Steelhouse Festival 2013 - Aberbeeg, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm - 27th-28th July 2013 Print E-mail
Written by Ian Bell and Rob Watkins   
Friday, 09 August 2013 03:00

The 3rd annual Steelhouse Festival has now established itself as one of the top classic rock festivals in the UK, and now this year with Planet Rock sponsoring it, it`s onward and upward for the Steelhouse crew and with us once again packing up our old kit bags for a weekend in the most picturesque of’s time to bring on the rock.


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With the stage bathed in hot summer sunshine Fireroad are the first of two Battle Of The Bands competition winners are possibly the perfect openers for this type of occasion with their smooth ‘DC vs. ‘Phonics slant on music. This is a band who have been honing their musical muscle far and wide over the last few months, so hence a large proportion of the already fast growing audience are fully aware of the group`s back catalogue and are extremely appreciative of the band`s midday efforts. Delivering a set that includes the great new tune `Bones’ and a carefully selected number of tunes from their debut record `I Got Sound’ there’s plenty of groove for everyone especially on the band’s stand out track `Knock It Away’...It`s time to partyyyy!


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Next up, Dead Shed Jokers and WOW! there’s that instant groove and essential festival vibe from one of the most exciting Welsh bands to slide outta the music scene in quite some time. Their eclectic mixture of sounds all razor sharp with their jammin’ elements adding a spontaneity to proceedings that has frontman Hywel Gwrthefyr Davies`s kicking the shit out of his monitors and in turn the front rows. If you ever wondered what QOTSA crashing head-on into The Doors might sound like musically speaking then this is the band for you. Check out the band’s new free EP ‘Peculiar Pastimes’ a lot of which was played here today and you’ll find music performed from the heart... one word describes these boys...and that word is unique. (Rob Watkins)


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Hand Of Dimes sees not only the reunion of former Kooga band mates Neville Macdonald also of Skin and Neil Garland trading in the style of soulful blues rock but also the first rain the Welsh valleys has seen in quite some time. No matter what you think of the sudden downpour or Kooga or Skin one thing is certain is the quality of Macdonald’s vocal ability and the ability of them both to write a good song which shone through in their set. So whilst Hand of Dimes arrived in the sun by the time ‘Looking at You’ was played the skies had opened and the sheets of rain came down but you know what, this just added to the blues rock vibe leaving a cold, wet, but very happy and appreciative number smiling when they left the stage, that was both those in front of the stage and those less weather hardy amongst us peeping from under the cover of the beer tent.


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With the rest of the Uber Rock contingent heading off to start band interviews Planet Rock darlings Fighting Wolves are really up for making an impression and their energy and angst is channelled through a heavier and at sometimes Foo Fighters influenced sound which on one hand is a welcome change in pace to the day’s classic rock proceedings but at other times appeared a little samey and merged together. There was though enough to keep the festival momentum moving forward leaving me with an urge to check their EP out, so a mission accomplished by the band I guess. (Ian Bell)


One of the bands making quite a stir before they set foot on the stage at this year`s festivities are The Temperance Movement, so before their debut album has even hit the streets the crowd gathered to see their early afternoon slot is certainly impressive. Also impressive is their Stones-esque and maybe some ever so slight Thunder musical influences, both of which come shining through. So in spite of the band’s moniker there`s definitely no chance of any reduction in the consumption of alcoholic beverages on site this weekend so guys I guess you`ll just have to stick to the music, something the Scot fronted five piece do very well indeed keeping the Steelhouse attendees swaying and bouncing through the rain with up-tempo rockers incorporated alongside some slow moving mellower paced numbers such as `Pride’. The Temperance Movement providing a real foot tapping palaver and in the overall bigger commercial picture this is a band that also look good to boot. We expect big things.


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I must be on board the Steelhouse Hot Tub time machine, the controls set for 1983, as Anvil arrive back in the UK and finally back in South Wales, albeit they are now movie stars to top it off and this appearance is quite the coup for the Steelhouse gang as right now Anvil are really on top of their game, full of metal intensity and belief that they can do no wrong, Lips, Rob and Sal absolutely fuckin` rock the fuck out of the Arael mountain from start to finish. They do so by delivering a set full of metal classics like `666’, ‘ Winged Assassins’, `Mothra’ plus some newies like `Hope In Hell’, and of course lets not forget the fourth "member" of Anvil as Lips’ infamous dildo enters the equation for a little musical play-time before the band close with `Metal On Metal’. 30 years on, thanks for the memories guys. (Rob Watkins)


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FM are a strange entity for me, as I sort of missed the boat a bit on them back in the day. I remember them as being probably too polished and AOR sounding for my metal thrashing mad tastes back then. I do remember them as regular page fillers in the likes of Kerrang even if they weren’t in greater scheme of things particularly big hitters. Fast forward many years later and as if from out of nowhere FM are suddenly turning up on the likes of the Download festival bill, touring with bands such as Whitesnake and Journey and creating some long overdue excitement, well with a couple of the Uber Rock team alongside me today anyway. Opening up with ‘Tough Love’ from the band’s new album ‘Rockville’ before seguing into ‘I Belong To The Night’ a song h that has Watkins and H singing along like lunatics straight away you know this audience isn’t going to be much of a challenge for the FM boys to win over.


The songs keep coming as the likes of ‘Don’t Stop’ (from ‘Tough It Out’) go down well, the power ballad of ‘Closer To Heaven’ (from ‘Aphrodisiac’) proving just how good the vocals of Steve Overland are and how tight FM are as a band. ‘Wildside’ from ‘Metropolis’ demonstrates the band’s heavier rock credentials even creating a bit of a pit of jumping and fist pumping on the front barrier before the Planet Rock backed single ‘Crosstown Train’ brings some familiarity to those not aware of their past. FM bring things to an end with a superb cover of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which leaves two very hard to please Uber Rockers stood next to me beaming, evidence enough then that whilst FM had more than satisfied older fans whilst also picking up some new fans in the rain today.


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Having already witnessed Saxon on this tour earlier in the year I knew the Steelhouse Festival was going to see something special from tonight’s headliners, but not even after seeing them on most tours over the last 25 years or so, was I ready for just how good things were going to be over the next 90 minutes. As soon as they open with ‘Sacrifice’ from this year’s album release of the same name (an essential purchase in my humble opinion) the festival immediately moves up a couple of divisions in class and quality and when you have a back catalogue as strong as Saxon’s the classics just keep coming. ‘Power & The Glory’ gets an early airing, the song celebrating its 30th birthday before Biff reminisces about playing Six Bells in Abertillery to great applause as we are all within touching distance from this fine temple of rock that we are stood upon this evening.


It is a night of hits and surprises as Saxon have brought their full stage production and for the occasion are filming a documentary (Saxon Chronicles 2) focusing on the classic Eagle being back in the UK for the first time in 20 years. The film following its flight from Germany to the top of a mountain in the Welsh valleys for the Steelhouse Festival. ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ and ‘And The Bands Played On’ are followed by ‘Conquistador’ during which Nigel Glockler rises into the air above a waterfall of sparks for his obligatory solo. Tonight though with sticks flying and his name emblazoned in lights across the stage the slots provides one of the few entertaining drum solos I have ever seen – guitar and drum solos normally killing gigs dead for me. ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ slows things down before the pace picks up again with ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’, ‘Stand Up and Fight’, and ‘Dallas 1 p.m.’ keep things at fever pitch before live favourite ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ finally sees the return of the much loved Eagle to a Saxon stage.


‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and ‘Wheels Of Steel’ bring the main set to a close and for any die hard or fan from the ‘80s you could not argue with the set list and batch of songs that illustrate why out of all the NWOBHM bands still going Saxon have won the marathon quality wise, and yes I include Maiden in that list, because unlike Maiden Saxon are still making great metal albums. The encores begin with ‘Crusader’ and you sense both the band and the crowd don’t want tonight to end with Biff even declaring curfews are for pussies. ‘Denim And Leather’ and one of the songs that got me into a life time of loving the heavier aspects of music many years ago ‘Princess Of The Night’ brings the evening to an end. This without a doubt was a land mark in respect of my watching Saxon live; everything just clicked tonight, the production, the sound, a band right on top of its game, and most importantly a festival crowd loving every minute of it, in such a unique setting, thank you Steelhouse. (Ian Bell) 


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BlackbyrdAfter almost drying off in our tents following Saturday night’s moist ending (in more ways than one for yours truly following the awesome Saxon) Battle Of The Bands winners and local boys Blackbyrd open up a Sunday full of rock and rain showers with their brand of southern/classic rock, their line up featuring former Funeral for a Friend guitarist Darran Smith. They certainly have a good batch of songs and in Phil Lye who has given up bass to concentrate on leading the band live they have a tremendous vocalist as demonstrated on songs such as ‘Far Away from Here’ and the song that won them their spot on today’s line up ‘Day of Reckoning’. There could be something in this package and apparently “the ‘Byrd is the word” so keep a listen out for them.


Leicester based Skam deliver a gutsy kind of classic rock with a no nonsense heads down delivery which gains a lukewarm response from those stood watching and recovering from the previous night’s entertainment and consumption. The set appeared to blend into a string of similar sounding songs that had tinges of influences from all corners of a classic rock record collection, again definitely a band worth checking out on CD as familiarity with the songs may improve on the live experience. (Ian Bell)


With barely a chance to grab our first drink of the day Trucker Diablo the Northern Irish four piece are living up to their name by driving headlong at us with some sleazy, spit it out, downtrodden rock and roll. This is music with tainted southern grooves and with their own updated brand of Irish party time rawk the lads perform quite possibly the anthem of the weekend the rather aptly titled `When`s It Gonna Rain’ in glorious sunshine. Trucker are a group equipped with plenty of stage presence and with tracks like `Voodoo` and `Drive` and the crowd pleasing rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival`s eternal classic `Proud Mary` they could do no wrong in the eyes of the Steelhouse faithful.


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Vega also take to the stage amidst the rare blast of afternoon sunshine playing some harder edged Brit AOR giving the genre a fresh slant and probably helped by the group`s reasonably youthful exuberance. Vega are a five piece who are extremely aware of the art of winning over a festival crowd taking the musical bull by the horns right from the off. There are some fine hook laden commercial moments such as `Cry’ and `White Knuckle Ride both of which are delivered quite brilliantly with the sentiment that come rain, or come shine "Get your hands in the air Steelhouse". (Rob Watkins)


Over the last ten years or so I have been fortunate enough to see Heaven’s Basement in its many guises from their origins as Hurricane Party through to Roadstar and now Heaven’s Basement this is however the first opportunity I have had to see them with new frontman Aaron Buchanan, and after this performance I am left feeling that with him leading from the front that they may actually now have that something to make a huge dent on the musical landscape. There are some strong songs aired today such as ‘Fire, Fire’ and ‘Heartbreaking Son Of A Bitch’ from the much acclaimed debut album ‘Filthy Empire’. Heading to Wacken straight after their appearance here and with slots at Leeds and Reading festivals along with a good album to promote tucked under their collective belts we could be hearing a lot more from this bunch.


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Snakecharmer boasts of a line up to get any classic rocker salivating with a promise of music heavily influenced by the classic era of Whitesnake (for that read delete ‘1987’ onwards) this was certainly one band I was not about to miss. I mean any band with Micky Moody (ex Whitesnake), Neil Murray (ex Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Vow Wow, Michael Schenker Group and a million others), Laurie Wisefield (ex Wishbone Ash), Harry James (Thunder, Magnum), Chris Ousey (ex Heartland, Virginia Wolf) and for tonight replacing Adam Wakeman we have Mark Stanway (Magnum) is only going to raise the spirits right? Whatever the elements can through at the Steelhouse Festival faithful.


Opening with ‘Guilty As Charged’ from their self-titled debut and doing just as Saxon did the previous night Snakecharmer shifted Steelhouse up a few gears in terms of class. They certainly weren’t going to fail with a set delivering such old school ‘Snake classics as ‘Ready an’ Willing’ and ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’, the latter a platform for Ousey to show just how good a vocalist he still is, playing around in a range that Coverdale could only reminisce about. Yes sad but true Ousey does with ease what Coverdale has long since not been able to do, that being sing songs such as ‘Slow & Easy’, the proper version of ‘Here I Go Again’, and ‘Fool For Your Loving’ with passion and emotion. However it’s not all about the past as ‘Accident Prone’, ‘My Angel’, ‘Falling Leaves’, and ‘Nothing to Lose’ are all taken from the aforementioned ‘Snakecharmer’ album with Micky Moody’s ‘Moody Blues’ slide guitar solo thrown in mid set for good luck. This set was a hell of a lot of fun and a real crowd pleaser, and whilst some might argue this is borderline tribute band territory, you have to face up to the fact that this is now better than the real thing. Whichever side of the fence you sit on regarding Snakecharmer they are a top notch band for any festival and one to see live again…and again. (Ian Bell)


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Hello there my old friends, it`s been quite some time since I’ve been in the live company of Magnum ,a band I probably idolized once upon a time, but time moves on and our path`s unfortunately haven`t crossed in the resulting 25 years since I last saw them live. However here we are once again stood a rainstorm to end all rainstorms yet no one cares about getting a little damp because this is all about the music. So on this wonderous weekend I am once again in the company of this timeless band and how can they fail to impress with Mark Stanway, Tony Clarkin and of course Bob Catley just a few feet away on the Steelhouse stage performing such epic tunes as `Les Morts Dansant’, `Brand New Morning’ and `How Far Jerusalem’ all knocked out with such tightness and unequalled precision, although I must comment that Catley did appear to be a lot gruffer vocally than I remembered him live.


With `All England`s Eyes‘ making an appearance and keeping the Steelhouse crowd on their toes be it that by now they were ever so wet little piggies, the barrage of hits and classics continues with `Vigilante’ and a set closing `Kingdom Of Madness’, making the years since I last saw Magnum simply slip away. Never wanting to disappoint their fans, Magnum return for encores of chart hits of days gone by `Rockin` Chair’ and `Days Of No Trust’ and as one drunken but lovely moll puts it to me "Magnum - Awesome!"


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Celebrating their headline status by performing songs from their illustrious collective back catalogues Michael Schenker and his Temple Of Rock are also playing tracks from the Scorpions classic ‘Lovedrive’ album on this tour and “Bang!”...we have lift off, as tonight’s opener is in fact that album’s title cut `Lovedrive’. This is rock royalty of the highest order `Another Piece Of Meat` follows and is stupendous and I have to admit I’m left kinda speechless at the barrage of quality, not only the songs but also the musicianship which is quite breath taking to say the least.


Michael Schenker Steelhouse Festival 189 250pxAccompanying Herr Schenker we have acclaimed vocalist Doogie White with his fine set of pipes and typical friendly Scot persona, to his right stands keyboardist/guitarist Wayne Findlay, both standing aside the legendary bass and drums combo of Francis Buchholz and Herman Rarebell from the mighty Scorpions. Of course this is not just about the multi-platinum selling ‘Wind of Change’ boys as `Assault Attack’ and `Armed And Ready’ are wheeled out amongst others from the plethora of classics from the MSG song writing stable. This is the story of my youth retold right here on a mountain-top in Aberbeeg, sometimes it feels just too good to be true and I have to keep remembering it is not a dream


New tune `Horizons’ from the band’s upcoming ‘Bridge The Gap’ record and the Ronnie James Dio tribute song `Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ both stand perfectly fine alongside all the UFO standards such as `Shoot, Shoot’ and flip yeah `Only You Can Rock Me`. Nothing`s gonna dampen this parade tonight not even the torrential rain as `Let It Roll’, `Too Hot To Handle’ and `Lights Out, all flash past. This is what it`s all about, I’m in heaven tonight as the likes of `Holiday’ the rip roaring crowd pleaser that is `Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ are all dusted off and given a 2013 feel by the Temple Of Rock. The list goes on and on (but sadly we don’t get ‘On And On’) and many memories are all encapsulated within two hours of glorious musical mayhem, with of course the man himself Michael Schenker also shining brightly with his guitar highlights. There’s a finale of `Blackout` and `Doctor’ which makes the perfect ending to any festival from across the globe..full stop, then suddenly it’s all over and we are left dreaming of what Steelhouse 2014 will bring.


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As for 2013, the third Steelhouse Festival was all about the people, the several thousand fans who stayed rooted to the spot throughout the rain, the crew behind the scenes working tirelessly to deliver two days of quality rock music, and finally there was the vibe, that spirit within (both young and old) to just rock out and have a great time. Ladies and gentlemen I salute you all, you made this happen.....


Love it live...see ya again in 2014.


[Photographs by Russell Prothero, except Blackbyrd and Trucker Diablo by Rob Watkins]