Festival Review: Steelhouse 2018 – Sunday

Rain continues to batter Steelhouse but its attendees take it in their stride. Weather like this seems to be the norm for the festival. With luck being on the side of the bands yesterday (mostly), it’s not so much today. Having caught up on the news after the festival, it seems The Quireboys got stranded in Europe whilst The Dead Daisies had their own travel issues (which other bands refer to later) and it leads to a later start to the day but with the bands who made it playing longer sets.

The Dust Coda

With the arena opening and the bar used for shelter, treating the gathered crowd to Black Star Riders’ soundcheck, The Dust Coda launch into their slick hard rock set. Whilst many take refuge of the bar, they treat the crowd braving the rain to a tight and polished set. Full of self-confidence (and quite rightly so) with the songs to back it up, it’s a band making the most of a golden opportunity. They make sure they win over some new fans and whilst there’s a lot of bands around with a similar sound, The Dust Coda have the edge by being better than the rest as well as shaping it into something of their own.

Those Damn Crows

Those Damn Crows, much like I said last time I saw them, are keen to fill the void Black Spiders have left. With an abundance of talent coming from Wales, Those Damn Crows are out to show why they’re the cream of the crop and proving Earache Records their recent signing was right on the money. Filthy, gritty hard rock riffs have the band energised as they battle through the rain. It’s uncompromising, modern and whilst the tones may be dirty and grimy, the performance itself is polished to a high sheen. With their song “Rock N Roll Ain’t Dead”, it’s not only a young band declaring so but a song so fitting for a festival like this.

Mason Hill

It’s been an interesting twelve months for Mason Hill. After being upstaged by their support acts at their last two Glasgow shows, and from all accounts, their slot at TRNSMT leaving a lot to be desired, the pressure is on for them to return to their winning ways. Coming from a gig the night before, you generally expect a band to be feeding off the energy of playing in front of a crowd. Instead, there’s a sense the band are simply here to fulfil an obligation. Gone is the usual chemistry from the hard rock quintet and despite taking full advantage of the big stage, their animated movement looks like it’s a chore for them. I’ve certainly seen them more polished and well-rehearsed than this.

Alongside this, throughout the set, it’s obvious Scott Taylor is suffering from some vocal issues, missing his usual high notes. The band show off much of the material expected from their debut album as well as songs like “Survive” and “Now You See Me” from their EP. The assembled crowd, other than the fans, seems largely disinterested, even a cover of Audioslave’s “Cochise” fails to stir the uninitiated. As the only Glasgow band on the bill, it was their turn to show some of the great talent coming out of the city after Anchor Lane have been flying the flag so well this summer. With a bit of luck and giving themselves more time to rehearse in future, they’ll be back on form with this being a minor dip in the road.

Massive Wagons

Massive Wagons are one of the safest bets of the weekend. You know for a fact they’re going to get the crowd going. Like Mason Hill, they’ve been given a longer slot for their brand of no-nonsense hard rock and prove they’re taking no prisoners by opening with their Rick Parfitt tribute “Back to the Stack”. Meanwhile, there’s a heavy reliance of material from their forthcoming album, Full Nelson. Whilst there’s a number of singles out and the hardcore fans are jumping around, it doesn’t quite involve the crowd like the songs people are familiar with.

That being said, “China Plates” is a clever swipe at social media and from what they played from the upcoming album, Massive Wagons are sticking with what they know. Naturally, it’s the final few songs which go down the best with “Ratio”, “Tokyo” and “Fee Fi Fo Fum” closing out their set. Tight as they’ve ever been, there’s not quite the usual panache in their performance and it’s reflected in the aloof crowd but they’re not a band you should be watching whilst getting soaked in a field, they’re a band you should be getting soaked by jumping about a sweaty venue with them.

The Wildhearts

I know a whole three songs by The Wildhearts. As the only band on the bill I wasn’t bothered about seeing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Other than bringing the sun, they’re out to make sure people have a good time. With their high-energy punk-fuelled hard rock, the band and the crowd are bouncing for the duration of the set. Going by the reaction of the crowd, it seemed they were drawing on all the best songs in their arsenal. Despite some technical issues plaguing CJ Wildheart at the start, they take it in their stride and power through, ever the consummate professionals.

Meanwhile, Ginger Wildheart is all smiles, cracking several jokes, some at the expense of The Dead Daisies and their helicopter. There’s no big ballad moment to get the lighters and phone lights out but a band like The Wildhearts don’t need it. They just want to barrel through as much of their material as possible and make sure people leave with a grin as big as Ginger’s. With the inevitable closer of “I Wanna Go Where the People Go”, they finally release their grip of the crowd. Certainly, for someone who didn’t know the vast majority of the songs, I enjoyed myself. So much so I’d happily go back and see them. Somehow, I don’t think our editor-in-chief is going to let me hear the end of this…

Black Star Riders

Black Star Riders have the honour of closing Steelhouse 2018 and a more fitting band, you’d be hard pressed to find. With last year’s Heavy Fire seeing them fully step out from the shadow of Thin Lizzy, the roots are still there but it’s their own music on their own terms. Pulling from the best tracks from all three albums with songs like “All Hell Breaks Loose”, “Before the War”, “The Killer Instinct”, “Finest Hour”, “Heavy Fire”, “When the Night Comes In” and “Testify or Say Goodbye”.

There’s also the opportunity to pay homage to the past with covers of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Regardless, the crowd are singing along with Ricky Warwick the entire time and he commands the crowd effortlessly whether he’s attached to a guitar or letting loose armed only with his microphone and stand. Meanwhile, Scott Gorham cuts a figure of effortless cool across the stage, duking it out with fellow six-stringer Damon Johnson, the pair of them giving each other a run for their money.

There’s also a quick drum solo from Chad Szeglia which runs less than a minute and is one of the few which is entertaining, signalling the start of the encore as the band go for the jugular with “Kingdom of the Lost” and “Bound for Glory” before the singalong (complete with the crowd singing the melody) of “Whiskey in the Jar”. With their hard rock sound, it balances classic tones with modern sensibility and it’s a perfect summation of what Steelhouse is all about. Never ones to disappoint, Black Star Riders continue to deliver outstanding live performances, more comfortable under this moniker than ever before.

And as the final notes ring out, Steelhouse 2018 is brought to a close as fireworks erupt in the night sky. As my first time there, I personally thought it was a great weekend. There’s an incredible family vibe and the fans are real enthusiasts of the rock scene, not just there for the big names and braving the wind and rain to watch some of the best names in music right now. The bands were constantly giving everyone involved in the organisation of the festival their gratitude and thanking fans for sticking it out in the weather.

It’s a well-organised festival and despite the heavy rain, there wasn’t much mud to be seen. There was forward thinking by laying down plastic boards to create pathways at high traffic areas, the prices be it merchandise, food or alcohol are far more sensible than the big name festivals. For an outdoor event, I didn’t have an issue with the acoustics with any of the bands, everything was crisp and well-mixed. Here’s hoping The Quireboys and The Dead Daisies are invited back as the latter likely sold a few tickets given the number of t-shirts I saw on the Sunday. And of course, let’s hope Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics get the chance to finish what they started.

My only slight niggles: there was nowhere for me to charge my phone so notes for band reviews were kept to a minimum – and on a more human note – keeping in touch with people either on or off-site may be a challenge unless you’ve brought a power bank. Thankfully, I’ve seen the vast majority of the bands so I knew what to expect. The campsites, whilst there’s a relaxed vibe to them, there’s no lighting overhead so finding your tent at night can make for a fun challenge if you’re buried halfway into the site and have no identifying markers on your tent. Some overhead lighting, even on the main path through would help like Bloodstock and Download have arranged. Bottled water for drinking was readily available to grab at no cost which was a great touch and a great way of getting around the idea of installing taps for a few days.

As I’ve pointed out, on the basis of the ticket price for the bands playing over the weekend, it’s a great value for money festival. Sure, it’s a trek but it’s completely worth it once you’re there. It’s no wonder so many people return year on year; the organisers have made something truly special. So, we’ll hopefully see you back up a Welsh mountain next year!

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