Reviews – 2017 – Happy Daze


The Carlisle Blues Rock Festival had lain dormant for two years whilst numerous ‘blues’ events popped up around the country. It took only one weekend in September for the event to re-establish itself amongst the very elite of blues and blues/rock events in the UK. Two magnificent days of blues and classic rock left attendees ecstatic and clamouring for the event to re-establish its annual status.

The festival was forced to relocate in the centre of Carlisle when it last ran in 2014. For the re-incarnation It has stayed in the centre but this time round used two top class venues. The Friday venue was the aptly named ‘The Venue’, a purpose built concert hall just off the main hub of the Carlisle nightlife.

The Eddie Martin Band had the unenviable task of kicking off the festival. Front man Eddie gave a virtuoso slide guitar driven performance interlaced with harmonica whilst championing tracks from his latest album ‘Black White & Blue’, the best track probably Black, White and Blue. The band was well received and set the bar high for the rest of the weekend.

The eager and sizeable crowd in The Venue welcomed New Yorker Sari Schorr & The Engine Room and what followed was a stunning performance from ‘a force of nature’, not coincidently the title of her most recent album. Sari and her band blew the audience away with a powerful mix of blues and rock. Sari with her Janis Joplin/Tina Turner flavoured vocals captivated the shell shocked crowd with several numbers from the aforementioned album, notably Demolition Man, Ain’t Got No Money and Damn The Reason before launching into and her version of Led Zeppelin’s Rock’n’Roll. The set ended with a barnstorming take on Leadbelly’s classic, Black Betty.

The highlight of the first evening was headliner Bernie Marsden, the amazing song-writer and blues rock guitarist who enjoyed huge success with Whitesnake. BB King rated him up alongside Eric Clapton as one of the two best white blues players. Bernie’s terrific band included FM’s Jim Kirkpatrick, who shared guitar and vocal duties. Playing a mix of self penned works from the current album ‘Shine’ and popular classics it was easy to see why Bernie Marsden is held in such high esteem in both the blues and rock fields. Superb guitar interplay between Bernie and Jim on the Albert King classic ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ followed a fabulous version of Peter Green’s ‘Oh Well’ and Bernie’s own ‘There’s A Place In My Heart’, recorded by Joe Bonamassa.

Bernie and the band pulled off a stunning show and ended it with a selection of Whitesnake classics which had the crowd in good voice and celebrating the end of a wonderful first day.

The hard working festival crew performed a logistical miracle by moving the whole show to The Crown & Mitre Hotel, the host venue for day two and a midday start. The hotel is situated in the very heart of Carlisle, in the historic quarter, an ideal situation for the event. The splendid hotel ballroom was transformed into a magnificent arena for live music.

Redfish got proceeding underway in great style with a lively, upbeat half hour of classic, down to earth, good time rhythm and blues featuring the ridiculously talented Martin McDonald on guitar and the lovably eccentric Fraser Clark on keys.

Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band were next up. The Aberdeen based outfit with Gerry on guitar and Peter Narojszyk on harmonica were immediately into their stride delivering their high energy, no nonsense take on R&B. The Saturday crowd were with the band right from the start and obviously the guitar and harmonica interplay. The pace didn’t slacken when Del Bromham’s Blues Devils took the stage.

Del, The veteran Stray guitarist showed why, after 50 years in the game, he is still regarded in such high esteem, he had the whole place rocking and singing along from start to finish.

Not only excelling on guitar and vocals Del is a great front man who knows how to work an audience with his cheeky wit and humour. The highly entertaining set was a mix of self penned numbers and classic covers, a couple of the many highlights being a superb rendition of his ‘Ballad Of JD’ and him getting up close to the audience on ‘Everybody Has To Sing The Blues’; pure showmanship. The band finished with a deserved encore and chose the classic Traffic track ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’. Wonderful stuff!

The award winning Belfast girl Kaz Hawkins headlined the afternoon session with her talented Irish band. Kaz and the band have taken the UK and Europe by storm over the last year, they were winners of both the UK and the European Blues Challenge and reached the semi finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis USA. The band opened the show before Kaz, as large as life, bounced onto the stage with ‘Drink With The Devil’. Her voice has a unique quality and range; she can belt out raunchy raw blues to delicate ballads with equal distinction. The superb ‘Halleujah’ was a fine example but the piece de resistance was a rendition of her own composition Lipstick and Cocaine, written about the troubles she’s had to deal with in her life. With only piano accompaniment from Redfish’s Fraser Clark, she delivered an emotionally charged performance which had most of the audience unashamedly mopping away tears; such is the power of music from the heart and soul. Kaz has a fantastic stage presence and beautiful voice but she can also rock it out with the best…and she did that on ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and an up tempo blues ‘You Can’t Afford Me’. A superb performance and two thoroughly well deserved standing ovations.

The evening session got underway with another set by the hard working Redfish, with Brian Harris excelling on vocal duties, who were also the house band for a magnificent jam session which would start at midnight and roll into the early hours.

Following Redfish were Catfish, a way above the average blues band with Hammond drenched blues and epic guitar solos. Sharing the front of the band were Paul Long on keys and vocals and the young, highly talented Matt Long on guitar and vocals, the pair ably supported by Dusty Bones on five string bass and Kevin Yates on drums. Playing many tracks from the current album ‘Broken Man’ and the previous ‘So Many Roads’ interspersed with some blues classics, they showed how blues rock should be played setting the scene for the penultimate act of the weekend, Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado who had flown across from Denmark to be at the festival.

The Danish band is are very popular in the rest of Europe and USA and were, without doubt, the surprise package of the event. Unknown to most of the crowd, the 7 piece outfit complete with a super tight horn section delivered 75 minutes of pure joy; a wall of sound, high energy and a highly infectious mix of blues, Americana, boogie and a dash of funk all delivered with great showmanship and fantastic musicianship;  The opening track was the stomping ‘If You Wanna Leave’ and other highlights were, Change My Game and Baby Please Don’t Go, but every single song was fantastic; live music at its very best, an altogether stunning performance.

The band is not too well known in the UK but, delivering performances of such calibre, it won’t be long before they are filling much larger venues everywhere.

The final band of the evening needed no introduction, this collective of top class musicians are something of a ‘super group’. The Boom Band with four guitarists in the shape of Marcus Bonfanti, Alvin Lee’s replacement in Ten Years After, a favourite adopted son of Carlisle Jon Amor of The Hoax, Matt Taylor, formerly with Snowy White’s band and ex England cricketer Mark Butcher all fronting the band had the unenviable task of following the band from Denmark. However, the professionals they are, they did so in style delivering a high quality set of clever self penned numbers interspersed with classic tracks by the likes of The Band and Little Feat, each of the band offering their take and flavour of blues, Southern rock and Americana. Credit should also go to guest keyboard player Matt Guest and the rhythm section of Evan Jenkins and Silas Maitland who laid down such a solid groove for the guitars. The ‘Booms’ finished the evening and the festival in style with We Can Work Together which had the euphoric crowd singing along; an excellent set and a great way to end a most wonderful day on the main stage.

That left only the late night jam session which, just like the main event, was outstanding. The hard working Redfish, who had already done two sets on the main stage took the role of house band and once again showed just how good the band has become. From the off they were joined by no end of ‘star’ guests; Kaz Hawkins, Jon Amor and Matt Taylor from the Boom Band, Matt Long of Catfish and Christian Sharpe on guitar, Connie Lush who had been in the audience for the day, a superb horn section of Roz Sluman on sax and Peter Kehl, of the Thorbjorn Risager band on trumpet, and several others made it a session to remember and provided a magnificent climax for the highly successful return of the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival.

Thanks goes to Nick Westgarth for daring to organise and put this festival back on the blues and blues/rock map but no review would be complete without a huge credit for the fantastic, hard working stage crew, the sound engineers (the sound was superb throughout), the excellent back stage crew who made it look so easy and the volunteers overseen by the irrepressible Sharon who kept the wheels turning so smoothly. A big thanks should also go to those who supported the event in various and valuable ways (they know who they are), to both venues who went above and beyond and not least to all the bands that performed so well to make it a magnificent festival and one that will be remembered for some time to come.

Voices from the festival-

From the stage:

Evening Nick. Just thought I’d drop you a line to say Thank you to you and your team. I’ve been in this biz a long time and I can honestly say Carlisle Blues Fest was one of the best. We all had a good day and the audience were really good too. Thanks once again. Del 😉 (Del Bromham)

From the audience:

Hi Nick, I wanted to say that this festival rates as one of the top 3 events I have ever been to – the other two being the New Orleans Jazz and Blues Festival and the 2012 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony! Seriously, I loved it – fantastic acts, intimate venue, great value. The jamming session was FANTASTIC and I thought Redfish were stars for leading it, as well as for their music:-) I was really lucky to win CD collection raffle prize and listened to a couple of them on the way back to Newcastle. Thanks once again for a really fantastic festival. Barbara

Happy Daze