Review: 8th Carlisle Blues & Rock Festival 2014

Posted on: Friday, Nov 14, 2014

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The Boom Band

THE 8th CARLISLE BLUES & ROCK FESTIVAL 2014

In the word’s of MC. Mark Singleton, “six weeks ago this year’s Carlisle Blues and Rock Festival was dead in the water”. Less than two months before the event was due to take place, the Swallow Hilltop Hotel announced that it was closing down and would not be available to host the festival or provide any accommodation. The festival organiser, Nick Westgarth, was faced with two options: pull the plug on the event or find an alternative venue and accommodation. It is to his eternal credit that he chose the second option; and he and his team of supporters deserve the highest praise and gratitude of the festival’s performers and punters for what they achieved against all the odds.

The musical events were held in two town centre venues: on Friday and Saturday evenings and on Sunday in The Venue, and on Saturday afternoon in the Club Rock. Accommodation was provided in a number of town centre hotels.

Friday Evening

The musical extravaganza exploded into action with a highly energetic set from Sparo & The Yahs, a heavy rocking quartet from Scotland. With considerably more than a hint of Paul Rodgers in his hugely impressive vocals, Sparo led a tireless charge, which was commendably matched by his band members. The unenviable task of following the initial impetus fell to The Little Devils, who were admirably unfazed and delivered a polished performance. The rich, powerful voice of Yoka, who also contributed instrumental cameos on flute and sax, was suitably backed by a splendid trio.

Next up was Kansas City’s Samantha Fish, who has been earning warm commendations for her singing and guitar playing. She was backed by the rhythm section of Mike Zito’s band and her burgeoning talent and attractive personality were warmly received by the appreciative audience. The USA dimension was re-enforced by Detroit’s Marcus Malone, who led his excellent band in a programme of his own magnificent compositions, reinforcing his exceptional vocal delivery with his charismatic stage presence.

Mike Zito and The Wheel headlined the North American round up. Founder of the Royal Southern Brotherhood that graced the festival last year, Mike Zito is a considerable force to be reckoned with as a musician, songwriter and producer and it was no surprise when he and his band delivered a top quality set that fully demonstrated his excellent vocals and superb guitar playing. There was also a brief but welcome return to the stage by Samantha Fish.

Saturday Afternoon

I must confess that the somewhat stifling atmosphere of the Club Rock prompted me to flit in and out of the venue, which regrettably resulted in my not catching the performances of The Bushman Brothers and The Mustangs. On the plus side, I had the pleasure of witnessing the further development of Blues Boy Dan Owen, who powered his way through a terrific set of original compositions and a fine selection of covers that included a sparkling version of “Walking Blues” and marvellous renditions of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown”. I also thoroughly enjoyed a fabulous set of Chicago-style blues by Blues ‘N’ Trouble, fronted by the highly personable singer/harmonica player, Tim Eliott, and featuring the considerable talents of guitarist, Sandy Tweeddale, and keyboard player, Angus Rose.

Saturday Evening

Back to The Venue where The Sean Webster Band cranked up the volume with a programme of self-penned, soulful compositions, with Sean’s expressive vocals supplemented by a fine young band. In contrast, the more mature members of the Climax Blues Band delivered a significantly more sedate performance, with Graham Dee’s excellent vocals beautifully embellished by saxophonist, Chris Aldridge, keyboard player, George Glover, and guitarist, Lester Hunt, all expertly underpinned by bass guitarist, Neil Simpson, and drummer, Roy Adams.

The festival then welcomed back one of its favourite performers, the incomparable Connie Lush, who was brilliantly backed by the impressively dexterous Steve Wright on guitar and the impeccable rhythm section of husband,Terry Harris, on bass guitar and guest drummer Sam Kelly. As ever, Connie’s extraordinary vocal delivery sparred for priority with her infectious humour as she paraded a splendid mix of top quality original material with her unique interpretations of a miscellany of blues standards. The icing on the already delicious cake was her spine-tingling version of “Feeling Good”, which is more than a match for any of that number’s many interpreters.

Roscoe Levee & The Southern Slide were next on stage with an entertaining set of upbeat blues/rock. The eponymous singer/guitarist fronted his excellent ensemble with commendable warmth and enthusiasm while Lee Wilson added an abundance of keyboard artistry. The evening was headlined by Aynsley Lister, another firm favourite of the British blues scene. Backed by a top class rhythm section, he delivered a highly sophisticated programme, combining smooth vocals with beautifully played guitar lines that had the enthusiastic audience purring in appreciation. A splendid close to a terrific day of British-based blues.

Another feature of the day was a well-deserved presentation made by Connie Lush to the long-standing organisers of the Barrow Blues Club, Bill and Joyce Harrison, for their considerable contribution to the promotion of blues in the UK. Further evidence of their commitment was publicly witnessed when, in defiance of their advancing years, they led the cries for more at 2.30 in the morning at the after-show jam session. Long may they thrive!

Sunday Afternoon

The opening set on Sunday afternoon has consistently showcased hidden gems. That tradition was upheld this year in the form of Matt Woosey, an acoustic blues singer/guitarist. A skilful songwriter and fine guitarist, Matt possesses an incredibly powerful voice, complete with a range that incorporates a very effective falsetto dimension. He captivated the audience with his talented delivery and his laid-back humour and set the scene magnificently for the rest of the day.

Another relatively unknown act then assumed the baton and continued the captivation of the audience. York-based TC & The Money Makers provided a master class in Chicago-style blues, mixing shuffles, slow blues and boogies with consistent panache. Tom Cocks is a gifted harmonica player, whose talent has been acclaimed by no less than Charlie Musselwhite. His vocals are also impressive and he is backed by the tightest of bands that boasts Karl Moon on guitar, Giles Checketts on bass and Mark Tyne on drums. This is very definitely a band on the rise.

The party atmosphere was maintained by singer/guitarist Dani Wilde, one of the UK’s leading, female blues exponents. Her powerful vocals were a perfect vehicle for her well-crafted songs and her bubbly personality set the tone for a well-received set. As a bonus, her excellent band was reinforced on a few numbers by superb contributions from her brother, Will, on harmonica.

There had been much publicity, which prompted considerable anticipation, in respect of the appearance of The Boom Band. The ensemble comprises an amalgamation of some of the finest British blues artistes – guitarists Jon Amor, Marcus Bonfanti, Mark Butcher and Matt Taylor and keyboard player Paddy Milner – with all five sharing lead vocals. The potential danger was that individual rivalry might undermine the corporate project. In the event, all band members openly demonstrated their enjoyment of the performance of their fellow players and indulged in light-hearted banter throughout the set. In short, it was a triumph and a delight and the undoubted highlight of the whole festival.

What a challenge to follow that. Well, for some performers perhaps but not for the day’s headliner, Ian Siegal. In conjunction with Mississippi’s Jimbo Mathus, the festival’s perennial mascot proceeded to engage the gathered throng with humour, anecdotes and his superlative vocals and masterful guitar work. He was matched by his equally talented guest, who also charmed the audience with his wit and supreme enthusiasm. The pair shared lead vocals and provided close harmonies on an array of songs from the folk, country and blues catalogues, closing with Ewan McColl’s “Dirty Old Town” and, as an encore, “The Ballad of Casey Jones”. It was a fitting end to a marvellous festival.

LIONEL ROSS

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