Steelhouse Festival (Day Two) – Ebbw Vale, 20/07/2014

The weather forecast for the first day of this fourth round of Steelhouse had predicted thunderstorms and torrential rain… but  neither materialized and the only protection needed from the elements was another layer of sunblock.  Like its predecessor, the second day dawned gloriously, but the question on everyone’s lips was whether or not the weather (sic) would eventually break… and it did, albeit briefly…

But, the sun was searing hot as Sweden’s Electric Boys dusted off any Sunday morning cobwebs.  Having missed their allotted slot the previous evening – as documented elsewhere in our coverage – the organizers opened the gates early to facilitate an extended opening set, and Conny Bloom and his motley crew soon lived up to their name, electrifying the arena with their traditional Scandinavian sleaze and getting earlycomers grooving in front of the stage, as they previewed tracks from their forthcoming new album, ‘Starflight United’, alongside a handful of established favourites. [MA]

Bad Touch at Steelhouse 2014 - Photo by Ian CatesThe band with the least distance to travel, as they’re playing practically in their back yard,  Buck & Evans impress immediately, not least because of the superlative vocal performance of Sally Ann Evans, who has one of the strongest, bluesiest funk rock voices that this music fan has heard outside of Belfast’s very own Kaz Hawkins.  Automatically, the crowd are behind the ‘hometown hero(in)es’ as the tightness of the band, both musically and in terms of their stage presence, is there for all to see, and the artists have an obvious friendly interaction with those stagefront which belies the fact that this is a festival show instead of their nearby local. [DQ]

Bad Touch bring a swaggering flamboyance to the latter half of the afternoon, with their Quireboys-infused blend of funky, high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.  Frontman Stevie oozes charisma and his Dave Vanian-meets-Jack Sparrow attire certainly is a hit with the ladies (especially when he opens his shirt!), while the band energetically match the vocalist’s showmanship and prove that they are no mere supporting cast for the leading man. [DQ]

The rain which we had been promised finally makes an appearance literally as Heaven & Earth complete their line checks, but this fails to dampen the spirits all concerned.  With their sound very much rooted in the Eighties, H&E assault the eardrums of everyone in the field with their opening two tracks, before vocalist Joe Retta pauses to acknowledge the change in the weather as being “dead on time”.  Despite issues with the front of house mix, their retro sound is accomplished and hypnotic and a definite case of rolling back the years for many of us of a certain generation… [DQ]

James Toseland at Steelhouse 2014 - Photo by Ian CatesOne act whom the PM team had been looking forward to seeing for the first time was Toseland – and the former double World Superbikes champion and his band did not disappoint.  Opening with ‘Gotta Be A Better’, the frontman showed that there are actually few better ways to do what he does, as he burns with enthusiam and energy, enervating the audience from the very start.  In fact, one of the best sights of the weekend comes during his set – a little blonde girl, perched on her daddy’s shoulders, massive protectors over her tiny ears, giving it the horns all the way through!  ‘Singer In A Band’ gets the audience clapping along, and the set is well paced, with the singer stepping behind the keys for the beautiful ‘Just No Way’, which has couples snuggling deep into each other’s arms.  As he said in our interview, Toseland has gone from the top of one profession to the bottom rung of another and is having to work his way up again:  on the strength of this performance, his engine most definitely is roaring at full throttle and it won’t be too long before he fulfills his dream of ‘Coming To Get You’. [MA]

As backstage kids, band members, journalists – and even event security – played rambunctious but well-mannered games of knockabout footie and frisbee, Bernie Marsden‘s set seemed somewhat innocuous.  Nevertheless, the grizzled guitarist’s laconic set is perhaps the perfect late afternoon appetizer, as it mellows the mood and eases us gently into the latter part of the evening with its mixture of original material, some neatly rendered blues-rock standards and, of course, a smattering of old Whitesnake covers – the latter of which prove why, in the eyes of many older fans, the Marsden/Moody era was perhaps the best incarnation of Coverdale’s project. [MA]

The Answer at Steelhouse 2014 - Photo by Ian CatesThe blues is still very much to the fore, albeit in a more grunting and visceral form, as Team PM’s homies The Answer take up the baton of the main support slot.  While the set, as a whole, is somewhat more subdued than this reviewer has seen them in the past, the Norn Iron boys nevertheless defy the dropping temperature by turning up the heat with a typically ‘Spectacular’ performance.  With the light failing, the lads ignite the evening via Cormac Neeson’s dynamic showmanship and control of both the stage and those in front of it, literally bringing the field to its knees when he makes his way over the barrier and into the front row for the powerhouse closer ‘Preaching’ – and he’s most definitely doing it to the converted, brethren.  Amen to that! [MA]

It had been more than 25 years since this reviewer last saw Europe live – and, to be brutally honest, I was genuinely not sure what to expect… which was part of the attraction of volunteering to cover this particular festival – to see whether or not they are as relevant now as they were back in 1989.  And the answer is most firmly in the affirmative, as Joey Tempest and the reformed original line-up both electrify the arena and hold it in the palms of their collective hands.

Joey Tempest, Steelhouse 2014 - Photo by Ian CatesFrom the opening chord of ‘From Riches To Rags’ – a song which can summarize and encapsulate Europe’s tale in one glorious four-minute synopsis – to the dying ember of “that song”, it is a triumphant performance, which showcases the breadth and depth of not only the band’s back catalogue but also their musical abilities.  While drawing predominantly on material from their more recent – and hugely impressive – ‘comeback’ albums, the band also delve deep into their highly under-rated (at least to this journo) back catalogue, with ‘Scream Of Anger’ ripping across the Welsh mountain tops and rebounding around the valleys with the fury of a valkyrie flying on the ‘Wings Of Tomorrow’.

It’s a beautiful performance:  finely crafted and expertly performed by a band who know they have both a lot and nothing to prove… [MA]

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend.  Steelhouse is a wonderful festival:  one with no airs or graces about it, and which delivers on every level – and especially on that of value for money!

Review by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen.

Photographs courtesy of Ian Cates:

Tickets for the fifth anniversary Steelhouse Festival, which takes place on 25/26 July 2015, are already on sale, with early bird prices held at £55 for the first 500 bookers.  Visit for more information – and, more importantly, to book your ticket.

About Mark Ashby

no longer planetmosh staff