“Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high…” Well my friends, here in England we always have a good selection of small scale festivals alongside the larger events to choose from. Whether you find yourself at Download, Ramblin’ Man or Bloodstock, you can be pretty sure that wherever you are there’ll be something on close by.
Plus Interview With The Dead Daisies
Words: Danny Mattin: Photos by Oliver Halfin
Now in its sixth year Steelhouse, catering for the Welsh rock scene in Ebbw Vale, South Wales, certainly by all accounts appears to be here to stay for a good while longer. To hold an event on the same weekend as Ramblin’ Man with several of the same bands being brought over from that line-up is a brave move by all accounts but also a necessary one for logistical reasons.
Being an honorary Welshman myself I’m well aware of the beauty of “God’s country” but also of the things that make this part of the land sometimes… awkward. Namely the weather and navigating such vast, open areas on a deadline.
The line up for this year’s Steelhouse was certainly one to get attention; Thunder headlining on the Saturday in what would be their only UK festival main slot and The Dead Daisies, fresh themselves from Ramblin’ Man and the Rock And Blues Custom Show in Derby the day before (yes, both festivals in the same day. Headlining the Sunday evening were old favourites The Darkness.
With the first performance at 2.00pm and an apparently straight forward enough journey to the festival site, I didn’t actually arrive until much later and this was down to the grave error of putting in the postcode that was given on the festival’s website into my sat nav and being taken out across the other side of the valleys into the middle of nowhere. Not a good start to say the least.
The problems continued with vehicles advertising the festival parked in wrong locations and suggesting the festival site was actually on an industrial estate and to have to fight one’s way through Ebbw Vale with only the smallest, pathetic yellow signs the size of A4 paper hidden at the side of the main road, certainly (again) made it difficult to find the festival site.
Frankly the effort made to give fresh new attendees directions and help to the festival site was poor but we finally made it and caught The Von Hertzen Brothers who played a short but powerful set. Frontman Mikko was engaging with the crowd backed up amply by Mikko Kaakkuriniemi on drums and Juha Kuoppala on keys and the brothers delivered the goods and got a stirring response on this beautifully warm and sunny afternoon.
It’s debatable whether VNB are actually a festival act however. It doesn’t quite gel in the same way that it does as when they play an indoor, intimate gig as the spaciousness and open air/acoustics just seem to overpower the band somewhat and they lose some of their presence.
Following swiftly were Blues Pills from Sweden. Ripping off the artwork from The Zombies ‘Odessey And Oracle’ album and trying to combine the sound of Cream and Godfather of British Blues John Mayall, frankly this band were diabolical. Some bands try to pay homage or are influenced by the past while others are just vaingloriously infatuated with it and are unable to move away from it in their own right and actually write decent music.
Blues Pills fall into the latter category. With a muddled and murky sound, cliched song structure, overdone image, un-engaging front woman and woefully boring songs I was scratching my head in wonderment as to why this band were booked for the festival. With Jackaman and Purson touring frequently and building a decent fanbase, this is a band that frankly aren’t pulling their weight and doing little to credit themselves among other much, much better acts out there.
The Answer rocked up on stage and the first third of the set really just felt like business as usual as frontman Cormac Neeson squeaked his way through ‘Under The Sky’, ‘Never Too Late’ and ‘Come Follow Me’ with little energy, however he soon seemed to find his stride as the crowd got bigger and he started to really bring out some genuine heartfelt banter and seemed to enjoy himself.
With the ten year anniversary of ‘Rise’ upon us, the band elected to play the album in its entirety and this was a performance for the die hard fans as it did seem to drag a little.
However, we have heard the new forthcoming album ‘Solas’ and we’re predicting big things for The Answer moving forward and the patter was on form and so was the playing; a great choice of warm up for the headliners.
And so to Thunder and with a righteous opening from the last album, ‘Wonder Days’ was the first track of the evening and blistered along full pelt with the crowd being pulled along straight in for the ride.
They rocked and belted their way through a plethora of hits and as the sun set the audience rocked along to Morley, Bowes, Childs, Matthews and James doing what they do best. OK, it may be rock at its most corporate at times, but they played SUPERBLY.
Danny Bowes continues to show why he is still one of the best frontman in the business. Sure he crosses the line between genuine cool factor and arrogance occasionally but as a vocalist and performer, he gives it his all, every time. Chris Childs and Ben Matthews held down bass and rhythm guitar/keys duties as professionally as usual and Luke Morley wailed his way through the set playing with style and power.
A stirring version of anthem ‘Love Walked In’ and of course ‘Dirty Love’ got the Steelhouse crowd going crazy and begging for more. A final encore gave us a rocking cover of Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin”.
A brilliant 4/5 performance from the lads.
Saturday at Ebbw Vale saw sunshine, fun and plenty of beer flowing in anticipation of performances from three brilliant acts working the rock circuit on Sunday which brought rain, more rain and… well, yeah you guessed it… even more rain after that. A miserably wet day that would however be remembered by some first class music.
The Dead Daisies, fresh from their appearance at Ramblin’ Man took to the stage in the afternoon and from opening number, ‘Midnight Moses’, (originally by the Sensatioal Alex Harvey Band) absolutely blew the crowd to pieces. Bassist Marco Mendoza breezed confidently onto the stage and g’ed the crowd up effortlessly whilst new boy Doug Aldrich tuned up silently.
A cracking cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ went down well with the crowd and a rousing version of ‘All Right Now’ gave Aldrich and Mendoza the chance to play off one another sublimely.
With the crowd bopping along and supporting the Daisies fully, the pouring rain did little to dampen spirits. I could have watched them all afternoon! Frontman John Corabi had the audience eating out of his hand.
Marco Mendoza, John Corabi and Doug Aldrich told MetalTalk readers the following:
It’s goodbye to Dizzy Reed (GnR keyboardist) and hello to your old Whitesnake bandmate Doug Aldrich. Any particular reason for this?
Marco: “Yeah man, it’s pretty simple really. Dizzy is back working with Axl and on tour with GnR and ya know, that’s THE job! It’s the day job dude, when you got kids, a house and bills to pay you do what you need to do, family first right? As much as a band is a family of sorts, you gotta prioritise. There’s no hard feelings at all and ya know, it’s never really ‘the end’. Expect to see him return at some point….. maybe!”
And what about Doug?
“Well Doug’s my buddy man and it’s so cool to have him with us and bring his own thing to the project – it gives it a different sound and a sharper edge I would like to think! It’s great to be playing together since we were doing the gigs with DC [David Coverdale[ and I think we’ve definitely grown since then… in our own ways!”
What can we expect from the new album?
“Well Bob Rock’s produced it so I’ll let that speak for itself. Those of you who haven’t heard of him, he is THE MAN I shit you not. The guy is amazing and he’s helped create an album that after all my years in the business I’m certainly very proud of.”
With the race for the presidency and with the UK leaving the EU, how are you feeling about the business right now and what advice would you have for any aspiring musicians, mini Mendozas or otherwise out there?
“Just keep on keeping on! Listen it’s a tough business and not easy but you gotta be HUNGRY for it man! When I was growing up I was listening to everything and ‘turning pro’ in my twenties I realised I needed to learn as much as possible! I learnt to read music, score, write and compose properly and started hitting jam nights. I found myself playing with the best cats like Billy Sheehan [Mr Big] and John Novello [Niacin] one night and then Steve Lukather [Toto] the next! It was a buzz man!
“You hone your chops, learn your craft and hope you’ll get the call one day. When you do make sure your ready! Believe it or not I’ve done wedding gigs, birthday parties and all that, suited and booted – Mr Nice Guy shit. I’ve also had serious issues with alcohol and lost friends to substance abuse and one day you just wake up and realise you want to be the absolute BEST you can be at your art and discipline and THAT becomes the drug.
“I’d encourage all musicians and artistes to have that work ethic – it gets you MUCH fuckin’ further than just gettin’ high!’
Doug – you’re the new guy right? How you feeling about Steelhouse, the dog shit weather and the new album? What’s the score?
Doug: [Laughing] “Ah man, it’s just great to be playing! All these crazy guys out there getting soaked listening to us play, they’re the rock stars, not us! We got tour buses, dressing rooms and all that, but you guys are the real reason we do this! You keep us honest! As for the weather, it’s what I expect in England to be honest, DC [David Coverdale] used to joke about it a lot.” [laughs]
It’s nice once again to see the old Goldtop (Gibson Les Paul guitar) making an appearance. You and Marco seem to battle between who has the guts to throw their axe higher and hope a technician catches it. Do you ever worry it’ll drop to the floor in a five thousand dollar heap?
“Ughhhh…. yeh! Hey it’s rock n roll though right? If it breaks I’ll just get another! [laughs[ Yeh, I do worry a little when i do it! I just PRETEND very well that I don’t!”
What can we expect from the new album Doug?
“Everything and EVERYTHING MORE from the last but x1000! [laughs] Seriously though we’re very pleased with it and can’t wait to get it out there to the fans. I think it’ll go down well… at least I hope so!”
John – it’s great to see you on stage with the Daisies once again and despite the rain you seemed to really enjoy yourself up there. How do you feel about the smaller festival gigs like Steelhouse?
John Corabi, frontman: “They’re a pleasure to play. More real and less bullshit. Up close and very personal, whites of the eyes and all that. I like that intensity and humility. When you go from playing colossal stadiums to being in a field with a much, much smaller number… It makes one realise his beginnings and keeps the old ego in check! I love it, I REALLY do.”
You mentioned on stage that one of the songs is about all the shit going down in the world right now [‘Long Way To GO], opening track of new album ‘Make Some Noise’ that is out on Friday]. Can you elaborate for the MetalTalk readers what you mean?
“Well it’s open to interpretation, as is everything really, but regardless of race, creed, skin colour or belief, bombing, shooting and killing is not the answer. I don’t claim that our music is saving lives or answering all the questions but if SOMEHOW it makes people realise we need to meet in the middle and compromise… then that’s a better alternative to the former surely?”
What does the new album mean to you?
“It’s a new chapter for us on a book that we’re still writing! Exciting stuff that we’re sure DD fans are gonna go wild for!”
All in all a stunning performance from the Daisies that was worth getting wet for all over again! A brilliant debut at Steelhouse and hopefully a potential reappearance in the future.
Terrorvision sadly suffered from an out of tune lead vocalist, poor balance of instruments on stage and bad weather which made their performance at Steelhouse one to miss in this reviewer’s opinion. Quite a drop in attendees for this performance as many opted to stay in the dry and comfort of the bar.
However, when The Darkness took to the stage, Justin and his band of merry men projected style and glam kitsch all evening. With the crowd not at all dampened in spirit by today’s earlier downfall, everyone was out in force to see the Hawkins brothers, original bassist Frankie Poullain and new drummer Rufus Taylor.
From their humble beginnings playing across North London as a covers band to their quadruple platinum debut album ‘Permission To Land’ in 2003, this is a band that have been on a lengthy journey that has seen band members come and go, battles with substance abuse and other projects come, fizzle out and disappear into the void.
The Darkness are quite a personal band to me and I’ve got some fond memories of a wonderful time spent following Hawkins and his bandmates around when he launched his Hot Leg project back in 2008-09 and as good as it was, the yearning from fans old and new for him to get “the band” back together was always lurking under the surface so for this to happen in 2011 with original bassist Frankie was a dream come true for many.
Having worked steadily since, The Darkness’ show will always have the elements of cutting humour, glamorous and colourful costumes, over the top theatricality and some truly tasty fretwork from the two brothers. At Steelhouse we were treated to all of this and more, with the band once again giving their all and genuinely enjoying themselves.
With new songs like ‘Barbarian’ and ‘Concrete’ having such a positive response with the audience trying their hardest to sing full falsetto alongside Hawkins, you can’t help but sing and air guitar along to it all too. A simply brilliant choice of act to close the festival.
To summarise, Steelhouse is a bit of a funny one. The location works well, the facilities are excellent and food/drink is plentiful and overall the sound system array/quality is superb. What lets this down is the disorganisation within the very basics. Having the right sat nav details on the website and having proper directions in place in the town itself is a big issue.
Also the diversity of the bands on offer was at times a little daunting. Prog, blues and hard rock are somewhat eclectic and I think can cause a level of confusion among audience members. With Stone Free, having two separate days for two VERY different genres of music worked well and maybe this is something that Steelhouse organisers could learn from.
However, with that said, as a smaller independent festival it was well done from the perspective of keeping the integrity of musical diversity in place and allowing everybody the chance to hear something different. It was just a shame that some of the things one can’t plan for (the weather) do overshadow or possibly cause damage to something that had the potential to be incredibly good.
Steelhouse could quickly be a serious contender as the premier music event in Wales, possibly overtaking Brecon Jazz which is held only two weeks later. I am confident that with a little more organisation and some more suitable acts booked for next year it will be even more successful and rightly so.
The Answer setlist:
Under The Sky
Never Too Late
Come Follow Me
Be What You Want
No Questions Asked
Into The Gutter
Sometimes Your Life
Leavin’ Today Preachin
Thief Of Light
Low Life In High Places
River Of Pain
The Devil Made Me Do It
The Thing That I Want
I Love You More Than Rock n Roll
Love Walked In
Gimme Some Lovin’
Dead Daisies setlist:
Make Some Noise
Long Way To Way
All Right Now
Song And A Prayer
Lock n’ Load
The Last Time I Saw The Sun
With You & I
Angel In Your Eyes
The Darkness setlist:
Growing On Me
Love Is Only A Feeling
One Way Ticket
Every Inch Of You
Stuck In A Rut
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
I Believe In A Thing Called Love
Love On The Rocks With No Ice