Hafod Y Dafal Farm, nr Ebbw Vale, Fri 23-Sun 25 July
Surreal to say the least – that was the feeling driving up the mountain to the unique setting of what was the 10th anniversary of Steelhouse Festival. A year later than planned, with the Government green light, and not a spare ticket in sight. Thankfully, after a nervous wait for the result of a lateral flow test, this reviewer was in the clear to return to Hafod Y Dafal Farm.
Steelhouse’s Friday evening has come across as a warm-up night in the past, but this year six bands played, kicking off at 3.30pm and with the crowd slowly growing as the masses flocked onsite. Highlights of the evening included Raveneye and The Quireboys, both hitting home runs with their sets and setting the stage for Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons to bring the house down. Having recently parted ways with lead singer Neil Starr, it fell to Andrew Hunt of Bufffalo Summer to lay down vocals. Original songs old and new sounded great, and once again Motörhead classics Born To Raise Hell and Ace Of Spades erupt the field.
After a bout of ridiculously warm weather, in typical Welsh fashion the wind and rain hammered the mountain in the early hours of Saturday – but a slight delay wasn’t enough to cause a stir. The opening sets were a treat for early arena-goers: Revival Black and Hands Off Gretel made armies of new fans for sure, and Florence Black, whose t-shirts were the festival’s most ubiquitous, played to a huge and adoring crowd.
Kris Barras Band, next up, were a highlight of the weekend for me. Pure blues guitar and rock’n’roll, What You Get and Hail Mary sounded amazing. Wayward Sons moved to Sunday afternoon, filling in for the unable-to-attend Black Spiders; in their place, lead Wayward Son Toby Jepson played a stripped-back set of Little Angels and solo tracks. Bridgend rockers Those Damn Crows once again proved their future is very bright, a flawless set of singalong tunes which feel destined to grace arenas and stadiums alike.
Closely followed by Therapy?, the Northern Irish boys kept the tempo afloat before Saturday headliners The Darkness wrapped up night two. Get Your Hands Off My Woman, I Believe In A Thing Called Love, and Love On The Rocks With No Ice crowning off a hit-strewn set. Jumpsuits, biker hat, and cutoff jean shorts: just a few of the wardrobe items Justin Hawkins exhibited.
Empyre, Collateral and Mason Hill kicked off the final day on Sunday, with huge followings and devoted fans in attendance for each of these acts. It’s great to see what may be, to the wider world, lesser-known bands get their chance to shine on a festival stage. Wayward Sons swell the crowd yet again, playing their rearranged set to an cabal of followers, and come late afternoon last-minute additions to the festival Stone Broken once again rule the stage. Worth Fighting For and Not Your Enemy are flat-out, guitar-rinsed rock, while the chorus of Wait For You rung out across the Beacons stunningly.
Blues and rock legend Bernie Marsden entered centre stage to what was arguably the reception of the weekend. With full backing band and former Skin frontman Nev MacDonald on vocals, Marsden had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Hearing Here I Go Again live was outstanding, MacDonald nailing those Coverdale high notes. The Wildhearts, meanwhile, deservedly crept up the bill since their last outing at Steelhouse – brilliant to see a smile on the face of Ginger throughout the set, with Suckerpunch and Caffeine Bomb standing out, and Love U ‘Til I Don’t closing a thunderous set.
Filling in as headliners for the closing night were Uriah Heep, in the absence of the travel-restricted Europe. Following 18 months of no gigs, the veteran rockers showed no sign of cobwebs, running through hits such as Take Away My Soul, Rainbow Demon and Easy Livin’. A tight, faultless set which showcased experience and stage presence, leading into a huge fireworks display.
What a weekend this was, and an honour to have been part of one of the first music festivals in the UK to have had the go ahead. Hats off to every band who performed – and a huge round of applause to everyone involved at Steelhouse for putting on a safe and friendly event amidst continuing COVID-related stress and disruption.
words OWEN SCOURFIELD photos DARREN GRIFFITHS
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