Europe

Review: Steelhouse Festival 2022 – Sunday

Having drifted off to sleep to the sound of rain, knowing the Sunday forecast was for worse weather than on Saturday, it was typical of the swiftly changing weather at this altitude that Sunday dawned bright and sunny and continued in that vein all day!

Arriving in the arena ready for the first band Ashen Reach from Merseyside, I noticed the barrier was ringed with the best t-shirt design I had seen all festival. To the disgust of one of my fellow reviewers (apparently I was as bad as the teenage girls buying Metallica t-shirts after their recent exposure) I confessed I had not actually heard the band’s music until that point! Thankfully my taste in t-shirts meshed perfectly with my taste in music as I was absolutely transfixed from the moment they took to the stage with a huge leap from vocalist Kyle Stanley. It’s a sign of the taste of the organisers too as I cannot think of another festival where two opening acts (Mother Vulture yesterday) have been deserving of such rave reviews. Stanley is utterly mesmerising as he delivers the lyrics with anguish and emotion, often taking to his knees or holding his head in his hands, whilst guitarist Joe O’Sullivan is a visual delight with his Medusa-like tendrils of hair flying through the air as if to grasp the audience and pull them on stage. Their set is over WAY too quickly and goes down an absolute storm with the crowd, which grew appreciably throughout.

These Wicked Rivers

Another new band to me next, and as the stage was dressed with standard lamps and draped with throws for These Wicked Rivers I was a little bemused. That quickly turned to captivation as I was treated to a set of blues rock of the highest quality. Lead guitarist Arran Day provided masses of energy, high kicking and making full use of the ramp, whilst vocalist John Hartwell, sporting ultra-cool mirrored shades kept attention front and centre. Some of the guitar solos really got into my core. Full of emotion and passion rather than simple technical virtuosity. My lasting memory was of a band that let their music do the talking, but there was no way you weren’t going to listen. Another to add to the “can’t wait to see again” pile as it grew ever higher.

King Herd

Planet Rock is clearly expecting King Herd to achieve great things as they have “a listed” several tracks now. Personally, I found myself loving the music, but feeling that the band was somewhat uncomfortable on such a big stage. Most of the real estate went completely unused and it was odd to see the pit of photographers start to hold their cameras lower as the set progressed and it became clear that there were few “keepers” likely. I’m going to be seeing the band again very shortly on what will probably be a much smaller stage so it will be interesting to see how that impression changes. Musically, David Taylor’s vocals really impressed and there was guitar power in abundance so I really hope they can use the experience gained to develop and get “out there” in people’s faces so that the power translates into excitement and adrenaline.

Having the misfortune to fall into my post-lunch, sun-affected, energy drop were stoner/progressive rockers Green Lung. That meant that I spent most of their set letting the music – with its complexity and intriguing motifs – wash over me rather than actively engage me. Reading comments on fan groups after the festival they were clearly a massive hit with a big section of the crowd so I can hold my hands up and say that whilst it didn’t fully engage me, that shouldn’t be a reflection on them at all!

Diamond Head

I didn’t have the highest of hopes for Diamond Head. I saw them play a couple of years back at a small festival at a holiday camp in Cornwall, and vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen became quite belligerent with a crowd that simply wasn’t responding. That had the effect of people moving even further away from the stage and the energy on both sides was really poor. Boy, was I shown the error of my ways! On the bigger stage, they were one of the acts of the weekend. Andersen had the more willing crowd in the palm of his hand throughout the set and the energy between band and audience was electric. At one point he leapt from behind the monitors to the runway, but clearly decided he could do better as a few minutes later he literally sprinted from the back and seemed to fly towards the crowd as the stage dropped away beneath him. Definitely won the award for “airtime” as he seemed aloft for an eternity! Of course, ‘Am I Evil?’ got the best reception and fists aloft as far as you could see. From sceptic to fan in one masterclass of how to use a stage effectively.

You know what you are going to get with Orange Goblin (or OFGB). Power, metal, and vocalist Ben Ward roaring out his challenge to the crowd. As a frontman, he is an imposing figure and looming out over the crowd from the end of the ego ramp even more so. The music is definitely at the heavier end of the spectrum for Steelhouse but the crowd (those on their feet as opposed to those seated further back who ignore Ward’s invitation to anarchy) love every second and their set gets a rapturous reception.

Michael Schenker

Special guests for the evening Michael Schenker and his band, are, for me, more deserving of headliners. Despite the heat, Schenker takes to the stage in his trademark fluffy hat and raised shades and rips into ‘Into the Arena’. It must be almost 40 years since I last saw him play but the years disappear as he wrings notes out of that Flying V. At the end of that instrumental he introduces guest vocalist Robin McAuley and the quality of the music gets even better. Still note-perfect and with bags of power, the two lead the assembled band through a set of absolute classics that ooze quality. Schenker looks to be having a great time, smiling constantly and pointing the stock of his V around the audience throughout. The set culminates in what stands as a UFO greatest hits segment that is utterly sublime. For me, the set of the day and one of the sets of the weekend.

Europe were announced quite late as headliners and festival closers due to their recent tour with Whitesnake and Foreigner, and from that moment forums were full of requests to bring kazoos for “that song”. Therein lies the problem for me with Europe. Everyone is there for one song and you know it is going to end the set. So the rest becomes kind of filler whilst you wait. The set started slowly due to a technical issue that led to Joey Tempest conducting impromptu audience interviews before things resolved and the band was able to get going properly. John Norum’s guitar is superb, solo after solo really hitting the spot and Tempest has a damn good workout as he throws the microphone stand around, but I struggle to really get into their set and it isn’t until those keyboard notes ring out that the crowd around me really respond. By then the set is pretty much over and with a climactic explosion of fireworks Steelhouse for another year comes to an end.

If you haven’t had the Steelhouse experience yet, you really should. An old-fashioned single-stage festival in beautiful surroundings and with reasonably priced beer and food. Personally, I use the festival to introduce me to some exciting new talent (Mother Vulture and Ashen Reach take a bow) rather than exciting headliners (which become thinner and thinner on the ground due to the genre and age of those in the bands becoming older with each passing year).

Review and Photos – Rob Wilkins

Friday review, here.

Saturday review, here.

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