Gig review: STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL – Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016 (Day 1)

STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

As a founding fan from the very first event where a couple of hundred people showed, I have been fortunate to see Steelhouse grow year on year.  Along with many others I heard the rumours almost every year that Thunder would headline, all to no avail, though we have had some excellent headliners.  This year all our wishes were granted, even the weather gods were on our side,  which only added to an unforgettable weekend.

Half past midday on a stupidly sunny day and enter Wigan’s finest sons Bigfoot, a name being touted for big things. Five young guys, the youngest being 22, are far beyond their years in terms of ability and songwriting (listen to any of their EP’s if you want proof) at probably the biggest gig of their career to date and they nailed it easily.

Vocalist Antony Ellis has all the stagecraft and swagger that many of his peers struggle to possess and, as if that isn’t enough, he possesses a powerful bombastic voice.  The band are built around hard, brutal songs awash with buckets of melody, and a twin guitar pairing of Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh who along with Anthony command the stage.  They’re never afraid to hide in the shadows or show signs of nerves, but more than willing to strut the catwalk and flaunt their prowess to the mass of fans gathered early. We had a contender for band of the weekend.

Dirty Thrills - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

Dirty Thrills having arrived late had little time in settling into their eclectic blues/rock comfort zone and they looked a little flustered and on the backfoot from the off.  Having seen them before I can assure you that they have been better but they also suffered from a slightly mish mash of a mix and to me they never seemed to hit their groove as the set went on.

Vega on the other hand hit the ground running, in fact some of the band members even camped out the night before so were more than ready to explode onto the stage. Their second appearance here and easily their best.

Vega - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

One of this country’s best purveyors of the melodic rock genre and supporting their new album with the likes of opening song ‘Explode’ and ‘White Flag’ alongside a healthy back catalogue of anthems to get the crowd on their side

Also a lot of fans came in their Vega shirts to show support and to witness Nick Workman work the crowd with his charm and wit.  Vega ultimately let their music do the talking with slabs of greatness in fans favourites ‘Kiss Of Life’ and ‘Stereo Messiah’ and did more than enough to assure  a place further up the bill in the future.

Tax The Heat - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

I have seen Tax The Heat a few times over the last couple of years, on this stage in fact  a couple of years ago, and I was hugely impressed with them. Today however, I felt a little bit disappointed performance wise: although immaculate and well delivered musically  just lacking their usual grit and urgency.

Steelhouse has always tried to deliver a mixed bag when it comes to line-ups to cover all genres, and the next two bands  Von Hertzen Brothers and Blues Pills reflected that.

Von Hertzen Brothers are bordering on prog but with a very energetic fusion of classic rock and a pleasant surprise.  Heavily laden with keyboard and double guitar although the set of an hour seemed to drag and veer off into musical indulgence from the half way stage leaving a few seeking the sanctuary of the beer tent or the food outlets.

Blues Pills - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

Blues Pills also suffered the same fate.  Almost reminiscent of an early Fleetwood Mac sound with the delightful Elin on vocals doing her best to keep the intensity up it fell rather flat for myself and maybe a shorter punchier set would have been far more suited to the festival experience.

The Answer - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

Can it really be 10 years since The Answer released their debut album ‘Rise’?   The Answer have a history with Steelhouse, their third appearance this year but they also appeared at the old Steelhouse club nights before the festival got started. Both have stuck by each other and, on this showing, you can see why.

Frontman Cormac, as ever effervescent and with witty banter, endears him to the masses, like a preacher to his congregation and mentioning and applauding Wales relative success at the Euro 2016 tournament doesn’t do any harm either. Today they play Rise in all its glory and in doing so re-ignite the crowd which had become a little muted into mass singing normally reserved for the headliners.  This definitely won’t be the last time we see The Answer on the mountain.

Thunder - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

The Steelhouse Festival was made for Thunder, and the biggest attendance in the event’s history justifies organisers Max and Mikey determination in getting them here.

AC/DC’s Thunderstruck heralds the start of their set, and almost six years of pent up expectation is soon to turn into one and a half hour of pure unadulterated joy, laced with silly arm waving and jumping.

Danny Bowes wastes no time in getting the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand during ‘Wonder Days’, it is almost like mass hypnotism, mesmerising each and every one of us with his Dad dancing but all highly contagious.

Thunder - STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL - Ebbw Vale, South Wales, 23 July 2016

The set was a history lesson in Thunder from the latest stuff in Wonder Days to the debut classics in Backstreet Symphony/Higher Ground with a little bit of everything in-between.

The band are on fire and remind us that this is how you own an audience and how to deliver a rock show.  It’s a shame that it has taken nearly the best part of 30 years to get to this point and the band have undergone a much-deserved renaissance in recent years just when it loooked like they had thrown in the towel.

Well-oiled gems like ‘River Of Pain’, ‘Low Life’ and  ‘Love Walked In’ were shoehorned into a one and a half hour set that could have been much longer.  We have waited a long time to see Thunder on top of the mountain and, boy, did we enjoy the view.

Review and photos by Darren Griffiths

Day 2 (24 July)

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 22 May.

Next session: Sunday 17 July.

Check out previous videos here:

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 12 June 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 14 June 2022.

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Power Plays w/c 27 June 2022 (Mon-Fri)
REVIVAL BLACK Broken Home (TMR Records)
FLOYA Epiphany (indie)
TWISTER Own Worst Enemy (indie)
MODERN MIMES Down And Dead (Curtain Call Records)
TUNGSTEN Northern Lights (Arising Empire)
THE GREAT LESLIE Feel Alive (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 27 June (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 GRACE Hope (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 CLASSLESS ACT Welcome To the Show (Better Noise Music)
14:00-16:00 TIMOTHY B. SCHMIT Day By Day (indie)

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