April, festival migration is underway. It may not be summer but we are ready to get the festival season underway as thousands converge on Sheffield for HRH Blues 2018. Once again live music conquered our souls and hearts, opened debates on who we most enjoyed and forged friendships new and old. Music sustained us over the weekend and until the next gig or festival. With the main stage delivering a plethora of blues of every style the second stage showcased new acts, often introducing us to bands we hadn’t heard of before. Festivals are always a valuable resource to hear new music.
Between The Della Grants opening the festival and King King bringing the musical jamboree to a close, there was a plethora of guitar licks, lead breaks, deep grooves and lyrics that raised the roof and brought us to tears. Combine this with the pints of ale consumed, laughs and hugs the weekend was a powerhouse celebrating music and the pure pleasure it brings. This review from Bluesdoodles is an overview to give you a flavour of the two days and nights; you really had to be there to capture the atmosphere of a festival that is becoming a permanent fixture in many people’s musical calendar.
The review will not be chronological plod through the acts but themes and highlights that are still buzzing through my brain four days after a wonderful weekend.
Let’s start with the celebration of blues that rock with guitars and vocals, the bands that were new to many and stood out from the crowded schedule of bands. Young bands that are going to be rocking our stages for a long time to come including Della Grants, Rainbreakers, Greg Coulson and Catfish.
The Della Grants had the daunting and thrilling moment of opening the music weekend. This is a band that deserves the opportunity to be playing on big stages to large audiences. As ever a stunning set from this quirky, bluesy band from the East Midlands. The set was rousing and we were all delighted that the lead singer Maxx Manning’s phone didn’t go off. Maxx was on tenterhooks with a new baby due on Sunday! With a forthcoming album we heard the new song Gone and tracks that can be found on the current live album, West End Leicester, including William Clay. Oh! And did I say we had trumpet and the first blues harp of the weekend.
Now there are always hidden gems on stage two and one of those was definitely The Rainbreakers. They may have been on a smaller stage but they played a Big Set. With an album in the offering, The Rainbreakers delivered the first single live – Heavy Soul captured the unique sound on the band that combines the mercurial mix of blues, rock and soul as they stretch across genres that are never controlled by them. The Rainbreakers are destined for a bright future. Look forward to hearing them on the main stage next year.
A new band for many and one that just gets better every time I hear them is Greg Coulson and his band. The set at HRH Blues was no different. Greg provides contrast a set full of textures and tones of energised Rock n Roll. Greg is a high flying whizz on the piano never missing a beat or missing a lyric as he interchanges between guitar and keys. This is music to dance and join in as the blues sparkled with high octane blasts from Greg and the band. The band giving Greg the confidence and support that not a note will be dropped as he does acrobatics on the keys and drum riser! Every track is electric, standout moments flow into each other. The funky/Rn’B Stitch Me Up is top notch delivered with a touch of the Dan Reed Networks ambience. The band are so tight and professional some epic breaks, licks and riffs from Stuart Dixon via his 633 Amp on lead guitar added extra spice and zip to the sound from frontman Greg. Yes, Greg definitely weaved into the set a variety of sounds that flowed with unadulterated joy that spread like wildfire across the audience.
For many Catfish were an exciting known commodity for others the find of the weekend. They delivered an accomplished festival set that ignited Sunday afternoon on a day where the blues are just going to get hotter. Matthew Long’s guitar work is stinging blues hardened by a rock face of determination. Combined with vocals and songs that connect he is up front being noticed for his musicianship. The band behind blends into the guitar work with deep rhythms and grooves and keys that add intense layers. With keyboardist Paul Long taking over vocal duties so Matthew can put all his energy into his six stringed powerhouse of music energy and emotion. The set was tracks from his recent album Broken Man and the introduction of songs that will appear on his forthcoming album.
Highlights from a gob-smacking jaw-dropping display of musicianship for me was Ghosts from the anticipated new album. Then the two signatures that Catfish every time you hear them live seem to be more intense. Broken Man, with the chimes of the electric piano sending a tingle down the spine and then the guitar and vocals raise the hair on the back of your neck. A great band, performing at the top of their game stupendous set. Closing out was for many the act and number of the weekend with Make It Rain. Once again sensational, emotional lead breaks powerful lyrics and spine-tingling. As the number ends a few seconds of silence then ginormous cheers taking the roof off as the audience showed their appreciation. Tears were shed during the listening of Make It Rain!
Five acts that are festival and fans favourites. Once again Sugarman Sam & The Voodoo Men graced the stage as they opened on Sunday afternoon. A lot has been going on in Sam’s life and it is great to see him back on stage playing the music he loves. His confidence has grown and with it his skills as a bluesman. This young band are on an upward trajectory as Sam thanked the festival we say thank you for the music and your interpretation of the blues. All the way from Sweden Pontus Snibb returns to HRH Blues. This popular blues trio that rock is always a crowd pleaser. Once again they played songs from Wreck of The Blues producing another strong performance on this special weekend. Pontus delivers blues with a real foot tapping edgy sound, a great feel-good vibe. They just make you want to party perfect for Sunday afternoon.
Now late on Saturday a triumphant trio of acts. First, up blues supremo Danny Bryant who is receiving critical acclaim and praise for his latest and very personal album Revelation. Danny is ever popular and a firm favourite of blues fans and now his sound is augmented and even stronger with the addition of Stevie Watts on keys. The interaction between them shows both respect and musical empathy if you didn’t know you would think they had been playing together for years. The lead breaks were long and the crowds loved every note, lick and riff, at times they were just too long for me but no one can deny Danny can play the blues with emotion, soul and feel.
The crowd roared as the last note faded and we were then raised upon a crest of a wave as the one and only original Whitesnake member Bernie Marsden stepped on stage once again at HRH Blues. He is a maestro, he is a rocker but so adept at playing the blues guitar with its beautiful tone shining through this is a guitar happy playing rock or blues. The set was varied with Walking In The shadow of The Blues and other Whitesnake classics we were rocking and rolling in the aisles with pure delight. The set was made of songs the fans and festival goers wanted to hear the love and the familiar including Bobby Bland’s Ain’t No Love in The Heart of The City. The medley of Fleetwood Mac numbers was powerful and different from the music heard so far. Joined on stage by Danny Bryant we now had a guitar jam extraordinaire! As we went Down, Down, Down with Freddy King then Walking by Myself a Gary Moore number, wow what a festival treat. Closing out Saturday Pat McManus bought an Irish smile and charm onto the stage as he returned once again to HRH Blues with an instrumental bluesy guitar epic. With the flash of the violin, he didn’t disappoint with a set full of musical wit and bluesy charm.
Other runners and riders that stepped up and made an impression. The second stage should never be overlooked acts that are young, full of potential and headliners of the future. Big Canyon certainly bought a round of a heavier rock sound. Lewis Hamilton Band always delivers strong songs and deep melodic tones and they certainly added a tonal colour to the second stage. Last in the mix and definitely not least Jom Kirkpatrick Heavy Weather. They certainly did not make heavy weather of playing blues that pleased. He played a good solid set of powerhouse electric blues a wonderful cover of Rory Gallaghers Ghost Blues a true classic.
Lastly, from team Manhaton standing ovations and guitars and vocals that were awesome. The record label with four acts one on Saturday then the closing three acts on Sunday delivered music with power. Sari Schorr and her new Engine Room raised the heat as they hit the ground running Sari and her band are A Force of Nature as her acclaimed album declared. The set was a winning combination of deep grooves, stellar guitar work from Ash Wilson who enhances Sari’s vocals. On Saturday afternoon at HRH Blues Sari delivered a magnificent display of a controlled sustained powerful voice at its best. With Damn The Reason and her signature song Black Betty a song, she has made her own. They absolutely nailed Bad Company’s, Ready For Love. This was pure entertainment blues with an edge resulting in a well-deserved standing ovation. Sari and her Engine Room set the bar high for the three men to follow from camp Manhaton on Sunday.
The first of the Manhaton trio of bands on Sunday, Ben Poole. With his band a guest drummer tonight Wayne Proctor we know this was going to entertain. As ever the guitar was the centrepiece and Ben Poole’s manipulation of the six-strings was spellbinding. A really confident performance with his vocals matching the power of his guitar. This was a showcase of guitar-fuelled pure blues! Ben was on top form tonight. An absolute delight, he made that guitar squeal and weep! I am sure I saw tears of blues perfection being shed by that Les Paul! His tribute to Gary Moore, Time Might Never Come was emotional and sensational. This combined with a great stage presence Ben Poole is the real deal. Short break time to catch our breath, exclaim to each other how that was awesome, the best guitarist so far of the weekend etc…. and next up Stevie Nimmo. With a broken arm, he was without his guitar in hand, but Stevie still ruled the stage. For this performance and tour, he has handed guitar duties to Dave Devlin while he concentrated on the vocals. The set was dominated by his acclaimed last album Sky Won’t Fall, he is the consummate professional. Tonight we focused on the voice confirming that the elder Nimmo brother can sing. Dave Devlin (who some had seen when he opened for King King with Devlin Blue), on hearing young Dave Devlin play you wouldn’t imagine that he has only been playing with Stevie for a few months. The crowd was animated as they sang along with Stevie on his signature track Good Day For The Blues. It was strange to hear Stevie perform without his guitar, that said tonight’s set was stunning. Then he borrowed Devlin’s guitar he can manage to play through the pain for one number. This was no gamble as he hit every note on Gamblers Roll. This was pure delight for his many fans in the audience tonight. Then Chains of Hope, probably the best number of a superb album. So powerful both musically and lyrically. I was in seventh heaven for this number. Then we have the encore Freddie King’s, Down, Down, Down really got the crowd in fine voice. Stevie sang Down and we were on the up, maintaining the intensity from Ben Poole. The Blues is alive and kicking in the UK. Now for the headliners of the festival.
One year later and King King took control of the stage to close out another fantastic HRH festival. From the entrance of the band to Highway to Hell through to the closing number when older brother Stevie joined Alan on stage for the final number, King King had both their phalanx of fans and the whole crowd entranced. The atmosphere was electric, you could cut it with a knife, the expectation was very high, and they definitely delivered. For many in the audience, it was the first opportunity to check out the new keyboardist Jonny Dyke, he fitted into the foursome perfectly, and the well-practiced rhythm section of Lindsay and Wayne were awesome as usual. King King was on form tonight. Having not seen the band for over a year it was wonderful to be reacquainted with the set list. The amazing Rush Hour, goosebumps moment and Broken they just hit you in the musical heart. With a very hot and sweaty finale to the weekend. A superb set of the very highest standard. Long History of Love confirmed King King will have a long history of playing the blues that rock we love. As they sung Let Your Love Shine In we were bathed in the music that did bring sunshine and joy to our lives.
The only thing left to do is book HRH 2019 for another 48 hours of Blues mayhem and fun.