Steelhouse Festival 2013
When: 27th & 28th July 2013
Where: Ebbw Vale, Mid-Wales, UK
Situated on top of a mountain just outside Ebbw Vale, the Steelhouse Festival is surely situated in one of the most picturesque settings for any festival in the UK or beyond? It is held at Hafan-Y-Dafal Farm which can only be accessed via a dusty and very bumpy two and a half mile climb up an old logging track. Be assured though, the trek up the rough terrain is well worth it as the Steelhouse has to be one of the friendliest and good natured festivals in existence. This, it’s third year, might possibly be the wettest yet but none of the punters seemed to care about that. Roll on next year…here’s the review.
As I arrive, the Dead Shed Jokers are tearing through their set and as forecast, the rain began to fall. This had me heading for the beer tent to seek solace from the downpour. Next up were Hand Of Dimes, the band that has reunited ex Kooga members Nev Macdonald (ex Skin) and Neil Garland for the first time in well over 25 years. Their sole release to date, the 4 track EP “Hand Of Dimes” was played in its entirety along with a couple of new tracks and they went down a treat with their fellow South Wales fans and those of us from further afield. Nev’s vocals were superb as always and with their brand of blues rock, the 2014 to be released album will make fans of the previous mentioned bands and fans of classic blues driven rock very happy indeed.
Fighting Wolves aren’t my thing, so it was off in search of much needed nourishment for me.
The Temperance Movement are fast becoming more than just “that” band on Planet Rock with “that” song. They politely take to the stage but this was not an indication of what was to follow. Their hour long set was crammed full of rootsy rock goodness which included the whole of their excellent “Pride” EP and a handful of new tracks from their forthcoming self titled debut album out in September. Phil Campbell is the quintessential frontman, he’s got the voice and the moves to capture the audience’s attention and keep them mesmerized until the very end. His Jagger/Cocker/Robinson moves a sight to behold. Naturally, “that song” (Only Friend) got the loudest cheer of the set. Hell they even took off on an Allman Brothers Band trip in the middle of one of the new tracks which made me happily noodle out. Wonderful stuff.
Next it was Anvil. What can I say about Lips & Co.? I was curious to see how they would come across live and judging by the crowd crammed down the front, I wasn’t the only one. But, if truth be told, my attention wained after 15 minutes or so. Stripped, once again, down to a three piece, their brand of straight ahead heavy metal just didn’t cut it for me. Granted, they were going at it hammer and err…anvil but would they have drawn so much attention if it wasn’t for the documentary from a few years back? Maybe they would but my belly was once again rumbling and the lure of a venison burger was far more appealing than Lips’ on stage banter of “shit, there’s too much technology these days, stick your USB up your ass…i’m still a smoke weed and peace loving guy”. Saying that, I did enjoy “Metal On Metal” and new track “Bad Ass Rock & Roll”…unfortunately, just not my thing.
The next band on stage certainly were my bag though. FM, have always been a favourite of mine, since their debut back in ’86. I had the pleasure of watching them with renowned rock journalist, Dave Ling, a fellow Gov’t Mule fan and a lengthy discussion about the new album was held prior to FM’s set. Always excellent live and Saturday was no different. Picking tracks from their vast back catalogue, FM were a delight as always. Steve Overland’s voice is still superb and the addition of Jim Kirkpatrick on lead guitar a few years ago has raised the bar even higher. A set crammed full of fan favourites like “Bad Luck” “Don’t Stop” etc. Mixed with a few choice cuts off their excellent 2013 release “Rockville” had the crowd, especially us middle aged blokes, eating out the palms of their hands. I think their beefier live sound surprised a few and they left the stagewith many a new convert…glorious stuff.
And so…Saxon. Saturday’s headliners had promised a lot and they didn’t disappoint. For the first time in 20 years, they had brought the eagle lighting rig back to the UK and it was a joy to behold. Couple this with enough pyrotechnics to rival any Rammstein gig and a drum riser that sent Nigel Glocker way up to the heavens for his solo, how could they go wrong? Biff was his usual charming comedic self with tales of the early days in Ebbw Vale meeting girls with their “Rather large err families”. “I’d gladly sing this in Welsh for you but I don’t fookin’ know it…so i’ll do it in Saxon” and “If you’re getting wet, so am I” as he lept into the crowd for a “Whoa whoa whoa whoa ahh” singalong. Classic after classic was belted out “747”,” Strong Arm Of The Law”,” Dallas 1PM”,” And The Band Played On”, “Heavy Metal Thunder”, “Wheels Of Steel” and a return for an encore of “Crusader”, “Denim & Leather” and “Princess Of The Night”, how could we not leave the field happy. The gig was also filmed for a future documentary out next March/April, according to the camera guy who happened to be staying in the same real ale pub as we were. A great way to end a fabulous first day…did it rain all day? The eagle has well and truly landed!!
So day two on top of the mountain. More rain but most importantly more great music.
First up were Blackbyrd, a young band from South Wales I knew nothing about but after their excellent thirty minute set, definitely one i’ll be checking out. Skam were next in line. Once again a band i’d never heard and was pleasantly surprised by these Leicester boys, a good start to the day.
Next up were the boys from Northern Ireland, Trucker Diablo, the first band on the Sunday that i’d earmarked to see. Categorising this 4 piece is difficult as they effortlessly blend several different styles in their repertoire. Big chunky riffs, southern groove and a whole load of melodies is barely scratching the surface of their sound. A superb energetic 40 minute set that won them many a new fan and including a rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” was a masterstroke. Frontman, Tom Harte, not only has the voice but also the licks and engaging charm to win any avid rocker over. Look forward to seeing them headlining in the near future.
So next it was Vega. One of my friend’s faves and he was certainly the fanboy when they took to the stage. The added inclusion of two extra guitarists for their live shows certainly beefs their sound up a level more live as they dipped into both their albums for a set crammed with pop orientated melodic goodness. Don’t get me wrong, Vega aren’t just a so called AOR band, they can certainly rock out with the best of them. Vocalist Nick Workman effortlessly worked the crowd for the whole set and when he stood on the barrier right in front of the girls and indeed The Beast, I thought i’d have to carry all three back to the beer tent. Great stuff, looking forward to album number three and the tour now.
I’m afraid Heaven’s Basement do nothing for me. I hung around for their first couple of numbers but quickly decided that food was required and that was more appealing to this punter. Seemed that many didn’t share my sentiments as they went down a treat with many a festival goer.
By now the rain was piddling down, typical, just before one of the bands i’d eagerly been waiting for, Snakecharmer. Knowing that Messrs Moody and Murray were to include several Whitesnake classics in the setlist had gotten me a tad excited. The band is rounded off by vocalist Chris Ousey (Heartland), Arry James (Thunder, Magnum) and for this show Mark Stanway (Magnum). They were even better than i’d expected and so nice to hear “Ready An’ Willing”, “Fool For Your Loving”, “Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues”, “Slow An’ Easy” and “Here I Go Again” played exactly the way they should be, done properly in the old ‘Snake way. The stuff off their sole album to date gelled nicely with the classics… this is how it should still be done.
So, time for the Cliff Richard of rock, as our Beast likes to call him. I’m talking about Bob Catley and Magnum. 65 years young and still does a damn fine job. Magnum were the surprise package of the weekend for me. Granted, I presumed they would be good but not this good!! Actually, they were excellent and i’m sure Catley has now got even more of those magician hand movements than ever? Combining tracks off latest album “On The 13th Day” with Magnum favourites like “Vigilante”, “How Far Jerusalem”, “Rockin’ Chair” to name but a few, how could they go wrong? They couldn’t. This was all made better by the rather portly young chap, who took his shirt off to reveal hand drawn inverted crosses and 666 scribbled on his back. Fair do’s both he and his mates (including one in a German helmet with horns) danced the whole set like they were desperately trying to shed a few of those err unwanted pounds!! Personally, Magnum should have closed the festival…total class.
Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock
And so, to the final band of the weekend, Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock. Billed as the Lovedrive Tour, herr Schenker, Bucholz, Rarebell, White and Findley tore through the German’s back catalogue of greats from his UFO, Scorpions and MSG days. Maybe it was the pissing rain and drop in temperature but by about halfway through I had begun to lose interest. The still sober Schenker didn’t help matters by coming on half an hour late, maybe it was all those photos he was charging £20 to sign that had delayed his appearance?
Don’t get me wrong, Schenker was in top form but I struggle with Doogie White’s vocals, a Mogg or a Meine he certainly isn’t. In the end we left before the encores, the lure of a cosy warm pub and warm bed was far too appealing.
To round up, a superb, friendly festival with great sound, great bands and a great location. Apparently, they are already discussing next year’s headliners, do yourselves a favour folks, next July book yourself a weekend away in Ebbw Vale…marvelous stuff…:)