Festival Review: Steelhouse Festival 2022 – Hafod-y-Dafal Farm, Ebbw Vale (29th – 31st July)

It doesn’t matter how many times you come to this festival, arriving at the top of the mountain is a feeling like nothing else. The pure friendliness of the volunteers and organisers, the camaraderie between the fans and the quality of the line up improves year on year. Once up the ‘road’, parked up and pitched, it’s a party from start to finish, regardless of weather (of which you are guaranteed every type!) I’ve been here several times since it’s inception in 2011, and it’s one I’ll keep coming back to. Steelhouse is an example of how to do it right. Slow steps each year bring improvements in the site and the number of bands on ‘shit shirt’ Friday has steadily increased. This year we were treated to seven bands, beginning at 3pm, bringing almost an extra full day to the event.


The Hot Damn (c) Paul Hutchings

Valhalla Awaits are no strangers to these parts or to many in the crowd. Opening the event with a set full of big riffs and soulful vocals, the Welsh band set about their task with confidence and style. Vocalist Andrew Hunt was here last year fronting Phil Campbell’s band but he’s more comfortable in his role here and the band were a highlight of day one. With a new EP due in the autumn, they are a band to watch. Confidence seemed to be the word of the day as newly formed outfit The Hot Damn! hit the stage in the most colourful outfits of the weekend. Formed by ex-members of The Amorettes, Tequila Mockingbird amongst others, the four ladies made an instant impression in their fabulous outfits. Running straight onto the walkway which extended into the crowd, they then hit their stride quickly, with their pop-rock songs making an instant impression. “Dance Around” got people bopping and the band impressed from start to finish.

Gremlins emerged to delay the start of Kira Mac’s set, but once into their stride they pushed the frustration to the side with a solid set. Striding out into the sunshine, Kira Mac soon made up for their initial problems with some catchy songs that got the already buoyant crowd moving. Time for some local heroes to get the crowd singing along and Scarlet Rebels did just that. The Llanelli five piece are riding high after a decent two years including an album release that did incredibly well,  and have a steely edge that rightly gets everyone up and punching the air. Anthems, energy, and a drive that has seen them win multiple accolades were all present in a fiery set that included a deserved swipe at the shambles of the UK government. The Dust Coda followed on with another assured set. They’ve been around for a decade, and it showed. Looking cool in their shades and black leather jackets, the band exude quality. Letting their music do the talking, the band certainly provided another reminder of their class and with a tour to come later in the year, they are certainly a band to look out for if you haven’t seen them yet.

Myke Gray (c) Paul Hutchings

Class is permanent so the saying goes, and Myke Gray had it in spades. With a career spanning four decades the man in black and white still looks the epitome of health and every inch the rock star. His band played a stellar set with a sprinkling of tracks from former bands Jagged Edge and Skin amongst the set. This was exactly the early evening set that the festival gives you and the huge ovation was well deserved. Inglorious have been up the mountain before but this was a headline set that worked magically in the setting. Nathan James’ may have added a few pounds, but his voice still carries the real weight. A set spanning the band’s career alongside a cover of Heart’s “Barracuda” from their covers release had everything needed. James wryly acknowledged the absence of the fashion faux pas’ kimono, which he wore when last here, although it did make a comeback later in the set! For most of the time he was clad in more traditional leather jacket and jeans, he and the band had the crowd singing along. A fantastic end to a stunning day

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Mother Vulture (c) Paul Hutchings

The weather is notorious for its fickleness at Steelhouse and unsurprisingly the grey clouds rolled in overnight to bring damp and drizzle. Nothing is currently able to stop Mother Vulture, the West Country band who are amongst the most exciting in the UK. They’ve been building momentum for the past few years and thrilled the crowd with a typical high-octane performance which saw members of the band hurl themselves fully from the stage and into the crowd. Their punk-tinged rock is infectious and by the end they had clearly won more new fans in their quest for world domination. Following Mother Vulture is never an easy task, but Anchor Lane proved up to the task with a fiery set. The Glaswegian three piece were ironically introduced as Scotland’s answer to Rush by Planet Rock presenter Darren Redick, probably the most unfair comparison ever, but undeterred by the American’s gibberish, the band played an excellent 35 minutes which was certainly well worth a watch. Front man Conor Gaffney’s incessant movement was mesmerising, and their first visit to Steelhouse was a memorable one.

Taking the tempo down several notches Welsh heroes Cardinal Black may be a newish band to some, but they feature the incredible talent of Chris Buck on guitar and the soulful voice of Tom Hollister, both well-established musicians in the South Wales scene for over a decade. They play a relaxed style of music which stood out alongside the more raucous style of most bands on the bill. A gentle set of measured and crafted songs saw a huge crowd gather, and for me they were a well-balanced contrast on the line up. Yet another band that hit all the right notes. Picking the tempo right back up Black Spiders produced an upbeat set which consisted of many short sharp songs. The band who reformed in 2020 with Planet Rock presenter Wyatt Wendel on drums, have always been a festival good time band. As the rain drizzled away, the tempo certainly upped. Although they are relatively one dimensional in style, that’s not a bad thing when songs like “Stay Down”, “Eat Thunder, Shit Lightning” and of course, “Kiss tried to Kill Me,” can get the crowd pumped.

H.E.A.T (c) Paul Hutchings

It takes something special to stop all the photographers in the pit from shooting but “All of a Sudden You’re Gone” by Von Hertzen Brothers did just that. The Finn’s have released one of the albums of 2022 in Red Alert in the Blue Forest and they wowed the crowd with a flawless show that got better and better. The brothers know how to play a showstopper of a set which included some of their better-known material. Alumni of the Steelhouse class of 2016, few bands can match the sheer melody and harmonies that the band bring. Gobsmacking stuff. I’ve not spent huge amounts of time with H.E.A.T. but that might have to change following their hugely entertaining show. Bursting out onto the stage vocalist Kenny Leckremo was a man possessed, running up and down the walkway like a man possessed. The band are often lumped in the melodic rock category, but their music carries a steel that is often missing in the genre. Hard riffs underpin their melodies, and the band are ferociously heavy at times. The crowd were obviously more acquainted with them than me, singing along and punching the air with a joy that only music can bring. Another sweet set to set the pulse racing and bring smiles all round and one to pencil in for another watch at Stonedead in a couple of weeks.

Special guest on this rain-soaked Saturday was a true rock icon. Roll up Graham Bonnet, who at the age of 74 is still able to bring a huge crowd to its feet. Of course, Bonnet, like festival favourite Bernie Marsden, can rely on past glories to wow the crowd, and Bonnet has enough music from his time with Rainbow over five decades ago to rely on, so it was no surprise that he went for the bulk of 1979’s Down to Earth to fill his set. Kicking off with the brilliant “Eyes of the World,” it took a few minutes for Bonnet to find his range but then he was away. “All Night Long” and “Since you’ve Been Gone” were served up early and with the Welsh crowd in full voice it was then a joyous set. A couple of solos and instrumental jam gave him a breather and took the edge off the pace temporarily, but otherwise it was another highlight in a day of many highlights. A couple from “Assault Attack,” his album with Sunday’s guest Michael Schenker, went down well and then it was “Lost in Hollywood” to bring the house, or field, down.

Graham Bonnet (c) Paul Hutchings

Called in at short notice when perennial canceller Ace Frehley pulled out, the might Saxon demonstrated once again why they are so beloved of Welsh metal fans. Members of the band were recovering from Covid, but they showed no ill effects with a blistering set crammed unsurprisingly with classic after classic. No real surprises in the setlist but you don’t need surprises with Saxon. You want the likes of “Wheels of Steel,” Denim and Leather” and “Power and the Glory” when it’s damp, drizzling and the end of a long day. Tighter than a gnat’s arse, Saxon are as solid and professional an outfit as you can find. In Biff Byford they have a man who surely sits in the rock legend category, and in Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt they possess two hugely underrated guitar players. Backed by the military power of drummer Nigel Glockler and the hyperactive Nibbs Carter on bass, Saxon show no signs of stopping. A guest appearance by Toby Jepson on “And the Bands Played On” was a bonus. By the time we got to the triumphant finale of the ageless “Princess of the Night” there was no place I and several thousand other Saxon fans would rather have been than in a soggy field at the top of a Welsh mountain.

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Opening slot on the final day can be a bit of a poisoned chalice, with the hangovers of Saturday night still raw. Not much chance of easing into Sunday with Ashen Reach who blew any cobwebs into next week with one of the most aggressive performances of the whole weekend. This was the most pumped I’ve ever seen the band who simply roared onto the stage and didn’t leave until every shred of intensity and emotion had been wrung out of their 30 minutes. A balanced set wrought with passion and power was the ideal start for the final day. Second up were Derby outfit These Wicked Rivers, who brought a Southern tinge to the event with their blues-based rock n roll. Underpinned by thick keyboards, and a stage set more akin to a 70s living room, the most hirsute band of the weekend brought their swagger with great aplomb. They released the glorious “Eden” back in 2020, and the five-piece demonstrated their quality with an assured and effortless set. Following the bar set by the first two bands was going to be a challenge and King Herd didn’t quite match the energy that had gone before them. The Birmingham band’s music was a little generic, and whilst they performed with gusto, it wasn’t quite as exciting as perhaps it could have been.

King Herd (c) Paul Hutchings

Perhaps the oddest fit of the weekend when the lineup was announced was Green Lung. However, it proved a good shout as the London occult stoner doomsters delivered a stunning set which demonstrated why they are one of the hottest tickets around. 40 minutes of tracks from their two superb albums were blasted out to a slightly bemused field which comprised a smattering of hardcore fans and a great deal more curious. By the end of the set Green Lung had won over more than they had scared off. If you don’t like this band, then I personally question your life choices. Whilst Green Lung may have been the square peg in the Steelhouse round hole, there is no doubting that Diamond Head are a band made for this festival and it’s astonishing that this was their debut at the event. They’ve been on a nice steady trajectory for the past few years and the band is now a slick outfit. As always, they mixed up the setlist with a combination of older songs and more recent tracks from “The Coffin Train” and their self-titled album. Front man Ras Bom Anderson made use of every inch of the walkway whilst Brian Tatler was content as always to crank out the riffs. Unsurprisingly “Am I Evil” earned the biggest cheer. Will there ever be a Diamond Head show without it?

Also making their debut at the festival 27 years into their career, Orange Goblin were probably the heaviest band of the weekend (maybe Saxon would challenge that) and being in Slovenia less than 48 hours before at the Metal Days Festival had no effect on these stalwarts of British metal. Ben Ward beamed all the way through the set and the crowd responded with joy. Their biker rock isn’t appreciated by everyone, but if you like them then their uncompromising style was just the thing for a Sunday afternoon. Headbanging anthems a plenty in a solid set that proved once again there’s no such thing as a bad Orange Goblin gig.

Anniversaries come thick and fast in the world of classic rock, and Michael Schenker has arrived at his 50th. For some of us, Schenker has been a solid presence in our musical journey since his early days with Scorpions and of course those seminal UFO albums. It’s unsurprising then that the German choose to flood his set with UFO classics. No fewer than eight featured along with three from his MSG days and two from his most recent albums, Immortal and this year’s Universal. With Robin McAulay delivering a superb vocal performance, Schenker and band gave the fans what they wanted. As ever, his extended solo during “Rock Bottom” was breath taking, and an early “Doctor Doctor” got the crowd in full party atmosphere. The rendition of Schenker’s tribute to Ronnie James Dio, “A King Has Gone,” proved McAulay can still bring it, giving Ronnie Romero a real run for his money. Schenker is ideal for this festival and with tunes like “Shoot Shoot” and “Lights Out” included, it’s hard to argue. Schenker’s return to the mountain, nearly a decade after his first visit, was simply triumphant.

Europe (c) Paul Hutchings

And so, the end arrived. Having been forced to pull out in 2021, the final headliners Europe were determined to bring the festival to a close in style. A short delay saw Joey Tempest riff with the crowd and ask a couple of younger fans on the barrier about their favourite Europe songs (no guessing for the answers there!) before Europe provided a solid set which demonstrated why they are still such a draw here. Simple, effective, and yet at times majestic, there’s an ease and unflappability about the Swedes. Of course, they still draw on ‘that’ album with an early start for “Rock the Night” but they have made a good few other records and drew from those as well. By the time the finale arrived, the kazoos were out in force and the whole field was singing along to “The Final Countdown”. Cue fireworks, hugs all round, final beers and a plan to do the same next year.

Photos by Paul Hutchings

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