It’s been a rainy evening, the greyness has continued yet the people of Steelhouse simply take it in their stride. With more people having arrived now, the atmosphere in the campsite and arena is palpable. There’s a real family sense pervading the air and you can tell the attendees are enthusiasts of the UK rock scene. They’re not just here for the big names at the top of the poster, they’re here to support and discover the raft of talent rising through the ranks. Just a look at the lineup for this year shows how Steelhouse have managed to balance both aspects perfectly.
Before it all kicks off, a wander around the small arena shows everything they’ve managed to squeeze into the space. There’s varied food vendors catering to all different tastes and diets and at very reasonable prices, the weekend isn’t going to break the bank to feed yourself. There’s the usual trinket stalls where you can pick up your latest patches, badges, belt buckles, jewellery and all sorts of pieces. The merchandise stall selling not only band merchandise but Steelhouse’s own range is also at very reasonable prices with a wide range of colours and fits (so women don’t have to make do with mens cuts).
Meanwhile, if you fancy an alcoholic beverage, there’s a number of different tipples to try and most of the pints are cheaper than most city centre prices. If hot beverages are more your speed, Motley Brew are on hand to provide you with some great coffee with many people taking advantage of their weekend loyalty cards. Namely, it’s bands that get you to a festival but when you have great amenities over a wet and windy weekend, it helps to enhance your experience.
The Bad Flowers
The Bad Flowers show off their muscular bluesy hard rock tones, firing through as much of their debut album as possible and even manage to show off a new track. Whilst their album may not have had the punch the EP did a couple of years back, the tracks translate well in a live setting and there’s an incredible chemistry emanating from the three-piece. Alongside that, they’re a tight and polished band, sounding like Bad Company on a shitload of steroids. Basslines are so thick they’re tangible and the riffs hit you like a punch to the throat. It’s a perfect way to blow the cobwebs away and set the tone for the rest of the day.
The Cult Classics don’t take to the stage. They march onto it, ready to give another dominating performance, they’re followed out by the titular Aaron Buchanan as they launch into the ethereal “Left Me for Dead” before hitting with the gut punch of “Fire, Fire” from Buchanan’s Heaven’s Basement days. As ever, the band are loaded with energy and as the rain continues to get heavier, the band meet the challenge of the elements with their mix of grunge and pop tones injected into hard rock to make a timeless sound with their original material pinned against the straight-forward hard rock sound of Heaven’s Basement.
Buchanan ignores the rain to join the crowd on the walkout as the downpour continues, eventually discarding his set. B-side “Fire in the Fields of Mayhem” is given an outing as Buchanan comments “It should have been a single” (I agree). As their ode to Alice in Chains with “Mind of a Mute” sees the band halfway into their set, giving everything they’ve got, the call is made by the powers that be. Quickly finishing the song, the drenched Buchanan announces they’re having to call it quits as the rain continues to worsen and right on cue, thunder rolls as if clapping in admiration for the band persevering through the worst rain of the weekend.
After a long time away, Myke Gray is back. This time, it’s on his own terms. But the wait’s been worth it. Backed by a more than able band, the rain has subsided and the punchy, hard rock tunes from his varied career are allowed to flow. Joined by Phil Conalane (Million Dollar Reload/Blackwater Conspiracy), his snarling rasps are a perfect fit for Gray’s abrasive hard rock riffs. There’s a good dose of melody and Gray’s clearly enjoying being back on the stage. The rest of the band are just as excellent and for a band with so few gigs under their belt, it’s like they’ve been playing together for years.
King King leads the charge for the evening to take a more relaxed vibe. Having missed out on last year due to Alan Nimmo’s vocal issues, there’s some unfinished business for the blues rockers. Pulling out the best from their four albums, they get the crowd singing and dancing in spite of the rain. Though it probably made the Glaswegian Nimmo feel at home. As he shows off how he’s one of the best guitarists in blues right now, newcomer Jonny Dyke on keyboard and Hammond organ has fitted in well and batters through the material as it were his own. It’s a masterful set from the four-piece and passes in the blink of an eye – just how a blues set should be when it’s polished to perfection like this one.
Dan Reed Network bring the funk factor to the evening. It’s rock music you can dance to but also the lyrics on songs like “Rainbow Child” are about real issues. Ones which remain as relevant today as they did almost thirty years ago. Whilst Reed may have his name attached to the band, the members of the Network all have their chance to shine. They make full use of their time and the room they have on stage and with the backing of wisdom and experience, don’t get too heavy-handed with newer material, using the opportunity to delve into the back catalogue to deliver the hits but also sample some more recent tracks. If anything, it’s a lesson to other bands on how to work a festival crowd in order to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
Gracing UK stages one last time before he reunites with Slash and the Conspirators, Myles Kennedy delivers a set similar yet different to his recent shows under his own name. The similarities: the setlist and his standard high-calibre performance anchored by that voice. The difference: he’s joined by a band rather than the singer-songwriter acoustic approach he took to his recent tours in support of Year of the Tiger. Joined by manager Tim Tournier on bass and The Mayfield Four’s Zia Uddin on drums, Kennedy’s kept it in the family.
Battering through a handful of Year of the Tiger songs, in this state, they take on a new life and it gives Kennedy the chance to play “The Great Beyond” – one of the best tracks from the album but lacking from the acoustic shows. However, the rhythm section do take time to step off stage and allow Kennedy a moment on his own for songs like “Standing in the Sun” and “Addicted to Pain”. There’s also a cover of “The Trooper” once again – appropriate given the festival is sponsored by the Iron Maiden beer and the stage named after it.
The final songs are typical of Kennedy’s recent shows with “Travelling Riverside Blues”, “World on Fire” and “Year of the Tiger” closing out the show. With only Alter Bridge and Slash material from his career, a Mayfield Four track would have made a great touch with Uddin’s appearance but given it’s a band largely unknown, it wouldn’t have hit the mark with a festival crowd like it would have at his own shows. Having only performed a handful of shows as a unit, it’s well rehearsed with the focus on Kennedy and his iconic voice, showing off his range and how he remains one of rock’s best frontmen by using just that and an acoustic guitar yet can command a crowd of thousands.
For many people, this was bound to be a special event. Glenn Hughes performing a set comprised only of Deep Purple material. There’s been quite the demand for this to happen and finally, Hughes has acquiesced and explored this section of his career. Performing some of classic rock’s most loved songs, it may be Hughes’ name on the bill but it’s about the songs. Giving time to his band, they all have the opportunity for their own solos, all of which are technical marvels and full of finesse. But then again, Glenn Hughes isn’t about to work with anyone but the best. He’s fairly stationary for the duration of the set and not quite as full of beans as he was supporting Slash a few years ago.
That aside, he’s still clearly enjoying himself and he’s got the crowd in the palm of his hand from start to finish. The encore brings Myles Kennedy back to the stage, guitar in hand, for them to run through a version of “Highway Star” – something the pair have done on a few occasions and it delivers that extra punch to one of Purple’s best-known tracks. It’s at this point as well that Hughes has ditched his bass guitar to focus solely on vocals and he starts to make use of the stage which continues as the band (Kennedy having departed) hammer through “Burn”. As for Hughes’ voice? Yeah, he can still hit those notes, putting those his age and, indeed, those younger than him to shame.
As an introduction to the forthcoming UK tour where this will be standard (and apparently longer), it’s a special treat for those in attendance with a bit of magic in the damp Welsh air. Already at the halfway point of the festival, there’s a sense emanating from the crowd that they could go home satisfied. However, there’s another day to go with a host of bands ready to bring the festival to its finish line and continue the high quality already laid down before them.