The Welsh International Classic Rock Festival
Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th July 2014
Its the fourth edition of the Steelhouse Festival, situated atop a mountain in Hafod y Dafal Farm, Aberbeeg, South Wales, a stone's throw from Ebbw Vale and some of the valley's excellent rock venues in Crumlin, Pontypool and Cardiff. There's a welcome on this hillside and the boyos like their singing.
It's the third year I've made the trip from England, over the bridge and up the mountain and I have much love for the place, its community atmosphere, the ability to set up a cool camp with BBQs, a real ale bar with few queues, free showers and access to bands wandering around. It's proper tidy!
As long as it doesn't rain, but fortunately for us this year this Welsh mountain seems to be the only place in the UK that escaped the apocalyptic thunder storms! PHEW!
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So, arriving Friday night and setting up we get treated to an un-billed surprise act. It's local boy and old Skin frontman Neville McDonald with Hand Of Dimes. He's a great warm up with his new material and throws in an old Skin cover, 'House Of Love', plus 'Burlesque' by Family for good measure.
After being treated to a Black Star Riders soundcheck of 'Kingdom Of The Lost' and 'All Hells Breaking Loose', showing the quality to come and provide a soundtrack to the lunchtime BBQ, Black Wolf then kick off proceedings proper.
Black Wolf have a trad 70s sound and image reminiscent of the Black Crowes meets Airbourne! They have a new album coming out and a good sound and groove. The standout for me is their excellent audience interaction - they go down well with the Led Zep loving classic rock audience.
Skarlett Riot pick up the pace with their adrenaline and won't back down in a hurry. They have a great young blonde/black haired singer in the style of Leah Duors of McQueen, and maybe a slight nod to Avril Riot grrl. They prove well worth a listen and tight as hell and Skarlett's powerful voice has plenty of charm.
They are supporting a new album, 'Tear Me Down'. The standout track for me is 'Broken Wings', a soulful ballad that tugs deep. Only criticism is that despite Skarlett's awesome stage presence the rest of the band look they are missing sixth form to be here! Either way, you'll be seeing a lot more of this lot as they have the Edguy tour support slot amongst other things.
Buffalo Summer, popular local Welsh lads, receive a great reaction and absolutely love being here. In 'Down To The River' up the mountain they get everyone clapping, tidy! T-shirt support for them is very strong today!
Darren Reddick of Planet Rock fame introduces favourites of the station Tax The Heat, who, besuited, ply their polished but rather safe trade. But the sun came out so we sat in the sun and the bands played on! Although I did overhear someone comment that they could be listening to Dire Straits!
The Graveltones provide a 50s rockabilly style soundtrack to firing up the afternoon BBQs, as the mountain warms up for the evening's main acts.
A real highlight for me next, The Amorettes stood in for a delayed Electric Boys and delivered an old school Girlschool-esque set.¬†Hailing from Scotland, these ladies are on the rise. 'Heartbreaker' rocks most awesomely, with vocal stylings that Kim McAuliffe would be proud of. Also the bassist's moves are pure tributes to the late Kelly Johnson.
The talent and confidence on display is awesome. With a new album coming soon, 'Son Of A Gun' was debuted and sounded rocking! Obviously rushed but excited to be promoted on the bill, they deliver perhaps the most energetic performance of the day so far. Sets at Bloodstock and the new album in the pipleline and these ladies are on the way! You can read my interview with Gill from the Amorettes here.
So next up, Sebastian Bach hit the stage, with pretty much the same set as his Sonisphere and Islington Academy sets. Whilst highly enjoyable, and with some 'dedicated' fans who seem to be doing impressions of schoolgirls watching One Direction, his punishing tour schedule was obviously taking its toll, as was having the wrong conditioner for his hair.
It was the last European date before heading home for him and tempers were frayed with security and photographers in the pit. Whilst mostly his awesome presence, and all the old Skid Row hits you wanted to hear, carried the day, it was definitely a bad hair day for Bazza, but our anthem for all the Youth still rang true.
Thin Lizzy supergroup, the Black Star Riders are tonight's headline act. They've been putting in the mileage recently and if you've still yet to see them, you are in for a treat. From the now familiar Tombstone theme "I'm coming, and Hells coming with me", all hell breaks loose on the mountain.
They storm the stage. Ricky Warwick has taken the role on and is using his awesome Irish brogue to good effect. Seeing BSR a week later in the Wacken Experimental Tent, Ricky is sporting a dodgy Phil Lynott style tache. He is loving the legacy that he is well and truly delivering on.
'Before The War' in the set seems apt with craziness of the current climate in Israel and Ukraine. It's an awesome Thin Lizzy love in, where Scott Gorham is fully marshalling his hired guns into a tight and amazing band now. Thin Lizzy classic tracks such as 'Jailbreak' and 'Emerald' sit smoothly alongside tracks from the Black Star Riders album, which are by now classics in their own right.
There is plenty of Whisky in these jars as the coyotes call for all the 'Cowboys' in the audience. This really is Thin Lizzy 2014, and they are still bound for glory, and more yet. Great show, and the perfect headliners. And I still can't believe they were on such a small stage at Wacken.
Sunday overall is a lot more mellow. The Electric Boys hit the stage after a 15 hour nightmare journey ordeal from Sweden. They're here to celebrate their new album and are well received: Cony's whiskey soaked husky vocals and Ian Astbury style stance leads singing alongs for 'Rags To Riches'. Fellow Swedes Europe watch from the wings.
As a frontman, he has great interaction and to the crowd's delight Cony announces a UK tour with Bad Touch in September. 'Lips And Hips' remind us of the dance floor filler of rock discos past. Watch this space.
Buck and Evans have jazz and Janis Joplin stylings; the singer's voice is lovely, but allows for a sunbathing break. As one of the festival organisers, she's earned the right to play, but to be honest this is all more suitable for 3.00am comedown music. They would be the perfect band for Tonight With Jools Holland.
Bad Touch proved they were more than the Led Zep tribute act I'd seen them as last, in a pub in London town supporting Bonefide, and that they're developing their own repertoire. They have a lot of ego and self belief, silly merch, their own minibus, and the singer won many a heart this afternoon. They even camped in the main camping area amongst the fans.
Heaven And Earth, the Rainbow supergroup, suffered from a rare rain shower interval but the dedicated fan followed with interest, even though some complained about the lack of songs about wizards.
After a support slot with Seb Bach, and much Planet Rock support, double world superbike champion and motorcycle racing hero Toseland went down well with the biker community and was living the dream of being lead singer of a band. In style, he's reminiscent of Gun. Catchy tunes like the semi biographic track 'Renegade' and a cover of Costello's 'Pump It Up' accentuate the afternoon.
Old Skool Whitesnake maestro Bernie Marsden played the blues, and hit the long dark teatime of the Sunday evening soul. A defibrillator might have been handy to pump some energy into the proceedings.
Anal Love in the Heart of the City (sic) finally breaths some life into blues pub rock, but is punctuated by tedious anecdotes at such a slow beat. Sometimes I'm sure the worms in the grass are asleep. At last! "'ere's a song for ya!"... yes, we are woken from our slumber by 'Fool For Your Loving' which rocks like a mad thing in the evening Welsh sun.
'Here I Go Again', featured on his new album with the old Cov, and apparently number one on Amazon pre-orders, finishes his set off in fine style. After a dull start, the self styled fat old geezer still shows his class with a Whitesnake flourish.
The Answer return two years after dominating an excellent fest, and are rewarded by a second billing slot. A blues jam which floats fluidly through the afternoon, in haphazard fashion. Whether it is down to endless solos or "preaching" it seems more of a Cormack love in, than another epic set.
The crowd share the predominantly Celtic pride, and welcome the boys in the afternoon sun. 'Memphis Waters' seem far away from a Welsh hillside, but there's a New Direction in town tonight.
Europe close the festival, in an efficient, yet dull manner. Relying on recent hits, rather than the glory days of 'The Final Countdown' and 'Prisoners In Paradise' era, they've styled themselves into a more mature but less fun band.
It's more 'Girl From The Lebanon', and 'Superstitious', than 'Danger On The Tracks' and 'Cherokee' but you know, as with everything Swedish, it's honed to look marvellous and sounds marvellous... but where is the soul I wonder? Do we forget our wilder days to play to our now older bank manager rock audience?
Solos from guitar maestro John Norum, and stories growing up in Stockholm listening to British rock, are interesting but they fail to hit the heights of Black Star Riders the night before.
The Steelhouse Festival closes for another year, and for three years running it hasn't disappointed me. It's certainly expanding year on year, and the quality is going from strength to strength.
If you want to try out a new festival, where you are not walking for hours between your tent and the stage, and you've not got security nazis making up new cooking rules every year, and excellent bands, and new talent, give it a try! It is excellent value and very reasonably priced too.
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