Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with PFM

PFM

Interview by Malcolm Smith

PFM emerged in the early 70s onto a burgeoning Italian Progressive Rock Scene, and are arguably the biggest name to come out of said scene. Probably best known on these shores for the 1973 album 'Photos of Ghosts' which appeared on ELP's Manticore label, with lyrics from King Crimson Collaborator Pete Sinfield, the band are beloved of the real Progressive cognoscenti for their rather romantic, elegant musing throughout an extensive back catalogue.

The band took a lengthy sojourn through the late 80s/early 90s but are now back fully loaded with their new album 'Emotional Tattoos', their first for the Progressive specialist label InsideOut. Fireworks put Franz Di Cioccio under the spotlight to answer questions about the new release and the present state of play in the world of Prog Rock.


PFM

The band's new album 'Emotional Tattoos' is your first with Prog specialists InsideOut. How did the deal come about?

InsideOut happened to know we were working on new material for an international album. They asked if they could hear some songs, so they came to Milan and heard the first four songs we were working on. They liked it and asked if they could come back and listen to more... when that happened a few weeks later they decided to sign us.

PFM are the only Italian Prog band, to my knowledge anyway, to break out globally. Is that something you are especially proud of, and why do you think this was?

We are very proud to be an international band. Since the very beginning of our career we have looked for it and it finally happened when our album 'Photos of Ghosts' went in the Billboard charts. We think this happened because of the Mediterranean flavour of the music and also because of Pete Sinfield's lyrics, which were amazing for that particular moment.

The new album seems to draw on various periods throughout the band's illustrious past. Was it conscious effort to do this or was it a natural process?

It's for sure a natural process. That's the way we have always worked, trying to put in our music everything that is in our hearts ̶ not only music to sell, but music we feel like playing. This is the reason why PFM always did different music on each release.

That early 70s period when PFM was having both UK and American success were heady days indeed. Any interesting stories you can remember from that time?

After more than 6000 concerts all over the world you can imagine how many stories we could tell. One coming to mind was when we met the Queen Mother in London during the rehearsal for our concert at the Royal Albert Hall!! The lady was great, she came on stage and wanted to know everything about the instruments and the music. We were amazed.
Another time we can't forget is when we recorded the 'Cook' live album at the Shaeffer festival in Central Park, New York City... trees and skyscrapers all around...

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The band went into 'hibernation' for a period in the 80s and 90s, although never officially splitting up. Was there a reason behind this?

After thousands of concerts and many, many miles we needed to take a break and recharge our batteries. We wanted to start again with new energies and new projects. This is probably the reason why we didn't split up ̶ we had many things still to say and to play. Music is our life and we didn't want to miss it just because we were a little tired.

Yourself and Patrick (Djivas) are the only remaining core members of the band, with a seemingly revolving door of other members coming and going. Do you see yourself and Patrick as the 'torch-bearers' of the band's name?

For sure we are riding the PFM starship as you can see on the new album sleeve. We know what our responsibility is and we do everything we can to deserve the role. This is why we wrote such an intense album with ten songs in two languages and one instrumental. We did it out of consideration for our fans, for ourselves and for PFM's sake.

This new album is being released in both English and Italian languages. Were there any issues that arose from doing this, as it's been a while since the band attempted a full English language album?

It was a lot of work obviously but with no particular problems. We wanted it to be like that because everywhere in the world, our fans can listen to PFM's music with the sound and language they prefer.
Since the last English album many years have passed. We did Italian and instrumental albums but we thought the time had come to do it again.

Although the band have always embraced melody, to my ears at least there seems to be a shift to areas occupied by the likes of bands such as Saga and World Trade. Is that a fair comment would you say?


We are an Italian band so since we started in 1972 our sense for melodies has always been very strong and always will be. We play the music we love at the time and fortunately PFM has such a wide experience and vision for many styles of music; from Classical to Jazz, we never lack inspiration.

You've announced a fairly extensive global tour. Are there any plans to include the UK in this tour?

We are working on a European tour which will include the UK and which will take place right after the world tour, which will start mid November.

What, If any, are your expectations for this new album and what do you make of the current Progressive Rock scene and PFM's place in it?

Our expectation is to reach people's hearts around the world and where to leave an emotional tattoo made of words and music, hence the album title, and obviously to do many more concerts around the world because this is what we were born to do. The current Progressive Rock scene is very exciting and PFM is happy to be in that scene with its own very distinctive way of looking at it and always bringing in new energies and sounds.

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Leprous

LEPROUS

Interview by Mike Ainscoe

As Leprous prepare to release 'Malina', the follow up to 2015's 'The Congregation' and the subsequent and incendiary 'Live at Rockefeller Music Hall' album, Fireworks grabbed a few words with guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke and main writer, keyboardist and singer Einar Solberg. The two constants in a band which has evolved into an exciting and forceful unit over the past few years.


Leprous

It's a friendship that goes back to the two knowing each other from being very young. "We actually went to kindergarten together!" explained Tor. "We were in the same class in junior high and then we made friends and started to play together aged 15 or 16. We were a couple of friends that started the band in 2001 and have been doing it ever since. I've been playing in Leprous more than half my life now!"

The 'Malina' title emerged from an interesting story about taking the word from the old Slavic meaning 'raspberry'. "We were both at Einar's brother's wedding in Georgia and spent some time there afterwards. On a day walking in the park we saw an old woman – one who looked like she'd had a hard life – and the lyrics to that song were based on the impression we got from her. When we needed a name for the song we'd composed, we remembered the woman shouting the word "malina" and thought it would be a cool name for the song and also the album title because I liked the word!"

While Einar takes on the biggest workload of composing to present to the band for them to work on, Tor has become the main lyricist. Some of the song titles are very evocative and on similar lines: 'Captive', 'Coma', 'Weight Of Disaster' all suggest some sort of despondent and sombre mood, although Tor clarified, "None of the albums are really concept albums, although I get inspired by things such as events in my life or something I hear about in news or maybe a cool phrase or word to use. In general they are usually not very optimistic or happy – not that we're miserable people, we're happy guys − but the inspiration leads me to look on the more depressing aspects of life because the music tends to be melancholic and dramatic. The song 'Illuminate', for example, is one I wrote which can have different interpretations. If you're having difficult times in life it's about a way out, although that way could be covered by obstacles so it can be difficult to find the way out of the situation. The words are about lighting your own way – the road is already there but you have to find the right light to walk it. It's a road you have to walk yourself but with help from people around you. Before the first chorus there's "you can have my torch" to help illuminate your own way – that could go for many situations you find yourself in."

The last track on the album, Einar's 'The Last Milestone', is very regal – almost like a classical piece. "It's a very personal lyric; a very emotional track that can give chills because of the music and the lyrics and the voice. You can hear an emotion that's very sincere. It's one of the most intense tracks and you get the feel without knowing exactly what it's about. The interesting thing is that we were considering not having it on the album as it's so different and maybe using it somewhere else but then we realised it was a good way to end the album with the lyric being about ending something – it's a very meaningful, complex and emotional way to end an intense album."

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Listeners may hear an unexpected beginning to 'Malina'; the choice to open the album with 'Bonneville' suggests we're going to hear something very different. Tor admitted that it wasn't the typical way to open the album with what he called "a calm but daring opening track" when usually Leprous open albums with an 'in your face' song. Einar going on to explain how "it was a very deliberate move to put 'Bonneville' as the opening song, showing that okay, we're continuing to do our thing and push our boundaries into new directions. That song is very very atmospheric compared to anything on the previous album and represents where we're at today as a band. We wanted to challenge people by putting that first. It's that kind of song that people hear as different but it's intriguing so they don't want to turn it off – this is not what we expect! On the previous album you have 'The Price' which is straight to the point but this is a much more floating and atmospheric sound."

Ace engineer Jens Bogren has also been involved in mixing the album although Tor talked about how the band were keen to have quite an 'unmastered' and more natural sound to 'Malina'. "We did most of the work on the sound of the album in the recording process. The main technician was David Castillo who also did the recording on the last album and the live album last year. It was after that recording that we realised we would like to get more of a live feel into the new album. 'The Congregation' sounded almost perfect and we wanted to get more of a live feel in the studio and turn down distortion on the guitars to open the sound. It's an improvement as it doesn't sound as edited or as synthetic as it may have sounded before. Now it's more about the vibe rather than trying to get it perfect and over producing it and aiming for a more organic keyboard sound by using analogue effects and re-amping."

"When we sent it to Jens, who's an amazing mixer and who's done all our latest work, we told him we didn't want him to necessarily do what he'd done before but make it sound more like the raw material but tweaking where he needed to. It went a couple of times back and forth but ended up with a nice end product. With Progressive Metal it's meant to be tight and precise but we picked up from our live recording that when it's played live it has more of an organic feel. And it felt quite original for a Prog Metal band to go in that direction."

There's also a new member in Leprous with guitarist Robin Ognedal, although he's well known to the band. Einar explained, "He did the US tour last year with us and we've known him since we were teenagers. When Oysten (Landsverk) couldn't continue with the band for various reasons Robin was the obvious choice for us. He's a super technical guitarist but doesn't showcase it in any way. He plays with a lot of emotion and soul and it sounds great but not too perfect either. He met all our expectations with all he did. It's one thing to find a really good guitarist," he added, "but he has that extra touch and adds a new dimension to the Leprous sound."

It's a sound that's set to go on the road with a headline European tour already lined up to start in late October with special guests Agent Fresco from Iceland, plus Australia's AlithiA and fellow Norwegians Astrosaur. The tour includes an appearance at the Damnation Festival in Leeds and a headline London gig at The Dome.

Fireworks Magazine Online 80: Hotel & Hittman - Bands That Time Forgot

BANDS THAT TIME FORGOT

Dave Reynolds looks back at some of the great acts who slipped under the radar.

Hotel, the six piece AOR band from Birmingham, Alabama only released two albums in the decade they were together – a self-titled affair in 1979 and a pretty spectacular sophomore release entitled 'Half Moon Silver' a year later – but while they appeared not to have made much of an impression beyond a couple of singles that graced the Billboard Hot 100 – they are still much revered in the Southeast of the US and certainly by collectors of quality US Melodic Rock the world over.


Hotel - Band

Originally formed in 1973 as Tumbrell Hotel by vocalist/pianist Marc Phillips and guitarist Tommy Calton (who had previously played together in the Alabama club bands Rainwater and Wooden Music), the initial line-up of the group became the house band at The Knights Of The Round Table club in Homewood for around a year. The foremost objective as far as Marc Phillips was concerned was "to get a record deal."

"We had all been in cover bands playing Beatles songs or whoever else was popular at the time," Marc explains. "I particularly wanted to write my own material and become an artist in my own right. The band (at that point comprised of Phillips, Calton, erstwhile Wooden Music vocalist Beverly 'Raspberry' Owen, bassist Joe Breckenridge and drummer Van Neff) was certainly still a cover band when we started to play the bars and night clubs here in the Southeast of the United States, but we were intent on adding our own songs. We all had an incredible work ethic. We put in long hours. We were full-time musicians who would be playing shows until 2 or 3am and then spend three of four hours a day rehearsing before we'd play again that evening."

Various musicians moved in and out of the band, now simply known as Hotel, as Phillips and Calton began to slowly develop the band's status. By 1975 the group had became a pretty big draw at The Cobblestone, a new club on Morris Avenue (downtown Birmingham's oldest street). By the following year the band had settled on what would become the definitive line-up of Hotel with the recruitment over time of bassist George Creasman, guitarist Michael Reid, drummer Michael Cadenhead and the multi-skilled Lee Bargeron. The latter was already working as the band's soundman by this point, but his talents on keyboards, guitar and backing vocals had not gone unnoticed. Marc Phillips though, feels there wasn't any one person who made a gigantic difference in taking the band forward. "Hotel developed slowly," he recalls. "It was more about finding the right people and keeping those who shared the same goals and work ethic as you. In the same way that labels invested more time in bands in order for them to develop back then, we as a band invested the time in getting it right and finally found a line-up that had the right chemistry and mindset. As a result of getting it right we landed a deal with Mercury Records in 1977."

Unfortunately, the band's tenure with Mercury was short lived, mainly thanks to the record label's lack of commitment to giving the group an album deal.

"We released a single, 'You'll Love Again', with Mercury in 1978, which charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (reaching #71), but the record company never got behind it. So our producer (former Capitol A&R man Dain Eric, who had been introduced to Hotel by their good friend and fellow Alabama artist Buddy Causey) got us out of the contract and we wound up signing with Scotti Brothers. We managed to secure the rights to 'You'll Love Again', so we were able to include it on our first album."
That first album was recorded with Dain Eric at the production desk. "We spent a good two or three months on it," Marc recalls. "We cut it at the Creative Workshop in Nashville. Back in those days Nashville was still very much all about country music, so when we were looking to record the drum tracks we needed a better room than the ones they had in order to get the bigger sounds we wanted. We wound up setting the drum kit up in the studio lobby to get the natural reverb we were looking for. The people there looked at us as if we were crazy, so we certainly broke new ground for recording in Nashville!"

There's a tendency for the debut to be overlooked due to the band's second effort being an utterly astounding affair, but it shouldn't be ignored as it contains a well delivered, quality selection of songs that compare extremely favourably to the likes of Player, Louisiana's Le Roux and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. It also showcases Phillips' fantastic vocal talents in switching between the smooth AOR of 'Right On Time', the balladry of the piano led 'Old Silver' (inspired by a painting that Marc still has on a wall in his house) or 'Hold On To The Night', the Hard Rock of 'City Lights' and hugely melodic 'You'll Love Again'. The latter songs now clearly seen as precursors of the sublime Melodic Rock Hotel would pursue on 'Half Moon Silver'.
The album's artwork was certainly inspired too, setting up a rather neat brand theme that would be continued on Hotel's second album. "That was all pretty clever," acknowledges Marc. "I remember we took advantage of that and had towels and key fobs made with the logo on them to tie in with it."

Curiously, although Scotti Brothers releases were distributed at the time by Atlantic, Hotel's debut album was released in 1979 through a deal secured with MCA.

"That was one of the things that puzzled me," responds Marc, who also queries the label's subsequent decision to pull the promotion of the band's first single, 'You've Got Another Thing Coming', just as it was generating airplay across the States.

The single peaked at #54 on the Billboard Hot 100, but would more than likely have gone on to greater heights.

"We were on tour with Wet Willie at the time we learned about the promotion being dropped. I've never understood that. We were also the first band to release an album on MCA that had the new price increase where an LP now cost $7.99. So someone would go in to buy an album and see ours at $7.99 and the new Tom Petty record at $6.99. Who were you gonna buy? I just think we were bought and sold as a tax write-off. Between Scotti Brothers and MCA no one took responsibility for anything. They always had someone else to blame."

To support the album on the road, Hotel managed to secure the Southeastern leg of the Little River Band's '79 US tour. They also played dates with the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Toto and Louisiana's Le Roux. "The guys in the Little River Band wanted us to go with them to play dates further up the East coast instead of taking Sea Level, but the tour support from the label got pulled. It just seemed like MCA didn't want us to succeed."

Despite the frustration already being felt that they were signed to a label that had little belief in them, Hotel nevertheless were already writing material for the second album by October 1979, with recording commencing in early 1980. Dain Eric was once again in the producer's seat, with recording resuming at the Creative Workshop in Nashville.

"We'd always go find somewhere to rehearse and write. We took a bit more time with the second album, but it was interesting to me how MCA decided that they would release the title track as the first single. The record label had been on at us to go Rock and go heavier on the second record yet they fell in love with the Crosby Stills and Nash-like harmonies of the title song, which is an acoustic number. As good as the song was, releasing it as a single killed the band. Maybe that was the label's idea. The album was so diverse that radio didn't know what to do with us. I think we actually lost a little focus on that second album. The first album was very stylistic."

Yet perhaps the diversity of 'Half Moon Silver' is what makes it such a special record. It's a master class in Melodic Hard Rock on a par with anything the likes of Le Roux, Night Ranger, Player or Toto ever recorded. The absolute highlight on 'Half Moon Silver' is the towering magnificence of 'Wanting You Too My Love'. The guitar solo work on this track by Tommy Calton is worth the price of the album on its own.

Whereas many of the songs on the first album were influenced by real-life events – 'You'll Love Again' was inspired by Marc's parents' divorce – the second album tended to focus more on fictitious events, but beautifully told.... the opening track 'A Place In Time (Refugee)' being a solid case in point. You can almost smell New York City thanks to the band's wonderful lyrical imagery. A smoky, riverside bar room somewhere in the Deep South is also vividly conjured up on 'Ned And Mary'. "We really did try to paint pictures in the minds of listeners with a song like 'A Place In Time'," confirms Marc.

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The band, and Phillips in particular, put in a consummate performance on 'Half Moon Silver' and they deserved so much more with such a brilliant record. They were let down badly by a record label that couldn't even be bothered to give them the time of day.

The band continued to tour, notably with Hall & Oates, but it quickly became obvious that their days with MCA were numbered. With the eventual loss of their record deal the group began to splinter; bassist George Creasman being the first to leave in early 1982. He was briefly replaced by Eddie Usher before Lee Bargeron gave his notice. By the summer Hotel had disbanded.

Eddie Usher had already joined Marc, Tommy and drummer Steve Sample Jr. in the Calton-Phillips Group, which the singer describes as "a cover band trying to make a living" playing material by the likes of The Police, Squeeze and Genesis. Due to venues regularly billing the band incorrectly as Cotton-Phillips, Clayton-Phillips or Carlton-Phillips, the band's agent persuaded them to change the problematic moniker. The group, having now added former The Mortals member Lolly Lee on vocals and guitar, opted for Split The Dark. "It's true that we found ourselves billed as Split The Dog for one of our first gigs in Memphis," Phillips laughs.

Initially still a cover band, Split The Dark's desire to push their self-penned songs led to the recording of what would turn into an independently released six song EP, 'Keep It To Yourself', in 1983 that placed a more contemporary hi-tech topping on the Hotel sound. The EP was only released on a local level. At the time they had no access or knowledge of any overseas interest in Hotel that might have made a difference had they looked to export the record. Line-up changes ensued, and by the time Split The Dark won MTV's Basement Tapes competition with the video for 'Always A Chance', Sample Jr. and Lee had departed and the remaining trio were joined by drummer David James and keyboard player Scott Macdavid. However, as Seattle Hard Rock troupe Rail found out a few years earlier, winning a national contest on MTV was one thing, gaining major record label support as a result was a different matter. While Rail at least got an EP deal, Split The Dark found life significantly more difficult. "We did 14 or 15 showcases for major labels but despite the fact we won the competition we just couldn't get signed," Marc sighs.

The decision to add another guitarist, a certain Damon Johnson, to the group at the expense of Scott Macdavid and record further material did little to ignite label interest. By 1988 Johnson and Usher had joined Witness and Split The Dark quietly faded into the Alabama music scene's history books.

While Tommy and Marc Phillips finally went their separate ways they have always remained friends. In fact, the definitive line-up of Hotel will be reunited in October for a long overdue catch-up. Phillips, having released a brace of solo albums still plays the bars and clubs adding his own material to a selection of Hotel songs and covers from the likes of U2 and Sting. He is a fascinating character who has also published an autobiography, 'Pouring It Out On Me', detailing a musical career that began in the 60s, his thankfully successful battle with stage 4 throat cancer and finding God.

Although Hotel's music is available on iTunes, the two albums have yet to see an official release on CD. This, as I tell Marc, has to be resolved. He certainly agrees. Stay tuned...

For further info on Hotel and Marc's solo releases please visit www.marcphillipsmusic.com

 

Hittman - Band

Having once described Hittman as the best unsigned band in the entire universe, it was quite rightly only a matter of time before the five-piece from New York did gain a deal. Unfortunately, the music business being the often vicious beast it is, trends - even within the Heavy Metal genre - had moved on once the group had put pen to paper with the German SPV label in early 1988. Although they had released their debut album later the same year, Hittman had become a band out of time.

With the kind of unified look that betrayed the fact that the five guys concerned had been hugely influenced growing up in the late 70s by the likes of KISS, Angel and Judas Priest, Hittman's problem appeared to be that they were not heavy enough to compete with the likes of Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer and not glam enough to be on the cover of 'Metal Edge' alongside Poison, Bon Jovi and Ratt. They were, much like the L.A. based Malice, caught between a rock and a hard place. Yet, believe me, having been fortunate to have seen them on two occasions prior to being signed, they were an awesome live band.

Still, nearly 30 years on and Hittman are back! No Remorse Records will be releasing expanded versions of both the eponymous debut album and its controversial follow up 'Vivas Machina'. There are plans too for a brand new album. So what actually happened to this highly-touted outfit and where did it all go pear shaped when they displayed so much promise?

The band was formed by guitarist Jim Bachi and bassist Mike Buccell in 1984 having recently departed the Long Island group Attila. They were joined by erstwhile Takashi drummer Chuck Kory and, initially, vocalist Scott Knight (Armed Forces). However, things didn't work out with the latter and Dirk Kennedy (who had previously been in a formative line-up of Anthrax) entered the picture.

"I answered an ad in The Music Paper," recalls Dirk. "It had been a few years since I left Anthrax and I had decided to pursue a more formal vocal training and studied with Marty Lawrence who taught a lot of big opera stars, Joe Lynn turner, Tony Harnell, Melissa Manchester and so many more. I wanted to add a bit of range and finesse to my voice, which at the time was mostly just impressions of other singers - Dio, Dickinson, Meine etc. I formed my own band (Excalibur), did a few shows and then looked for something more professional. I answered the ad and that turned out to be a band called Hittman."

Having only been together for a mere four months, the new line-up quickly recorded a hugely impressive demo in the summer of 1985 that soon found its way, as these things did back then, to a number of European Metal publications, including 'Metal Forces' for whom yours truly was writing for.

"We were floored when we saw the review," recalls Dirk. "We thought, "Holy shit, this guy gets it." We all framed the review and were so proud. From that moment we felt we were doing something right."

The band had not actually played any gigs at that point, but that was quickly rectified when they made their live debut opening for Stryper at the Nassau Community College on November 11th 1985. Recruiting former Alien guitarist Brian 'Don' Fair to the line-up bolstered Hittman's dynamic sound, but he didn't last that long (departing in the summer of '86) and he was quickly replaced; firstly by one-time Anthrax guitarist Greg Walls and then John Kristen. The latter was clearly the missing piece of the puzzle, giving added depth to the Hittman metallic onslaught that enabled them to perfectly blend together the very best elements of Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept and even a little KISS.

"It was all about finding the right fit," notes Dirk about the line-up changes. "Don and Greg just didn't work for different reasons. Musically, Don was with us, but he just didn't fit on a professional level. Greg just didn't fit musically. He was a much more aggressive player and not as melodic as our music needed. I got his number from Scott Ian who told me "he's not the right guy, believe me" and he wasn't. We stole John from a local band and he was exactly the right guy. He was perfect for us and he's my best buddy to this day. I can't imagine Hittman without him. The gods were good to us the day he came."

Having seen the band play with both Fair (at L'Amour East in Queens in May 1986) and Kristen (an all day Metal fest event in Connecticut headlining over Manilla Road, Liege Lord and Britny Fox a year later), I can certainly vouch for the difference the addition of John Kristen made to the group, contributing to a really other-worldly guitar sound alongside Jim Bachi that became Hittman's trademark. With the unbelievably tight rhythm team of Buccell and Kory behind the two guitarists, Dirk Kennedy's vocals soar magnificently onwards and upwards. Here is a guy who can certainly go toe to toe with Bruce Dickinson and Geoff Tate. I can't stress enough that Hittman really were a phenomenal live band back then, and at that time the plan originally was to record a mini album and release it independently.

"EPs were all the rage back then and we wanted to have total control for our first release and take it from there, much like Queensryche had done with 206 Records."
Hittman had recorded six songs ('Metal Sport', 'Dead On Arrival', 'Back Street Rebels', 'Behind The Lines', 'Test Of Time' and 'Secret Agent Man', the latter a metallic cover of the theme song from the popular 60s US TV show of the same title) for the planned EP, but then they began to get offers....

"We got a lot of offers that went nowhere," Dirk wryly adds, "and then SPV arrived."

Signing a deal with the newly launched US office of the German label, the tracks cut for the EP were added with 'Will You Be There', 'Breakout' and 'Caught In The Crossfire'. The package was released as a nine track album through SPV's Steamhammer imprint in late 1988. However, the debut album's release was massively affected by the sudden closure of the New York office of SPV, and by that time the whole Metal world had moved on. Hittman had missed a golden opportunity.

"In a nutshell, we signed with an American label owned by a German company. We had originally signed to SPV USA because we wanted a smaller label with an American distribution system, but on the very day of our release they shut down their US operation and our contract reverted back to German law and we were in limbo while they decided what to do with us, which was nothing. They then licensed the album to Roadrunner in the USA without consulting us. We tried to stop it and couldn't. It caused a lot of bad blood resulting in non promotion and support from SPV.

The offer of a deal with Mercury/PolyGram came and went due to legal hassles with SPV. Was the quintet not tempted at that point to just dissolve the band and start again under a different name?
"SPV famously wanted a million dollars to let us out of our deal. A band they didn't care about because they (the German office) didn't sign us. But they wanted the money which was the entire amount of our deal. We did think about changing the name, but were told we'd still be under contract."

There was a second album, tentatively titled 'Precision Killing', planned, but due to the ongoing problems with SPV there was a massive gap before the actual next album appeared. The Bob St. John produced 'Vivas Machina' (translation: 'Living Machine', which effectively described how Hittman felt about themselves as a unit) was eventually released in 1993. It was a very adventurous album that found Hittman (with a new drummer in Mark Jenkins) in a different place entirely. I know Dirk was aware it confused the heck out of a lot of people. He is, understandably, still a huge fan of the album, but does admit it was, at the time, a big step to have made. What are his thoughts all these years later?

"'Precision Killing' was the planned second album. We wrote it, made demo's and played all of it live. But by the time we were actually in the studio making a new record it was four years later. A concept album (like 'Precision Killing') seemed like a mistake. It was kind of 'Operation: Mindcrime'-esque. Not really original anymore, so we wrote new songs. 'Vivas..' is more a fourth album, if you know what I mean; the one with the potential hit AOR singles on it. It's catchy, it's competent but lacking the fire of the debut. This we all understand now. I do however like the album. I think it's mostly my fault for trying out a new raspy style vocally.

"People compared me to Jon Bon Jovi, which isn't so Metal," Dirk laughs, but one listen to the likes of 'Renegade Man' will make the point about the comparison. "I was always such a clean singer. It was fun to bring something new to the table, but I went overboard. But man, 'Mercy' is on that record. So is 'Answer My Prayer' and 'Words'. These are some of my proudest moments."

Despite a German tour in May 1993 alongside Skew Siskin and Sargant Fury, the whole business side of music eventually got to the band members, so when did the decision to 'disband' come? "We NEVER disbanded officially," states Dirk. "We just started working on other projects, which led to a 25 year hiatus."

Kennedy was planning a solo album ('Life Is Now') for a long time, which eventually surfaced, but what did the others get up to?

"Jimmy is a major songwriter in L.A. and does soundtrack and commercial work. John is a family man; Chuck is one of the biggest pyro-technicians on the planet and works with the likes of KISS and Iron Maiden. So yeah, we kept busy!"
Although there was intended to be a reunion in 2009 nothing came of that, but when the amiable Mike Buccell sadly passed away following a fatal road accident involving the Newsday delivery truck he was driving in November 2013 it seemed the band really was history. What prompted the remaining quartet to get back together?

"Mike had personal problems that caused the 2009 reunion to fall apart and we stood by him. We always planned to pursue the reunion again, but when he died we thought maybe that's it, but we're doing this for Mike and for his daughter Kylie. She loved the music her dad was such a big part of."

Hittman are currently working on a reissue of the first album (the original CD version of which now carries a huge premium over the vinyl LP on the second hand market) with 'Vivas..' scheduled after that. What extras do they have up their sleeves for the expanded editions?

"Jimmy and I have been working like demons. The first release in late summer/fall this year is the debut Hittman album. With a huge booklet, the original Hittman demo remixed and mastered and many Hittman demos no one has heard. It'll be on CD and perhaps limited edition vinyl and digital.

"Next year we're putting out a new album. It's being built from the ground up. No demos, no old tracks. Just the band and its influences from the day the band started. So don't expect Modern Metal. It will be Metal in its most classic form. The new album is being written and demoed as we speak. It's too early to say who will release it, but it'll be in time for the shows next year. We'd like to play as many festivals as possible and travel to the places we didn't get to go before. Like Japan! We have so many fans from there and they write all the time. We now look at this as a new beginning and look forward to taking it to the people in 2018 and beyond."

Fireworks Magazine Online 80: Sisters In Rock

SISTERS IN ROCK

By Rob Evans

Has anybody ever written anything for you, dear reader? For Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks wrote the poignant song that forms that question, but I'm sure our other Sisters this issue have penned songs for varying objects of their desires. In this latest instalment of Sisters In Rock we'll see tales of lost love and heartache, we'll battle drug addictions and we'll be donning our best black leathers just because we can. When the Eurythmics sang about sisters doing it for themselves, they could have written the manifesto for the likes of Joan Jett et al, such was their clarion call. From Lorraine Lewis through to Stevie Nicks, these sisters have done it their way and done it in their own inimitable style. Lady luck may have smiled on the likes of Fiona and Stevie Nicks by putting them and their music in the right hands, but it was ultimately their sheer talent that kept them there. So the next time you watch Stevie Nicks live at Red Rocks and she sings 'Beauty And The Beast', remember she's not looking at you, she's looking at me and I think that's exactly where this article came in.

STEVIE NICKS


Born in Phoenix, Arizona to parents Jess and Barbara Nicks, Stephanie Lynn Nicks would ultimately find fame as Stevie Nicks. Alongside Lyndsey Buckingham she would turn the fortunes of Fleetwood Mac from Blues-based rockers, into Soft Rock behemoths in the space of two albums.

Having met Buckingham at Menlo-Atherton High School, it would be a further two years before the two of them would work together in the band Fritz. From here they continued to write as a duo, eventually recording the Buckingham/Nicks album in '73. A commercial failure, it saw Buckingham taking a job with the Everly Brothers, whilst Nicks waited on tables and had a stint cleaning Keith Olsen's house.

It would be Olsen who would prove pivotal in the duo joining the Mac by playing Mick Fleetwood one of their tracks. Whilst the drummer was looking for recording studios for the next Mac opus, he initially only wanted Buckingham, but it was the latter's insistence that he and Nicks came as a pair that saw the duo land the gig.

From here it would prove to be a whirlwind of activity as the band released their 'S/T' album in '75 and then the ground-breaking 'Rumours' in '77, an album that saw them elevated to stadium status in a little over two years.
It was during the recording of the 'Tusk' album that Nicks started to stockpile songs for what would eventually be 'Bella Donna'. Released in '81, it saw Nicks recording some of her best work, and began a cycle that saw her working in tandem alongside the Mac as she released a plethora of solo albums throughout the eighties.

She's often been quoted as saying that she only ever wrote her best songs when she was in the darkest of places, and with a life like hers it was no wonder she came up with so many great songs. From the timeless beauty of Fleetwood Mac classics 'Rhiannon', 'Landslide' and 'Dreams' through to her equally flawless solo material such as 'Beauty And The Beast' and 'Leather And Lace', the depressive quality to Nicks' music was strangely uplifting.
She is arguably one of the most colourful females in the history of Rock. Her alleged affairs with the likes of Mick Fleetwood, Tom Petty, Rupert Hine, Joe Walsh and Don Henley – not to mention her addictions to both Cocaine and Klonopin – have enhanced her reputation almost as much as her music.

Still a part of Fleetwood Mac to this day, Nicks is currently promoting her solo tour in the states, a tour that sees her hitting the UK in July as support to Tom Petty in Hyde Park. With a new album from Fleetwood Mac planned for some time soon, she shows no sign of letting up just yet.

A huge influence on many a female performer, Stevie Nicks remains one of Rock's true Icons and a performer of some magnitude.

BEST MOMENT: It could be the epic 'Edge Of Seventeen' or the simplistic nature of 'Beauty And The Beast', but I would have to plump for 'Rhiannon', a story about an old Welsh witch from Fleetwood Mac's self-titled album.


Stevie Nicks

JOAN JETT


When Joan Marie Larkin was born in a suburb of Pennsylvania in September '58, I doubt her parents ever considered for one minute that she would go on to be a cultural icon for women everywhere, never mind be dubbed the Queen of Rock.
Hanging around Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco in the mid-seventies, Joan Jett was allegedly discovered by Kim Fowley, who gave Jett's number to Sandy West, resulting in the girls putting the Runaways together. Alongside Lita Ford, Cherie Currie and Jackie Fox, both Jett and West were responsible for a band that was teenage jailbait at the very worst and Rock 'n' Roll genocide at the very best.

It was this classic line-up that released three trail blazing, Punk infused Rock albums. The kind that saw parents locking up their sons as these teenage Lolita's prowled the land. The zenith of their achievements came when they hit Japan to scenes of mass hysteria; they were, after all, the fourth largest imported band behind Led Zep, KISS and ABBA.

With West and Currie quitting in quick succession shortly after the Japanese tour, the Runaways limped on as Jett assumed lead vocals. A final couple of albums saw them eventually split up in '79, a move that forced Jett to start a solo career.
Hooking up with former Tommy James and the Shondell's guitarist, Kenny Laguna, would prove to be a pivotal moment as he suggested that they form their own label, Blackheart Records, after they were ignominiously turned down by twenty three record companies.

From here on in she never looked back and whilst her debut showed promise, it would be its follow up that would kick down the doors and see Jett lauded from afar. 'I Love Rock 'N' Roll' was released in '81, but it wouldn't be until early '82 that its title track would top the Billboard Hot 100 for several weeks. Originally recorded by Arrows, Jett had demoed this track in '79 with the Sex Pistol's Paul Cook and Steve Jones, but it was alongside her band, The Blackhearts, that Jett finally got the recognition she so richly deserved.

I saw Jett on this tour, playing to a half empty Liverpool Empire as she blistered her way through a set of high octane Rock 'n' Roll. On the tour bus afterwards she was charm personified, a young boy's crush for sure, signing my album, "Keep dancing, love Joan Jett."

Selling over ten million copies, Jett never looked back on those bleak late seventies years, she was now part of the mainstream. A glut of albums followed, but after her eighties heyday she never hit the singles charts again.
Still playing live to this day, her last album 'Unvarnished' was released in 2013 and limped into the Billboard chart at forty seven. A recent 'Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame' Inductee, Jett works actively as a campaigner for PETA and can be seen Stateside, alongside Boston, throughout this summer.

BEST MOMENT: The video for 'I Hate Myself For Loving You'. Did anybody other than Elvis and Suzi Quatro ever look this good in black leather? I mean, did they?


Joan Jett


FIONA


Describing herself as multipersonalitied on her website, the effervescent and lovely Fiona Flanagan was born in New Jersey in the early sixties. Thanks to some pushy teachers who recognised her talent, she was thrown into school productions and the rest is history.

Fiona moved to New York and worked a day job for celebrated photographer Andrew Unangst, whose work included Andy Warhol, she cut a series of demos alongside Eddie Offord (Yes) and the Dixie Dregs.
In turn these led her to the doors of Atlantic Records and Jason Flom, who fought off a counter bid from Columbia and got the young chanteuse's signature. Liking the fact that he wanted to push her into more of a Rock direction, Fiona was quickly on-board a ride that would last right through the eighties and beyond.

Produced by Peppy Marchello (Good Rats), her debut boasted a fine supporting cast that included the likes of Bobby Mesanno (Starz) and Joe Franco (Twisted Sister). Released in '85, her self-titled debut still has a certain charm to this day and showcases to perfection why Atlantic had high hopes of her being the next Benatar.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


Hooking up with Beau Hill (Shanghai, Airbourne) for her sophomore album, 'Beyond The Pale', Flanagan would eventually marry and divorce the hotshot producer, but not before she'd managed to deliver a fine album. According to Malcolm Dome in the Rock Candy reissue, Fiona recorded a version of 'Alone' – the I-Ten song that Heart turned into a huge chart hit – but it was left off the album at Hill's insistence, much to both Jason Flom and Fiona's chagrin.
It was here that she first worked with Kip Winger, a man that would form another part of Fiona's elaborate puzzle when he worked on her third album, 'Heart Like A Gun'. It was this album that gave the New Jersey gal one of her most requested MTV songs in the shape of 'Everything You Do (You're Sexing Me)', a duet with the aforementioned Winger. Produced in the main by Keith Olsen (Whitesnake), 'Heart Like A Gun' was a commercial flop but it saw Flanagan having a hand in composing all but one of its ten tracks, something she'd never done before.

Fiona also made a semi decent stab at acting, appearing alongside Bob Dylan and Rupert Everett in the woeful 'Hearts On Fire', as well as an episode of Miami Vice.

With an album for Geffen ('Squeeze') turning out to be her swansong, Fiona limped out of the spotlight for several years. Hooking up with Robin Beck and the House Of Lords guys she recorded one of the best albums of her career in the shape of 'Unbroken' and with an appearance at Firefest in 2012, she pulled out all the stops to give an exalted performance. One of the friendliest and most charming people that I've ever met, Fiona is a class unto herself.

BEST MOMENT: Her last album, 'Unbroken', showed that not even a duet with Kip Winger could keep this girl down.


Fiona Fireworks

LORRAINE LEWIS


Admit it, you were really envious of that lollipop on the inside front cover of Femme Fatale's debut CD, but is it really nearly thirty years since that album came out? In the interim years Lorraine Lewis put her name to a myriad of projects but she'll always be remembered as the girl who was looking for the big one.

Formed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Femme Fatale was signed to MCA for their self-titled debut, an album which was released in '88. Lorraine had big ambitions of being the female version of Dave Lee Roth after she witnessed Van Halen in concert at a young age. As she said to me at the time, "I didn't want to sleep with Dave, I wanted to be Dave!"

As Femme Fatale's debut hit the streets, the likes of MTV were all over their videos for 'Looking For The Big One' and 'Falling In And Out Of Love', helping them notch up healthy sales of nearly three hundred thousand albums along the way. After touring with Cheap Trick the label dropped them as they planned their second album. Lorraine tried to keep the band together, they went their separate ways.

Landing an indie deal almost straight away, the solo career of Lorraine Lewis amounted to her releasing 'Chains' on the 'Don't Tell Mom The Babysitters Dead' soundtrack and little else. As solo careers go, it hardly set the world on fire.
From here she seemed to keep a low profile before returning in 2000 with 'Snowball', a messy collaboration that saw her embrace a Grunge inspired stance that sounded a million miles away from Femme Fatale.

After a short lived dalliance in the country music market, releasing a poorly received CD in '02, she hooked up with Roxy Petrucci (Vixen, Madame X) in Roktopus, a short lived collaboration that saw Lewis trying to re-capture her youth, but failing miserably. Poor songs are poor songs and these babies were going nowhere faster than Lewis's career at the time.

Via L.A Nookie - a band featuring Share Pederson (Vixen), Alex Kane (Anti Product) and Lisa Leveridge (Hole) – and a TV show called the "Ex Wives Of Rock", Lewis wound up back in Femme Fatale. Surrounded by an all-female cast, this version of the fatal ones has been doing the rounds in the States and is due to hit these shores later in the year at Hard Rock Hell.

All in all, Lewis's career has been colourful and exciting and although she never got to experience the musical 'big one', she did enjoy a few small ones along the way.

BEST MOMENT: The videos for both 'Looking For The Big One' and 'Falling In And Out Of Love' still make me smile to this day. Full of lewd sexual innuendo and the kind of choreography that Heaven's Edge built a career on, what's not to love?


Lorraine Lewis

Fireworks Magazine Online 80 - Interview with Accept

ACCEPT

Interview by Carl Buxton

Despite their periods of inactivity in the past, it doesn't feel like Accept have ever been away from the forefront of the Metal scene. 'The Rise Of Chaos' is their fourth release in the last eight years since their reformation with American vocalist Mark Tornillo, formerly of New Jersey's T.T.Quick, a productivity that puts a lot of bands to shame. And it certainly isn't quantity over quality as each subsequent release of the new era has outsold its predecessor, with the last album 'Blind Rage' reaching the #1 position in the German and Finnish national charts and #2 in Hungary, to propel them back into the limelight. Also new for this album is ex-Grave Digger guitarist Uwe Lulis and American drummer Christopher Williams, after the departure of stalwarts Herman Frank and Stefan Schwarzmann. British fans could be forgiven for thinking that Accept had quietly slipped away, as there hasn't been a full UK tour for many years, with just the odd date in London, and their albums have also barely dented the charts over here, but Europe is entirely another matter. Fireworks went to London on the hottest day of the year to meet Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and discuss the latest album.


Accept - Interview Fireworks

In this day and age there are so many bands and so many different sub genres of Metal. In a way it's hard to stay relevant and it's hard to stay at the top of the tree. Whereas you have the history, back catalogue and longevity that certainly helps. People remember the name and younger people coming up are being told about Accept, and being told about other German bands like Scorpions and Helloween. This is the fourth album since your comeback and yet you've still managed to stay at the top, to stay relevant, to stay in people's minds and keep their attention.

Yeah, you said it. You're fighting for attention nowadays much more than back then, there's so much more diversity and there's thousands of bands and artists out there, and everybody wants a piece of the pie. So yes, it helps us that we've been around for such a long time but at the same time, if we were just making crap albums that nobody likes I think it would fade away rather quickly. So we decided to stay relevant by making albums that mean something to people, that actually have good songs that people like – that was the goal, that's why we make an album at all. Because we could have, really, just gotten together with Mark and played old songs and gone on the road like some sort of a nostalgia act.

Which is pretty much what people's perception would have been...

Right, absolutely! We could have done that. It's not what we wanted to do though because we wanted to have the challenge of writing new songs because we felt, 'Well, Hell, that's part of the deal.' We've done it back then so why shouldn't we do it now? That's the ultimate goal. If you have a new album and a new tour cycle, then you stay relevant that way, with new songs for people to listen to.

And Mark needs to have his own stamp on the band.

That's the other thing of course. We felt we've got a great new singer and it would be a waste not to write songs with him. If all he would be there to do is to sing old songs, well actually he may as well be a clone. We'd be like a tribute act and we didn't want that. We wanted really to contribute to our own legacy and keep going.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


That's exactly it, you used the word legacy. Mark can stamp his own legacy with the band with these albums.

Yeah, and weirdly enough it feels now, with these four albums under our belt, like a good section of solid continuity compared to our prior career. You know, people coming and going sometimes. Every album was slightly different and it feels to me like it wasn't as continuous as it is now.

Let's talk about the album then, 'The Rise Of Chaos'. Can you explain the album title and why you chose it?

I'm not sure I can explain it, but I can tell you why we chose it, because it seems to be something that just grabbed us. It seems to be the spirit of the times we live in, or something that is very current. When we arrive we always have a list of catch-phrases and possible titles and hook lines that we write down in our little booklet. That one just popped up out of nowhere and it immediately felt like this one's special, this really feels like there's a rise of chaos going on in the world right now. So we felt it was very relevant and...album title worthy [laughs].

So we're talking about like what's happening in Syria, what's happening in Iraq...?

Oh definitely, in the US politically, in the environment, anything. Anything that you watch seems to get more and more extreme. The rise of chaos seems to be definitely driving the world situation...to me, anyway.

The album cover is based on your stage design, with a destroyed look. You enlisted the services of Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsak again.

Yeah, the same guy who designed the stage set we built and it matched well with the title. We wanted something different, we've never really done a graphics album cover like that. Most of our covers have been very simple and therefore symbolic almost...

And red...

And red [laughs]. Everybody says, "Wolf, every album's red, so surely you didn't want another red one now?" ...to break the spell, the cycle. To me it always feels slightly weird to talk about lyrics that much, because first and foremost our music is supposed to be listened to, not really supposed to have it explained. You know, sometimes I get this question, like, for every song title: "What does it really mean?" And quite honestly I doubt they ask somebody like AC/DC, or somebody even like Judas Priest. Who cares? It's just Metal man! But if you're really interested in the lyrics, then that should come way down the line at some point, you know?
We always wanted a lyric that meant something and made you think...if you're so inclined, but we're not preaching a message. We don't really have any deep meaning behind why we released this album. It's just a collection of songs and it has to have a title, so there. But it's not really a concept album or anything of that nature.

Was Gabby (Wolf's wife and manager) throwing out ideas like she normally does?

Yeah, she always does. She also has her little booklet that she writes ideas and thoughts into and sometimes we go through that and pick out stuff that seems to work with whatever riff we're writing or working on.

And is Mark involved in the majority of the lyrics?

He sends us a list of things and we pick sometimes from that. Whoever has an idea. Whatever seems to work with the chorus idea I have. Sometimes we have a melody in mind, or a certain rhythmic idea and you look for the right phrase to use and then you start thinking, "Okay, what could that possibly mean?" I didn't have a clear idea of what 'The Rise Of Chaos' actually means or what it should be about, we just wrote that song, 'The Rise Of Chaos', and then we gave it to Mark.

Again, maybe subconsciously with what's going on in the world?

Yeah, I mean I like that but that's really where I left it. I didn't write down any lyrics or proper lines or whatever, I just said the rise of chaos seems to be something that's going on – here, you write it, you figure it out, you worry about it [laughs], I've got enough to worry about with the music. Peter (Baltes) and I often come up with the actual idea or catchphrase, or the structure of the basic name.

I like the idea that there are ten songs, they're all short – it feels like the old days with a forty minute album length. Was that part of your thinking or was that how it organically happened?

It's how it organically happened, it wasn't planned out like that. We could have probably found another two or three songs that we could have stuck on the album but we figured why bother? Let's use ten strong songs – ten or twelve or fourteen, you know, nobody's counting. We'd rather have quality than quantity, to be honest. We didn't want to have any filler or bonus tracks that we could do without. We wanted to concentrate on ten songs that to me feel all equally strong.

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