304 North Cardinal St.
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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
January drawing to a close, Christmas lights a fading memory. Then your calendar clicks around to Butlins, Skegness for the Great British Rock & Blues Festival, the next year of musical journeys begins. This year the emphasis is on Blues, Rock has fallen if not silent but reduced to a whisper this year, upsetting some and definitely changing the balance and feel of the weekend.
The Introducing Stage got the show underway from 4pm Friday until the early hours of Monday morning. The gaps were minimal the music quality, meeting of friends chatting about what stood out and having fun was the order of the day. The grumble about the lack of rock was justified. The title of the weekend is Rock & Blues so you would expect a balanced mixture. Everyone who knows me knows that I love my Blues of every hue, but I love the energy of Rock, the power of Rock and energy of the stage shows and this year this injection of power was missed. Without the balance of Rock and Blues, we didn’t have the contrast of razor-sharp, sparkling blues guitar and the full-on power chords and stinging licks of granite fueled rock.
Bluesdoodles, Liz Aiken enjoyed the weekend visiting the stages catching acts, missing others. With four stages this was a hectic few days. Starting off with the highlights across the days on Introducing Stage, run by Steve Stanley, of Solid Entertainments with the help from Paul Stiles and the Blues In Britain Team to hand out the voting disks. The Skeggie road takes us to Centre Stage – designated as ‘The Rock Stage’ by the Butlins programming team. The journey continues with a visit to Jaks with its late night sessions jams and a distinctive atmosphere, organised by Blues Matters. Finally, our travels and weary feet take us to Reds, 2017 the Blues stage. The programming was without argument patchy by the Butlins team what was good was very good, interspersed by mediocre and poor. The Road was definitely a Blue cobbled street rather than a rocky trail throughout the 2017 weekend. Let’s hope this is a transition year and next year the balance between Rock and Blues is restored. There are so many young exciting bands on the circuit that would be delighted to entertain the Skeggie crowds.
Now, for the music. GT’s Boos Band got the show under way and they were one of the thirteen excellent bands who delighted the crowded area at the heart of the Skyline Pavilion. The bands played for the chance of performing on a stage at Butlins 2018, decided by public vote. The three successful bands this year were Friday Night – Tom Walker Trio, Saturday, Southbound and the final finalist on Sunday was Greg Coulson Band. The competition was tough every band bought an interpretation of blues and rock that shows the depth of live music in the UK today. Tom Walker Trio, played a set that sparked including originals and an interesting, entertaining interpretation of Joe Bonamassa’s John Henry. Hitting the authentic blues spot Backwater Roll certainly pleased the audience in a packed area. Saturday night showed that this stage is getting more popular every year as the place to find new festival gems that you will want to see live again. Southbound were great on the night with a live performance showcasing the power of the rhythm section as they delivered their distinctive Blues Rock with a bucket of soul sound thrown in for good measure. Matt Edwards Band with Stuart Dixon on bass impressed as did their 2015 album Four Berry Jam. Matt has a voice that makes you listen and his guitar playing has an infectious tone. Amy Eftekhari’s performance of Somewhere Over The Rainbow got the crowds purring with delight. Then it was Sunday two performances really stood out and on another day Elles Bailey would have won. Her vocals have power and the addition of Nick Garner on harp added another dimension to this class act; for me the winner of Sunday night. But the popular vote went to Greg Coulson, who delivered by surrounding himself with excellent musicians and a confident stage presence on the day. His experience as keyboardist with The Selectors shone through combined with strong numbers from his forthcoming debut album. This was party music that lit up the Introducing Stage.
Centre Stage is where queues form every night long before the doors open. At least now they are entertained by the adjacent Introducing Stage. This year designated The Rock Stage for the first time had one certainty rock would be hard to find. Friday night opened with one of last year’s winners Sugarman Sam & The Voodoo Men. Wow, the transition to main stage fitted the band perfectly with a strong set. The music was hefty blues-rock, punctuated with authentic blues licks that curled around the rhythm section. Sugarman Sam, is growing as the new number She’s A Woman demonstrated. The following act was Eric Sardinas & Big Motor highly anticipated and deeply disappointing in the delivery. Yes, a string did break, but why the length of time off stage, as so many said surely someone of this calibre should have a spare guitar tuned for slide, do a different number or have a guitar tech. It was left to the bass player, Paul Loranger who held the fort not once but twice as Sardinas left the stage and flounced off again. What the band played was good but the flow of the set was disjointed and definitely an off night for this colourful performer of Rock-blues.
Saturday with two sessions the afternoon opened by Texas Flood another winner from 2016. What a winning Rock n’ Roll set. Texas Flood definitely washed away any cobwebs with a rip-roaring high octane set that rocked. This is the rock we want to hear at Skeggie, but why the early timing? It was not as if the evening bands were that exciting. The energy was high, the timing sharp they certainly did Wales proud! The interplay between guitar and bass was sharp and entertaining. Closing the afternoon the Helen Hardy Band entertained. A good R n’ B band the covers we know and flowed through the auditorium as Saturday afternoon drew to a close. Saturday night. Kenney Jones & The Jones Gang, may not be classic rock but this was a band that delighted the crowds with songs from his vast back catalogue. Kenney Jones, the drummer who was the heart of three of the great bands The Small Faces, Faces and The Who. The crowd sung along with delight to Itchycoo Park and more. Leafhound, a rock band were well received with Luke Rayner’s guitar sounding superb, the most underrated of the weekend. (Bluesdoodles spent most of the time in Reds and Jaks this just didn’t rock our boots)
Last day of the festival with a feeling of the night after the day before. The last of 2016 Introducing Stage winners the Rainbreakers started things off. This is a band that never rains on your parade but brings a ray of sunshine Once again proving what a great launch pad the introducing stage is as they also stepped into Centre stage limelight delivering a storming set. The testimony to this was the queue for the merch as people wanted to get their hands on the latest E.P. Rise Up. This was R n’ B with attitude, full of tasty riffs and delicious licks in the eclectic selection of numbers. A class act with loads of potential to be a name on everyone’s lips. Popa Chubby Band closed out the afternoon with his own brand of Blues and R n’ B with his trademarked lead breaks, held together by a solid rhythm section. The crowd really warmed to him many hearing him for the first time. Definitely class blues BUT definitely not Rock as Poppa described his music as Working Class Blues. The night was not about rock but there were three acts that delighted the audiences. Kicking off the double celebration of the Rocking Blues was Laurence Jones with his new line-up. He built the energy, excited the packed house, the guitar was sweet. Laurence full of confidence gained from years of touring and playing live across Europe and the UK. The set was one-hundred percent Laurence with ribbons and bells as he showcased his latest album Take Me High. That is definitely what he did he took us high in to a dazzling blue encrusted music with the edge of rock With Joanne Shaw Taylor up next we were going to be in for a Wild ride. Reflecting her current album, the set was full of deep blues riffs and licks that curled around the audience with a sensuous and stylish flow. The interaction between Joanne and her bassist Luigi Casanova adds energy a visual focal point. Then she breaks away and soars into her renowned guitar solos that hit the spot where musical memories are made. Tonight, was the best I had heard her vocals the balance was perfect so voice and guitar were in balanced harmony. Closing out the festival on Centre Stage was Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel where many re-lived memories and reminded many of the sound track of their youth.
The weekend selection at Jaks was vast, full of delights and festival gems plus the fun of Saturday afternoon Jam. Ranging from the gently harmonious blues from Fran McGillivray to the dynamic sounds of blues with a punk attitude and sassy energy from the Husky Tones as this duo caught your attention. With a new album out soon this is a band we will be hearing lots of as they ask Who Will I Turn To Now? Closing the night as the other stages fell silent we danced into the early hours with The Revolutionaires led by the charismatic and energetic Ed Stephenson. Saturday afternoon is all about the Jam which two young men, Mikey Maclennan and Steve Liddle ran with style as unfortunately Jam stalwart Gary Boner from Roadhouse was unwell following a recent operation. Everyone wishes Gary a speedy recovery and a hearty welcome back to Skegness 2018. Saturday evening was a night of magic live-music. With two of the acts for many the bands of the weekend. Firstly Catfish who played a blinding set. Deep emotional blues full of verve and style as Matthew Long with his voice and guitar dominated the stage capturing the audience so that no-one was tempted away. Catfish’s rendition of Make It Rain was stunning and the emotions were charged and there were tears of joy as the passions of the audience and the band connected. Their new album, out 28th January, Broken Man will be a hit of 2017 there is definitely nothing broken about this band. How do you follow that with Dom Pipkin & The Ikos and some New Orleans infused music. Closing the night and welcoming in Sunday were LaVendore Rogue. A band that is like marmite with the supporters outweighing those who cannot connect to their interpretation of the blues. Mixing up the set with old Hokie Joint numbers and tracks from the debut album, Light Up With they definitely shone music into our soul tonight. Sunday evening, without Roadhouse they pulled a blinder by filling the gap with Ash Wilson. The anticipation was high, many had seen him play dual guitar in the Sean Webster Band. On stage he was joined by Bob Fridzema and Roger Inniss who played on his debut album, Broken Machine. Joining him on drums tonight was Wayne Proctor sitting in for his brother Phil Wilson who was otherwise engaged playing drums with Laurence Jones on Centre Stage. The set was mature, accomplished a quality performance of R n’B from everyone on stage. We heard covers like My Babe done the Ash way. Ash’s vocals are strong at times sounding like molasses with the bass drum the heartbeat like cotton popping in a sun-drenched field as he Holding Hands was sung. The Revelator a Jesse Davey number picked up the tempo. There was a pure synergy between these top drawer blues musicians a delight to behold and listen to. Be delighted to see him on the Blues main stage next year. Following this Will Johns & Friends, with Mikey Maclennan once again coming to the rescue as stand-in drummer. He met Will and the band a few minutes before stepping on Jaks stage with them to play a festival set. What a brilliant job he did. Very entertaining with witty repartee, brilliant guitar with a fantastic tone. What a high quality set of blues. The festival had one more act as the clocked turned into Monday, Jaks was packed as everyone squeezed a few more musical memories out of The Great Rock & Blues Festival 2017. Kris Barras Band, who delivered blues rock with power and a force to be reckoned with. Another live act that delivers every time building on the studio sound heard in their current album Lucky 13. Blues Matters once again delivered music that will hold many memories and hats off to the DJ Clive Rawlings who each year acts as the glue that held the sessions together.
Reds this year was coloured with Blues of every hue and shade. With Friday and Saturday dedicated to firstly to the harmonica and then to Alligator Records. Opening the festival for Reds was A Harmonica Explosion, a night where this German folk instrument was re-shaped in tone and playing by Southern States Blues musicians to be forever connected. Blues and harmonica are a perfect pairing. Opening the night was Giles Robson Band, a very entertaining set engaging the audience who were delighted to participate when asked. The music was an explosion of blues harp as we stepped on board the steam train and followed Giles on a ride full of tonal twists and turns of the blues-harp. Later on in the evening he was joined by three more renowned harp-players Magic Dick, who for some reason was not on top form, James Harman beset with frustrating technical issues so his harp was silent for far too long and the cream of the night a musician on fire Billy Branch. When they all played together at the end of the evening we were treated to a harp firework display. The acoustic set from Martin Harley opening on Saturday afternoon was a melodic delight as he explored the tonal ranges of his lap Weissenborn guitar. The covers took us deep into the Delta full of acoustic twists and turns gently kick-starting a harmonious Saturday in Reds turned Blue. The tempo then changed and Reds was packed as loyal fans of Nine Below Zero were once again caressed by the band that knows how to deliver. The only disappointment was this set was on in the afternoon many felt it suited an evening slot. The music drew you in the blues was delivered and everyone left with a deep sigh of contentment. The evening was a celebration of all things Alligator. With a first for Skeggie a Q&A session with Bruce Iglauer President and founder of Alligator records. Lots of interesting questions and we all gained an insight into how a blues label works. Three blinding sets unfurled showing the diversity of electric blues. Marcia Ball got the Alligator Party rocking turning Reds into a Roadhouse for this Blues Spectacular. Proper Chicago blues played by a wonderful group of musicians who with a smile opened up the joy of the blues and entertained. Marcia Ball sung like an angel accompanying herself on the piano with the musicians that pulled together to showcase the sound they just love to share with everyone who listens. Blues is heavenly when played this well. The harmonious and interesting combination of drum shuffles, sax, keys and the power of vocal lyrics was infectious with the guitar pulling the show together. Wow! How do you follow that? Easy when you have the depth of Alligator artists to choose from. Next up blues with a difference a trio, Moreland and Arbuckle. All eyes are focused on Moreland with his cigar box guitar and Arbuckle’s, harp and vocals. A high octane band playing Roots music that rocks you to your core. Electrifying raw delta infused music that gets the adrenalin pumping feet tapping and you get a warm feel good glow as the music surges through your veins. Closing tonight we headed deep into Southside Chicago for authentic urban blues with Toronzo Cannon. Having learnt his craft in the competitive and demanding Windy city club scene it takes a special blues magic to rise above the crowd. Toronzo has that with style and a flourish as he melds smooth vocals and stinging guitar chords. With a mix of his own numbers with strong lyrics and a couple of covers; what a dynamic end to an evening that enveloped you in Chicago Blues and so much more.
Sunday at Reds was a mixed package for me opening with Lil Jimmy Reed featuring Bob Hall on Keys this was the perfect blues smoothie for early Sunday afternoon. Followed by Paul Jones and Dave Kelly as a duet Sunday was a smooth affair. The evening was a mix David Knopfler on acoustic guitar, disappointed, The Blues Band as ever delivers British blues with style and aplomb. Closing the night is Jamie Williams and The Roots Collective; this is blues infused with English Folk and roots music. Closing the festival on Reds they delivered a stylish set that didn’t for me shout out the blues. Not a celebration but a party we all enjoyed.
There were many highlights of every Blue hue the strongest stages over the whole festival weekend were Jaks and the Introducing Stage. The night celebrating Alligator Records was a combination of brilliant blues drenched music. The three young bands who won The Introducing Stage Sugarman Sam & The Voodoo Men, Texas Flood and The Rainbreakers, all added a shine to the festival. Memories of 2017 will be many and all tinged in blue rather than rock. The acts that you should run to see again are Catfish, LaVendore Rogue, Ash Wilson, the winners of the Intro Stage and Elles Bailey. Joanne Shaw Taylor in this form is a force to be reckoned with, Marcia Ball , Moreland & Arbuckle, Toronzo Cannon and the harp supremacy that is Giles Robson.