|Steelhouse Festival - Aberbeeg, Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm - 20th August 2011|
|Written by Rob Watkins & Gaz E|
|Sunday, 28 August 2011 05:00|
Now this is ambitious. The Steelhouse rock club has been running for just several months yet the cool people behind it have done what many people threaten yet never have the balls to do - they have put their money where their mouths are and organised a two day festival in one of the most picturesque locations, surely, ever to house an event of this scope and style.
Confirmed as the UK's highest altitude festival, the site is just down the road from where I live. "Just down the road" - I'm sure anyone that attended has just coughed up a furball at that statement. Known to us locals as Jukes's Farm, this place is, I think it's fair to say, slightly off the beaten track yet one of the most spectacular places to ever host a hard rockin' event such as this. With stunning views dazzling the eye and quality tunes startling the ears, I marvel at the professionalism and organisation of the event.
Missing the opening tribute night on medical advice - Uber Rock is allergic to tribute bands - I hear nothing but good things about the freaky Friday up the mountain with a load of bands who, with names like Bon Giovi and Hot Red Chili Peppers, are the aural equivalent of those porn rip-offs of Hollywood movies - Shaving Ryan's Privates, etc. The second day of the festival, however, is a wholly different proposition. Always wanting to swan into a field fashionably late looking like a tubby diva, I entrust the opening of Day Two to the Renée and Renato of Uber Rock, teen photographer supreme Ashlea Matthews and the former bass player of Vermin. So, to cover the opening five bands, I turn the microphone over to Rob Watkins - shock me...
Almost on cue as Mikey Evans (Steelhouse co-organiser/event compere) bounds out from the wings to introduce the opening act on day two of this inaugural Steelhouse Festival the sun briefly smiles down on the assembled throng who have gathered at this wonderful location. And here we go, please welcome from Bath, Ataraxis Vibration, the perfect band to open, the three-piece bringing a proper back in the day, old school festival vibe with their laid back bass heavy '60s/'70s grooved tunes, individual musical proficiency, jangly blues-based guitar and funky basslines. The guys look happy to be in town, "We're gonna play some blues now - anyone out there like the blues?" retorts singer/bassist Vonj, while some neat melodic riffage flows from Adam Healey. Kings X, Living Colour, Cream and a lot of funk - and elements of blues - inspirations spring to mind, the pace is lifted up a tad on 'Sonic Boom' and its slap funk psychedelica. Those guitar and bass pedalboards are on overdrive today judging by the mish mash of sounds bouncing out of the PA.
With an appearance at the Download Festival 2011 under their belts, entering into the arena are Planet Rock approved quartet Fighting Wolves. The pace is stepped up a gear, an instant Foo Fighters comparision arises, and some early festival energy wakes up the Steelhousers as, all in the name of rock 'n' roll, the guys are rockin'. With a stand-in drummer who has only been behind the Wolves kit for three days we get some extended comic banter to stretch the set out a wee bit. 'Bleed You Dry' sees some Queens Of The Stone Age influenced interludes, some neat chuggin' riffs and raspy Grohl-esque vocals on 'One Minute More' and even a garage band-like slant of Fleetwood Mac tune 'Second Hand News'. Good stuff.
Acclaimed outfit The Tom Hollister Trio take to the stage next; yet more laid back classic blues, ideal Saturday afternoon listening in this idyllic festival setting. Guitarist Chris Buck has some rifftastic moments that far and away exceed his age, "All the way from Abercarn" as bassist/vocalist Tom Hollister puts it. 'On The Road' is a chilled out kinda musical cappuccino moment, close your eyes and you could be excused for thinking you're attending the Knebworth Fayre in 1976........
Hollister jokingly (?) states he's gonna have sex with Buck later before launching into 'Half Way', 'Tied Up In Blue' is greeted with loud applause and Buck continues his extended solo down in the photo pit with fretwork to make a blind man cry. As they end with an up tempo new track Hollister hollers "Cheers guys, in the words of The Steelhouse, Love It Live."
And now for something different.....bringing some LA-inspired glitz and pizzazz to the proceedings, it's Heaven's Basement. Deffo a top addition to the line-up and wait, here we go, the first foot on the monitor moment, the foot in question belonging to Aaron Buchanan, the band's newly installed frontman. This hugely improved new line-up is using every last inch of the vast stage bringing attitude and swagger by the ten tonne truckload and by the way the tunes ain't too shabby either. Buchanan has a little Scott Weiland thing going on; the guy has star quality a la Jagger, Tyler, Axl, or even Jamie Kall. 'Tear Your Heart Out' sees some crotch movement, ladies - well, they are in Tom Jones country.
'Paranoia', lifted from the new 'Unbreakable' EP, has guitarist Sid Glover taking over lead vocal duties and is an infectious little sleazy ditty. Buchanan claims back the mic and pretty soon he's hurdled the barrier and he's amidst the punters. "You want some more you make some f...in' noise" and there's even a reference to rugby - are they insulting our fair nation now they no longer have a Welshman in their ranks? Entertaining all the same......
Is it Skin...is it Jagged Edge...no it's Red, White and Blues formed from the ashes of the aforementioned. An extremely stylish opener, 'Stand Up For Rock 'N' Roll' catches me totally off guard. 'Moonshine' houses powerhouse vocals from Matti Alfonzetti and stunning backing vocals from former Skin lead singer Neville MacDonald, now taking up bass duties - awesome harmonic vocal hooks. 'Long Way From Home' has an evident Steve Winwood influence from, oh yeah, only the one and only Myke Gray on guitar. 'Road To Hell', is introduced by Matti as "The climb up here was a Road To Hell!" before true Welsh legend Neville corrects him, "Heaven my friend, Heaven." 'I'm On Fire' and 'Little Too Late' follow as the heavens open but nobody seems bothered as the masses are certainly enjoying this set. A true British rock sound, Free sounding but very much updated, these songs just keep getting more and more infectious. 'Shame On You', or as the crowd appear to be singing "Rain On You", is impressive, as is the up tempo 'Girls And Guitars' and as the band launch into 'Fire Down Below' the rain ceases. Closing with the band's take on the Jagged Edge tune 'You Don't Love Me' the well deserved applause is still ringing out well after the guys have departed. (RW)
I should feel guilty taking over the reviewing duties just as the three 'name' bands are about to appear but, as Rob has been counting down the seconds until I do, scribbling serial killer-esque drawings of my dissected corpse on his jotter ever since he discovered those very reasonable beer prices in the backstage area, I overcome my tainted feelings quickly, helped in no small part by probably the finest live act in the UK at the minute. Yes, Black Spiders own that title and I'm sure that their performance on this crazy mountain will only confirm it. It does.
The setlist rarely changes yet it doesn't have to - this band and their three guitar assault simply lays waste to all in their path, entertaining as quickly as they impress. The majority of 'Sons Of The North', one of this year's finest albums, gets played and every song, live like on the record, is awesome. 'Kiss Tried To Kill Me', a favourite on the Steelhouse club playlist, goes down a storm, luckily bassist Adam 'The Fox' Irwin is wearing a rain-killing see-through poncho. 'Stay Down' is as fantastic as ever, while the likes of 'Man's Ruin' and 'St. Peter' own this particular piece of Welsh countryside. EP tracks 'D&B' and 'Meadow' (dedicated to Tony Soprano's daughter) make glorious appearances but it is 'What Good's A Rock Without A Roll?' that seems most appropriate, its "Eat Thunder, Shit Lightning" mantra touching every single damp festival goer afflicted by a hint of precipitation, grooving in their very own muddy puddle. I look around and fail to see one disappointed face. If this festival offered promise then, with the appearance of one ten-legged rock 'n' roll machine, it has arrived. Would it be wrong of me to say that the very first band that I review are the band of the festival? Tough. They are.
With the sun going down, the sight of a quartet of scantily-clad, fire-breathing young ladies welcomes the festival's special guests, Tigertailz, and only adds to the sense of occasion. The occasion, of course, being marked by the return to the band of original drummer Ace Finchum. It's great to see the fella back where he belongs but I struggle to hide the sadness that it brings with it. If only the band had made this move when they first reunited, at least then their fans would have been given the chance to see the full 'Bezerk' line-up before the late, great Pepsi Tate was taken. With Ace back, the recruitment of bassist Sarah Firebrand is simply pushed to the fore and, looking as right for the band as Neil Murray did when he joined Vow Wow, her curious onstage manner - part bemused competition winner, part housewife dancing around the living room to soft rock videos on VH-1 - is magnified and I can't be the only person looking around for a hot tub and a can of Chernobly.
With opener 'Sick Sex' flowing straight into 'Wazbones', the 'Tailz throw out a greatest hits set that, while featuring the likes of 'Call Of The Wild', 'I Can Fight Dirty Too' and 'Living Without You', also showcases both ends of the band's back catalogue via the appearances of 'Shoot To Kill' and 'Natural Born Animal'. 'Heaven' and 'Love Bomb Baby' could not fail to move the mountain-dwelling populace and when the now-customary cover of 'Ace Of Spades' (which, if I'm honest, I could live without ever hearing again) rings out everyone knows that they're at a proper rock show, the darkness perfectly framing the impressive stage set up.
Pepsi Tate gets a song dedicated to him by the headliners too, the great 'Searching' that appeared on the excellent return to form 'This Is Rock 'N' Roll' in 2001. Opening in fine, subtle fashion with 'Hoochie Coochie Man' before taking me back to my gloriously misspent youth with 'Misled', The Quireboys get everyone moving. 'There She Goes Again' has always been a particular favourite of mine and its appearance is most welcome. 'Mona Lisa Smiled' is great, as is 'Tramps and Thieves'. Still being a going concern rather than an outfit relying solely on their past, the band's newer material is received a little less enthusiastically than their most popular work and I get the feeling that a slightly modified Greatest Hits set would see them owning every attendee of festivals such as this. It's of little concern really though as the bulk of the band's set is universally adored.
The big hitters, 'Hey You' and '7 O'Clock', are, as you would expect, welcomed like old friends, but there is one old friend who went AWOL many years ago with no-one hearing from him since. Suddenly, stepping out of the latest shower like Patrick Duffy, is 'Mayfair', dedicated to the old school Quireboys fans. I'm on a mountain, in the dark, damp and in short sleeves, listening to one of my favourite songs of all time and I can think of no place where I'd rather be at that moment. Awesome. Encore 'I Don't Love You Anymore' comes close to scaling the same heights before we all get invited to a 'Sex Party'.
As a band that will forever hold a special place in my rock 'n' roll soul leave the stage, all that is left to be said is a hearty "See you next year" from the festival's organisers. Sure, there could have been more people in attendance and, yes, we could have done with some kind of heatwave, but not one person has anything negative to say about the weekend. This is a success story. The size and scale is unimportant, what is has to be the fact that the people behind the Steelhouse had a dream, an ambitious plan and they pulled it off. Kudos to all concerned. Let's see if we can fill the place next year. Onwards and upwards.....
[Photos by Ashlea Matthews]