By David O’Neill

As a general rule of thumb, Steelhouse Festival is full of people who have been attending since 2010. The performance of lateral flow tests and the year delay was not going to dampen the spirits of some of the hardiest festival goers in the ÜK. At over 1000 feet above sea level, on a farm that serves as a good site for wind turbines, it doesn’t take too much imagination to realise it’s going to be windy and open. Punters were queuing on the road from 10.15am, with the gates not opening ‘til midday. However, it was hard not to spot anyone in the crowd who didn’t have a grin as wide as the valleys below. The ability to recognise people from the nose to the chin helped as they weren’t covered in facemasks. This helped restore a semblance of normality.

With all of the early comers safely inside the arena, the musical proceedings were kicked off by The Howling Tides. The quartet from the Midlands have been ripping up stages around the ÜK since 2018. With appearances at Hard Rock Hell-the Road to Ibiza and an upcoming tour with Ricky Warwick these lads are rapidly building a reputation for no nonsense rock music.

The Howling Tides at Steelhouse 2021

For an opening act at the return of Steelhouse post pandemic they could have performed ‘Combine Harvester’ by the Wurzels and got a standing ovation! They didn’t (do ‘Combine Harvester’, that is), but their set was full of no nonsense NWoCR standards. Tracks like ‘Crack My Soul’ and ‘Cheap Painkiller’ and ‘He Told Me’ really warmed the crowd on what was a cooler day, albeit still sunny, than we had experienced all week in South Wales.

We didn’t have to wait long for our next long overdue rock ‘n’ roll, which was supplied by Matt Mitchell and the Coldhearts. Mitchell has fronted several bands including Colour of Noise and Furyon but this is his latest venture on the NWoCR genre, an accomplished singer with tracks like Black Diamonds and Dare you to Watch under his belt this was my first chance to see him live. He didn’t disappoint. With solid, blues-based guitar riffage, a solid rhythm section and gruff vocals, it was an accomplished set from an established artist. Hopefully catch them on the road in the future.

KIng Creature at Steelhouse 2021With a mainly blues-based heavy rock vibe, King Creature are third on the Steelhouse bill for Friday. A quick trip to Spotify gave me a really good idea of what to expect and so this was really up my street. Hard rocking heavy basslines and low growling guitars with a bit of grungy feel to the vocals akin to Nirvana it was a very well received set by the crowd. With three albums, under their belt there is a variety of musical style on show. Very astute lyrics in ‘Captives’ reflect the current state of the world during the pandemic during intermittent lockdowns and restrictions on freedom but placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of the human race. Excellent third band.

RavenEye blew me away with their performance at Steelhouse the last time they were here so I was really looking forward to their return to see how they have matured as performers. There was nothing to worry about. The stage performance was excellent, and the music is energetic and with lyrical hooks that are easily picked up by the audience there is a large element of audience participation throughout the set although the stand in bass player, Michael Blackwell, didn’t carry Oli around the stage on his shoulders like the previous bass player did the last time they were at Steelhouse. A welcome return to the top of the mountain.

Well, what hasn’t been written about Spike and The Quireboys is not worth writing. Thirty-seven years in the business and no sign of slowing down or quietly fading into obscurity on this evidence! Stage craft and party central, that’s what you get with the Quireboys. From ‘There She Goes Again’ to ‘7 O’Clock’, the crowd were hogtied in a serious party and there wasn’t one objection.

Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons at Steelhouse 2021

Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons gave the Steelhouse crowd an outstanding show in 2018, (the last time yours truly was at Steelhouse), so with the recent announcement of the change of singer I wasn’t the only one waiting to see what the new guy could do. No need to worry here. Andrew Hunt of Buffalo Summer was an inspired choice to fill the void left by Andrew Starr. PCATBS delivered an outstanding Friday night headline set. Kicking it all off with ‘We’re The Bastards’ and throwing in a decent selection of Motörhead tracks (‘Going To Brazil’, ‘R.A.M.O.N.E.S’, ‘Killed By Death’, ‘Ace Of Spades’ and ‘Born To Raise Hell’) why wouldn’t the crowd be leaving the arena at the end of Day One with smiles wider than when they started the day. F.A.N.T.A.S.T.I.C!

After a rather windy night (outside, not inside, the tent) and one hell of a thunderstorm at 6am, everyone was wondering if we were going to experience the “usual” Steelhouse weather; but, as the morning progressed, it seemed as if we were going to have a reasonable second day. So, it turned out. The two brief showers mid-afternoon did nothing to dampen the smiling and cwtching (Welsh for cuddles – but better) amongst friends who had waited in interminable time to meet up and enjoy some beer and good company on top of a beautiful Welsh mountaintop.

Opening Saturday’s proceedings are Revival Black. The five-piece NWoCR band from Liverpool have their hearts and influences in ‘70s rock, but there is an edge to the music that is definitely influenced by many other genres that have interjected in the past 50 (yes 50!) years since 1970 (where the actual f*^% has that time gone!). There was nothing not to be liked by this audience (most of whom obviously grew up in the ‘70s, including yours truly). Hard-hitting drums and a vocal range from Dan Byrne that was highly impressive. Accompanied by some serious blues-based riffage on rhythm and lead guitar, it was a very good start to Day Two.

Lauren Tate of Hands Off Gretel at Steelhouse 2021Hands Off Gretel are building a big following and reputation as a band to watch. There is definitely a different style to the usual Steelhouse style that may well divide the crowd, rather like Blues Pills did a few years ago. It didn’t. Some serious lyrical messages were well delivered by Lauren Tate, but the raw aggression of the guitar and solid rhythm section delivered a set that was well received by the crowd. Unlike Blues Pills, I’m sure they’ll be back up the mountain one day soon.

Tydfil trio Florence Black have been blowing me away since I first saw them in 2015 at Steelhouse. With a solid collection of EPs, and a new album, in the offing this was the chance for Tristan, Jordan and Perry to have another triumphal return to the top of the mountain. They smashed it. To top it all off they got the legend that is Padge from BFMV to join them on their usual version of the Budgie favourite ‘Breadfan’ which they always deliver well (even in the absence of Padge).  New single ‘Sun & Moon’ came out just yesterday, and the album is to come… can’t wait.

The Kris Barras Band is one of my favourite bands at the moment. Having seen him on his album tour and supporting Black Stone Cherry at Caerphilly Castle a few years ago (when we could go to gigs – remember those days!), this was one set I was really looking forward to. Whilst the personnel change on bass and the move from keyboards to rhythm guitar for Josiah Manning has done nothing to detract from a quality band firmly entrenched in playing the music that they and many others love. With three albums delivered in the last five years, and a new one on the way, to be followed with a national tour, there are plenty of opportunities to see Kris and the band. If you like this style of blues-based music, you’d do well to support the tour. I know I will be.

With the demise of the Black Spiders for a damned COVID ping, the afternoon slot was left empty – until Toby Jepson picked up his acoustic guitar to deliver some Little Angels and other covers. Whilst Kris Barras was supposed to be followed by Wayward Sons, they had to defer their set to the Sunday afternoon on the back of another COVID issue. I suppose you could say this was a case of “double Jepsondy”. Either way it was well received by the crowd, despite it bringing the energy level down a bit.

Shane Greenhall of Those Damn Crows at Steelhouse 2021Those Damn Crows are literally flying high, after another set at the Download pilot that was absolutely brilliant according to those that were fortunate enough to be there. Another of the recent line-up of Welsh rock bands that are taking the world by storm came home to the mountain to deliver another stunning set, which they did to the more than partisan crowd. The delivery of ‘Blink Of An Eye’ saw many grown men crying in the rain (possibly reaching the emotional downside of beer o’clock and recent loss maybe).  Their songs tend to hit home if the audience is in the right mood – and, believe me, they were.  Lloyd Wood and Ronnie Huxford deliver a gut-wrenching rhythm section to accompany the guitars of Dave Winchurch and Shiner Thomas, but the energy of Lloyd and swagger of Shane Greenhall give an additional dimension to the music and stagecraft that is getting better with each performance. To top that off the boys have their first headline sellout show in Cardiff Castle on August Bank Holiday weekend. It may be the first, but it’s not going to be the last… next stop Principality Stadium.

Now it was time for some Therapy? Thirty plus years of musical creativity finally see the Northern Ireland trio get on the road to the top of the mountain. Was it worth the wait? The early ‘90s alt-rock grunge era of Nirvana was survived by these guys and with the latest album ‘Cleave’ recorded in 2018 a tour was in the offing, then we all know what happened… everything got COVIDicated.

They kicked it all off with ‘Isolation’, threw in the dark ‘Diane’ and some Judas Priest to deliver a set that kept the audience attention throughout. This was obviously a set that was due to set up Anthrax (who couldn’t appear).  A polished artistry exuded the entire set.

The Darkness at Steelhouse 2021Those of us who got to see The Darkness at Steelhouse 2018 were seriously blown away – literally – by something a lot heavier than we expected. It seems them being added to the bill for 2021 also divided opinion. Listening to the comments among the crowd they appear to do so more than marmite.  Maybe the Hawkins boys will make a few more converts in 2021.

Abandoning the purple spandex of 2018, Justin appeared in a bejewelled denim jacket and cowboy chaps. Providing entertainment is what he inevitably does, accompanied with some talented musicianship and several costume changes (at one point into micro denim shorts and little else), they delivered a set that was enjoyed and hated in equal measure by the crowd, again like marmite. I love both.  Day two closed and very little of the usual rain that historically accompanied Steelhouse left many wondering what Day Three would bring…

As it turned out, Sunday dawned a little grey, but by mid-morning the cloud cover started to break and by the time Empyre came on the stage the sun started to break through and shorts and suncream were going to be the order of the day. This is the band I’ve been looking forward to seeing at Steelhouse since hearing ‘New Republic’ on a Spotify playlist. The track captured my attention from the opening vocal and then finding the acoustic version of ‘Only Way Out’, I was hooked.

Empyre at Steelhouse 2021

Anyone who missed this set missed something eclectic and unique. With an acoustic and electric version of the same album available there is much to admire in the musicianship on show. Accompany that with the unique vocals of Henrik Steenholdt (a bit akin to David Draiman) there is definitely something different.  If you have yet to discover this band then you really need to do so – but then buy the albums before they sell out because they will soon.

Another of the rising ÜK rock bands Collateral appear to be creating damage (sorry!) along the way. Formed in 2018 they have already supported Phil X and Jared James Nichols on tours (which were lucky to happen in 2020). The Gravesend rockers have a variable mix of styles but they definitely do it with swagger. Angelo Tristan came on looking like a young Steven Tyler with his blonde streaks in his hair and a long kaftan like coat (which provided great entertainment to the hungover crowd when he had to fight his way out of it). Wandering up and down the ego ramp like a cat on the prowl he helped the band deliver a polished set.

Collateral at Steelhouse 2021

Glasgow’s Mason Hill have been on my radar since I saw them in the late lamented Muni a few years ago. The album release last year was supported by my local venue and my son’s band played the bill, so I have a soft spot for these lads.  The album is banging too. So, no way was I going to miss this opportunity to see them again.  Wandering on the stage in full sunlight (yes, you heard me right – full sunlight at Steelhouse), Scott Tyler was grinning like the Cheshire cat throughout the set. A brief technical issue with the wireless guitar system of James Bird meant he was guitar strung to the spot throughout the set, but this did nothing to detract from the near perfect delivery of contents of their back catalogue.

Toby Jepson of Wayward Sons at Steelhouse 2021Better a day late than never at all, it was time for the delayed appearance of Wayward Sons. With the recent departure of Dave Kemp for health reasons and some new music to play for us the legend that is Mr Toby Jepson did not disappoint. With continued very acerbic vocals, ‘Faith In Fools’ hits the nail on the head with regards to what has been happening over the past 18 months.

The performance was no less polished than a Welsh Guardsman’s boots.  Energy and enthusiasm is what the Sons do well. Sam Wood and Nic Wastell deliver this in spades. Catchy hooks and immaculate guitar riffs bounce around the stage like Nic Wastall on a pogo stick. There’s a new album, ‘Even Up The Score‘, out in October, and a tour to follow – get tickets people: you’ll never be disappointed.

Stone Broken are one of the nicest groups of people, and with Robyn’s smile behind the kit, they are always welcome in any venus in my area. However, conflicting interview duties meant I had to cut and run after the first three tracks in the pit, but I know these guys deliver the lighter side of rock music well.

Neville MacDonald at Steelhouse 2021Steelhouse regulars Bernie Marsden and Nev “The Voice” MacDonald do what they do well but at a different level. If you can’t get David Coverdale to sing Whitesnake classics, Nev can do it spades, hearts, clubs and with a diamond voice that would sparkle in any Welsh coal mine or choir. If the WRU are looking for someone to sing the anthem at any rugby match, give the job to Nev – he’ll kill it. Backed by 60 per cent of Hand of Dimes and some backing singers, Nev and Bernie deliver the usual Steelhouse favourites co-written by Bernie and Coverdale: ‘Here I Go Again, ‘Aint No Love’ and ‘Fool For Your Lovin, are among the set, as ever joined in by the obligatory Steelhouse Choir singalong-a- Sunday session.  These guys are just pure class.

Having reached out to Steelhouse in 2018 and made an instant link to the crowd on the back of “Daisygate”, The Wildhearts were always going to be welcomed back up the mountain. With a new album, ‘21st Century Love Songs‘ due out in just a few weeks, it may be what Ginger required to sort out the events of Download.

Ginger Wildheart of The Wildhearts performing at Steelhouse 2021As expected, The Wildhearts were Sunday’s party band. With no technical issues, Ginger, CJ, Danny and Rich delivered a high energy set filled with songs across the existence. Kicking off with ‘Diagnosis’ from ‘Renaissance Men’ then ramming ‘Everlone’ down everyone’s throats, Ginger and CJ lasted all of five minutes before running up the ego ramp for about 45 seconds, before launching into ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’. ‘Suckerpunch’, ‘Mazel Tov Cocktail’ and ‘TV Tan’ landed some more killer blows, before ‘Splitter’, from the upcoming album, rocked the mountain.  Follow this up with’ Caffeine Bomb’, ‘Headfu%k’ and ‘Love You Till I Don’t’ from ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts’ and you just about partied all the way until the headline act came on. Without realising it I knew many of the older songs better than I thought.

Talking of headliners…

After 50 years in the business, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it may be time to call it a day. However, this is a triumphal return to Steelhouse for Uriah Heep after their set from 2019. When Europe got COVIDicated, the Heep stepped into the breech and all the social media stuff I have read has been nothing but positive. Having missed 2019 (I was in the ÜS) I’m kind of glad I’m getting to see the set this time.

Being one of the so called “Big Four” of classic rock in the early ‘70s there are many tracks that some of us may have heard over the years (well those of us of a certain age-and there are always a few at Steelhouse!). With a set crammed with 50 years of excellent musicianship, guitar skill and superb vocal delivery, this was a triumphal return to the mountain top for Mick Box, Bernie Shaw and the rest of the crew. Box is still an exemplary guitar player and Shaw can certainly carry the tunes exceptionally well. I love ‘Gypsy’ so when that one started, I was happy, but to finish the set with ‘Easy Livin, was a real bonus – now on to conquer the rest of Europe for Heep.

Mick Box of Uriah Heep performing at Steelhouse 2021

Altogether, given the restrictions we have been under for the past 18 months, this was an outstanding success for Max Rhead and Mikey Jones and their team of volunteer enthusiasts to get it together in such as short space of time. I have no doubt the weather helped. There has been a great deal of work on the infrastructure, with the access road resurfaced from about 50 per cent of the way up: now for the next 50 per cent.  The addition of the “suncover” (read “rain shelter”) and seating behind it made for a very relaxed atmosphere. However, what really made it for me was the ability to see old friends (and new) listening to the kind of music I like in probably the highest outdoor gig venue in the ÜK.

My only criticism is not of the facilities, the bands or the weather but rather the audience who took to littering the arena field with disposable plastic cups. Why could they not just take them to the nearest bin on their way to the bar to make everyone’s life a little easier at the end/start of each day?

Sunset over Steelhouse

Viva Steelhouse. Adios until 2022.

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