Review: Worthenbury Blues and Roots Festival – 27 June 2009 – PART1
Posted on: Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009
This was the fifth Worthenbury Blues and Roots Festival, building on the wonderful heritage of the Dragon Blues Festivals that graced Wrexham Rugby Club for many memorable years. The venue for the open-air festival is farmland kindly made available by Michael and Elizabeth Brownrigg at the village that lies between Malpas and Bangor-on-Dee in North Wales.
The event comprised a main stage and an adjacent acoustic stage, on which the action alternated in impressively quick succession. The task of opening the show on the acoustic stage fell to Hopson, a trio of local sixth-formers, who were making their first ever public appearance. As if that were not daunting enough, the lads had also been forced to regroup owing to the indisposition of their bass guitarist, Adam Squire, as a result of a broken wrist. Rhythm-guitarist Gavin Hooson bravely filled the gap and joined drummer Alex Squire in the engine room. Led by singer/guitarist John Taylor, the band overcame their first-date nerves and went on to deliver an enthusiastic set that included numbers by Bob Dylan and the White Stripes.
First up on the main stage were Newton-le-Willows-based Papa Legba, with singer/guitarist Alan Crawford very ably supported by his brother, Scott, on bass guitar and Graham Brighouse on drums. Their vibrant set combined some rocked up versions of Robert Johnson and Son House favourites, SRV’s “Pride and Joy” and some beautifully played slow blues, including a fine rendition of Eddy Boyd’s “Five Long Years”. There was also an airing of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and a rousing delivery of Rory Gallagher’s “A Million Miles Away” to provide a terrific impetus to the day’s events.
Back on the acoustic stage, Liverpool-based Naomi Mather entered the afternoon session with the first of two sets, the second forming part of the evening session. Naomi demonstrated her burgeoning talent as a songwriter with a programme of excellent original songs. She accompanied her beautifully clear vocals with highly accomplished playing on acoustic, resonator and lap guitars, showing equal mastery of finger-picking and slide techniques. She also tapped the rhythm on a very effective stomp box. This is a young lady who is surely destined to make a considerable impact across the British blues scene.
The main stage was then taken by storm by Big Blues Tribe, a nine-piece ensemble from the Midlands that boasted no less than a five-piece brass section. Fronted by big-voiced singer/trumpeter Oliver Carpenter, they opened their account very appropriately with “Let The Good Times Roll”, an apt description of what lay in store. Other delights included “King Of The New York Streets”, “St James Infirmary Blues” and a reggae-style version of “I’m In The Mood For Love”, for which Beth Naylor and Abby Brant took over the vocals. They also provided close harmonies on a gospel number before ending a highly entertaining set with an upbeat rocker. The band reported that they were dashing off to a second gig in Worcester. “That’s two gigs in one day,” they boasted. “Come to think of it, it’s only the second gig this year!” one of them added. The truth is more likely to be that they are in great demand, if this performance is anything to go by.
At each of the previous Worthenbury festivals, there has been a surprise package that has stolen the show. This year’s event was no exception to that rule, as Australian singer/guitarist Rory Ellis proved with his two warmly-received appearances on the acoustic stage. Supplemented by the superb playing of Alex Roberts on lap slide guitar, the man from Geelong produced a stunning mix of powerful vocals, brilliant guitar and banjo playing and hilarious chat. His two sets featured many of the tracks from his most recent album, including the title song, “Two Feathers”, a compilation of high quality original songs, which draw heavily on his eventful life. A particular highlight was “No Love In This war”, while “Home Tonight” was inspired by his spending an eternity trying to find an appropriate exit from the Leicester ring road – an ordeal that has been universally endured. Lost in Leicester, perhaps, but found by a host of admiring fans at Worthenbury.
The headlining act of the afternoon session on the main stage was the recently re-formed Down At Antones. Led by founder member, singer/guitarist Neil Partington, the band comprised bluesinthenorthwest’s own Ken Peace (also a founder member of the band) on harp, Nick Lauro on drums and Steve Brown on bass. On this occasion, the band also included Paul Need, guesting on keys in the absence of usual keyboard player, Glen Lewis. The band shuffled into action with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Riding In The Moonlight” and a fine version of “Black Cat Bone”. The jazz standard, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” featured some wonderfully full-bodied harp and tasty guitar and keyboard solos, all immaculately driven by the rhythm section. The nicely varied set included Rice Miller’s slow blues, “Cross My Heart”, and a lovely portion of New Orleans funk in the shape of “Pocky Way”. The icing on the already delicious cake was provided by the introduction of Johny Hewitt to weave his harmonica magic on Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider, Baby”, followed by top class interplay with Ken Peace on the driving boogie, “Biting The Bullet”, to climax a tremendous set.
Pete Evans, Paul Taylor, Ian Williams and their myriad assistants are to be congratulated on yet another magnificent event. It is entirely fitting that the quality of the line-up and the excellence of the organisational arrangements was matched by a massive attendance and brilliant sunshine.