Colne British Blues Awards 2013
Colne is a small Lancastrian town, hidden up there amongst the dark satanic mills of our forefathers, its also the annual home to an iconic Blues Festival. A festival that hosts many major US imports as well as home grown Blues giants, such as Bill Wyman, Ian Siegal and this year, Ginger Baker.
I had travelled up with local band Babajack, who were nominated for 5 categories in this years accompanying awards ceremony. Arriving Saturday, the ‘gear’ was lugged down into the cellarage of the Green Chimney Café, for an initial gig. The small, dark, very crowded cellar reverberated to the sound as carrot cake and ground coffee shook on the tables above our heads. A good start to what was to be a hectic 2 days. Before the late evening show on the acoustic stage, I had time to look in on some of the many bands playing around the pubs and bars of Colne. I picked up on The Mustangs, one of the more notable bands playing the early evening, definitely worth a full listen in the future.
I also found Deborah Bonham (yes, she is John’s sister) back in that same tight cellar. In the restraints of a packed underground dungeon, she sounded OK, her style is more Janis Joplin, I would catch her later as a prelude to Babajack on the acoustic stage.
Down at the British stage, local based band Stomp & Holler received rave response from the rapidly filling sports hall, no natural ambience here, its down to the band. What it wasn’t lacking, was a good spacious, well it stage, arguably the best stage set of any of the main venues.
Oliver and the band won over many new fans to their style of Orleans blues. Guitarist Dave Carroll, newly induced into the line up, seems to have firmly settled in the groove, and I think seemed more at ease than the gig at Jinney Ring only a 2 weeks ago. Did Martin outplay Mr. Baker on the night, he certainly tried. Webtop Checker was superb.
So this was the showcase for the weekend, the acoustic stage at Colne is of moderate size, breathing out was definitely an option if you synchronised with the heaving hot heaving mass of an enthusiastic audience. Extra care was required to lift a glass, let alone try a refill. Deborah was back on stage with her band, her efforts were visible, but for me a little disappointing, the vocals seemed to fade away despite the exertion. I’m sure she normaly has more to offer. Trevor stepped up on stage with harp, for the closing song, an unexpected bonus.
Stage cleared and reset with Babajack’s African drum, cajon, stomp box and a rack of guitars.
Old favourites from previous albums, notably Rooster, filled the air, Running Man from the forthcoming album, gave the crowded room a glimpse of what awaited next month. The beautifully delivered ‘Death Letter Blues’ sang out, can anyone do it better than this? The early hours of Sunday morning descend upon us, as Becky and Trevor wind up to closing favourite, ‘Black Betty’. Now it should be noted, this has always been an energetic, full on, closing song, BUT, I think Bec’s and Trev have taken it to a new level. A full 10 minute workout that would have exhausted the most, protein pumped gym fanatic. Both were drained, Trevor near collapse from his stool, Becky drummed out. The Crowd proverbially raised the roof, a fantastic finish to a great set. Yes I’m a fan, and maybe biased in my opinions, but I try to stay objective, Babajack always perform 100% they have found another 10% on top. Believe it!
Sunday afternoon, at the British stage, hundreds are gathered for the awards ceremony. Tension was high as Blues broadcaster Gary Grainger opened the envelopes, I am not going through all the results, merely the ones of interest to this review. Babajack had 5 nominations, they were place 3rd in acoustic to Marcus Bonfanti; Trevor awarded 3rd in Harmonica to acknowledged harp hero Paul Lamb; 2nd for best album ‘Rooster’, to Ian Siegal’s ‘Candy Store Kids’; and……..wait for it, roll the drums for category winner, Instrumentalist Of The year…..Becky Tate. This follows last years award in the same category; 2014? all is possible.
Overall a fantastic outcome to the 2013 awards, each mention received truly enthusiastic cheers from the gathered blues lovers, the band is undoubtedly in the top echelon of acoustic music. Only Ian Siegal had more presence in the overall results, he needs to turn round and glance over his shoulder, Babajack are closing fast, next year could see different result.
A quick mention of other previously reviewed artists, Chantel Mcgregor, took best guitarist and female vocalist, which must have dented many a male ego. Dan Owen tied with Lucy Zirins, for best young artist. Lifetime awards to Mike Vernon and Barry Middleton, with Bill Wyman, Wilko Johnson and Chris Farlow receiving Blues Greats Awards.
A major milestone in Babajack’s year, a brilliant starting block for the forthcoming ‘Running Man’ album, more of which I hope to give you in the next month. The pistol is raised the track, clear, into the future, end of September it will fire of the launch of what, I can tell you, is a very, no, bloody fine culmination of a years work. Rooster did well, this is going to be unmissable.
Re Con Rooster Booster:
Saturday night at this Malvern music magnet, and its local band, Blues Award winners Babajack, but that’s not all; close friend from the cold North, Dave Arcari is sharing the bill. What more could you want, good ale? Well that’s on tap as well. The show is a sell out, and the room is full with an eclectic mix of enthusiastic music lovers. Becs and Trevor have greeted the throng and
Dave Arcari, along with an assortment of guitars and banjo, vocal chords lubricated, is ready to roll. This bearded man in black has a gruff, raw blues style, that is delivered in punk style, right in your face! Dave starts off ‘gentle’ but raw with ‘Cotton on my Back’ and ‘Cherry Wine’, moving swiftly and constantly through the first 20 minutes of stage.
A change of guitar to his beautiful polished steel resonator, twang, and immediately breaks a string. No time to stop, he switches to his electric hard body guitar and this dark irreverent apparition plays on; through to ‘Homesick Blues’, and a change of direction. Trevor (Babajack) steps up harmonica drawn, ready to duel with Dave who has ‘Trouble In Mind’. Brilliant, its an opportunity to appreciate Trev’s harp skills without dividing his albeit wide talent, with the wine box guitars.
Dave steps up a gear, no more pussy footing as he reaches for his matt black National Resonator. The first chords splattered the crowd, dirty, saw toothed, demanding our attention, the atmosphere is electric, so is Dave, he hops around the stage, never still, assaulting our ears with this grunge-laden, punk styled guitar. There’s all sorts of Blues, Hangmans, Red Letter, Good friend, and Blue Train, he Can’t be Satisfied.
The Finale of this non stop set is ‘Walkin Blues’, accompanied by Becky on African drum and Trevor on the harp. Along with Johnny Cash’s ‘Blue train’ its a riveting finish, Dave crashes through the onlookers, circling his victims before closing the noose and hauling us all into his musical mayhem. Unmissable those who were not here on the night are at a loss, we that were, had been truly Arcari’d, and will be scarred for life!!!!
A short break as the stage is reset, and Babajack resume their normal format; plus bass player Alan Birkenshaw, new to the band this year and introducing a new dimension to this award winning band. Did I already say, award winning local band, possibly one of the best live bands in the country. Am I a fan? Too bloody true I am. Yes I have heard their songs before, and watched them perform in many places. I have enjoyed every one. If you have yet to see/hear them, its about time you sought out a gig, they are becoming increasingly more mobile and popular around the UK and Europe, so when they are so close to home why wouldn’t you join them?
Opening with the ‘Money’s All Gone’, they draw heavily on the recent ‘Rooster’ album, delivering the music in their unique style. Son House’s Death Letter Blues, is delivered first class with their tribute to that great delta blues man. I love the way it is sung with such passion along with Trevor’s brilliant slide play.
The eagerly awaited new album, ‘Running Man’ is also aired in part, many devotees listening will have already pre-ordered their copy in support of the band. Again Trevor lowers his guitar and accompanies Becky with his harp as she forms us with ‘Hammer and Tongs’, wonderful stuff.
I have probably said it all before, but this band delivers, consistently, 120%. Their style is their own, as is the music, the few tributes are heartfelt and given a Babajack make over. They are few and indeed with their own material so good, they do not need to perform songs written by other musicians. That is why those few that deserve performing, can be done with real respect and feeling.
A round of happy birthday shakes the walls and rattles the glasses behind the bar; Its the nearing midnight and Trev will hit the the 50 mark.
So we find their grand finale, a real Babajack crowd pleaser, and one of those songs rooted in history, revived by Lead Belly (arguably), ‘Black Betty’. All join in, the atmosphere is intoxicating, Trevor is playing his guitar as a man possessed, Becky holds the crowd in her hands as stretches this old song to a full 10 minutes; nobody would have wavered had she pulled us on for another 10.
Fantastic night at an excellent venue. Dave Arcari and Babajack, a heady mix, yes a partisan audience, but that was the loss of all who have not experienced such music. THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!
Photos & Words By Graham Munn
Babajack bathed in sunshine;
Whilst all here at home shivered in the arctic winds and battled through snow blizzards, Babajack were enjoying glorious sunshine, warm ‘early summer’ temperatures, with only a sniff of the wet stuff in the early hours of Saturday morning.
I know, because fortunately I had boarded the same plane bound for Toulouse and the European Blues Challenge. The difference was I only had to watch, as ‘Blues’ bands from all over Europe musically jousted for the crown; a sort of Eurovision Song Contest, only talented musicians, without the razzmatazz, TV orchestrated, politically weighted, clap trap we all love to hate?
No flag flying stuff here, an appreciative blues loving audience and a panel of ‘expert judges’ from some differing backgrounds and nations, but only a panel of 6.
Each band had 20 minutes to present a set, with intervals of only 5 minutes to change around the bands; 2 nights would see 22 bands cold starting, trying to go straight to full power and wow the gathering, along with the panel holding court.
First band was a 3 piece with boogie woogie piano, double bass and drums from Latvia, Gints Zilinskis Trio. They reminded me of a regular trio from Upton Blues of past years Danny Mccormack, Al Gare and Dean Beresford, though probably not as good. (my opinion) Probably tough opening the party, a short set and off; the artists of nations followed on, Luxembourg, Heavy Petrol, bordering heavy metal; Austria complete with a brace of sax; Romania, Soul Serenade, a young nervous trio, with a folk style reworking of blues such as ‘smokestack lightning’, a good female vocalist with guitarist and mandolin player.
Enter stage right, Babajack, and straight into ‘ The Moneys All Gone’ from Rooster. The 20 minute set gave us ‘Running Man’ and ‘Hammer & Tongs’ from the forthcoming album, along with ‘Sunday Afternoon” and ‘Skin & Bones’ as a finale. The crowd loved them, certainly they stood out as the best act presenting roots blues complete with self penned music. Hammer & Tongs, I particularly like; it pitches Bec’s exceptional vocals, alongside Trevor who lowers his handmade wine box guitar and concentrates on the harmonica. Now I have to say, the harp did not come over that strongly, and would have been more prominent with a bit of lift, this seems to me to have been the case throughout with any harp playing being slightly subdued. It may have been just my position but I’ve certainly been more aware of Trevor’s ability on harmonica, and here it seemed a bit low. Skin & Bones is always popular, and so it remains, a good fast run down the home stretch, with Becky on cajon, with her powerful voice and Trevor back on the wine box, slide, and harp, it was a grand finish, everything I would expect from this great professional band, they never fail to give 100%.
I saw 2 more bands before the last Metro at the stroke of midnight, The Sunnysiders from Croatia, and Chino and the Bet Band from Spain, good fun band that seemed to go down well. The following evening would prove longer, I had till 01.00 for transport back to the city but there were some impressive performances. Raw hard hitting blues from a female bass playing singer with attitude, all the way from Helsinki. A fun frenetic, crowd pleasing band representing the host nation of France, Shaggy Dogs. A superb young Dutch band, Sugar Boy & The Sinners. Head banging blues rock from Switzerland with Fabian Anderhub, followed by the surprise winning band from Italy. Femme fatale Veronica Sbergia and her band The Red Wine Serenader’s. The style was Romany camp fire folk with the personable, visually magnetic, vocally expressive, Veronica wowing everybody; blues it was not, wonderfully entertaining it was. Veronica’s main instrument, her voice aside, one battered washboard, rubbed and beaten with a pair of wired hairbrushes!
Overall, for me a very enjoyable weekend of music, what really impressed was how smoothly the organisation worked, like the proverbial well oiled and fully tested machine. The timing of the evenings were well controlled, 5 minute turnarounds between bands, a top quality sound system in a superb setting, Le Bikini.
I spoke briefly to Becky following there hectic round trip, she says that although not winning an award, it was an extremely productive visit, fuelled by their 20 minutes on stage. Plenty of potential for future festivals on the continent, and serious interest in their promotion and forthcoming album, Running Man. The Blues have grown out of America, laid deep roots in Britain and spread throughout Europe, where its producing a fantastic yield, as EC said in one of his songs ‘Let It Grow’.
Words And Photos By Graham Munn
Stomp & Holler Live @ The Artrix; Bromsgrove
Last year at Worcester Beer Festival, I saw and listened to Stomp & Holler’s first ‘outing’. Oliver and Abby had evolved from the Blues Tribe, were playing alongside Chris in ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ and had gathered a drummer, Martin, guitarist, Lee, and saxophonist, John. It had been a good evening, though possibly not fully appreciated by the ale enthusiasts glued to the muddy fields of last ‘summer’.
Enjoyable as the evening was, I felt Martin, the drummer, was not fully relaxed into his role. I saw a more complete and accomplished show at Ledbury theatre a few months later, and now here I was at the Artrix to see the band again, I knew Martin was a drummer of repute, and am pleased to say he has, in my humble opinion, grown roots in the band.
John I had seen before when guesting with the old Blues Tribe, and can really appreciate his breathing life into an array of sax’s, as well as some very nice touches on the flute.
Lee is a talented guitarist who has a distinctive influence on the overall sound of this Orleans style band.
The ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ element, Abby, Chris, and Oliver, fit well together as you would expect, but the style and direction is much livelier, with a mix of Blues, Jazz and Swing.
They open at full bore with signature piece ‘Crazy Up In Here’, with strong vocals from Abby and Oliver. Abby takes lead vocals, and she has a fine voice, in ‘Start It Up’, with Lee stepping forward for a spot in ‘Lucky Man’.
This is the aperitif for one of my particular favourites, sung with some real Cocker mouth grit (that’s Joe, not the little place in Cumbria), ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’. This is played at a funereal pace, suitable perhaps for the opening dirge at a New Orleans procession; it fits Oliver’s gritty vocals as if tailor made.
The first set ends with a strong driving blues of ‘Webstop Checker’, with leads coming from Lee, supported with Oliver’s trumpet and John’s sax, Martin firing up the furnace with Chris shovelling in the coal!
Second set kicks off with a heartfelt ‘Lonesome town’, with Oliver’s unique vocal qualities coming to the fore.
‘Whys It Always Me’, is a more cockney lad style, with Chris taking the vocals, feeding in back to Oliver for a gravel laden ‘Hadn’t Been For Love’, back in blues mode.
The evening seems to rush through, as is always the case when enjoying good music, Abby taking lead again with ‘Tell it Like It Is’; a chorus of ‘happy birthday’, were there really that many birthday’s in the Artrix that evening? A crowd pleasing ‘Evangeline’, running through to a reprise of ‘Crazy Up In Here’; which is where we came in. The difference here is the interwoven, layered vocals from Abby, Oliver, Lee, and Chris.
Overall a good night’s entertainment from 6 very accomplished musicians that have gelled well together since inception.
The music is eminently suitable for getting up and dancing, which I suspect many on the night would have liked to do, I believe the original plan was for the Artix to leave a floor are and partial seating. For whatever reason, it was fully seated, which meant much ‘squirming’ in seats, the standing ovation was inevitable, lets have more!
Words And Photos By Graham Munn
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