Steelhouse – Aberbeeg, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm – 29 July 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Saturday, 05 August 2017 04:30

Getting to this year’s Steelhouse proved to be one of our most gruelling adventures yet, as Murphy’s Law seemed to have applied itself to the outward leg of our trip from Belfast to Ebbw Vale and then on to the mountain top that is home to Europe’s highest festival (yes, folks, it’s official!).  Almost everything that could have gone wrong did just that, from delayed flights to missed train connections to cancelled and broken down trains… Things didn’t get much better when we eventually got to the top of the mountain (but that’s another story…)…


The sun may have been shining, but the monsoon conditions of the previous evening had ensured that the site was already ankle deep in mud:  obviously, the state of the ground posed massive problems behind the scenes, but everyone mucked in (sic) and very few festival-goers were aware of the back-breaking work being undertaken by staff and volunteers to get everything underway and running as smoothly as possible under the circumstances… so, let’s start this review by saying a massive “well done” and “thank you” to every single one of the Steelhouse family for ensuring that the show did indeed go on!


Florence Black 5


The gods of music were indeed smiling as local heroes Florence Black took to the stage dead on time and proceeded to do their best to blow away any remaining dampness in the air and any cobwebs in earlycomers’ brains with their energetic of blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll.  After just one song, however, bassist Fozzi encounters severe technical problems, which lead frontman Tristan to eventually declare that the instrument in question is “fucked”:  before this, however, he fills in nicely with an impromptu singalong of ‘Men Of Harlech’, before Perry batters the living crap out of his kick with a short drum solo.  Later, they treat us to a cover of the Budgie classic ‘Breadfan’ (which, quite honestly, blows Metallica’s rendition clear across the Brecon Beacons) in a set which is a suitably rambunctious start to the weekend’s proceedings.


  • Florence Black play the Serpent’s Lair Stage at Bloodstock next Saturday (12 August), and Hard Rock Hell in Pwllheli on Friday 10 November.


Tequila Mockingbird 8


Next up is the feisty riot grrl metal-meets-punk crossover of Tequila Mockingbyrd, playing the last of a solid 31-date run of shows, which broke in their recently changed line up, following the recruitment of Louisa Baker on vocals and guitar (might be an idea to update your Facebook page ladies)… And, to be honest, the ladies look tired, as they stay rooted to virtually one spot for most of the performance, rarely venturing forward of their microphone stands.  Despite some very catchy songs, such as ‘Never Go Home’, ‘I Smell Rock N Roll’, newbie ‘Tell Me’ and the tongue-in-cheek ‘Why Are We Still Friends’, there’s just something missing: they just lack that little bit of sparkle, that touch of vim, that sprinkle of zest and the set doesn’t really fizz.  The result is the impression of a band who are very much still a little rough around the edges – a work in progress, if you will… Nevertheless, they do show a lot of potential and I’m sure this is not the last time our paths will cross…


Stone Broken 9


Stone Broken are a lot more like it: a young band with a tonne of experience behind them, but the nous to know that they also have a long road ahead of them, and who are keen to grab every opportunity by the balls and give them a damn good shaking… and that’s exactly what they do.  They are ballsy and confident right from the off, their huge sound echoing not just around the arena but also the surrounding valleys. Their big, crunchy riffs are complemented by equally massive harmonies and melodies, while the guys (and gal) have the personalities to match – especially frontman Rich Moss, who just oozes maturity and has a natural ability to draw the crowd to him and his band.  It is a strong, tight and strident performance from a young band with a very big future: with a new album due later this year, any self-respecting promoter really should be battering their door down to offer Stone Broken main stage slots next festival season.


Bernie Marsden 2


There’s a complete change of mood for one of Steelhouse’s favourite artists, Bernie Marsden, who, of course, had already performed the previous evening alongside the festival’s “house band” (as they were later christened), Hand Of Dimes.  Now, when it was first announced that Bernie would be doing a “special acoustic set”, many of us believed that this might take place in the bar area, in an elongated gap between the other bands – but, no, here he is on the big main stage, just himself and his guitar… To be honest, I’m not sure if, at first glance, slowing the momentum right down like this was such a good idea in and of itself, but festival bills, like life, are about taking risks – and, on this occasion, the man delivered a crowd-pleasing selection of Whitesnake songs and assorted covers during a set which saw diehard fans shouting out requests and Marsden performing with that almost permanent impish grin of his firm glued to his face.  An interesting, and welcome interlude – especially in light of what was to come!


Inglorious 7


The ‘Grandstand’ theme proves to an extremely appropriate intro tape for Inglorious, as Nathan James makes a grandiose entrance replete in sunglasses and a black kimono adorned with a (Japanese) dragon in a truly grandstanding manner.  Now, there is no doubt that he is a showman in the best rock ‘n’ roll tradition, and he is backed by a collection of superbly tight musicians:  but, therein lies the problem, as the latter come across as the singer’s backing band, as much as anything, and there is very little interaction between James and the rest of the group.  Indeed, he “swans” (to use DQ’s scribbled descriptive) off stage during the solo sections of the songs, when he’s not preening himself more frequently than a lovelorn peacock.  In fact, there’s more mincing going on onstage than it took to make the spag bol we had a few nights earlier!  Still, it’s an entertaining set, with some really good songs, and earns a deservedly energetic reaction.


  • Inglorious’ UK and Ireland tour starts on Saturday 30 September at the Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd.


Monster Truck 6


What is it about bands with the word “truck” in their name?  Yesterday, Trucker Diablo’s set (just like the week before at Amplified) was characterised by torrential rain:  and, lo, just as Monster Truck complete their line checks, the heavens open once again!  It doesn’t deter the band one iota, however – hell, Jer is even stripped to the waist in defiance of the elements!  And, apart from the few who take solace in the bar and VIP tent, the enthusiasm of the audience isn’t dampened either, as the quartet bump and grind their way through a set filled with sounds as big as their name, their deep, thick grooves coupled with infectious enthusiasm. Despite the atrocious conditions, it’s a fiery set, well-paced and thoroughly entertaining:  the best set of the day so far… but, then, they’re about to be upstaged!


Last In Line 6


The rain has eased slightly, but not by much, as we’re invited to ‘Stand Up And Shout’ – and we don’t need to be asked twice as Last In Line rip into their set, and just as quickly we’re ‘Shot Through The Heart’.  For those unfamiliar with the band, it was initially made up of the surviving members of the band that recorded the first three Dio albums, although only guitarist Viv Campbell and drummer Jimmy Bain survive from that classic line-up.  Both of the two “vets” are smiling from ear to ear from the first second of the set to the last, with Campbell in particular in ebullient form, almost dancing for joy: well, when you’ve stared death in the face, you cherish and relish every chance to enjoy every last moment of life, don’t you?


Last In Line 1


Frontman Andrew Freeman is a powerhouse – showing how to be a powerful and commanding frontman without having to resort to prancing and preening – both physically and vocally (close your eyes and there are moments you would swear it was RJD himself up there), and has the audience eating out of the palm of his outstretched hand, while the band are tight as fuck, despite apparently having been disappointed at what they saw as a below par performance at Ramblin’ Man Fair the previous evening (so much so that they had driven through the night to get in an early rehearsal on the Steelhouse stage). Even with an album of original material under their belts, the set is still dominated by Dio songs – but that is what the crowd expect and the band don’t fail to fulfill those expectations, which isn’t hard to do when you have a great singer translating those classic songs and bringing them into the modern era.  No doubt more original songs will make their way into the set once the second album comes out, but for the meantime it was a case of ‘Let’s Rock’ as the rain-soaked crowd bathed in the sunshine of rock ‘n’ roll glory.


[FOOTNOTE:  As I was writing up this review, it was announced that Viv Campbell will be honoured with the Oh Yeah! Legend Award as part of the Northern Ireland Music Prize, which will be presented at a ceremony in Belfast’s Mandela Hall on Saturday 11 November. Last In Line will perform after the presentation.]


Skindred 4


Now, it has to be admitted that the Steelhouse fanbase was fiercely divided when it was announced that Skindred were to headline this first day.  “They’re not classic rock” was one clarion call. “You can’t have a local band headlining” was another rather inane comment.  But, one thing was always going to be certain – the Newport ragga metallers were always going to bring the party to the mountain top… and that is just what they did, with the rain not doing anything to dampen the spirits of all concerned.


While many older audiences headed either for their tents or the road back down, Benji Webbe bounced and bobbed between the raindrops, constantly moving and encouraging the audience to reach ever higher levels of ecstasy, despite the horrendous conditions underfoot.  This was the first time I had seen Skindred live, and I must admit that the band are impressively tight – but, they know their place, and that is behind their larger-than-life frontman, who most certainly is the life and soul of any party.  And the sight of several hundred half naked men whirling their T shirts above their heads in the middle of a monsoon to create those infamous “Newport helicopters”… well, it just had to be seen to be believed.


Skindred 5


Yes, they may have divided opinion, but they united a rain soaked field of tired rockers in one huge mofo of a mountaintop party… and that’s all that really counts at the end of the night, isn’t it?


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen/Uber Rock.  View our full gallery of photographs HERE.


The 2018 edition of Steelhouse has been confirmed for the weekend of Friday 27 – Sunday 29 July.  Early bird tickets are available HERE.


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