Review: Steelhouse Festival 2019 – Sunday

Steelhouse day 3 – Sunday

It is impossible to overstate how lovely it was to end day 2 dry and warm, and to wake up to find that day 3 was going to be more of the same. When the weather is like this there is no festival in the UK that can match Steelhouse for the sheer amount of sky, stretching from horizon to horizon, and stunning views.

Heading over to the arena there was a small hitch, such that a queue developed stretching back to the campsites, which meant that when Wille & the Bandits took to the stage the crowd was smaller than it might have been. A perfect opener for a lazy Sunday lunchtime Wille, Drew and Matt enticed people towards the stage with some deliciously laid back bluesy rock. The three of them make it look easy but as you get drawn in you realise that their sound is far more complex than first impressions suggest, and as the intensity of the set builds, the virtuosity becomes more and more apparent.

The Amorettes, Steelhouse FestivalRamping up the noise levels, they were followed on stage by The Amorettes. Following a time of upheaval that led to both bands losing key members, Gill Montgomery teamed up with Tequila Mockingbyrd rhythm section Josie O’Toole and Jacinta Jaye, along with Cult Classics guitarist Laurie Buchanan to form one band that tours as either of the two previous names. The addition of a second guitarist has thickened out the sound and added another edge as well as fleshing out the on stage presence in comparison to a trio. “Girl Power” it certainly was as they roared through a very well received set typified by “Everything I Learned – I Learned from Rock and Roll” and “Let the Neighbours Call the Cops”.

Tax the Heat have a much more complex sound with an almost jazz edge and a technical feel, but underneath there is definitely rock which really comes to the fore in some searing guitar solos from Alex Veale. As their set develops they do a great job of winning over the crowd, which comes to a head as Veale asks the crowd to join in during “Caroline” and they do so with so much passion that he and JP Jacyshyn share wide grins. JP plays some mean slide guitar at times, and the vocal harmonies are probably the most complex of any set over the weekend, all adding to the depth of sound. There is a nice moment when Veale introduces his very young niece, who is held aloft in the crowd and another when the band make a special effort to hand a setlist to some proud youngsters down the front. “All That Medicine” sums up that complexity and melody beautifully and is a resounding hit during the set.

Danko Jones, Steelhouse Festival

So far, so typical. Then came Danko Jones!

For the first three songs we had our photo opportunities and then headed out of the pit as per the well drilled rules. Danko however had other ideas, asking us “Where the f*** are you going?” And telling us to come back as his best moves didn’t even come out until song 6! Cue security throwing their hands up in despair and photographers shuffling sheepishly back for a few more songs. The set was stripped down rock and roll. No frills. No complexity. Just rock. One song was introduced as featuring the words “Dance. Dance. Dance” about “a million f***ing times”, and Danko talked with the crowd about how Phil Campbell had given him guitar lessons but he still “couldn’t play that f***ing solo properly”. Max and Mikey beside me in the crowd seemed to thoroughly enjoy the chance to kick back and watch him and the band in action. Whilst he preached that “rock music shouldn’t be 10/10, it should be 7” after not playing a solo perfectly, I found myself enjoying his imperfection and raw edge.

Next up were rock royalty in the shape of Uriah Heep, possibly the perfect booking for a classic rock festival as you can hear their sound reflected in so much of modern rock music. The nucleus of Mick Box, Bernie Shaw and Phil Lanzon have been together for well over 30 years and it shows. Each and every song is delivered with the energy and passion of a new band, but with the tightness of a team that have done it all many times before. It is the little touches I love. Bernie has the audience in the palm of his hands from the first note, but it is Mick Box that draws my eye. Whilst playing he flicks notes out at the audience with his pick hand, or swirls the air around mirroring his foot action on the Wah pedal. At one point Shaw wanders over and actually blows out a note at the end of a solo. It is a tiny detail but one that is so perfectly executed it stays with me long after the song ended. The songs, “Gypsy”, “Easy Livin” (I was eight when it was released but it still sounds as fresh as any other song over the weekend) and “July Morning” all get a loving and ecstatic reaction from both young and old. Heep will be 50 years old next year and as “Land of Hope and Glory” rings out and they take a bow, I really hope this isn’t the last time I get to see them.

Living Colour, Steelhouse Festival

The next set almost defied description. Living Colour ambled on stage, singer Corey Glover resplendent in a Santa red suit and started the set with the most shambolic first number I think I have ever seen. At one point drummer Will Calhoun appeared to be playing a totally different song and a fellow tog just whispered to me “It’s all just noise?”. An uncomfortable pause followed as some apparent technical difficulties were ironed out and then things settled somewhat for the second number. There followed one of the most extraordinary performances I have seen. At one point I didn’t know whether the band were going to walk off, fight, play reggae, wander into the crowd, introduce a rock legend, play cover versions, or imitate a cattle auctioneer because they somehow managed to squeeze almost all of those into a set along with incredibly skilled musicianship and masterful stagecraft.

Vernon Reid had an array of pedals in front of him that looked capable of sending a spaceship to Mars, and Doug Wimbish slapped seven shades out of his bass in a display of true virtuosity. “Love Rears it’s Ugly Head” made an appearance after it’s odd absence at Ramblin’ Man. “Elvis is Dead” was as joyously odd as ever. Bernie Marsden made a guest appearance on “Sunshine of Your Love” in possibly one of the weirdest collaborations ever. Corey disappeared into the crowd for “Cult of Personality”, and the set ended with a cover of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” that reached a ridiculous tempo by the end. As Living Colour left the stage I was exhausted. I haven’t danced at a gig in a VERY long time. I was hoarse from singing along and I hadn’t relaxed in well over an hour due to the sheer unpredictability of their performance.

Finally, it felt like deja vu as Ricky, Damon, Scott et al took to the stage just a year after Black Star Riders headlined the same festival. This was a very different prospect however as, joined by Troy Sanders of Mastodon on bass, Scott Travis off Judas Priest on drums and Darren Wharton on keys, they were playing as Thin Lizzy and, for the first time, treating the Welsh congregation to the “Black Rose” album in full.

Thin Lizzy, Steelhouse Festival

Clearly very personal to all on stage for different reasons, Warwick paid tribute to those who contributed to it’s creation then launched into what, in my opinion is, one of the best collections of rock songs written. Hearing them all played as intended was a true privilege. It wasn’t a pious recital though. Warwick humorously roasted a technician when he came on stage to sort some sound interference and achieved precisely zero, then told the crowd “It’s only noise” and simply carried on. He also referenced the previous set, informing the audience “Elvis is dead!”.

During “Rosalie” photos of Phil Lynott appeared on the screens and raised a lump in my throat as his music was played with such power. The harmonies between the twin guitars at times remains simply unmatched since his demise. As well as “Black Rose” we are treated to the highlights of Lizzy’s back catalogue and the set ended with “Boys are Back in Town”. There has to be an encore and of course it has to be “Whisky in the Jar”. As the last notes die away and the band took their bow fireworks lit up the Welsh skies and ended what has to have been the best Steelhouse ever.

Next year is the 10th anniversary for the festival and I wonder how Max and Mikey are going to surprise us and raise their game yet again. Brave the drive up the mountain and join us at one of the most unique and enjoyable events on the rock calendar.

Review and Pics – Rob Wilkins

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