When you spend most of the year planning a festival on top of the mountain, the come down from a successful year must be a hard, so what do you do?
Start doing indoor shows, it is what you started doing many years ago, so get one of the best venues in Cardiff, get a headliner who you know has a great connection with South Wales over the last few years, get him to play a classic Whitesnake album in its entirety, then add two of the best young British acts to support the show.
This is exactly what the organisers of The Steelhouse Festival did this year.
What originally was called a Steelhouse Away Day, soon became dubbed Berniefest – if you have been anywhere near the mountain over the last couple of years, you would understand why. The Whitesnake legend has become just as big a part of Steelhouse folklore as the family that volunteer every year to put it all together.
Hollowstar are gifted the chance to open up this special night, with their reputation rising at an alarming rate, with almost an appearance at every smaller indoor festival every week it seems, they are well rehearsed and polished enough to deliver a first rate set.
Joe Bonson up front has a unique voice, with that tone very much alike to Danny Bowes. Thankfully he has now dumped the cowboy hat, not least tonight because it is a sweat box of epic proportions, not that it hinders any of the band in using the the stage they are given to the full opportunity.
Guitarists Phil and Tom are impressive musically as well as visually, with every pose in their repertoire thrown and, for me, a photographers’ dream. The songs stand on their own, with a good few down the front here just for these boys singing along to every word.
My one gripe, which I have had for a while now, is the sometimes preacher like sermon regarding the need for men to talk about depression etc, it seems everywhere in the news lately and yes anything that can bring attention to it should be applauded. However it brings the set to an abrupt stop for a few minutes before a back story regarding the next song.
Now I maybe in the minority but when I go to a gig I would like to forget about the stresses of daily life for a little while and lose myself in the music, so I personally would prefer to squeeze another song in and leave the patter to interviews and the like. Judging by the response tonight, though, it didn’t take anything away from a fantastic set.
Another guy whose star is on the ascendant is Kris Barras, seemingly arriving from nowhere a few years ago and since then has just upped his game with every release and every subsequent tour that follows.
On the day that Kris and the band release their new album Light It Up, what better way to celebrate it than with a roof lifting performance. If anybody thought that Barras was going to turn up and roll over quietly they were mistaken.
He captivated the room with some blistering playing along with some stunning vocals, plus – as a one-time cage fighter – he can handle himself apparently. Almost makes you sick doesn’t it?
Selfishly, they are one of those bands you don’t want to get too big because the arenas may beckon. But the sweatpit of the Tramshed was the perfect home for now.
Tonight was all about one thing, Bernie Marsden taking us back to the glory days of Whitesnake, before the eyeliner and hair spray , when all they wore on stage was a pair of dirty jeans and a T-shirt.
Playing Ready and Willing in its entirety, of course, Bernie needed a band to accomplish this and he gathered some of the best talent on offer to do it justice: Up front on vocals was The Voice of Welsh rock, Nev Macdonald. He has sang with Bernie on the Snake material a few times and if something isn’t broke then don’t fix it. I don’t think anyone could do this material better than Nev, not even Cov now.
Alongside Nev, and a perfect foil for Bernie, is Mr Moonlighter himself Jim Kirkpatrick from FM plus Hand Of Dimes Guys Dino Stephenson and Mark Maybry filling in on drums and bass.
To play the early Snake songs it would have been sacrilege not to replicate the wonderful sound of Jon Lord and Huw Weston did a sterling job, and not to forget the backing singers Caroline and Alexandra who added the depth to the classic sound from that era.
This being the third date and the biggest one on the small tour, any creases had been ironed out by tonight and it ran just like a well oiled machine. No overlong intros, just walk on stage and straight in to ‘Fool For Your Loving’, the way it is meant to sound, no complicated over indulgent solo a la Steve Vai, just playing the song as everyone remembered it originally. This happened throughout the set with every song.
The band were content enough to let Bernie take the bulk of the limelight tonight not only with the between songs banter but more importantly with his playing, having lost none of his ability to connect emotionally during the likes of ‘Blindman’. It also showcased the talent of Nev Macdonald, who fuelled the song with emotion and soul.
And having Jim Kirkpatrick on stage with him, no slouch on the guitar either, only made Bernie up his game with the piece de resistance when they both donned double neck Gibsons for ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’, in fact the same guitar that Bernie played on the cover of Live In The Heart Of The City.
With no going off stage just to be called on again – with Bernie joking that there are a lot of stairs backstage and he is nearing 70 - they played a mix of classic Snake tunes giving the chance for the Steelhouse Choir to show off their own voices singing back ‘Ain’t No Love…,’ definitely a goosebump moment, before saluting a magnificent full house with ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’ and ‘Here I Go Again’ ( with the Hobo and no drifter) .
There are gigs you never want to end, tonight was one of them, every pair of hands applauded what can only be described as a masterclass, not just from Mr Marsden and his band but from his special guests.
Also, this was every bit a nostalgic throwback for many tonight hearing these songs played as lovingly as the originals. It was also a tip of the hat to the new breed of guitar hero ready to take their place. Step up Kris Barras.
Bernie Marsden setlist 1. Fool For Your Loving 2. Sweet Talker 3.Ready An’ Willing 4. Carry Your Load 5.Blindman 6. Ain’t Gonna Cry No More 7.Love Man 8.Black And Blue 9.She’s A Woman 10. Come On 11. Ain’t No Love In the Heart Of The City 12. Trouble 13. Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues 13. Here I Go Again
Review and photos by Darren Griffiths
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