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.
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
Oliver Carpenter debuts his new band, Stomp & Holler, tonight Live @ The Worcester Beer Festival on Pitchcroft, you can expect thrills, spills and whole lot of shaking going on as the band deliver a set of N’awlin’s flavoured blues.
To get you in the mood for a little bit of hip shaking action here’s a nice pic of both Oliver and Abby Brant in their Blues Tribe incarnation.
Photo By Graham Munn