Review: The Warrington Blues Festival – 23 May 2009
Posted on: Tuesday, May 26, 2009
THE WARRINGTON RHYTHM AND BLUES FESTIVAL
The Pyramid Arts Centre: 23.05.09
The splendidly-appointed and located Pyramid Arts Centre was the ideal venue for this first day-long festival, organised by Dave Sawyer and wife Shirley – and what a triumph it turned out to be. With a strong bill, good bar and food facilities, and the North West’s top blues DJ, Chris Powers, spinning the tunes between bands, a great time was had by all.
Following on from the sterling work that Ray and Barbara O’Hare have done for years to bring top-class blues to the town, which was acknowledged from the stage by at least one band, the promoters had a good mix of local bands, some of the cream of the North West, and a top national band – not to mention an acoustic stage, to give the day an even more varied feel.
They were rewarded for all their efforts with a pretty packed venue, who I am sure will all be back next year – for, surely, this must be repeated! As previously mentioned the real ale bar was a sure-fire hit, with a quite excellent selection of reasonably prices ales – just about lasting the day out, with good food available downstairs in the café all day.
The day’s entertainment kicked off on the main stage with the ever-popular Runcorn lads, Smokehouse Blues – with the monster tone harmonica and big voice of Johny Hewitt, and long-time musical sidekick, Barney Barnett, with his pure, earthy, no gimmicks, guitar work – along with the relatively-new rhythm section of Russ Williams (doghouse bass and vocals) and Mark Donaldson (drums).
The band delivered a great hour of Chicago blues and swing. Highlights included the rumba of “Early In The Morning”; a great swinging “Caledonia”, with Russ Williams vocal; and a song from the late, great William Clarke – “Feel Like Jumping” – dedicated to one Mr. Ken Peace Esq. However, best of all, was a stripped-down “Nine Below Zero” from the master, Sonny Boy Williamson – some breathtaking acoustic harmonica from Johny Hewitt on this, and nice guitar from Barney Barnett.
Work commitments mean the band haven’t been around as much as usual live-wise, but they are always totally committed to pure blues and are well worth catching – with Johny Hewitt’s harmonica playing now up with anybody in these shores – a great start to the day!
The Escape Committee:
I must admit the thought of a rock band at a blues festival had me slightly worried – but fear not, The Escape Committee, locally based in Warrington, were quite excellent with their beautifully sounding classic songs, and in frontman, Pete “Frammo” Frampton have a great guitarist and singer. The band’s fine rhythm section comprises of Phil Wright (drums and vocals) and Steve Foster (bass), with, on this occasion, long-serving Climax Blues Band keyboard player, George Glover guesting.
They opened up with the Jennings/Hooper composition, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” – covered by the likes of BB King and Bonnie Raitt; with a storming “Unchain My Heart” and a Dylan-inspired “I Shall Be Released”. Other treats were David Crosby’s “Long Time Coming” and the Steve Winwood-penned “Can’t Find My Way Home”, from the Blind Faith days – all very nicely played indeed.
A raucous “The House Is Rockin’ “ from Stevie Ray Vaughan went down well, another highlight of the set. As they say ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover’ and that was certainly the case as far as The Escape Committee were concerned for me. They also seemed to have the best of the sound, with Frampton’s guitar and George Glover’s piano and organ work, sounding just fine!
Just about all cramming on to the stage, the 12-piece local band, Soul Provider, performed a set of well-known blues and swing covers, with a touch of jazz – with a huge six-piece horn section and three lady lead singers – starting with the old chestnut of “Flip Flop And Fly” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, before a touch of Ray Charles with “Hit The Road Jack.
A very varied set also included the Wilson Pickett hit “6345-789”, the copper-bottomed classic “Son Of A Preacher Man” and the anthemic “Sweet Home Chicago” – encoring with the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit, “Proud Mary” – here given more of the Ike and Tina Turner feel to it!
At this point I have to admit to slipping out of Soul Provider’s set to catch a couple of numbers by Lucy Zirins and a bit to eat!
The young Lancashire lass – just 17, and hailing from Burnley – had drawn a good-sized crowed to the acoustic stage. She has a beguiling voice and is no mean player on her National steel guitar. It seems strange to see a girl of such tender years playing such an old song as Son House’s “Death Letter Blues”, but she carried it off in fine style – gaining a much deserved encore, for which she performed a lovely version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”.
With a recent support slot for Louisiana Red and Michael Messer under her belt, a demo CD ready to go, and increased number of live shows, I think we will be hearing a lot more of Lucy Zirins.
The Cadillac Kings:
Second last up on the main stage were the quite brilliant ‘kings of blues and swing’, The Cadillac Kings – and here you must excuse my bias, as they are one of my favourite bands, with the current line-up being exceptional, as they tore the house apart in a fabulous hour-and-a-bit set!
The band – Mike Thomas (lead vocals and slide guitar), Gary Potts (harmonica and vocals), Mal Barclay (guitar and vocals), Henri Herbert (piano), Paul Cuff (doghouse bass) and ‘Uncle’ Roy Webber (drums and vocals) – are rapidly becoming ‘national treasures’ and are the ultimate good-time festival band, filling up the dance floor in minutes and putting a smile on everyone’s faces!
The previous night, at The Ironworks, in Oswestry, the band had recorded some 20 songs for a forthcoming live album, with many of them featuring in the set here – some new covers and a few penned by Mike Thomas, with his trademark wry lyrics – possibly the best being the finger-on-the-button “Old Age Is Coming” . . . true indeed for some!
Other new numbers were a sparkling take on Brook Benton’s “Kiddio” – a song often performed by the great Mike Sanchez, with the band’s arrangement similar to his; and a rousing instrumental from Mal Barclay – “Cats Meow” – his Les Paul Gold Top sounding quite magnificent, in a vintage way – indeed, his playing was superb all set.
One of the band’s strengths is that they possess four vocalists, and apart from Mike Thomas, the other three were all featured. Gary Potts, as well as his customary top-drawer harmonica work, sang the great James Harman’s “Stranger Blues” and his own “Hot Rod V8 Ford” – an ode to his hobby away from the band. The afore-mentioned Mal Barclay took a turn on “T-Bone Boogie”, with master drummer Roy Webber singing the Texas shuffle of “Tell Me Why” – one I very much hope makes the cut for the live album.
Combine all the above with Henri Herbert’s boogie-woogie piano and the rock solid Paul Cuff on doghouse bass, making up the fantastic rhythm section with Roy Webber, and quite simply, they are just sensational – and are back in the North West for three dates in October!