There was a tentative start to Sunday as the dreadful weather continued with what can only be described as monsoon rains decided to throw in some 40mph gusts for good measure. The organisers opened the arena early so those in the campsite had access to the bar and entertainment, with the vendors also opening early so food could be bought. This festival really cares about its customers, and it’s small gestures such as this that makes it special in a world where festivals are now ten-a-penny.
Due to the delays, those who had ventured into the arena were treated to a little something special. As a riff started blasting out of the stage speakers, those congregated in the beer tent rushed down to the barrier to watch Black Star Riders perform their sound check. I think for some, this was ample compensation for the weather. Sound check over, most headed back to the beer tent with the hardcore rock fans remaining, waiting in anticipation for the first act of the day.
Later than scheduled, The Dust Coda who were initially performing to a smaller crowd than I had hoped soon had people venturing out of the sanctuary of the beer tent. Vocalist John Drake barely left the walkway as they powered their way through the weather with a selection of tracks from their self-titled debut album. Those who were familiar with them sang along wholeheartedly to “When The Tide Comes In” and “Save Me”.
Treating the crowd to a new track, “Let Me Go” saw guitarist Adam Mackie join Drake on the walkway. Given the weather conditions, I think anyone could have forgiven the vocals faltering slightly on the track “Sweet Love Is Gone” Drake was note perfect. This is a band who in my opinion, will go far with their brand of blues rock that is heartfelt and full of soul.
Unsurprisingly, not many people sought shelter from the rain as they waited patiently for the next act, who announced their arrival with vocalist Shane Greenhall proudly standing front and centre, singing the now trademark “We are Those Damn Crows”. I’m not sure anybody stood in the arena needed reminding of this as most of them eagerly joined in.
This band is becoming a force to be reckoned on the rock circuit and it’s not difficult to see why. Opening with the catchy “I Don’t Give A Damn”, Greenhall has the crowd eating out of his hand. Such is his presence on stage, it would be easy to forget there are four other people on the stage.
Chants of “Ronnie…Ronnie” sporadically emanate from the crowd, much to the delight of Drummer Ronnie Huxford. The set was fast paced, The Crows not losing any of their momentum. Finishing with “Rock ‘n Roll Aint Dead”, the whole of Steelhouse was in fine voice singing “Who says rock ‘n’ roll is dead?” back to the delighted Crows.
Rumours had been rife all morning of bands pulling out, but it was eventually confirmed that due to logistical problems, The Quireboys and The Dead Daisies were unable to make it up the mountain. This was disappointing for the fans that had made the journey to see them and there was quite a lot of anger directed at The Dead Daisies in particular. However, the organisers softened the blow in the best way possible; by reducing prices at the bar and giving two bands extended sets.
The first of these bands – Mason Hill – had a reasonable size crowd at the start of their set but had easily increased it ten-fold by the time their set finished. Touring extensively on the back of their self-titled debut EP, they are now in a position to add a host of new tracks from their up and coming album to their set. Not afraid to do things a little differently, they came out all guns blazing demonstrating why I have been tipping them as a band to watch for quite some time.
This is a band that has ‘it’. Modern hard rock at its finest, catchy riffs and arena ready choruses pull you in, while the diversity of the tracks keep you hooked and wanting more. From the catchy “Now You See Me”, to the soulful “Out Of Reach”, and the emotionally charged “Where I Belong” with its stunning guitar solo by James Bird, the tempo is continually changing.
Frontman Scott Taylor is not only an amazing vocalist, he delivers each track with a passion and sincerity that is rarely seen; think Shinedown’s Brent Smith, but better. He is also humble enough to admit that the number of people watching them blew him away (this was their biggest crowd to date).
It was clear that they were enjoying their performance, they all had smiles a mile wide. They were bouncing off each other and demonstrated a stage presence that some established acts would envy.
I don’t think I was alone in not wanting their set to end, and I think Taylor might have regretted inviting everyone over to the signing tent to say hello as they had earned themselves a field full of new fans.
All weekend, there had been a large teddy bear in the crowd sporting a Back To The Stack tee and this was the moment he had been waiting for as the juggernaut that is Massive Wagons took to the stage. If you’ve never seen The Wagons before, probably the best way to describe their performance would be ‘chaotic’.
Never one to fade into the background, vocalist Barry Mills bounded onto the stage sporting a pair of bright green trousers and a bowler hat. Like an overexcited puppy, he didn’t keep still for the whole set; and neither did the crowd.
Despite the weather (which I think most people had forgotten about after the first chord was struck) “Ratio” and Tokyo” had everyone dancing and singing along; this band is one that spans the generations and brings them together.
They are a fun band to watch, and their catchy choruses make sure that crowd interaction never dwindles, but there are some very thought-provoking lyrics at the heart of some of those seemingly fun tracks, “China Plates” being a fine example.
Despite Mills’s energy, he doesn’t take the limelight; the band work together to give the crowd a performance they will never forget. And I don’t think those at Steelhouse will be forgetting this one in a hurry.
Massive Wagons are a pretty tough act to follow, but The Wildhearts were definitely up to the task. It’s no secret that Ginger has not been in a very good place of late, and I for one was glad that he fought his demons in time to make it up the mountain. Not known for keeping his opinions to himself, he took several side-swipes at one of the bands who hadn’t made it up the mountain throughout the set, showing his distain for what he described as a “c**tish thing to do”.
He did also take the time to show his admiration for the previous act for keeping rock in safe hands. The set itself was high energy punk rock that didn’t take an prisoners. Ginger is one of those performers who comes to life when he is on stage and he feeds on the positive reactions from the crowd; and there was plenty of positively flying around. Getting the crowd to sing any chorus they wanted during “Weekend (5 Long Days)” provided one of the funniest moments of the whole weekend.
The festival may have been coming to an end, but it was going to finish in style with Black Star Riders filling the Sunday headline slot. The early crowd had already had their appetite whetted by the sound check and the anticipation in the arena was palpable before BSR entered the stage. This band know how to perform; Ricky Warwick is probably one of the best front men out there, he takes the audience on a journey throughout the set.
The set itself consisted of a decent mix of their back catalogue, including my favourite “Bound For Glory”, tracks from their latest album “Heavy Fire”, plus a few Thin Lizzy covers. With the rain staying away and mood lifted (possibly due to the reduction in beer prices), some in the crowd were dancing in the vast areas of sludge, not caring any more about being covered in mud. The day had been a trying one for all, but this set definitely finished it off on a high.
My only gripe would be that Black Star Riders have enough bangers in their own collection to not have to fall back on Thin Lizzy classics, but I think there would be riots if a few weren’t played. And whilst I understand this, and admittedly will be the first up singing and dancing to “Whiskey In The Jar”, I do feel it detracts slightly from BSR’s integrity as a band in their own right.
As the fireworks lit up the sky, those who had stuck it out for the whole weekend headed to the bar, seemingly not wanting the weekend to end. Myself included.
In my opinion, Steelhouse is the best value for money festival this fair isle has to offer, and has a vibe that other festivals should be jealous of. Even if the weather is mostly atrocious, it doesn’t stop people enjoying themselves and making that mountain rock. There are no frills, no glitz and glamour, no gimmicks; because Steelhouse doesn’t need it.
There are some people in the music industry that shout “rock is dead” or “where are the future headliners?”… this festival proves that there is plenty of life left in rock. This weekend, Steelhouse Festival showcased bands who I have no doubt will be gracing arena stages in the future. The success of this festival is a credit to the organisers, who work tirelessly, and the volunteers who really are the unsung heroes. If you’re yet to experience Steelhouse Festival, perhaps 2019 is the year you should.
Review by Michelle Flynn
Photos by Linda Flynn
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