Up a mountain in south Wales, lies a farm. And for one weekend every year, it plays host to some of the best names in classic and modern rock. With a sensible asking price for three days of hard rock, people from all over the UK have made the trek up this now infamous mountain.
Now, coming from Glasgow, this made for a long trip, on one of the hottest days of the year and having a small car, it meant for diverting off for a stop for petrol. Then, I crossed the border into Wales and the sunshine disappeared into a battleship grey overcast afternoon and a sensible temperature. And when people said the mountain trek wasn’t for the faint of heart, they weren’t lying. If you’ve been to Wildfire, you’ll know the path into Wiston isn’t fun. Steelhouse makes that look like a cakewalk.
Fillings suitably rattled, I stumble out the car and collect my passes after a dialect barrier. After handing my name in, I’m met with a blank look. “Yeah, I didn’t catch a word of that,” I’m told. Slowing my speech and enunciating, it’s met with good humour. In the damp afternoon I park and grab my trusty festival tent – a companion which has survived some of the wettest Downloads on record.
A wander into the campsites and already I’m impressed. Everything’s well signposted, there’s a good mix of ages and the atmosphere is just like Wildfire and Winter Storm: it’s simply one you only find at festivals like these. Pitched and messages sent to friends to inform them I’m there in one piece, I wander into the arena to be met with a massive dragon skull straight from Game of Thrones and people are already poised for night one of music and as a shorter “warm-up” – the organisers have nailed it by focusing only on new and up-and-coming bands.
First up, Richie Hevanz leads Fragile Things through a straight-forward hard rock set, blending blues and sleaze with a dollop of melody, they’re on top form, as always. Whilst opening a festival is never easy, the band take it in their stride and make sure they warm up the early arrivals. Having caught them a couple of times, they’re always a delight to watch and get better every time.
Departed take a similar route, if a little scuzzier. Plucked from the Boardie Takeover at Download, it’s easy to see why they impressed that day. Hard rock and dragging the crowd along for the ride by the scruff of their neck, much like all the newer acts, they’re eager to pick up as many new fans as possible. Impressing with their tight set, they build on the momentum of Fragile Things. The growing crowd are wrapped up in it and much like everyone else who has just arrived, there’s nothing quite like a no-nonsense quality rock act to help unwind.
The first of the legends to grace the stage this weekend, rock royalty Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons batter through a selection of songs from their excellent debut album. The ominous black cloud looming over the sky doesn’t deter them or the crowd as the five-piece are bursting with their usual energy. Playing on home turf for any band is special and they don’t waste the moment, giving everything they’ve got to put on the best set I’ve seen from them yet.
There’s also a couple of Motörhead tracks covered like “Rock Out”, “Going to Brazil” and the evergreen “Born to Raise Hell” before the band cover Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”. An amped up version of the song, Phil Campbell dedicates the song to “all the Motörhead members no longer with us” as he wields a Flying V complete with Motörhead’s warpig emblazoned on it. The covers have a great spin on the classics and the original material is muscular hard rock at its best, using Campbell’s signature sound along with his sons’ influences to ensure it’s not just Motörhead with another name.
Stone Broken have been on a hell of a tear these last couple of years. After conquering Steelhouse last year, they were asked back this year to headline Friday night. Whilst the other two nights are headlined by legends and tonight’s focus was on new bands, Phil Cambell and the Bastard Sons could have maintained both themes had they headlined. Regardless, you can’t deny Stone Broken haven’t earned this. In the last two years of watching them quite a few times, they’ve only gotten tighter as a live act and they have the songs to back it up.
The moment isn’t lost on the crowd or the audience. As the music industry and rock scene continue to evolve, Stone Broken are proof that if you put in the hard work and have the quality songs and performances to match it, it will pay off. They’ve brought a horde of their fans and for the newcomers, are going down well. Blending the crunchy riffs of Black Stone Cherry with the melody and darker tones of Alter Bridge, the Walsall outfit are keen to deliver.
Picking the best tracks from both of their albums, they deliver hard rock by the bucketload but the highlights of the set come during the softer moments. Vocalist Rich Moss abandons his guitar to take to a keyboard for “Anyone” – its first ever live outing. Elsewhere, the band bring their once again conquering set to its finale with the acoustic-led “Wait For You”, dedicated to a departed friend with an image of him displayed on the screens for the duration of the set.
In previous years, the Friday at Steelhouse has never been an “official” day until this year and with the direction the organisers pushed it, they played a blinder. With all the bands putting on a great show, it’s an excellent introduction to the festival before the meat of the action in the forthcoming weekend.