Rock To The River Festival
12 & 13 August 2006
Review and photos by Brat
As mighty and grand as festivals such as Wacken Open Air, Sweden Rock, Bang Your Head and Summer Breeze are, nothing can compare to the intimacies you are awarded with when you attend a small European town festival where only a handful of metal acts perform.
My first introduction to such a festival was in 2002 when I travelled to far northern Sweden to the Piteå Dansar Och Ler to see SONATA ARCTICA for the first time and EGDUY.
This year when I decided to return to Finland, I checked TAROT’s tour schedule to see if I’d be lucky enough to catch them two years in a row. I saw they were playing at Rock to the River, but it was to be held over the weekend I planned to travel to Napapiiri (Arctic Circle) in a town on the Finnish-Russian boarder. When I looked into the festival further and saw SONATA ARCTICA was one of the headliners, I needed no further persuasion and extended my holiday for half a week so I was able to go to the festival and visit Napapiiri.
After a three hour train trip from Helsinki, I arrived in Imatra and made my way to my accommodation for the weekend. Imatra is a southern town of Finland’s “lakes area” and very popular for summer holidays. To make the most of my Finnish experience, instead of staying in one of the town centre hotels, I chose a hostel on the banks of a Lake Saimaa surrounded by woods, close to the town’s famous spa resort. Imatra’s is also famous in a cultural sense as it and its river is written of in The Kalevala.
By 1700 I was walking into the festival area to be met with an accurate cover of BON JOVI’s “Runaway”—a positive start. Finnish teenage pop-rock sensation LOVEX were performing to screaming girls holding cardboard placards like something form the days of the Beatles minus he hysterical tears. Overall they were pretty impressive for young, pretty boys even if they did sing in Finnish.
It’s a weird feeling to be the only foreigner at a festival like this outside apart from a band or two. So feeling like a fish out of water, understanding absolutely nothing of what presenters were announcing between the bands I decided to take a walk around the grounds—the festival was held on an athletics field set on the banks of Vuoksi River, surrounded by birch and spruce trees keeping me very much aware I was still in Finland.
There were a few interesting stalls, but I got bored quickly. Not bored enough to get pierced or tattooed. Something Wacken Open Air hasn’t had—yet—a mobile tattoo and pierced bus.
I was surprised with the number of Wacken T-shirts this far, as I believe travelling from Finland to Wacken is not lengthy but costly as well.
Not knowing where I could go or what I could do with my press accreditation, because everything was in Finnish, I asked for someone to help me and was welcomed by one of the coordinators, who asked me what I was interested in covering during the festival and left me with his number if I had any more queries. Wow! Now that’s looking after the media. For a small festival there were enough photographs to make the pit look full. But you have no idea how confused people looked when I told them I’m an Australian, writing for a Canadian webzine, in an outskirt Finnish town covering a festival with a few metal bands.
Blues rock band BLUE TRASH managed to hold the attention of many of the fans of the previous bands and applauded between each song. It’s good to see teens appreciating the music as the genre doesn’t really get much exposure. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that I knew the lead singer/guitarist, Antti, who also playing in the stoner band MONSTERISER the next day as well—I’d met him when he toured Australia as part of a crew last year—I just didn’t recognise/expect to see him. It’s a bloody small metal world!
I watched the people around the festival area while I had some food to kill the time. The fashion sense of the girls visiting from Russia made them stand out against the Finns and I giggled to myself as I played the “spot the Russian” game. I really should stop making fun of people who share my heritage.
Not really knowing where the festival area was in relation to the town centre, I felt slightly trapped in the boredom of being alone and couldn’t wait for TAROT to get on stage. How was I going to survive the next day?
Next on the bill was the apparently legendary GRAHAM BONNET. “Graham who?” I asked. The name meant nothing too me, but the crowd gathering in front of the stage before the band started and Arto mentioning him to me a while back had me curious.
Just before he started, I was sitting in the licensed area finishing my drink where my eyes were assaulted by a fluorescent green guitar on stage 500 metres away while listening to the Finnish version of the 1, 2 song.
It wasn’t until GRAHAM BONNET started singing that I realised who he was, not by name or voice, but by the songs he sang. I knew most of them—not by name or lyrics, but by melody; I was able to hum along with most of them.
This was GRAHAM BONNET’s second time in Finland. The audience was lapping it up while he was backed by famous Finnish band YO (blame Arto if this is wrong), with HANOI ROCKS drummer Lacu, GRAHAM BONNET performed Love’s No Friend—RAINBOW; Into The Arena—MSGs; Night Games— ALCATRAZZ; and Assault Attack—MSG.
Chants for the ALCATRAZZ classic “All Night Long” made Graham confess he needed the lyrics to be able to perform that song and instead did MSG’s “Desert Song”.
During his introduction of ALCATRAZZ’s “Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live”, Graham announced he’d been “sober for two years now”. Maybe that explains his reappearance on the live circuit again. “Since You’ve Been Gone” followed.
GRAHAM BONNET’s legacy has crossed generations as teenage girls screamed in excitement, or so I thought. What I saw when the backing band walked around the grounds after their performance, made me rethink some of those screams were for them.
GRAHAM BONNET was in good spirits and came on for the encore introducing the next song as being from the Village People album, “In The Navy”. WTF? He started laughing but performed “All Night Long” and “Lost In Hollywood”.
Listening to so many familiar tunes made the set enjoyable and the time pass quickly even though GRAHAM seemed to struggle during the highest notes, but not to an unbearable extent.
Finally, it was time to see a band I’d be waiting to see again for a year—TAROT.
One of the disadvantages of watching a band on its home soil is not being able to understand any of the banter and jokes from Marco and Tommi, but it seemed their rapport with the crowd was warm, humorous and easy going.
I missed the first song title and it wasn’t familiar, but I think if could have been their recent single “You”, and if it wasn’t I’m sure it had to have been somewhere in the set, especially considering its success upon release in Finland in May.
“Wings Of Darkness” was received with loud cheering; Back Into The Fire; Do You Wanna Live Forever; Live Forever Young; Veteran Of The Psychic Wars; Pyre Of God; Lady Deceiver; Riders Of The Last Train; ending with the very appropriate “I Rule”, and TAROT ruled completely for me.
I was determined to stay in the pit taking photos until I was kicked out and was surprised to find I’d even noted down the songs between shots (don’t actually remember doing that!). Eventually, I felt silly being the only photographer still taking photos and moved into the audience for the last few songs. The whole series of TAROT photos can been seen here.
Following their show, I was surprised to be granted an exclusive with guitarist ZACHARY HIETALA. I was completely unprepared and had to rely on my knowledge of the band’s history and current activities. But, I shouldn’t have worried.
ONE ON ONE WITH ZACHARY HIETALA
Zachary comfortably flew into conversation like we were old friends catching up after years. His easy communications with members on Tarot’s forum should have hinted to me what to expect—he is one of the warmest people I’ve met not just in the music industry, but in general. Of course, that didn’t make my legs shake any less during the interview, but I hoped it was the night-time cold drifting across from the nearby river seeping through my leather pants; at least that’s the excuse I would have given had Zachary noticed.
He spoke about everything—from his childhood to his and Tarot’s future while comfortably sitting back in the chair, sipping his drink, occasionally moving his mane as if fell across his face and interacting with me with gentlemanly consideration.
Remasters of Tarot’s back catalogue are finally available through Bluelight Records after what seemed to be years of rumours (see metal-rules review here). I admitted that I only have Suffer Our Pleasures on CD and Spell Of Iron thanks to the generosity of someone at metal-rules.com converting his vinyl to MP3s, and I was planning to get the remasters while I was in Finland. Zachary laughed at how different the first and latest of their work must sound considering the 17-year span. Sure, Suffer Our Pleasures is more aggressive and Marco’s voice is grittier, but I confessed that I found little difference in the quality of writing and playing between the two and it wasn’t that obvious when I shuffled the albums. Plus, I find Tarot’s music, at least what I’ve heard of it, to be rather timeless.
Zachary spoke with enthusiasm about the new album. It has been written by himself, Marco and Janne Tolsa and if I understood correctly, the music will be slightly more melodic (than Suffer Our Pleasures) with catchier choruses to hopefully break into the commercial Finnish market. When I mentioned that I expected Tarot to be more ‘famous’ today given Marco’s high profile, Zachary explained the reason they aren’t as popular is because they have a different fan base; there will always be some cross-over, but mostly the age range differs between the bands. Nightwish’s fans tend to be in their teens to 30s in Finland, whereas Tarot’s tend to start at about thirty which would have something to do with the band member’s ages as well.
Zachary said Marco had recently celebrated his 40th birthday and that he had recently (in fact three days earlier) turned 44 and when I assured him it wasn’t old, he asked my age then quickly apologised. I answered his question honestly (yes, I did!) and reassured him our age difference wasn’t that bad. I think he felt a little embarrassed about his question so he then talked about his girlfriend and home-life with her (maybe to put his question in context), but I’ll let that aspect of Zachary’s personal life remain private.
Tarot’s appeal to a mature audience is understandable—firstly, there are those who grew up with Tarot since their first release in 1986; secondly, there are no pretty boys or pop icons in this band to attract teenage fans, just five extremely hairy, talented musicians doing something they love—playing metal for love, not money—and not very often until this summer.
Zachary’s day job is as a cultural youth instructor and he described how at times his responsibilities of working with sometimes troubled youths took him away from shows/festivals a little earlier than when he wanted to leave, but that the job kept him grounded and in touch with reality. This would explain his easygoing, friendly banter during the ‘interview’ and his natural ability to make me feel at ease.
Would Zachary change if Tarot became as famous as Nightwish or if he suddenly won the lottery? He doesn’t think he would; he loves getting on stage with his guitars, setting up and tuning, then playing. He feels he is old enough to know what he wants, what to do to prepare for a gig and wouldn’t want a guitar technician.
He talked about the growing up in a military family and all the pressure that came with it considering his and Marco’s chosen profession; how his grandmother used to hide their photos in her bedroom instead of displaying them with the other family photos because they weren’t ‘normal’; and as many people would expect, the turnaround in family support, acceptance and pride for both Zachary and Marco following Marco’s success in Nightwish. His chest swelled a little more and his back straightened when he spoke of his younger brother.
Zachary enjoys being involved in Tarot’s website and answering personal messages, sharing funny photos of the band with the forum readers and told me his webmaster asks him why he posts “such humiliating” photos. Promotional photos of Tarot since the release of Suffer Our Pleasures have portrayed an “I’m too cool” band staring into the camera lens through black sunglasses, but Zachary argues the photos he shares show the personalities of himself and his fellow band members making them once again look like approachable people. I also agree with Zachary—there’s nothing humiliating in those photos.
When I mentioned that their promotional photos always gave me the impression they would be the perfect band to play a bike club convention with their long hair, black glasses, leathers, not to mention hard hitting music, Zachary found that interesting, but playing that sort of gig never crossed the bands’ mind. He did however confess that although he didn’t ride or own a bike, he was made an honorary member of his local chapter.
I asked Zachary if readers of the Tarot forum ‘abused’ the site by trying to use it and the easy access to himself as a way of gaining information about Marco and the goings on of Nightwish. He assured me there was little conflict of interest in that regard, feeling it had to do with age difference of the fans for both bands and also, that the Tarot membership base is far smaller than the Nightwish forum.
Zachary’s other passion is fishing. He described the relaxation he would get on the water and how he used to compete in fishing tournaments, but it was something he no longer had time for. Even in the dimly lit tent, I could see his eyes glaze over with longing when he spoke about spending hours on the water with his fishing rod.
Zachary then asked me why I was so far from home and understood when I explained my love of live music and the opportunity to see some of my favourite bands took me to places I would never have thought of visiting.
It was at that point, after what seemed like hours, we were kicked out of the tent to make way for a Helloween interview, but Zachary wasn’t ready to stop our conversation, so he invited me to continue the interview far less formally and with more people joining in.
Tarot has been busy with live shows since the release of a single in May You (with a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s Veteran of the Psychic Wars as the b-side, a popular number in their live set sung by Tommi Salmela) through King Foo Records, which debuted at No 1 on the Finnish singles chart.
The band is looking forward to releasing a new CD three years after the release of Suffer Our Pleasures. If You is representative of the rest of the material, Zachary’s description of what to expect of the new album is spot on. Crows Fly Back is released 27 October.
Nuclear Blast will be releasing the album in Europe and that’s good news for Tarot and me. It will open doors for Tarot to tour and promote the album in Europe and I will stop getting blank stares followed by “Who?” every time I mention Tarot.
After spending time with people who made me feel far less alone and like I’d known them for a while instead of less than an hour, I excused myself to watch the highest billed metal act for the night, but in no way the headliner in my eyes and ears—HELLOWEEN. I’ve seen them play at Wacken Open Air, but enjoyed them 100 times more this time solely for the fact that I watching them with less than 1000 people (although I’m pretty inaccurate at estimating crowds) instead of 20,000. I was able to absorb the band, the songs and realise I knew the material really well because I wasn’t struggling to get a decent view—just like being at a local show at home, really.
While I snapped photos here and there, they played King; Eagle Fly Free; hell Was Made; A Tale That Wasn’t; Halloween with drum solo; If I Could Fly with guitar solo; Power; Mrs God really surprised me when it was released, it just sounded so different to other songs, but I like it!; Future Word; I Want Out; Dr Stein.
After watching this set, they definitely earned a higher position in my interest.
As it was almost 2 am and I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to get to my bed for the night, I left as soon as Helloween were over and joined the line for a taxi. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long when a taxi driver chose a sober me running across the road to flag it down instead of one of the many intoxicated locals.