Review: Carlisle Blues Fest 2007 at the Lakes Court Hotel, Carlisle – 23-25 November 2007

Posted on: Monday, Dec 3, 2007

The first Carlisle Blues Fest was a triumph for organiser, Nick Westgarth, and his excellent team. Not surprisingly, given the considerable attractiveness of its line-up, the event, which took place in the splendour of the Lakes Court Hotel, was a sell-out.

The Friday evening session opened with a lively performance from Tantrum, the young, Lancaster-based trio. Their set was predominantly upbeat with the occasional slow blues thrown in for good measure. The band’s energy is infectious and they set the scene nicely for the rest of the festival. Second up was the Ian Parker Band, who delivered a very professional programme, interpolating the occasional old favourite into their batch of newer compositions from their latest album, Where I Belong, and Ian’s collaborative album with Aynsley Lister and Erja Lyytinen, Blues Caravan Pilgrimage. In addition to Ian’s customary brilliance on guitar, there were two notable bonuses: the increasing maturity of his vocals and Morg Morgan’s significant development in respect of his keyboard solos.

The Marcus Malone Band completed the entertainment for the first evening, with a varied selection from their popular catalogue of songs. The wonderful ballad, “One More Time” rubbed shoulders with powerful rockers like “Blue Radio” and “Hear My Train” and the whimsical “Double D”, complete with explicit actions. Marcus expressed his disappointment at the lack of activity on the dance floor, but it was no reflection on the evening’s entertainment, which had been enthusiastically received and warmly applauded.

Saturday’s programme began with a marvellous set from Eugene Hideaway Bridges. More usually seen with a full band, on this occasion he accompanied himself on guitar, with percussive backing from Pat Manske on acoustic box, tambourine and bongos. The guitar work was soothingly understated, while the vocals were superb, alternating between velvety Sam Cooke-like tones in ballad format and rasping BB King-style intonations when classic blues numbers were delivered. In short, it was a delightful start to the day’s proceedings.

An addition to the originally published programme saw the Steve White Band perform an excellent, rocking tribute to Rory Gallagher. The band had played earlier in the hotel bar but their appearance on the main stage was fully justified, with Steve’s speed of fingering being particularly impressive. Headlining the afternoon session were Connie Lush and Blues Shouter. Bereft of long-term band members John Lewis and Carl Woodward, it has been a nerve-racking test of character for new guitarist, Pete Wade, and even newer drummer, Rick Farrow, but they have risen to the challenge magnificently. Rick and bass player, Terry Harris, formed a splendidly tight backdrop, while Pete demonstrated his considerable flair and versatility on guitar. As ever, Connie was tremendous, effortlessly intertwining her wonderful stage presence with a range of vocal styles from the self-penned and humorous, “Dog”, through the hard-hitting “Love me Like A Man” to the tingle-inducing “Feeling Good”. Brilliant.

Popular North-West band, Route 666, kept the party going in the bar in advance of the evening session with a highly-charged blues rock set, which was much appreciated by the punters. Back on the main stage, the level of performance was so high that each act was faced with a mountain to climb in order to maintain the standard. The Stumble reached the peak with apparent ease. The Preston-based band has been going from strength to strength over the past couple of years and is now undoubtedly right up there with the very best in the country. They delivered many of the numbers that appear on their latest album, The World Is Tough, including the title track, the slow blues, “All Over Again” and Hound Dog Taylor’s rip-roaring “Give Me Back My Wig”. Paul Melville’s vocals were sublime while the artistry of Colin Black on lead guitar and Simon Anthony on sax was top class.

Ian Siegal had already made a brief appearance on stage in the afternoon when invited to join Blues Shouter for an impromptu jam in the middle of their set. When fronting his own band, he immediately projected his forceful stage persona, which he refreshed with an abundance of spoken narrative between and within the numbers that he performed. Ian is blessed with a rich voice and an impressive vocal range, which he uses to full advantage, and the influence of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf are never far from the surface. Ian’s performance, which provides a distinctive, modern slant on traditional Delta blues, was enthusiastically underpinned by Andy Graham on bass guitar and Nikolaj Bjerre on drums. The brooding style was typified by a powerful version of “She Got The Devil In Her”, which received rapturous applause from the enthralled audience.

It was the turn of the Nimmo Brothers to bring the day’s entertainment to a close, which they did with their inimitable take-no-prisoners approach. The strength of their impact was underlined by the mass occupation of the dance area throughout their vibrant set. In contrast, they also delivered some slow blues and ballads, not least the wonderful “Long Way From Everything”. Despite the relative infrequency of their appearances these days, Stevie and Alan demonstrated that they have lost none of their vocal and instrumental prowess, which was ably backed by the highly dependable Dave Raeburn on drums and Matt Beable on bass guitar. They ended their set with a typically energetic performance of “Black Cat Bone”, with all the customary duelling and contortions, to bring a magnificent day to a fitting climax.

The final session of the weekend, billed as ‘Ian Siegal and Friends’, began at 1pm on Sunday. Ian started things off in solo, acoustic mode before being joined by his rhythm section. He was later joined by Roz Sluman, saxophonist with the Olly Alcock Band, for a couple of numbers, including “John The Revelator”. The session was concluded with “I’d Rather Go Blind”, on which he was rejoined by Roz. A standing ovation said it all.

This was a festival that will surely remain for a long time in the minds of all who attended it. The musical content and the organisation were first class, and the atmosphere was very friendly and relaxed. It is to be hoped that, when he gets his breath back and his wounds have healed and all memory of stress has been expunged, Nick will succumb to the temptation of repeating the exercise next year. If he does, book early to avoid disappointment.

Lionel Ross

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