Steelhouse 2018 proved to be one of the best festival line-ups I can remember. Last year was our first visit and chance to experience the festival and, by the end of day one, it was pretty obvious it wouldn’t be our only visit to the festival parked at the top of a Welsh mountain.
This year, as we make our return and I brace myself for another epic trip from just outside Glasgow to south Wales, there’s only one thing on my mind: I can’t wait. There’s another strong line-up, there are some new features to the site and it’s still as affordable as last year.
As already mentioned, Steelhouse sits atop a mountain and is the highest festival in the UK. When you get to the top, it plateaus out to squeeze in an entire festival fit for several thousand people who want to spend a weekend enjoying the best of classic and modern rock. Now, obviously, you’ve got to get there and the drive up will be a slow one due to the terrain of the road. Thankfully it’s wide enough for two vehicles so if someone’s coming from the other direction, there’s no need to panic. But take it slow and you’ll be there before you know it. Everyone behind you will be doing the same, trying to avoid the worst of the potholes. As it’s a working farm the reminder of the year, there’s only so much that can be done to improve it – which they did last year.
As for the main arena, you can expect a sizeable area with a good-sized stage at one end whilst food, trinket, merch stalls and the bar form a horseshoe around it. It’s a great layout and if the band playing on stage isn’t to your liking, it’s big enough that you can retreat further back, without having to return to the campsite, and not be bombarded by them. But let’s be real, that isn’t likely to happen. Speaking of campsites – they’re big, quiet and friendly. Do the decent thing and respect your neighbours and the site itself – take your rubbish with you as clearing a site even Steelhouse’s size takes a lot of time and as previously stated, when it’s not hosting rock bands, it’s operating as a farm. The campsite is right next to the arena whilst not making you suffer from loud noise from the stage in the early hours of the morning – which some other UK festivals can’t claim to manage.
Meanwhile, you can also expect some new additions and refinements to the arena this year. With last year being one of the rainiest weekends ever, hard tracking was placed round the edges of the arena and at traders where there was likely to be a higher rate of footfall to stop it becoming a swamp and they aim to increase that for 2019. Elsewhere, they’ve added a platform for those in wheelchairs to get a much better view roughly in line with the front of house so they’ll also be treated to some great acoustics. And finally, a sun shade! As someone who burns if my TV screen brightness is too high, this will be great, with it being right behind sound desk/tower. But if the weather is like last year, it will be more of a rain shelter – which the bar served as at several points during its worst moments.
Boasting the best of classic rock and modern rock, they’ve got the perfect balance of both with every band receiving a rather ample set time as the build-up to the headliners close out the night. And from the looks of things, 2019 is set to have a number of special moments over the three days.
Four Nations Friday: 2018 saw Steelhouse expand to have its first official Friday line-up where previous years were more of a “warm-up”. They leaned exclusively on new bands with a classic sound and it was perfect. This year, they’re doing it again but going one better – dubbing it Four Nations Friday. With four bands, one each from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, you can expect the best of up-and-coming rock bands, each representing their nation and plying their wares, with Massive Wagons taking the coveted headline slot. Whilst they’ve never been a band that have fully clicked for me, with the run they’ve had since last year’s appearance, they’ve more than earned it.
Saturday: In a UK festival exclusive, Thunder are making the ascent to play a “By Request” setlist. Now, these are always interesting sets from bands as it usually means some great rare gems will be dug out of the archives alongside the standard hits you can expect from Thunder. But usually people still vote for the songs you can hear at any other tour – just look at when Metallica did it a number of years ago and “Master of Puppets” was still one of the highest voted songs. Of course, a true by request setlist would likely be twice as long as a standard set as the band have a great number of deep cuts as well as those household favourites. Personally, as a big fan of the band, I’ll be happy with anything they play but I’d quite like “Low Life in High Places” as it’s been missing from the last couple of UK tours I’ve caught them on.
Sunday: For a rare appearance, Thin Lizzy are back. And as another UK exclusive for the festival (seriously, how great is it that both headliners have exclusive aspects?!), they’ll be playing Black Rose in its entirety for its 40th anniversary along with all your favourite Lizzy tunes. Black Star Riders closed out last year’s festival and they did a spectacular job of it so whilst it may have a sense of deja vu, just know that Messrs Gorham, Warwick and Johnson et al will ensure the closing set of 2019 will be another special one and making it two in a row (kinda).
What else do you need to know?
Well, namely, if you don’t have a ticket, don’t hang about as another sell-out year wouldn’t come as a surprise in the slightest. Also, those ticket prices are extremely affordable, £60 for a day, £95 for the full weekend and an extra (small) charge for camping. And when you add up how much each of those bands are to see individually, you are getting more than your money’s worth. As well as that: Iron Maiden’s Trooper will not be the beer of choice this weekend, but instead, Motörhead’s Road Crew. And at £4 a pint, that’s cheaper than most other places selling it by the pint. And if that’s not for your palette, there’s plenty of other choices, again at prices which won’t break the bank.
And affordability is such a great emphasis on this festival, food and drink from food stalls are cheap and good-sized portions so it’s all about value for money. For those of who who are teetotal, last year Motley Brew were supplying the hot beverages and once again, those came at great prices (and tasted great as I spent my money there rather than on beer, for a change). Merchandise, whether the festival’s or the bands’, are also at affordable prices and if last year is anything to go by Steelhouse’s own range will be as diverse as you can imagine. And I could have easily spent a lot of money just there. Plus, usually, the bands will come down there afterwards to chat, sign merch and pose for photos.
But lastly, it’s the atmosphere you find at the top of the mountain which makes it truly special. Those who attend are clearly a hardy bunch, ignoring inclement weather and enduring to see some of the best bands from not only the UK but across the world. Full of enthusiasts from the UK’s rock scene (and further afield), you’ll hear a diverse number of accents and it’ll be busy from the minute the arena opens on all three days as people don’t want to just see those recognisable names at the top of the bill, they want to make new discoveries and a more passionate crowd, you’ll be hard-pushed to find.