Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Robbie Valentine

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.

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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 ones...it'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 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 YouTube.com 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.

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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 YouTube.com...my 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 YouTube.com 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)


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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?...read 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.


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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.


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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...


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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.


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65
(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.


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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.


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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 too...as 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.


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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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...


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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"!


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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


Continue reading:

Issues 1 - 15
Issues 16 - 30
Issues 31 - 45
Issues 46 - 60

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.



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"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."


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"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."


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"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.


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"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?"


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"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 www.gaetanodifalco.com or www.gaetanodifalco9.wix.com/illustrations 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

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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