Review: Worthenbury Blues Festival – 30th June 2007
Posted on: Sunday, Jul 8, 2007
The run of severely inclement weather had taken its toll on the countryside surrounding the village of Worthenbury, near Wrexham. A decision had been forced upon the organisers to abandon the customary arrangement of holding the festival in a field; and, less than 24 hours before the event was due to start, frantic activity was required to clear a large barn and establish an indoor venue. The helpful cooperation of the Glandeg Farm owner and his workforce cannot be overemphasised. Notwithstanding, it challenged the nerve of the punters when they had to have their vehicles towed onto the car park, never mind off it.
Local band, The Kingbees, set things in motion in fine style, defying their status as sexagenarians with an energetic set of rhythm and blues. Among classics like “Walkin’ The Dog” and “Sweet Home Chicago”, they even managed to sneak in Cliff Richard’s “Move It”, which has got to be a festival first.
The second act on the main stage proved to be this year’s surprise packet. Karac is a four-piece outfit from the Caernarfon area of North Wales that mixes conventional blues-rock with original songs in the Welsh language. The quality of their performance was exceptionally high. Added interest arose from the appearance in the band of acclaimed artist, Steve Jones aka Pablo, on rhythm guitar. He also provided some fine, husky vocals to supplement the excellent singing of Colin Roberts, who formed a solid foundation on bass guitar with drummer, Chris Jones. Above all, the bluesy riffs supplied by guitarist, Glynn Porrino, were right out of the top drawer.
Singer/guitarist, Lisa Mills, from Mobile, Alabama, is a firm favourite with the Wrexham and Worthenbury regulars. As always, she seduced the audience with her powerful vocals and her warm, bubbly personality. She was backed by Phil Bates on lead guitar and by Mo Birch on tambourine and backing vocals. Her uplifting set mixed bluesy and country numbers, including “I Ain’t Got You”, “The Rain Came Down” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go”.
Runcorn-based Smokehouse revealed all for the first time in public – their new, young rhythm section, that is. Lucy Williams on upright bass and Mark Donaldson on drums provided a brilliant backdrop for the frontline talents of guitarist, Barny Barnett, and singer/harp player, Johny Hewitt. They delivered their usual mixture of Chicago and West Coast blues music, which featured the bouncing “Buzz For Me, Baby”, an instrumental boogie, the slow blues, “Down In Virginia” and a belting version of “Nine Below Zero” with some beautiful guitar work from Barny and a fabulous harp solo from Johny Hewitt. It was great to see the band back in action and to witness the very promising debut of their new recruits.
Johny Hewitt took a well earned rest but the rest of the band stayed to back the headline artistes, Big George Brock and Bill Abel. The latter took the stage first to belt out a couple of extended boogies before Big George entered the fray, resplendent in a turquoise suit. Despite being able to give the average Kingbee a good ten years, his voice was impressively powerful and his harmonica playing unwavering. The numbers he delivered were taken mainly from his two successful CDs, Club Caravan and Round Two, both released on Cathead. They included “Call Me A Lover”, “Hard Times” and “M for Mississippi” from the former and “No, No, Baby”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake Me” and the encore, the traditional “Burden Down”, from the latter.
He left the stage to rapturous applause and, as he did on his entrance, played and sang all the back to his caravan changing room through his radio mike. A truly memorable performance.
Throughout the festival, action on the main stage alternated with acoustic performances on a second stage set in the corner of the barn. First up was Phil Bates, who delivered a magnificent programme that combined some excellent original numbers like “House Of Blues” and the South African influenced “Township Tourist” with covers that included a Robert Johnson song and a brilliant rendition of “She’s A Woman”. All wonderful stuff.
Bill Abel, on diddley bow and cigar box guitar, delivered an acoustic set that included “Catfish Blues” and “Good Mornin’, Little Schoolgirl” before being joined by Big George Brock. Big George was an instant hit with fine versions of “My Babe” and “Down The Road I Go”. It was a flavoursome taster for their later appearance on the main stage.
Either side of the Abel/Brock partnership, Michael Roach delivered two sets. He certainly vied with Big George in terms of sartorial elegance, immaculately dressed in a light beige suit. More importantly, though, he delighted the audience with his laid-back, down home style. His performance of “Statesboro Blues” was terrific and his whimsical “Nursery Rhyme Blues” had the punters eating out of his hand and belting out responses in full voice.
In its own right, the festival was a magical event, covering a considerable range of the blues spectrum and never failing to entertain. That it took place at all, however, given the severity of the weather conditions, was bordering on the miraculous. No praise can be too high for the organisers, the service providers and the farm proprietors and personnel. It was a day to remember in every respect.
[photograph by Ian Williams]