Review: 7th Worthenbury Blues and Roots Festival – 02 July 2011

Posted on: Sunday, Jul 10, 2011


Sat 02 July 2011


Set in the North Wales countryside, the Worthenbury Blues & Roots Festival never fails to be a delightful event. The addition of warm and sunny weather renders it blissful. Such was the case this year. Festival organiser, Pete Evans, once again ensured that all the vital ingredients were in place: a varied line-up of talented artistes, a real ale tent, mouth-watering food options and an array of stalls selling a range of commodities including paintings, CDs, clothing, luxury chocolate and ice cream.

Widely admired artist, Steve ‘Pablo’ Jones, opened the musical extravaganza, fronting his own band on vocals and guitar and delivering a splendid set of rocking blues to get everyone in the mood.

They were followed by the pride of South Wales, the Swansea-based Blues Highway. Ted Crook led the charge on vocals and and impressive Little Walter-influenced harmonica through a lively set of Chicago blues with excellent support from Mark ‘Tiny ‘ Phillips on guitar, Gordon ‘Doc’ Jones on drums and sartorially elegant ‘Stiff’ on bass guitar.


The acoustic stage was graced by Tom Doughty, who performed two marvellous sets of mainly self-penned numbers, accompanying himself magnificently on lap guitar. Particular highlights were “Running Free”, a heartfelt paean to his much-lamented pet dog, and an equally passionate condemnation of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Showing his versatility, Tom ended his second set with a fine version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”.


Next up on the main stage were Queensferry-based The Loving Cup, who enhanced their growing reputation with a highly accomplished programme of country rock, blues and Americana. They combined fine original compositions with well-selected standards, featuring Jaz Livesey on vocals and acoustic guitar, Andy Vickers on lead and slide guitar, Gareth Catterall on rhythm guitar and Andy Whitfield on bass guitar. In addition to their individual and collective musical skills, the band also generated a warm, easy rapport with the appreciative audience. The band were mainly in covers-mode and included some of their favourites in the shape of the cracking Delaney & Bonnie tune “Poor Elija”, and a superb version of Neil Young’s hard-hitting classic “Ohio”. They are big Steve Earle fans and the crowd were treated to a great “Nowhere Road”, and another set highlight was The Rolling Stones “Dead Flowers”. A couple of their own original songs were interspersed through their hour set, including the swaggering “Deadman Jump”.


The Worthenbury festival has consistently unearthed surprise packages – and this year’s event was no exception in that respect. As one of the billed bands had withdrawn from the festival at very short notice, the opportunity to perform on the acoustic stage was offered to eighteen year old ‘Blues Boy’ Dan Owen, who had made the relatively short journey from Shrewsbury to attend the festival. He proceeded to stun the assembled throng with his supreme confidence, relaxed stage presence and phenomenal, power-packed vocals. He also displayed substantial competence on his acoustic guitar, remaining completely unfazed by the breaking of two strings during his performance. He climaxed a selection of blues favourites that included “Little Rooster” and “Born Under A Bad Sign” with a rousing rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” that brought the metaphorical house down. Terrific stuff – definitely one to keep an eye on.


Liverpool-based Forty4 were next to command the main stage with their sparkling collection of rocking blues and New Orleans-style funk. They sported two excellent lead guitarists in singer, Neil Partington, and Paul Starkey, who were superbly complemented by Nick Lauro on drums, Glen Lewis on keyboards and an accomplished stand-in bass guitarist Bill Price covering the absence of Steve Brown. The crowd was clearly impressed by the band’s tight performance and the varied choice of material indeed, the infectious grooves opened the festival dance floor. Partington’s powerful vocals were centre stage in a mixture of quality originals and classic covers from the likes of Freddie King, Howling Wolf, Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock. Don’t let these covers fool you though, this was no set of tired old pub blues – it was a sparkling and fresh sounding display.  The band dedicated their entire set to the absent Steve Brown and, via the band, all the best wishes of the team were sent back to Steve and his family.


Back on the acoustic stage, it was time for The Martin Harley Band to strut their stuff. Impressively dextrous on lap and acoustic guitars, Martin Harley fronted the trio on lead vocals, admirably supported by Peter Swatton on drums and Jay Carter on double bass, both of whom added backing vocals to great effect. Their classy set included the upbeat “Honey Bee”, the slow and bluesy “Blues In My Window”, the rousing “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and the whimsical “Chocolate Jesus”, labelled by Martin as immaculate confection.


The wonderfully eclectic programme then took a distinctly sidewards with the introduction of the unclassifiable Hokie Joint. The band is fronted by the consummate showman, JoJo Burgess, who has been variously likened to Mick Jagger, Ian Durie, Captain Beefheart and Tom Wait, combining as he does a rasping voice, quirky movement and engaging banter. The band further comprises the brilliant harmonica prowess of Giles King, the lyrical guitarmanship of Joel Fisk and the rock steady rhythm section of drummer Stephen ‘Cupsey’ Cutmore and bass guitarist Fergie Fulton. Their assertively entertaining performance included several numbers from their marvellous, recently released album, “The Music Starts To Play”, including the hard-driven “Apologise”, the Eastern European-influenced title song and the vibrant “Aeroplane”, prefaced by a humorous skit on a notorious ‘bargain price’ airline.


Local hero, Tommy Allen, took over the baton supplementing his raw vocals and dynamic guitar playing with his richly talented band: Johnny Hewitt on harmonica, Mickey Barker on drums, Russ Williams on double bass and, guesting on second guitar, Wayne Martin. The band powered their way through a rollicking set of boogies, shuffles and slow blues, which included splendid renditions of “Walkin’ Blues” and Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go” and a rocking finale featuring “Johnny B Goode” and “Mystery Train”. The full dance area said it all.



If the wilting dancers thought that they were in for a rest, they were soon to be rudely awakened as the festival headliners, The Juke Joints, hit the stage running. Led from the back by drummer/vocalist, Peter Kempe,they opened with a bouncing rocker and the equally upbeat, “The Blues Had a Baby”, on which guitarist, Michel Staat, stamped his undoubted authority. The unrelenting pace was maintained by the Dutch maestros with another couple of pulsating numbers before a touch of zydeco was introduced, with harmonica player, Sonnyboy van den Broek switching effortlessly to accordion. The festival closed with Tommy Allen invited up to join the Dutchmen on stage with a dazzling display of guitarwork as Allen and Staat traded solos and licks.

So what to say in summary….. another brilliant day – The Worthenbury Festival is one of the highlights in the calendar – not only for the dazzling and complementary line up of musical talent but also for the superb social event that surrounds the great music. The final comment is on the weather – festival organisers must have connections upstairs as once again the weather was stunning.




Photos by Grahame Rhodes – the full set available over on the photo archive.



July 10th, 2011 at 13:20
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Well done Lionel and Ken . . . great review of a great day . . my part is pretty minimal, just a few lines on The Loving Cup, and the pics . . . which you can see deteriorated as the pint intake increased 🙂


Pete Evans

July 10th, 2011 at 14:24
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Thanks lads for the generous review – much appreciated.

We all had a great day after all the problems of earlier with the festival licence.The good news though is that we now have a full permanent licence in place for the forseeable future enabling us to increase the numbers. Having said that, we got rid of 503 wristbands which was nontheless a great turnout.

Can I echo your thoughts on the musicians with a few extra comments.

Steve Pablo’s band certainly opened up in a lively rocky style and gave a very polished set but the following band, Blues Highway from Swansea, I thought were superb. You could tell that they have played together for years. Very tight and accomplished with superb harp from Ted Crook (superb tone) and brilliant guitar from Tiny Phillips.

Tom Doughty as always was magnificent in both sets although my back is only just recovering from lifting Tom on stage!! Tailgate lift next time!

I was disappointed that Northsyde had pulled out for very genuine reasons but as I knew Dan Owen was coming as a spectator, it was an easy job to ask him to pop his guitar in the car. I’d first presented Dan at the Bangor on Dee festival in April so I knew what to expect.

I watched from the edge of the stage as he warmed up his fingers on the long introduction to his first song. The majority of the audience were busy talking and not paying much attention. However, when he started to sing the reaction was the same as at Bangor – Wow! Who on earth is this kid!!
As you said lads – one to watch out for. I think he has a future.

Local lads Loving Cup and Forty4 gave absolutely superb performances and I can’t really add any more to Li and Ken’s remarks

Hokie Joint were brilliant and such nice lads to deal with. They are so professional in their preparation, something that Fergie told me that he and Giles had learnt from playing with Lightnin’ Willie. Look good, stand out and be noticed.

Martin Harley I knew was new to many of you but he had played at Worthenbury last July and gave a brilliant performance so I knew that you’d all be impressed (even Johnny might book him at Liverpool!!!).
Only problem was that having to reorganise the timings at short notice meant that his set was 20 minutes shorter than it should have been.

Tommy and Johnny and band gave a cracking set and did what was expected of them – got everyone dancing and then set the tone for The Juke Joints who continued rocking right through to closure. I thought the guitar duel between Tom and Boogie Mikchael was an undoubted festival high spot and it will be out on youtube soon.

Finally can I thank all of you for supporting us again. I hope I can guarantee decent weather again next year on June 30th and I hope to see you all there again. Cheers.



July 11th, 2011 at 19:40
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A great review of a fantastic day. Roll on next year