For many the First Music Weekend of the year is in Butlins
Once again the migration of many travelling eastward to the cold coast and Butlins at Skegness to start the year off. This year the weather was bitterly cold with a wind that took your breath away. Inside the venues could have been warmer and particularly the Skyline’s Introducing stage. But we had friendship and music to brighten our mood. As for the music it was inconsistent, the good was very good, even excellent. The rest was rather predictable and safe. Interestingly, some of the bands that did excite were from the Introducing Stage from previous years and the others in Jaks. Still, before we reflect lets join Liz from Bluesdoodles on her walk around the stages and the bands that caught her ear. Many bands passed her by, heard them before, and were basically a tribute on the nostalgia trip down memory lane that I did not want to step on. For me I want to look forward explore the new bands that have something to say to me musically.
The first band of the night on the Introducing Stage kicking the chords that would resonate across the Skyline was John Doe Trio, with a debut album Stranger and after a strong set of Blues, they will not be strangers on the circuit for long. The blues continued with Connor Selby Band, a young band featuring Fergie Fulton on Bass (not the first time we would see his bass playing over the weekend!). Next up The Big Wolf Band, with Zoe Green up front for the first time delivering vocals with power. The final set of the night changed the tone, cranked up the amp as Burnt Out Wreck concluded with a loud, mighty and strong set. Their album may be Swallow but this was
Opening Reds was last year’s Friday Night success story from the Introducing stage, Mike Ross Band. Would they deliver? Oh
Having scanned Saturday’s offering I was not overwhelmed! My anticipation levels were not very high, which is unusual for me when live music is involved. Afternoon entertainment we welcomed back The Della Grants who first graced the main stage a couple of years back after storming the Introducing Stage. We heard trumpet, keys and harmonica adding to vocals and guitar. The slide guitar was wonderful plus the fantastic rapport with the crowd. Maybe an early start but this popular band were playing to a crowded room. The Della’s didn’t disappoint and with a forthcoming album we will be hearing a lot more from this engaging band that brings the warmth of the New Orleans to their British interpretation of the blues interweaved with Country and Rock. Another band that always delivers are The Stumble. The saxophone adds the tonal depth and Paul Melville was on form delivering authentic British Blues. He certainly won Best Boots of The Weekend award along with his superb voice and charming stage persona. With some great silky lead breaks and textured interventions by the sax they play with such authentic emotions. As ever Bus Stop was an upbeat highlight. No wonder the demand for one or all of their four albums was high.
Once again the four acts on the introducing Stage offered music that had people dancing, talking and entertaining. Felix Rabin got the show underway. Bringing a winning combination of youth and talent. Refreshing to hear a band that was youthful adding vim and vigour to the set. The next two bands, Lee Ainley’s Blue Storm and JFK Blue delivered sets that kept us entertained. Then the speakers and energy were cranked up with SKAM. This is a heavy rock trio with attitude and animated playing of sound they want to deliver. They bring in a difference when playing slower numbers like The Wire without de-energising the sound and audience.
Now for the main stages. Reds delivered rock with Dare & FM. Both delighted the fans with solid sets of classic rock. FM definitely upped the tempo with a dramatic entrance. They delivered a good time rocking sound with a set that warmed the venue, they never disappoint with their take on Classic Rock as they sing We Belong To The Night. A quick jaunt in the cold to Centre Stage for two energetic sets with a diversion via Jaks. First, we heard Mike Vernon and his Mighty Combo. This is R&B that makes you smile and want to dance. This was a technicolour sound from the Mighty Combo that matched Mike’s vibrant jacket. Thankfully, we then stepped into Jaks to hear one of the sets of the weekend from a last-minute replacement that would turn out to be a true highlight of the weekend for myself and many others. The Achievers delivered live music that you want to listen to and engage with. This is a band made for live music with their delightful harmonies, upbeat and modern, come back to Skeggy soon. In the meantime – I thoroughly recommend that you catch them whenever and wherever they play.
Then back across to Centre Stage to catch the dynamo that is Sugaray Rayford. This singer with the big soulful voice was surrounded by a group of superb musicians adding layers of tonal texture and shape beneath the vocals including Alastair Green whose guitar added juicy blues. What a show the attention of everyone was focused on the singing dynamo Sugaray the energy flowed of the stage so that no one was untouched by his glorious music. He has a massive personality, radiating charisma with is stories and it felt like he was talking directly to everyone in the room. The banter was entertaining but the singing was exhilarating I wanted more of the gorgeous vocals that define Sugaray’s charismatic performances. Overall quite superb. Late on Saturday night, Jaks will always provide the music and tonight was no different with The Milkmen providing some classy delivery to our music ears. Entering from stage left to Ernie The Fastest Milkman in the West…. We were onboard the float that would have us dancing and moving to the beat into Sunday Morning. A great set of R&B we were enjoying songs from their albums Full Phat & Gold Top. Songs always get that extra fizz when played live. Jamie Smy, on vocals wearing a dapper red velvet jacket, gave the lyrics vocal warmth a winning combination when combined with Adam Norsworthy’s guitar playing as he played two sides of the Blues smooth and dirty. This is the perfect late night antidote to the gaps in the music menu this Saturday in Butlins.
Sunday, afternoon after a late night, Acoustic is the perfect antidote. Especially when you have the choice of two amazingly talented acts. First up Martin Harley on Centre Stage, summing him up pure class. This is pure pleasure for your ears and soul, stories and songs and stunning guitar playing on both his Weissenborn guitar with a special textural tone as he manipulates the strings with the metal slide or the acoustic he pieced together, a car boot sale find. At the same time in Jaks the lovely charming, friendly smile of singer/songwriter Lucy Zirins. with her new album, Unfound available no wonder after a skilful set she was surrounded by people demanding the album. With ballads, slow and faster numbers and a love song we heard Lucy at her best brimming with confidence. Showing her love through her skilful weaving together of powerful lyrics, with vibes of country, folk and blues and the audience was happy to participate in her standing number Stand By Me. We all stand by young talent that is Lucy Zirins.
Next stop a storming set from one of the winners of last year’s Introducing stage Storm Warning. They certainly know how to put a set together. With covers from their latest album Take Cover including their own re-arrangement of Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm. Whether a new number from the forthcoming album or old favourites they all connected with that Storm Warning stamp of approval. And the audience definitely approved!
Tonight we had the last of the four acts on the introducing stage and eclectic mix for us to listen to. Opening from Germany Cheri Lyn, with a soft rock set. Then a blast from Crow Black Chicken from County Cork who deliver foot stomping, mouth whooping music. With tall tales and carries on of life on the road with CBC. They blew what was left of the roof off after SKAM the night before. It was a fabulous if too short a set from this fabulous live-wire trio. Follow that… and Robert J. Hunter did just that with a vibrant bluesy set a strong set that sustained the interest of the crowds in the Skyline. Closing out was Born Healer, another strong set of bluesy rock in this reworking of the Bare Bones Boogie Band, with Helen Turner on vocals.
Last night what will the music bring to excite? Grainne Duffy was not to be missed on Centre Stage. Once again she and her band played a great Irish blues/rock guitar led show. A marvellous set and Grainne always delivers a wonderful version of I would Rather Go Blind. The rest of the night on the Centre Stage did not excite. So off to Reds where Oliver Dawson Saxon delivered a set that delighted Saxon fans. In Jaks women ruled and entertained. Zoe Schwartz Blue Commotion, Dani Wilde and Dana Gillespie ensuring we went to our beds replete with music that met the mark.
In conclusion, Bluesdoodles gives a big shout out to the two UK Blues magazines that support these stages. The Introducing Stage, bringing acts that have never played Skegness before to our attention. Thank you Solid Entertainments for finding the acts and Blues In Britain who hand out the little Blue Tokens and assist with the merch. The three winning bands the ‘People’s Choice’ will all grace the stages next year. On Friday Rock ruled with Burnt Out Wreck, Saturday it as the energy of SKAM that hit the mark and Sunday the eclectic Blues that rocks your socks from Crow Black Chicken. Energy and passion conquered the Introducing stage in 2019. Whilst over in Jaks, Blues Matters put on a wide range of music that certainly delighted many of the people. So as an overview of the weekend I would say the booking agents for the weekend need to step up to the mark and get some new acts for Reds & Centre Stage, young, vibrant acts that play music with passion and attitude. There were