Review: Steelhouse Festival 2022- Saturday

 

When I wake on Saturday morning I am quite surprised not to hear the patter of raindrops on the motorhome roof as the forecast for the rest of the weekend was for morning rain. There was an eerie quiet though, which only made sense when I opened the curtains and could barely see the van next to me. Hafod-y-Dalal farm had become the cloud forest!

By the time the gates opened, the weird weather system still kept control. A gentle drizzle that never really seemed to reach the ground or be enough to put on a coat, but that meant constantly wiping the lens clear of tiny droplets.

When I saw the lineup grow with the addition of Bristol’s Mother Vulture I told as many as possible that they had no idea what was about to be unleashed on a hungover and sleepy crowd after the band blew me away at The Yard last year. Taking to the stage and toying with the crowd with a gentle intro I saw one of my fellow togs glance at me as if to say “wtf”? Then everything became a blur. To describe a Mother Vulture set as “high energy”, “exciting”, “crazy” or “chaotic” just doesn’t do it justice. Nobody on stage stands still for a second whilst assaulting the audience with Blues Punk that contains some damn good songwriting behind the hyperactive visualisation of ADHD. Vocalist Georgi Valentine has an insanely wide range, singing most songs in a high register, but switching to guttural screams at will. Guitarist Brodie Maguire, playing the guitar of the festival in a lime green Gretsch semi-acoustic that he treats with disdain. Bassist Chris Sampson stomps around in circles or looks for rigging to climb. Meanwhile Matt West batters the living daylights out of his kit. Songs such as ‘Rabbit Hole, ‘Honey’ and ‘Bleeding Feet Blues’ (where Maguire literally sprints down the ramp, takes off over the gap, and lands at my feet on my camera bag without missing a note) have the crowd growing by the minute. Cleverly the set ends with Maguire and Valentine sitting at the end of the runway taking the energy back down again to end a truly spectacular set that was the talk of the weekend. If you read this and haven’t done so, go and see Mother Vulture live, on a stage, off a stage, above a stage, and remember what rock music was supposed to be: loud, dangerous, and unpredictable.

How anyone followed that was the question and fair play to Glaswegians Anchor Lane for giving it a pretty damn good go! There may be only three of them but their sound is huge. Quite why they were introduced as Scotland’s answer to Rush I have no idea as acoustically and visually they had nothing in common whatsoever, but with vocalist Conor Gaffney covering every inch of the stage and guitarist Lawrence O’Brien filling the arena with sound, they definitely caught my eye. The set closer ‘Choke’ appealed to me most as by that point the energy had built back up and the arena continued to fill.

If ever a band deserved sunshine and warmth it is Cardinal Black. Musically, I think I can say that they were one of my favourite bands of the festival, but I longed to be laid on the grass, with a cold beer and the sun on my bones as Tom Hollister’s soulful voice washed over me. Then there is Chris Buck alongside. If ever there was a master of the “less is more” school of guitar it is Chris. There could easily be a solo of 100 notes in two seconds, but Chris, clad in a coat that made him look like he had been co-opted on stage at the last minute and not had a chance to change, simply wrings out a few. The thing is, they are the perfect few notes. Everyone is there for a reason. Nothing extra. Nothing unnecessary. Just the perfect notes each time. ‘Tell Me How It Feels’ is sublime. ‘Warm Love’ is just that. Tom himself is engaging. At one point accepting a Guinness that had travelled some way from the bar and later performing a “roly-poly” down the ego ramp that made for a wonderful memory. The combination was a wonderful change from the energy preceding and by the end of their set the speed of my heartbeat may have reset somewhat, but it also felt that each beat had meaning.

I will be upfront and say that I didn’t get the next band at all. Black Spiders went down a treat with the crowd, so attribute that as my problem, not theirs, but I simply couldn’t get into their music. Backed by Planet Rock’s Wyatt Wendalls (for some reason dressed as a schoolboy?) on drums, their set was hard, fast, and heavy. I could see the reaction of those watching, but maybe it was the mid-afternoon slot, the “drop” finally setting in after the opening acts, or the contrast between their loud and frenetic style and the chill of the previous set but I used the time to wander and listen in the background rather than pay close attention.

Things got back on track for me with Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers. I’ll confess that their music has eluded me so far so I wasn’t sure what to expect but as their set went on I found myself drawn in more and more. Firstly they looked like they were having a great time. Full of smiles and laughter, which always engages me with a band. Then there was the music itself. A complex and full sound that oozed power and melody in equal measure. With Mikko’s voice seeming to gain in strength with each song and guitarist Kristian becoming more and more animated, I finished my three songs in the pit and returned straight to the arena to enjoy the full set. Definitely an upturn in the day for me and left me energised for what was to come.

Luckily that band was H.E.A.T. because anyone that had fallen into a late afternoon slumber was about to be very rudely awakened! With Erik Gronwall moving across to front Skid Row his place has been retaken by Kenny Leckremo and he comes out to the runway in a blur of hair and vocals that leave me breathless.
Never still for a moment and looking to be having the best time, his enthusiasm is utterly intoxicating and pulls energy from the crowd I suspect many didn’t know they had. ‘Rock Your Body’ has everyone singing along with its contagious chorus. ‘Hollywood’ shows that no matter how long the band has been around they continue to write infectious, bounce-along songs that leave you smiling long after their set has finished.

My introduction to rock music came when certain mainstream bands were actually featured on Top of the Pops etc. One of the first being Rainbow, in the Graham Bonnet era. So it is hard to underestimate how much I was looking forward to seeing the legend and “that voice”. Clad in a dapper, loose-fitting suit instead of the Hawaiian shirts of that era, I was not remotely disappointed as he filled the mountain air with nostalgia of the highest order. The voice is still there, powerful and unique as we travel back in time for ‘All Night Long’, ‘Lost in Hollywood’ and so many more. ‘Night Games’, Bonnet’s solo hit sounds incredible and I spend the entire set absolutely transfixed and love every note.

Saxon, Steelhouse Festival

Following on and headlining SHOULD have been Kiss legend Ace Frehley, but in a twist that literally nobody saw coming, he cancelled late on (irony). Social media pretty much universally agreed that late replacement Saxon stepping in made the entire lineup significantly more attractive and it would be interesting to see what happened with ticket sales once they were announced.

Saxon, Steelhouse Festival

You know what you are going to get when Saxon takes to the stage. A set of classics and standards that formed the basis of much of the audience’s education in rock. Biff Byford is the perfect frontman. Physically imposing. Humorous. Somehow aloof at the same time. The voice is still as powerful as ever. The crowd sing along to every word as the drizzle becomes fine rain but somehow only once you leave the enclave crowded into the arena. Their singing and the sheer power and volume of the performance forcing the clouds that little bit higher in that tiny micro-climate. A cameo appearance from Toby Jepson for ‘And the Bands Played On’ ramps the energy up even further as the set approaches its climax. Throughout the evening Biff had been wearing a battle jacket thrown on stage by a fan but, ironically, featuring a prominent Kiss patch. At the end of the set he asked whose it was and then threw it back saying that he had autographed it, but in the name “Ace Frehley”, which captured perfectly the feelings many of the crowd had regarding the withdrawal.

A superb end to a wonderful day of music. Tempered only by the weather forecast of today’s drizzle being replaced with heavier rain tomorrow.

Review and Photos – Rob Wilkins

Friday review, here.

Sunday review, here.

 

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