Last year Upton Blues Festival became, officially the largest completely free blues festival in the UK, the event was heavily supported, by bands and punters alike, the nearby fields were near full of campers, the various stages and pubs were rammed with revellers, the sun beat down throughout and from every corner of the town musicians plied their wares, showcasing the rich variety of the blues genre.
Surely with the threat of storms 2014 wouldn’t be able to compete with the previous year’s event, surely people would stay at home, the atmosphere would suffer, etc…. Well not so, the drive in on the Friday soon relieved any fears, 2000 plus people camping out supporting the festival, a figure that topped even last’s years figure and as we hit the riverside of Upton you could feel that air of excitement and expectation in the air, as the crowds gathered in their masses.
Of course you need a band that can channel that energy from the off, a band that would grab the crowd by the scruff of their collective necks and set the mood for the weekend. That band would be The Laurence Jones Band, a group that, in the space of a year have gone from playing the pubs of Upton (last year they played the festival in the courtyard of The Plough) to performing across the world with some of the biggest names in blues. Laurence and his band delivered a stunning opening set of blues rock at it’s best, drawing from the recent Temptation album as well as a few choice covers (the likes of All Along The Watchtower, Bullfrog Blues) to rapturous applause as Laurence proved again why he’s one of the most talked about young blues guitarists (and vocalists for that matter) out there.
Soon Upton was ablaze with the sounds of blues of every variety as the various pubs began their weekend’s festivities. We stuck to the Riverside stage for American rootsy blues man Charlie Morris and his Blues Group, as he delivered a glorious set of laidback blues that took in all the important blues subject matters of drinking, women and gambling, as he channeled the ghosts of the likes of Jimmy Reed and the alike during his infectious set, inciting an outbreak of dancing down towards the front, bringing the first evening’s entertainment to a frenzied close.
Over night the heavens opened, the rain came down and this fair county was lashed with a tasty storm, threatening the festivals schedule and indeed the attendance. The organisers quickly leapt into action as the rains continued to fall, decided to move the main stage from the rain battered riverside to the Memorial Hall (normally the home of the acoustic stage, which in turn was moved across to one of the accommodating pubs), enabling the show to go on. We took to a rather full and sweaty hall to catch a few numbers by Souled Out To Funk, the hall was awash with flailing limbs as the crowd lapped up a set of Soul (and disco) classics, including the likes of Car Wash, Disco Inferno and oddly enough Get Lucky (Daft Punk).
Over on the newly relocated acoustic stage nineteen year jack Blackman mesmerized a large gathering with a stunning set of originals, ragtime blues and the odd Robert Johnson cover. A quick return to the Memorial Hall in time for the New Orleans’s inspired, local heroes, Stomp & Holler, who blended sax, keys, guitar, occasional accordion and a groove-laden rhythm section creating a contagious mix of jazzy horn breaks, Latin bursts and a foot tapping, hip shaking take on the blues. The masses welcomed fan favourite renditions of St James Infirmary Blues and Web Top Checker and as the band raised the halls temperature, the weather responded accordingly as the sun made its presence felt.
With the return of the sun the festival returned to it’s scheduled line-up with the various stages returning to their original locations. I took to investigating a few of the pub stages, taking in the likes of Two Dollar Salad and Nice & Sleazy dishing out well received rock covers to over crowded rooms before wandering down to the Sports Field for a little of skiffle from Warren James, followed by a couple of impressive tracks by hot up and comer Mitch Laddie, back on the Riverside, as he nodded to his heroes Johnny Winters, Walter Trout and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others. By now the festivities and drinks were in full flow with every lick of guitar being lapped up by the hungry crowd.
David Midgen & The Twisted Roots delivered a thrilling genre blending set taking in catchy twisted blues, a touch of a jazz, a thimble of rootsy avant-garde folk and a trumpet assisted jam on something that resembles Mexican borderline Latin rock, their set was enthralling from start to finish with the slide assisted Desert Inside and the blackened lament Rev. Jack Crow proving to be set highlights among others.
The evenings entertainment included inspiring sets by new harmonica king Will Wilde and band (including a glorious rendition of Johnny “Guitar” Watsons’s” 3 Hours Past Midnight), a deft solo acoustic set by Adam Sweet (his solo album is a must buy for fans of rootsy blues), the Gambian Blues fusion of Baku Dan and the upfront, sultry Bradley’s Circus, a Dutch combo that provoked dancing, hollering and bra throwing (after a plea for panties by lead singer Lidewij Veenhuis) with a set of raw and lusty blues rock, bringing the second day to a mesmeric close.
The third and final day of Upton Blues Festival began basked in Sunshine, music poured from every corner with The Hereford Soul Choir opening proceedings on the riverside whilst I headed down to the sports field to take in a somewhat surreal yet vastly entertaining set by Stompin’ Dave, a one man, tap dancing, banjo wielding, piano bashing, guitar strumming maverick who blended bluegrass, country blues, boogie woogie and good time rock n roll to a captivated packed early afternoon crowd. Stompin’ Dave is pure entertainment, a comedic yet musically able frontman that provided tap dancing rhythm’s to the likes of House Of The Rising Sun and Minnie The Moocher, he juggled a violin on Keep My Skillet Good & Greasy and attacked a banjo on a BB King number to provide one of the most entertaining sets of the entire weekend.
A quick cider on the way back to the riverside and perhaps the most impressive band of the festival, the raw, powerful, garage blues two-piece, Henry’s Funeral Shoe, a feral combo, that combined a ton of attitude primal drums and down-tuned, low and dirty blues riffs. The brothers bashed out three-minute infectious blasts, to two thousand plus, bewitched blues aficionados, all embracing the storm the duo created on the likes of Gimme back My Morphine, Dog Scratched Ear and the edgy Janis The Stripper.
The Spikedrivers, back over on the sports field mixed a rootsy folk feel with stripped down acoustic blues, kitchen instruments collided with the more standard guitars, bass and drums set up, offering the festival something a little different, at times almost tribal and often haunting as the band proved why they’re one of the must see acoustic blues bands on the circuit right now.
In the memorial hall the likes of The Real Raj, Louise Latham and The Terry White Band plied their trade to a more than appreciative audience and whilst in the various pubs the music and beer kept flowing with the likes of Forty Blues Toes, Gwyn Ashton and Groovy Head provided the soundtrack.
To finish the weekend off, Zoe Schwarz Blues Commotion offered up a light and airy take on the blues, that ranged from jazzy ballads to a fuller blues rock sound, whilst over on the riverside the wiry Larry Miller pulled no punches as he wrestled with his guitar delivering a mesmeric masterclass of blues rock (in the style of Trout, Hendrix, Bonamassa and Moore) whilst his band ably backing him by forming a tight groove-laden platform.
As always Upton Blues Festival delivered, the organisers somehow managed to top the previous years line-up and the rising attendance levels attest to just how popular both the festival and the various formats of the blues is right now. I’ll be booking time off work around next year’s event; I highly recommend that you do the same!!!
Words Will Munn
Photos Graham Munn
Davina and The Vagabonds @ Robin 2 16/07/14
Davina returned to The Robin after 11 months, despite a moderate turn out last year, the delicious Davina left a powerful imprint. She fronts a big, bold and brassy, 5 piece band, who are determined to give everyone a good time. Dan Eikmeier, on trumpet, Ben Link, trombone, Andrew Burns, double bass, and Connor Mcrae Hammergren, beating out the drums. All joust and tease as they try to constrain the gregarious Davina Sowers as she expressively caresses and punishes her piano with a passion.
Songs were pulled from her ‘Black Cloud’ album, and many that featured on her glorious ‘Live @ The Times 2009′. The Vagabonds are very much a performance band, and the live album reflects that, its a cracker. Whether originals or not, the band put their take on everything. ‘Daydream’, Honey Pie, and ‘Back To Memphis’, are superb, but then you have to deal with the wonderfully wicked, ‘St. Michael Vs The Devil’, Davina toying with Dan’s trumpet, in a vocal duel that highlights the fun element of this bands stage presence. The new album, ‘Sunshine’ was sampled, again its a mix of Davina’s work and some selected songs, like Eddie Miller’s ‘I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water’, superb, standing alongside Davina’s own ‘I Try To Be Good’.
Etta James classic, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, is given the Davina Sowers treatment, she has that empathy this truly great song deserves. It would be impossible to overlook the closing Joe Primrose song, there are many wonderful versions, this was no exception as Ben Link took to lead vocals for ‘St James Infirmary Blues’, with a roll of drums, the sad lament is retailed, to a chorus of ‘got no pants on’, New Orleans blues, typically heavily accented with jazz and finished in Cab Calloway style, fabulous is not too strong a word. The session has been full of humour, superlative musicianship, and pure entertainment. More fun than a lock in with Girls Aloud and a magnum of Bolly……..probably. A cocktail of 3 parts Orleans, 3parts Blues, 3 parts Jazz 1 part Vaudeville, stirred and mixed, to be taken whenever you need a lift, they will be back, don’t miss out next time.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
Mike Sanchez & Friends @ Kidderminster Town Hall 04/07
Just one more date on Mike’s tour calender this summer? Not so, Kidderminster Town Hall is his home town gig, a place where the many life long friends and fans were gathered to watch and hear, the smorgasbord of songs presented to them. Three different line ups that have been significant in the career of Mike Sanchez, gathered on the stage over the course of the evening, to take those fans back to the early years.
The Rockets were the first band, a collection of school pals, with Mike on guitar, Ian Jennings on double bass and Mark Morgan on drums. The band were listening and watching the music scene of their era, and decided to step back to earlier years for their inspiration. Songs from, the likes of Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and a version of Jim Reeves, ‘Please Release Me’ on speed, and a quick snatch from ’81 for ‘Tainted Love’, a song rooted in the early 60′s. A mix of R& B and good solid blues, were reprised from those early Rocket years.
A break and a shuffle of the deck, and we stepped forward into the foundling Big Town Playboys, which brought to stage Ricky Cool, and Andy Sylvester. Mike moved onto the keyboards. Sanchez swings and Ricky rocks, as the band blasted through some great, rhythm & blues and rock & roll songs. Ricky moving from sax to harp for some good old Chicago Blues, with both Mike and Ricky swapping vocal leads. Out of nowhere, comes Guitar Junior’s, ‘The Crawl’, followed by some lovely harmonica, as Ricky takes on Billy Boy Arnold’s, ‘I Wish You Would’, superb. A bit of Ike Turner, and some nice Jimmy Rogers, ‘Walking By Myself’, definitely not alone this evening.
‘Hip Shake Baby’, preceded another shuffle and the final mix, bringing Mike’s current band to stage, Tom Ford, on guitar, Nick Whitfield, taking double bass, Pete Cook and Nick Payne, swing their saxophones, with Mike Morgan still sat behind the drums. Were all having a ball, the music swings on, ‘Hurting Inside’ no, but as Fat’s sang ‘I’m ready’, the band was willing, and certainly able. The music rattles out non stop, whatever comes to Mike’s mind to play, there is no plan but to see all have a good time. A few suggestions are thrown to the stage, The band oblige, Mike Sanchez is a walking library of R&B. Sarah Wynne, takes up the vocal lead, for some Jesse Mae and Lil Ester Phillips songs, with ‘Don’t Freeze On Me’, and ‘If Its News For You Baby’, followed by the excellent, ‘Each Day’.
Joining for a last jam session, Andy Sylvester and Ricky Cool add to the band, a superb evening in this lovely setting of the Town Hall, a venue with a history of hosting so many great bands of past years. From the earliest years of The Rockets, and playing in the back room of pubs in the area, Mike Sanchez has made music his life, laid out for all to read in the ‘Big Town Playboy’ biography. I’m sure there will be a few more chapters to add in the future.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
This year saw the tenth anniversary for, perhaps one of the most family friendly music festivals on the calender, as ever the organisers of Wychwood delivered an incredible weekends entertainment covering everything from comedy, children’s workshops and book reading to relaxing massages and spa’s and of course a diverse, intriguing musical program that brought together festival favourites to brand new buzz bands across a handful of stages and tents.
Like any festival it’s impossible to cover every performer and mention every event over the course of three days but I’ll try to break it down and give you a feel of the festival.
Day One. Friday
The rain had fallen and left the site with a boggy squelch underfoot, but despite the conditions the early entrants were ably warmed up by the likes of A Way With Words on the mainstage but our first port of call was over in the BBC Introducing Tent for a blistering set of guitar histrionics from Bromsgrove based blues rock heroes, Virgil And The Accelerators, creating an early storm with a dazzling flurry of riffs, solos and bombarding drums. A quick dash across to the mainstage to catch a bit of Newquay Times before heading into the Big Top for the first time for early highlight, skiffle blues band Railroad Bill who welded acoustic guitars, washboard, tea chest double bass and infectious tongue in check vocal harmonies to create a riotous take on the genre complete with a rock n roll attitude, gurning, hook-laden sing-a-longs and more foot tapping rhythms than most bands can muster in a life time. From there on in it was dash after dash across the site to catch further up and comers in the Big Tent and Worcestershire’s finest over in the BBC Tent, with the occasional pause at the mainstage. BBC Hereford And Worcester did a stunning job of showcasing the regions finest as many mainstays from the Introducing program graced the stage and gave their all, the likes of The Misers with their rootsy take on rock n roll, the ever dependable and uniquely contagious alternative pop rockers, Jasper In The Company Of Others and stage headliners, The Stiff Joints drew huge crowds in the cramped tent, whilst the brassy Collective 43 drummed up support outside drawing in further revellers to the sounds of Hereford And Worcester. Smashing Blouse were providing a party of their own over in the Big Top as they hosted a number of stunning, evocative sets from a host of newcomers. Whitechapel based trio Glitches made an immediate impression with a blend of dark electro-indie topped with a stunning almost falsetto vocal, cutting through the melancholic synth/guitar based backing to create a fragile, yet compelling sound. Lloyd Yates, provided a folkier, more organic sound incorporating acoustic and electric guitars alongside a deep baritone lead vocal, instantly bewitching the audience. back to the electronics (and a debate over whether using synths and computers makes the performers any lesser musicians, personally I love a bit of live electronica!!!) for the likes of the hip-hop/sax flavours of Benin City and the rather more moody but no less interesting No Ceremony. Inbetween bouts of electronic goodness, ventures into the sunshine provided wafts of the likes of Graham Gouldman and pals delivering acoustic renditions of Dreadlock Holiday and unwanted blasts (my personal opinion, though the masses love them!!) of The Real Thing. As the first day drew to a close we were treated to one of the sets of the festival. in the shape of Bipolar Sunrise, a chilled out soulful collective that effortlessly blended R&B, electronics and pop to create a stunning set that was rounded off brilliantly with aptly entitled mantra, Love More Worry Less. As we left the site on Day One The Stranglers were inciting mass sing-a-longs for the likes of the always punchy Peaches and No More Heroes, whilst Golden Brown had pretty much the whole site swaying along.
Day Two. Saturday
So I admit it, I’m a wimp, but I just don’t do camping, sure I’m up at the crack of dawn but I’ve still had a good nights kip ready for another packed day of festivities. As we hit Wychwood, Justin Fletcher was leading all the children on a merry song and dance on the mainstage, with the kids obviously lapping up the Mr Tumble/Gigglebiz performer we decided to hit the Big Top for first, a dance to Cuban big band Ran Kan Kan and then an introduction to something called Chap-Hop by the rather delightful Mr B The Gentleman Rhythmer, who took hip-hop, shook out all the posturing and profanity, added a banjolele and a heap of humour to create a gentleman’s take on the genre. Mr B’s history lesson of hip-hop took in snippets from the likes of Run DMC and The Beastie Boys along with Northern indie legends Primal Scream, Stone Roses along with Kraftwerk and the alike as he delivered a mirth filled set that left people proclaiming his genius (myself included!!), as his own song proclaims “All Hail The Chap”. Being an avid reader of R2 I already had great expectations for Wigan based folk rockers Merry Hell as they took to the mainstage and their set of high octane rockers and soulful laments captured the imagination from the outset. Their set had it all, male/female harmonies, biting social commentary (Love The Skin Your In), touching love songs (Lean On Me Love) and even a clanging slice of hammer and spade percussion (Bury me Naked) as Merry Hell showcased just why they’re so highly regarded in folk circles and beyond. By now the temperature down the front was rising and the multi cultural collective La Chiva Gantiva added to the sweaty humidity with a dazzling combination of Latin rhythms, Afrobeat percussion and funk-driven rock, driving the audience into all new frenzy as their undeniable groove took hold and their infatuating frontman revved up the intensity further. Bad Manners were welcomed to the stage as conquering heroes, Buster Bloodvessel and his energetic horn section delivered all the ska party favourites from My Girl Lollipop to Feel Like Jumping all the way to Special Brew And Lip Up Fatty inciting outbreaks of skanking and mass sing-a-longs along the way. Newton Faulkner took to the stage for an early evening slice of acoustic pop and after a couple of technical hiccups, seduced the audience with his deft finger picking and gentle croon delivering stunning takes on Teardrops by Massive Attack and his own effervescent Dream Catch Me along the way. With every festival you get the obligatory stage clashes, for me day two presented a couple to ponder upon do I see Reef or venture to the Big Top for Kyla la Grange? I originally went with the former, but after Place Your Hands and Come Back Brighter, my interest quickly began to wane and my feet to wander, in contrast Kyla was simply mesmeric, the blend of pop infused electronic/indie compels, whilst her vocals transcend you to another world completely, that voice is a bewitching thing of beauty that captivates anyone stood in earshot, whilst the songs themselves wrap their talons round both your head and heart….wow!!! Day two was completed with foppish indie dandy King Charles elegantly sashaying across the stage whilst The Levellers brought out a greatest hits set over on the mainstage featuring the likes of Hope Street and One Way Of Life among their supercharged setlist.
Day Three. Sunday
The final day of Wychwood’s birthday celebrations, the sun reveals it’s full potential, folk begin to look a little weary after two days of singing and dancing, yet still seem to be in high spirits as the first of the days band’s take to the stage. KSH & The Going Goods open the mainstage with a fine line of acoustic hip-hop (acoustic guitar. human beatbox, etc), the likes of Happiness with it’s hook-laden chorus and The Day After Friday soon entice the first sing-a-longs of the day as they end set to a great deal of acclaim. Polly And The Billets Doux continued to rouse a weary audience with an incredible, early afternoon set of harmony infused blues, soul and folk, complete with clever guitar work, throbbing double bass, harmonica blasts and powerful, passionate vocals that yank at the heartstrings, originals such as Money Tree and Black Crow instantly cast a spell over the audience, whilst their rendition of House Of The Rising Sun was not only a completely original take but also jaw dropping for the instrument swapping mid song. Baracka brought a delicious Caribbean stew to the proceedings with a combination of world grooves, reggae, soca and calypso vibes as the sun proceeded to shine brightly on, a now carnival like atmosphere. Whilst baracka were busy creating a sunshine state, Craig Charles dropped the funk bomb with a hot and sweaty DJ set to a jam packed tent for the second year in a row. Gabby Young And The Other Animals took to the stage and instantly demanded attention with a flash of red hair, circus swing, spaghetti western and off the wall rock n roll, the band’s flamboyant singer, Gabby proved to be a captivating focal point, not only did she had a rather unique style but also one of the most impressive set of vocal pipes over the festival, whilst the other animals ably backed her on the likes of I’ve Improved and the Morricone inspired Horatio (did I spot a Calexico influence?). Whilst Sadie And The Hotheads and the regular workshop showcase took up the main arena we retreated to the Big Top for a stunning set of glacial Sigur Ros meets Radiohead (with added trumpet) soundscapes from epic indie rockers Racing Glaciers, whilst over in the introducing tent up and comers Pretty Rascals delivered a Beatles/Oasis/Artic Monkeys inspired set topped off with a fantastic run through Come Together. Due The Champs have been picked for bigger and better things with their brand of acoustic harmonised indie folk and their set of Turin Brakes like originals did have a couple of stand out moments such as My Spirit Is Broken, but for me I would of like a little more variation, perhaps ones to look out for in the future. Back over on the main stage a one-two punch of ska with The Gentlemans Dub Club and Lee Thompson’s Ska Orchestra, with the former proving to be highlights with their dub fuelled rhythms and infectious ringleader commanding the audiences participation on the likes of If The Truth Be Told and the frantic Fire. All good things must come to an end and so be it with Wychwood’s birthday party but before we go there’s time for one more band, a legend perhaps….the crowd pushed forward for the arrival of Sir Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats, from the off, Bob strutted, pouted and gesticulated wildly, with the crowd lapping up every swing of the fake snakeskin clad hips, whilst his band pounded out the hits and what better way to finish off a perfect weekend of entertainment than a holler along to She’s So Modern and the obligatory I Don’t Like Mondays.
I could go on and on about this year’s Wychwood, but I should sum up, if you weren’t there you missed out on perhaps the festival of the Summer, if you were there, you don’t need me to tell you how damn impressive this year’s shindig was, bring on the eleventh birthday!!!
Words Will Munn
Photos Graham Munn
Cheltenham jazz Festival; Jools Holland and His R&B Orchestra Guests: Marc Almond, Gregory Porter and Ruby Turner
The closing show of this years festival, and the big top is bursting, as jools R&B orchestra take to the stage, 15 strong and Jools who goes straight to the piano and a bit of boogie woogie. Plenty more of that throughout the show, but only after we have a bit of Fats Waller, ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’. Jools extravaganza is much as you would expect, an exemplary performance by both magician, Jools, and the members of his band, all fine musicians in their own right.
Conjuring up his first major guest vocalist, Marc Almond took to the stage to rapturous applause, and delivered what was wanted. ‘Say Hello And Wave Goodbye’, and naturally, ‘Tainted Love’, jazz no, blues no, but nobody is complaining.
Back to some marvellous piano wizardry, then on to the gigantic presence of Gregory Porter, a fabulous performance that brought us soul, blues and gospel. A seemingly giant of a man, with personality to match. The stage emptied leaving Jools and his drummer Gilson Lavis, for an exceptionally fine boogie. First with the help of Hammond playing, brother, Chris, both attacking the piano, changing ends seamlessly.
What next, well it could only be the powerful voice of Ruby Turner, to a standing audience, she filled the air with the sounds of blues and gospel, to tremendous applause. Jools had brought the full circus, appropriately to the big top, along with the finest vocalists who performed wonderfully with his iconic Rhythm And Blues Orchestra, a grand closing to a great week at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
Words By Graham Munn
Photo By Phil Stevens www.mcphersonstevens.com
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