The weather was kind enough to limit itself to a mild drizzle on the opening night, but it was on Saturday that it really decided to let loose with rain on a biblical scale. Rows of fans ensconced in waterproof jackets and ponchos set up their camping chairs in front of the sound desk, while the more eager music devotees lined up in front of the stage for a by-the-books blues rock set from opening act, The Bad Flowers. They would be the first, but certainly not the last, band to express their gratitude and admiration for the crowd sticking around to watch them in such horrendous weather. While irritating, the rain was tolerable at this stage. It would be for Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics that the heavens would truly open, coming down in a continuous stream to soak the crowd and turn the ground into a muddy swamp. It’s a good job that the stage was covered up, otherwise the impeccably dressed group may have had to invest in new outfits. It was only Buchanan himself who confidently swaggered out into the rain to scream defiance at the sky and to hand out beers to the front row. He half shouted, half sung his way through a set that was equally made up of songs from the Cult Classics and his former band Heaven’s Basement (the second singer at this festival to be from that band). You couldn’t fault their efforts, faced as they were with the toughest of circumstances, and it was a real shame that their set got cut short for safety reasons once the lightning began. Although I can’t imagine anyone in the crowd was ungrateful for the chance to run for cover.
After an intense few minutes the rain finally settled enough for Myke Gray to take to the stage. Given that his recent album, Shades of Gray, is instrumental I was quite surprised that his band line-up was completed by a vocalist. So rather than promoting his new material, Mr Gray played it safe with a set filled mostly with songs from his now disbanded group, Skin. There were many fans of that band in the crowd, all of whom sang the choruses back with gusto, making it what must have been a very nostalgic set for some.The melodic-shred guitar genre is crowded to say the least and Gray didn’t do anything to help him stand out and win over anyone who wasn’t already a fan. It didn’t help that the drummer didn’t look at all interested in what he was doing either. Quite the contrary for the following band, King King, all of whom looked to be having a lot of fun with their relaxed blues-rock style. This was a much less intense set, with a lot more dancing rather than headbanging going on in the crowd. The King himself, Alan Nimmo, of course strode on wearing his signature kilt and was all smiles throughout, in no small part because the rain had finally stopped! Whether the biggest cheer was for the band or the sun coming out was too close to call.
Once finished, Nimmo was only gone for a few minutes as he soon re-appeared at the side of the stage to watch the next band on the bill: Dan Reed Network. And who could blame him. By far the biggest surprise of the weekend, Reed and co. delivered an hour of funk-rock filled fun that most of the crowd didn’t know they were waiting for. Whether their favourite part was the slap-bass solo, the medley of classic disco/funk tunes or the erratic and eccentric stage moves of the frontman, everyone came away from this performance citing Dan Reed Network as the band to beat for the weekend. The upbeat grooves of Tiger in a Dress and Ritual were the perfect remedy for the weather inflicted misery the crowd had endured thus far. All of it was carried along by the flawless vocals and down-to-earth friendliness of Dan Reed himself. His talent as a frontman easily kept the crowd engaged and entertained, with him effortlessly jumping between theatrical performer and someone who could easily be your best friend in the crowd next to you. It is not hard to imagine Dan Reed Network returning with a slot higher up the bill next year.
For an event billing itself as classic rock, day two of Steelhouse 2018 was proving to be surprisingly diverse. To stick to a pattern, the genres were being mixed up again with a man who was arguably the biggest star at this year’s festival. I am of course referring to the Alter Bridge and part-time Slash frontman, Myles Kennedy. For the majority of his Year of the Tiger tour Kennedy has played shows on his own with nothing but an acoustic guitar, but this time he was accompanied by a bassist and drummer. This allowed him to experiment with performing the more elaborate songs from his solo record, such as Ghost of Shangri La and Nothing But A Name. Any who have read my previous reviews of Myles Kennedy know that I was absolutely enamoured with Year of the Tiger and with the acoustic show I saw in London. As such it really pains me to admit that an hour and a half of stripped back, lyrically deep acoustic songs didn’t really suit an arena sized festival appearance. As always, Kennedy’s voice was impeccable, but the only songs that the crowd seemed to engage with were the Alter Bridge and Slash covers. Songs from his solo record passed by with little impact, convincing me they are better suited to an intimate indoors environment. It was also one of the few times that the weather suited the music, as there was something particularly eerie and unsettling about listening to The Great Beyond while being hammered by driving wind and rain. For many, just hearing Watch Over You (albeit a version mostly sung by the crowd) was enough to endure the weather and it was to unilateral applause that Kennedy left the stage.
The headline act for Saturday was to be something of a momentous occasion. Glenn Hughes is beginning his Performs Classic Deep Purple tour in the wake of Whitesnake doing a Purple covers album, and Ritchie Blackmore returning to Rainbow. Whether you are cynic or a firm believer in coincidence will govern your opinion on that, but whatever your view, the opportunity to hear MkIII & MkIV Deep Purple songs performed by the Voice of Rock was not one to be sniffed at. With a retro-artwork backdrop, a wall of guitar amplifiers and a new long hair do, everything screamed classic 70s. It was unfortunate then that Hughes chose to indulge his fellow musicians with the type of extended solos that Deep Purple were known for back then, resulting in a set that had more filler than a Kardashian backside. Rather than playing on the nostalgia of older fans it would have been better to use the time spent on self-indulgent twiddling to instead play more of the many great songs in Deep Purple’s MkIII & MkIV discography. Then again, I could just be bitter than I wasn’t around to see it the first time round. One special moment did come towards the end of the set when Hughes invited Myles Kennedy to join him for a cover of Highway Star. Having two of rocks greatest singers, from two different musical generations, on stage at once was a sight to behold and, more importantly, to hear. While Ian Gillain will always be the voice that the song is known for, no one could argue that both Hughes and Kennedy did an outstanding job, with Kennedy even adding his guitar talent to that classic solo. After a tumultuous crash ending, the set was finally wrapped up and it was with ringing ears and sodden clothing that everyone returned to their tents (or other abode), unaware of the drama that would unfold the next day…
Midlands Metalheads band of the day: Dan Reed Network