Review : CANtreat Rhythm and Blues Festival

Posted on: Monday, Jun 19, 2006

The CANtreat Rhythm and Blues Festival, Antrobus, Cheshire
Saturday, 10 June 2006

CANtreat is a relatively new charity whose sole aim is to improve the quality of the treatment environment for all NHS cancer patients. To that end, the entire income from the event at Antrobus was dedicated to that cause. The festival was co-presented by Chris Eyres, Operations Director of CANtreat and Ray O’Hare, who runs the excellent Warrington RnB Club with his wife, Barbara.

Picture the scene: a freshly-mown meadow deep in the Cheshire countryside, a clear blue sky, bright sunshine, a superbly stocked beer tent, a generous supply of mouth-watering food and four British blues bands flexed to give their all to a suitably expectant crowd. So, what was the downside? Well, before we could relax and take advantage of the treat-to-come, we had to endure England’s first appearance in the FIFA World Cup Finals on the separately tented big screen. England didn’t disappoint, being as disappointing as they usually are on such occasions. Still, two hours and a scraped victory later, the apprehension lifted and the fun began in earnest.

The Honeyboy Hickling Band was the perfect antidote to the aforementioned malady. They instantly lifted the mood with a typically vibrant performance that included many favourites, including “Much Too Much” and, very appropriately, “Goin’ Up The Country”. Their excellent set was as varied as usual in terms of pace and rhythm, with Chuck Berry numbers parading alongside “That’s Alright”/”Mystery Train”, Freddy King’s “The Stumble” and the funk soul “I’m Broke And I’m Hungry”. Just as importantly, drummer Tony Baylis and bass guitarist Tony Stuart were as impeccable as always backing the magnificent artistry of Simon Hickling and Bob Wilson on harp and guitar respectively.

The festival revealed that top class harmonica players are very like buses: just when you’re wondering whether you’re ever going to see one again, four turn up one after another. The second one on this occasion was Giles King, who graced the stage with Hucklebuck. The laid-back quartet played an engaging mix of covers and self-penned numbers, including “Moving Through Georgia”, which saw Giles King singer/guitarist Sam Hare excel on imaginative solos, and the slow and plaintive “You Just Bring Me Water”. They also delivered rousing versions of “Wang, Dang, Doodle” and “Looking Back” to complete a nicely balanced set.

Gary Potts was the next harp player to delight the assembled throng in the company of The Cadillac Kings. Led by the wonderfully dry-witted Mike Thomas on vocals, the Essex-based combo were at their highly entertaining best. The medium-paced shuffle, “Highway 17”, the title track on the band’s most recent album, featured a splendid harp solo from Potts. Other gems included the instrumental, “Hilde’s Hop”(‘dedicated to that well-loved North Western blues artiste, Hilda Baker’), the Cajun-rhythmed “In The Night” and “Lollipop Momma”, an upbeat swing number that drifted in and out of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. A terrific version of James Harman’s “Icepick’s Confession” tempted a welcome guest appearance from the fourth harpmeister – the very talented Chester-based Yorkshireman Ken Peace. The climax of the set was a great performance of Champion Jack Dupree’s “Shake, Baby, Shake”.

The headline act for the festival was Richie Milton and The Lowdown, who prompted a mass invasion of the dance area right from the outset. Not a harmonica in sight, but the lively combo boasted a splendid horn section. Vocals were delivered mainly by guitarist Richie Milton and occasionally by backing singer Linda Hall, notably on the upbeat “On The Tip of My Tongue”. The set was predominately lively and included superb versions of “Groovin’” and Ray Charles’s classic, “Hit The Road, Jack”. The dance floor continued to take a pounding, as soul mingled easily with funk, blues shuffles and rock and roll. Finally, the “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” made way for “Caledonia” to bring the curtain down on a fabulous day. The sun-kissed audience were happy, the CANtreat organisers were happy and the well-received musicians were happy – shame about the England performance, but the impossible always takes a little longer to achieve.

Lionel Ross

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