Gig review: GREAT BRITISH ROCK AND BLUES FESTIVAL – Butlins, Skegness,17th to 20th January 2020

Skegness in early January is a bit of a strange place. Row upon row of empty caravans lie in wait for warmer weather and better times. When once again the sound of laughter and the smell of stale beer, cigarette smoke and cheap hot dogs will fill the air, happy days! Indeed it’s enough to make one feel blue, so where better to fire up the amps and sing songs of lost love, bad times and heavy drinking?

Having sampled the Great British Rock and Blues Fest for the first time last year we were keen to return for another top weekend of rock, blues and breakfast buffets. Once settled in our apartment it was straight out to sample our first bands of the weekend.

Friday 20th Jan

First stop was the Introducing stage, once again curated by Blues Matters magazine. The premise is that you get four bands per day playing, the punters then get a chance to vote for each day’s winner getting a guaranteed slot on a main stage the following year. It’s a great way to hear bands that you may not otherwise be aware of and it gives the bands exposure to a discerning and appreciative crowd.

In mid flow when we got there were Redfish who play a decent rhythm and blues in a traditional vein, no bad thing. The guys hail from Galloway and Cumbria and had quite a crowd dancing along to their set.

With a vocalist called Stumblin’ Harris and Fraser Clark on keys gurning and flailing his way through the performance their blues credentials were never in doubt. Highlight for me was the guitar work of Martin McDonald although there was a bum note or two along the way, however it was close enough for the blues! The band have a new album coming out soon which may well be worth a listen.

Next up were a band I was keen to see as I had heard good things about them and I wasn’t disappointed. Hollowstar hit the stage with purpose and rocked the crowd with a great set.

Frontman Joe Bonson has a great voice and the twin guitar attack of Phil Haines and Tom Collett was spot on. Playing tracks from their self titled debut album which came out last year the band impressed throughout.

Highlights included the radio friendly ‘Let You Down’ and the driving rock of ‘Invincible’. Even Joe’s bass giving out mid set didn’t break their stride as Phil just cranked up the bass on his guitar pedals. The performance was almost as sparkling as Phil Haines new shirt and the band deservedly won the vote to appear in 2021.

Album review

The rest of the night was to be spent at the rock stage in Reds bar and bringing the noise when we arrived were Introducing winners from last year Burnt Out Wreck. Gary Moat has relaxed into his frontman role over the last couple of years and his gruff vocal delivery suits the band’s hard rocking sound.

The guys recently released a new album and the set featured tracks new and old. Gary’s between song banter in his broad Glasgow accent may have baffled a few but he played it for laughs anyway.

The ever subtle ‘Pullin’ It Out’ and ‘Flames’ were the best of the old favourites whilst the rocking ‘Paddywack’ showcased the new material. Things were rounded off with the old Heavy Pettin’ standard ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ which Burnt Out Wreck managed to prove beyond doubt.

Album review

Reds was rammed by the time Savoy Brown hit the stage and with good reason. Kim Simmonds goes about his business in a quiet manner but his guitar playing shows why the band are still going strong 41 albums in. ‘Why Did You Hoodoo Me’ started things off with ‘Payback Time’ up next. Kim’s vocals were spot on and the rest of the band were top notch. ‘Train To Nowhere’ and ‘Livin’ On The Bayou’ went down a storm with the crowd who cheered every extended blues guitar run by Simmonds.

‘I’m Tired’ gave Pat Desalvo a chance to cut loose with an impressive bass solo. Kim then broke out the harmonica during the next track and blew up a storm which was as accomplished as his fret work. ‘Savoy Brown Boogie’ had the crowd dancing along and by the time the last bars rang out no one was left disappointed. This was a great set by one of the most enduring bands in the blues rock genre. They may be on album 41 but there is plenty of life in the band yet.

Album review

That left The Animals and Friends to round off day one and they did so in style. I had caught the closing numbers of their set at last year’s event and was keen to see more. The band contains founding member John Steel and long time keyboard wizard Mike Gallagher along with newer recruits Danny Handley and Roberto Ruiz who have been part of the band since 2008.

The set contained classic after classic from the band’s illustrious career Danny Handley handles both guitar and vocal duties with ease whilst Mike Gallagher played up a storm on the keys. ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ were early crowd pleasers with the rhythm section of Steel and Ruiz keeping things rock solid. ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ appeared mid set and gave the crowd a chance to raise their voices and sing along. An extended guitar solo from Handley allowed him to show off his fretboard skills.

It was the final pairing of ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ and the classic ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ that rounded off a cracking set from the guys. It is easy to forget what a large role The Animals played back in the 60’s but an evening with The Animals and Friends keeps both the legacy and the music alive for a new generation to enjoy.

So, day one down and the prospect of two full days ahead of us. I had the blues bad, but it felt so good!

Saturday 21st January

Day 2 dawned bright and sunny and after a raid on the breakfast buffet I had cause to nip into the metropolis that is Skegness. Even in the bright winter sunshine the town had all the charm of a Siberian gulag. It is hard to picture the place crowded with holidaymakers in the summer months but it is a popular destination so what do I know?

Back in the sanctity of the Butlin’s complex we were ready to rock once more so it was a trip to the Centre stage for another introducing stage winner from 2018 in the shape of Skam. The Leicester three piece hit the stage with purpose with Steve Hill banging out the riffs. The guys master in hard edged melodic rock and with three studio albums under their belts and a fourth scheduled for release in the near future they had plenty of material to choose from.

Bassist Matt Gilmore didn’t stand still for a second during the performance and his facial contortions were a sight to behold! Steve Hill broke out his twin neck Gibson mid set for a great version of ‘The Wire’ and a few new tracks were included in the set for good measure. Going by the new tracks aired the album should be worth the wait. The highlight of the set for me was ‘Massacre’ which also included a blast of ‘War Pigs’ for good measure. Things were rounded off with ‘No Lies’ and the guys left the stage to a huge cheer, a good start to the day.

Next up we had another returnee from last year in the shape of Clearwater to play through the back catalogue of Creedence Clearwater Revival with great aplomb. Vocalist and guitarist Peter Barton looked every inch the southern rock veteran and has the voice to carry off the John Fogerty role with ease.

‘Proud Mary’ kicked off proceedings in a set full of CCR classics. Songs like ‘Cotton Fields’ and ‘Born On The Bayou’ were greeted with raised voices singing along. CCR are one of those bands who surprise you when you realise how many of their songs you know and an hour spent in Clearwater’s company is a great way to pass a Saturday afternoon,

The two biggest hits ‘Fortunate Son’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising’ brought another top set from the guys to an end. They are touring the UK extensively in the coming year and are well worth catching if you get the chance.

Rounding off our afternoon entertainment were more stars of 2019 in the shape of Geordie. Last year the band had turned in one of the performances of the weekend and, making the most of the bigger stage, they played a storming set once more. ‘Natural Born Loser’ kicked things off with frontman Mark Wright barking out vocals with passion. Steve Dawson on guitar ripped out the riffs on ‘Ain’t It Just Like A Woman’ whilst original band members Tom Hill on bass and Brian Gibson on drums laid down a rock solid bassline.

Set highlight for me though was the slow ballad ‘Give Me Your Hand’ on which Mark Wright excelled. He delivered an almost gospel like vocal which brought the song to climactic finale. Not content with playing songs from the band’s strong back catalogue, they also aired a new track which went down well. One of Geordie’s biggest hits rounded off the set in the shape of ‘Don’t Do That’ which went down a storm and the guys left the stage to cries for more, a great way to round off Saturday afternoon.

After a bit of a breather and another massive feed, the diet was right out the window for the duration, it was back to the Introducing stage for more upcoming bands to be put to the vote.

In full flow when we arrived were Joan Ov Arc who were rocking hard and heavy. Formed way back in 2004 the band have undergone a few personnel changes over the years but the current line up, including a hastily recruited stand in bass player, impressed. Songs like ‘Girls Wanna Rock’, ‘Jane’ and ‘Down By The River’, from the band’s latest album, went down well with the large crowd.

The band featured one of the best rhythm sections of the weekend with stand in bassist Morgan and drummer Ellie Daymond demonstrating excellent skills. The twin guitar work of Laura Ozholl and Shelley Walker was also spot on and it was no surprise to find that the band won the popular vote on the night.

Album review

Up next were Killit who were no doubt favourites to win through, however due to their drummer not being able to make the gig the band had to do an acoustic set. After the full on show by Joan Ov Arc it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight and the votes reflected that. However, the band did their best and even the odd technical hitch didn’t stop them giving their all. Unfortunately, due to the main stages kicking off halfway through the set the footfall heading away increased and the band, despite their efforts, were left to fight again another day.

We directed our feet to Reds once more to get a prime position for Rhino’s Revenge, another welcome return from 2019. The trio of John ‘Rhino’ Edwards, Jim Kirkpatrick and Richard Newman don’t take things too seriously on stage and play it for laughs throughout.

Rhino was in good voice and had a smile on his face as he sang out the lyrics to ‘Buenavista Man’. Guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick must be one of the busiest men in rock and one of the most versatile. Here he was in full attack mode with some great fretwork throughout.

The guys cranked out songs from both Rhinos Revenge albums along with a couple of Quo numbers for good measure with ‘Two Way Traffic’ and ‘Jam Side Down’ going down well with the appreciative crowd.

The guys also threw in a cover of the Beatles ‘Back In The USSR’ as time was on their side. ‘Stan’ was another crowd pleaser with the lyrics about Rhino’s dog raising a smile, check out the chorus if you haven’t heard it. The band finished with a new number which sounded excellent and left the stage to loud cheers. Even Rhino’s bass strap giving up during the set couldn’t spoil this performance.

The career of Bernie Marsden has been long and fruitful and with Reds at capacity the scene was set for some classic rocking. Taking to the stage Bernie looked relaxed and happy to be onstage. ‘Linin’ Track’ got things off to a good start with Bernie impressing with his fretwork.

Best known for his work with Whitesnake it wasn’t long before we were ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’ with Mr Marsden. He may be no David Coverdale on the vocal front but he does a good job along with the backing vocalists and the crowd joining in.

‘Fool For Your Loving’ was another highlight again with plenty of crowd participation. Bernie then regaled us with a tale of him meeting up with Peter Green last year before playing an excellent version of ‘Oh Well’ dedicated to the man himself.

Talking of highlights for me the night was made when Bernie played the opening bars to ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ which he allowed the crowd to take lead vocals on to great effect.

‘Here I Go Again’ went down a storm before the set was rounded off with a tribute to the guitarist from Bernie’s wedding band, one Gary Moore. This was an excellent set from one of rock’s greats which pleased the crowd from the opening notes until the last chords rang out, there was certainly no lack of love for Bernie and co in Skegness.

I was then left with a choice of two acts to close my Saturday and as I was in Reds I opted to give Atomic Rooster a listen. I was familiar with the name if not the back catalogue of the band and was interested to hear the guys live. The guys opened with ‘Death Walks Behind You’ complete with swelling Hammond organ and jagged guitar passages. ‘Save Me’ and ‘Black Snake’ were other tracks of note but by the time we reached that point I had seen enough to sate my curiosity and decided to head to the main stage to check out the other option.

As I made it down the front of the main stage Mike Farris was rocking the house. Hailing from Nashville Mike has had a chequered past and his blues credentials are without question. He masters in blues and gospel all delivered with a rocking guitar. Mike was in the middle of an epic ‘Are You Lonely For Me Baby’ as I chose a vantage point before heading into a Tom Petty cover in the shape of ‘Swingin’ from Tom’s ‘Echo’ album, not one that I was familiar with. ‘River Jordan’ came complete with a singalong of ‘If Paradise Is Half As Nice’ in the middle for good measure.

Mike finished off his set with a fantastic cover of ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ which, fittingly, went down a storm with the crowd and Mike took his bow to a huge cheer and cries for more from the appreciative Skegness crowd. As I headed back to the apartment I was still humming ‘If Paradise…’ not a bad ear worm to end day two with.

Sunday 22nd January

To pass the time on Sunday morning we made use of the Butlins facilities and headed to the swimming pool for a splash about. It was a relaxing way to spend an hour or two and a bit surreal as they were playing choice rock and blues tracks over the PA system. Floating around the lazy river listening to ‘The Wizard’ by Black Sabbath was an interesting experience.

But we were here for the music so it was back to the task in hand come noon with the final Introducing winner from last year Crow Black Chicken. Affable frontman Christy O’Hanlon proved to be part blues guitar maestro and part stand up comedian, a very likeable combination.

Regaling us with tales of dead deer in Spain and dancing a tango with the Pope he had the crowd in stitches between songs. However, the band take their music seriously and the set was a cracker with songs like ‘Jonestown’ and ‘Deer Meat Unloaded’ (written about the afore mentioned incident in Spain) impressing the crowd. Christy’s guitar work was spot on and the rhythm section of Steven McGrath and Gev Barrett kept everything rock solid. Black Crow Chicken won the crowd over and are a band I would certainly catch again in the future.

Next on the Reds stage we had Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion who went about their business in a completely different manner. Zoe and her troupe play a much more laid back blues with a jazzy edge which is more in keeping with a late night, smoky club atmosphere in a basement bar somewhere.

Zoe has a good voice (it did remind me of Shirley Bassey at times) and the band were more than capable of recreating the jazz/blues fusion. Stand out for me was Bob Koral on guitar who had a gentle touch when required but was also capable of rocking out when the need arose.

Another plus point for the band was the inclusion of the song ‘Way Down In The Caves’ which contains lyrics by none other than our own Get Ready To ROCK! blueshound Pete Feenstra who got an onstage name check by Zoe. The jazz element to the band’s sound wasn’t really for me but I could appreciate the excellent musicianship involved and the band went down well.

We kept our spot at the barrier in Reds in anticipation of the arrival on stage of Nine Below Zero. The band are one of the mainstays of a lot of these Butlins events and with good reason as they never fail to entertain.

With a smaller stage and a slightly slimmed down line up the band kicked off with ‘Breadhead’ from their latest album ‘Avalanche’. Dennis Greaves looked every inch the gentleman in his bright white suit up front and his guitar work and vocals were spot on as was his between song chat. Charlie Austen then joined him on vocals for another new track ‘Race To The Bottom’. Charlie danced her way through the set with all the boundless energy of the Duracell bunny! Mark Feltham also shared vocal duties when not blowing up a storm on the harmonica.

The band also have an injection of young blood in the band with Dennis Greaves son Sonny on drums and a very youthful Tom Monks on keyboard and guitar, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tom had been asked for proof of age before gaining entrance to the venue.

The set continued with a good blend of the old and new with stand out tracks including ‘Ter Wit Ter Woo’, ‘One Of Sweet, Two Of Sour’ and the classic Ridin’ On The L&N’. The set was rounded off with ‘11+11’ which also featured a final snippet of Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’.

Nine Below Zero proved once again the reason they have had a great career over the last 40 years, they are one of the best acts in the business and they know how to please a crowd, what more could you ask?

Album review

After another full on assault of the carvery it was back to the music and the Introducing stage. The James Oliver Band had just started their set as I arrived and were playing some rocking blues.

James is a funny guy and when his amp blew during their cover of Dick Dale’s best known song ‘Misirlou’ some may have viewed it as the end of the world, however James laughed it off and managed to borrow another to carry on regardless, top man.

As well as cracking jokes James can also play a mean guitar taking his cues from the surf guitar sound of the 60’s setting the fretboard alight with some blindingly fast finger work.  Playing tracks from their latest album ‘Twang’ the guys put on a very entertaining set that won over the crowd despite the technical issues.

Last act of the weekend on this stage were Matt Pearce and The Mutiny (or The Bounty as they were introduced!) Matt and his band are a very polished outfit that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of the main stages.

Suited and booted, Matt looked every inch the classic blues man in the Joe Bonamassa mould. His fluid style of playing also reminded me of Joe at points. The set was culled from his debut album ‘Gotta Get Home’ released last year to critical acclaim.

‘Like A Hammer certainly hit the spot whilst ‘Ordinary Blues’ was anything but. Another highlight was the album title track ‘Gotta Get Home’ which featured Matt at his best both vocally and on guitar. The slot was short but Matt and the band made the most of it and produced a polished set.

Album review

It was then another quick dash across to Reds for our next act Vambo. This was another act I knew very little about but their 70’s style hard rock was a refreshing blast. Vocalist Jack Stiles has an otherworldly stage presence and likes to pull the odd classic rock vocalist shapes, think the love child of Jim Morrison and Steven Tyler. In fact, his father was in the band Mud during their heyday and it’s from a Mud B side, ‘Vambo Roolz’, that the band took their name, a track that the guys cover and features on their debut album.

Other album tracks which received an airing were ‘Cry Woman’ with Pete Lance banging out the riffs for all he was worth and the rocking ‘Why Why Why’. The guys also threw in a couple of cover versions for good measure in the shape of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ and the song which completed the set, a cracking version of ‘Burn’ again with Pete Lance impressing on guitar. The guys have a few dates scheduled throughout 2020 and are well worth catching if you have a chance.

One man who has played on numerous classic rock hits over the last 50 years or so is Chris Slade. From his early years with Tom Jones to his stint in AC/DC Chris had laid down the backbeat to some of the best known songs in rock and beyond. He has formed Chris Slade’s Time Line to play some of this back catalogue and the set was a blast from start to finish. Kicking off with a bit of AC/DC the guys tore through ‘Dirty Deeds’ and then slipped seamlessly into the unofficial Welsh national anthem ‘Delilah’ with much crowd participation.

We were also treated to songs by Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann during the set much to the crowd’s delight. The bulk of the set though was culled from his AC/DC years and when you have the chance to play tracks like ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘Back In Black’ you most certainly would.

If the band, and indeed Chris himself, have a theme tune it has to be ‘Thunderstruck’ which was blasted out with Chris providing the thunder. ‘Highway To Hell’ rounded off a fantastic set and featured singer Bun taking a running jump off the stage and landing in the crowd, a very brave man! Chris and the guys had provided one of the sets of the weekend proving that there is no substitute for the hard rock classics, oh and a bit of Tom Jones!

With things coming to an end I had time to catch one more band and we plumped for the Chris Bevington Organisation at the smallest stage in Hotshots bar. I hadn’t heard the band before but was pointed in their direction by a couple of people including the band’s PR who may have been a bit bias (hi Dave!).

However I was not disappointed as the guys put in one hell of a set. Not having read up about the band prior to seeing them I was unaware that the ever present Jim Kirkpatrick was in the band on guitar and vocals, this was my second year at Skegness and I have seen Jim play four times in three different bands!

Playing songs from their three albums the band were pure entertainment. Great musicianship, excellent songs and a good sense of humour ensured that the healthy crowd in Hotshots enjoyed every moment of the 90 minute set. Joining Jim on guitar and vocals was Scott Ralph with shades firmly in place. He did get a bit confused at times regarding what songs came from which albums but we could forgive his memory lapses as his playing and vocals were top notch.

Set highlights included ‘Boogie Man’, ‘She Ran Away To The City’ and the title track of the latest album ‘Cut And Run’. The stand out track for me though was ‘5 Long Years’ which allowed Jim Kirkpatrick to take the mic and show off his excellent fretboard skills.

The set was rounded off with the very apt ‘Party Right Here’ and ‘Better Start Cookin’’ which contained the only trombone solo of the weekend. The band then took their bows to rapturous applause from the large crowd and my son left with a new favourite band!

Album review

What a way to finish off another top Butlin’s weekend. Good food, great music and slick and seamless organisation all made for an excellent three days. If you haven’t yet tried one of the many  music weekends on offer throughout the year I would urge you to do so and no matter what your musical tastes there will be an event to suit your needs.

Review by Dave Wilson
Photos by Stephen Wilson

Giants Of Rock (24-27 January, Minehead)

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 20 March 2022 at 21:00 GMT (16:00 EST). Josh’s next session is Sunday 22 May.

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 8 May 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 3 May 2022.

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Power Plays w/c 16 May 2022 (Mon-Fri)
FLOYA The Hymn (Arising Empire)
VEXES The Dream Disease (indie)
NEAR DUSK The Way It Goes (Iron Head Records)
IN SEARCH OF SUN Make Me Crazy (indie)
WALLNER VAIN Deceive Her (indie)
MARATON Non-Euclidean Heart (Indie Recordings)

Featured Albums w/c 16 May (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 TERRA NOVA Ring That Bell (Lion Music)
12:00-13:00 FOZZY Boombox (Mascot)
14:00-16:00 MICHAEL McDERMOTT St.Paul’s Boulevard (Pauper Sky Records)

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