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Steelhouse Festival - Ebbw Vale, South Wales - July 27-28 2013 (Live Review)

Thursday, 01 August 2013 Written by Jon Stickler

Following some of the hottest weather to hit the UK in years, hopes were high for a sun-soaked weekend on top of a mountain in Wales to celebrate the best that classic rock music has to offer. We got to celebrate the best of classic rock music, that's for sure. As for the sun-soaked weekend, though... 

When arriving at Steelhouse Festival, the first thing you notice is the setting. It holds the title for the highest outdoor music festival in Europe and it is HIGH. Having conquered the cragged mountain track that leads to the festival site, the fear of your car falling apart changes to admiration of how small and organised the site is.

You don't have to walk miles to pitch your tent here, nor will you have to travel any far distance to reach the arena. There is a real community feel in the air. 

High up in the south Wales valleys doesn't seem like the ideal place to stage a music festival, and it's enough to make the casual observer marvel at how on earth they shifted all the gear up there. Now in its third year and with the added clout of sponsorship from digital radio station Planet Rock, Steelhouse Festival is quickly growing into an essential stop on any classic rock fan's festival circuit.

This year's line-up, which boasted Saxon and Michael Schenker as headliners, was the festival's biggest to date and local boys Fireroad and Dead Shed Jokers didn't disappoint in kicking things off on Saturday. Hand Of Dimes followef and things really picked up. Skin and Kooga vocalist Neville MacDonald led a band bursting with a passion for blues rock.

Fighting Wolves took up the first mid-afternoon slot and, while they're not to everyone's taste, perform to a strong crowd despite the pouring rain. "It was all far too heavy” and “too fast and shouty” for some. Grow a pair people! Look out for their debut album!

British blues explosion the Temperance Movement then hit the stage to showcase material from their forthcoming debut full-length. Their soulful, bluesy rock 'n' roll soared over a crowd who refused to let the weather dampen their spirits, whether they be whiskey, vodka or rum. Canadian Heavy Metal legends Anvil did what they do best and readied the troops for the evening's entertainment, even entering the arena after their performance to sign autographs and pose for photos. British AORockers FM tuned into the hard-rocking vibe and took us headlong towards headliners Saxon.

Saxon fans will already know the strong connection between the band and south Wales. Having visited local venues during their Son Of A Bitch days, Saxon and their fans have not forgotten the history. They hit the Steelhouse stage to a hero's welcome.

It's raining, it's wet, it's cold but the crowd are in awe. Among the bursts of pyro, Saxon performed select cuts from their most recent album 'Sacrifice' and threw in a couple of classic live favourites including Wheels Of Steel, And The Bands Played On. Their famous silver eagle backdrop returned for The Eagle Has Landed and frontman Biff Byford let us all know we're going to be on television with the the gig being filmed for an upcoming documentary. Rain? What rain?

Blinking into a beautiful sunny Sunday, the troops slowly emerged from their beer-soaked slumbers. Following the short walk from the campsite to the arena, it was Blackbyrd and SKAM who set the wheels in motion. They were perfectly billed to help ease us into another day of classic rock.

When Trucker Diablo hit the stage, it was time to step things up a gear. Dirty blues and hard rock poured out of their mid afternoon set and their cover of Proud Mary, as well as their anthem Drink Beer Destroy, went down a storm with the crowd. Trucker Diablo are a band that have gone from strength to strength through sheer hard work. Be sure to check them out when they visit a town near you.

UK rockers Vega trod the boards next and, well, they just sounded too pop for a band labelled a rock act. Their second studio album ‘What The Hell!’ is available now.

London outfit Heaven's Basement (right) were left to pick up a somewhat disinterested crowd and, like an adrenaline shot from hell, they hit the stage like a truck and were easily one of the highlights of the weekend. Riding on the huge success of their debut album 'Filthy Empire', Heaven's Basement, who have performed at nearly every European festival this year, were on fire and delivered a set that blasted any trace of hangover off the mountain.

Former Whitesnake members Mick Moody, Neil Murray and Snakecharmer howled through a number of 'Snake classics as well as their own material. They sparked up a huge sing-a-long inside the busy beer tent as a choir of rain dodgers belted out that Whitesnake anthem Here I Go Again. It was a fantastic atmosphere, despite the relentless drizzle.

The phrase 'guitar god' is passed about quite carelessly these days, however, if any title is to be attached to Michael Schenker (right), then guitar god is probably the most fitting.

Taking to the stage alongside the Scorpions' rhythm section of drummer Herman Rarebull and bassist Francis Buchholz, team Schenker was completed with the addition of Doogie White who has sung with nearly every rock outfit out there.

The set was a dream for fans of Schenker. Trawling through his career with the Scorpions, UFO and MSG, Schenker gave a masterclass in classic rock music. Rock You Like a Hurricane, Rock Bottom, and Doctor Doctor were all delivered via blistering riffs as his current 'Temple Of Rock' tour came to a close.

Another Steelhouse Festival concluded and the masses ventured back down the mountain for another year. Despite being unfortunate with the weather, Steelhouse delivered a warm, friendly festival which has huge potential to expand year after year. The unique location, the community feel and the earsplitting rock music has created a fantastic weekend. Check it out next year.

For further details head to steelhousefestival.com or the festival's official Facebook page.

Photographs courtesy of Craig Thomas (oppositeimages.co.uk) for Stereoboard.com (c) 2013. No unauthorised use without permission.

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