Review: Steelhouse Festival 2019 – Friday

Steelhouse Festival
Day 1 – Friday

It felt like I had no sooner returned home from Ramblin’ Man than I was loading up for the drive to South Wales for Steelhouse.

It was a demonstration of how much the organisers, Max and Mikey, listened to those who attend, that this year featured some changes. The first of these was that those who had booked live-in vehicle tickets and could claim to be “self-sufficient” were given the opportunity to camp up from Thursday rather than Friday. This cleverly reduced the queue crawling it’s way up the mountain track on Friday and also allowed a wonderful evening BBQ in the sunset with stunning views all around on Thursday night. It still meant negotiating the road! More of a forest track than an actual road, the only access to the festival is a winding shale track that breaks both clutches and tyres in equal measure, before you arrive at the top of the mountain to make camp. Quite how the family that organise Steelhouse manage to put on a festival in this location I have no idea, but through sheer hard work and dedication they succeed and each year gets better and better.

The second big difference this year was a weather forecast that promised sunshine instead of the biblical deluges of previous years and might even make the new “sun shade” installed in the arena worthy of it’s title. This is a Welsh mountain however and when I woke to drizzle and mist on Friday I admit to a feeling of “Oh no! Not again!” By lunchtime the mist had burned off and as the arena opened it was indeed a rather lovely day to enjoy music.

Blackwater Conspiracy, Steelhouse Festival

The Friday at Steelhouse has always been used as a free day for those camping. Recently it has become a trend to pick a young band to headline from lower down the previous year’s schedule (Stone Broken in 2018) and that was taken further this year with a “Four Nations Friday” featuring young bands from each of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England.

Opening the proceedings in front of a decent sized crowd (demonstrating that the early access had made entry much easier than previous years) were Ireland’s Blackwater Conspiracy. Their laid back sound was a chilled and relaxed way to start the festival and help the first beers slip down easily. The sheer variety of vibes that came forth from the stage made for really interesting listening. Everything from country through blues to Rock and Roll played with style and passion as well as no small degree of musical skill.

Rosing Souls, Steelhouse Festival

Fast on their heels came The Rising Souls representing Scotland. Vocalist Dave Archibald arrived on stage with his arm in a sling, but any thoughts that it might hold him back went out of the window as soon as he opened his pipes and danced around the stage. Reminding me a lot of Rival Sons, with a laid back guitar and bluesy bass coming together to make for a soulful yet powerful sound overlaid with some deliciously delivered vocals, they left me thinking that the next time I see them they will be a lot higher up the bill and playing to bigger crowds.

If ever a band were preaching to the converted it was Those Damn Crows. A home crowd and a big stage meant massive cheers as they walked on stage for Shane Greenhall to introduce them in the usual way of “We are…….Those…..Damn…..Crows!” I love watching Shane on stage. He is a frontman who is having the best time of his life and it shows. His smile is infectious and he has that knack of taking the crowd with him. The fun is also infectious though as drummer Ronnie Huxford somehow has the crowd chanting his name just for walking on and Lloyd Wood is everywhere at once, even on such a big stage. Meanwhile “Shiner” and David Winchurch may not be as active, but their personalities still shine through.

Those Damn Crows, Steelhouse Festival

So many of their songs are sing-along crackers, but it is one of my favourite songs that they delivered in a way that showed their true capability. “Blink of an Eye” exists in two recorded versions, electric and a piano acoustic version, and tonight we got the first occasion when the band played a combination. Shane hid any nerves with humour, asking the band where they are going as they leave the stage, then closed the arena down to the most intimate of performances as he sat alone at the piano and sang the first couple of verses accompanied by his own Welsh choir. The band then quietly walked back on stage and launched into the second half in a way that would grace any stadium headliner. Simply immense! Add the anthemic “Rock ’n’ Roll Ain’t Dead” into the set and the cheers rang on long after the band left the stage.

To be honest I thought that Massive Wagons were on a hiding to nothing. Headline after the local heroes? No way could they carry that off! Wrong!

Noddy Holder’s call to rock n roll prayer rang out across the hills and Baz bounded on stage in his iconic bowler. With CO2 blasts, fireworks and runway stairs up to the drums, they had stepped up the stage show and clearly did not intend to take second place to the Crows!

Massive Wagons, Steelhouse Festival

At this point possibly the only mistake Steelhouse had made all weekend became clear. Due to the poor weather in previous years anything electrical had been moved back which meant that for much of Massive Wagons’ set they were silhouettes! It didn’t phase the band at all and they ripped into a set that showcased their sheer songwriting and performing class.

“Billy Balloon Head” would have done Noddy and his mates proud. “Under No Illusion” simply rocks. “China Plates” with it’s statement on social media and catchy chorus. The superb “Back to the Stack” in all it’s head banging glory. My Lord these guys can wrote a song and then perform it! As the set drew to a close, Baz pulled the biggest rabbit out of the hat, asking all of the bands that had performed that day to join him in Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize”. It was one of those “I was there” moments. Even I, who hate seeing people watch a gig through their cell phones, had to film a little of it to remember the glorious chaos and fun that unfolded.

So, Four Nations Friday. Who topped the table? I would say an honourable draw between Those Damn Crows (buoyed by the home crowd) and Massive Wagons, both of whom showed that great things are starting to happen for them.

Review and Pics – Rob Wilkins

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