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LIVE: Steelhouse Festival 2023


From age eleven to now, at 21 years old, Steelhouse Festival has always been a staple to my family’s summer plans and this year was no different. Holding the title of the UK's highest festival, Steelhouse effortlessly delivered yet another spectacular rock extravaganza for the twelfth year. 2023 saw brand new headliners debut the festival; Australia’s Airbourne and Kentucky’s Black Stone Cherry graced the mountain with rock and roll prowess and an eagerness to start the party and keep it rolling into the night. 


Nestled atop the picturesque Hafod Y Dafal mountain in the rolling valleys of Ebbw Vale, Steelhouse Festival has been a haven for classic rock aficionados for over a decade. This majestic mountain has been host to some of the greatest acts in classic rock such as Saxon, Europe, Thin Lizzy, and the legend himself Dee Snyder. Additionally, it has served as a launching pad for incredible up-and-comers like Mason Hill, Those Damn Crows, and Florence Black, to name a few. While the scene may seem idyllic, be prepared for a memorable car trek like no other. Picture a rocky ascent peppered with potholes, and of course the amazing sunny weather that greets you at the top (I hope you hear my sarcasm there). However, what truly sets Steelhouse apart is the unwavering camaraderie. Regardless of the challenges, you'll be met with welcoming smiles, friendly nods, and shared laughter the moment you set foot on the muddy festival grounds.



Friday 


Day 1 of the festival, known to devoted Steelhouse attendees as Shit Shirt Friday, was opened up by Liverpool powerhouse Dan Byrne with his band in tow. Byrne, a force to be reckoned with, delivered a captivating set brimming with both heartfelt tracks and electric selections from his former band Revival Black, and despite it being his third gig as a solo artist, Byrne knew how to captivate his crowd. 


Steelhouse’s answer to the pleas of something on the heavier side came in the form of Londoners Jordan Red. With raspy snarls, a torrent of powerful riffs, and an undeniable stage presence right from the start, they demanded the attention from a crowd who’d just spent an hour trying to prep the campsites, bringing them out of their post-setup daze with momentum that had the hard rockers firmly cementing their mark on the mountain, leaving a crowd hopeful for a return up that treacherous hill. 


Decked with vintage flair and a kaleidoscope of nostalgia that harkened back to a bygone era of peace, groove, and rock ‘n’ roll, capital city rockers The Karma Effect were next to hit the stage. The quartet effortlessly concocted a blend of blues-infused rock, sprinkled with a groove that got the dancers moving, and served a soulful sip to those seeking to sway along with the hypnotic sounds of a band destined to soar to new heights with their eagerly anticipated new album.



Next up were dynamic husband and wife duo When Rivers Meet, who impressed with a set that showcased pure talent; a maestro on the guitar and a rock and roll goddess on vocals, When Rivers Meet unleashed a brooding barrage of blues-infused riffs, their on-stage chemistry creating an enchanting connection that held the crowd in rapt fascination. Unfortunately I missed the next act The Sinners, Ginger Wildheart’s band who stepped in to take the reins in place of Ginger himself; due to his mental health, he stepped away from the mountain this year but we hope to see him back up and rocking out again soon. Headlining the Friday night was Kris Barras; no stranger to the Steelhouse mountain, he returned to the top delivering a hefty performance of blistering riffs and a passion that captivated the entirety of the crowd; throwing in some comradery and revealing a secret that he said ‘cannot be shared with anyone, but keep an eye out on social media within the next few weeks’, Barras certainly left the mountain with a few more fans than he arrived with. 



Saturday 



Despite the threat of rain, revellers still basked in another day of live music atop Hafod Y Dafal farm; and this morning looked the busiest the mountain has ever been this early. Stepping up as a replacement for Blues Pills, the electrifying Black Spiders seized the stage with a dose of unadulterated rock and roll. Featuring Planet Rock’s very own Wyatt, the band were in for a busy day ahead; straight after their set on the mountain they were due to take a trip up north later on for a performance at Derbyshire’s Rock and Blues Festival. It wasn’t the Spiders’ first rodeo on the mountain and by the sounds of it it won’t be their last, despite a chorus of ‘fuck you Black Spiders’ which the crowd happily obliged to. 


Next on the lineup came Belgium's Black Mirrors, and just to clarify, Charlie Brooker wasn't in the band. Showcasing an impressive performance fronted effortlessly with swagger, delivering velvety yet incredibly raw vocals, complimented by instrumentation made for the stage. One of my favourite sets of the weekend followed, Montreal’s The Damn Truth were up next and boy did they light up the mountain with vintage flair, flirting with hard rock soundscapes and embracing retro sensibilities, that created an electrifying experience. Their psychedelic affair was perfectly led by the enthralling stage presence from vocalist Lee-la Baum, reminiscent of Stevie Nicks.



Florence Black were next, somewhat local legends who we’ve seen grow from the very bottom here at Steelhouse, from opening up the Friday to playing in the evening on Saturday night, the Welsh trio impressed with incredible stage presence, and a massive performance of hard rock tracks spanning their incredible catalogue. Steelhouse has always been a haven for hidden gems in the form of new bands and when Those Damn Crows first graced the mountain, one of those gems were unveiled. Well they returned on Saturday night, ready to warm up the crowd before the headliners came to stage with tracks such as fan favourites ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Dead’ and ‘Blink of an Eye’ as well as tracks from their latest album ‘Inhale/Exhale’. In a sea of Crows t shirts, there was emotion and a whole lot of devotion for the band on stage. They had the attitude, the act, and the kit for a headline performance, think lights, think pyro, the heat; there’s only a matter of time before we see them take the title at the top.   



The time had come; Saturday night saw the debut mountain performance from Australian rockers Airbourne. When announced there were a few individuals questioning their credentials as a headliner for their beloved Steelhouse Festival but boy did Airbourne serve.With a high-voltage performance, the band never paused for a breath, maintaining a relentless barrage of sound. Their set was a veritable inferno of blistering riffs, powered by an energy reminiscent of someone who’d drank one too many red bulls. A phrase I’d heard being tossed around the day after; “They’re like AC/DC on acid” - but that’s good, don’t you think? The energy poured across that field Saturday evening made it abundantly clear that a bit of upheaval on the mountain was exactly what we needed.


Sunday


Well it’s not Steelhouse without a little bit of rain is it? Of course the heavens opened to grace us on top of the mountain on day three but it didn’t put people off watching the final day of live music. 



The first band I caught after the last of the bus runs up the mountain were Empyre who showcased a rich set with melancholic undertones and a rumbling bass throughout, reflecting the weather and preparing us for the rest of the day. Next were The Cruel Knives, one of my favourite acts of the weekend. The Brit four-piece, new to the mountain, impressed with half an hour of solid rock hits. Looking the part, sounding the part, and playing the part, demanding attention in a knockout performance - I’m hopeful to see them back soon! 


Following that, powerhouse Kira Mac graced the stage, marking an extraordinary and heartwarming welcome back for the Northerners. After a year of consistent hard work, Kira Mac made a triumphant return, bringing a sense of camaraderie, unrelenting riffs, and vocals that soared. The Vintage Caravan brought the energy to Steelhouse on the Sunday; and I mean proper high-voltage electricity. I took a stroll towards the front to get a glimpse of the action and there they were, the mini mosh pits had begun; hard-hitting, thundering Icelandic rock had taken over the mountain. Next were The Answer, another favourite of mine since I first started attending Steelhouse. A beatnik Cormac Neeson took control of the stage, entertaining a crowd soaked to the bone, with his spellbinding performance and charm. After an incredible Sundowners album release back in March, their momentum has been unyielding. Towards the finale, the set ended up with Neeson directing the crowd to the ground, sat upon on the shoulders of a punter, being delivered back to stage. 



To warm us up before the final act of Steelhouse 2023, supergroup Elegant Weapons - consisting of members of Rainbow, Uriah Heep, and Judas Priest - their performance delivered the heavyweight sonic intensity that had been eagerly sought throughout the weekend, essentially sticking their middle fingers up to the rain with a relentless onslaught of pure, bone-crushing riffs. Ending with a memorable singalong to Sabbath’s War Pigs, and the fact they had only begun playing shows since June, just adds to their mystique as rock royalty. It may have been their first UK performance as a unit but it certainly will not be their last. 



Kentucky's Black Stone Cherry made a special trip to the UK just for this festival, and during their performance, they expressed their affection for Wales and the UK. In a perfect blend of vintage rock soundscapes and metal sensibilities, they treated the audience to beloved tracks like Blame It On The Boom Boom and White Trash Millionaire, and even unveiled their debut live rendition of Screaming At The Sky. Exploding into a brutal attack of rock riffs fuelling the crowd, the band used every inch of the stage, as guitarist Ben Wells injected boundless bursts of energy throughout the set as he strutted back and forth between songs. In my favourite set of the weekend, it was time for one last song, the Southerners closing the festival with Lonely Train.



You can purchase tickets for Steelhouse Festival 2024 here now! 


Words/Images: Tate Powell


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