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
Bitterroots @ The Gardeners Arms, Droitwich 10/07
Back in the lovely garden setting of this Droitwich pub, a warm bright evening, and local band Bitterroots on offer with the excellent food and beers. The band is, as many will know, firmly rooted in the folk genre, but has flavours of Americana and Gaelic stirred in. A mix of instrumentation that includes, dobro, bouzouki, fiddle, double bass, guitars, harp and a button squeeze box, making for an interesting variety of sound to spur along the songs. Now I am not a folk aficionado, and make my excuses for my ignorance of this antiquated (in the real meaning of the word) form of roots music. I do know that ‘Hangman’, had the feel of the great years of early Fairport Convention, no bad thing for me. A tale of life, ‘Sun’s Work’, soon followed by the quick stepping, foot tapping reel that is ‘Angeline the Baker’. Keeping the pace up and the rhythm flowing, ‘St Anne’s Reel’ slipped seamlessly into ‘Reel St Jean’, distinctly demanding a reluctant audience to get up and move. My excuse, can’t strut on carpet, yes, the marquee is fully carpeted, damn my luck. A short break, I was quite enjoying this, though cannot betray my love of blues, to admit it to anyone.
The following set, went up a gear, and the session really started to move; the excellent ‘Pig’s Foot’, featuring Mark’s squeeze box, hiding in the shadows, and Helen on violin, trotted happily on, as the much darker ‘Caleb Meyer’ took over, an enjoyable traditional tale of demon drink and death, you can’t better that. ‘Go Mauve’, reminded me much of the Roving Crows and ‘White Petticoats’, its a rattling good tune with timely hesitations that add to the whole piece. I should give mention to the other members of the band, the towering figure of Rupert on vocals, harp and guitar, the ‘baby’ of the band Anthony, on a double base, which resembled a polished, tapered, floor joist with strings, and last but far from least, Ali. Ali seems to play pretty well anything and everything, a lovely dobro, bouzouki, and electric guitar.
We reach the witching hour, which is 22.00 at The Gardeners, in the open sided marquee, in respect of the nearby neighbours. Billy O Shea is called for, by those that know about such things, I don’t, so it would be fine for me. Well ‘Billy O’Shea’, is indeed ideal for the crescendo of any party, a good Irish drinking song if ever there was one, time for a Guinness.
Overall it had been a splendid evening, in a lovely location, though lacking a little in numbers, the band received a warm, enthusiastic applause. Next up for The Gardeners in this summer season of acoustic is the talented, award nominated blues artist, Sanjay Brayne, August 14th, be there.
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
Blues At The Fold 05/07
The 6th gathering at The Fold near Worcester, for this great one day festival. Fine ales, good food and some excellent wines were available to accompany the usual high quality line up at this now well established annual event. Steve Morrison had the honour of entertaining a crowd that reached 550. On this warm afternoon, he raised the temperature with some Canned Heat, ‘Lets Work Together’ and ‘Going Up Country’, worked his way through ‘Summertime’, with a sprinkling of engaging banter and good humour. A bit of JJ Kale, and Sonny Boy Williamson, with ‘Bring It On Home To You’, complete with train sounds that Ringo Starr would have been proud of. A brilliant start to proceedings from an engaging Steve Morrison.
Organiser Oliver Carpenter took to the stage with Mumbo Jumbo, an award nominated, easy listening, country band. With Chris Lomas, base & uke, and Fred Skidmore on keys, they took us gently through the afternoon, with Oliver looking rather green, flipping between trumpet, cahon and kazoo. ‘Riverboat Song’, ‘Three Cool Cats’ and an excellent ‘Cockeresque’, ‘The Letter’, a class rasp guaranteed to produce gravel rash to all in hearing distance. ‘Nice work If You Can Get It’.
A sultry afternoon was about to get warmer as The Blues Duo, Tommy and Johnny were welcomed to the stage, a few seconds later, the floor space was scattered with welly clad dancers, along with people old enough to know better! The songs rattle out like a long passing goods train, ‘Had My Fun’, ‘Steady Rollin Man’, ‘Must Be Jelly’, and those wagons are still passing through. Tommy put his feet up as Johnny took the scenic line with his blues harp, superb as ever. These boys never short change the audience, a full on, flat out, brilliant, blues blast.
A ‘Jack Daniels’ fuelled Vincent Flatts Final Drive, took over, with dynamic duo, an easy riding, ‘Bertie’, and marvellous, Melvin, fronting a band named after the handlebars of an iconic (British) motorbike. A few power bugs in the system did not dull the performance. Bertie knows how to deliver a blues, and a ‘flexy faced’ Melvin, loves to demo his Gibson in true ‘guitar hero’ style. ‘Boogie man’ and ‘No More Whiskey’ seemed particularly apt.
Wily Bo & The Mescal Canyon Troubadours, brought plenty of funk, blues rock and a solid, tight band to stage. A good guitar section of Geoff Slater, with Tommy ‘Le’ Rhodes on bass join Max Saidi on percussion and deliciously dark Karena K on backing vocals and keys. Wily Bo is ‘ringmaster’ and vocalist, and takes on ‘Rattlin Bone’ form complete with top hat and skull cane to finish on the glorious ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’. The band having grooved their way through ‘Chattahooche Cooochee Man’, maybe some lost moments with ‘Did I Forget’, to decide it IS, ‘Time To Forget’, completely unphased by the troublesome power glitches. Maybe they had forgotten to switch on the lights!
9.45 in a cooling evening and an enthusiastic crowd were up for closing the day in style, they closed around the stage ready to dance away the night to The Official Receivers. Blues? No, but they know how to push everyone’s button when it comes to some fabulous soul classics. The glow of the stage lights point to the fire at the heart of the gyrating bodies, with a big horn section, driving drum, nice guitar and warm vocals we were enticed with songs from Wilson Pickett, Otis Reading, Edwin Starr and James Brown.
‘Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy’ was about the right sentiment, as they tried to ‘Hold Back the Night’. Nobody was going to leave this consistently grand little festival without a swing to there step and a smile on their face. The Fold is an exceptional setting, almost unaffected by weather conditions, a welcoming Café host, where if you really need to, you can go for a few quite moments, and enjoy some of the tasty temptations on offer. On a warm dry day we were able to spread out at our leisure, enjoy the open air refreshments and the fabulous music.
Visit www.bluesatthefold.co.uk for information on next year.
Words & photos Graham Munn
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