The second day of Steelhouse dawned with an incessant mizzle in the air.
Not the sort of torrential downpour which had turned the mountain top site into a quagmire last year, but a constant enough drizzle to make itself known it was there, and at times annoying in its persistence.
A last minute change in our transport arrangements meant that your PM team missed openers Last Great Dreamers and arrived just in time to get into position, stagefront and centre, for “local” heroes Hand Of Dimes.
Their sound is elegant and eloquent, but underpinned with plenty of blues-infused grit and grunt, and brings a beauty to the dark day which is warm and luscious enough to almost evaporate the rain gently sweeping across the arena.
The sound does contain some of the pomp of Kooga and the commerciality of Skin – the two bands in which HOD’s Neville MacDonald and Neil Garland had carved out their musical heritages – but is distinctive in its own right, and possesses a vibrancy which gets the early risers dancing along to its chunky grooves. (8)
James Toseland – the last of the weekend’s artists returning to the Steelhouse stage – looks like he has come to enjoy himself, come rain or shine: and that is exactly what he does as, wreathed in a brighter-than-the-afternoon-sun-smile from beginning to end, he threatens to ignite the air with his contagious charisma.
He keeps his set punchy and direct – most likely due to going on stage slightly late – but interacts well with the damp audience, taking to the equally moist runway without any sign of fear: well, he used to chuck motorbikes ‘round hairpin bends at ridiculously stupid speeds, so a bit of water on a platform should be a walk in the park!
Both he and his consummately tight band are lively and energetic, and the perfect antidote to the conditions. (9)
Oli Brown keeps the energy levels turned up to maximum as RavenEye launch into their tough, grunting blues-based hard rock with passion by the ballsack.
The guitarist risks electrocution as he follows his predecessor out onto the ramp time and again, even perilously taking to bassist Aaron Spiers’ shoulders at one stage!
While the band’s sound is very much rooted in the blues for which Brown is better known, it has enough crunch and oomph to hang out with the hardest of hard-edged rockers, and the songs have an infectious groove which quickly ensure that the audience are quickly eating out of his hand and continue to do so through his allotted 50 minutes, which in turn simply fly by. (9)
As the rain gets momentarily heavier, The Dead Daisies set out to prove that they have come to the top of Arael Mountain to ‘Make Some Noise’.
And no sooner do they do so than the clouds start to disappear and the party really gets starting.
The Daisies once again prove that they are a tightly knit unit and total experts at what they do, as Jon Corabi, with the help of the ever grinning Marco Mendoza, blows away the showers and the layers of dew with infectious charm.
Doug Aldrich, also grinning from ear to ear, writhes every ounce of passion from his guitar, occasionally following the example of Oli Brown before him and venturing out on to the ramp to get closer to the fans – and especially the adoring females cramming themselves onto the stagefront barrier!
Solo workouts are kept to a minimum – although Brian Tichy can’t resist slightly elongating his bare-handed contribution, as the quintet ram as much as they can into their hour.
There are perhaps too many covers for a festival set – although the versions of ‘Fortunate Son’ and ‘Join Together’ are particularly rousing in both their delivery and reception – but both the band and the audience thoroughly enjoy the experience of one of the performances of the weekend. (10)
It’s clear which band many had come to see, as a sizeable number start filtering towards the exits during the turnaround. But, there are still many more thousands left in the arena, and they are determined to keep the party going…
And Hey! Hello! are more than happy to oblige with their feisty rock ‘n’ roll show, which is packed to the gills with positive attitude and bravura.
With the normally effusive Ginger Wildheart not so much leading from the front as from the side – he focuses more on his guitar playing with this particular project – the main focus is very much on the distinctive form of new singer (and local lass) Cat Southall, her long hair flowing in the wind and her voice filling the arena despite both threatening to be snapped away by the same and the Aberdare lass battling laryngitis.
With The Rev possibly the coolest and most laidback guitar-slinger of the weekend, and the Japanese rhythm section of drummer Ai and bassist Toshi keeping the bottom end of things tighter than a sheep’s arse in the neighbouring fields (well, we are in Wales after all), the set is a mixture of energy and thoughtfulness, and, unlike some of the others, particularly the previous afternoon, is superbly paced, aided by the fact that the sun is now making a brief appearance and thus cheering the cockles of the assembled Steelhouse family even further. (8)
Next to Von Hertzen Brothers the day before (and, it must be admitted, this evening’s headliners), Terrorvision were one of the bands I was sort of “meh!” about when this year’s bill was announced. But, that is the beauty of Steelhouse: it likes to pull the odd surprise package out of the bag, and certainly the Bradford bouncers quickly won over even the most cynical of hearts with their boisterous, punky energy.
Tony Wright never stops moving during their set, while guitarist Mark Yates seems to have springs attached to his feet, as he bounces along with the effervescence of Tigger on speed.
There’s nothing fancy or histrionic about their set: they just set about turning the makeshift hilltop arena into the most intimate of clubs, and raising the body temperatures as that in the air starts to plummet.
The result is a high energy set of Duracell effect, which earns them one of the biggest audience reactions of the weekend. (8)
Now, I believe you’re either a fan of The Darkness, or you’re not: there is no middle ground.
Which is why opinion was very much divided on not only their suitability for the Steelhouse bill as a whole, but also their appropriateness as a headliner: and, to be honest, their performance really does nothing to swing opinions in either direction.
All weekend, the sound had been rich and vibrant; but, whether it is the change the atmospheric conditions, suddenly it is flat and lifeless – although the band are, initially at least, far from it, as they set about the task in hand with professional aplomb, demonstrating that they are a decent enough collection of musicians with a decent line in half-decent rock n roll songs.
The problem is Justin Hawkins.
He comes across as just plain arrogant, especially in his between song raps, whether it be attempting jokes about his rather dull looking catsuit or totally losing his train of thought we he tries to turn around a failed skit about a blow up doll and a member of the audience, which just descends into a cringe-worthy few minutes of embarrassment.
His added problem is that his voice is as flat as the sound, and he is off-key for much of the time, with his trademark falsetto all but forsaken for a throatier, duller baritone – and when he does reach the high notes it’s more of a whine than a scream. (7)
For the second year in a row, Steelhouse ends with more of a whimper than a bang, an anticlimax which disappoints rather than elevates.
Nevertheless, it remains a brilliant wee festival, one of the best around.
Certainly, the sense of camaraderie around, and beyond, the arena is second to none, and the site of some of the artists playing football with ear-muffled kids in the back stage area – and, of course, letting them win – is one which you won’t see at many other rock events.
This was Steelhouse’s biggest year, in terms of ticket sales, with more than 5,000 passing to and fro through the gates over the weekend; no doubt it will continue to grow… but, hopefully not too big, as it’s boutique nature is part of its charm… as well as, by and large, some damn fine rock music!
Here’s to next year!
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
- The seventh edition of Steelhouse will take place on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 July 2017.
- Early bird tickets, costing £65 for the weekend (limited to the first 1,000 sales), are now available from http://www.steelhousefestival.com/.