STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL 2017 | LIVE REVIEW
Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm, nr Ebbw Vale, Sat 29 + Sun 20 July
“Just drop me here, I can walk the rest of the way – it’s only up a bit further,” I say to the taxi driver, who has graciously driven me halfway up a mountain to get me to Steelhouse Festival 2017. How wrong I was. So begins a 30-minute hike up to the Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm festival site, where for the past six years, classic rock fans have made an annual pilgrimage to Steelhouse.
Not wanting the taxi driver to wreck her tyres any further causes me to miss sets by Florence Black – still reeling from some recent bad publicity – and Tequila Mockingbird, but I’m reliably informed that both were very well received. By the time I get there, Walsall’s answer to Nickelback, Stone Broken, are in full flow to an already enthusiastic crowd, despite the downpour of the previous night turning the event into a mudbath.
We are treated to an acoustic set by former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden, playing songs from his extensive back catalogue, which includes a mass singalong to Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City and anecdotes about their creation, before Inglorious hit the stage. Led by singer Nathan James, Inglorious are a total 70s rock throwback, and I mean that in a positive sense. Big hair, big riffs, loud clothes: Steelhouse laps them up. Canada’s Monster Truck continue that vibe with their Skynyrd-meets-Lizzy brand of southern rock.
The rain is pouring, but the spirits of the crowd cannot be dampened Last In Line begin their eagerly anticipated set. Last In Line, for the uninitiated, feature members of the late Ronnie James Dio’s band, including drum legend Vinnie Appice and Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell. Their set is made up of Dio classics, including one of the all-time definitive heavy metal songs Holy Diver. Glorious.
When Skindred [above left] were announced as Saturday’s headliners, there were some rumblings of discontent. Are they classic rock? Do they belong at this festival? Well if they don’t, nobody told frontman Benji Webbe, who whips the crowd into a frenzy, with tracks like Nobody and Warning ensuring a very squelchy moshpit. Even the most hardened sceptic was doing the Newport helicopter by the time Skindred had finished. Feeling really quite sorry for the people who dispersed back to soggy tents, I took the option of heading back to the comfort of home before doing it all again tomorrow.
The Sunday was like I never left: the same people still had smiles on their faces and were still drinking deep into the afternoon as Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris brings his band British Lion [below] to the mountain. While Harris has adopted a more hard rock approach for this side project, British Lion do have a tendency to drift into Maiden territory on tracks like Spitfire, with a classic Maiden galloping riff, and The Burning, but that’s no bad thing. I’m sure Steve will be welcomed back up the mountain after this set – he can even bring his other band if he likes.
Failing to bring any Californian sunshine with them were Rival Sons, whose Black Crowes-esque blues-rock provided a more soothing proposition to that of Sunday’s headliners Saxon [top]. Following a triumphant headline set in 2013, and judging by the number of t-shirts and patches seen around the site, it’s fair to say that Steelhouse is ready to welcome Saxon back to the mountain. And they don’t disappoint – every track is a heavy metal classic. Wheels Of Steel, Strangers In The Night and Ride Like The Wind all get an airing, with Biff Byford’s voice seemingly getting better with age.
And that’s it for another year. It was wet, it was muddy, but that’s what festivals are about. Steelhouse is one of the best organised festivals I’ve ever been to – no mile-long queues for food and drink, no toilets overflowing and help always on hand. There is a real DIY ethic amongst the Steelhouse organisers, who keep in close contact with their fans, know exactly what they want to see and are willing to go out of their way to provide it. The picturesque mountain backdrop only enhances the experience. Well done Steelhouse, see you next year.
words CHRIS ANDREWS photos JONATHAN HERRON