Steelhouse Festival – Day 2 @ Hafod-y-Dafal Farm, Ebbw Vale, South Wales


Review By Paul Quinton

Day 2, Sunday, July 25th. 2015

If the weather had been kind to Steelhouse on the Saturday, it decided to make up for it generosity with a vengeance on the Sunday. It began raining before sunrise on the final day and kept through most of the day, only breaking off for short periods. This, added to the heavy rain in the days leading up to the event, and despite the comparatively fine weather on the Saturday, made a lot of the festival site little more than a bog, and some of the car park exits became impassable, even with the organisers laying down straw throughout most of the day. It was noticeable how a steady trickle of attendees began making their way down the mountain for the road home, even before the music started.

If there was an announcement as to why opening band Wild Lies failed to put in an appearance at the advertised time of 12.30, it wasn’t audible from the campsite, instead the brave souls waiting in front of the stage had to wait until well after 1 o’clock for the appearance of SKAM, originally scheduled to be the second band to appear, introduced by compere for the weekend, Darren Reddick from Planet Rock, to what he described as ‘the 12 people in front of the stage’. Despite the conditions, and the unwillingness of a sizeable percentage of those present to leave the beer tent, the Leicester three piece put in a spirited performance. Their sound is a bright, inventive, melodic modern rock, and they band gave it everything they could under the circumstances. I wasn’t sure how a cover of that old chestnut ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ fitted in with the rest of the set, but it went down well, as did the rest of their set, and I’ll look forward to seeing them again in better circumstances.

No Hot Ashes originally formed in Belfast in the 80s, split up and have now reformed after a 20 odd year hiatus. Their spell on the recent FM tour has obviously given them a whole new impetus, as this was a much better performance than we saw in the Robin on the FM tour, despite the weather. They have a nice line in very listenable melodic rock, which went down well in the circumstances, and give off the impression that they can’t quite believe that they’re playing again after such a long interval, and that there are people listening to them, which does tend to make you warm to them. When they supported FM at the Robin in May, I did think that they weren’t the most visual of bands, maybe they wouldn’t be comfortable if they were, but they’re good players, an admirably tight band and a good set, although never quite reaching the heights of being really memorable.

There’s been something of a buzz about Colour of Noise since the project was announced earlier this year, and when the band’s founding members include singer Matt Mitchell, ex-Furyon, and guitarist Bruce John Dickinson, formerly a Little Angel. Of course, it’s not that surprising, and when they subsequently appeared at Download and supported Thunder on a European tour, the buzz only grew. The band make a big thing of being something of a throwback, using vintage equipment to make a Classic Rock sound, and they certainly lived up to the billing. It’s blues-based hard rock and no mistake, with more than a hint of the likes of Free and Bad Company about them, especially with Matt Mitchell’s Paul Rodgers’ tinged vocals. They already have some solid songs in the repertoire, particularly ‘Head On’, which sounds for all the world as if it was written with heavy rotation on Planet Rock in mind. Considering the joys that were to follow, it’s to the band’s credit that their set stuck in the mind after the event, and this is a band that could well have a big future.

2198824At this point I began to speculate that the Gods of Rock, Welsh Branch, were big fans of British melodic rock, because praise be, it actually stopped raining for FM’s set, although guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick captured the prevailing mood perfectly when, on an early foray down the catwalk, he cast an apprehensive look at the skies. Introduced by Darren Reddick as ‘practically the house band at Planet Rockstock’, the band defied the conditions, and put in a typically sparkling set, although it wasn’t quite as monumental as their astounding show at The Robin in May. The set was based on the one for the May tour, obviously cut to fit a shorter festival spot, but it was packed with goodies, from the opening ‘Digging Up Dirt’, and including a terrific ‘Let Love Be The Leader’, ‘Crosstown Train’, which is rapidly assuming classic status, and ‘That Girl’, which had the crowd in full voice. Steve Overland put in his customary effortlessly brilliant performance on vocals, Jem Davis brought out his keytar (all rock shows should have a keytar at some point, it should be a law) which always gets a cheer and the whole band, as usual, delivered a set that put a smile on the face of nearly everyone who saw it. They really do just get better and better.

From British melodic rock wonderfulness to German metal magnificence and a tremendous set by Doro, who, on this evidence, fully deserves the title ‘Queen of Metal’. At the risk of straying into a slightly dodgy area, I’m half convinced she has an ageing portrait of herself stored in an attic, as she shows no signs at all of the lengthy career she’s enjoyed, either in terms of appearance or in the enthusiasm in which she approached the show. The rains had decided they’d had enough of a break and renewed their efforts with a new persistence just in time for Doro and her band to begin their set, but the weather gods might just as well have not bothered, for other than a passing remark that the grey, threatening crowds were the perfect backdrop for metal music, she paid the conditions very little regard at all, spending most of the set out on the catwalk. The set was a nice mix of old and new, with newer songs like ‘Revenge’ fitting perfectly with the songs from the rest of her career. ‘Burning The Witches’ had the crowd in full voice, ‘Fur Immer’ and ‘I Rule The Ruins’ would have brought the house down had the show been indoors, and when she ended what was supposed to be the main set with the double strike of a cover of ‘Breaking The Law’ and her own ‘All We Are’, it had been a set worthy of headlining any festival you could name. Even then it wasn’t over, as she heard voices shouting for ‘Metal Tango’ and showing no sign at all of having had enough, she brought her band back on stage and played exactly that. Even if it wasn’t quite a show stealing performance, it wasn’t far away.

Along with FM, another band that has reconvened in recent years and seems not only to be getting better every year, but also gaining an ever growing fan base is Tyketto. They have something of a fluid line up these days, due to the commitments of various members, for this tour they had Thunder’s Chris Childs subbing for the absent Jimi Kennedy on bass, while guitarist Chris Green and keyboard player Ged Rylands now seem to be almost permanent members, however musically this seems not to affect the band in the least, and it feels that as long as they have singer Danny Vaughn in the line-up, they’re always going to a live act to reckon with. They also have a welcome willingness to avoid playing it safe, surprisingly opening with ‘Love To Love’, from their most recent album and resting a couple of fan favourites, and we also got the very surprising inclusion of ‘Let It Go’, from their only album with ex-Journey vocalist Steve Augeri. What will always remain, though, is their connection with the crowd, established early on when Vaughn strolled down the catwalk, looked out at the rain-sodden crowd, joked about the access to the festival site and mused that ‘you guys must be the toughest motherfucking rock crowd I have ever seen’, to the delight of everyone there. This continued in the monster power ballad ‘Standing Alone’, when the crowd’s contribution reduced the singer almost to tears, all the way to the band’s signature song, the mighty ‘Forever Young,’ which closed the set. In writing about Saturday’s bill, I suggested that Y & T who one of several bands on the bill who seemed almost genetically incapable of playing a bad set. I’d definitely add FM to that list and you can safely include Tyketto as well. Great band, great songs and a world-class singer, who will be back in the UK in 2016. Don’t miss them.

At one point in Tyketto’s set, Danny Vaughn remarked that he’d been advised that, in the early days of his career, if he wanted to learn how to front a rock band, he should go and see Dee Snider and Twisted Sister. Unfortunately, the great man had to perform in front of a slowly diminishing crowd, as increasing numbers began to find the cold and rain becoming too much for them, but there was no way he was going to let that deter him from showing the crowd exactly what Danny V was talking about. Beginning by advising Mother Nature that no matter how much it rained ‘You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll!’ and proceeding to steam into the song of that very name, he delivered a set that was the perfect way to finish Steelhouse on a high note. Naturally there were Twisted Sister classics, ‘I Wanna Rock’, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and, dedicated to the late A.J.Pero, ‘The Price’, but he also included songs from his Widowmaker project, some choice covers, including an enthusiastic ‘Highway To Hell’, and even a new song, ‘To Hell And Back Again’, some of his first original work since the 1990s. His between song chat was characteristically pungent and hilarious and he ended the whole thing with a classy and gracious gesture, bringing members of the festival staff on stage to take a bow at the end. It was a real shame that such a great set couldn’t be experienced under better conditions. A full UK tour next time, perhaps?

So that was Steelhouse. Some epically bad weather overcome by some epically brilliant music, and some new bands for the discerning visitor to check out. I hope the event doesn’t become characterised by the weather, as this is a great setting, albeit something of a pain to get to. Dates and early bird ticket prices have already been confirmed for 2016, and it will be interesting to see if they can beat, or even match the quality of the 2015 bill.