Reporting by Simon Dunkerley and Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra writes: Perhaps only The Great British Rock & Blues Festival can give you the unlikely opportunity of slipping from the dancing delights of Courtney Pine’s venue filling world music and jazz fusion set, to the twin guitar majesty of the Tygers of Pan Tang.
No real surprise though, as Skegness is a broad musical, cross generational church, that welcomes new parishioners, as long as they don’t upset the status quo.
For while this year’s festival is notable for the high standard of up and coming bands on the ‘Introducing’ Skyline stage, and Reds plays host to rock bands, it falls to old troupers such as Nine Below Zero, Dr. Feelgood, Arthur Brown, Martin Turner and Hawkwind etc., to pull in the bumper crowds.
The other notable difference this year is the sharp divide between the Reds rock stage and the Centre Blues stage, albeit both the excellent Colin Blunstone and Courtney Pine stretch the blues label to breaking point.
And so to the opening night which starts early this year. Not too many folks catch Sugarman Sam and the Voodoo Men, but they impressively set about their task to draw people into Skyline stage.
Warrington’s The Black Circles follow and are somewhat hampered by an indifferent sound, which means when singer Sam Bratley steps away from the mic to sing, he is inaudible. Happily, special guest guitarist Ash Wilson brings additional heft to their guitar driven rock blues.
FM: They quickly draw the crowd in with a magnificent set that to the untutored ear sounds like a cross between Foreigner and The Moody Blues!
A quick dash to Reds as the doors open to House of X, a band with a collective pedigree that includes UFO, Michael Schenker, Phil Lynott, Pat Travers, Uli Jon Roth and The Heavy Metal Kids. They open with great purpose on ‘Let It Roll’ from the ‘Force It’ album and ‘Highway Lady’ from ‘Heavy Pettin’.
Photo by Phil Honley
Danny Peyronel is the kind of charismatic front man who connects with the moment and makes you forget the sometimes indifferent material, while guitarist Laurence Archer makes extravagant shapes and has the chops to back it up on songs like ‘Shoot Shoot’.
Mixing the familiar with the brand new, House Of X give you that kind of glowing feeling you get when you bump into old friends. They provide the perfect start to the weekend on the rock stage.
If House Of X take us back to the 70′s then FM drop us smack bang in the 80′s, a time when rock’s survivors cleaned up their act to focus on songs and harmonies.
Such is FM‘s impact that those unfamiliar with the band’s material are soon converted. They quickly draw the crowd in with a magnificent set that to the untutored ear sounds like a cross between Foreigner and The Moody Blues!
They open with ‘Digging Up the Dirt’ from their current ‘Heroes And Villains’ album, which features superb vocalist Steve Overland. His effortless range is best exemplified by the rock ballad ‘Closer To Heaven’ from the ‘Aphrodisiac’ album, which plants them closer to The Eagles. On the melodic rocker ‘Life Is A Highway’ they make the best of a Who style intro as Overland phrases like Huey Lewis!
Photo by Phil Honley
‘Wildside’ is a tub thumping rocker with shades of Bad Company, while the uplifting ‘That Girl’ – featuring one of Overland’s best vocals of the night – could be Asia.
The guitar driven ‘Bad Luck’ brings them a deserved encore with ‘Other Side of Midnight’, which made me wonder why they never quite cracked it.
Bernie Torme closes the Reds rock stage tonight and takes things up another level. He fronts a power trio with an intensity and spontaneity that sees him mangle his big tones with whammy bar inflections.
Bernie doesn’t disappoint. He looks the part from his barnet to his boots, as he takes us on a wild ride from the huge opening crescendo of ‘Wild West’ to the crowd pleasing Gillan favourite ‘New Orleans’, via some fleeting ‘Smoke On The Water riffs.
Here is a man born to rock, whether it’s on the riff driven ‘Bullet’, the slide inflected ‘Tobacco Road’ influenced ‘Turn Out The Lights’, or the Hendrixy ‘Star’, which he completes with a windmill finish.
He’s a restless figure who invites his crowd to commune with the majesty of his guitar playing. His edgy solos fill the room like relentless audio avalanches as he squeezes every last tone from his battered axe on Gillan’s ‘Trouble’ to earn a deserved reception.
Tonight Bernie came, saw and conquered and rounds off a promising start to the weekend on the hard rocking Reds stage.
Simon Dunkerley writes:
Childhood memories of Redcoats, Babycham and Cabaret have being replaced by Denim, Beer and Rock music…
Saturday started with a hearty breakfast in one of the restaurants and a look at the bands for today and what a mixed bag it was; for the first time they had a few jazz acts – controversial before the event but as the day panned out working pretty well.
Also today we got our first taste of the “Introducing Stage” which for many year has been a great crowd pleaser and this weekend was no exception.
We kicked off with in Reds with a great blues rock set from the Jeff Rich Triple J Band, the long time Quo drummer who is now touring his project, a tight three-piece band that features the super talented Jamie Godfery on guitar who not only kicked out some awesome guitar but also had a decent vocal range.
Meanwhile a trek to the Centre Stage for the Snake Davis Band, one of the jazzier offerings and as the magical tones of Baker Street wafted round the room winning the approval of a full crowd.
The rest of my afternoon was taken up with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band followed by a visually stunning and musically expansive Arthur Brown before it was time for our first stint with the introducing stage.
Each day the Introducing Stage gave four bands the chance win a slot for a main stage next year and as ever this proved to be very popular with upwards of 400+ casting a vote daily. Friday’s session which was won by Sugerman Sam and the Voodoo Men.
Dave Brock commanded Hawkwind through their usual infectious set enhanced by oil wheel backdrops and the psychedelia whisking you back to to the pot smoke filled rooms of the 70s (aka Liverpool Stadium). But when all comes to an end you realise you are in Butlins and hope you haven’t been too outrageous.
Saturday’s winners The Texas Flood are a favourite of mine and they did play a really great rock set that had the hard edge that the Rock stage demands, they pipped another crowd favourite Catfish to the post by a small margin.
Photo by Phil Honley
Sunday bought another hard fought session which saw the funky edged high energy filled blues of The Rainbreakers wooing the crowds; ‘Ain’t Nothing Going On’ from their new EP a particularly standout track.
Over on Centre Stage Sean Webster performed a hypnotic acoustic performance of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ whilst Dave Brock commanded Hawkwind through their usual infectious set enhanced by oil wheel backdrops and the psychedelia whiskiung you back to to the pot smoke filled rooms of the 70s (aka Liverpool Stadium). But when all comes to an end you realise you are in Butlins and hope you havent been too outrageous.
Finally for us tonight we decided on someone we had missed so many times now, Aynsley Lister, one of the new breed of young and explosive natural blues guitarists.
Embracing and respecting the old blues whilst at the same time expanding and pushing it forward to a newer audience like his peers Joe Bonamassa and Laurence Jones. He certainly knows his way around the fretboard and managed a superb version of ‘Purple Rain’ during his set. A great way to finish the night off.
Sunday is by far the stronger day of the whole event as would be shown by the lengths of some of the queues later in the day, but to start off we are eased in via the Centre Stage by The Blue Swamp Band which features the amazing guitar talents of Messrs Williamson and Bowden, a light-hearted affair which belies their musical history and they just get on and play some great acoustic blues.
Over on Red we catch part of the lively Babajack set, Becky Tate has an amazing stage presence as she delivers the vocals and attacks the drum with such passion and vigour. Part blues and part world music it certainly keeps you thinking about where it’s going next, another awesome, standout performance.
One thing that is decidedly missing over the weekend was some decent hard rock but thankfully Tygers of Pan Tang hit Reds and redressed the balance. Robb Weir and Jacopo Meille worked the crowd as they kicked out ‘Euthanasia’, ‘Rock Candy’ and ‘Gandland’ to an enthusiastic crowd. Certainly one of the best bands over the weekend.
By complete contrast, Courtney Pine brought steel drums to the party and the “jazz experiement” seemed to work well with the crowd.
With a capacity crowd for Dr Feelgood (as in, couldn’t get in), it was good to be able to see Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash. Whatever Andy Powell has to say on the subject, Martin is at the historical heart of classic WA and his set was a weekend highlight and also impressed MC Pete Feenstra.
Willie And The Bandits may have seemed an unusual choice to round off proceedings but they also pulled off a weekend highlight with a heady mix of pure blues and wah inflected/slide guitar. At times there is a John Martyn-esque feel to Will’s delivery and ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘Angel’ show them off at their best.
Once again, the weekend was a resounding success, even with the surprise and maybe controversial inclusion of some jazz. Great British Rock & Blues is now a fully rounded event and a great way to start the year in terms of festivals.
Review, photos and gallery by Simon Dunkerley, except where stated
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