Reviews – -2009 – Norma Victor

The 3rd Carlisle Blues Rock Festival (2009) – Norma Victor

Friday night got off to a lively start with a harp driven set by Hokie Joint. Band leader Giles King is already well known for his work with Lightnin’ Willie and the Poor Boys. Sam Kelly’s Station House had arrived at the venue two members down; keyboards man Paul Jobson was recovering from an operation and guitarist Tony Qunta was stuck in traffic.

It may have been Friday the thirteenth but it was Sam’s lucky day. Sean Webster just happened to be in the house and willingly stepped up to the plate; a real blues brother. With SPY on bass and Jerome Marcus adding percussion this was a refreshing set of funk and roots blues. What would have been a sensational set by Connie Lush and Blues Shouter was hampered by minor sound problems throughout. With a strong set list that included songs from Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Nina Simone, a couple of self penned numbers also went down well. The slow and soulful “Crying Won’t Help You” went out to the ladies in the house, while the tongue in cheek belter “Don’t Send Me No Flowers, Give Me The Cash” was announced as “one for the boys”, we love you, Val!

Headliners the Nimmo Brothers have matured a lot, (not least around the waistline), since I last saw them in Colne few years ago. As well as the blues rock that I expected they included a couple of nicely crafted Texas style numbers in Fabulous Thunderbirds vein. The Nimmos have quite a following in these parts and brought the main stage events to a terrific close. Sam Kelly, joined by his tardy guitarist, hosted a late night jam in the bar.

Saturday afternoon opened with Errol Linton’s Blues Vibe and Little George Sueref made a surprise appearance on electric bass. Errol featured an amusing new song, “Mama Said” based on maternal advice mostly about having “eyes bigger than your belly” and was presumably autobiographical.”All Around The World” (Grits Ain’t Groceries), brought Adam Blake to the spotlight for a stinging guitar solo. Errol’s classic harmonica style, a meld of Sonny Boy and both of the Walters, blends well with reggae based numbers such as “Man Shot Down”. A jumping “train” harmonica solo brought this entertaining set to a close. There was more harp led blues from the John O’Leary Band. John was a founder member of Savoy Brown and his set of vintage Chicago style blues included covers of Paul Butterfield and Junior Wells numbers. Next up was the Mark Butcher Band, (yes, THAT Mark Butcher). The band is still coming to terms with the sudden death of their bass player Mark Smith and the rhythm section was made up of Roger Innis (bass) and Wayne Proctor (drums) from John O’Leary’s band. Mark is quite a talented songwriter in his own right and “Put Some Soul In It” was nicely augmented by some funky organ from Jonny Dyke. Storm Warning were new to me and I enjoyed their set of “not the same old blues” covers.Vocalist Steve Norchi’s reading of Peter Green’s “Long Grey Mare” was excellent. Paul Melville, extrovert front man for the Stumble, made a protracted entrance to a wild Bo Diddley beat. Dressed all in white and wearing his cap back to front he had the appearance of a posh dustman. This was non stop, swinging rock’n’roll from start to finish. The raucous, Plas Johnson style saxophone of Simon Anthony really added that extra something and his walkabout had to be seen to be believed, ending up with him crawling round the entire room, sax wailing throughout. “Give Me Back My Wig” really allowed Paul to “wig out” vocally and Jonny Spencer’s slide was outstanding. This was the best I have seen them and a hard act to follow, fortunately the next act was well up to the job. Earl Thomas was in exceptional form and backed by Paddy Milner’s eight piece Big Sounds couldn’t fail to captivate the crowd. Guitarist Marcus Bonfanti had recruited younger brother Alex on bass. “Heat Of The Night” found Earl in a predatory mood literally prowling the stage. “Stone Cold Sober” was performed New Orleans style with Dr John style piano from Paddy and a great trombone solo. “I’d Rather Go Blind” was so emotionally charged that at one point Earl was prostrate on the stage, then he worked his way through the audience singing a capella, earning a well deserved ovation. The set ended with the entire band performing a second line around the room. This was a dazzling performance from a superstar in the making. Saturday night’s jam was hosted by OV8, a Manchester based band, watch out for their talented harp player, Luke Shaw.

Sunday started with an acoustic set from late entry to the schedule Marcus Bonfanti and I can inform you that considering his slight (and not to mention gorgeous) frame he possesses a surprisingly rich baritone voice. His self penned “Sweet Louise” was in a John Hurt vein and was dedicated to Lionel Ross, (is there something we should know, Lionel)? He also has a nice line in self effacing humour and really held the crowd, in fact we were so charmed that he sold out of CDs. The Producers have reformed after eight years and Dave Saunders and Harry Skinner were back by popular demand. With its reference to the gasworks at Seaton Carew their “Let’s Take The Wrong Way Home” was an amusing rock n’roller. Tom Principato, along with his band Powerhouse, has waited twenty one years to visit the UK and did not miss the opportunity to debut with a cuppa in his hand. They are a competent barroom band and their own “If Love Is Blind I Hope I Never See You Again” chugged along nicely to a Chuck Berry rhythm. The much anticipated double set from Ian Siegal started solo and acoustic with his own “The Silver Spurs”. His second number, John Hurt’s gentle “Take Me Back” had me blubbing and I didn’t stop till he was joined by the band. Later I discovered that I had no cause for embarrassment as grown men were openly crying. Andy Graham (bass) and Nikolaj Bjerre (drums) joined Ian and launched into a heavy Bo Diddley beat for a medley based on “Pretty Thing”. Phase two mostly consisted of a showcase of songs from the new album “Broadside” and all I can say is BUY IT! By this time he had overrun his allocated slot and in his words it became “my time” with Ian turning into a human juke box; songs by artist as varied as Chuck Berry, the Stooges, the Stones the Beatles and Tom Waits, to name but a few, were featured. The boy is a phenomenon!

Festival organiser, the tireless Nick Westgarth, really surpassed himself putting together this top class bill. Many thanks must also go to MC Mark Singleton and the cheerful staff at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel who seemed to be enjoying it as much as the rest of us.

Norma Victor