Live review: The Big Blues Festival, Southport – 9th/10th October 2015

Posted on: Tuesday, Oct 13, 2015

The Big Blues Festival at The Atkinson, Southport – 9th/10th October 2015

Nimmo Bros

A sparkling jewel in Southport’s crown, The Atkinson was the perfect venue for the town’s first Big Blues Festival. The tastefully refurbished arts centre provided a range of excellent facilities, which included the two-tier performance studio, bars and a food outlet. The festival covered Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening and presented a splendid array of Britain-based blues performers.

Friday Evening

Friday evening presented just one band, the hugely popular Nimmo Brothers, who are now enjoying their twentieth year of gracing the British blues scene. They opened their set with the upbeat rocker, “Bad Luck”, to set the pulses racing, followed by a vibrant version of Doyle Bramhall’s “Shape I’m In” before slowing things down with their much-loved ballad,”Long Way From Everything”. The upbeat shuffle, “Still Here Strumming” made way for “All I Want”, which was embellished by a beautifully lyrical solo from Stevie and an equally impressive but spikier cameo from Alan.

The energy was cranked up several notches with “Nothing In Chicago For Free” and “Reason To Believe” with Stevie in slide guitar mode, while the pace was eased with the ballad, “Waiting For Your Heart To Fall”, which delivered another two magical guitar solos, culminating in a fabulous crescendo superbly driven by drummer Wayne Proctor and bass guitarist Matt Beable. Finally, the band’s ever-popular version of “Black Cat Bone” brought a superb performance to a rampaging close.

While the brothers are now firmly engaged in separate ventures in the form of King King and the Stevie Nimmo Trio, the enthusiastic reception which they received from a sell-out audience confirmed that they are still held in the highest regard and affection by their loyal fans whenever they appear in the guise of their original, spectacular format.

Saturday Afternoon

The Saturday afternoon session began with an expanded version of Tipitina. The ensemble normally comprises Debbie Jones on vocals and Justin Randall on keyboards. On this occasion, the duo was supplemented by Andy Jones on guitar, Olly Collins on bass guitar and Brian Hargreaves on drums. The quintet provided an entertaining start to the afternoon, with Debbie Jones’s vocals fully complemented by the flamboyant artistry of Justin Randall. The upbeat “Something You Got” delivered a nifty keyboard solo while the gospel-tinged “You Are A Blessing” was particularly well-suited to Debbie’s sultry vocals. The varied set included Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and fine versions of the Dinah Washington/Brook Benton hit “You Got What It Takes” and Allen Toussaint’s “Brickyard Blues”.

Next up, David Migden and The Twisted Roots bounced into life with “Second Hand Tattoo” and a helping of funk before embarking on a wonderful delivery of “Rougarou” from their new album, Animal & Man. Migden’s rich baritone voice was admirably backed by Graham Mann on keyboards, Joe Gibson on guitar, Phil Scragg on bass guitar and James Sedge on drums. As the song developed, Migden and Mann added trumpet and trombone parts respectively and the performance developed into a full-blown trad jazz extrvaganza. “Wild World” then featured excellent vocal harmonies, slide guitar and a marvellous keyboard solo before the variety was extended with the slow and dreamy “Heaven On Earth”, the heavier-beating “Top Of The Mountain” and the enigmatic “Reverend Jack Crow”. Finally, the country-edged “Killing It” brought the brilliant set to a rousing conclusion.

The afternoon session was headlined by The Stumble. Long treasured as the pride of the North West, The Stumble has developed into one of the very best blues band in the country. Fronted by the magnificent vocals of Paul Melville, the band exudes talent with the front line artistry of guitarist Colin Black and saxophonist Simon Anthony Dixon and the rock steady engine room of Boyd Tonner on drums, Cameron Sweetnam and Ant Scapens on bass and guitar respectively.

The fast-moving “Lie To Me” and the shuffle “The World Is Tough” set the scene but once again the undoubted highlight of the set was a stunning performance of BB King’s slow blues, “All Over Again”, on which the vocals and the guitar and sax solos were simply magical. A second helping of BB King was served in the form of “You Upset Me, Baby” while “In And Out Of Love” and “Heat Of The Night” added to the delight. Simon Anthony switched to baritone sax on a slow blues before a couple of upbeat rockers, another slow blues, “My Life”, led all to soon to the final number, “Bus Stop”, to complete a memorable set.

Saturday Evening

Marcus Malone is a born entertainer. The man from Detroit never fails to engage with his audience. His marvellous vocals are in the highest bracket and he is a gifted songwriter. Backed by guitarist Sean Nolan, drummer Mike Horn and bass guitarist Jamie Lawrence, he opened his account with “Feeling Bad Blues” before embarking on three upbeat rockers. The slow shuffle, “The Jealous Kind”, delivered a fine wah-wah-drenched guitar solo from Sean Nolan while “Detroit City Blues” saw him and Marcus produce some very effective dual lead guitar work.

“Back To Paradise”, another bouncing rocker, gave way to the funky “Supernatural Thing” before “You Gotta Slow Down” led into the final number of the set, “Christine”, which was blessed with another dose of guitar-based interaction between Marcus and Sean.

The headline act of the festival was singer/guitarist Chantel McGregor, who has received increasing acclaim in recent years including being voted the best blues guitarist in the UK. She was backed by Keith McPartling on drums and Colin Sutton on bass guitar.

The potency of the set was established with a couple of heavy-beating numbers including “Burn Your Anger”, the first track of the night from Chantel’s latest album, Lose Control. It was full volume, heavy rock relentlessly driven by Keith McPartling on drums. The title track of the new album was followed by a gentle ballad, which gradually succumbed to an increasing volume as a prelude to a guitar solo complete with impressive shredding before calm was eventually restored then abandoned in a fulminating crescendo.

In complete contrast to the rest of the set, Chantel temporarily dismissed her rhythm section, picked up an acoustic guitar and gently delivered two excellent ballads. The respite completed, the rhythm section returned and high volume mode was resumed. After a number which bore shades of “Smokestack Lightning”, the new album was visited once more with “Your Fever”. A smouldering slow burner then made way for “Freefalling” and another deviation in the shape of “Walk On Land”, a prog rock composition with a tasty guitar solo, which brought an unexpectedly light conclusion to the predominantly heavy set and a tasteful end to the festival.

There was much to enjoy in this first incarnation of a Big Blues Festival in Southport, not least the quality and variety of the music and the excellence of the facilities. Special mention is also due to the staff of The Atkinson, who were unfailingly helpful and pleasant throughout the event. The occasion was an undoubted success and it is very much hoped that it will prove to be the foundation for many more similar festivals in the future.

LIONEL ROSS

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