For the first ‘proper’ day at Steelhouse Festival, the rain had stopped for a while, and in daylight it was clear just how much the weather had destroyed the site. It also became clear just how beautiful this place is, with views for miles and the biggest sky I have ever seen. Originally, we had been told we would be moved in the morning, but there was no way that was happening, so after levelling to a more comfortable angle, I whipped up a fry up and prepared the gear for a day’s rocking. On the way in, I got my first real glimpse of the Game Of Thrones Dragon skull that formed the centrepiece of the site, had a wander around some small, but intriguing trade stalls, and a look at the various catering options… not a massive selection, but enough to keep you fed and watered for three days and still not have tried all of them.
First up were local rockers Florence Black. The three piece are getting some serious industry attention at the moment, with Benji from Skindred stating he was looking forward to seeing them open the bill, and it is easy to see why. Named after a woman that used to carry coal back to her house by tying it onto a bike at the time of the Aberfan disaster, their powerful, no nonsense rock music, delivered with energy, will always have a place, and if their song writing can keep developing, they could be something special. Weirdly, a highlight was when they had a few technical issues. Many young bands would fold at that point, but instead, guitarist Tristan launched into a Hendrix inspired solo of the Welsh National Anthem. That near catastrophe became one of the set highlights. Throw in a Budgie cover to give the crowd a chance to reminisce, and they left to a lot of appreciation.
Following on from a band that could have walked to the festival were feisty Aussie rockers Tequila Mockingbyrd. A power three piece with some very catchy songs such as “I Smell Rock And Roll” (supported by one of the weirdest pieces of merch I have heard of… their own perfume), they go down a storm. Following recent line-up changes, bass player Jacinta Jaye is a whirl of hair and pumping rhythm, singer/guitarist Louisa Baker riffs with the best of them and has a deliciously raw voice, and at the back, original founding member Josie O’Toole. Possibly the smallest, and yet one of the most powerful, drummers I have had the pleasure of watching. Another band on an upward trajectory, and it was lovely to see them out in the mud afterwards, watching with the crowd.
Third on were a band I saw recently supporting Cheap Trick, and who have a massive following for a relatively new group. They play the social media game very well and have a great rapport with their fans, but that isn’t enough unless you can provide the goods on stage and record. Stone Broken do all that and then some. Their songs are catchy and memorable, and on stage they are everywhere in a whirl of action. Their new album is imminent and they treated us to a couple of previews with “Doesn’t Matter” and “Just A Memory”, the second of which had an almost industrial metal intro which showed the depth of their ability. Rich Moss has the looks and manner to front a boy band, Chris Davis leads with some great lines and rhythm section Kieron Conroy and Robyn Haycock are a formidable team. Three bands in, three great sets and a glimpse at the future of British Rock music.
Then, someone winds the clock back to the glorious past, and it is time for the re-appearance of Bernie Marsden for an acoustic set. Now, it is time for a confession. I do this ‘job’ because I love this music, and I often get strange looks from other ‘togs when I clap at the end of a great song or move with the rhythm as I shoot, but with Bernie I sang every word! “Till The Day I Die”, “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More”, “Is This Love?”, “Here I Go Again”, a stunning bluesy “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”, a bit of Peter Green, some Beatles, all mixed with delightful little stories, self-deprecating humour, and glorious musicianship… all had me utterly entranced. The reaction from the crowd seemed to genuinely surprise Bernie, but he shaped their past, and for 45 minutes we all became our teenaged selves in his presence.
It was fitting that Inglorious followed Bernie, as they are probably the closest thing on the scene today to those monster bands of the early 80’s, and their influences are clear. No nu metal or pop punk here! Fronted by the massive voice of Nathan James, who appears on stage in a dragon kaftan and shades, every song is a hook-laden throwback to stadium rock when it was born, yet sounds totally modern. The essence of Inglorious is contained in the anthemic ”Until I Die”. Hammond organ leads into thundering drums and a chopping guitar that builds until a glorious riff takes over that makes your head spontaneously nod in time until Nathan’s vocals soar into the clouds that fill the sky. The throwbacks continue with a drum and bass solo (the only part of the set I really wasn’t sure about), before another of those massive anthems, “Holy Water”. The guitar, courtesy of Andreas Eriksson, is delightfully funky, and the chorus is simply huge as he is joined by the rest of the band. It will be interesting to see where the band goes from here, as they have reached the point of being mid bill at a large festival. Will they keep rising towards headliner status, or start to bottom out?
Three bands left, and now we are getting to the established bands that caused people to buy tickets in the first place. I was definitely in the minority in that I wasn’t overwhelmed by Monster Truck. It may have been that the rain started falling again after keeping away for most of the day, but somehow they didn’t grab my attention. The Canadian foursome have a huge sound, exemplified by the cracking “Don’t Tell Me How To Live”, and it was clear that the crowd loved every second of their set, but I guess we all have different tastes, and I found myself wandering around the arena within earshot rather than absorbing every moment.
Penultimate band of the day were Last In Line. This was my first time seeing them, and I think it is fair to say that as far as most people at the festival were concerned, they could have headlined. Made up of the classic era Dio members Vivian Campbell and Vinny Appice, alongside Andrew Freeman (a more than capable substitute for the much missed Ronnie James), Phil Soussan (again, a capable substitute for the more recently departed Jimmy Bain), and Erik Norlander on keyboards, they gave new life to the wonderful songs of the past, as well as new recordings that blended seamlessly into the set. “Stand Up And Shout” opens the show with a bang and Dio favourites such as “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow In The Dark” have the crowd in the palm of Last In Line’s hand. Mixed with self-penned songs such as “Devil In Me” and “Starmaker”, their set is a triumph, and for many people, the highlight of the weekend.
Skindred, are a somewhat controversial choice at a classic metal festival, according to many that I chatted to. By the time they hit the stage, the rain was back with a vengeance, but there was no way that was going to stop Benji and the boys from rocking a home festival top of the bill. You know what you are going to get at a Skindred gig. Benji is probably one of the best showmen in the genre and constantly interacts with the crowd (I suspect at a “family” festival a few parents were wincing at the colourful language though). We get all the favourites, usually bought in with a searing riff from suited and gloriously bearded guitarist Mikey Demus. “Kill The Power”, “Nobody”, “Ninja”, “Doom Riff”, “Ratrace” and “Pressure” all raise the energy levels, and there is contrast when Benji tells the story of a friend that died from cancer as an intro to “Saying It Now”, a genuinely emotional and poignant song that becomes even more so played acoustically. Of course, there is one thing everyone is waiting for on home ground, and the band return for the crushing “Warning” and possibly the wettest ‘Newport Helicopter’ in history. I am a fan of Skindred. I have seen them more than any other band, and they never fail to entertain, be it in a sweaty club, or at Download, but I suspect those who went to see them loved every second, and those who thought they were the wrong headliner left early, which was their loss.
Review and images from the weekend – Rob Wilkins