Steelhouse Festival 15 | Saturday Review by Darren Griffiths

On top of that mountain in distant Ebbw Vale has to be the most dramatic and beautiful place to hold a music festival. Camp and arena is a good 2 mile hike up a forestry dirt track onto possibly the bumpiest road ever, but when you finally see the festival site you realise it is all worth it.

For the measly price of a £60 early bird ticket, you will not find a better value for money festival anywhere in the country, the atmosphere is second to none and all the more worthy when you get most of the bands mixing with the fans and having a drink and a chat after their sets.

Always a festival to give up-and-coming bands an opening on a big stage. This year gave young 3 piece "Florence Black" the job of gettingthe revellers going and they don't disappoint in getting everyone in a great mood with their furious, chunky blues-driven rock.

Barry Mills of Massive Wagons is your archetypal headcase of a frontman. A mass of hair and piercing eyes - you can’t help but get carried away when he instructs you to raise your fists in the air during "Fight The System". Those that were still asleep in the campsite must have thought WW3 had started with the ferocity that Wagons started by belting out "Rising Tides" and "Welcome To The World". This band came to tear Steelhouse a new asshole and certainly  succeeded whilst raising their profile and gaining a lot of new fans in the process of delivering hard edged classic rock with a southern undertone and masses of melody - most notably in set closer "Red Dress".

Next up were Henrys Funeral Shoe, a duo consisting of a pair of brothers on guitar/vocals, and drums in the same kind of vein as The Graveltones, alas for me that is where the similarity ends I'm afraid. A rather forgettable set was broken up by some of the worst inbetween song banter I have witnessed, which ranged from his child’s projectile vomiting to his babysitting arrangements. This is a shame because some of the music played wasn't too bad, however it was overshadowed, which only made for a rather tedious 40 minutes, in my honest opinion.

First Irish band of the weekend were returning favourites from 2 years ago, Trucker Diablo. Led on stage by vocalist and guitar slinger Tom Harte, looking every inch the modern day rockstar in trucker cap, aviator shades and leather waistcoat, he led his troops into what can only described as a hellraisers and beer drinkers party. They are a pleasure to watch and you would be hard pressed to find a more loved band on the mountain and long may they continue to come back.

Where the first 3 bands showed us the dirtier underbelly of rock ‘n’ roll, The Treatment were all about the polish, melodies. New vocalist Mitchell Emms did a stint on The Voice apparently, I am glad to say he saw the light and joined The Treatment, this was his first appearance with the band on these shores as was the new guitarist Tao Grey and judging by what I saw they showed no signs of nerves which belies their young age. Swoggle on bass has undoubtedly the best haircut in rock and the man is a star in the making. It would be really interesting to see The Treatment in their own live gig surrounding and on today’s set closer titled Shake The Mountain, it is exactly what they did.

Not to let all the youngsters have the fun, rock stalwarts Nazareth’s resurgence has been helped by the introduction of local legend Carl Sentance (Persian Risk) on vocals, it was always going to be a hard pair of shoes to fill since Dan MCafferty left us but in Carl they have not only someone who can do justice to the back catalogue but can also take the band forward in the future. With a higher range than Dan he delivers opening number Silver Dollar with a gutsy , urgent feel. All the hits were played from Razamanaz, This Flight Tonight and possibly one of rock’s greatest ballads in Love Hurts . While I admit that Nazareth wouldn’t have been one of my first choices on the bill, I am glad to be proven wrong.

With the sun starting to set and the lights of the stage starting to become more evident it was time for a masterclass in how a set should be delivered, look no further than Mr Meniketti and his band. A special slot which included the full Black Tiger album being played in order (though side two was played first) among other classics. 

Hurricane was the opener and a surprise at that, and an even bigger surprise when they launched into second song, I'm Coming Home from the last album, Facemelter, this song is becoming as much of a set standard as Meanstreak or Rescue Me ( both of which were played tonight), they have such a vast catalogue that picking a set to please everyone is nigh on impossible. But Black Tiger is what we want to hear, the album that really launched Y&T over this side of the pond, filled with gems like Open Fire, Don't Wanna Lose You, etc, they were all played tonight .Dave Menikettis' voice shows no sign of age in the 41 years they have been going, even to that moment with his arms stretched out wide while hollering the last word ‘Forever'.The sign of a great band is when their one hour and twenty minute slot flies past far too quickly and you are left wanting more. Definitely worthy of a headline slot.

UFO take to the stage at bang on half nine and not resting on their laurels by playing a classic set that everyone wants to hear, including three songs from latest album Conspiracy Of Stars. However, it is the likes of Rock Bottom / Lights Out/ Only You Can Rock Me that get the masses revved up. Phil Mogg is as charismatic as ever and the veterans put in a graceful, if somewhat one paced, set. Vinnie Moore stalks the walkway out front of stage and takes his place in the spotlight and he is very much a part of this band since 2004. Although, there is a lack of fun and enjoyment from the band as if they are going through the motions, and while the set was performed well it was down to that keyboard intro by Paul Raymond at the start of Doctor Doctor that really set the crowd alight and by that time it was the last song. UFO proved that they still have a place in rock and at a festival of this size they will always go down well, I just feel that they are missing a certain ingredient, that ingredient I feel would be the mad axeman himself.

All in all a great first day and one couldn’t imagine what the weather would do for the Sunday.

Photography Credit: Darren Griffiths