Steelhouse Festival 2015 – Hafod y Dawal Farm, Ebbw Vale
Now in its fifth year, the Welsh International Classic Rock Festival as it is badged is going from strength to strength. With the support of Planet Rock, (along with the South Wales Argus and Peter’s Pies!), the festival has attracted high quality rock acts from the start and in the last three years has had quality headliners such as MSG, Saxon, Europe and Black Star Riders. Although the Sunday of 2015’s bill didn’t really appeal, (Dee Snider minus the rest of Twisted Sister?) the Saturday line up had sufficient to attract Matt and I for a day ticket at the very reasonable price of £50.
Having camped at the festival two years ago we knew how quickly the weather can change on the top of the mountain. It can be sunny one minute followed by merciless torrential rain the next. Such is Wales in the summer time. Luckily we arrived the morning after a horrendous night of rain to find the sun bursting through and punters in good spirits. The stewards at Steelhouse could certainly teach those miserable fucks at Download a thing or two; friendly greetings all round, bales of hay laid to soak up the huge mud puddles in the car park and a general feel good vibe. The food prices very reasonable, the choice is decent and let’s talk about the beer for a second. Now, many of you will know that we loves our real ale here at the Musipedia, and at Steelhouse you get the extra option of the fine locally brewed ale from the Tudor Brewery, a mere two miles away. The options were plentiful, with Skirrid, Sugar Loaf, Tudor IPA, the specially brewed Mountain Rock and the intriguing and surprisingly tasty Blitz, a pomegranate and sherbet fruity ale. Offering three tokens for £10, each token securing you a pint, this was just perfect and during the day we managed to comfortably work our way along the bar. The usual selection of merchandise stalls flanked the left side of the arena, and provided us with the opportunity to browse CDs and patches throughout the day.
Kicking off the music was Florence Black (6). A three piece from Merthyr, FB played a decent opening set with some catchy if generic rock tunes. Tristan, Jordan and Perry gave a good account of themselves and got the slowly filling field into the mood. A decent sound helped and with the wind having dropped FB’s music probably drew a few more from the camp site.
Next up were Massive Wagons (6). Now, we saw these guys at Hard Rock Hell in Pwllheli last November and whilst they received a huge reaction, we were unable to fathom out why. So, in the interests of fairness, we gave them another go. An unfortunate start saw Baz Mills microphone cut out, unbeknown to him to start with, whilst the band kicked into their opening number. Once the technical difficulties had been sorted, Massive Wagons got into their stride and once again completely passed me by. They are energetic and watchable but make no impact whatsoever. Maybe it’s just me; Massive Wagons seem to be one of the bands destined to be on the Hard Rock Hell/Steelhouse circuit for some time and they clearly appeal, getting a healthy response from the crowd.
Planet Rock’s Darren Redick made an appearance on stage to introduce the powerhouse duo of Henry’s Funeral Shoe (8). Brothers Aled (vocals and guitar) and Brennig (drums) kick up a real storm with a set full of rhythm and blues. Delivering tracks from their two albums, Henry’s Funeral Shoe have the classic delivery of The White Stripes, and as well as making a ferocious noise for a two piece, they also have Aled’s typically South Walian deadpan delivery. Making several references to the number of kids he had (“well, look at me” he jibbed) Aled also extolled the virtues of touring during the school holidays (to avoid the kids and the missus). Another well received set from a band well known in the South Wales circuits, but also a band who have received real acclaim and credibility from their hard work and touring. Well worth checking out.
Two years ago it is fair to say that Northern Ireland’s Trucker Diablo (8) were one of the stars of the weekend. With their aggressive hard rock and some quality tunes from The Devil Rhythm and Songs Of Iron, the big truck was definitely rolling. Since then, the band has had a bit of turmoil, with the band going on hiatus, then returning with a pledge album and a change in the line-up. The release of their third album Rise Above The Noise has clearly galvanised the guys back into action and they took the stage to a huge ovation. Although some of the new stuff has moved the band dangerously close to the province’s own Black Stone Cherry (complete with Tom Harte's stage look mirroring that of Chris Robertson), the big truck still know how to deliver the ideal beer drinking tunes and older tracks such as Drink Beer, Destroy, Juggernaut and The Rebel ensured that the band provided another Steelhouse highlight.
Cambridge rockers The Treatment (9) then increased the temperature within the arena by a few degrees with a storming set which oozed class and confidence. Having seen the band a few times before, the band are really improving every time New singer Mitchell Emms fitted in perfectly and demonstrated a fine pair of pipes whilst delivering a quality frontman performance, sharp, confident without a hint of arrogance and really engaging with crowd. Alongside new guitarist Tao Grey also fitted in seamlessly alongside Tagore Grey, energetic Mohawked bassist Rick Newman and drummer Dhani Mansworth. In a cracking set crammed full of punk edged rock, the Treatment generated a very positive response and their aggressive approach paid off and the very apt Shake The Mountain was a very apt and enthusiastically received set closer.
After all of these youthful energetic bands, it was time for some real old school with Scottish rockers Nazareth (7). Having been in the business for over 40 years and a back catalogue of hits longer than your arm, I'm ashamed to say that I’d never got around to seeing them. Only bassist Pete Agnew remains from the original line-up, with the sand-papered vocals of Dan McCafferty sadly forced into retirement in 2013. However, the core of the band has been solid for a good few years with guitarist Jimmy Murrison a 20 year veteran and drummer Lee Agnew (Pete’s son) on board for a good 15. The latest addition to the line-up is vocalist Carl Sentence, yes, mouthpiece of South Walian NWOBHM outfit Persian Risk amongst others. Carl is a great frontman and despite a shaky start to the set with a horribly tinny thin sound which was rectified by actually plugging in Agnew’s bass, he soon put his own take on a range of the Naz’s classic material. Miss Misery and Razamanaz were weak, with the latter suffering from the absence of a second guitar to drive it forward. However, the tempo increased with Bad Bad Boy, This Flight Tonight, Expect No Mercy and a stonking Love Hurts before the set ended with a rather disjointed Morning Dew. Still, it was great to see this band, despite the absence of McCafferty.
If ever there was a band designed for a classic rock festival, it has to be Y&T (9). A massive favourite in Wales (this was their third visit to the principality in a year with another scheduled for late October), the Californian outfit must have wondered where the hell they were when they pulled up in their tour bus. However, Dave Meniketti’s band stormed the stage and provided an hour and a quarter of absolute joy. This was in part because of their decision to play all of 1982’s classic Black Tiger, which contains some of their best works. Indeed, Black Tiger has some of the meatiest riffs ever committed to record, with the title track, Mean Streak and Open Fire all cutting across the sky. It also contains the appalling lyrics of Bar Room Boogie, the ballad Winds Of Change and of course, Don’t Want To Lose You. Meniketti is in fine form for a man of 61, with his voice holding up brilliantly and his fretwork absolutely blistering. The man can rock out with the best but also has a tender side with some delicate work on the slower, bluesier tracks. He is the only original member of the line-up, and is ably supported by guitarist John Nymann (earlier witnessed wandering around the arena talking comfortably with the legions of Y&T shirted fans), Mike Vanderhule on drums and Brad Lang on bass. Y&T closed with the barnstorming Forever, which incited much shaking of heads and boogieing across the field.
As the sun started to set, it was time for the headliners. As I've stated before, I absolutely love UFO, and Phil Mogg and co. delivered another quality set. Opening with We Belong To The Night, the band tore up the field with their hard edged rock and a superbly paced set which contained a mix of classic tracks interspersed with tracks from their recent releases. Fight Night, Run Boy Run and a blistering Lights Out followed, with Vinnie Moore proving once more what an exceptional guitarist he is. Throughout the set Mogg engaged the crowd with some rambling chat, a combination of classic uncle and East End gangster. Amongst the other tracks delivered was Cherry, Burn Your House Down and Venus. Ably supported by the ever reliable Andy Parker, keyboard and rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond (again hugely underrated in my book) and bassist Rob De Luca, UFO (10) were tight, focused and thoroughly captivating. As the set sped to its conclusion, Moore once again took centre stage to deliver that solo in Rock Bottom which was received with a massive ovation. Closing with Doctor Doctor and a battering version of Shoot Shoot, UFO once again demonstrated why they deserve the title of legends.
An excellent day out and great value for money. Now Steelhouse, get Motorhead to headline next year please? That would really blow the roof off!