|Steelhouse Festival - Aberbeeg, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm - 26th July 2015|
|Written by Gaz Tidey|
|Wednesday, 05 August 2015 03:00|
If you've ever looked past the A-listers and realised that the real tone setter of David Fincher's Se7en is the seemingly incessant heavy rain then you'll have an idea as to how people felt when they half opened one eye and peered into the Sunday of the fifth annual Steelhouse Festival and found what appeared to be the height of monsoon season.
Always just a break in the weather away from being either beautiful or bleak, the mountaintop setting of the festival gave such cause for concern to those already there or planning to journey to the event's second full day that terrifying messages came down the valley as thick as mud, and as fast as a swollen river.
Festival goers, still buzzing after the sun-bleached wonderment of the previous day, were turning on their squelching heels and getting out of Dodge, fearful, no doubt, of the earth swallowing up their cars like dated bluescreen scenes from 1970s disaster movies. The weather was so bad, we were led to believe, that grown men were setting fire to themselves in their tents in desperate attempts to get dry.
Thing is, if you're native to these parts the weather was positively tropical, and certainly not enough to completely ruin the prospects of hi-jinks at probably the most ambitious rock music festival in the country.
Unlike Fincher's rain-drenched classic, there was to be no head in a box at the finale of the Steelhouse Festival 2015, simply headbanging, as those brave enough to not let a little precipitation spoil their rock and roll grinned, sang at the top of their voices and punched the air in unison as arguably the most memorable performance in the history of the event warmed even the coldest hide.....
London mob The Wild Lies are touring the UK with The Dead Daisies this Winter, but the band members are obviously less accommodating when it comes to wet daisies as they failed to turn up. The official word was vehicular trouble but, with a band name like that, the more cynical amongst us may well have been less than convinced. It was left, then, to Leicester three-piece Skam to open proceedings in front of a crowd thinned out more than the hair of some of the previous day's rock dinosaurs. Having previously played at the festival in 2013, the tempestuous trio knew all about adverse weather conditions so weren't about to let a drizzle of despair dampen spirits any longer. As the patrons of a packed beer tent watched on from afar, a slew of double-hard bastards stage front braved whatever the clouds threw at them to watch a band impress against the odds, and even extend their set to cover for the M.I.A. openers.
No Hot Ashes formed in Belfast in the '80s and, some three decades later, decided upon reuniting to play a series of shows and Summer festivals. It certainly didn't look like a Summer festival as they took to the Steelhouse stage a day after impressing at the ill-timed Ramblin' Man Fair; in fact, it was the (then) imminent arrival of the third instalment of the Sharknado franchise that was on my mind as the storm threatened to devour all hope. But, oh hell no, these veterans weren't about to succumb to the elements, the charm of their hugely likeable melodic rock cutting lines out of the grey skies, allowing more than a little light to warm the cockles of those in attendance happy to shake the drippers from their noses to the strains of some cultured AOR.
The nonplussed look on Bruce John Dickinson's face as Colour Of Noise took to the slippery stage had me thinking that somewhere behind his ice-cool eyes there just had to be thought bombs sounding off as to why in the Hell the former Little Angels guitarist had decided to do this rock and roll thing all over again. His decision appeared to be a wise one, however, as this new band, already with a Download Festival appearance under their collective thrift store belt, pulled off a somewhat unlikely victory in desperate conditions. Frontman Matt Mitchell has more than enough of the Paul Rodgers about him to comfortably pull off the whole Free/Bad Company classic rock vibe they are striving for and, with songs like the massive 'Head On', the future is a helluva lot brighter than the skies over Steelhouse for these retro-fuelled rock 'n' rollers.
If you're organising an outdoor festival in the cold, harsh climes of British Summertime then take a tip from me and invest in the one thing guaranteed to drive away those black clouds and bring one heap um sunshine into your day: a keytar emblazoned with an Eddie Van Halen-style striped paintjob. Y'see, FM's Jem Davis has one, and when he walked out onto the stage's central walkway and pointed it at the heavens the Rock Gods listened. The rain dissipated, taking with it the legendary band's memories of a good ol' fashioned soaking on the same stage two short years ago. Frontman Steve Overland seems so nice that he has to be harbouring a dark and dirty secret (Bodies hidden under his patio? Hard drives filled with OAP porn?), but if he is he hides it very well, expertly masked by lashings of near-perfect melodic rock. 'Crosstrain Train' met 'That Girl' as 'Rockville' and 'Indiscreet' embraced under unlikely blue skies, 'Bad Luck' as far away from the band's superb performance as the 'Tough It Out' artwork is from any World's Best Album Cover lists.
As 'Let Love Be The Leader' and 'I Belong To The Night' slugged it out for performance highlight, grown men, hardened Uber Rockers, were so engorged with emotion and fear of more rain that they had to vacate the mountain immediately and leave photography duties to a twelve year old girl. Who was in hospital just a week before. Who stayed until the end of the festival. Ahem...
On the subject of middle-aged men with first world problems torn straight from the pages of Blue Jeans, I couldn't help but think of Sebastian Bach and his Steelhouse performance a year ago as Doro took to the rain-lashed stage while the Gods made their own version of a bukkakke video. Y'see, Seb threw the togs from the photo pit in the first song of his set last year because his hair was Monica Geller-frizzy due to the humidity, while it took until just into Doro's second song, the classic 'I Rule The Ruins', for the true Queen of Metal to plant herself on the waterslide masquerading as a centre stage walkway for almost all of the remainder of her set. Newer songs like 'Revenge' fitted seamlessly into a set littered with bona fide anthems like 'Burning The Witches' and 'Für Immer' as Ms. Pesch looked at the brooding clouds and simply commentated that they provided the perfect backdrop for metal. An early shout-out to major career influence Judas Priest was paired to a pulsing cover of 'Breaking The Law' that, coupled with the monumental 'All We Are', provided the ultimate set-closing one-two.... until a fan called out for 'Metal Tango' and had Doro hauling her band back to play it with zero concern for anything other than the enjoyment of her followers. This, my friends, was a headline performance in all but name. For those that didn't agonise over the weather, this was nothing but a triumph.
How could Danny Vaughn and Tyketto possibly follow that? In possession of a slot on the bill that appeared to have been as a result of the drawing of lots, the U.S. hair rockers turned out a performance as slick as the surface of the stage. Representative of a time in rock music where gloss was paramount, the Steelhouse gloop did nothing but strip away all pretence leaving the songs to fend for themselves. Tyketto have some songs, too. Some. Vaughn is used to polishing the questionable musical needs of Ultimate Eagles fans - he even has his tribute band mate, and Thunder bassist, Chris Childs filling in for Tyketto these days - so convincing the muddied mountain men and women that this set was just what they needed after a damp ol' day was a breeze. Me, not so much....
Mother Nature was told, in no uncertain terms by one of the most iconic frontmen in history, that she couldn't stop rock 'n' roll. As opening songs of festival-closing sets go, Dee Snider's fingerbang in song form, now over three decades old but as belligerent as ever, was so satisfying that many of us still in attendance could have walked away with massive grins on our faces even if it had been the only song played in an explosion of premature erockulation. But the legendary Twister Sister mouthpiece, looking better at 60 years of age than any of us ever have or ever will, was up for doling out a pounding. Essential TFS tracks like 'I Wanna Rock', 'Burn In Hell', 'We're Not Gonna Take It' and 'The Price' (now forever dedicated to fallen drummer A.J. Pero) swapped spit with prime Widowmaker cuts like the vicious 'Emaheevul' and 'The Widowmaker' herself, new song 'To Hell And Back', and a choice cover in the form of 'Highway To Hell'. Part stand-up comedian, part best frontman ever, Snider was host to arguably the definitive set in the five-year history of the Steelhouse Festival. Inviting the members of the festival family (who live on a mountain for a week so fairweather folk can complain about puddles) onto the stage was a classy and welcome move and, as the 'Real Wild Child (Wild One)'/'Rock and Roll' fusion closed the all-too-short set, few were left in any doubt that they had been witness to something truly special.
Rain, bruthas and sistas, must not be the thing that defines the Steelhouse Festival 2015. This most unique of open air festivals needs to be celebrated not dissected in regard to something that nobody has any control over. I looked around at various points over the weekend and all I saw were smiling faces, old friends and dedicated people working for free to make this festival a success. You can shove your McFestivals up your arris, I'll be on the top of that mountain, whatever the weather, for as long as they'll have me.
[Skam, No Hot Ashes, Colour Of Noise & FM photos by Russell Prothero]
[Doro, Tyketto & Dee Snider photos by Maddie Greaves]
Steelhouse 2016 will take place on July 23rd and 24th and you can get your early bird tickets for the weekend for just £60 by following this link http://www.steelhousefestival.com/tickets.html