Steelhouse 2022 review and photos ft. Saxon, Europe, Michael Schenker & more (2022)

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A full weekend of action up the mountain in Ebbw Vale

Europe at Steelhouse Festival 2022

Author: Steve BeebeePublished 4th Aug 2022
Last updated 4th Aug 2022

Our roving reporter Steve Beebee ventured up the mountain alongside the Planet Rock crew, a few hundred volunteers and thousands of rock fans. Here's what he found...

FRIDAY

Twelve months ago, in the face of daunting odds, Steelhouse showrunners Mikey Evans and Max Rhead successfully staged the UK’s first rock music event of scale in well over a year. It felt more like ten. It was, to put it mildly, an emotional and soul-stirring revival.

With the pandemic causing line-up shuffles into the weekend itself, it probably fried the duo’s nerves, but what it did for everyone else is frankly difficult to express in a sentence. Perhaps beyond anything it evoked gratitude – with thoughts of what we’d once taken for granted, and of what it now actually means to stand in a field, just one but part of many, united behind the thing we love. It’s no wonder, then, that before introducing one of tonight’s bands, Planet Rock’s Ian Danter surveys the scene with a mixture of relish and wonder and says: “this really feels like home”.

Ian Danter watching the action on the Steelhouse stage

For openers Valhalla Awaits, this actually is home. The Welsh collective set about their task with gusto, ensuring that as the crowds spill in to the festival arena they’re greeted by the meatiest of riffs and the most soaring of vocals, the latter from the capacious lungs of singer Andrew Hunt. Both ‘Slave’ and ‘Skin And Bone’ add grungy heft to serrated, metal-inclined guitar, and like all their songs, they resolve into hooks that get hairy heads nodding.

The Hot Damn! are celebrating in a different way. The colourfully clad ladies are responsible for Planet Rock fave ‘Dance Around’, and they start their sunny set by taking their own advice and doing exactly that – it’s one of the most bodacious starts to a gig in recent memory. After overcoming an initially flat sound, the band’s music lives up to this feast of brightness with a slew of catchy pop rock – and new anthem ‘Live Life Love’ sounds like another peacock feather among those iridescent plumes.

The Hot Damn

With headliners Inglorious pitching up at the signing tent, there’s a long queue – but even those heads snake stage-wards as Kira Mac launches into what is only the band’s fifth ever gig. If they weren’t nervous enough already, a clusterbomb of technical problems delay their start, and they’re a few songs in before the on-stage storms settle. What we do get, at least from that moment onwards, is pure electricity – with new single ‘Hit Me Again’ a candidate for the newcomers’ best song to date. Singer Rhiannon Hill (she doesn’t mind if you call her Kira) has one of those expansive and immediately identifiable voices – and by the time they get to crowd-pleasing closer ‘One Way Ticket’ this set has gone from trial to triumph. Watch these go in 2023.

Kira Mac on stage at Steelhouse 2022

Could Scarlet Rebels guitarist Chris Jones be making a bid for frontman status? “Oi, that’s mine!” jests actual singer Wayne Doyle when the hyperactive CJ struts down the on-stage walkway and sings into the microphone Doyle placed there for his own use. Despite looking like members of at least three different bands, the Llanelli-based outfit garner some real love from this mostly Welsh crowd and to their credit they return it with interest, blown away to the point of obvious emotion to have scored a Top 10 album (‘See Through Blue’) earlier this year. Their songs kickstart the festival’s first real singalongs, and ‘Heal’s positive musical balm seems tailor cut for troubled times like these.

“I always wanted to play this in the sun in front of a cool crowd,” grins John Drake, the almost annoyingly talented frontman of The Dust Coda. He’s talking about ‘It’s A Jam’, a wired-for-summer rocker that evokes lazy days and an absence of worry. Perhaps the coolest thing about this band, however, is the sheer variety of songs they can throw at you, each coming with topspin and savvy. There’s feral riffs and hooks in there for sure, but there’s also the aching ballad ‘Sweet Love Is Gone’, evincing an extraordinary vocal performance. The Dust Coda are simply a band for all seasons.

Myke Gray on stage at Steelhouse 2022

Myke Gray has chosen Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ as his intro music. It’s an apt choice, as that’s exactly what Mr Gray has been doing to us since the 1980s – and there’s a moment, quite a shock actually, when singer Dan Byrne announces that this is probably Myke’s last ever gig. Suddenly this assembly of anthems – from the proudly defiant ‘Stand Up For Rock N’Roll’ to ‘Shine Your Light’s gospel of rock – takes on rather more weight. Myke, as well as being one of hard rock’s more thoughtful and genuinely interesting characters, has been responsible for so much that we hold dear – and to see him in full flight one last time is a strange mix of nostalgia, sadness and thrill. He departs, grinning, Flying Vee held aloft. ‘We Are The Champions’ would have been equally apt.

Maybe Nathan James has been watching because there are times tonight when the Inglorious frontman looks pretty emotional too. While the band are a studied lesson in capturing the vibe of long gone 70s rockers, there’s nothing mercenary about it – this is a group of relatively young men who are genuinely enthralled by their forerunners, and James of course is blessed by one of modern rock’s finest voices. Last time Inglorious played here (in 2017), Nathan opted to wear a kimono – he can laugh about this now, and certainly appears more grounded as he leads us through everything from ‘Unaware’, the first song he wrote for this band, to their more recent cover of Heart classic ‘Barracuda’ – “the tighter the trousers the easier it is to sing it,” he jokes. Nobody that has witnessed Nathan’s highs and lows over the years would begrudge this very talented singer his moment in the spotlight.

Inglorious' Nathan James

SATURDAY

With low cloud and light drizzle settling over the Welsh hills – where they are to remain, limpet-like, for the rest of the day – you can’t blame people for seeking sanctuary in their tents and motorhomes. Bristolians Mother Vulture have skipped the affliction, however, turning in a frenzied set of alternative-leaning blues-punk. “We hate guitar solos,” they point out, instead blazing out combustible little nuggets like ‘Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Honey’. So energetic are they that you’d think there was an evil puppet master backstage controlling them with wires.

Mother Vulture, venturing into the crowd...

Anchor Lane are slightly more to the growing crowd’s taste. Having endured a 12-hour journey to get here, the Scottish trio (definitely not a Rush tribute, despite the hopeful intro given to them by Planet Rock’s Darren Redick) clearly need to let off steam. Now functioning without a bass player they instead incorporate fizzy, bumpy swathes of electronics into their otherwise robust sound – which is closer in format to another successful trio, Muse.

One band that’s certainly not going to be confused for anyone else is Cardinal Black. When the civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou wrote about ‘crawling into the space between the notes and curling my back to loneliness’ she might as well have been describing the exquisite note-making of guitarist Chris Buck. His simple guitar motif in ‘Jump In’ is as economical as it is brilliant, and his soloing – when it comes – reminds us truly of what it is to be human. Frontman Tom Hollister’s sense of humour stops us getting too maudlin, but his lyrics tell a different story – this is reflective bluesy soul, honed to perfection.

Darren introduces Black Spiders as “a bunch of musicians and a radio presenter”, a harsh if not remotely serious judgement on his friend and fellow Planet Rock regular Wyatt who has been playing drums with the Sheffield-based outfit since their welcome reunion a few years back. The band’s original incarnation actually played the first Steelhouse, back in 2011, and today they attack with precisely the same abandon, giving us a dozen more reasons to “stick it to the man”. As they implore us to “eat thunder and shit lightning” with songs about “growing up on the mean streets of Doncaster” they simultaneously create both laughs and singalongs.

A familiar face behind the Black Spiders drumkit

Von Hertzen Brothers isn’t just a change of pace – it’s virtually a change of season. Having first delighted these misty hills with their three-part harmonies in 2016, the unstoppably cheerful Fins are little short of a culture shock for the beered-up brethren, breathing out gentle lullabies alongside galloping ripostes like ‘Long Lost Sailor’. An unlikely set highlight is new song ‘All Of A Sudden You’re Gone’ – you’ll want to check out the astonishing video too.

It's no secret that Steelhouse has been chasing H.E.A.T. for some time – partly in the hope of attracting some sunshine, but mostly because the Swedes are the best melodic rock act of their generation. As we’d hoped, their hour on stage is a contagious rush of hooks, smiles and energy – most of that emanating from super-bouncy frontman Kenny Leckremo, actually their original singer and a man who has returned to the fold to belt out more recent gems like ‘Rock Your Body’, ‘Dangerous Ground’ and ‘Come Clean’. He looks like he’s won the lottery. Each song comes with massed harmony vocals and while we must assume that part of that mass can be found on a tape we can forgive them, given the sheer scale of what they’re putting across. “This time we have to deliver,” roars Kenny during ‘Back To The Rhythm’. Consider that mission accomplished.

As the Graham Bonnet Band fire up, it looks at first as if US president Joe Biden has mistakenly wandered on to the stage. As Graham is now 74 and recovering from a knee replacement operation, your first instinct is to forget that this man’s a solid-as-granite rock legend and find him a comfy armchair. But then the remarkable happens. The former Rainbow and Alcatrazz singer opens his mouth and out pours the same unconquerable voice that propelled songs like ‘All Night Long’, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ and ‘Night Games’ into the rock firmament. When he’s hobbling, stiff-legged, down the on-stage walkway, you genuinely worry for him – but then he belts out those ozone-bothering high notes and you remember you’re in the presence of rock royalty. Take a bow, Mr Bonnet – carefully, that is.

When original headliner Ace Frehley lived up to his flaky reputation and cancelled his appearance with only weeks to go, British legends Saxon thankfully lived up to their own reputation and stepped, warrior-like, into the breach. Whisper it – most people here probably see it as an upgrade. Heap as much praise as you like on 80s classics such as opener ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and ‘Denim And Leather’ – but 2018 track ‘Thunderbolt’ is every bit as attention-grabbing.

As reliable as the hills themselves, guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt duel with dexterity and panache, bassist Nibbs Carter runs as if late for a train without dropping a note – and during ‘And The Bands Played On’, Wayward Sons frontman (and Planet Rock presenter) Toby Jepson steps out to assist. It’s a stellar headline performance, and nothing less than you’d expect. The fact that frontman Biff Byford dons a cut-off denim jacket with a KISS logo on the back – it was thrown on stage – reminds us not just of Frehley’s failure to launch, but of the fact that Saxon have literally saved the day. Ace.

SUNDAY

The 110 souls that comprise this event’s jolly volunteers and ever reliable stage crew have proved themselves capable of many things, but improving the weather isn’t usually one of them. Today, however, in defiance of every forecast, the epic clouds roll apart around the Steelhouse mountain, and that glowing yellow orb in the sky – so rarely seen at rock festivals – greets early risers.

A greeting of altogether more vehement nature comes from Ashen Reach. As Darren points out in his on-stage introduction, opening the final day at a festival is never an easy task, but it’s one the Merseysiders are primed for, having been here all weekend to soak up the atmosphere. Frontman Kyle Stanley simply pretends he’s headlining – so great is his enthusiasm, and so creative and upfront is his band’s metal, that there’s even a mini-mosh pit towards the end.

When it comes to These Wicked Rivers, Derby’s hirsute kings of all that’s retro and vintage, a 30-minute show always feels like it’s over in a flash. With their now familiar stage set time-travelling us back to grandma’s front room, there are songs like ‘Shine On’ and ‘Evergreen’ that raise both hearts and hands, plus a groove-riding rocker called ‘Force Of Nature’ that’s new to their set. It ends, far too soon, with the emotional ‘Don’t Pray For Me’, sung with such humility and honesty by frontman John Hartwell.

Still in their infancy as a live band, King Herd have notably improved since making their debut for Planet Rock at March’s Winter’s End festival. More confident on stage and with a more muscular live sound that’s as gritty as the rocky trail we drove up to get here, their cause is assisted by new single ‘Halo’ which builds to a bruising chorus. The Midlanders play hard rock, but it’s the music of the hurt, of the slightly damaged, and for that reason it should find favour with many.

When Darren introduces Green Lung as “possibly the most interesting band here”, he’s captured the thoughts of more than a few of us in the build-up to this event. In fact, it’s Steelhouse’s desire to throw in such unexpected twists that is taking the event to even higher levels. The fast-rising and much discussed Green Lung are, of course, utterly fantastic. Their dark metal comes from the woods; it’s primal, pagan and organic, both purifying and eerie in equal measure. You can lose yourself – and the troubled part of your mind – to the soul-freeing, Sabbathy riffs that roll ‘Old Gods’ and ‘Woodland Rites’ into the long-term memory. And then you’ve got ‘Graveyard Sun’, retro organ and all, which could be stripped down to its bare bones and remain a fabulous song.

Few current bands could follow that, so putting on a heritage act to avoid any such comparison is a clever move. Diamond Head are, of course, always associated with the classic ‘Am I Evil’ – a song that had such seismic influence on the young Metallica. Elsewhere the NWOBHM veterans veer from the similarly heavy to the surprisingly urbane and melodic. ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ isn’t that far from AOR, and like everything else in the set it’s sung with palpable passion by the brilliantly named Rasmus Bom Andersen, the age-defying outfit’s frontman since 2014.

Orange Goblin is another brave booking for a festival best known for classic rock – but it’s another reason why so many more predictable events are being left trailing in its wake. After 27 years of brutish, stoner-enflamed metal, gigantic frontman Ben Ward may have seen it all before (and much more – he notes the children in the audience and tempers some of his more ‘descriptive’ introductions) but he seems genuinely flattered to have been included in this diverse line-up. Serpentine guitar intros erupt into gas-guzzling, tarmac-burning metal tirades – and like ‘Made Of Rats’ they’re mostly armed with raise-your-fist-and-yell type hooks. Everything’s louder than everything else, as Motörhead would have it, and it’s fitting that the raucous ‘Renegade’ is dedicated to the great, late Lemmy himself.

Before taking to the stage in the black fur hat that now seems to be permanently attached to his bonce, Michael Schenker tells Ian Danter that he has no recollection of his first trip here, in 2013. Thankfully – and remarkably, given his extraordinary past – Schenker remembers very clearly how to play guitar. Even for those that haven’t followed his erratic history of mostly short-lived projects, it’s nevertheless a joy to watch him belt out classics like ‘Light’s Out’, ‘Doctor Doctor’ (both UFO) and ‘Armed And Ready’ (MSG). What makes it even better is the grin etched on his face, and the way he often mouths the words, connecting so passionately to the music. There’s an added bonus today in the return of singer Robin McAuley – regular frontman Ronnie Romero is ‘otherwise engaged’. Schenker enjoyed the Irishman’s company so much in the late 1980s that he briefly changed the name of MSG to McAuley Schenker Group. It’s a chemistry that clearly still works.

For headliners Europe the only thing that isn’t working – briefly – is the on-stage sound. The intro tape rolls, the Swedish rock legends troop on, and…nothing. Thankfully we have Rolf Larsson – better known to most of us as Joey Tempest – to entertain us with genial banter, chatting with the audience and polling them for their favourite Europe song. No prizes for guessing the answer to that one. Then the intro returns, the band fire up and it’s all fine.

It'd take a very drunk or mean-spirited fan to not feel a frisson of excitement, goosebumps even, when Tempest starts twirling that big mic stand over his head, and when John Norum’s guitar and Ian Haugland’s drums expertly marshal us into the singalong goodness of ‘Rock The Night’. And – kudos to Europe – they seamlessly mix songs from their ‘revival’ (an era that’s lasted twice as long as their original incarnation) with what most would regard as classics. 2012’s ‘Firebox’ sounds clinical, lean and melody-laden, while ‘Let The Good Times Rock’ from way back in 1988 has been deftly revisited – it’s a bluesier, slinkier version that’s true to the current band’s collective heart while maintaining the original’s spirit.

There’s a nod to the classic rock of the late 1970s – Rainbow and Whitesnake – in most things that Europe do, but all of it has a supersonic sheen; not a bit of it seems derivative. They do, of course, conclude with that song – we don’t need to name it – a fanfare that seems an apt way of lowering the curtain (and raising the subsequent fireworks) on what has been another unforgettable weekend delivered by our mountain-strong Welsh brethren. What can they possibly pull out for 2023 to top this?

Next year’s Steelhouse Festival takes place on July 28-30, 2023

Gallery: All the bands at Steelhouse Festival 2022

Kira Mac

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Kira Mac

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Kira Mac

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Kira Mac

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Kira Mac

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Kira Mac

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Valhalla Awaits

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Valhalla Awaits

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Valhalla Awaits

Steelhouse Festival 2022

The Hot Damn

Steelhouse Festival 2022

The Hot Damn

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Scarlet Rebels

Steelhouse Festival 2022

The Dust Coda

Steelhouse Festival 2022

The Dust Coda

Steelhouse Festival 2022

The Dust Coda

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Myke Gray

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Myke Gray

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Myke Gray

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Myke Gray

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Myke Gray

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Myke Gray

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Inglorious

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Inglorious

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Inglorious

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Inglorious

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Inglorious

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Inglorious

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Mother Vulture

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Mother Vulture

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Mother Vulture

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Mother Vulture

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Mother Vulture

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Anchor Lane

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Anchor Lane

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Anchor Lane

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Cardinal Black

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Cardinal Black

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Cardinal Black

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Black Spiders

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Black Spiders

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Black Spiders

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Black Spiders

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Black Spiders

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Von Hertzen Brothers

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Von Hertzen Brothers

Steelhouse Festival 2022

H.E.A.T.

Steelhouse Festival 2022

H.E.A.T.

Steelhouse Festival 2022

H.E.A.T.

Steelhouse Festival 2022

H.E.A.T.

Steelhouse Festival 2022

H.E.A.T.

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Graham Bonnet Band

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Graham Bonnet Band

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Graham Bonnet Band

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Graham Bonnet Band

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Graham Bonnet Band

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Graham Bonnet Band

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Saxon

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Ashen Reach

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Ashen Reach

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Ashen Reach

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Ashen Reach

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Ashen Reach

Steelhouse Festival 2022

These Wicked Rivers

Steelhouse Festival 2022

These Wicked Rivers

Steelhouse Festival 2022

These Wicked Rivers

Steelhouse Festival 2022

King Herd

Steelhouse Festival 2022

King Herd

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Green Lung

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Green Lung

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Green Lung

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Diamond Head

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Diamond Head

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Diamond Head

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Diamond Head

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Orange Goblin

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Orange Goblin

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Orange Goblin

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Michael Schenker Group

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Michael Schenker Group

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Michael Schenker Group

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Michael Schenker Group

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Michael Schenker Group

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Europe

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Europe

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Europe

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Europe

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Europe

Steelhouse Festival 2022

Europe

Steelhouse Festival 2022

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