The weekend may have been special for the fans, but it also proved an emotional return for both bands and crew, with many of the festival’s acts making their first live appearance in over a year and a half.
Bursting into life on Friday, the party was kickstarted by a rousing set from The Quireboys and - fronted by temporary singer Andrew Hunt of Buffalo Summer and Valhalla Awaits - Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, who’s local legends status assured a king’s welcome.
Saturday saw Hands off Gretel bring the girl power, while band manager Michael Paget from Bullet For My Valentine joined Florence Black for a spirited run through Welsh metal royalty Budgie’s ‘Breadfan’.
Toby Jepson made his first appearance of the weekend with a welcome laid back afternoon set of Little Angels acoustic numbers, while the title of ‘Most Loved Band of Steelhouse’ was easily claimed by Those Damn Crows, whose impassioned performance drew a capacity crowd worthy of headliner status.
Finally commencing their ‘So Much For the 30 Year Plan’ greatest hits tour meanwhile, Irish-Anglo trio Therapy? blasted away the cobwebs with a stellar set of chart-busting classics. “We haven’t set foot on stage in 658 days”, said front man Andy Cairns, greeting the crowd. Not that anyone would have guessed it, as the band played like demons (complete with Evil Priest), to a rousing response.
It was left to Saturday’s headliners The Darkness to crown a great day of music, and like the act before them, Justin Hawkins and co were playing their first show since their enforced lay off. Admitting the weather, which had threatened to break all weekend had gave the band cause for concern, the singer quipped; “We saw the rains, and then we felt the excitement!” Pulling out all the stops, the Lowestoft four-piece performed almost all of their entire ‘Permission to Land’ debut in full, as well as later career highlights like the hilariously OTT 'Barbarian'.
The final day on the farm saw an impassioned set from Mason Hill, who’s cover of Foo Fighters’ ‘Best of You’ produced one of the day’s loudest singalongs, while Toby Jepson returned, this time with Wayward Sons in tow to deliver a supremely-received set which included new song ‘Big Day’ and the title track from forthcoming album ‘Even Up The Score’.
Making his way through a catalogue of early Whitesnake favourites with local hero Neville MacDonald sharing lead vocal duties, Bernie Marsden's shadow of the blues set proved one of the weekend’s most popular. Coinciding with the first anniversary of the passing of Peter Green, the emotional guitarist dedicated ‘Oh Well’ to the Fleetwood Mac icon, saying; “this is for someone who passed away a year ago today”.
Under the microscope following their well-publicised Download Pilot appearance, The Wildhearts banished any ill feeling with a punchy, powerful set. “Best band of the weekend?” enquired an on-form Ginger from the stage, adding; “you don’t have to say that [us] just because we’re on!” The glorious chorus of cheers during ‘Sick of Drugs’ however, gave him his answer. Taking their final bows, the front man acknowledged the problems that plagued the band at Donington Park. “This has been fantastic”, he said; “I don’t know if any of you were at Download the other week, but we were shit. This has been great”.
A hard act to follow, it fell to Uriah Heep to close the festival, and following on from their show-stealin' 2019 performance at Steelhouse, the legendary act wasted no time in establishing their credentials as worthy headliners.
Greeting the crowd, lead singer Bernie Shaw said; “What an awesome weekend! How long have we been waiting for some rock and roll?!” Blasting through a career-spanning set which included the banshee wails of 'Look at Yourself', and a truly moving 'July Morning', the singer opined; “that was worth the eighteen months, just to hear you guys singing”.
In a year and a half that has took its toll on so many, with their set coming to an end, the band gathered towards the front of the stage to drink a shot, and salute the crowd. Acknowledging the recent passing of some of their own number - former band mates Ken Hensley, Lee Kerslake and John Lawton who all passed away in the last twelve months - guitarist Mick Box raised his glass and simply said; “for Ken, and Lee, and John”.
Steelhouse Festival returns in 2022, with early bird tickets already sold out. For more information visit www.steelhousefestival.com.
Stay tuned for eonmusic's chats with Theyapy? and The Wildhearts from Steelhouse.
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