|Steelhouse Festival 2012 - Aberbeeg, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm - 27th-29th July 2012|
|Written by Gaz E, Johnny H & Rob Watkins|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2012 05:00|
The only complaint I had about the debut Steelhouse Festival in 2011 was that not enough people turned up to support it. Everything was in place for a great event, but the days of Wayne Campbell being told by Jim Morrison in a dream to "book them and they will come," is sadly the stuff of fantasy. Every promoter knows that booking a show in this depressing world of double dip dead-end days is a gamble, so it is with kudos to the people behind the Steelhouse that they put their money where their mouths are and upped the ante considerably for the Festival: Year Two, booking the likes of Feeder and Reef and, as well as capturing the imagination of many, crossed a couple of genre lines in the hope of swelling attendance numbers.
After journeying up the now-infamous mountain road (I'm used to this terrain but everyone mentions it and I wouldn't want to disappoint) that, some fifty hours later, Reef frontman Gary Stringer will compare to the secret road to the Batcave in the '60s Batman television show, I am thrilled to walk into the main arena (*field) to find it, for the Friday night warm up/party, already way better attended than the festival at its peak some twelve months previously.
Famously allergic to tribute bands I am met with looks of both bemusement and shock as I waltz onto the mountainside looking like a poundshop version of Norman Clegg: these people have forgotten one important fact; my hetero-life-mate Matt Blakout is about to pretend to be Eric Carr on one of our local mountains. In a catsuit. And a curly wig. I wouldn't miss this for the world.
Before I can marvel at the exposed nips of my best man I have to wince my way through the sets of Dizzy Lizzy (solid Thin Lizzy bodysnatchers) and Guns 2 Roses, a dubious GN'R tribute act who, as well as playing an incredibly overlong set of bedroom guitarist-led rock standards, have the fake Lady GaGa - the real girlfriend of the fake Axl - on backing vocals and the 'legendary' UK porn star Ben Dover on drums. Just because. The number one Kiss tribute band Dressed To Kill finally appear and their fire-breathing, blood-spitting, pyro-firing, guitar-smoking set is hugely entertaining. Gene's lost his voice somewhere on the mountainside, Eric's mic is (mercifully) way too quiet but, as high altitude rock 'n' roll parties go, this is as good as it is gonna get. The set ends with members of both tribute acts on the undercard joining DTK for their version of 'Rock and Roll All Nite' and, with Ben Dover following every move with his trusty camera, starts to resemble an adult version of Stars In Their Eyes.....obviously set to be renamed Jizz In Their Eyes for its imminent DVD release.
Ben Dover tells me later that he played like shit - I resist the temptation to tell him that he should have dropped his sticks (Blakout style) and beat the skins with his cock. That would have just been rude. As Friday became Saturday I turned my reviewing baton over to Johnny H and Rob Watkins, ready for them to Shock Me......by spelling correctly... [Gaz E]
With Russ P and I having made our way up the Colin McRae approved dust track mountainside road to the second annual Steelhouse Festival in good time to catch the opening band of this year's main event, it came as a bit of a unwanted distraction to then spend most of Prosperina's set playing bumper cars with an angry tractor driver in the field reserved for parking for tour buses and production staff. Anyway with Rob Watkins already on site and enjoying the midday sunshine (yippee it is sunny) I left him and Russ P (who had rather quickly exited the H-mobile following our Hell Drivers journey uphill) to pick up the early action. [Johnny H]
"Wakey wakey campers and assorted early Steelhouse Festival arrivers..." - it's Saturday so here come openers Prosperina, the Swansea trio of Gethin, Owen and Yo-Yo offering up some rather fetching little grunge-like ditties combined with elements of prog both past and present. Their sound is all mixed down into an ever so likeable commercial pop drone and for me there's a little indie inspired powder sprinkled over the top for good measure too. The guys are performing a selection of tunes lifted off their 'Faith In Sleep' opus to those brave enough to sample the midday sunshine and their infectious grooves played with a delicate doom-laden venom is the perfect way to open proceedings here on day two of the festival. [Rob Watkins]
Returning to the action with my car finally in an approved space, I was straight into the main arena to watch London rock band Slam Cartel deliver an early afternoon set brimming with confidence and some great tunes. Kicking off their set with the title track of their debut album 'Handful Of Dreams' I can't help but smile, not just because I'm finally watching Slam Cartel live but also because it's literally in my backyard in a (if I'm totally honest) quite breathtaking location. So as Terence and crew crank out the likes of 'Shine' and 'Hold Me', along with set closer 'Sundown', you'll forgive me if I don't join those brave enough to occupy stage front at such an early hour and instead I simply lie back and enjoy the cockney banter of frontman Giles Van Lane whilst soaking up the atmosphere of it all. This really is a once in a lifetime experience (excuse the obvious pun there folks).
With their best summer vests and tank tops on display it's safe to say that Gentlemans Pistols can do no wrong in the eyes of the Steelhouse faithful. With many of today's audience having witnessed the band's excellent support set at the club a few months previous means that the crowd is suitably fuller of number in time for some proper old school heavy rock/metal music, and I defy anyone with just an ounce of musical intelligence not to love this band. Gentlemans Pistols are the perfect band for this occasion and 'Living In Sin Again' is the perfect song to get heads a-nodding and feet a-dancing. There are more chunky riffs in the Pistols' set than there are chunky chips available at the organic food outlets that dot the main arena, and it's almost impossible to pick out a set highlight from the likes of 'Mistress Mistrust', 'Widowmaker' and 'Lying And Fooling'. But do we need to be picky here? Because with Gentlemans Pistols it's all killer and no filler all of the time. Excellent stuff.
Also excellent stuff and worth a quick mention here are the all too brief acoustic sets that take place in the Planet Rock tent pitched up backstage that feature the likes of Revoker, The Union and Gun; it's all going to be broadcast on their DAB platform very soon apparently so watch out for it. [Johnny H]
As the sounds of sirens wail out across the surrounding valleys The Dirty Youth bounce onto the stage, high kicking straight in with their tune of tunes, 'Rise Up', giving the more youthful ladies and gents now gathered in the front rows something to shake their booty and sing their hearts out to. The quintet have brought some glamorous crystal clear intensity into the festival equation with guitarists Matt (tonight Matthew, I am going to be Russell Brand) Bond and Luke Padfield riffing it up in real style alongside local boys, bassist Leon Watkins and new drummer Phil Edwards who, incidentally, knocks out some great beats. And let's not forget the icing on this dirty cake, vocalist Danni Monroe who controls the crowd with her every breath, like during the anthemic singalong of "La La La La Let's Get Drunk" that kicks off 'Requiem Of The Drunk': the girl certainly has some lungs on her for such a petite thing, and she just oozes star quality. Debut single 'Fight', taken off the sparkling album 'Red Light Fix', has Danni strutting her thang down in the pit to end this shortened set on a high for this bunch of filthy youths.
Entering the arena one at a time like all conquering heroes, Revoker immediately create havoc with opener 'Stay Down', frontman Jamie Mathias looking as suave as in his Zombie Crew Clothing Lemmy t-shirt. This band have developed oodles of stage presence banging out tracks from their 'Revenge For The Ruthless' debut album all around the world, and they do it again today on home turf in true thrashy style delivering such gems as 'Hate Inside' and 'All Rise'. Wait, here comes the headline: "Uber News At Ten - crowd bounce causes earthquake in Aberbeeg during Revoker set." This quartet are rocking the Steelhouse to its foundations and the assembled masses throw the devil horns aloft and are proud to join in the celebrations. 'The Great Pretender' has the mosh pit entourage mouthing every last word, bless their little metal socks, and the intensity of the performance is almost at boiling point thanks, of course, to Jamie's cohorts, six stringer Chris, four stringer Shane and the legend that is Jack Pritchard on the drums. The band thunder through 'Don't Want It' and new single 'Psychoville' before welcoming fellow Welsh guitar hero Padge from Bullet For My Valentine onto the stage for a demon jam on 'Born To Be An Outlaw', with its totally infectious "Motorpsycho" chant. Revoker are a hard act to follow on this form, so good luck to those who are next; now it's time for me to exhale. [Rob Watkins]
Having witnessed vocal giant Pete Shoulder deliver a storming acoustic rendition of 'Watch The River Flow' up close and personal in a cramped Planet Rock tent just a few hours earlier, it is to a backdrop of darkened skies that he leads The Union through an impending storm version of the same tune, the quartet immediately turning the Steelhouse Festival audio soundtrack into something more akin to what Reading Rock used to sound like back in the early '80s when a band going by the name of Whitesnake used to play the bill on an almost annual basis. Delivering a set of anthemic blues rock numbers like 'Black Gold', 'Blame It On Tupelo', 'You Know My Name' and 'Cut The Line' there really is an undisputed touch of old school class about The Union, and being a fan of both of their studio albums it is both heart warming and humbling to see quite so many people beaming from ear to ear whilst standing in the first downpour of the weekend listening to the gentle strains of 'Saviour'. This might sound crazy I know, but The Union's music really does conjure up something deep inside those who don't budge an inch during the rain soaked deluge of 'Easy Street' and set closer 'Siren's Song', something which in our current surroundings is actually verging on the spiritual, and a little bit of precipitation isn't going to spoil our party...right?
With people now hiding away in the various tents surrounding the arena during the next band changeover it seemed that the only place to be for Uber Rock's scribes was backstage at the Planet Rock tent for a little bit of Chris Buck on his Stratocaster, that is of course before five guys from Glasgow going by the name of Gun get to steal the fire of pretty much everyone who has gone before them by delivering an absolutely belting 60 minutes of musical gallus. I might not be the biggest fan of the band's latest album 'Break The Silence' here at URHQ, but I am never going to dispute the fact that '14 Stations' is anything other than a great set opener and, when coupled with 'Lost & Found', it certainly makes for a rousing live introduction to this all new Dante-fronted version of the band.
As the frontman apologises for the recently expanded five piece bringing the Scottish weather with them ahead of a slam dunking version of debut album hit 'Money (Everybody Loves Her)', I'm mindful of what Gaz said during his recent review of 'Break The Silence' in so much that he'd rather have this version of Gun out there than no version of the band, and by the joyful looks on the guys' faces during the next track, 'Last Train', they most certainly subscribe to his ethos too, even if new bassist Del Brown's smiles turn quickly to blushes whilst attempting to throw plectrums out to the front row having not figured on the headlong storm strength winds blowing them straight back just as quickly as they are thrown out.
Of the newer songs 'Butcher Man' is perhaps the pick of the bunch, but it's the oldies 'Better Days', 'Word Up' and 'Steal Your Fire' that get the loudest reception, with the closing 'Shame On You' being a less than subtle reminder to all of us why we fell in love with the band in the first place.
Mission accomplished by the Glasgow old firm in a little under 60 minutes...tidy. [Johnny H]
Headliners Feeder drift smoothly onto the stage to be greeted by a now packed out front half of the expansive auditorium and let rip with 'Feeling A Moment'. This is a band that have refined the craft of their songwriting so beautifully through triumph and tragedy, and tonight they elegantly perform compositions such as 'Pushing The Senses', 'Tumble And Fall', and various tunes lifted from their illustrious back catalogue with the utmost ease. And what a great sentimental occasion playing this particular festival is for the core duo as guitarist/vocalist Grant Nicholas's father and grandmother were born in neighbouring Ebbw Vale, whilst today is also the birthday of bassist Taka Hirose.
As a band Feeder put so much concentration and musical creativity into their performance it's hard to notice anything other than the music as the guys crank out all the singalong favourites such as 'Just The Way I'm Feeling' and the anthemic masterpiece, 'Buck Rogers' which of course drives the Steelhouse audience "nutz." With quite a large proportion of tonight's setlist lifted from the band's eighth studio release, 'Generation Freakshow', the old and new tunes are perfectly balanced to close the set, before the guys return to play 'Just A Day', their sole encore, and leave to rapturous well earned applause. Ahh.... this cold wind is starting to get to me now so I'll sign off 'til the morrow when I shall be in bright and early for the first band of the day....Hangfire. [Rob Watkins]
Sunday morning and it's not so much singing nuns skipping over the hills declaring their love for all things musical as hungover rock fans grumbling that they haven't had much kip due to a snack van on the camp site playing rave music till the wee small hours. It's going to take something special to get these buggers smiling this early in the day that's for sure. So how about a truly heartwarming and emotional occasion courtesy of the wonderful family atmosphere that ran throughout the weekend extending itself to the Steelhouse Festival stage, as young whiz kid Max Rhead drums his little heart out to some Linkin Park (remember that name folks, he'll be back on this stage one day).
Just to keep that feelgood momentum on a high Hangfire pull out all the stops for their opening slot on the bill, kicking things off in true classic rock style with tracks from their acclaimed album, 'Shoot The Crow'. After rattling the fuzz out of hundreds of heads at this early hour with opener 'Adrenalise', 'Bodies' and the bass heavy slant of 'Fire In The Hole' make the ground around us shake as the guys power through a set filled with songs from an album that, already, has secured them the services of quite the band of committed followers. The guys conclude their business with latest single, the Hangfire anthem 'For Crying Out Loud', which is received with thanks by a crowd desperate to see this quickly-rising classic rock mob live at every available opportunity. Job done guys, now let's see you out on another UK tour soon, eh?! [Rob Watkins]
After the early morning rush of Hangfire the crowd started to thin faster than some of the hairlines around me for the arrival of rootsy rockers Sons Of Icarus, which was a shame really because there's certainly no denying the talent these four young lads have by the bucket load, in particular singer Andy Masson who has a voice that could very easily be used to strip paint whilst also melting hearts. Boy, can this boy sing (even if there is a bit of Bernie Shaw in his voice I could do without, but that's for another time and review). Playing tracks from their 'Fury' EP which subsequently sold out at the merch booth, my only critique of Sons Of Icarus is that their songs do tend to go on a bit, however what I did also pick out was a bluesy and infectious undertone that with the help of the right producer might just prove these lads tapped into something quite special. Standout tracks for me were the breezy 'Higher' and rocker 'Make Amends', both of which are better than anything Black Stone Cherry have in their repertoire. 'Nuff said.
Coming highly recommended here at URHQ by a certain Jamie Richards, next band up on the afternoon sun drenched stage are Ystrad Mynach's very own swamp rock powerhouse outfit Henry's Funeral Shoe, and without question the duo of drummer Brennig Clifford and his guitarist/singer brother Aled are the single most interesting band I have happened upon during the Steelhouse weekend. Think what The White Stripes might have ended doing is they had sold their souls to Old Nick in Maesycwmmer instead of Detroit, Michigan, asked Pete Townshend along to witness the contract signing as Led Zeppelin provided some background ambient muzak and you'll be starting to get the picture regarding where this duo are coming from.
'Be My Own Invention', the lead track from the duo's most recent album, 'Donkey Jacket', is particularly striking with singer Aled speaking in halogen tongues and battling with the six string demon hanging around his neck like a man possessed, his street fighting hands and rock 'n' roll face sitting just right under his mop of Play People hair. Being heckled that he really should be back home by now as it was "dinner time" Aled quick as a flash introduces the last song of their set as a chance to not let his mam down by letting his dinner get cold, so please don't forget to dance or you'll be letting her down too.
Henry's Funeral Shoe are a group I really do want to hear more of simply because if you can meld influences as diverse as Jimmy Page, Tom Waits and The Police into one song you deserve to be heard.... by millions. Hands down THE surprise package of Steelhouse Festival 2012 I'm pleased to say. Jamie it's okay, you can come out now! [Johnny H]
The one band that I can't wait to see again on the holy day of the festival is Bonafide. This is only the band's second show in Wales and, having been present at both, I feel a strange affinity to the eight-legged Swedish retro rock brigade. I just knew that the classic rock loving regulars of the Steelhouse would fall head over Hi-Tec in love with these guys and, as they tear into a set that is as straightahead rock as it is essential, I offer a wry smile in the direction of every new fan that the band has garnered in an hour on a mountain that flies by like the '70s Rebel Machine that frontman Pontus Snibb sings about.
With the release of the band's essential new album 'Ultimate Rebel' imminent, Bonafide grin their way through a set that mixes classic songs from their back catalogue ('Butter You Up') with soon-to-be classic songs from the new album ('Doing The Pretty') and seminal cover tunes like 'I Don't Need No Doctor', dedicated to Snibb's second favourite vocalist, Humble Pie's Steve Marriott (first choice Paul Rodgers already having been given a shout out), and a seque into Rose Tattoo's 'Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock 'n' Roll)'.
The Bonafide set is as entertaining, if not more so, than anything that has come before it. I stand there thinking that the moment when Snibb tells us that Yngwie Malmsteen is the only Swedish man crazier than drummer Niklas Matsson is unlikely to be topped...then the denim-clad frontman leaves the stage for a wailing walkabout through the crowd, never missing a note or the opportunity to throw a classic rock guitarist shape in the direction of every pointing camera. Set closer and fan favourite 'Fill Your Head With Rock' is the icing on the cake. I will most certainly be present at the band's third Welsh gig later this year and, on this performance and reception, I will be joined by many. Awesome.
Million $ Reload are up against it before they even hit the festival stage: how could they hope to follow a performance as celebrated as the one that their Swedish r'n'r brethren had just turned out? The opening one-two of 'Livin' In The City' (from 2008's impressive debut 'Anthems of a Degeneration') and 'Fight The System' (taken from the new album, 'A Sinner's Saint', which has many admirers at URHQ) makes a real fist of the Belfast bad boys' attempts at keeping the Steelhouse festival crowd at the height of the rock 'n' roll fever that it has been struck down with. That new album is represented in fine style by the likes of 'Smoke N' Mirrors', 'Pretty People' and 'Bullets In The Sky' and, when thrown alongside tunes from that cool debut ('Goodnight New York' and heavy duty set closer 'Superslave'), it's easy to see why this band are so highly-rated. Doubts do flutter by on the breeze like troubled butterflies as the band try their hardest to usurp the majesty of the Swedish rockballs that were offered up beforehand. While the bass player stands behind the three pronged attack of frontman and twin guitarists in a curious and all too defensive 1-1-3 formation, singer Phil Conalane does his best to wring every last drop of rock juice out of the wanton audience members; with a sleaze metal version of Thin Lizzy's 'Cowboy Song' he very nearly succeeds. Million $ Reload are well worth your time, it's just a pity that their time came after a formidable set from a gang of '70s obsessed must-see rock throwbacks.
I bet I'm not the only red-blooded male thinking that Lynne Jackaman is the finest lady that they've ever been stuck up a mountain with. Having marvelled at an incredible two-song acoustic set by the soulful vocalist and guitarist Marcus Bonfanti earlier, not even the opening of the heavens can ease my desire to catch Saint Jude as they bring the tunes to cleanse the soul and clear the sky. It's been almost two years since the band's critically-acclaimed debut, 'Diary of a Soul Fiend', saw release and, as a slew of new songs pierce the grey clouds that sob in time to the tales of both heartache and break that strut out of the speakers, the appearance of its follow up couldn't come quickly enough. Sure, you can sing Black Crowes songs over many of the band's setlist - think somewhere between 'The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion' and 'Amorica' - but with that band not wanting to do it themselves anymore, I guess someone has to. Jackaman, seriously, has a legion of male mountain dwellers, soaked to the skin, eating out of the palm of her hand as she pours wonderful vocals over songs like 'Parallel Life', 'Sweet Melody' and closer 'Southern Belles'. 'Black Rum and White Lies' enforces the idea that album number two from Saint Jude will be as lauded as its predecessor. Amid weather sadly indicative of this year's festival season, Saint Jude go down a storm.
Minus their regular drummer, James Heatley, due to the most inconvenient arrival of a baby, The Answer take to the Steelhouse stage with a stand-in sticksman going by the name of Johnny Sex (!) and ready to be accepted as true stars of the whole event. The swell of interest and buzz that suddenly surrounds the front of the stage like a swarm of hornets has arrived to get loose and rock out shows that this band are the reason why many find themselves stood in a secluded field on a balmy Sunday evening. As opener 'Under The Sky' rips the Steelhouse a new one the fantastic festival morphs into a full-on rock show. Frontman Cormac Neeson, a mess of hair and moves, never keeps still, never stops pushing this set closer to the edge: many...err....less-skilled would-be frontmen could do worse than study live footage of one of Norn Iron's finest sons.
If the crowd and band weren't already as one, the intimacy doubles as Neeson flies into the audience to sing with the people, his people. Songs like 'Never Too Late' and 'Memphis Water' from the acclaimed debut album 'Rise', and 'Comfort Zone' from its celebrated follow-up, turn the paying punters into a writhing mass of bad dancing, worse singing, and lashings of air guitar. Two years in front of a notoriously difficult AC/DC fellowship has seen these guys hone their craft into such a tightly wound ball of a set that this preaching to the converted lark is a doddle for them. Saint Jude's Lynne Jackaman, as is often the case, joins the band for 'Nowhere Freeway', the song from last year's 'Revival' album that she featured on, and I'm sure, despite the precipitation in the air earlier, that I see the ends of at least a couple of middle-aged mullets begin to smoke and burst into flames. The Answer's special guest appearance is a nailed-on winner, the band of the weekend in many eyes.
Now over two years into a reunion welcomed as many of their hit singles were through the mid to late 1990s, Reef seem the perfect fit to close a festival; their grinning, lazy grooves just right for an audience winding down and thinking of returning to society after three days of bonding and boozing and laughing with musical bruthas and sistas. Clued-in peeps aren't as suprised as some when faced with bass player Jack Bessant's transformation from clean cut GQ type to Eerie Von, but singer Gary Stringer's appearance in sheepskin waistcoat and bad fisherman's hat does raise an eyebrow or two: happily, after a tasty opener in the shape of 'Come Back Brighter' from 1997 chart-topping (when that actually mattered) album 'Glow', Stringer discards the fancy dress outfit and looks just like he did when the crowd, many in recovery at this point rather than intoxicated, remember him, all long hair and huge voice.
'Glow' is plundered for many of its finer moments - 'Don't You Like It?', 'Summer's In Bloom', 'Consideration' and, obviously, the massive 'Place Your Hands' which, as it flows out of the set at an early stage, exudes the confidence ensconced in the reunited quartet....and all original members too: many bands could really take a leaf out of Reef's book. 'Replenish', the band's 1995 debut, is pillaged for the fine 'Mellow', while 'I've Got Something To Say', with Stringer strapping on an acoustic, represents 1999 long player, 'Rides'. After closing a set littered with classy tunes - 'Give Me Your Love' from the 'Together' Best Of another victorious aural attendee - the band return for an encore of 'Choose To Live', Stringer hanging over the barrier shaking hands with everyone who wants a piece of him as guitarist Kenwyn House (thankfully the only Ken present on stage all weekend) throws an extended solo out into the ether and darkness.
As the final note rings out, mixing with deserved cheers, whistles and applause, the curtain falls on the sophomore Steelhouse Festival, a resounding success in anyone's eyes. Over three days I've seen whole families dancing, refuse fashioned into a historic arch, people sheltering from the rain under the expansive all-weather clothing of a prepared Queen Bee o' rock, drunken lunacy, heartfelt reunions and people turned onto new music that they would not have heard if not for a bunch of people with a dream of putting on their very own festival actually pulling their collective fingers out and doing it. For too long music fans of South Wales have had to travel the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to see cool bands, to get their musical fix: not any more, not when local people are trying to bring the cool to fellow locals. Support the Steelhouse and, when this festival grows into one of legend, you can say you've been there from the beginning.
Can the Steelhouse Festival 2013 hope to better the success of this year's event? Damn right..and with your help too. Spread the word and spread the love. See you next year. [Gaz E]