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Steelhouse Festival 2013 http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/7a/4a/df/steelhouse-festival-2013-Rocktopia-review-thumb-60-1389729894.jpg Hot

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Steelhouse Festival 2013 - Ebbw Vale, South Wales (UK) - 27th & 28th July 2013


Saturday 27 July


Seems like the best way to end a heatwave is to hold a rock festival, with three weeks of blistering sunshine cancelled out by the start of the third year of Wales' fledgling festival. It's soon apparent that we should have brought the Land Rover, as Steelhouse takes place on top of what in some countries would be called a mountain. Seriously, if there was an award for the festival with the shittest road, this would win hands down, as the muddy, potholed ascent to the top has all the grace and charm of Margaret Thatcher. Once we get there (past a grinning steward who is obviously enjoying drivers astonished faces as they bounce around like ping pong balls) it all gets rather quaint. The tents are set up and we stroll into the modest sized arena, which feels like a nice country fete. Okay, so it's a fete with a big stage at one end, but I am disappointed that there isn't a coconut shy and a tombola somewhere. What there is, brilliantly, is an area where you can recharge your mobile phone for free, the catch being that you have to use pedal power. We grab a drink, set up the chairs in the beautiful weather and pull up our socks so they don't get completely rocked off.

The first two bands are unknown to us, with openers Fireroad having won a competition to get their spot. It's well deserved though, as their music is both powerful and catchy, and I vow to get hold of their debut album. Dead Shed Jokers follow them, but their heavy bass and riffs are held back by a vocal that need to be deeper, angrier and more passionate. Unlike Fireroad they get dull quite quickly and our minds wander.

As the rain starts to fall we retire to the tents, and as a result aren't in the arena when Hand Of Dimes begin their set. The thing is, as the singer starts belting out the first number I can't help thinking his voice bears an uncanny resemblance to Neville MacDonald, he of Skin and Kooga fame. A quick scurry from the tent reveals that it is indeed the man himself, fronting a band I hadn't heard about. Unsurprisingly, the music is rich and bluesy, with Nev absolutely filling the arena with his powerful, soulful vocals. Seriously, I could listen to the man sing all day, and if we don't hear more from Hand Of Dimes past their debut EP it will be a great shame.

Fighting Wolves are next, and the come onto the stage in a flurry of decibels, keeping up the pace and volume throughout their 50 minute set. They have talent and stage presence, but as with Dead Shed Jokers the songs just don't stick in my mind long enough to make a difference. They're a young band, and hopefully it's a more positive story on their debut CD, but today, on a mountain, Fighting Wolves didn't quite put up enough of a fight.

Boom! That's the effect The Temperance Movement have as they explode onto the stage, channelling the Black Crowes and Quireboys via the Rolling Stones through their pure energy, helped immensely by the very animated (and rather skinny) frontman Phil Campbell. They fill their allotted hour with a variety of tunes, the highlights for me being the long but never dull 'Pride', and the Aerosmith alike 'Know For Sure'. Although still to release their debut album (due in September), The Temperance Movement have been making a lot of friends, as evidenced by the most attentive and numerous crowd of the day so far. A cracking surprise and a very entertaining band, The Temperance Movement are floating close to stardom – let's hope they can grab it before it whizzes by.

And so to Anvil, whose dead end career got a massive boost when they appeared in their own highly entertaining documentary. The result, unfortunately, is that we have to sit through their set. It's immediately apparent that Anvil were an average heavy metal band who didn't get massive because they were, well, an average heavy metal band: the world moved on, Anvil didn't. It's pretty obvious, mind, that vocalist/guitarist Lips is overjoyed to be here, to be anywhere, really. He is having a blast, whereas I am wincing every so often at the quite awful music that they are playing. You'd think after all this time they would have got better, but as new track 'Bad Ass Rock & Roll' shows, Anvil have a limited time before people realize that entertaining in a documentary doesn't mean entertaining on stage. By the way: How many members of Anvil does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn't matter: they're just glad to be here.

So it's time for FM, the stalwarts of British AOR, and there's plenty of eager fans happy to brave the storm (or was that Shy?) as the band kick off with the chunky 'Tough Love'. Although, in effect, the cheese in the metal sandwich that is Anvil and Saxon, FM do their usual bang up job, throwing classics and newies at the crowd. 'I Belong To the Night' and 'That Girl' nestle comfortably alongside 'Crosstown Train' and 'Over You', with the band sounding tight as ever. Steve Overland gets to flex his vocal muscles as the set ends with the now inevitable 'Heard It Through The Grapevine', and all in all a good time is had by everyone not sheltering in the beer tent.

Although a different kettle of metal to FM, Saxon share the trait of being almost guaranteed to give you a good, clean show, and tonight is no exception. The rain stops for a while as they blast through 90 minutes of metal. New track 'Sacrifice' is a great, powerful opener, but the band recognize the crowd's lust for classic material and don't disappoint. 'Power & The Glory', 'Heavy Metal Thunder', 'Dallas 1pm', and the much loved 'The Eagle Has Landed' are amongst those aired, with newer tracks such as 'Conquistador' and 'Wheels Of Terror' fitting in nicely. Drummer Nigel Glockler gets an early solo, made bearable by the fact his drum riser shoots up to the heavens and sprays sparks all over the place. Throughout the set we are also treated to massive jets of flame that take a few photographers' eyebrows off and the crowning glory of the giant eagle at the back of the stage, making it's first UK appearance for 20 years. As Biff ponders the curfew ("We're oop a fookin mountain!") we slip off as they bang out encores 'Crusader' and 'Denim & Leather', deciding to bugger off home and come back in the morning rather than swim about in the campsite. So far, though, Steelhouse has certainly been fun, and tomorrow's line up says it might even get better.

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Sunday 28 July


Day two sees tents but not spirits dampened, and we try hard not to look smug after a night in a comfy bed and a nice pub breakfast. The rain has decided to start early, and mother nature has now added a strong wind that proceeds to try and steal as many lead vocals as it can throughout the day. Unfortunately some unexpected traffic means we only catch the last track from openers Blackbyrd (and even then from the car park), and that's a shame because they sound rather good. They are followed by Skam, who manage to put the "Power" into "Power Trio" with a solid wall of aggression and melody that is rather impressive. Good songs, a good crowd and a rare break in the rain mean they deservedly make a few new friends.

Trucker Diablo are another new one on me, and as they take the stage to the strains of CW McColl's 'Convoy' they look like they just crawled out of a Louisiana swamp. As soon as the music starts, however, it's clear these aren't inbred gator wrestlers. Power, anger and might riffs are topped off by a singer who can also trot out an impressive guitar solo. When he speaks to the crowd it's apparent that the band are in fact Irish, and an audience member tells me they've been around a while. They tempt fate with 'When's It Gonna Rain', rock out with 'Voodoo' and finish a superb 40 minute set with 'Year Of The Truck'. Hard and heavy but catchy with it, Trucker Diablo are certainly the surprise hit of Day 2.

I was happy to see Vega on the bill for the festival, and am even happier when they rock up and deliver with what seems like no effort at all. Although the wind steals vocalist Nick Workman's efforts for a few minutes, the sound guys grab it back and the fifty minutes fly by. Special note has to made of guitarist Tom Martin, whose solos seem to fly from his fingers. Workman himself is pitch perfect, and the songs, culled from their two albums so far, are well chosen. 'White Knuckle Ride', 'Into the Wild' and the Cherry Pie a-like 'What The Hell' get the crowd buzzing, and by the time they finish with 'Hands In The Air' it's clear this is a band that can go places.

Heaven's Basement seem to have brought a decent following with them, and although different from the band I fell in love with some years ago, they play good enough modern rock and have lucked out with vocalist Aaron Buchanon, a natural firebrand who fits in like a glove. Appropriately, the heavens open during the set, but it doesn't hold them back and they finish with an old(ish) favourite 'Executioners Day'. Although I enjoy the set, and have heard the album, I'm not half as excited as I was when I watched the original incarnation. Maybe I'm just too old...

For me, it's now time for the highlight. I'm not a massive Schenker fan, and have seen Magnum dozens of times, so when Snakecharmer take the stage I'm grinning from ear to ear. Although Whitesnake covers are expected, it's great that they start with 'Guilty As Charged' from their well-received debut. Chris Ousey has an amazing voice, and holds the stage with a Paul Rodgers swagger and a ton of well earned confidence. He's certainly backed by pure class, evidenced by the impressive trading of licks between Laurie Wiseman and Mickey Moody at the end of 'Ready & Willing'. 'Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues' actually sounds bluesier with Ousey's vocals, whilst 'Slow & Easy' is nothing short of a masterclass in rock performance, the crowd reluctant to leave for shelter even though it's absolutely pissing down. 'Accident Prone', 'Falling Leaves' and 'Nothing To Lose' again showcase the quality of the new material, but the biggest applause is reserved for the final pair of 'Here I Go Again' and 'Fool For Your Loving'. Simply astounding, and the band of the day for me.

Magnum wrest back Mark Stanway and Harry James from Snakecharmer for their 70 minute set, and there's a great feeling of warmth from the crowd for these stalwarts of British rock. The set isn't at all surprising, although opener 'All You Dreamers' is an odd choice when something fast paced would have done so much better. It's almost a half and half set, with newer stuff giving way to fan favourites like 'Vigilante', 'Rockin' Chair' and 'Days Of No Trust'. The band sound great, although Bob Catley could do with a bit more volume on his mic, and Tony Clarkin as usual displays understated virtuoso skills quietly in stage right. Always good to see and always good, Magnum did their job, but hopefully we'll one day get a more varied set from the Midlands masters of melody.

Finally, and rather later than advertised because of the bloody weather causing havoc to the technical gubbins, Michael Schenker and pals get their go. It's his 'Temple Of Rock' tour, and for it he has sensibly picked a set full of fan favourites from UFO, The Scorpions and his own stuff. You can't really argue with a set that starts out with 'Lovedrive', 'Another Piece Of Meat' and 'Assault Attack'. Vocalist Doogie White doesn't really look like a frontman, but he has a great set of pipes, whilst the ex Scorps due of Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz keep the rhythm going. Schenker himself doesn't look up from his guitar much and comes across like the Gary Busey of rock, but he sure can play guitar and was on fine form, particularly for 'Attack of The Mad Axemen'. New track 'Horizons' is okay without being amazing, and the Dio tribute 'Before The Devil Knows You're Dead' is a bit embarrassing, but overall the lads put on a decent show.

Steelhouse 4 has been announced for next year, and it seems like the line ups have been getting better each year so there should be plenty to look forward to. Hopefully a coconut shy and a tombola...

Alan Holloway

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