For anyone who hasn’t heard, Steelhouse is a once a year, 3 day, outdoor festival on the top of a mountain. In the middle of July. Lots of us that go suffer from ‘post festival blues’ until we meet up again next year. So when the guys announced an ‘Awayday’ in the middle of September, it was bound to be special.
Headlined by the Steelhouse favourite, legendary Bernie Marsden, it was no surprise that the show was all but a sell out. Three tickets left, I heard - and as people poured in through the doors, I could well believe it.
The jam packed Tramshed fell to a hush as Max and Mikey, the men behind Steelhouse, welcomed us in - jokes about no rain, everything being there without a 2 day wait, and plugs brought the laughter as we all waited for the introduction of the first band. After 3 years of applying to play up the Mountain, Hollowstar had finally got their chance in 2019. They made a huge impression, and opened up the evening.
They really do have a great vibe, and enjoyed playing to such an appreciative audience.
Opening up with with seasoned confidence, they instantly had the crowds attention. The four guys from Cambridgeshire have a hard cutting sound, and Joe Bonson (Bass, Vocals) has a great voice, and together with his brother Jack on drums, they make a great rhythm section. Phil Haines and Tom Collett (guitar) trip out riffs and hooks as they soak up the atmosphere - feeding off the energy in the room. Their songs have a meaning to them, and Joe takes a breather to tell us why before launching into another explosive track. They are great to watch and have a storming future ahead of them.
Elite Stage Crew get to work, and within minutes, have the stage prepared for the second act.
The Kris Barras Band appeared to huge applause. Their latest album, ‘Light it Up’ was released that morning, and they open up with the title track, and first single. Kris is a phenomenal player and the band has worked really hard over the last couple of years, picking up some great support slots, as well as a headline tour.
He doesn’t waste precious stage time with long speeches, the band just get on with filling their allotted time with tracks old and new, taken from all three of their albums . Kris is a distinctive vocalist, and their blues rock sound takes a life of its own as he fills the Tramshed with guitar work that rivals some household names.
No announcements had been made about the 2020 Steelhouse lineup, and the cheer from the audience as Kris revealed that we would see the band next July was defeaning. The Kris Barras Band is on the rise, and the new album is phenomenal.
Once again, Max and Mikey appeared on Stage to welcome a Steelhouse favourite to the stage. Bernie loves the mountain, and one year (2017) made several appearances across the weekend. Most recently, in 2019, he made a surprise visit to play with Living Colour. As he and his musicians appeared, the crowd started to chant ‘Bernie! Bernie!’, and he appeared humbled by the adulation.
The set list was a traditional Whitesnake set, with vocals being provided by another Steelhouse favourite, Nev MacDonald (Skin, Hand of Dimes). Nev has an easy way with the audience, and with a voice that washes over you like honey, we have 90 minutes of classic rock.
If Nev forgot any of the words, there were about a thousand people ready to help him out, as well as two backing vocalists, Alexandra McIlquham-Jones and Caroline Hawkins. Bernie could have his pick of any musicians. His choice for this tour were Mark Maybry (Hand of Dimes) on Bass, David ‘Dino’ Stephenson (Hand of Dimes) - both of whom were on the recent ‘Blues Cruise’ with him, Jim Kirkpatrick (FM) on Guitar, and Huw Weston on keys. This was the final night of a mini-tour, so the band had meshed well. They were absolutely brilliant.
When the time came for the end, Bernie remarked that there was no way he was leaving the stage just to come back again, so they would play on, finally finishing the night with ‘Here I go Again’, where we heard, unsurprisingly. hobo, not drifter. Bernie is well loved in South Wales, and anyone who left before the highlight of the show, missed out.
All in all, it had been a brilliant night of music, socialising and friendship. yes, the venue was hot (with a packed venue, its not surprising), but as you’d expect from Steelhouse, it was perfectly organised, and the bands were a good match. As a first ‘Steelhouse Awayday’, we hope there will be many more that can showcase some of the Steelhouse favourites, or those yet to make that trip to the UKs only rock festival on the top of a mountain.