Kellerer. Berny is another passionate believe in "the cause". And what is this cause? It is to help better promote and bring to the attention of those who need to know about it that wonderful original rock and metal music is out there - and the more who buy and read Fireworks Magazine, the more the word will be spread. The support of the labels in helping the magazine to help spread the word, but without being editorially influenced by them, is essential. Most seem to understand and appreciate that.
I am proud to have been associated with Fireworks and Rocktopia in essence right from the start, and I continue to play a part behind the scenes in support of my buddies Bruce and Berny, and intend to continue doing so for as long as I am able. I am sure the current family of writers share this pride too...and it surely says something when high calibre writers continue to come along hoping to volunteer. But the magazine has lost some wonderful contributors along the way as their lives and circumstances have changed. They all know that should they wish to return in the future, there will always be a place for them to do so, for they are all part of the Fireworks story.

I was going to suggest a toast "here's to the next 75", but then I thought "let's get to the magic 100 first..." Thank you for reading.

Paul Jerome Smith

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  • Rocktopia Te : AMBERIAN DAWN premiere their new music video for 'I'm The One' on Rocktopia!
  • Johns Band : Boulevard "Luminescence" is superb album, and Accept "The Rise Of Chaos" you can find review in Fireworks issue 80 . Same with Black Country Communion "BCCIV." All with Band interview & album review in issue 80
  • Rocktopia Te : Rocktopia interview JOEY TEMPEST of EUROPE and premiere THE UNGUIDED's new video!
  • Berny : You can now pre - order Fireworks Magazine #80! Please follow this «link»
  • Rocktopia Te : Great interview with JON STEVENS (INXS, Noiseworks) is now online! Check out the review of his latest album, too.
  • Berny : Rocktopia EXCLUSIVE music video premiere: H.E.A.T - 'Redefined'!
  • Rocktopia Te : Discover new music with Rocktopia: Today we posted 20 new album reviews! More to come ...
  • Berny : @Johns Band: Thanks! Can we expect a review from you in the not too distant future? :) Having said that, I'd like to thank you for all your support! I know that our forum is far too 'silent' at the moment, but this is going to change soon. Watch this space & once again: THANKS! ... ;)
  • Johns Band : Good post for THE WHO "TOMMY LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL" I have pre - order double CD version.
  • Berny : New interviews: We spoke with Jon C Butler & Sass Jordan! Check out the Rocktopia interviews section.
  • PJS : Mid September.
  • KI2000 : Really like the latest issue of Fireworks, when will 80 be out??
  • Hysteria : Best melodic rock site! Thanks for the hard work guys! \m/
  • Berny : Rocktopia July 2017 update: 50 new album reviews, 17 live reviews, 4 interviews. In addition, we are now posting daily news from Monday to Friday. Have fun! :)
  • Berny : Another Rocktopia UK music video premiere: 'tonight' by The Midnight Ghost Train. Pls. check out the LATEST NEWS on the front page!
  • Rocktopia Te : Check out the latest LIVE reviews!
  • mattnavy : For the record, the first issue of my order should commence with the latest edition.
  • mattnavy : Ok let me know please.
  • Berny : @ mattnavy: We'll sort it out now.
  • mattnavy : Just checked my post, still nothing arrived. My postcode is PL21 9JP.
  • Berny : @ mattnavi: I forwarded your question to the Fireworks team. Thanks for your patience.
  • mattnavy : I bought years membership two weeks ago, commencing from the latest edition. Nothing has turned up. Can you let me know if there has been a problem.
  • Berny : 25 new album reviews incl. Harem Scarem, Mr. Big, Bonfire, Mostly Autumn, TEN, Cheap Trick and many more! Check out our Revíews section!
  • Berny : @mattnavy: Pls. click on "Shop" - > "Fireworks Mini Shop" in the TOP menu on Rocktopia or send an e - mail to «email»
  • mattnavy : I cant seem to work out how I buy the latest edition or a years subscription of firework magazines.
  • Berny : Fireworks #79 out now! Ye Banished Privateers video premiere! 14000 words interview with Harem Scarem! New album and live reviews!
  • Rocktopia Te : 20 new album and 10 new live reviews!
  • Berny : Thanks Rob, review was updated!
  • rocktopiarob : Hi in the Bad For Good review - please replace "Rundgren's absurdly genius guitar playing" with "Davey Johnstone's absurdly genius guitar playing"
  • LeChef : Thumbs up!!!

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