Steelhouse Festival 2017. Ebbw Vale, Wales. 28th-30th July 2017.
That wondrously beautiful scenic trek back up the Welsh mountains has arrived. For some, that would sound peaceful and idyllic;somewhere to find solitude and release. Of course it is all that, but for others, it holds so much more. For a vastly expanding heavy rock and rolling family that grows extensively each year, Ebb Vale means Steelhouse Festival; the most unique moment in the musical calendar. We sent veteran Rob Watkins along to soak up his seventh gathering of the metal masses.
Photo: Jane Smith.
Day 1 - Friday 28th July 2017. Rain or shine, does it really matter when your surrounded by beautiful scenery, beautiful people and of course the reason we`ve come together here on Aberbeeg Mountain; the music from the magnificent line up again assembled by the sublime Steelhouse family? Of course not, and over the next three days we'd be treated to all sorts of climactic changes and sounds from right across the hard rock and heavy metal spectrum.
Arriving onto the festival site, and it's with Revival that the honour falls of opening up this years' shindig. Having won the Battle Of The Bands to open up festivities, the boys warm up the Steelhouse proper. Hailing from the Blackwood area, the locals' youthful exuberance bodes for an exciting future. They might be kicking things off, but having already grown so much in a very short space of time, a year or so down the line, it's not difficult to foresee bigger things coming for the band.
Having performed storming sets previously in 2013 and 2015 on this very stage, Northern Ireland's Trucker Diablo return to whip up amusical storm. Troopers - at a festival, incidentally sponsored by Iron Maiden's Trooper Ale - that they are, they entertain the gathered masses, and are rewarded with the best turn out yet for the Friday event.
However, it's predictably locals Hand Of Dimes' night, andthe five-pieceround proceedings off in style. Naturally, there was never any doubt, given the calibre of the musicians, headed of course by Welsh musical royalty in the shape of Neville MacDonald (fomer Skin and Kooga front man). Playing a blistering set that is filled with tunes from the present and past, the Dimes added a surprise, with guitar legend Bernie Marsden joining the band to knock out some of those awesome Whitesnake tunes that we all adore so much. With much drinking and dancing, it was the perfect way to round off an entertaining evening of rock.
Hand Of Dimes with Bernie Marsden. Photo: Jane Smith.
Day 2 - Saturday 29th July 2017.
Something the festival organisers have prided themselves in over the history of Steelhouse, is having local Welsh up and coming, and established artists taking to the stage and keeping the Dragon flying. 2017 has been no different, and and local heroes Florence Black tear things apart for a perfect opening performance. They even throw in a rendition of the beloved Welsh national anthem to boot!
Highly anticipated four piece Stone Broken follow. Hailing out of the British capital of rock music in the Midlands - specifically, from the town that birthed Black Sabbath, Walsall - they're a band who seem to be here, there and everywhere at the moment. From opening for Glenn Hughes on his recent European trek, to making an appearance at Ramblin' Man Fair in Kent also happening this weekend, the Stone Broken train is rollin' at pace. Here at Steelhouse, the band nail it, and leave the stage to vast appreciative applause.
Meanwhile, he's back again; Bernie Marsden returns a matter of hours later, for this time a solo engagement, knocking out all those classic timeless tunes from his catalogue in his own laid back acoustic refrain. We get the solo tunes, the Whitesnake anthems, and even a little Beatles tunage, and the singer / guitarist puts in a simply delightful afternoon set.
Bernie Marsden. Photo: Jane Smith.
As the day progressed, the musical bar was rising, and with one of the most exciting bands over the last few years to emerge on the hard rocking scene up next, the air of excitement was growing. Inglorious hit the stage running, led by the focal point in front man extraordinaire Nathan James. Belting out tracks from their two studio albums to a notable reaction form an extensive crowd, this band it seems can only get bigger and bigger. The band leave the stage to cries for an encore, and deservedly so.
Canadian engine-houses Monster Truck revup next, and prove something of a highlight. The rain might have come on in earnest, but the Hamilton, Ontario four piece prove a revelation. With image of little importance - it's hair, hats and dirty jeans - to the rising Canadians, it's all about the music, and the Truckers perform a unique show, which Steelhouse aficionados grasp,hanging onto every beat, riff and howling vocal. With fists in the air and singalong screams, only one word will suffice; "Wow!!!"
They may have had teething troubles the previous day whilst performing in Maidstone, Kent, but there were no such problems today for Dio-offshoot Last In Line. Knowing how to please the crowd during their all too brief set, the band led by original Dio six-stringer Vivian Campbell mix the classics that graced many a fanatics' record decks back in the day, with newer tunes from debut album 'Heavy Crown'. From 'Holy Diver' to 'Rainbow In The Dark', via their own 'Starmaker' and 'The Devil In Me', Last In Line deliver a heartfelt show. An inspiration to watch.
There have been a number of notable headline acts at Steelhouse over the years, but one of the most unique yet is Newport Legends Skindred. There's a real air of anticipation as Benji Webb and his crew take to the stage, and expertly controlling every aspect of the show, the front man is simply mesmerising. Benji may be the ringmaster, but it's all about the songs, and tune after tune, after mutha-fucking tune are delivered to rapturous applause. With the rain scarcely abating all evening, the terrain might be less solid than it once was, but it only adds to the unpredictable atmosphere. As does the vigour of the attendees, and their (possibly drunken) antics. There's many highlights, however the set peaks with the integral 'Warning', complete with now infamous 'Newport Helicopter' participation. It's a simply joyous scene amidst the mud, and the perfect way to round off Saturday night.
Skiindred. Photo: Jane Smith.
Day 3 - Sunday 30th July 2017.
It's the beginning of the end for Steelhouse 2017, and local boys Texas Flood are charged with kicking away those final-day blues. With thrusting grooves that totally entertain and endear the assembled bruthas and sistas, like the rest of this weekends' first-up acts, they again offer up a performance of substantial note.
In start contrast to the previous nights weather woes, Jared James Nichols shines in the sunshine. His slant on blues rock sees the crowd lap up every note, and he aptly adds a rather neat little rendition of Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen' to his impressive set.
Also impressing is veteran Toby Jepson. Formerly of Little Angels, the singer turned latter-day producer has little left to prove. Even so, he's back with a new band, starting from the ground up with Wayward Sons. Playing only their forth ever show, the band give it all, with with tracks from their forthcoming debut release 'Ghosts of Yet To Come' mixing with a smattering of covers from Jepson's former outfit. The verdict? Well, anything with Toby in it has got to be good, right? Right!
Click HERE for our recent interview with Toby Jepson and Wayward sons. The Legends keep on coming, only this time it's one of the biggest and most influential artists there is in the rock world; Mr. Steve Harris and his other band British Lion. It's not easy to compete with the day job, however British Lion perform an awesome set of blistering heavy slanted sounds that go down amazingly well. The bomber triumphs once again in Wales!
Steve Harris. Photo; Darren McVeigh, MetalPlantet Belfast.
The festival may be nearing an end, and as special guests Rival Sons take to the stage, things go up a notch. The Long Beach, Californian groove merchants are one of the hardest working bands on the circuit, and following a tour supporting the mighty Black Sabbath, the guys climb up the mountain to once again provide the cooler-than-cool sounds. With plenty of retro swagger and swing from band leader Jay Buchanan and his musical entourage, the likes of 'Electric Man' and 'Open My Eyes' are positively electrifying. However, this band have so many great tunes to call upon, and as they do so, they entice everyone to swing along with them.
All good things must, of course, pass, and it's to Saxon that the honour falls of closing Steelhouse 2017. A band who've slogged away tirelessly for decades, the Barnsley five-piece are a group you can count on. Can you really argue with that music catalogue? Led by the ever-dependable Biff Byford, the band pull out all the stops, with modern-era tunes like 'Battering Ram' butting heads with bona fide classics like 'Solid Ball of Rock'. As the night progresses, it's an endless heavy metal barrage as 'The Power And The Glory', 'Motorcycle Man', and 'Wheels of Steel' keep the anthems coming. Closing with the ultimate heavy rock anthem in 'Denim and Leather', there's only one thought; "What a band!" Saxon may have topped the bill, however the true heroes of the festival have to be organisers Mikey and Max, and their crew and voluntary team who build Steelhouse brick by brick. It's their tireless work that makes the event possible, and such a joy to attend every year. Keep doing what your doing folks, and keep our festival dreams alive. Oh, and take down your tents people; keep the mountain beautiful.