Review By Paul Quinton
Day 1, Saturday July 24th 2015
The Steelhouse festival, now styling itself as the Welsh International Classic Rock Festival, reached its fifth year, and to celebrate, put together an enticing bill of bands. Sadly, the weather wasn’t impressed by the chance of seeing Dee Snider, UFO, Tyketto, Y & T, FM and the other fine bands on the bill, but nonetheless, those who attended and stuck out the weather saw some excellent music over the weekend.
Although Saturday was the first official day of the event, the organisers held a low-key, pre-festival show on the Friday night, featuring two bands. Midlands band Lawless had the honour of opening proceedings, but the weather had decided to give us an early pointer as to what we could expect later in the weekend and a steady, persistent rain deterred most of the early festival goers from venturing out of the beer tent. Nevertheless, the band gave it their best, although if the weather hadn’t been enough to deal with, they also had to withstand two power failures on stage which broke up the set and made it hard to really get going. The band’s melodic hard rock is usually a good listen, and guitarist Howie G is always worth watching, but while the band stuck it out, it was never going to be one of their better days.
For Buffalo Summer, this was as good as a local gig, and although the weather wasn’t letting up, they didn’t suffer the same technical problems as Lawless and under the circumstances put on a pretty decent set. They actually managed to lure some braver souls out of the beer tent, their songs had just the right amount of melody and heaviness to stick in the mind and went down really well. I’d seen the band a few times previously, without them ever being really memorable, but despite the difficult circumstances, this was the best I’d seen them play and in the end it was a good way to round off the evening.
Saturday dawned, and, praise be, the sun was out. Unusually the opening band for the day, another local outfit Florence Black, began their set ten minutes ahead of schedule. Despite the name, the band is a three piece, all male ensemble, and they set about entertaining the slowly growing crowd with a fair amount of enthusiasm, although they found it just as hard as the Friday night bands to entice those in the beer tent out into the daylight even with the vastly better weather. Seriously, Florence Black sounded like a really good band, not unlike fellow South Wales band, the legendary Budgie, but also with a modern slant reminiscent of Alterbridge on occasion, and they even managed to get the crowd to sing along a couple of times. A really good start to the day.
Although Florence Black had had a really good sound, startlingly good for such an early place on the bill, Massive Wagons had issues almost as soon as they started their set. The vocals were inaudible at first, and one of their guitarists seemed to be having almost continual problems with his backline. Credit to the band for persevering, their straight forward rock sound managed to overcome the problems they were having, but this wasn’t the day for them to shine.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Henry’s Funeral Shoe, knowing little about them before they burst into song, so it was a surprise when they turned out to be a duo of guitar and drums. Shades of the White Stripes, I thought, but, brilliantly, they turned out to be a proper blues band, far funkier and bluesier than certain bands with a similar line up. Another local band, they sound like a heady mix of George Thoroughgood and ZZ Top, with the occasional touch of Rory Gallagher. In fact they sounded so authentically Delta Blues, it was sometimes a surprise to hear guitarist and singer Aled Clifford’s Welsh accent in his wryly entertaining between song chat. As well as songs from their first two albums, the band also debuted a new song, enticingly titled ‘Janice The Stripper, Part 1’, which fitted into their overall set really well. Best band of the weekend, so far, easily.
I’d heard a lot of good things about Trucker Diablo in the days leading up to Steelhouse and to a certain extent they didn’t disappoint, and again they went down really well in the afternoon sunshine. My only issue was that they weren’t that different from a few of the other bands that had gone before, fairly straightforward rock, albeit with hints of the Almighty and Thunder thrown in, and because of this they didn’t stand out enough to make a real impression. I liked their cover of ‘Proud Mary’; an unusual choice these days, and they’re obviously a very capable band who clicked well with the Steelhouse crowd. Didn’t do it for me on the day, but well worth further investigation.
It’s usually the case at these events where one band appears and almost instantly takes things up several levels in terms of class, attitude, performance, whatever you want to call it, and so it was with The Treatment. It was obvious the band wanted to seize the whole day by the scruff of the neck, they were the first band on the day to really work the stage, not just new vocalist Mitchell Emms, but the whole band were regular users of the cat walk out into the audience, and songs like ‘Bloodsucker’, ‘Running With The Dogs’ and the anthemic ‘Drink, Fuck, Fight’ were perfect for the occasion. Not only visually, but the two new members fitted into the band as if they’d been there for years and the whole band were as tight as the proverbial and looked to be enjoying themselves nearly as much as the audience. A really, really fine set.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Nazareth. A veteran band, although with but a single member remaining from the band’s heyday, bassist Pete Agnew, with his son Lee on drums, Jimmy Murrison on guitar and new boy Carl Sentence on vocals, so if you hadn’t kept up with the band’s recent history, it was hard to know what to expect other than a run through of the band’s chart hits and better known album tracks. They started off with a couple of songs which might have been unfamiliar to the casual fan, ‘Silver Dollar Forger’ and ‘Miss Misery’, but a forceful version of ‘Razamanaz’ quickly got the crowd onside. In some ways that summed up the set as a whole, on the one hand they played the obvious songs, like ‘Bad, Bad Boy’ and ‘This Flight Tonight’, but on the other, some of the less famous parts of the back catalogue, like ‘This Month’s Messiah’ and ‘Expect No Mercy’, came over as ambitious, almost epic slices of hard rock, with some excellent playing by Jimmy Murrison. The set was obviously planned to finish with ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘Broken Down Angel’, which had the crowd in pretty good voice, then the band realised they had more time than they thought, so they added their own arrangement of the old standard ‘Morning Dew’, which again showed that the band are more than ready to experiment and do something a little different. Despite my earlier reservations, this was a really enjoyable set.
There are some bands, and there were more than a couple on the Steelhouse bill, who you often think are genetically incapable of playing a bad set. I would definitely include Y & T in that number, and anticipation for this show was heightened by the news that the band intended to play the classic Black Tiger album in its entirety. After openers ‘Hurricane’ and ‘I’m Coming Home’, Dave Meniketti confirmed that playing the album through was exactly what the band intended to do, although he also said that they intended to play the second side first. This did have a certain logic to it, as it meant the play through could begin with the title track and end with what is almost the band’s anthem, ‘Forever’. They also managed to slip in a couple of other songs in the gap between the two ‘sides’ of the album, including a blistering ‘Mean Streak’ and a passionate, emotional ‘Rescue Me.’ There was an interesting moment in ‘Don’t Wanna Lose You’, when the backline appeared to go down and while it was being dealt with, Meniketti played the song acoustically. Even then, the band couldn’t resist the full band delaying its re-entry until just the right moment, steaming in a as a unit as the chorus began, the kind of moment that raises the hair on the back of your neck. Anyone who’s seen the band before would have known what to expect, almost supernaturally tight melodic hard rock, played with a smile and an enthusiasm that belied their near 40 year history, a band almost guaranteed to not let you down. A set that was worth the ticket price on its own.
And so to Saturday’s headliners, another veteran band with an unimpeachable back catalogue, UFO. As anyone who saw them on their recent UK tour, including the excellent show at the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton, will know that they’re still in pretty good fettle, playing a healthy mix of old and new material, and they were well on form at Steelhouse. Anyone who uses ‘Faith Healer’ by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band intro music is going to have me onside from the off, but when they strolled onstage and hit the mark straight away with a terrific version of ‘We Belong To The Night’ , it seemed clear we were in for a pretty good show. It was almost exactly the same set as they’d toured the UK with in April, mixing songs from ‘Seven Deadly’ and ‘Conspiracy Of Stars’, their two most recent studio albums, with a good selection of crowd pleasers. ‘Lights Out’ came early in the set, although Phil Mogg sadly didn’t change the lyric to something like ‘Lights out in Ebbw Vale’ and halfway through ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ brought the house down and had the crowd in full voice. After that it was a downhill sprint to a triumphant ‘Rock Bottom’ with the customary extended guitar solo from Vinnie Moore and ‘Doctor, Doctor’, which, despite the treacherous conditions under foot, had the crowd bouncing up and down, then the only encore of the day, ‘Shoot Shoot’. You really can’t go wrong with their catalogue, but they always seem to make it sound fresh and vital.
So that was the first day proper of Steelhouse 2015. The weather was good, the setting is fantastic and there was some great music to enjoy. Maybe some of the earlier bands were a little samey, the excellent Henry’s Funeral Shoe excepted, but what came later in the day more than made up for that. On to Sunday!