Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
So I’ve decided what I’m gonna do now.
So I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now,
Over the hills where the spirits fly.”
Misty Mountain Hop – Led Zeppelin
No mist or murk to wake up to on day one of the highest festival in the UK. Nestling just above the 400 metres contour we’re up high in the rarefied air of the southern Brecons.
A completely crazy location for an event catering for the every need of several thousand lovers of all things rock and metal Hafod-y-Dafal Farm has excelled in its mission since inception.
Born of the vision of two rock fans, Max Rhead and Mikey Evans, Steelhouse has been growing since its first chapter in 2011. Springing from the duo’s monthly club nights at Ebbw Vale Rugby Club. Surrounded by the former collieries and steel works, which give The Valleys their proud identity, so Steelhouse became a reality.
Here in the sunshine of a pleasant Friday morning it’s hard to imagine the entirety of the journey that has undertaken to arrive at this juncture. To coin a cliché, it’s been a herculean tale of blood, sweat and tears to reach this point.
Everything, down to the very last nut and bolt, must be transported up from the A4046, way down in the valley beneath. Over 200 metres of ascent over the along a couple miles of a rough, winding track; there’s no popping along to the local DIY store should something go awry.
Tales still abound of the volunteer who returned hours after being sent to source a power adaptor so as a band’s German tour bus could connect to the site generator. Said item was tracked down the other side of the Severn River in Bristol!
2022, the 11th instalment of this Welsh legend, sees the most welcome return of previous headliners Saxon (2013 & 2017) and Europe (2014) to close Saturday and Sunday in fine style. First up, however, we have a tremendous blend of some of the very best that the burgeoning UK grassroots scene has to offer. The Steelhouse organisers know their onions for sure; from local heroes Valhalla Awaits through to headliners Inglorious and all points in between there’s plenty to tantalise the ears of one and all.
As the hour strikes three past the noon so local heroes Valhalla Awaits boldly stride on to the expansive Steelhouse stage. Bestowed with the honour opening this year’s festival clearly doesn’t overawe this quintet as they power right into ‘Dying Inside’. As dark as coal and as hard as steel this quintessential Welsh hard rock is lasered with the very DNA that resonates about the valleys.
Vocalist Andrew Hunt, so redolent of Myles Kennedy, is no stranger to the hallowed environs of the mountain top; previous visits with Buffalo Summer and fronting Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons see him notch up a fine personal hat-trick with this afternoon’s performance.
Across the next half hour or so we are treated to the entirety of 2020’s debut EP ‘Condemned’ with brooding heavyweight set closer ‘Digging The Grave’, a triumph of darkened riffage, calling the gathered masses to enter the fabled halls of Valhalla.
Molten rock n’ roll spews forth from the majestic VA peak as 2021’s single ‘Skin & Bone’ tears the ether asunder. Hunt announces a forthcoming EP, the news of which is well received by the healthy-sized early-doors crowd, before announcing “Rees isn’t wearing his crocs today!”
‘Inside The Sun,’ a deep dark beast replete with melodic gilding, reverberates around the high moors; Odin’s realm awaits for these most worthy of rock n’ roll warriors.
From the ashes of The Amorettes and Tequila Mockingbyrd so the gloriously tie-dyed The Hot Damn! Rose with a technicolour splash of delicious hard rock. This afternoon atop the mountain they excel themselves with the most vivid of entrances.
Taking to a techno Hot Damn track (penned and recorded by six-string virtuoso Laurie Buchanan) the quartet, in a fluorescent kaleidoscope rainbow, storm the runway. Bassist Lzi Hayes retains her trademark pink suit and is joined in the mayhem by her bandmates with guitarist Gill ‘Cow Spice’ Montgomery ditching her Friesian-patterned jacket for a tsunami of blue. Keystone guitarist Laurie resplendent in orange complements the green of the percussive demon that is Josie O’Toole.
Gill, out front, rallies the crowd from the off “C’mon you sexy muthafuckers!” before powering into ‘Catch Me If You Can.’ Their vibrant delivery contrasting with the browns and green of the surrounding hills. Runaways-infused debut single ‘Dance Around’ championed by Planet Rock is a hood-down Cadillac sort of a rocker before ‘Live, Laugh, Love,’ a reworking of early track ‘Figure It Out,’ is delivered with a heavyweight punch. Lzi misses her ‘cue,’ at track end, with Laurie and Gill delivering the Live and Laugh respectively, as they raise their guitars, as the errant bassist keeps the Love steadfastly hidden.
A gentle breeze stirs across the sweltering arena as Gill muses “Who had the idea of wearing polyester on a summer’s day?” prior to cranking up the Amorettes-themed ‘Going Down’ with Laurie (another performer celebrating a Steelhouse hat-trick following performances with The Amorettes and her brother Aaron’s band The Cult Classics) whittling a fine Skynyrd-edged solo from her Telecaster.
Slipping seamlessly, mid-track into a most appropriate snippet of Donna Summer’s disco-classic ‘Hot Stuff’ the hard rocking quartet ensure that a good percentage of the crowd will have “Lookin’ for some Hot Damn baby this evening” as a persistent earworm for hours to come.
The last single ‘I Didn’t Love You Anyway’ a hard-rocking tongue in cheek lament of failed relationships wraps up a fine set clocking in a just over the half hour mark. Hot stuff indeed.
Technical issues plague the Stonehouse sound system – did someone feed the mogwai post-midnight? – and the entrance of the much-vaunted Kira Mac is delayed by a nerve-jangling quarter of an hour. However, to their absolute collective credit there are no signs whatsoever of any nerves as they launch into their set with their second single ‘Dead Man Walking’ released back in early May.
It’s a fine tubthumping start to what, according to Kira, is just their fifth ever gig. Formed back in 2018 it’s taken a while to reach this stage; Kira Mac is at once the band and the singer. Hailing from Stoke Kira is an established artist in her own right having a self-titled EP that reached no. 3 on the iTunes Country charts in 2017. That chapter is firmly closed, and the door has been opened on the next.
Kira – actually Rhiannon Kira, which might explain Fleetwood Mac influences herein – is an assured, confident presence out front and engages with the crowd from the off. Steelhouse added a slot to the Friday schedule specially for KM and their faith is being repaid by the bucketload. This is as far removed from the ‘Dead man’s hand’ which Kira sings about.
The twin Gibson growl of ‘Downfall’ is bewitching whilst the sublime ‘Mississippi Swinging’ is a blues-fuelled / country-fringed Southern delta stomp which rolls right into a bourbon-soaked rendition of ZZ Top’s ‘Tush.’ There’s plenty to absorb within; Black Stone Cherry strength riffage entwined about a distinct bluesy Fleetwood Mac element.
With a silky alloy of Skynyrd and the Stones ‘Back For More’ will have you, most aptly, returning for further offerings. The crowd, firmly onside, lap up every last ounce as Kira delivers a country-soaked Avril Lavigne in ‘Never Gonna Stay’. “Is everyone ready for chaos?” enquires Kira introducing the title track from their forthcoming debut album ‘Chaos Is Calling.’ An outright rocker mined right outta the Sabbath vein.
It’s been a memorable set one chockful of powerful gritty output that has a soul-soothing country blues feel. The late addition to the Steelhouse festival is thoroughly justified, no debate required.
Next up are Llanelli’s history making outfit Scarlet Rebels. It’s been over four years since this current line-up – then gigging as V0id – played their first Welsh (and second ever) show in front of a small gathering down at the nearby Doll’s House in Abertillery. Performing at this prestigious festival has been a dream long harboured by the Rebels.
It’s been a journey as challenging as the track up to Steelhouse itself. Twisting and turning with plenty of potential pitfalls along the way but, ultimately, it’s been a gradual ascent.
A swift change-over and The Rebels, having caught up some of the time lost earlier, waste nary a second with enigmatic guitarist Chris Jones hitting the initial riffs of ‘I’m Alive,’ a deliciously fruity fusion of LA and the deep south.
Rebels’ lead singer Wayne Doyle is doing a sterling job holding his occasionally faltering voice together and the crowd are right alongside him. They’re lapping up every last morsel. If anyone was in any doubt of the depth of feeling for this band, it’s right here on a Welsh mountain. After storming through ‘Take You Home’ and the AC/DC underpinnings of ‘Take My Breath Away’ there’s a chance to grab a breather.
Wayne, looking out to the sun-drenched crowd, enthuses “Steelhouse finally we’ve made it up the mountain!” before lifting Welsh anthem ‘Let Me In’ from their V0id back catalogue. A stadium ready number, if there ever was one, that forms the fulcrum of a neatly balanced 40-minute set. One that features three tracks apiece from the brace of albums recorded, thus far, under the Rebels banner.
An uncooperative amp derails, temporarily, proceedings but in one of several spine-tingling moments during the course of the weekend, the crowd picks up the reins and spontaneously bursts into a word-perfect rendition of ‘Let Me In’ whilst replacement kit is wheeled on stage.
It’s party-time and Wayne explains the rules of Rebel Camp and double-parking during an extended ‘Save Me’ which features the now-obligatory sing-along ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N’ Roll) segment. There’s an outpouring of emotion throughout the arena and up on stage. At length Wayne thanks everyone for the success of ‘See Through Blue’ and all at Steelhouse for having them before counting in the last single ‘These Days’ with a “Fuck the Tories!” cry that is loudly appreciated.
The seventh and final track is the highly emotive ‘Heal;’ it’s pure Welsh rock and in a Stereophonics styled moment Wayne ditches his guitar and takes to the mic at the end of the runway to connect closer to the large gathering in the arena. Yet another mountain successfully climbed.
Taking up the Steelhouse baton, as sundown draws nearer, are London-based rockers The Dust Coda. Fellow Earache stablemates of Scarlet Rebels this quadrumvirate are one of a clutch of emerging bands that are in the ascendancy. A stellar performance at Planet Rock’s Winter’s End in early March, whilst on tour supporting the legendary Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen, announced a driven intention. Coming shortly after a successful winter tour the Coda were clearly in determined mood, a plentiful lode that has continued through 2022.
As the evening sunshine breaks through the clouds above so The Dust Coda hit the boards at full pelt with the pounding rock n’ roll canticle ‘Jimmy 2 Times’. Frontman John Drake lays down a mean son of a bitch solo before catechizing “Steelhouse how the fuck are you?” and furthering “Have you got some demons to get rid of?” The precursor to rolling into meaty, foot-stomping riffs of ‘Demon.’
Thunder rolls across the tops of the surrounding moorland, the frenetic romp that is ‘Breakdown’ brings a touch of Page, Plant et al to proceedings. Whilst the gentler, more emotive side of The Coda is brought to the fore in the slower tempo, sultry blues of ‘Sweet Love Is Gone.’ The sole track from their eponymous debut lp strikes a redolent chord with classic early 80s Whitesnake, a stunning moment. Hints of Bad Company and AC/DC lie within but they’ve an added modern-day twist.
The Steelhouse ensemble are fully appreciative of a band at the very top of their game. This sublime performance has trumped that of Winter’s End; the very best I’ve witnessed them. ‘It’s A Jam’ possesses a tangible notched-up Quo boogie; a veritable tromping track that sees The Coda throwing in a delectable Southern boogie for good measure. These talented lads have a knack for blending their influences into their very own sound.
Winding up a set, based in the main from last year’s terrific ‘Mojo Skyline’ long-player, the quartet pull up at the pump labelled AC/DC to fuel hard rocking ‘Best Believe It.’ Drake’s howling Johnson-edged vocals sit naturally alongside the riffage. The loudest crowd response yet as Steelhouse roars. “Look at all you bad ass muthafuckers!” Drake roars before the rocking outro sets the stage in impeccable style for Myke Gray’s UK farewell show. A new beginning awaits Stateside.
As the evening sun continues its descent in the west the scene is picture-perfect for Steelhouse to pay homage and respect to one of the more colourful characters of the UK rock scene over the past three decades or so. Myke Gray is well-known for his pivotal roles in forming Jagged Edge and Skin before embarking upon a solo career. During which he has worked with vocalists in the vein of Kim Jennett (Voodoo Blood) and Marc Pascall (Departed, Cats In Space, Kingdom of Madness).
There is no doubt that Myke has an ear for a cracking voice. Tonight’s singer is no different either. Revival Black’s Dan Byrne, one of the finest in the current NWOCR scene, has worked with Myke over the last year or so and is a seamless fit for the tracks that Myke has penned and recorded over the years. A sterling set at last year’s Stonedead festival cemented the relationship.
Attired in his trademark 50% black and 50% white jeans and denim cut-off top Myke shoulders his gleaming white Gibson Flying V for one final time in ‘anger’ as the band enter stage right to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. Dan is right into it and onto the runway to whip up the Steelhouse crowd with Red, White and Blues ‘Stand Up For Rock & Roll.’ Barely 30 seconds in and oh so cruelly the PA packs up leaving just the frontline monitors emanating any sound. To their absolute credit the band soldiers on resolutely whilst the technical difficulties are overcome. Loud cheers greet Myke and his musical cohorts as they state they’ll continue rocking along.
Mercifully, all is sorted by the start of second track ‘Money’ and the Skin number is belted out with aplomb. The chemistry between Myke and his protégé Dan is crystal clear throughout the hour-long set.
Shades of Gray’s ‘Turn It Up Louder’ suffers with a muddy sound but the crew work hard and turn it around for Jagged Edge’s ‘Trouble.’ A true crowd-pleaser. Whilst mixing it up for the opening quartet of tracks Myke turns the spotlight firmly on the chapter of his career entitled ‘Skin’ and fairly so. This is the longest chapter and one which has borne classics such as the infectious ‘House of Love’ and the Thunder-tinged ‘Take Me Down To The River.’
One further Jagged Edge number in the swaggering form of ‘You Don’t Love Me’ is aired in amongst the Skin back catalogue. The classic 80s vibe of ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ goes down well with the Steelhouse crowd.
All too quickly the set is drawing to a close and the coupling of the Aerosmith undercurrents of ‘Tower Of Strength’ and the stratospheric energy levels of ‘Shine A Light’ bring a curtain down on Myke’s career. A very reserved persona Myke takes a bow but leaves without taking the mic, a farewell but without the fanfare. Characteristically Myke.
Headlining Steelhouse day one is the enigmatic Inglorious; a band that has orbited about the consistent nucleus of expansively talented vocalist Nathan James and drummer Phil Beaver. A leading light in the NWOCR scene since James formed the band back in February 2014. Having raised his profile by appearing on reality TV shows he desired a platform to record and perform rock with honesty. He found that with his new band and firmly put the infamous spat, during 2012s ‘Superstar’, with Andrew Lloyd Webber behind him.
Since a remarkable exit of three band members in 2018 stability has been achieved and during the last four years Inglorious have continued to see their real estate rise to this moment and a coveted Steelhouse headline slot. Affirmation indeed.
2020 single ‘She Won’t Let You Go’ kicks off their hour long set with a classic souped-up V8 Whitesnake sound that purrs along. James salutes Danny Dela Cruz’s honey-sweet solo mid-song as the crowd take in the initial course of rich banquet. There’s a definite love of all things ‘Snake with ‘Breakaway; harking to that fabled early 80s era when Marsden and Moody fuelled the Coverdale-driven beast with the six-stringing.
The soaring nuclear missile that is ‘Messiah’ gives James the moment to demonstrate his wide-ranging vocals in which he belts out “Don’t say that I am your messiah I am not the answer, no.” Ironical? I’ll let you be the judge and jury on that. Either way it’s a classy melodic rocker after which he declares “This is amazing, isn’t it good to be back in a field?”
‘Unaware,’ a darker beast, heralds the nightfall with Dela Cruz six-string licks sending conflagrant sparks out into the shroud of the evening. The Planet Rock playlisted snarling Southern prowler ‘Medusa’ sends out seismic waves which are maintained by the stampeding 2021 single ‘Barracuda’; a release that James is rightfully proud of with it forming part of the ‘Heroine’ album that the band donated a chunk of profits to the fantastic Women’s Aid charity.
One of James’ favourite tracks off their self-titled 2016 debut ‘High Flying Gypsy’ is a mellifluous alloy of Zeppelin and Whitesnake: influences at the very heart of Inglorious’ musical soul. The anthemic ‘Where Are You Now’ – one of the last outputs from mk 1 Inglorious – cruises along.
‘He Will Provide’ highlights the fretboard talents of both Dela Cruz and his six-string partner in crime Dan Stevens prior to the banshee rocking of ‘Until I Die’ provides a befitting finale to a terrific first day on the mountain.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM