Steelhouse of Fun: Why The South Wales Rock Fest is a Hidden Gem

Steelhouse is set to return this weekend for its seventh staging and, while the Welsh classic rock festival has built up a loyal following over the years, along with a fistful of good reviews, to some extent it remains one of the calendar’s best-kept secrets.

Taking place on a remote Ebbw Vale farm (which quite literally sits atop a mountain), the first thing that grabs your attention as you make your way up the ridge is that you’re surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in Wales. The site is built by a 50-strong crew of volunteers – known as the Steelhouse Family – who give up their time to head up weeks in advance to set things up. In a region that is starved of live music events, this level of dedication is vital.

The community spirit echoes throughout the weekend, which counts for a lot if you’re unlucky with the uglier side of Welsh weather. The biblical rainfall of 2015, for example, still sends a cold shiver down my spine. To give you an idea of what it looked like, metal legend Doro Pesch had to be carried to the stage by one of the crew as conditions underfoot were so treacherous backstage. The prices aren’t as horrific as you would expect to see at mainstream UK festivals either. Broadly speaking, the food and booze is locally sourced.

The festival has drawn many cornerstones of rock music to its unique surroundings – including UFO, Thunder, Europe, Dee Snider, Michael Schenker, Doro and Black Star Riders – while also offering a platform for the genre’s newcomers. Steelhouse’s appeal comes from throwing together the nostalgic thrill of the timeless classics while also supporting the fresh blood that will keep rock music alive.

That’s an invaluable commitment, especially during a time when many small music venues are under threat from developers. These stages are pretty big and there are plenty of eyes trained on acts just cutting their teeth or waiting to take the next step. Take, for instance, RavenEye’s performance last year.

The band have since put out their acclaimed debut, ‘Nova’, on the Frontiers Music label and more recently supported KISS at huge arena shows on the European leg of the glam-rock giants’ KissWorld tour. The Temperance Movement, who got tongues wagging after their performance in 2013, went on to become the guest band for the Rolling Stones in Europe the following year, racking up a couple of impressive LPs along the way.

This year appears to have a nice balance to it, too. Ragga-metal party-starters Skindred look set to deliver a triumphant homecoming set and heavy metal titans Saxon, with their full ‘Eagle’ production in tow, will top the weekend’s proceedings, while California’s Rival Sons, Ontario’s Monster Truck and Last In Line, featuring former members of the original lineup of Dio, are all flying in to play. There’s also Mr. Steve Harris taking time out from some other band to hit the stage with British Lion (the festival also carries the clout of Trooper Beer sponsoring the stage this year, no doubt something to do with a certain bassist).

Then there’s the latest missive from the new wave of British classic rock bands. Inglorious, who recently put out their Kevin Shirley-produced second album, Stonebroken and Broken Witt Rebels, who both made their Download festival debuts this summer, Tequila Mockingbyrd and Jared James Nichols will be out to make an impression. The next big thing is out there. Steelhouse could be where the world finds it.

Steelhouse Festival returns to Hafod-Y-Dafal Farm in Ebbw Vale between July 28 and 30. Head to www.steelhousefestival.com for the full line up and stage times.

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Bright Sparks: The Must See Acts At Cardiff’s DimSŵn Festival

Estrons EP

The wait is nearly over. DimSŵn is this weekend!

The little brother of the annual Sŵn festival, which is turning 10 this year, will see a whole host of up-and-coming acts do their thing in a variety of venues around Cardiff, including Clwb Ifor Bach, 10 Feet Tall, Four Bars, The Moon Club and Undertone, on April 9.

Here are a few acts you really don’t want to miss.

Estrons – Upstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach @ 8.45pm

This Cardiff-based quartet (pictured, main) have been making big waves as of late, and it’s little wonder why. Fronted by the fiery Taliesyn Källström, the band’s brand of no-nonsense alt-rock is something that sounds great through a pair of speakers, but even better from the heights of a stage. Their name means aliens in Welsh, but an invasion of their kind would certainly be welcome.

The Big Moon – Upstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach @ 10.15pm

The Big Moon could well be on their way to the sort of acclaim previously reserved for breakout acts like Haim, with the Londoners possessing the raw materials to perhaps even usurp their American counterparts in the hearts of many. Their recent signing to Fiction Records and new single Cupid are testament to their mastery of melody-driven guitar pop and their ability to deliver a superb performance.

Kiran Leonard – 10 Feet Tall @ 9.15pm

Jeff Buckley, Sufjan Stevens, even Biffy Clyro…these are just a few of the names that spring to mind when you listen to this talented singer-songwriter. His songs range from the serene to the surreal, which means you never know what you’re going to get when you turn up to one of his shows. And that’s just how we like it.

Benedict Benjamin – 10 Feet Tall @ 6.15pm

Self-confessed purveyor of “reverby, dreamy, psychy, folky, rocky, country-y, harmony-y, 60s-y stuff”, Benjamin’s finely-crafted tunes are accessible and suitably enjoyable. Having released his debut LP earlier this year, the singer-songwriter has accrued a fair bit of attention in recent months – not to mention selling out a show at The Islington in London. With that in mind, DimSŵn may be a good chance to catch him before the big time comes knocking.

Jake Isaac – Downstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach @ 5.15pm

Probably one of the more well-known acts to play this year’s DimSŵn, Isaac’s twist on soulful folk really is a treat to see live. His performances are filled with such candour and emotion that it’s near impossible to not be drawn in. If you’re a fan of anything acoustic, Isaac and his trusty guitar are a definite must-see, with his show having been honed during a recent support run with Lucy Rose and a buzz-heavy headline tour.

DimSŵn will take place on April 9. For more information on all the events click here to see the schedule in full. See you there.

 

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