Steelhouse – Aberbeeg, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm – 30 July 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Sunday, 06 August 2017 05:00

One thing you can never predict with festivals is the weather, of course. One minute, the sun could be splitting the trees and you’re reaching for your sunblock; the next, it could be absolutely hammering it down – only for, as soon as you’ve painstakingly climbed into your waterproof gear, that yellow orb to re-appear seconds later!


There were two other things we couldn’t have predicted as we entered the final day of this year’s Steelhouse… that another record could quite possibly be set (well, the festival already holds that for the highest in Europe), and that much of the conversation in the Über company of assorted scribes, togs and hangers-on would be dominated by ovaries! We’ll come to both of those shortly!


There obviously had been a lot of work done to try and mitigate against the effect of the rain of the previous two evenings, with loads of straw matting put down in key areas, such as in front of the all-important bar and toilet blocks: there was too much mud for it to be fully effective, but the effort was commendable and did make it slightly easier underfoot – well, at least until the rain started again, which it inevitably did a little later in the afternoon. Onstage, meanwhile, there obviously had been some technical problems, which resulted in the gates opening a full 45 minutes after the advertised time… but, that’s the vagaries of a festival for you, and should in no way detract from the sterling work going on behind the scenes…


Texas Flood 3


Opening proceedings up today were The Texas Flood, a band I’ve seen at various HRH events over the past few years… despite the early hour, and as if aware of the urgency of getting on with things, this Neath/Port Talbot trio don’t mess about and get straight down to business, bring plenty of energy and evoking the same from the earlycomers. Their thick, bass-driven blues rock is steeped in the sound of the state from which they draw their name, with their massive sound belying the fact that there’s just three of them on the cavernous stage. The result is a tasty appetizer for what is to come throughout the rest of the afternoon.


Broken Witt Rebels 5


“Oh my God, my ovaries just wobbled!” Probably as apt a description as any as to what happened among certain female members of the UR entourage when Broken Witt Rebels frontman Danny Core opened his throat… and, yes, he does have an extremely impressive voice, with a good range and plenty of commitment in his delivery. The Birmingham quartet continue the bluesy vibe, which complements the chilly, damp conditions but also warms the cockles of the audience’s hearts: they have a heavier emphasis on the blues and less on the rock, but nevertheless they possess strong, thumping rhythms which underpin James Tranter’s raucous guitar work and Core’s dynamic, guttural vocals. These guys have plenty of hype around them at the moment, and on the evidence of this performance it is fully deserved.


Jared James Nicholls 2


The first of three acts today who had driven through the night following appearances at the Ramblin’ Man Fair on Saturday, Jared James Nicholls looks fresh faced as he once again demonstrates what a ridiculously talented artist and entertainer he truly is. But, it’s not all showmanship for the sake of it, as this young guitarist from Wisconsin knows how to put on a show that falls just short of unnecessary exhibitionism, while at the same time demonstrating his ability to play great guitar and write great songs, and put them out there for everyone to enjoy and leave on of his performances with smiles as big as the drop down the side of the mountain. An artist who has picked up the mantle of the great bluesmen, modernised it and made it his own, JJN has an extremely bright future ahead of him – something recognised by everyone who was fortunate enough to be present during this mesmerising performance.


Wayward Sons 19


It may seem unusual to put an “unknown” band so high up the bill, but then Wayward Sons do come with a pretty impressive pedigree, not least in the form of a certain Toby Jepson, back rockin’ and rollin’ as if he’s never been away (and he hasn’t really, has he?). With the themes to first ‘The A Team’ and then ‘Thunderbirds’ helping to build the sense of anticipation, it’s quickly evident that Jepson is enjoying being back fronting his own band (instead of being a hired hand).


“This is only our fourth gig – can you tell?” he asks, and quite honestly the answer is a resounding “NO”, as the band are so tight they sound like they’ve been playing together for years. The style harks back to the Little Angels – big hooks and melodies with nearly as much muck on them as is caked to our boots – but also sounds fresh, modern and, most importantly, relevant. Guitarist Sam Wood is a real find, with plenty of crunch in his riffs, the ability to let his solos soar around the mountaintop – and an endless smile on his face. Jepson himself is in great voice, immediately engaging the cold audience with the warmth of his charisma and rapport, and the result is a highlight set from one of British rock’s most engaging and talented exponents.


  • Wayward Sons support UFO at Dorking Halls in Dorking on Thursday 14 September, The Picturedome in Holmfirth on Friday 15 September and the Roadmender in Northampton on Saturday 16 September. They also play Hard Rock Hell XI in Pwllheli from 9-12 November.


The previous afternoon, news had spread around the site that King King had been forced to pull out, as Alan Nimmo once again had pushed himself too far and blown his voice, this time after just three songs, at another festival on the Friday. Just as quickly, rumours began to circulate about the organizers’ fal lback plan; by Sunday lunchtime, despite the best efforts of everyone concerned to keep us all on tenterhooks as long as possible, the secret was out – history quite possibly was going to be made. Yes, a quick ‘phone call had been placed and, just as quickly, the festival’s “house band” (as MC Darren Redick introduced them), had stepped into the breach…


Hand Of Dimes with Bernie Marsden 9


Frontman, and Welsh god (as he’s described by the ladies in the VIP bar) Nev MacDonald is beaming from ear to ear as Hand Of Dimes make their second appearance of the weekend: he’s in fine voice as they showcase an all-too-brief handful of songs from their current album, ‘Raise’… unfortunately, there’s no ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ this time around, but the fistful of original tunes is a mere appetizer for what is to come… For step forward the living legend that is Bernie Marsden: now, he must surely have set some sort of record, as one of the few, if not the only, artists to perform on all three days of the same festival?


Hand Of Dimes with Bernie Marsden 1


Opening the “second half” of the set with a rambunctious version of ‘Wishing Well’, which allows MacDonald to fully explore the bottom end of his range, there is only one thing the rabid audience wants to hear… and sure, enough, the musicians collectively prove that, collectively, they ain’t no ‘Fool For Your Lovin’ but are indeed ‘Ready An’ Willing’ to go ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’. And then it comes: if there had been a roof on this place, it surely would have come down during ‘Here I Go Again’, as MacDonald effortlessly re-interprets the song and hits the high notes Coverdale has been unable to attain for several years now. It’s a truly special moment… one of those, as our David remarked in his review of Friday’s show, “I was there” ones… or, as another of our female companions so succinctly put it, one of those “my ovaries just popped” ones!


  • Hand Of Dimes play the Gwyl Festival in Ynysybwl on Sunday 27 August.


As mentioned at the top of this piece, proceedings had kicked off late due to some technical issues with Saxon’s set up: the result that was openers The Texas Flood had started almost 35 minutes behind schedule. However, the stage crew had worked manically, nay maniacally, to claw the lost time back, and had got the delay down to a little more than a quarter of an hour (superb work in very challenging circumstances behind the scenes…); that all changed, however, during British Lion’s line checks and, lo and behold, we were back were we had started several hours earlier!


To be brutally honest, if Steve Harris’ name wasn’t appended to the start of the band’s own monicker, then they would be nothing more than a fairly decent hard rock band contending somewhere near the top of Championship rather than minnows punching above their weight in the Premier League. Yes, they are tight and efficient and obviously extremely talented, and possess a decent selection of songs and a charismatic frontman in Richard Taylor, who has a strong onstage presence – well, he needs it, in light of who is to his left, machine-gunning the crowd with his bass and mouthing every word of every song as well as encouragement to the crowd. But, unfortunately, it’s not an exciting performance, although it does get an enthusiastic reception from the diehard Harris fans rammed against the barrier; similarly, though, a good proportion of the crowd seek shelter as the next wave of rain prepares to sweep over the site and the temperature starts to markedly drop.


Rival Sons 1


One thing which has stood out this weekend is the quality of the various vocalists in many of the bands, from Stone Broken’s Rich Moss through Last In Line’s Andrew Freeman to the above-mentioned Danny Core and Nev MacDonald: hell, I have to admit that, prancing aside, Nathan James fits the bill – as, most definitely, does Jay Buchanan of Rival Sons. What a fucking voice! And he knows how to work both a stage (constantly venturing out onto the now once again sodden runway) and a crowd, with whom he manages to work up a virtually intimate rapport.


The band’s big, chunky blues rock sound draws on a vein that stretches back to the Stones and the Yardbirds, through the Faces and Bad Company to the present day. Buchanan’s rich, soulful voice draws every nuance from every note. However, despite the effortless ease of his performance, and that of the band as a whole, there was just something, that niggling little “something” missing… the feeling that they’re just holding back a bit and that they just need to push up through the gears to achieve their full potential. But, for the moment, most of the right ingredients are in place, and this Long Beach groove machine is gracefully easing towards headline status in the not too distant future.


Saxon 1


Talking of frontmen, and headliners, there are few of the former better than Biff Byford and it’s a big surprise that this is only Saxon’s second open-air bill topping appearance (the first having been on Friday night down in Kent) in more than 30 years! Despite Rival Sons having shaved 15 minutes off their allotted time, it’s gone 10pm before we even get a sniff of the band going anywhere near the stage… with the 11pm curfew looming large, we’re left wondering if it’s going to be a foreshortened set or if they’re gonna bust through the time limit?


Saxon 11


Well, Biff and his heavy metal warriors show no regard for delays, curfews - or the now torrential rain – as they rip straight into a spectacularly crowd-pleasing set filled with the expected gallery of classics and hits, as well as generous sprinkling of more recent material. The only cognisance Biff pays to the shortage of time is by keeping his between song banter to the bare minimum and letting the music do the talking for him. He does, however, declare that “if you let are getting wet, then so am I” before striding dominantly to the end of the runway; he then produces a towel and places it on the platform to headbang on his knees before accepting a proffered umbrella for a bit of singing in the rain, heavy metal style!


There are some who have accused Saxon of going through the motions on recent tours, and to an extent I have to say that I agree with them. Their sets could be seen as somewhat safe: you could almost gauge at what point in the show ‘Motorcycle Man’ or ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ or ‘Princess Of The Night’ is going to be played… But this is Saxon, and this is the main reason several thousand people stood on top of a mountain, getting soaked to the skin and ankle-deep in mud: to enjoy some serious old-school Heavy Metal Thunder \m/


Saxon 9


And, so, another Steelhouse came to an end. A rather wet one – and, it has to be admitted, a slightly drunken one. But, we didn’t care about the rain. Or the mud. Just the music. And, by and large, Steelhouse once again delivered on that front.


Tribute must once again be paid to everyone behind the scenes, from the sound and light crews to the stage hands, the brilliant security teams and superb bar staff. Special kudos to the many volunteers who give up two weeks of their summer holidays to make this fantastic wee event happen, year in, year out, rain or shine. Yes, there were a few problems, but they were addressed and (largely) overcome with dedication and good humour. Here’s to next year.


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen/ Über Rock. View our full gallery of photographs HERE.


The 2018 edition of Steelhouse has been confirmed for the weekend of Friday 27 – Sunday 29 July. Early bird tickets are on sale HERE.


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