Steelhouse Festival, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm, Ebbw Vale, South Wales
High above the clouds, on a mountain top towering over the nearby Ebbw Vale, stands a small farm. Once a year this small farm transforms itself from a quiet hilltop retreat to one of the greatest festivals on the summer circuit, when it opens its fields to a hoard of classic rock fans, intent on satisfying their hunger for a quality weekend of wine, women and song oh, and let’s not forget the rain of biblical proportions.
The Steelhouse Festival, so called because of the nearby Ebbw Vale Steelworks, is now in its seventh year. In the past, it has seen great bands such as Saxon, Skindred, Europe, and UFO to name a few. This year is no exception in that it adds to that impressive line-up with three great headliners, Stone Broken, Glenn Hughes & Myles Kennedy and on Sunday; The Black Star Riders.
FRIDAY gets under away at a respectful time of 18:30 with Planet Rock’s Ian Danter opening the proceedings. Tomorrow he’ll be joined by his fellow Planet Rock DJ, Darren Reddick.
First up we have Bristol based FRAGILE THINGS. This band has earned the accolade of being ‘Ones to Watch’ by the Planet Rock team so it’s no great surprise that they hit the stage with all guns blazing as they try, maybe a little too hard at first, to impress. Calming down sees us listening to a great voice and some excellent musicianship.
Next up we have DEPARTED, and they’ve also turned up the wick. Playing a great rocky set of just 8 songs. They have the crowds interest as they go through their set. Unlike last year the rain has so far stayed away, it looks like the arena and the bar will get a good hammering tonight as the fans start to gather in their masses.
Local boy PHIL CAMPBELL and THE BASTARD SONS are up next. Hailing from nearby Pontypridd, Phil has played with Lemmy and Motörhead, which after giving his ‘Sons’ their spot in the limelight gives us a tribute to the late Motörhead greats of filthy Phil ‘Animal’ Taylor, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and their notorious frontman Lemmy Kilmister with a riotous rendition of Silver Machine from Lemmy’s Hawkwind days and the obvious Ace of Spades.
STONE BROKEN close the proceedings on the first day with a great set. This Midlands based four piece have a strong following and it would seem a great many of them where in the crowd to cheer their guys on. Some would argue why you would put Phil Campbell below these relatively new comers, but with the crowd’s reaction and the steller performance given it was soon forgotten. In fact, so good are Stone Broken that the organisers decided to break the rules and have a band on the billing on consecutive years. They played a storming set last year which garnished them with a new fan base.
Saturday starts where we left off musically, but sadly rain is on its way. It failed to dampen the spirits of the festival last year but last night the campsite got a visit from Noah, a sign of things to come. Ironic that we’ve had 8 weeks or more of some of the best weather on history, even Download was dry, but this wasn’t to be for Steelhouse, in fact the wind and rain today would interfere with the proceedings again. I heard it said that theirs only been two dry days in the seven years of the festival!!
The BAD FLOWERS get things started. Playing a set that included song titles such as Hurricane and Thunder Child, irony at its best, as they finished their set which included favourite City Lights and new song Can’t Find a Soul, the heavens opened.
AARON BUCHANAN and the CULT CLASSICS ventured on stage next. Any flamboyant frontman would have his work cut out in this monsoon, but Aaron delivered a cracking set sadly cut short by the now obligatory Thunder and Lightning, and a steady dose of high wind, the Jetstream had relocated and was making a right nuisance of itself.
A big painted face backdrop appeared, with eyes of a cold blue and black and white ying-yang style make up, it wasn’t smiling either. This was the banner of MYKE GRAY. Having briefly popped into his dressing room to see my good friend Wayne Banks, Mikes bass player, Myke said he didn’t want to know what the weather was doing as he limbered up, his fingers like lightning up and down the neck of his guitar sat in his lap. Hmm a bit late I thought, as I dripped a puddle of water deep enough to sail a model boat on his dressing room floor. Myke former guitarist with Skin proceeded to play a guitar driven rock set, impressing all. His smile though out showed that he was enjoying his time on stage, even the rain gods stopped to watch this Flying Vee wielding axeman do his thing. With screaming guitar runs Gray smashed the weather away leaving us with a version of ‘House of Love sung by the awesome Phil Cochlane, this is a Skin song and should only be sung by Steelhouse favourite Nev MacDonald judging by the head shaking around the area. Either way it was a sterling set!
It was with great sadness that Mikey gave tribute to a fellow organiser and friend Tony Aspey who sadly passed away all to quickly this year. With a music tribute from AC/DC playing in the background Mikey saluted this friend of many years.
KING KING, a band which sadly had to cancel their appearance last year due to frontman Alan Nimmo’s repeated bouts of ‘No Voice’ have finally made it up the mountain. Introduce by the genial twosome from Planet Rock, Danter with Drum sticks and Reddick with bass guitar in hand, they joked about standing in if need, Lindsay Coulson (bass) handed his bass to Darren who quickly declined. Nimmo clad in his signature Kilt set about making up for last year. Delivering a powerhouse performance which includes favourites Long History of Love, Rush Hour, and Stop the Rain, which did all be it momentarily. The King King sound brought a different vibe to the arena, a new fan base was cemented with this knockout performance.
80’s pop idol was up next, a true icon and one I had difficulty in relating too I have to be honest. The DAN REED NETWORK was a band I’d not followed apart from seeing the posts recently on Facebook, he wasn’t someone I’d seen live so how could this work? I kept thinking to myself.
BLOODY HELL! What a set this man played. To me this was the set of the weekend. The man entertained like I’ve not seen since Freddie. From the opening chords of Cruise Together until the final of Get to You this man rocked! I cannot understand how he slipped under my radar. The whole band exuded sheer talent. They delivered an electrifying mix of Pop, Funk, and powerful Rock, wrapped up and delivered by a very animated Dan Reed, one minute looking like Dwayne Johnson, the next a total rock god. We even had a Rainbow come along to say hi as we saw him play Rainbow Child a song that really captured the crowd’s imagination. A superb band and a new fan, an awesome set.
MYLES KENNEDY and CO has got to follow that, a clever bit of set listing has put the only man probably capable of doing it, on next. Myles is rounding off his UK season by playing a few festivals. After doing his solo acoustic ‘Year of the Tiger’ tour earlier this year he has now turned up with a full electric band. This was still going to be a very different side of Myles that the Alter Bridge fans know. And so, the rain fell. Myles started off with Devil on the Wall fitting due to the weather taunting us. This was mixed with songs from Alter Bridge, Slash and the Conspirators, Robert Johnson and the Trooper from Iron Maiden.
This slightly laid-back set gave the crowd a respite ready for the headliner, Mr GLENN HUGHES. This closing set was for the die-hard’s 1970’s Deep Purple played by 1/5 of the band. Opening the set with the appropriate Stormbringer, Hughes charged his way through his set list of Deep Purple classic’s, his voice better than I can remember and still being able to hit the screams when required. The set was full of favourites including; Just Might Take My Life, Mistreated and finished with Burn something that would be hard with all the rain we’ve had. No Deep Purple gig would be complete without every new guitarist’s favourite riff; Smoke on the Water this went down well with the arena singing along with him. Myles Kennedy made a special appearance for Highway Star this showcased both their amazing vocal talents, and Myles lead guitar skills. A great set for Deep Purple fans, although some may say the solo’s got a bit self-indulgent, it wasn’t Ian Paice, John Lord or even Ritchie (or was it Tommy Bolin then?) after all.
A great end to a solid if wet Saturday… what would tomorrow bring?
Sunday started with a monumental downpour. Sat having breakfast in the local Premier Inn we watched several small children being driven across the car park by the high winds their parents in hot pursuit carrying what was left of an umbrella as they went.
Darren Reddick commented on my inappropriate footwear as he waited by the coffee machine. Odd coloured Crocs may not be the order of the day. He informed us that the start had slipped back due to the horrendous over-night weather on top of the mountain.
As we eventually ascended the mountain at lunch time, it became obvious that some folk had had too much of a good time. A steady trail of vehicles slowly made their way past us down the rocky road and off home for a warm and a dry. We heard of tents being blown away, contents scattered across the campsite, family’s sleeping in their cars as their ‘Festival tent’ had been shredded by the heavy wind and rain. Noah was happy inside his Ark it would seem.
As we ventured on site we got to hear that the show would be postponed until 2pm as no sound checks could be sorted during the morning. Speaking to Mark Kane, the stage manager and good friend, he said that they spent most of the night rebuilding the stage and making sure it was secure as it took one hell of a beating.
Word had it as we drank tea from the Motley Brew tent, the best tea up a mountain for sure, that the Quireboys had gotten stuck in Europe, apparently trying to get from Stuttgart they we’re now in Croatia, they would be unlikely for the show and to add insult to injury for many of the fans, one of the highlights for many, The Dead Daisies had also pulled from the show. This Supergroup had scheduled to fly in by helicopter, not a chance in this weather! Let’s just say they took a lot of stick for the rest of the day from bands and fans alike.
A brief respite came when Ricky Warwick & Damon Johnson appeared on stage during their band’s sound check. Blasting into Soldier town they gave the fans an impromptu show telling them that their all crazy but if they were here so would they be unlike some! The crowd had formed along the barrier to watch this pair rock out.
On a wet stage, we start of later than scheduled, two bands down meant that some of these newer bands would get a slightly longer set.
The Dust Coda came on first and gave the damp crowd just what it needed, a high energy start to the day, they reminded folk why they were here with an energetic set, using the whole stage despite the rain. The stage front was now filling up with festival goers, clad in waterproofs and a beer or two in hand. Those Damn Crows came up next. A cracking bunch of lads, I left my cohorts in the bar with them the previous evening, I hope the band are alright as Pete and Spano can sup a beverage or two. Fear not the band proved a crowd pleaser as they powered they’re way through a dynamic hair flying set as they did so arriving on stage to loud chanting from the crowd, ‘Ronnie’ ‘ Ronnie’, drummer Ronnie Huxford struck the pose from behind his kit his face beaming.
A five piece from Glasgow came on stage next, Mason Hill, they decided they would turn on the heat. Playing a set that included a tribute to the late Chester Bennington by playing a slowed down version of Audioslave’s Goat Cheese, ok, ok Cochise, I blame the accent! A great finish to their set, a band to look out for in the future as they open for Dan Reed.
Massive Wagons hit the stage next with a veritable pile driver! Baz Mills running in from the left with a flying leap onto the now slowly drying stage. Clad in green trousers, red shoes and his by now trademark bowler hat, this bearded frontman is on it. A high adrenaline fuelled set follows. Screaming around the stage Baz and the boys put the intensity back into the show. With a slightly longer set we see songs with the great names like Billy Balloon Head and Shit Sweat Death. The set is finished with the crowd favourite Fee Fi Fo Fum. Brilliant energy and a great addition to the festival. Definitely put them on your must-see list!
The Wildhearts are up next, hmmm what sort of mood will Ginger be in, I’d already heard he’d missed an interview slot as he was still in bed on the tour bus!! Fear not, today is a good day and it sees the band in great form. Bringing their style of Rock to the stage. Through digs about helicopters and soft supergroups forgetting their roots and the obvious reference to their one legged bass player, Danny McCormack, ok he did take a stool eventually but made it up the mountain. The Wildhearts played a storming set, several in the crowd saying it’s the best they’ve seen Ginger play in a very long time. Getting the crowd to sing anything they like during ‘Weekend’ makes for a chaotic sound that kind of worked, amidst laughter Ginger gets the crowd to repeat it while he laughs, a great moment as Ginger is renowned for his bouts of depression, of which lots has been already written.
Sunday headliners and show closers for Steelhouse 2018 are the Black Star Riders, this former Thin Lizzy band has now dropped the ‘tribute’ moniker and are now producing some excellent songs as themselves. Tonight we are in for a treat as the band are revved up and loud. Drawing from both their own and Lizzy’s back catalogue they knock out a stellar set. Killer Instinct, Testify, and All Hell Breaks Loose, along with crowd favourites Jailbreak and the Boys are Back in Town. Gorham is in the groove, this original Lizzy member is happy smiling at the crowd as he poses around the stage, momentarily taking the lime light from the brilliant frontman Warwick as he stands stage centre and oozes class. Trading licks with youngster Johnson as they play back and forth. The encore brings us the epic Kingdom of the Lost and the bouncing Bound for Glory. No Black Star Riders set would be complete without a crowd sing along and that’s provided by the show stopper Whiskey In the Jar a perfect end to the day and the festival. Warwick has grown into one of the best frontmen on the circuit, he’s dynamic and fresh, equally at home singing or playing his Gretsch, this venerable Irishman completes that sound.
Steelhouse is probably the best kept festival secret going. Having clashed with other Festivals over the previous year’s its helped keep the mountain top a place for fans in the know. The weather is harsh at best, but thats what you get for having a stage on the top of a mountain.
An awesome festival which has great line ups, early bird 2019 tickets are already available and it’s great value for money, just bring plenty of dry clothing and a tent able to stand up to hurricane winds. See you up the mountain next year!
Words & pictures: Manny Manson