Over the past four years, the Steelhouse Festival – held on top of a mountain on the edge of the breathtakingly beautiful Brecon Beacons – has established a reputation not only for the quality of its line-up but also for being one of the best value-for-money and most family-friendly events of its kind in the rock ‘n’ roll universe.
All three points – with a couple of notable exceptions within the context of the first (which we’ll come to a bit later) – are extremely evident over the course of the weekend: the value-for-money aspect is reflected in the fact that beer costs a thirst-quenching £3.50 per pint (or just £3 for those of us lucky enough to gain access to the VIP tent!) and burgers weighing in at a meatily mouth-watering four quid! As for the family element – well, there are kids everywhere: playing football up against the fences, challenging bands to frisbee competitions, building rainbows out of used beer cartons… and, more importantly, rocking out to each and every one of the 16 acts – with the aid of suitable hearing protection, of course!
Unfortunately, travelling over from Belfast brought a few last minute hitches with it, resulting in Team PM missing both the first afternoon’s opening acts (BlackWolf and Skarlett Riot) and arriving roughly halfway through Buffalo Summer‘s bumping, grinding and hugely entertaining southern blues-infused set, which culminates in frontman Andrew Hunt whipping the crowd into an early afternoon frenzy during closer ‘Down To The River’. [MA]
Tax The Heat initially look out of place with their clean-cut image, but this four piece hit the stage with an initial determination and a hunger to prove themselves otherwise. Initially, the crowd are quite subdued, but ‘Caroline’ is a song which seems familiar to some present: however, they leave the vast majority under-enthused. As the set progresses, the crowd seems to get more into their groove, although the extended length of their set – for the reasons outlined in the next paragraph – coupled with their lack of interaction and enthusiasm sees many wander off for something better to do… [DQ]
Even before TTH hit the stage, rumours were circulating that Sweden’s Electric Boys were not going to make it to the hilltop in time for their alloted set, and it soon became obvious that this was indeed the case when it was revealed that The Graveltones had been asked to extend their set to a headliner length 90 minutes… however, while the ex-pat-Aussie-duo’s growling heavy blues infused rockabilly groove is initially enjoyable, their extended set drags on the ear and the patience of all but the most devoted listener, and they – unfortunately – outstay their welcome. [MA]
With the Electric ones still stuck somewhere between Sweden and the valleys, Glasgie’s The Amorettes arrive expecting to have a bit of a party but instead are given just 15 minutes to get their act together and on stage. Not that you would tell, as they more than ably rise to the challenge with a festival-stealing set, with their raw, punk-edged rock ‘n’ roll drawing comparisons with the likes of The Runaways, Girlschool and Rock Goddess. Building the set mainly around their forthcoming Chris Tsangarides album, the fiesty threesome win over many new fans with their energetic stage show and easy charm. [MA]
Within seconds of taking to the stage, Sebastian Bach immediately proves what a preening, self-centred prima donna he really is, by complaining about the vocal mix in the monitors – he probably couldn’t hear his backing tapes properly – and openly berating the sound engineers: “just fucking fix it”, he screams over the microphone during the solo section of ‘Slave To The Grind’. The song itself is an energetic opener but, like the rest of the set, fails to ignite. The fact that Bach needs to use tapes to augment his own failing voice is painfully obvious during the likes of ‘The Threat’, on which his attempted ‘scream’ is an excruciating failure, while the introduction of ‘Big Guns’ as “the first song from the first side of the first record”exposes the lie that he is not resting on past glories: again, the song fails to fire on all cylinders, while ’18 And Life’ is flat and, along with ‘I Remember You’, lifeless. Hopefully he remembers enough of the pain he inflicted on hundreds of ears not to return any time soon… and, if he does, maybe he finally will have rewritten the lyrics to ‘Youth Gone Wild’ to something more appropriate – like ‘The Ego Gone Wild’! [MA]
The temperature may have dropped substantially from the 28 degrees of earlier in the forenoon, but hell will freeze over before hard rockin’ troubadours Black Star Riders stop ripping out fiercesome riffs – and that is exactly what they do as ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ from the swaying speaker stacks. This is a band that live to play live and also the one which, as is evident from his demeanour, Scott Gorham has waited 20-odd long years to play in, as the veteran axe slinger smiles and struts his way through the set like a proud father. Ricky Warwick is obviously the energising factor for the guitarist, as the Ulsterman snarls and spits alongside him: be it the tiniest of tiny clubs or an exposed and freezing-cold Welsh mountain top, Warwick draws his audience to his breast and holds them close to the warmth of his heart…
The set list is fairly predictable – but that is only in its content, which is a mixture of tunes from BSR’s hugely acclaimed debut album alternating with classic Thin Lizzy standards – many of the latter slightly reworked to suit the new found strut and swagger of the band playing them, and also for Ricky’s gruffer, grittier vocal style. Throughout, Jimmy DeGrasso holds down the bottom end of the songs with the precision of his experience, while new boy Robbie Crane, playing only his second gig with the band, proves a more than adequate if not superior replacement for Marco Mendoza: Crane is not as flamboyant as his predecessor, but concentrates instead on delivering the thunderous, thumping bass lines that add additional depths to the songs and allow Gorham and Damon Johnson (with Warwick occasionally joining in the fun) to swap licks, riffs and solos with practised abandon.
BSR are a band of seasoned musical brothers enjoying what they do and sharing that enjoyment – as well as a shed load of feckin’ amazing tunes – with everyone who has the sense to turn up and see their shows. And, Scott Gorham, for one, is delighted about it… [MA]
Review by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen.
Photograph of The Amorettes courtesy of Sue Ashcroft. Photograph of Scott Gorham courtesy of Ian Cates.
Tickets for the fifth anniversary Steelhouse Festival, which takes place on 25/26 July 2015, are already on sale, with early bird prices held at £55 for the first 500 bookers. Visit www.steelhousefestival.com for more information – and, more importantly, to book your ticket.