We arrived on Friday to ominous grey clouds brewing on the horizon. Not that this deterred the hardcore fans who headed straight over to the stage to see the band who were to open the weekend’s proceedings. Bristol based hard rock outfit, Fragile Things, were a late addition to the bill as they were recently announced winners of Steelhouse Battle of the Bands. Opening a festival while most people are still setting up their tents or getting their first round of beers in is no easy task, but the band rose to the task admirably. The crowd was barely two rows deep from the barriers, but most of the band came on with energy and enthusiasm aplenty, enough for a crowd many times that size. Granted, it took the singer, Richie Hevanz (formerly of Heaven’s Basement) a few songs to really get going, a fact he himself acknowledged. By the time he seemed to be getting into the groove of things it was their final couple of songs: latest single The Big Reveal plus the title track from their Broken Sun EP. It shows their calibre when picking a good chorus hook that the size of the crowd had notably increased by the time they finished their short set.
The next band clearly had a bit more of a following as, after a brief wait, a few more punters dragged themselves away from the bar for Departed. From the off they set themselves up as a much tighter, more established live act in the attitude and confidence they exuded, which is hardly surprising given that several band members have had years of practice with other groups.The most notable is guitarist Ben Brookland, who has two albums and extensive world touring under his belt with classic rock band, The Treatment. It was tough to call whether him or singer Mark Pascall were the stars of the show: Brookland had a vintage tone that most guitarists would happily kill for and the riffs to match, all engaging and fun while showing off what he could do. Although, due to the sloppiness of some of his solos (yes, I am that pedantic) I’m inclined to tip in favour of Pascall. His powerful and clean vocals easily carried songs like Are You Ready and All I Want, even getting some of the crowd involved: impressive for the second band on the bill. I suppose it helps their photo shoots that he also looks uncannily like a Pirates of the Caribbean era Orlando Bloom…
We were fortunate that the rain was still just about holding off. Yes, rain, that watery stuff that falls from the sky and has been mysteriously lacking in British weather recently. Although it had been threatening for several hours, even the weather wouldn’t dare try to ruin the set of the rock legend that is Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. Looking every inch the composed elder statesman of rock, the man himself followed on shortly after his denim clad brood took to the stage. Having only an hour isn’t much when you want to play your own material plus a myriad of covers, so you wouldn’t have thought there would be much chit-chat between songs, but vocalist Neil Star did a good job of getting the (mostly) docile, middle-aged crowd involved. Much of it involved sticking your finger up at anyone and everyone around you culminating in Star getting everyone to shout ‘F**K YOU TYLA’ at bassist Tyla Campbell before he launched into one of the most recognisable bass intros of all time: Ace of Spades. It was this and a cover of Silver Machine (Hawkwind) that really got the crowd going, despite the band playing numerous belters from their own debut album, The Age of Absurdity. Not that this is surprising given the popularity the classic Lemmy tracks. They did close the set with one of their own, High Rule, the lyrics to which sum up the current times pretty nicely: Welcome to a new part of history, welcome to the age of absurdity.
Now, it speaks volumes of the confidence the team at Steelhouse have in Stone Broken that they chose them as headliners, placing them higher up the bill that the Motӧrhead legend who was on the stage not half an hour previously. As the sun went down, the Black Country rock outfit ran out in front of a dazzling light show to fill the next hour and a half with tunes that can only be described as Walsall’s answer to Nickelback. The band will soon be heading out on a tour of USA and, with their stomping rhythms and radio ready choruses, they should have no problems winning over the American rock scene. Most of their songs are already on the verge of being arena ready anthems, but that also means you get a bit fatigued with all the simple drop-tuned riffs and emotionally weighted choruses. There was no shortage of lighters-out, sing-along moments, with the set featuring both a piano led ballad and an acoustic number, which naturally featured a four-chord chorus (if you don’t know what that is then watch this video). The addition of a mediocre drum solo completed the checklist for things-you-must-do when headlining a rock festival. Regardless of your feelings on their particular style, it’s obvious that Stone Broken are going places, easily setting themselves up to fill the shoes of the likes of Nickelback, Black Stone Cherry and Shinedown. The crowd knew it too, and it was to thunderous applause that Stone Broken left the stage, thus concluding the opening night of Steelhouse 2018.
Midlands Metalheads band of the day: Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons