Listen in to Pete Feenstra on Sunday 9 February at 19:00 for a Skegness Special
The 18th Great British Rock & Blues Festival was a triumph of familiarity and enthusiasm over logistics.
Many of the capacity crowd were repeat bookers and several of the bands were making a return visit and it is left to the fans to find ways to optimize their music consumption, especially when several bands found themselves going head to head on different stages. And as is the case at many a festival, it was some of the fringe acts that provided the fire and provided healthy portents for the future.
The Centre Stage provided a healthy mix of rock, blues and retro, while Reds mixed 70’s bands with R & B and rock. Jaks concentrated on blues and roots and The Skyline stage gave several younger bands a break. The latter was opened by Tom Gee, a fine song writer from Leeds and his band, while Irish star in-the-making Grainne Duffy made light of her travel problems to add to her growing reputation as a passionate performer.
The evening session in Jaks was hosted by another fast up and coming band the southern roots rockers Rosco Levee and the Southern Drive, who seem to be ideally positioned in the contemporary rock market, in which all things southern are making a comeback. Back in Reds Johnny Williamson’s Blue Swamp Band combined dodgy humour with their take on Americana, in which Williamson’s beautiful tone soared into the rafters.
Making my own decision on the run, I stuck with Reds for the remainder of Friday night as Pat McManus brought variety and multi instrumental excellence to bear on some Celtic tinged boogie rock, while the evening was eclipsed by The Quireboys. Front man Spike is a cross between a Faces-era Rod Stewart, Jagger and Frankie Miller, but it’s the band’s material that stands out and gives them longevity.
The early shift on Saturday saw the powerful Ian Nix Band on Centre Stage, but he chose to rely on covers rather than his own material, while in Reds Adam Norsworthy put in a fiery shift, leading the kick ass Mustangs into a bluesy set that frequently stretched into unexpected Doors territories.
A quick dash to Jaks saw the first of two sets by Roadhouse, in this case the opening section of a stellar 4 hour blues jam hosted by band leader Gary Boner. They later returned in their own right to showcase material from their excellent new album, of which ‘Hell On Wheels’ was a triumph.
Saturday afternoon at Reds kicked in with Del Bromhams’s Stray with special guests Cherry Lee Mewis and Ruthless Blues harp player Steve Smith. Little Stevie was to appear three times in all with The Groundhogs and Mungo Jerry. Del Bromham’s ‘Ballad of JD’ was a highlight, while Tony T.S. McPhee overcome his health problems to squeeze out his timeless riffs on ‘Eccentric Man’, ‘Cherry Red’ and ‘Split’.
The early evening session in Reds stuck with the retro theme as The Yardbirds fronted by Andrew Mitchell and featuring original members Top Topham and Jim McCarty made a good fist of their impressive back catalogue.
A quick dash to the centre stage found Geno Washington holding court with an effortless performance that didn’t quite move the soul, and it was back to Reds for the late replacement headliners Eddie & The Hot Rods who drew a huge crowd and took us all back to 1977 with a killer, high-energy show.
And so to Sunday and a split shift, to catch the first half of Wilko Johnson, for whom bassist Norman Watt Roy put in an incredible shift. Wilko unbelievably played two sets in one afternoon, not bad band for a man who we didn’t expect to see on stage again.
Michael Katon, the boogie man from Hell, Michigan, was surprisingly laid back, perhaps a result of an all night journey down from Scotland, and it was left to the crowd pleasing Paul Lamb & the Kingsnakes to crank things up with a mixture of blues, boogie, swing and even a cappella singing.If Paul Lamb is a maestro harp player, he was pushed every inch of the way by Mark Feltham who with Nine Below Zero, tore the roof off Reds with a climactic show.
And talking of harp players, Steve Smith’s third appearance at the festival with Mungo Jerry transformed a set that veered dangerously towards cabaret, into a raucous roadhouse boogie jam that deservedly earned the band a great reception.
Back on Centre Stage (but by no means in chronological order), Chantel McGregor arguably drew the biggest crowd of the festival, just as the air conditioning gave out. Her mix of shredding, tapping, blues, covers and ballads mesmerised the crowd. Unfortunately I missed Mark Pontin on the Skyline stage as it was back to Reds to a catch the dubiously titled Jefferson Starship featuring one previous member – the former Quicksilver guitarist David Freiberg – who to be fair, shared a couple of fine duets with Cathy Richardson.
Nine Below Zero put in a consummate performance in Reds to justify their headliner status and Jo Harman wrapped things up in Jaks with a mix of funky soul and sultry sensuality in the early hours.
They say the best things in life go by in a blur and the Skegness Rock & Blues Festival was like that. The atmosphere at times was positively celebratory and on balance the music surpassed expectations. The Trevor Burton Band for example, admirably filled in for an absent Stan Webb – who would have played to a sizeable crowd – and like most of the bands on the bill, you probably knew them, but they still surprised you with their spirited playing and musical excellence.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Terry Ball with the exception of Roadhouse (Steve Dulieu)
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