Festivals seem to get more and more expensive every year. Add together £200+ for a ticket, £100 for camping (in the live-in field, obviously – I’m no spring chicken), another £50 for the Friday night bill, announced after tickets for Friday and Saturday had gone on sale (tut tut, Ramblin’ Man), £5 a pint, £10 for a burger and chips, £100 for the VIP bar… and you are talking not far off a grand per couple for the weekend. That must make Steelhouse the best value festival in the UK. £100 for three nights of music and camping, a selection of great local ales (pomegranate and sherbet beer amongst them. I kid you not, it was delicious) at £3.50 a pint, a “Sloppy Joe” of burger, beef chilli, coleslaw and cheese for a fiver, and Friday was totally free for anyone who braved the mountain road!
Ah… the road. Getting here was the stuff of nightmares. A two and half hour journey took five, before I finally saw the sign that meant I was nearly there. Well, that was what I thought. The sign takes you up a “road” that would challenge a World Rally team. Towing my little camper behind a car with “sports” suspension, I could feel my fillings loosen. I began to get a little concerned at the small river running down the road, and became even more so when I encountered a waterfall. Still… nearly there, surely? There was a ticket booth just ahead, and then, everything stopped. Over the next two hours, we inched forwards until I got to the top of the mountain (I’m not kidding. It really is on top of a mountain. I was looking for those caches of oxygen mountaineers leave around to help those who come up after them!), only to be told that the live-in field had been closed due to the conditions, and I was to park in the car park and sleep there.
Now, credit to the organisers, because it is hard to describe just how bad conditions were at this point, but they were making decisions on the fly to get people in and camped. So, after slipping and sliding across a peat bog to a space, I got the camper up (on an angle that meant my feet were about a foot higher than my head whilst I slept) and went to get my press pass. Read back, to the bit where I mentioned a ticket booth. Yeah, guess where my pass was? Cue a walk back down the mountain to get my press pack and then a hike back up to the festival. I gave up. Soaked, muddy, tired, and stressed – I just walked straight on past my camper to the bar!
Unfortunately, I missed the first band of the night, Revival (who won a local Battle of the Bands competition), whilst on my hike. By the time I got there and peered out of the beer tent through the rain at where I suspected the stage might be, I caught the end of Trucker Diablo. I felt really sorry for them, as they put a lot of effort into entertaining the hardy souls that went out to watch. On a better night, they would have been great to watch.
Headlining the Friday were former SKIN vocalist Nev MacDonald’s Hand of Dimes, with a “special guest” that would turn out to be central to far more of the weekend than he would ever have imagined. Highlight of the early set were “Pinstriped Arrogance” and the massive “Jacob’s Ladder”, the latter showcasing a bluesy, classic sound that was perfect for this particular festival. Then, the special guest was introduced, and on shuffled Bernie Marsden and a pleasant end to the free Friday became something else entirely. The band ripped through “Fool For Your Loving, “Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues”, “Ready And Willing” and of course “Here I Go Again”, and the rain didn’t stand a chance. Last year I saw Whitesnake headline Ramblin’ Man and, much as he is a hero, Coverdale’s voice struggled and the pretty, hair-flicking guitarist was more image than substance. This, however, was the songs of my youth played as they should be by someone they mean something to. Nev’s voice was perfect, at times more Coverdale than Coverdale. That high note on “Here I Go Again” had mouths gaping in admiration, and Bernie’s guitar was deliciously understated, but classy. He looked bemused at the chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” that kept breaking out, his modesty and gentle smile a contrast to the posing and primping of many rock stars.
So, giving the Fuel Rock Club after show party a miss, I headed back through the boot-sucking mud to my camper and a nights sleep in readiness for the real start of the festival.
Review – Rob Wilkins