STEELHOUSE FESTIVAL 2019 – DAY 1 - Ebbw Vale, Wales 26.07.19

LIZ TICE

PHOTO CREDITS: JON THEOBALD

Our journey to STEELHOUSE this year had been interesting and frustrating in equal measures. With the M4 promising delay after delay, we decided to divert off cross-country and head north towards Hereford and then south through the mountains to Ebbw Vale. As soon as we got into Wales the roads emptied (apart from a few sheep) as we raced our way there – still taking over five hours for a 140 mile journey! All week we had been keeping an eye on the weather and it was glorious sunshine when at last we carefully drove up the extremely rough track to the top of the mountain.

The Friday of the festival had been entitled ‘Four Nations’ – with bands from all quarters of the UK on the bill.

I could hear the strains of openers BLACKWATER CONSPIRACY’s ‘Hanging Tree’ over the PA as we made our way into the festival and to be honest was a bit gutted to miss most of them and the ‘pit’ was well and truly closed for Jon. I had already seen them four times in the previous week (they’re based in Northern Ireland so you have to make the most of it when they come over) so I knew they were coming to the end of their set, but I still rushed in to catch the last few bars of that and the very catchy single ’85 Rockstar’.

There was a sizable crowd gathered and judging from the applause had thoroughly enjoyed the set. The band had played six tracks off their sublime debut album ‘Shootin’ the Breeze’ as well as a superb cover of The Black Crows’ ‘Jealous Again’.

It didn’t take long for a queue to form at the signing tent, however I managed to have a quick chat with the band before they took their seats. They hadn’t been particularly happy with their sound, although this was immediately countered by someone who had never seen them before and told the band they thought that they were great. This was the last night of their short summer tour, however they’re back over November and I’ll certainly be going to see them again.

https://www.facebook.com/blackwaterconspiracy/

It wasn’t long before Edinburgh-based band THE RISING SOULS took to the stage. I was actually still in the signing tent when their first bass note rang out and we all jumped as it kicked in.

Anyone who has been listening to rock radio recently would have instantly recognised their first track ‘Roulette’. The overall sound was very bass and drum heavy though, and both Ciaran Hanratty’s guitar and Dave Archibald’s vocals were slightly lost in the mix. Dave’s voice however, is amazing and despite the audio issues, I can see people watching; spellbound.

It’s a shame that he turns his back to the audience so often though – we want to see you Dave! The band delivered another eight songs including ‘Who Are You’ and ‘Best Around’ before finishing with ‘Push Up’. Another band to keep an eye on methinks.

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I’m not sure there is anything more to say that hasn’t already been said about South Wales’ locals THOSE DAMN CROWS. Returning from their rain-soaked triumphal set last year to a home crowd, they must have been really looking forward to this. They were obviously enjoying themselves as they played to a sea of THOSE DAMN CROWS t-shirts. I can see a large teddy bear being held aloft and a little girl (with ear defenders) rocking along on her dad’s shoulders.

They played three tracks from the forthcoming album – even confidently opening with brand new song ‘Who Did It’ – with the rest from their debut ‘Murder and the Motive’. The crowd were lapping up the rest of the set, when Shane unusually took to the piano for an acoustic version of ‘Blink of an Eye’.

‘Blink of an Eye’ is, in my opinion, simply one of the best rock songs ever written, and certainly the best in a very long time. It is already a classic and has everything: great lyrics, a great melody and chorus, commercial - but not too commercial, and it’s original. I’ve really tried to think of anything that it remotely sounds like and I can’t find anything.

The piano version has been viewed countless times on YouTube and this is the first time THOSE DAMN CROWS have tried it live. I can sense some of the crowd wanting to join in and sing along. The rest of the band strike up and it all comes together. They end the set with the standard ‘Rock N Roll Ain’t Dead’. It’s a great return and surely they must headline next year.

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However, the headline slot was saved this year for Lancaster’s own MASSIVE WAGONS. Another band that are obviously enjoying themselves. It wasn’t long ago that I was watching them on stage at Wembley Arena, opening for the legendary Status Quo and Lynryd Skynryd. They were great there, but although there were some loyal fans on the barrier in London, it was nothing like headlining for the STEELHOUSE crowd.

The front row have been there for hours by now. It’s getting dark and unfortunately there are no follow-spotlights so unless you are right at the front it’s difficult to see the band if they come out on the walkway. It’s frustrating to hear the band openers ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ and ’Tokyo’ without really being able to see Baz and his antics.

A red balloon bobs around the crowd as they play ‘Billy Balloon Head’ and it’s a solid set, comprised mainly of tracks from the current ‘Full Nelson’ album. Finishing with crowd-pleasers ‘Ratio’ and ‘Red Dress’ the encore is as expected; ‘Back to the Stack’. But then Baz asks the previous bands to come back on stage for a grand cover of Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’. Everyone really does go Wild, Wild, Wild!

It’s a great sight and a great ending to the evening.

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