The weather can invariably play an important role in the enjoyment of a festival – just look at the experiences of many at this year’s Drownload!
The first day of last year’s Steelhouse had been preceded by one of torrential rain, meaning that the mountain top site was already a morass of mud before things even started.
But, there were no such problems for this, the sixth, and biggest (at least in terms of audience numbers), intstalment, with the result that the blazing sunshine of the Saturday morning helped ensure everyone was in an equally bright and optimistic mood for what lay ahead…
The mood is heightened with the arrival of weekend openers Bigfoot, who show no sign of nerves as they kick off their first ever major festival performance with a thump and a big-ass whump…
Their hard rocking riffs are energetic and effervescent in their delivery, with undertones of early Whitesnake from the twin guitar attack of Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh, especially in their bluesier moments, and frontman Antony Ellis not only has a huge voice but also an equally great voice.
The Wigan quintet give an enthusiastic performance which is suitably well-received by the early comers. (8).
When the PM team had arrived in the backstage area a little under an hour earlier, there had been no sign of Dirty Thrills, but the London blues-rock fusionists – who possess two of the most distinctive moustaches in the business – make it to the stage with just moments to spare.
Initially serving as good background music for the first of the early afternoon drinkers and the last of the bacon butty munchers, it takes a while for the quartet to get into their stride.
However, both the band and the audience get into their groove as their 30-minute set progresses, and their retro-fused bluesy grunts ultimately entertains a large portion of the still growing crowd. (7).
As the afternoon temperature climbs inexorably, Vega really up the heat on stage as well, with vocalist Nick Workman being the first to really make use of the stage’s walkway.
The frontman is charismatic and as sunny as the day itself, while the band are polished and energetic, especially guitarist Marcus Thurston, who follows his singer’s lead by venturing onto the ramp to deliver his fiery solos.
It’s yet another impressive performance from a band who never fail to deliver the goods live, no matter the environment. (9).
The hot and sweaty retro groove of Bristolians Tax The Heat (the first of three acts over the weekend returning to the Steelhouse stage) match the now blistering conditions.
Their thick, thumping bass lines and dense guitar melodies initially turn the excitement levels down a notch, but the sheer quality of their songs, together with their immaculate musicianship, soon shines through in its own right, and they close the first half of the bill in fine style and leaving everyone salivating at the prospect of what is to come as the afternoon heads into its latter stages. (8).
The Von Hertzen Brothers carve rich, lush soundscapes out of the surrounding Welsh mountains, their retro-prog sound strangely hypnotic with its Floyd-meets-Purple melodies, most prominent on the likes of ‘Diamonds And Rust’.
Despite dragging a (fair) bit in the middle, due to the extended instrumental workouts, it’s another enjoyable set, and one which emphasizes the diversity of the classic rock sound which Steelhouse brings to its growing band of faithful followers each year. (7)
Initially, the dense vibrancy of Blues Pills reverberates around the neighbouring valleys in a way which is both vital and pulsating.
But, like VHB before them, the set’s middle section drags its heels, with too much emphasis on elongated guitar improvisations and not enough on entertaining what is after all a festival crowd.
After the punchy start, the set does not really pick up again until the title track of their new album, ‘Lady In Gold’ kicks off its last third in more energetic style.
Nevertheless the etherealness of Elin Larsson’s voice matches the fading sun and the growing breeze which threatens to snatch away her delicacy as its crosses the mountain top. (8).
By contrast, The Answer are on fire, as they blast through their debut ‘Rise’ album (which, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, marks its tenth anniversary this year) with characteristic aplomb, energy and enthusiasm.
Frontman Cormac Neeson once again shows how he is the consummate entertainer, bantering with the crowd as if they were standing only a couple of inches in front of him instead of several metres away, while Paul Mahon reads the situation well and keeps his guitar solos to an effective minimum.
The Norn Irish quartet are also the first band of the weekend to generate mass singalongs – suitably warming the throats for their headliners – and the chants go on long after each song has finished, prompting Neeson to pay tribute with “I feel like I’m in the semi-finals of the Euros!” during his intro to album closer ‘Always’.
After the suitably rabble-rousing ‘Spectacular’ lifts the sun momentarily back into the sky above, the closing duotych of ‘Thief Of Light’ and ‘Solas’ are more laidback and atmospheric but match the conditions and give everyone a chance to relax for a while. (10).
There is no doubt who is the band that the vast majority are here to see, and Thunder do not disappoint, as they immediately introduce an atmosphere as warm as the most intimate club as they race through a hits-laden 90 minutes.
Despite the growing chill in the night-time air, the audience prove that they are more than warmed up, especially in the vocal department, as they sing every word of every song back to Danny Bowes and his bandmates, resulting in rousing versions of the likes of ‘Resurrection Day’ and a totally sublime ‘Low Life In High Places’: if there had been a roof on the place, it surely would have been raised.
There could be an argument that, again, there were too many lengthy instrumental breaks – second encore ‘Dirty Love’ is somewhat over-exposed in this department and outstays its welcome by a good couple of minutes – but the band are obviously enjoying themselves and, on the evidence of this rapturous reception from many who were here to see them and them alone, they will continue to be in demand for quite a while to come! (9).
And so the first day came to an end, and those not staying for the post-show party in the beer tent started winding their way through the darkness to their tents or, as in the case of the PM team, their hotels, hoping that there was still at least time for one last cold beer – if it hadn’t warmed up in the heat of the day – before trying to grab at least a few hours’ valuable kip and returning the next morning to do it all over again \m/