Silver Linings at Blues On The Farm in June
Twenty-five years ago, Pump Bottom cider Farm introduced to the blues fans the first Blues on The Farm. Now Blues on The Farm is a shining silver jewel in the festival calendar; with a line-up that thrills and ensures the music is the silver lining on any cloud that hinders a clear blue midsummer sky. The weather didn’t seem to realise this was a celebration of music in the summer and decided to rain, thunder, and showing us just glimpses of its sunny summer side.
From the first act on Thursday to the last on the Sunday music ruled the roost, blues was the top dog on this farm for one extended weekend every year around midsummer. Opening with Billy Walton Band who had flown in from the States to start their tour got the festival into a dancing, smiling bluesy vibe. They were just what the campers and everyone else wanted setting the tone and quality. The evening flowed with Laurence Jones who as ever wowed us with the skills that wins him awards and fans across the world. His voice grows with depth and confidence matching his skills on the six-strings. Closing the opening night with everyone in a party mood a perennial festival favourite, Mike Sanchez. His band and boogie woogie piano delivered the party to get the festival off to a swinging start.
Friday, early afternoon start, the music poured out as Hitman Blues Band filled the stage. This eight-piece gave us layers of tones that ensured their performance was remembered by everyone that heard them. The blues was a 3-dimensional entertainment and we were in the groove ready for more. The Hitmen hit the mark with, slide guitar and harp the crowds were certainly warming up for Friday fun on this damp, sultry June afternoon. The music throughout the Friday entertained the crowds, with breaks in the action and opportunities to test the beer, have the face painted and enjoy the selection of food; hot tea and doughnuts the perfect festival treat in the afternoon. The atmosphere was heating up as old friends greeted each, caught up on the news, the bands they were looking forward to seeing this weekend and the highlights of memories over the last twenty-five years. In the mix new friendships and dancing partners were made. The highlights of a wonderful Friday was not the Thunder but that the power stayed on, and that the soundmen kept the music playing loud and blue. Music highlights were definitely the wonderful Sari Schorr & The Engine Room a new band for Bluesdoodles and were exciting so we will be seeing her soon and the promised album should be a delicious musical journey. A feature of the sound was Innes Sibun on guitar adding rock-blues chords that challenge and complement Sari’s vocals. Her unique take on the Leadbelly classic Black Betty was a wonder to hear resetting this number so that it lingers as an ear-worm for a long time after. There is no doubt her music is A Force of Nature; Sari is unafraid as she performed a powerful emotionally charged set. Mike Vernon and The Mighty Combo was a pleasure to behold, full of swing sixties pizzazz and energy. The mighty King King, unarguably, the premier blues-rock band on the UK circuit, as they go from strength to strength whilst Reaching For The Light. A light shining as bright as the music that curls around the marquee and across the darkened skies. We love the kilt, the keys. The music was fabulous from the first note to the last chords of Alan Nimmo’s guitar and King King. As we left my only thought was bring on Saturday music is the strongest force of good in the universe.
Like the music we were smiling this was a day of so much quality you had to have been here to really understand what makes Blues on the Farm in June the special place to be. Full of life and energy the young up and coming blues band Red Butler took to the stage. Shaping musical memories to last the whole day long and for many the countdown to owning the new album they are recording at the moment has truly begun. No wonder they are full of confidence representing UK in Europe opened musical avenues for them to build on and the music they share with the world is a calling card of intent. Red Butler entertains, with Alex on guitar including a cigar box, and Jane up front on vocals that have the power and energy to blow away any lurking rain clouds. Red Butler always had potential they are now putting that into action with a more polished stage show and a new party piece, Mike and Alex both playing the same guitar a real fun festival memory. The mega drumming presence of Sam Kelly combined with the rest of Station House ensures the festival party is going to get funky and the dancers appreciated the deep grooves laid down once again by Station House. They always mash-it-up with a “Reggae” take of Little Wing. As usual, you do not want their music to stop but party on through the night. Never mind next up is there a Doctor in the house. NO! But there is New Zealand based rock n’ Roll band Brilleaux. Back for the second year after delighting everyone in 2015, Brilleaux, brought energy to the beat and really increased the energy levels on a warm June afternoon. Once again a highlight as they went down a storm, Brilleaux keeps the energy and vibe of British Rn’B spreading and maintaining the gospel of the Essex Delta. Saturday evening starts with the second Scottish act of the weekend and definitely not the last with a very good, very loud Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band. Following on was an artist celebrating his own Silver jubilee later this year Ian Siegal and his band. The set was electric. Ian and the band spark off each other as the chemistry between them distills and creates blues defining definition. He has a mix of sounds, country, Tex-Mex, Mississippi Hill Country and a very British vibe. The mix is spell-binding. Music that connects deep into your music radar. This was a night with a mix of songs we love to hear. Including the award-winning, I Am the Train, Brandy Balloon and Gallo Del Cielo, yet again no happy ending. It was though an opportunity for Dusty Ciggar’s breathtakingly awesome guitar breaks he is so inventive. Ian Siegal was his own enigmatic, and brilliant self as he shaped his superb vocal range and guitar painting a picture of the lyrics that created a rock n’ rolling masterpiece with his guitar and the rhythm and beat this band. Yes, an encore was demanded and we were rewarded with Hard Pressed with a Siegal diversion of Prince’s Sign of The Times and closing with the A Walk In The Wilderness, not the first time this festival Glaswegian Big George was remembered. How does a festival schedule follow that easy if you are the Blues on The Farm organiser’s, Gary Brooker and Friends the perfect band to help us party on a Saturday night; with a set of Blues and British R n’ B classics, interspersed with Gary’s back catalogue. Just what the festival crowd ordered.
Sunday, how the time is flowing through the festival sand-clock only six bands left to hear and only a few more hours to drink beer and meet your friends. Sunday saw a mix of styles, opening the afternoon The Blues Issue, who got the blues flowing through the tent and out beyond. With lots of bands for me to listen to I was not disappointed by Debbie Bond, from Alabama. She bought to the stage skillful guitar playing and a great array of songs from her current album. With Rick ‘Radiator’ on harp and keys playing a wonderful bass left hand. Augmented by Ray Carless on Sax and the re-appearance of Sam Kelly on drums. Debbie has a style of blues that makes you smile as she sings some great lyrics loved The Wishbone Song. In between the music talking in a friendly chatty way as we learnt about the strength and depth of Blues in Alabama, waving the flag for that state this year following on from Lisa Mills in 2014. Dr. Schwamp followed, the festival needs to shake up the acts. Dr Schwamp did this with Bagpipes (first for me at a blues festival), fiddle and more. Bagpipes and the Blues can it be done? Well surprisingly yes! The set was dramatic full of showmanship proving once again, Blues on The Farm is the friendliest festival and never afraid to bring us music that surprises us. These risks pay off as Industrial Folk/alternative blues band The Jar Family have become a mainstay of the festival and back for their third year with the eclectic and entertaining delivery of folk blues roots music that gets the festival jumping. With some new numbers The Jar Family know how to entertain with the mix of guitars, harp and percussion they are multi-instrumentalists extraordinaire, with only the drummer staying in one place throughout the show. The Jar Family are true showmen, which entertain with music that flows through your veins. Next up all the way from Denmark were Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado. This seven-piece combined horns, great lead vocals, keys, guitar and so much more as they created a rockingly good sound. They gave the festival an authentic R ‘n’ B sound. You couldn’t help but let your feet tap, hips shake and dance with the deep rhythms of the band. The night was drawing to a close, the final act of the twenty-fifth anniversary was about to take to the stage. The second Nimmo of the weekend and third Scotsman Stevie Nimmo Trio was the final musical firework show of Blues on The Farm 2016. The final set was a highlight that left you wanting more music and to be back on the farm in 2017. This is a trio that twists and turns your emotions as you laugh and cry to the lyrical rollercoaster of Stevie. His guitar work is sublime bringing the festival to a rousing conclusion. The Sky Won’t Fall from the blues horizon with music like this and festivals of the quality that Julian Moores achieves every year down on the cider farm in Sussex.
This year in addition to the main stage, beer, food and fun there was a pop-up stage to entertain between the acts this year included Jack Hutchinson, Amanda St.John and the ebullient Kaz Hawkins who took over the beer tent for dancing and powerful gospel-inspired stripped back set.
Twenty-five years, on to 2017 and this year the Marquee may have shrunk in the rain, the clouds may have tried to dampen our spirits. The music lifted the spirits and the beer flowed and we made sure this was a party. Thank you once again to Julian & Kathy for opening their farm for four days of music delights,the music we love, old, new and definitely every shade of blue. The mud well that is the signature note of summer festivals of 2016 and Julian’s organization ensured no-one was stranded at Pump Bottom farm we will be back for 2017 Blues on the Farm.