Fireworks Magazine

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....

Continue reading:

Issues 1 - 15
Issues 16 - 30
Issues 31 - 45
Issues 61 - 75

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

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 31-45

(by Paul Jerome Smith)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fireworks 40 532c8f8277f02 145x145 was also the case with 40 (Jun/Jul 2010) which was the first issue where Rob McKenzie's contributions began to appear. Bruce was back in the Editorial hot seat and among other matters he talked about Firefest 2010, which would have....a Friday night show (for those already in town)!! May I gently refer you back to issue 35 in this regard??!! No? Oh never mind....!! Perhaps the most important announcement in the Editorial was of the launch of the Rocktopia web site in conjunction and co-operation with Berny Kellerer of Transistor Pictures. Once again there were many juicy interviews in this 96 page issue, including one with cover star Sammy Hagar and others with Masterplan, Y&T, Coheed & Cambria, Fozzy, Serpentine, Michael Monroe and Asia. The label feature covered Avenue Of Allies Music with Gregor Klee and my other interviews for the issue were with Ian Jones of Karnataka and Shane Lankford of Orphan Project. Reviews of albums by The Eden House, Heavenly, Manfred Mann's Earthband, The Dreamside and Magenta and a DVD from Axel Rudi Pell completed my contributions for the issue. This was a 96-page magazine, and the next few issues continued to have this number of pages.

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading:

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

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

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 1-15

(by Paul Jerome Smith)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading:

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

The First 75: A personal perspective (issues 16-30)

Fireworks Magazine - The first 75: Issues 16-30

(by Paul Jerome Smith)

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Neil Daniels
joined the writing team from the following issue (16: July/August 2004) and once again it comprised 68 pages, but also more of them in colour. Gene Simmons featured on the cover and was one of the main interviewees, along with Ann Wilson of Heart, Blackie Lawless of WASP and Herman Li of Dragonforce. My contribution to this issue comprised reviews of the new Flower Kings DVD and new albums by Runrig, Quecia, Asperity, Erik Norlander, TNA, Empty Tremor, Dreamaker, Deacon Street Project, The Treat, The Quill, Wiz and Magenta.

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: October/November 2004 saw another slight page increase - to 72 - and one of my all-time favourite bands - Rush - on the cover. James was still experimenting with page layouts, probably the most extreme from him coming with the Mike Rutherford interview by Andy Brailsford on page 6. If you have your copy to hand - go and have a look!! For the first time I reviewed no fewer than three DVDs for an issue: by Lana Lane, Narnia and The Hellacopters. My interviews with Magenta and Arjen Anthony Lucassen also appeared as did reviews of new albums by Therion, Karnataka, Strangefish, Lana Lane, Majesty, Sacred Steel, Steel Prophet, Highlord, Celesty along with special large format CD reissues from Spock's Beard, Pallas and Roine Stolt. Interviews with Threshold, Rush, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marillion Nightwish, Magnum and UFO among many others help to make this the best issue of Fireworks thus far, in my opinion.

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Richie Blackmore graced the cover of 18 (December 2004/January 2005), and the interview inside with him and Candice Night confirmed their ongoing preference to speak with Fireworks Magazine when other publications were shunned. The aforementioned John Tucker (famed for his authoritative knowledge about the NWOBHM and more besides) joined the writing team from this issue. The magazine title also gained a strapline for the first time ('The Melodic Rock Magazine' - although this rather ignored the far greater breadth of genres, including melodic metal music, that appear as part of the staple diet provided by Fireworks). Bruce tells me that the strapline was added after complaint of an ACTUAL Fireworks Magazine (well, fanzine) that had the same name and was complaining about our magazine being called FIREWORKS but having nothing to do with Fireworks (hence his jokey comments about Mayfair and Penthouse magazines being NOTHING to do with the property market. There's was never available in shops ... so was hard to see the basis of the continual complaining .... Phil Ashcroft had suggested some alternatives to the one finally chosen, and these were listed by Bruce in his Editorial. I rather liked 'Home of THE Kieran Dargan', 'We Interview The People You Thought Were Dead' and 'Ignored By Millions Since 2000'!! There was nothing from me in this issue (apart from my Playlist) as I was hospitalised for two weeks and then recuperating in the period leading up to the deadline for submissions. However, the magazine did fine without me and there was another great selection of interviews including ones with Chris Caffery, Dio, Europe, Danny Vaughn and Blackmore's Night.

April/May 2005 saw the appearance of 68-page issue 19, and with it the announcement of the very first Firefest that was to be held on Saturday May 7th. Nick Hinton joined the Fireworks team (where is he now?) Some of you may remember Nick as being the guy behind the excellent Virtuosa magazine that ran for 24 issues during the noughties. This issue was also notable for having both a free CD and DVD (this latter being provided by Classic Rock Productions - as explained by Bruce in his Editorial) as well as another stellar line-up of interviews including ones with Soul SirkUS, Whitesnake, Joe Satriani, Neal Morse, Derek Sherinian and Richie Kotzen, in addition to the second half of the one with Blackmore's Night. I returned from my late 2004 indisposition with reviews of new releases from Tara's Secret, Erik Norlander, Magenta, Moonlight Agony, Steel Attack, Red Wine, Manticora, Black Abyss, Scott Mosher, Guardians Of Time, Corridor, Forgotten Tales, Arwen, Ghost Machinery and Chastain.

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20: June/July 2005 had 64 pages (plus an 8 page pull-out programme for Firefest 2005) and Buz Gaden, the brother of James, provided his first contributions. Interviews included ones with Shy, Paul Gilbert, Dare, Kamelot, Scorpions, Legs Diamond and Doogie White. My review contributions to the issue covered albums by Dream Aria, Mennen, Porcupine Tree, The Yards, Nick Magnus, Dark Sky, the compilation album Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Dark Seed, Live and Corrosion Of usual eclectic mixture!!

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A second Firefest (on 26 November) was announced in issue 21 (Sept/Oct 2005) and was also a massive 92 pages! It was also the first to include Dave Bott as a contributing writer. Reviews of lots of festivals were included: the inaugural Firefest plus Sweden Rock, Rock Never Stops and Download. An absolutely huge line-up of interviews included ones with Alice Cooper (also the cover star for this issue), Motorhead, Fozzy, Enchant, Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Styx, Royal Hunt, Shadow Gallery, Robin Beck and Blue Tears...and many more besides including mine with Steve Williams of Power Quest. This issue carried the shortest review I have ever written: of the new album by Jack Frost, titled 'Wannadie Songs'. My review simply read "Precisely......"!! Other albums receiving a more usual coverage from me came from John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Wire Daisies ("A majestic debut release" that receives regular plays to this day), Power Quest, Redemption, Powergod, Twyster, Falconer, Timeless Miracle, Mortal Love, Demon, Rebellion and Epica.

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A "mere" 72 pages greeted purchasers of 22: Jan/Feb 2006, the first to trial the diagonal filmic strip in the lower part of the cover, which on this occasion showed Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation. In his Editorial, Bruce revealed that HMV had ceased stocking Fireworks and a consequent reduction of a third in the number of distributed copies led him to have to rein in the amount of colour pages. Ray Paul joined the writing team from this issue, while my contributions were once again focused upon new album releases, and I covered The Mystery Hall, Airless, Baltimoore, Conquest Of Steel, Griffin, Credo and Highland Glory. Some great interviews included ones with Gamma Ray, Deep Purple, Lars Eric Mattsson (yes, that's two t's AND two s's!!), Within Temptation, LA Guns, Jizzy Pearl and Mind's Eye.

For me, the 80-page issue 23 (Apr/May 2006) with David Coverdale on the cover was something of a landmark. I had no fewer than THREE interviews included: with Strangefish, Ray Turrell of Area 39 and a follow-up interview with Lars Eric Mattsson which focused upon his Lion Music label and was to crystallise into an idea for a series about the record labels providing music within the genres that Fireworks covers. Other key interviews in the issue included ones with Crystal Ball, Toto, Bob Catley, Whitesnake, Wig Wam, Edguy, Mickie Free and Lacuna Coil. My selection of album reviews covered new releases from Strangefish, Milan Polak, Simone Fioretta, Area 39, Avian, Brave New World, Dawnrider, Dogpound, Dungeon, Rob Van Der Loo's Freak Neil Inc., Galloglass, Gun Barrel, Listeria and Locomotive Breath plus a reissue from De Gladas Kapell and a DVD from Lana Lane! Quite a lot of work in there from me for that issue!! It was also the one where Mick Burgess made his debut as a contributing writer.

Number 24 continued with 80 pages and came with two free CDs of fantastic music! Dated July/August 2006, key interviews with Nightwish (and including the band's open letter to Tarja!), Bonfire, Evergrey, Jim Peterik, Rage, Foreigner, Survivor, Warrant, Vanden Plas and Russ Valory were published. Besides reviewing the reissue of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Gimme Back My Bullets', and helping Phil Ashcroft review the first Progpower UK festival, held at the magnificent venue of The Centaur at Cheltenham Racecourse, I turned my attention to reviewing new platters from Cryptic Vision, Moonstone, Pure Reason Revolution, Chariot, Coste Apetrea, Atargatis, Sphere Of Souls, Majesty and Rivera/Bomma.

The quarter century of issues was reached with the November/December 2006 magazine (25), with Meat Loaf on the cover. This had 88 pages and was available at Firefest 3 headlined by Winger and Gotthard. On the subject of festivals, this issue included a massive reviews of the Bang Your Head, Sweden Rock, Rock Of Ages and Monsters Of Rock festivals, none of which I attended! My contributions for this issue comprised a review of the Nightwish DVD 'End Of An Era' and Eric Norlander & Friends DVD 'Live In St Petersburg'. CDs covered were by Blind Guardian, Code Of Perfection, Thunderbolt, Saracen, Magenta, Robin George, Tara's Secret, Oni Logan, Sabaton, Bombay Black and Ezra. There were lots of mouth-watering interviews of course, including ones with Kevin Chalfant, Mike Slamer, Graham Bonnet, John Waite, Jon Oliva...and, of course Meat Loaf!

Issue 26 (January/February 2007) saw a price rise - to £4.50 - still a bargain for its 80 pages plus two free CDs. One of these featured artists on the F2 label and in conjunction with a double colour page spread assembled by me and covering Magenta, Credo, Ezra and Chimpan A, I also provided longer interviews elsewhere in the issue with all four of these bands! It was also the issue that contained the first instalment of the long running series that I produced and covering the record labels whose music the magazine featured. In the first one I interviewed Georg Siegl of AOR Heaven. In addition to all of this I managed to review new albums by Wuthering Heights, Wolverine, Manticora, Falconer, Nick May, Chimpan A and Rocket Scientists as well. Phew!! There were also interviews with Europe, Pretty Maids, Hammerfall and Spock's Beard included in this marvellous issue of Fireworks.

27: April/May 2007 had a picture of Journey (with Jeff Scott Soto!) on the front cover. This was "only" a 72-page edition, but once again came with two free CDs! There was an interesting interview with Neil Schon about the future of Journey! Other notable interviews were ones with Jimi Jamison, Jorn Lande, Therion and Styx. I had interviews with Erik Norlander and Tara's Secret and the second record label covered in the new series was Escape Music. I reviewed new albums from Greylevel, Sirenia, Pain Of Salvation, Uli John Roth, Yes, Lana Lane and Erik Norlander. Firefest IV was announced.

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If the previous issue had been a little on the "light" side, 28 (July/August 2007) more than made up for it, comprising 92 pages AND a 16 page supplement containing all the album reviews! In this I had only a small number of reviews: albums from The Reasoning, Bombay Black, Razorback and Chris Caffery. The label series covered Kivel Records and I interviewed Chris Caffery, Bombay Black and Razorback. I also provided a review of a Robert Plant DVD. Of course, in such a large issue, there were lots of great interviews, and I've decided it would be churlish to pick out just a few to mention. But as a clue: Dream Theater were on the cover! Oh, and there were a further two free CDs with this issue!! It was also the one where Alan Holloway (another ex-Hard Roxx writer, as mentioned earlier) made his first appearance....

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Promotion for Firefest IV was well to the fore in the Sept/Oct 2007 issue (29) which had an imposing picture of Heaven & Hell on the cover and an interesting feature inside along with ones covering Tommy Denander, Tesla, Primal Fear, Marillion, Symphony X, Porcupine Tree and Eden's Curse among many others - including ones with The Reasoning and ex-Pain Of Salvation bassist Kristoffer Gildenlow that I had undertaken. The fourth instalment of the labels series featured an interview with Magna Carta President, Peter Morticelli. My reviews in this issue covered reissues from Rare Bird and Eyewitness and new releases from Porcupine Tree, Devin Townsend, Autumn, Mermaid Kiss, Awake, Dial, Pavlov's Dog and David Surkamp, Magenta and Manticora. Another free CD was provided with this issue and had over 70 minutes of diverse music from across the genres covered by the magazine. Major festival reviews were abundant: Sweden Rock, Bang Your Head and Download all getting extensive coverage in this 96 page issue.

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88 pages comprised issue 30 (Dec 2007/Jan 2008): and another with two free CDs! More festival reviews appeared: Rocklahoma, Kvinsdal Rock, Earthshaker and Ankkarock all being covered for the first time along with Bloodstock Open Air and United Forces Of Rock, and I hadn't attended any of 'em!! However, I did produce interviews with (the unusual) Diablo Swing Orchestra and (the gentle) Mermaid Kiss and also (the supergroup) Amaran's Plight while Thomas Weber of AFM Records responded to my questions for the next instalment of the Labels series. Some key interviews in this issues covered Jaded Heart, Foreigner, Scorpions, Ted Nugent, Tarja Turunen, Nightwish (who were featured on the cover of this issue), John Parr and David Readman. I managed reviews of two DVDs (by The Tangent and Rick Wakeman) along with new CDs from Amaran's Plight, Lucifer Was, Runrig, Mehida, (The Lord Weird) Slough Feg, Shadow Circus, Diablo Swing Orchestra and Amorphis.

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Issues 1 - 15
Issues 31 - 45
Issues 46 - 60
Issues 61 - 75

Fireworks Magazine Online 74 - Interview with Serenity


Interview by Carl Buxton

Austrian Symphonic Power Metal band Serenity have been around professionally since 2004 gradually building up a fan-base and establishing their name and identity in the sphere of Symphonic Rock and Power Metal. Drummer Andreas Schipflinger and vocalist Georg Neuhauser are the only two remaining original members left that recorded debut album "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived" in 2007. And during 2012 to 2015 they even boasted dual singers with French soprano Clémentine Delauney in their ranks who sang on 2013's "War Of Ages." Whilst bassist Fabio D'Amore has been with them since their third album "Death & Legacy" they lost fellow-founding guitarist Thomas Buchberger last year owing to not having the time to devote to the band anymore. They've recruited ex Visions Of Atlantis guitarist Chris "Cris Tan" Hermsdörfer and have released their fifth album on January 23rd entitled "Codex Atlanticus" – an epic concept album based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. After a number of attempts to reach Georg Neuhauser in between the album launch party and travelling the autobahns of Austria and Germany, I finally reached him backstage at Hamburg's Logo venue on Chris' phone and ended up interviewing both of them.

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Obviously the new album is about Leonardo Da Vinci with Codex Atlanticus being a twelve volume bound set of writings and drawings in Italian comprising of 1,119 leaves dating from 1478 to 1519, so I was wondering why there isn't 1,119 songs on the album?

(Both laugh) Chris: Yeah, not really, because Dream Theater did it on their latest album. Do you know it? How many songs are on there?

34 songs. It's a two CD set (The Astonishing)

Chris: We didn't want to copy them (laughs)

Yes, less is more. Haha.

Chris: Yeah, sure. Always.

Obviously you cover some of the different subjects I was wondering if you could sketch over the songs which part of Da Vinci's area of expertise are covered.

Chris: We tried to get inside of the lyric and also of the song the basic summary of all the years and of all the things he was writing in Codex Atlanticus. Of course it's very hard to get all the things he did in one record because it's really amazing I think a week to write down from several documentations we were just trying to get at first pages of what we wrote down, what could support his records, everything he did. Then of course we tried to focus on the really important things in his future nature that he was so addicted to and got all the most important inventions he created were done with nature. Of course we tried to get his view to our hearts like Mona Lisa, we tried to get war things – he invented war machines and also covered anatomy – that was one of the biggest conflicts where he was forced to fight against the church.

The song "Spirit In The Flesh" covers that I think...?

Chris: Yes, for example "Spirit In The Flesh" and also "Caught In A Myth" is about anatomy. For example "The Perfect Woman" is about Mona Lisa and then we have "Sprouts Of Terror" for example which is about war machines.

I think he designed the first concept of a tank didn't he?

Chris: Yes. He did that

He started at the age of 26 until his passing which covers a period of 41 years, constantly adding to the Codex. So you're doing an album based on his life and you've got to get 41 years into a dozen songs. It's one hell of a challenge!

(Both laugh) Georg: Well, you know, perhaps all of the upcoming album will be about him too.

Chris: Maybe the Codex Atlanticus '2'.

I guess watch this space Haha. Fabio (D'Amore, bassist) has mentioned that "The Da Vinci Code" is his favourite book. Was it his idea for you guys to cover Leonardo Da Vinci or was it something you've all been milling around with for some time?

Georg: The thing is with the book, the 15th and 16th Century are exactly my actual topics at the university, because I'm teaching at the university – I'm an assistant there, and so for sure, Leonardo was always a very important point, also, for when I'm teaching my students there. So when we had a discussion about topics for the upcoming album, Da Vinci cropped up, and for sure Fabio was very enthusiastic about it because, first of all he's Italian, and he likes the surrounding stories about Da Vinci very much, so it was just a logical factor.

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What was it that particularly fascinated you about Da Vinci?

Georg: To be honest, for me the most – the biggest thing – about this person was that he really combined everything in one genius personality. He was so fucking great in doing art, he really did a revolution of art at this time, and he was a real perfect engineer, and he was a doctor, let's say, and that was honestly the combination itself. The combination in itself was really the fact that made us say okay let's do that.

When I first heard "Spirit In The Flesh" I actually thought it was Tobias Sammet.

(Both laugh) Georg: You're not the first're not the first one who thought that.

And I had to look it up, what the hell, that has to be Tobias, with the link with Avantasia it must be true, and then it turned out to be Fabio Haha.

Georg: That's Fabio (laughs) The funny thing with Serenity is that for years people are asking if Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) is the singer of Serenity because I am sounding a bit similar to him, and now we even have Tobias Sammet, so...

Chris: We are Avantasia! (laughs)

Georg: (laughs) Yeah. To be honest we are Avantasia but we have to have a different name.

(At this point Georg was called away by the tour manager to deal with the arrival of the merchandise)

Let's talk about your guitar playing Chris. In my notes I've written about the clean soloing, the melodic sensibilities that underpin the strong rhythms, the guitar riffs are really quite strong – stronger than previous albums when Thomas was the guitarist, it seems like you've made it slightly heavier, obviously you're definitely playing with a different tone, so can you describe how you approached this album?

Of course I tried to focus. I wanted to add something different to Thomas because of course I play differently to Thomas and I wanted to show my style and my view of playing guitar like I did in Visions Of Atlantis too. With the song writing process, whilst we were sitting in the studio and listened to the first pre-production ideas, the riffs came very, very fast to my mind, which formed the basic structure of all the songs we did, and also of the songs I wrote for the record. It was not that difficult to write the rhythm parts, for example, for the songs like they are, and that's how they finally came together.

How inspired were you for the solos?

I'm a big fan of and influenced by John Petrucci, or even guys like Zakk Wylde and 'Dimebag' (Darrell, Pantera). Of course I've tried over the years to get a great combination of all these styles, sometimes a little bit more Petrucci, sometimes a little bit more, let's say brutal like 'Dimebag' or what Zakk Wylde is doing, and I'm still trying to find my own tone – I'm not finished yet, but it's great that you can combine something with the name Chris Hermsdörfer that's cool.

I assume Petrucci would've been one of the main guys that would have influenced the way you play the melodic scales?

Yes, that's true.

(It was now Chris' turn to leave but Georg had returned)

Guests on the album include Amanda Somerville on "The Perfect Woman" and Natascha Koch on the bonus song "Sail."

And Natascha's also singing backing on "Iniquity" and "Caught In A Myth."

And keyboards?

Our producer Jan Vacik, who is playing in Serious Black, plays keys and he's also sung some backing vocals, and he's also doing the song writing together with me, mostly with song structures.

You said earlier about Freddie Mercury being one of your heroes. Before I knew that I'd written for "The Perfect Woman" 'Dramatic orchestration segues into piano with vocal, straying into Journey and Queen-esque territory.' The piano keys are very similar to what Jonathan Cain does in Journey, and that Queen-like orchestration obviously comes from your influence.

(Laughs) This is true, yes, this is true. Like I said, I'm a huge fan of all this 80s stuff and what I don't get in general, or sometimes you know, because this was also one of the biggest points of criticism for example in the press, is that I have too much influence by Queen and by Meat Loaf, and by Journey and by Toto and I say 'How the fuck can something be too much influence by these great artistes?'

That's very true indeed. Serenity will have been out on a co-headlining tour with Xandria throughout February including a date in London and will be touring throughout Europe in March and April as support to Powerwolf and Battle Beast before embarking on six dates as support to Kamelot.

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