Reviews – 2011 – Lionel Ross

The 5th Carlisle Blues Rock Festival (2011) – Lionel Ross

Following the first Carlisle Blues Festival in 2007, each subsequent event has been acclaimed as better than the one before. Whilst it is fully understood that there has to be a realistic, ultimate limit to perceived excellence, this year’s festival still managed to raise the bar that little bit further. Once again, it was a magnificent weekend of blues-based music that delivered four action-packed sessions over three days intermingling seven acts from the United States and ten from the UK.

London-based 24 Pesos started the ball rolling on Friday evening with a thoroughly energetic set of rocking blues. They were followed by The Revolutionaires, who raised the energy levels even further with a monumental set of breakneck rock and roll and R’n’B that left the highly-appreciative audience breathless. Highly-skilled guitar-slinger Larry Miller, exuding warmth and offbeat eccentricity, produced a vibrant programme of blues-rock before the man from Louisiana, Eugene Hideaway Bridges, entranced the assembled throng with his honey-coated vocals and fluent guitar playing to complete a marvellous evening.

The Gary Fletcher Band opened the Saturday afternoon session, with the Blues Band’s bass guitarist moonlighting on lead vocals and acoustic guitar. Dale Storr and his band took the party to New Orleans with a comprehensive compilation of the different flavours of that exotic Mecca while singer/guitarist Patrick Sweany from Ohio, fronted a trio to deliver an in-your-face set with rough-edged vocals and spiky guitar work, charming the audience with an easy rapport and a stream of throw-away humour. The afternoon session was headlined by another visitor from the USA, singer/guitarist Gregg Wright, who provided a mixture of well-crafted original numbers and covers and was and loudly applauded for his phenomenal dexterity.

Chris James executed a brilliant start to the Saturday evening session with a highly entertaining set of acoustic blues, complementing his powerful vocals with intricate finger-picking and a fine line in humour. The Deadstring Brothers, a quintet originally from Detroit, Michigan, presented a mixture of country-blues and folk-rock with the minimum of fuss. They were followed by Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, whose effective vocals and slashing slide guitar work were mesmeric and whose relaxed banter enthralled the attentive audience who responded with a thoroughly well deserved standing ovation.

Not for the first time at Carlisle, Earl Thomas was faced with the ultimate challenge of following a tour de force. The soulful US showman rose to the occasion magnificently and fully justified his top of the bill listing. Superbly backed by Paddy Milner & The Big Sounds, he soon had the punters in the palm of his hand with his exquisite vocals and his warm patter to complete another triumph.

As the magnificent day on main stage came to a close, just as he had on the previous night, Robin Bibi kept the music flowing long into the early hours on the Fairfield Bar stage. The late night sessions and jams have always proved very popular and Robin, with surprise guest appearances from Marcus Malone and Patrick Sweany, ensured that the popularity wasn’t diminished.

The Sunday afternoon session was opened by another highly-skilled exponent of the art of acoustic blues, Al Hughes, who delighted another full house with a masterly performance. Another highlight of the weekend was provided by Marcus Malone. The man from Detroit reminded everyone of his exceptional talents with his streamlined vocals and beautifully crafted songs. Full credit must also be paid to his wonderful band, which included the superlative Stuart Dixon on guitar.

The doyen of British blues harpmen, Paul Lamb, and his band The King Snakes are held in the highest esteem among the UK’s blues lovers and they delivered a predictably well-received programme of blues. The appearance of King Mob at the festival was to be their first live gig. Their impressive line-up comprised former members of Roxy Music, The Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and Sharks, and their punk-influenced set provided an interesting diversion and was generously received by the punters. Finally, normal service was resumed by King King, a highly-talented quartet fronted by Alan Nimmo, who concluded a fabulous weekend with a vibrant helping of blues-rock that tested the speakers to breaking point.

Now firmly established among the very best of British blues festivals, the Carlisle event continues to surprise and delight. In addition to the contributions of the artistes, credit is also due to Robin Bibi, who expertly organised the late night jam sessions, and to the hard-working MC, Mark Singleton. However, no praise can do justice to the superlative efforts of organiser Nick Westgarth and his tireless team of supporters, to whom a great vote of thanks and congratulations are owed by those of us who were lucky enough to be there.

Lionel Ross