Album review: BRITISH BLUES INVASION TO RUSSIA FESTIVAL – On-line Invasion Anthology

Pete Feenstra chatted to Boris Litvintsev in July 2021 for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio featuring several tracks from the new compilation.


Hot Draft Productions [Release date 26.05.21]

“It’s 9 o’clock in Moscow, 7pm in London….”

Boris Litvintsev’s time check acts as a signifier for some splendid on-line, Anglo-Russian blues.

However, because of Covid, the usual collaboration between British blues invaders and Russian blues-rock musicians is reduced to 15 zoom broadcasts.  Recorded for posterity between May and August 2020, the sessions still manage to transmit enough spark, and passion to justify the project as a whole.

The British Blues Invasion of Russia has been the brand name of the indefatigable independent Russian music promoter Boris Litvintsev since 2013, while ‘The British Blues Invasion To Russia Festival’ box set, is his robust response Covid decimated tours.

Undeterred, he set about organising a streaming festival which he recorded and topped and tailed with archive crowd inserts from previous gigs by the same artists.

The result is a 16 CD box set archive of 15 solo CD and a compilation album, which apart from being hugely enjoyable, will become a historic archive of a year we all would probably wish to forget about.

Given the nature of the recordings, the audio is better than expected, the art work is superb and the packaging incredible.

The whole project represents a ‘can do’ spirit, while Boris’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Apart from setting up the original tour infrastructure, he employs a hands-on approach to synchronize the sprawling recording sessions, by adding succinct intro’s and editing 17 hours of live performance down to make a coherent whole.

Somehow he’s transformed a series of live zoom sessions into the closest thing to performing in front of a crowd.

Sad to report then that there is a sad footnote to the project as a whole. Jimmy Coletsis – aka Jimmy C, the original British blues invader of Russia – has sadly passed away.

And though he is not part of this recording, he appears on the related (bonus) ‘British Blues Masters -Merry Christmas’ recording.

But getting back to the box set, the individual albums provide a good balance of the new and the familiar.

Mike Ross is full of emotional veracity with strong songs such as ‘Don’t Worry Baby Just Call #1′ and the reflective ‘Grow In Your Garden’.

He mixes good covers and intricate dobro and acoustic playing, while Brent Hutchinson is a crowd pleaser – combining popular covers with a handful of outstanding self penned tracks of which ‘Blue’ and ‘Hero’ are the best.

Troy Redfern’s full throttle intensity effortlessly crosses all borders en route to Moscow. He takes off with the riff-driven Dobro and vocal snarl of ‘Waiting For Your Love. He is a little more circumspect on the hypnotic ‘Ghosts & Memories’ and is almost a beacon of restraint on the melodic ‘Hallowed Ground’.

Owen Houston shares the same sort of intensity but in a more refined way.  He really gets inside the blues with a mix of gritty resonator and gruff vocals, particularly on the gospel feel of ‘Honey In the Rock’ and a beautiful country cover of Steve Earle’s ‘Goodbye’.

Dom Martin adds plenty of Rory Gallagher tunes, while evoking John Martyn on his own ‘Mercy’ and nailing his own unique style on the hard hitting ‘Antrim Blues’.

Ron Sayer opens with a burst of hot picking and laughter, before finally settling on the languid ‘Don’t Make Me Stay’. He mixes good humour and thoughtful lyrics on his way to the epic 14 minutes worth of the ‘Smoke On The Water’ led, self explanatory titled ‘33 Rock Riffs’.

Ultimately, the ‘British Blue Invasion To Russia’ box set is a broad based celebration of what we were all missing during lockdown.

The artists are spread out demographically with for example, the exuberant bluster of Jack J. Hutchinson shifting from the slashing slide and grating vocal of ‘Too Much Too Soon’ to the big splash of ‘Electro Solo Improv’.

There’s the resonant sonic quality of Matt Long’s rocking shuffle ‘Leading Me On’, and the optimistic anthem ‘Better Days’.

Krissy Mathews opens in electric style with a cover of ‘Mystery Train’ and later switches to acoustic for the self penned ‘Healey’s Blues’ and pushes his vocals on Dobie Gray’s ‘Drift Away’.

Richard Townsend is a subtle pleasure. His authoritative narratives lose nothing in the translation, as he spreads his weathered Knopler style vocal over songs like ‘Ticket To Memphis’ and the poignant folk of ‘Just The Way It Was’.

Dave Ellis provides plenty of experienced gusto on a gutsy version of his own ‘Sun Goes Down’, before he switches to electric for Freddie King’s ‘The Welfare’, on which contrasts a shrill guitar tone with his vocal husk.

Ash Wilson’s relationship songs are born of experience and illuminated by fiery playing, of which ‘Broken Machine’ and ‘Words Of A Woman’ stand out.

Jon Amor brings his slick guitarist work to bear on original subject matter as on ‘In The Devil’s Back Yard,’ and Red Telephone’, while Julian Burdock provides even more variety with a mix of swing, jazz, blues and eventually the Beatles.

And if the rapped out blues of ‘Maxwell Street’ is evocative, ‘Grass Is Greener’ is even better, being a funky groove full of colourful imagery.

His closing ‘Pillhead’ is a unique mix of slide, electronic loops and fazed sounds, in a magical melange of electronic and subtle harmonies which pushes the blue into new territories.

Bex Marshall’ wraps things up eloquently as she moves from the genteel ‘You’re My Heart’ to the impassioned ‘House Of Mercy’, and the to husky heft of ‘Rattlesnake’.

There’s an avalanche of good music here, which means you probably need to listen in different sittings or cherry pick at your hearts content. But then that might shatter the illusion of the on-line festival.

The ‘British Blues Invasion To Russia Festival’ is the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. It celebrates the need to connect, the power of shared emotions, a period of time, the enduring nature of the blues, and above all the debt we all owe Boris Litvintsev for making it all possible.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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