The 7th Carlisle Blues Rock Festival; Swallow Hilltop Hotel. 8-10 November 2013
Seen as the U.K.'s premier autumn music event, Carlisle again delivered an impressive weekend of Rock and Blues. The Hilltop provided a relaxed venue, while the team of tech’s and helpers had everything running smoothly. Not only was there the usual breadth of styles and quality of artists, but in hosting the European Blues Union Awards the industry recognised Carlisle's status.
State-side headliners included some musical younger sons. Devon Allman, son of Gregg, and Cyril, youngest Neville Brother forming part of blues rock 'super group' Royal Southern Brotherhood. Dickey Betts son Duane, and Cody Dickinson, son of producer Jim, made up one half of The Mississippi Mudbloods. Friday night, meanwhile saw Bernard Allison, son of legendary Luther top the bill. The cream of current U.K. contemporary blues artists completed this eclectic mix. Friday night saw a brave set of re-arranged material from Jon Amor after gremlins attacked his loop effect. The Stevie Nimmo power trio made their mission statement early with a savage take on Rattlesnake Shake, continuing with a heavy helping of blues-rock. A direction change came with The Stumble, coasting the margins of Southside Johnny through B.B. King. Slow burning All Over Again featured the sweet guitar of Colin Black and mellow sax of Simon Anthony. Vocalist Paul Melville gave an emotive This Is My Life and a grinding take on Meet Me In The Bottom. Bernard Allison started with a driving instrumental and proceeded to wring a multitude of sounds from his guitar. Backtrack, a strong riffing number, Let’s Try Again tumbled with notes while Freddy King’s Down Down included an epic drum and bass solo courtesy of George Moye and Erick Ballard. Encore Slight Return included a pic ‘n’ mix of riffs, and the applause continued until they returned for When I Hold You In My Arms.
The Mustangs played competent covers and originals in the after-hours Fairfield Lounge including energetic takes on harp driven guitar thrash When God Met the Devil and a double helping of their own Nothing Stays The Same to close.
Mid-day Saturday and Blue Swamp took the audience through some acoustic blues with surreal between numbers banter. Bowden & Williamson, with Big Vern on percussion, moved from the smoky jazz of Jump The Line to a deep toned blues ramble on Through The Grapevine. Slack Alice proved a crowd pleaser checking through the bride’s quartet of old, new, borrowed and blue, all firmly wed to Seventies rock. The seven-piece Brass Knuckles Band with Steve Roux took a different road. Albert King’s Your Gonna Need Me had brass augmented by keyboard and competent guitar from Roux. Original It Just Might Be Too Late saw brass fills in unison, breaking off to allow Roux his solo. Following the first tranche of E.B.U. awards Ian Parker gave a well-received performance. Man’s World with its measured vocal styling and gentle sub-text of keyboard took flight when Parker picked up his second solo. Here it became a piece of porcelain soul, the top strings ringing as the artist became lost in the soaring sounds. They returned to great applause and closed to a standing ovation from a packed house with I Shall be Released.
Jon Amor, back with a repaired loop on Saturday evening, built layers of rich acoustic rhythm guitar and deep percussive beats on which to work his magic, wah-wah infused Feeding Time being a stand-out number. Jon selflessly gave over part of his set to Sean Webster, and bassist Arco Bommer for a version of Rather Go Blind which stilled the room. Jo Harman & Company performed some nice songs, but ultimately received only polite applause from the crowd, which couldn’t be said for Ryan McGarvey, He took us down rabbit holes from back arching solos through Commander Cody boogie and slide-driven delta thrash before epic closer Mystic Dreams. Arab flourishes followed. Celtic figures before Navajo drums took the song into sonic free-fall. McGarvey de-tuned his instrument sending the music into a vortex of effects before breaking out into calm open water. Ian Siegal picked up the E.B.U. best vocalist award before bringing out a revised line-up of Mississippi Mudbloods. Cody Dickinson, a constant on drums, augmented by Lightnin’ Malcolm; bass and Duane Betts; guitar. Siegal led them through Kingfish and I Am The Train with Betts straying into Allman space during his solos. Picnic Jam proved just that, a loose baggy jacket of funky blues boogie. Malcolm took vocals on his own Takes A Little Blue Sky, Siegal deputising on two finger bass pluck. Betts produced delicate solos during One Fine Day, and Siegal took to the catwalk for She Got The Devil In Her. A gentle ‘Dylanesque’ Rodeo followed with the band executing a tight romp through Moonshine Minnie to close.
Tom Townsend led his band through a set which became a revolving-door jam into the small hours. At various times this saw Jon Amor on guitar, Roz Sluman blowing tender sax, Mike Bowden take vocals, Siegal up for Long Distance Call, and joined by Webster for I Shall Be Released. By 2:45 the room had thinned when Ian played Catfish with Tom Cox following on harp and the Townsend Band still looking fresh.
The Deluxe began Sunday afternoon with some well-known covers. Early Mac and Albert King with a brace each, Long Grey Mare and As The Years Go By being standouts. David Migden and The Dirty Words brought a change of tempo and style, with quirky story songs. Second Hand Tattoo, introduced as a ‘horror blues’ held a powerful beat, piano inserts, walking bass, rim shots and guitar boogie. Spanish Moss hung from the lighting rig as a dirty trombone and vamped trumpet added atmosphere to Alligator King. Betty Jean proved a more rocky final number while they encored with title track of current release Killing It. The Mississippi Mudbloods ‘unplugged’ and unrehearsed set had the ‘no safety-net’ risks Siegal loves. Gallo del Ciello an audience favourite led to unfamiliar hill-country blues. Done Got Old featured Malcolm on vocals, Dickinson on rattlesnake washboard and tom-tom, electric fills from Betts, and all three guitars playing off each another. Betts acoustic Taking Your Time Getting Lost saw him shout chord changes to the others on a song highlighting his soft soulful voice. A stripped down version of Hard Pressed and a Dickinson run through Casey Jones followed. An ensemble performance had both band and audience wanting more. Royal Southern Brotherhood closed a great weekend with a stunning set. Moonlight over Mississippi with Cyril Neville on hand mike leaving his percussion set and dancing across the stage, Devon Allman taking over for On Left My Heart in Memphis. Between band numbers were title tracks from Mike Zito’s Pearl River and Neville’s Magic Honey. Duane Betts came up for some three way Southern choogin’. Keep It Real saw Charlie Wooton take a jazz strum and thumb before slinging his bass around his back leaving the stage to a powerful drum solo from Yonrico Scott. When the band returned the guitars took over with the interplay feeding on itself. They closed with a gentle Zito guitar building to the distinctive Gimme Shelter riff. Zito and Allman played ’good cop bad cop’ with alternate hard edged and liquid breaks and Allman and Neville duetted on the catwalk while Zito squeezed electricity from his string. As the cheers died away thoughts turn to next year and what next for this constantly improving festival.