Steelhouse Festival is the annual Welsh Classic Rock Festival situated on top of a mountain in Ebbw Vale, which now in its ninth year, is a little gem of a festival which slowly grows year on year despite its reputation for being generally a bit on the damp side.
After the particularly wet event last year I was half expecting to see a smaller attendance, but no, still people turned up in their thousands and that is down to the repeatedly great line ups and the sheer friendliness and affordability of this festival, I mean, what other festivals can you go to and get 4 pints for a mere £15!
Those in attendance were not only rewarded with a whole weekend of glorious weather, but with some great performances across the weekend from both the old stagers and the up and coming bands.
Friday nights entertainment started off with solid sets from both Blackwater Conspiracy (6/10) and The Rising Souls (7/10), but it was local boys Those Damn Crowes (8/10), who despite not being my thing, were the first band to really win over the whole crowd and put in a great performance.
However Massive Wagons (9/10) a band I have previously described as “sloppy pub rock” took the honours of the day in style. The energy from the stage took the crowd to the next level and sporadic Dad dancing was seen all over the top of the mountain especially as they kicked out the Rick Parfitt tribute ‘Back to the Stack’ and the fantastic set closer of Slade’s ‘Come Feel the Noise’, which saw all the other bands join them for a triumphant sing along. A great way to end day one.
Day two openers Liberty Lies (6/10) didn’t do much for me musically, but it has to said that frontman Shaun Richards is not only a great singer, but also knows how to keep the crowd engaged which some funny in between-song banter. Ryder’s Creed (8/10) however were on a completely different level and looked like 5 guys who had been force-fed Red Bull and Haribo all morning before being unleashed onto the stage. Great catchy tunes and the sheer enjoyment on the band’s faces was just contagious.
Unfortunately, Hollowstar (5/10) couldn’t follow that, and despite being perfectly competent and getting a good reception from the rest of the crowd sent me to the bar, which is where I stayed for a while causing me to, unfortunately, miss The Wild who I did hear good things about.
Crobot (9/10) were one of my must-watch bands of the weekend after picking up a copy of their Something Supernatural album 5 years ago and they didn’t disappoint. Kicking off with Legend of the Spaceborn Killer, frontman Brandon Yeagley took to the stage looking like some crazy merman and he didn’t let up for the whole gig, completely owning the stage and in fact the mountain. Tight, heavy, big riffs and catchy choruses, job done!
After that, I found Gun (8/10) a bit strange. To watch they were a bit dull, but the sheer strength of their songs made their performance work and work well. Watching people drunker than I sing along joyously to the likes of ‘Steel your Fire’, ‘Better Days’ and ‘Taking on the World’ really made me want to go home and dig out those albums again.
The Temperance Movement (9/10) were my band of the day and had me throwing some hideously drunken shapes from the minute they walked on until the minute they walked off. The standard of musicianship was second to none as they drifted from epic strutting singalongs like ‘Only Friend’ to the stunning Deeper Cut which completely sent shivers up my spine. After that performance, I wouldn’t expect it to be long to see them return as a headliner.
Thunder (8/10) don’t do bad gigs, and though they didn’t deliver the best gig I have seen them play, still had the crowd eating out the palms of their hands and singing along word for word from the minute they kicked off with ‘Loser’ to the minute they finished with a song I can’t remember due to a long days drinking and enjoying myself!
The final day was opened up by fellow Cornishmen Willie and the Bandits (8/10) who I felt sorry for as they didn’t get the crowd they deserved due to issues getting into the arena with bag searches. Their laid back Bluesy Rock was the perfect start to the day and was a performance worth far better than their lowly spot on the bill. Sadly the good start to the day came crashing down to earth with The Amorettes (3/10) who frankly looked and sounded like two average bands had been stuck together with cheap sellotape to make one below average band.
Completely the opposite of that were Tax the Heat (8/10) who returned to the mountain with another great display of slick, stylish rock and roll. Scott Gorham loves this band for a reason, even if he had to berate them for driving too slowly up the mountain!
The charismatic Mango Kid himself Mr Danko Jones (8/10) brings a blistering set of balls-out garage rock and certainly wins over a legion of new fans. As an old fan, my only complaint was that he missed the golden opportunity to play the track Mountain which would have been perfect for the occasion.
Band of the weekend? Well, that goes to Uriah Heep (10/10) who provided a set of absolute perfection. The sound, the musicianship, Bernie Shaw’s timeless vocals, and Mick Box’s huge smile completely stole the show. How a band soon to be moving into their 50th year can still play gigs sounding this fresh and exciting is beyond me. Happy Daze indeed!
At one point Corey Glover of Living Colour (8/10) said “who’s idea was it for us to follow Uriah Heep?” and that was the only problem with their set. While perhaps a band that didn’t quite fit in and draw the crowd that the Heep did, Living Colour came on and played superbly for those prepared to listen to them, and bringing out the festival legend Bernie Marsden for a cover of Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ was a masterstroke.
Closing the whole weekend was then left for Thin Lizzy (9/10) who were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the legendary ‘Black Rose’ album by playing it in its entirety. I was a little sceptical in advance but I have to say Thin Lizzy absolutely smashed it. This was in no small part to a rhythm section made up Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and Judas Priests Scott Travis, who were one of the most impressive I have heard in many years, but for me the star of the show was Mr. Ricky Warwick, who has gone and proved himself time and again to be someone who not only sings the songs of the late great Phil Lynott with style but who almost makes you think that perhaps he was the man who wrote and sang them first time around. No disrespect is meant it that comment, but Ricky Warwick does the job perfectly with the utmost respect and deserves that respect right back.
With a closing ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ finished off with a great fireworks display Thin Lizzy were the perfect end to an amazing weekend, the only problem now is how are Steelhouse going to top that for their 10th Anniversary?!
Author: Nigel Taylor