The Steelhouse Festival is now firmly established as the finest music festival in Wales and is improving each and every year. The two day festival boasted one of the strongest line ups yet with Saxon topping the Saturday night and Michael Schenker and his Temple of Rock band on Sunday night. Saturday’s lineup also included FM, Anvil, The Temperance Movement, Fighting Wolves, Hand Of Dimes, Dead Shed Jokers and Fireroad. Fireroad, who won their slot on the bill via the Steelhouse battle of the bands competition, had the honour of opening the festival. The battle of the bands idea to give young, unsigned bands a chance to play to a wider audience seems to be catching on with other festivals. They were very impressive and well received by the slowly growing crowd. The sun was shining and everything was perfect as Dead Shed Jockers took to the stage and again, for such a young band, they had a very good sound. Newly formed Hand Of Dimes were up next and with former Skin vocalist Neville MacDonald on vocals. They were one of the bands I had been looking forward to seeing and I wasn’t disappointed. Local lad Neville has one of the finest voices in the rock world and seems to be doing great things with his new band. It was during the band’s set that the festival’s run of good weather ended and the heavens opened. It did not deter the crowd, who stayed in the pouring rain till the end of Hand of Dimes’ set before rushing to get coats and umbrellas. Fighting Wolves played to a much smaller crowd as the rain was still beating down, and it was not until The Temperance Movement took to the stage that the rain eased and the sun returned. This was perfect timing as it was clear by the crowd’s reaction that many had been waiting to see this band. With a sound very similar to The Black Crowes, they are a band whose music I will be looking to purchase in the near future. They put on a great show and had the crowd cheering and dancing to every song.
Unfortunately the rain returned before their set finished and stayed for the rest of the day. With the three main bands yet to come the rain did little to dampen the crowd’s spirits as the next band, Anvil, took to the stage. Billed as rock movie stars due to their rockumentary “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil,” they were another band I had been waiting to see. Having seen the band’s film it was clear that they were going to have fun and they had no problem getting the crowd on side. As I glanced along the front row of the crowd the faces had all changed from the previous band and many of these new people had Anvil t-shirts on. Speaking into his guitar pickups rather than his microphone, Anvil frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow introduced the band and they went full pelt into their set. Having wanted to see Anvil for a long time, they didn’t let me down and their set was one of the festival’s highlights, but unfortunately their set was soon over, leaving me and many others wanting more.
Next up were FM, who had several hits way back in the 80’s and it was not long before I recognized several of these songs. Until FM were added to the bill I had not even known that they were still making music and I’ve got to say it’s good that they are still playing as they sounded really good. I may well need to buy some of their newer albums to have a listen as they have a slightly heavier sound now, but they also sounded very fresh. They had a good time slot just before Saxon, and this show probably got their music to a new audience who seemed to like what they were hearing. They left the stage to some of the biggest cheers of the night and this meant that the festival’s first day was drawing to an end with just Saxon to go.
As the light slowly faded the thousands of fans waited patiently in the pouring rain for Saturday’s headliners. I have seen Saxon several times over the past couple of years and although they put on a great show on both occasions, the venue’s stage only just had room for all the band members so I was looking forward to seeing how well the band used a much larger stage. I didn’t have to wait long as the band emerged from the darkness and spread out across the stage and continued to make full use of the space. Just as before, they sounded perfect and this being the band’s only UK festival appearance, I felt a little honoured to be watching. Songs from the new album “Sacrifice” blended with the old classics as if the band had been playing them for years, and the band’s new, somewhat heavier, sound is, in my opinion, better than their earlier material. They pulled out all the stops, with pyrotechnics and even a drum solo that had drummer Nigel Glockler raised on a high-rise platform. The finale to their set saw the band’s backdrop fall away to uncover a huge chrome eagle with flashing lights. A set full of energy sent the soaked crowd back to their tents to recover for day two.
Sunday started brightly and it looked as if it was going to be dry, but before the first band hit the stage the rain was back. This time, the somewhat sleepy looking fans who had got up in time for the first band were better prepared with umbrellas and ponchos. Sunday’s line up had Michael Schenker and his band headlining, and having had the pleasure of watching their soundcheck I knew the crowd were in for a treat. The other bands on Sundays bill were Magnum, Snakecharmer, Heaven’s Basement, Vega, Trucker Diablo, Skam and the other battle of the bands winners, Blackbyrd. Blackbyrd were first up and wasted no time in showing the crowd why they had won their place on the bill. Their music had heads nodding and feet tapping and I enjoyed what I heard.
Next up were Skam, a hard rock three-piece from Leicester who had a big sound and put on a very lively show that woke up anyone still asleep. They looked a little uneasy on such a large stage and I would guess that this was probably their biggest show so far, but if they continue to impress, they should soon be playing shows like this on a regular basis. Trucker Diablo were next up and with their large backdrop it was clear that they were seasoned professionals. They were by far the best band so far and with a new album picking up rave reviews it looks like only a matter of time before these guys hit the big time. Vega were up next and a storming set of pop rock kept the crowd’s spirits up as they stood in the pouring rain. They have been out on tour with FM and it was clear that they have learnt a great deal from this experience. Next up were Heaven’s Basement who I had seen a few months before. They are one of the up-and-coming group of bands and seem to be a hit with the ladies who had made their way to the front to watch their set. From my backstage location I could hear the cheers between each song and they seem to have been the most popular band on the bill so far. My favourite track, “Fire, Fire” sounded awesome and was one of my Sunday highlights. They are a band who have made it and I have a funny feeling that they will be around for some time to come. Snakecharmer were next and I did not know anything about them but did recognize a couple of the band’s members. They sounded good and it did not take long for me pick up the link between their music and name. They were playing Whitesnake tracks and that’s how I recognized several of the band. I later found out that they are a sort of supergroup and their years of touring in various top bands was there for all to see as they effortlessly played a classic set. They had raised the bar to the next level and with just two bands left to play they would take some beating.
First to try were Magnum who were the first band I ever saw on my own some twenty-five years ago when they were in their prime. Having waited patiently over all those years for them to tour in my part of the country, I was looking forward to reliving my youth. They may have aged, and their style of classic rock may have gone a little out of fashion but as soon as they started to play I was transported back in time. They sounded fantastic, just like they had all those years ago and it was great to hear an interesting selection of classic tracks that made them one of my favourite bands. After their set I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with the band who made me feel like one of them and even gave me some beer.
The final act was Michael Schenker who had been in fine form at the sound check and who I had recently seen live in Falmouth. The thunder had now passed and for a few minutes it was dry, but again as soon as the band took to the stage the rain returned. By this time no one cared as they knew that they would soon be on their way home. Michael was in fine form and the band sounded superb as they played one of the longest sets of the festival. I had expected many people to go after Magnum, mainly because of the weather, but the field remained packed until the very end, something that the band appreciated and they seemed to put in even more effort to make this a memorable set. With the last song of their set came the end of the festival and the thousands of wet and soggy fans made for the exit whilst talking about what they had just seen.
This was my second trip to the Steelhouse Festival and just like my previous visit, everything seemed to run like clockwork. The bands are on a tight time schedule, the sound quality is far better than most venues I’ve visited and the staff are extremely friendly and very helpful. I look forward to my return to next years festival and am already counting down the days.