In this two-hour special Pete Feenstra plays some of those acts appearing at the 2016 Newark Blues Festival and some of the award-winners. First broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, 13 September 2016.
It’s one of those days in England. The sun beams down over an idyllic setting as the River Trent gently meanders its way alongside the Newark castle picture post card festival site.
A good sized crowd is spread over the sizeable festival grounds, the front half of which is full of full of deck chairs and the gentle tinkling of beer glasses. It’s also a reminder that this is the kind of summer’s day that your parents waxed lyric about.
In many respects this could be a cricket crowd, except of course that once the bands plug in and play they transform the quiet ideal into something more essential and befitting of a blues festival.
We’re here for the third and final day of the Newark Blues Festival which houses the 2016 British Blues Awards. The annual events is a timely reminder that there’s still room for a community-led blues festival with international appeal.
Today’s bill of fare works perfectly, except for the unavoidable last minute cancellation of Malaya Blue, which turns out to be a blip on an otherwise blue horizon.
But first a mention for today’s MC, the blues DJ and guitarist Gary Grainger, who complete with a splendid Joe Cocker style, Woodstock era Tie-Dye T shirt, provides the announcements and good humour for well over 6 hours.
This is man on a mission, who sticks to the dictum that the show must go on no matter what, as evidenced by the fact that he was completely unfazed on the previous day when the heavens opened and the electrics crackled.
It’s good to see Ian Siegal receive his Acoustic Act of the Year award. He’s been a festival favourite since the beginning and his level of consistency both as a touring and recording artist is worthy of his high esteem.
So to the music and as UK Blues member Darren Weale notes, after the previous night’s revelry you probably don’t want to be immediately confronted with hard rockin’ blues. In that respect the dobro wielding Jack J. Hutchinson and blues harp player Tom Brundage are the perfect openers, gently easing us into the midday session with a melodic, measured and beautifully judged set.
Photo by Tony Winfield
The bowler hatted British Blues Awards nominated guitarist and singer-songwriter Jack J. Hutchinson resembles a cross between a homesteader and member of Zappa late 60′s touring band. His intuitive feel for down-home blues may be at odds with his rich Leicester brogue, but he’s totally convincing as he switches from intense rhythms and lead guitar to slide alongside Brundage’s warm harp-tone on some impressive material.
There’s the intricate interplay of ‘Locomotive Blues’, the spiky ‘Wake Up (‘Smell the Roses’) – which you could imagine being a big band arrangement – and the slide-led ‘Too Much Too Soon’, while a new song ‘The River Cries’ is one of his very best efforts.
Photo by Tony Winfield
He manages to be both cool and impassioned while totally committed to the blues, while Tom Brundage is a perfect foil who knows the value of space, timing and a deep tone.
And so to the first band of the day as the very tight power trio Alex McKown Band hits the stage with real purpose on a suitable titled opener ‘Rhythm & Blues’. Alex makes up for a lack of charisma with an imposing guitar tone, some coruscating rock-blues and the occasional memorable hook.
Photo: David McKown
His trio rocks out on Ray Charles’s ’30 Days In A Hole’, with the kind of venom that mirrors the Humble Pie version. The self penned, riff driven ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, is the kind of deeply wrought groove that will get them noticed and the uptempo rocker ‘Release Me’ is the result of his work with Texas funk blues meister Hamilton Loomis. File under bags of potential.
Photo: David McKown
As if by perfect planning, Scotland’s Lewis Hamilton Band take things up another notch on a set that showcases the classic power trio tenets of power chords, a rumbling bass, a big guitar tone allied with a gruff voice and above all Lewis’s ability to humorously engage with crowd: ‘I’d like the thank the Newark Festival for giving us the context to get pissed the afternoon.’
Their set has an unashamed retro feel with Free, Trower and Hendrix influences. The riff driven rocker ‘Old Faces’ combines their very best elements on a rocker that doesn’t really need an apologetic intro to a blues crowd that laps it up.
Lewis is equally good on slide guitar too on a number that may have been ‘Iceberg Blues’, and they boogie and rock the big mid-afternoon crowd to their feet with a blistering set that gains them a lot more new fans.
The Katie Bradley Band features guitarist Dudley Ross and they remind us that we’re at a blues festival, with set full of charm, fervour and real feel.
If blues is really all about expressing your feelings, then Katie does so with some emotive phrasing and her sparing us of the blues harp, as Dudley adds steely licks.
They open with the lilting ‘Long Way From Home’ on which her understated vocal draws the crowd in and she’s in her element on the ballad ‘Be Careful With My Baby’, as Ross again adds the perfect accompaniment.
Photo: Katie Bradley
‘Levy Town’ has an insistent funky feel and best of all is the sumptuous ‘I Hear The River’, which is that rare thing, a blues song with real commercial potential.
On an afternoon of acoustic-into-rock-blues and boogie, Katie Bradley is the one performer who places 100 percent emphasis on lyrical meaning through emotive phrasing to remind us of the timeless appeal of the blues.
Photo: Tom Brundrage
And so to Del Bromham. A former ‘Lifetime Achievement In Music’ award winner, he and his Blues Devils clearly mean business.
Here is a musician who after 50 odd years of treading the boards with Stray, has re-invented himself though excellent songs and musical versatility. Today is a slimmed down version of The Blues Devils, which is basically Stray plus Hammond player Simon Rinaldo.
Suffice it to say, that his professionalism and sheer love of performing shone through like a beacon. Faced with a late afternoon arena full of seated people, he simply announces that the next song involves plenty of ‘call and response’, waving of arms and even dancing, and that: “You lot probably won’t be interested in that”.
His irreverent approach connects with the crowd on a high octane set that loses a handful of blues die-hards, but brings the majority of the crowd to its feet.
He’s got the chops, the band, the songs and good humour to make the blues both relevant, contemporary and above all fun. Even the old Stray favourite ‘After The Storm’ is injected with fresh purpose, but the highlight is a brace of songs – ‘Ballad of JD’ and the sing-along ‘Words’ – from his current semi-unplugged ’9 Yards’ album.
By the time of an anthemic version of Traffic’s ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ he’s achieved the impossible by leading a blues festival crowd to new pastures. To coin that old cliché, he’s like old wine in new bottles, but with a timeless vintage.
A final word for the British Blues awards who present 20 awards on the day. The most high profile winners such as Rebecca Downes, Laurence Jones and King King suggest that contemporary blues is in the very best hands.
Full results here
What Pete missed out is that he received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Briish Blues Awards. Well done Pete!
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Anne Pioton,. except where stated
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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