Live review: The 1st Overton-on-Dee Blues, Roots & Real Ale Festival – 8th/9th May
Posted on: Friday, May 15, 2015
The first Overton-on-Dee Blues, Roots & Real Ale Festival, which took place over last weekend, was a resounding success and indeed, the Saturday was a complete sell-out – and as always Pete Evans, Paul Taylor and Ian Williams had put together an excellent varied bill – ranging from pre-war acoustic blues to the music of the North Mississippi hill country and lots, lots more! The quaint old rural cinema, now the village hall, was the perfect, intimate venue for the festival.
The Friday night featured just two acts but a good healthy crowd turned up – bolstered by quite a few locals trying out their first ever blues festival and judging by their responses, it won’t be their last.
Opening up was the highly talented Half Deaf Clatch who in the last couple of years has built up a solid reputation backed up by multiple nominations in the British Blues Awards. Playing some superb resonator guitar backed up by some excellent bluesy vocals he packed in a brilliant 80 minute set featuring songs from his catalogue with the standout tracks “Hard Times Just Got Harder” and “A Road Less Travelled”. He then moved down the road to perform another excellent set at The White Horse Inn.
Headliners, the ever popular Blues Duo featuring Tommy Allen on guitar and various drums and cymbals and Johnny Hewitt on harp proved once again that they without doubt are one of the best festival acts currently performing in the UK.
Performing two 50-minute sets they enthralled the audience with a great mix of slow and up tempo numbers. Johnny Hewitt proved once again that he currently has few equals on the UK circuit shown particularly on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Nine Below Zero” and Little Walter’s “Goin’ Down Slow”.
Sharing vocal duties, Tommy then succeeded in getting people onto the dance floor with the rocking self-penned “Back Door Boogie” and The Fabulous Thunderbirds “Date Bait”. The highlight of the whole show though was a brilliant version of Jimmy Rogers “Who’s Loving You Tonight” featuring sweet guitar from Tommy.
A great start then which paved the way to a full day on the Saturday.
Despite a couple of unavoidable late cancellations the sell-out crowd at the quite lovely Overton Village Hall were taking their places in good numbers when North Wales band Bad Moon opened proceedings on the main stage. The band have evolved from Karac, and are led by the charismatic Steve Pablo – who may be known to many for his beautiful paintings of blues artists.
His four-piece outfit played a great hour set and for the early hour they well very well received. The material ranged from some original songs to some classic covers – a stand out being Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, with a drop into “Angel” at the end; a rocking version of Nick Lowe’s song via The Fabulous Thunderbirds version, “One’s Too Many (And A Hundred Ain’t Enough)”; and The Rolling Stones timeless “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Well done to the band for stepping in at the last minute to open the day with aplomb.
Talented young acoustic guitarist Jack Blackman was next up, delivering a quite stunning set on the small stage – on which he returned later in the evening. Jack is just 20 years old and a student in Leeds – his debut self-titled album was reviewed by myself in 2013, and it is fair to say he has matured both physically and as a musician. His delicate finger picked guitar won two huge ovations from the crowd and a spontaneous round of applause as he left down the central aisle . . . which was in fairness so well deserved.
Their can’t be many blues players so young concentrating on the pre-war styles of the likes of the legendary Blind Blake and Blind Willie McTell, but Jack is in that field. He played some covers such as Big Bill Broonzy’s “Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down”, as well as his own “The Ballad of Charles Walton” – a Warwickshire murder ballad, that was aired on BBC Radio 4. A new CD is forthcoming, and on his sets here will be well worth looking out for. Another treat was his song about the legendary T-Model Ford – “Hognose Gin”.
Next up on the main stage were the hugely entertaining Blue Swamp from Lancashire/Manchester, featuring the vastly experienced line-up of Mike Bowden (vocals and acoustic guitar), John Williamson (electric guitar and vocals) Jim Moseley (bass and vocals), and ex-Harpbreakers drummer, and all-round lovely guy, ‘Big Vern’ – aka Colin Seymour. The band were quite excellent and entertaining, with Mike Bowden’s ‘lived in’ vocals and ribald tales; the lovely fluid guitar of John Williamson, and the top rhythm section.
They featured some tunes from the new “Voodoo Soup” album, including the lovely “Be Still” with some delightful slide guitar and four-part vocal harmonies; and the self-explanatory “Respect For The Wolf” – a tribute to the legendary Howling Wolf. Other treats were the opening cover of “Love Potion No. 9” – which was a huge hit for The Coasters and covered by many – and a really different working of R.L. Burnside’s “Jumper On The Line”.
Another outfit stepping into the breach at short notice were the excellent Burning Black duo – namely Steve Blackstone and Russ Cowburn, from Anglesey. They also delivered two sets on the small stage and mixed up some original songs with many blues classics, and again, were very well received by the by now packed hall. Both Steve and Russ featured on various songs on harmonica and guitar – indeed, they have an almost telepathic understanding on stage, honed by years together touring with The Baloo’s Band.
A selection of the covers were Robert Johnson’s “The Last Fair Deal Gone Down”, Eric Bibb’s “Good Stuff”, Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me To Talkin'” and Little Walter’s “My Babe” – showing the type of material they grew up listening too. Original songs that stood out were “Taxman” – about the plight of giving your ‘hard-earned’ to said person and the slightly saucy, “Hot, Horny & Beautiful”. Well done guys for stepping in at the last moment, and again, hugely enjoyable sets!
The new(ish) 3Kings, featuring this site’s own, and resident of Chester, Ken Peace on harmonica and vocals; and the Merseyside pairing of Neil Partington (guitar and vocals) and Lance Donnelly (drums) played their biggest gig to date. They continue to gain momentum in their live appearances – and having seen most of them, I can vouch – along with the rapturous reaction from the crowd, and the first dancers of the day – that they were truly on top form! The band formed after Ken Peace was inspired on a trip to Mississippi, and in particular a set from Cedric Burnside and Lightning Malcolm, by the raw, driving and hypnotic rhythms of the North Mississippi hill country, and hence 3Kings were formed last year.
A blistering near-hour from the band also featured dips into New Orleans and Chicago, and of course, several North Mississippi hill country gems, such as “Shake ‘Em On Down”, “Black Mattie” and “Goin’ Down South” – all featuring the big-toned harmonica of Ken Peace and the driving rhythm guitar and vocals of Neil Partington – driven along by the powerful drumming of Lance Donnelly. The band took Eddie Taylor’s classic “Bad Boy” to new places – imagine Chicago meets Holly Springs; and produced some New Orleans funk on The Meters timeless “Cissy Strut”; ending with a well merited and loudly demanded encore of the Junior Wells chestnut, “Boogie Thing”. Another wonderful set on a day of many.
After a short tea interval the stunning David Migden & The Twisted Roots wove their magic for a brilliant hour! The Kent-based band are so hard to tag, and that can’t be a bad thing . . . but feature touches of blues, funk, jazz and New Orleans . . . led by the dynamic stage presence of the Arkansas-born David Migden – who possesses a truly great voice, and also adds trumpet to the mix. “Second Hand Tattoo” took us back, then a lot of the set drew on material from the last two albums, and the highlights came thick and fast, from the New Orleans influence on “Rougarou” to the sinister “Rev Jack Crow” and the funky “Top Of The Mountain.
The band are all exceptional players and as tight as any outfit around – having first seen them at Bangor-on-Dee last year, I would say they were probably even better at this show! The set ended in spectacular fashion with a trip right back to the start of their formation, with “Cats Eyes” . . . a cautionary tale of falling asleep at the wheel”. A Latin-flavoured number that erupts into a frenzy of trumpet and keyboards. Special mention to all the band for their sterling work, including Joe Gibson’s ever-classy guitar work.. Catch this band if you have not seen them!
Dorset’s finest The Producers have been regular visitors to North Wales over the years, and indeed headlined the first ever festival put on by Pete Evans and crew back in the late 90s, and here, the very tight four-piece line-up delivered their customary classy set of top quality blues – with perhaps more covers than normal but still with some of their own fine original tunes.
As ever the band are led by Harry Skinner (vocals and guitar), with long-time ‘sidekick’ Dave Saunders on bass; the band also featuring Ray Drury on keyboards and Biff Smith on drums. Highlights of yet another truly enjoyable set included a great cover of the Spencer Davis Group chestnut, “Keep On Running” and a rocking “Sugar Coated Love”, the Lazy Lester tune.
The stand out songs from the band’s own songs were the lovely slow blues of “Some People Say”; and a cracking “Preservation Blues”, which features on the latest album, “London Blues” – both with terrific guitar and vocals from Harry Skinner and ably accompanied by the rest of this fine band.
This was the first time that the popular blues rock band Never The Bride had played in the region and after an unfortunate technical sound glitch which delayed the start of their set, they took to the stage to great applause with enigmatic lead singer Nikki Lambourn winning over the audience immediately.
With fellow band founder Catherine “Been” Feeney on keys and regular rhythm section of YoYo Buys on bass and Richie Newman on drums, the band also featured Sally-Jo on electric violin and brand new 20 years old Kaleb Rose on lead guitar in only his second gig with the band.
Opening track was Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and it set the stall for the rest of the show. The link to Wales was made by Nikki when she introduced the band’s anthemic “Living Tree” which was passed on by Nikki and Been to Shirley Bassey and was made a hit by the Welsh Dame. The track featured great guitar work from Kaleb Rose showing what a great talent he has. Someone to look out for.
A further link to Shirley Bassey was made in the song “Tiger Bay” with great participation from the audience followed by a superb version of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” showcasing Nikki’s passionate vocals.
Whilst on the rockier side of the spectrum and perhaps not as much appreciated by the blues purists, this really was a superb end to a great festival by a brilliant tight band.
(Pictures courtesy of Ian Williams – ianwilliamsphotography.co.uk)
Footnote: A nice touch was that the whole festival was dedicated to the memory of ‘Big Al’ Groom, a stalwart of all the gigs, who sadly passed away recently . . . a lovely guy, who never missed a gig put on at Wrexham, Bangor-on-Dee, Overton-on-Dee and Worthenbury . . . RIP ‘Big Al’.