The Steel city once again played host to this extravaganza of the blues, 2 days and near enough 24 solid hours of some of the best blues in the UK and abroad. We had Canadians, Americans, Antipodean and Irish representation and a whole heap of talent to look forward to. Many of the acts on display had been on my must-see list for a while so this was a great opportunity to see them in the flesh
The Della Grants had the honour of opening the show the main Stage Saturday, to a respectable crowd given the early hour.
The Leicester-based 4 piece were joined by Tony Robinson on keyboards and trumpet (yes really) to deliver a set of the blues, rock and Americana that they are rightly getting a good reputation for. Front-man Max Manning admitted part-way through the set that he was a tad nervous as the birth of his new Son Freddie (after the legend Freddie King) was imminent. The phone was on, he admitted, but the only call he had received so far was for PPI! Nerves aside, the boys delivered a storming set, featuring songs from their forthcoming album as well as established favourites such as “Red Mist” and “The River”. I’ve followed the DGs for a while but this was my first time seeing them live. It won’t be the last.
The Danny Giles band were new to me, but after a swaggering performance of heavy blues rock from the Flat capped Danny and his band I look forward to regular visits with them.
Strong Bass lines and solid, almost funky drumming and Danny’s growling guitar underpin every song, and that heavy rocky sound is mellowed by the odd twist of Blues, gospel and soul. For me one of the standout acts of the festival
What can you say about Sari Schorr that has not been said before and probably in better ways. What surprised me most while researching this review was that New York born Sari’s debut album was released in 2016.
I had always thought that she had been around for a lot longer with the reputation she has built up. Not that it really matters too much when you witness a performance such as Ms Schorr delivered to a packed house on Saturday. Backed by Matt Beable (bass) Ash Wilson on Guitar and Bob Fridzema on Hammond, Sari Schorr and the Engine Room delivered a scintillating set. Sari’s vocal range, power and control are exceptional and with Ash Wilson’s guitar playing counterpoint to that voice they truly were a “Force of Nature”. “Black Betty” had the cloud stomping singing and clapping along and they rightly deserved the standing ovation they received at the end of the set.
Changing pace a little, Greg Coulson and his band were next on, with their New Orleans funky soulful blues sound.
Greg, properly suited, booted and sporting the second flat cap of the day, is relatively new to the Blues scene, but has a fine pedigree behind him. Switching effortlessly between Hammond, guitar and vocals, Greg is definitely a star of the future. Hell, he’s a star now! The band bring a joyful fresh exuberance to the blues genre with self-penned material played tight as you like, stunning and sometimes subtle licks from guitarist Stuart Dixon all paving the way for Greg’s passionate and playful delivery. I first saw he band at Ealing Blues last year. I was impressed then, and I am more impressed now.
Now, Danny Bryant has been around for a while, and the appreciation from the swelling crowd when he took to the stage showed the fan base that he has acquired. Danny did not disappoint. With a new album “Revelation” about to be released (it was, on April 20th), Danny was on a mission to deliver, and deliver he did.
Songs from the new album were mixed with ones from his back-catalogue, finishing with a rousing version of “Knockin’ on heaven’s door” that had the crowd backing him all the way. A standing ovation followed with many cries for an encore. Sadly, with the short turnarounds, only 20 minutes between sets this could not be delivered. At this point it has to said, the change-overs between bands was very slick indeed, leaving barely enough time to draw breath and buy a beer before the next act was on stage.
I must admit missing a large part of Danny’s set as I was desperate to catch at least a few numbers by the Rainbreakers.
The Rainbreakers are another young band relatively new to the Blues scene but already building a strong following and rightly so. I had largely neglected the second stage due to the almost parallel running of bands on the main stage but was glad that I made the time to see these guys. These guys are not hemmed in by the blues, but in true Genre-busting style incorporate Rock & Roll and Soul into their set, bringing an almost 60’s feel to their music but at the same time remaining freshly contemporary. They are currently recording their debut album and that is something surely to look forward to.
Tearing myself away from the Rainbreakers, I slipped back downstairs in time to see Bernie Marsden take to the main stage. The applause was unsurprisingly rapturous as this legend of blues and rock launched into his set.
As well as regaling us with tales of his life on the road, and it has been a long road for sure, we were treated to a crowd-pleasing selection of old Whitesnake classics as well as well as his newer blues songs. So many high points in his set but one of them has to be when he invited Danny Bryant, barely recovered from his own set, on stage to join him on Freddie King’s “Going Down”. Bernie closed his set with Jimmy Rodgers “Walkin’ by myself”, dedicating the song to the late great Gary Moore.
Last band of the marathon that was Saturday at HRH Blues IV was Pat McManus. I, for one, eagerly anticipated his set, having seen him perform a couple of times at Warrenpoint Blues Festival.
Pat, from a very musical Northern Irish family, has been around for a very long time as evidenced by the lines and wrinkles that seem to take on a life of their own as he plays. What you really notice though is the ear-to-ear smile and the twinkle in the eye when he plays. This is a man that loves his job. And so do the crowd. Probably the most energetic band on the main stage that day, Pat covers the entire stage, treating us to epic guitar work, a flat-back bouzouki and violin (Pat was All Ireland Fiddle champion at age 14). As well as his own material he covered Gary Moore’s “Still got the Blues” before closing the show and the day with a blistering version of “Messin’ with the kid”.
Sunday dawned bright (there was rain later) with Saturday night still ringing in the ears. I made it to the bunker that is the O2 Academy in time to catch the end Catfish’s acoustic set on stage 2. It was good to see Paul long on Guitar, a sight not oft seen. It was very good to hear their acoustic version of “Broken man”. I love the electric version of this song, and it was great to see that the acoustic version is just as gritty, atmospheric and powerful, albeit in a different way. Sunday for me had more strength in depth with a number of powerhouse bands on the bill.
Sugarman Sam and the Voodoo Men kicked off proceedings and boy did they kick it off. Energy, power and pure class from the start,
Sam dominated the stage prowling and scowling his way through the set, and playing off the other band members, particularly Keys/Organ player Paul McCormick. For me this is the way that all festivals should start, a young band with plenty to prove seizing their opportunity and shaking the place to the rafters. What could be better than one young talented band on early? How about two!
Catfish followed next.
As many will know Catfish are a band that are going to go a long long way. Fronted by guitar maestro Matt Long, with Adam Pyke on 6 string bass supported by Paul Long on Keys and Kevin Yates holding the beat at the back, Catfish are rapidly heading for Rock God status. Two songs from the next album suggest that it will be every bit as good as “Broken Man”, the title track of which was delivered in true powerhouse style. Matt seems almost possessed by the guitar as he leads us on a journey through desolation, despair and finally back in to the light, with Kevin’s drums painting a landscape of rolling thunder behind to add to the atmosphere. They closed out with “Make it Rain” a 14-minute epic that stills the crowd and brings tears to more than a few eyes, earning them a standing ovation.
I wouldn’t envy anyone having to follow those two powerhouses but Chris Antonik, the multi award winning Canadian blues artist did a fine job. A very different style, thoughtful song writing and considered, measured playing, brought things back to a nice Sunday afternoon groove.
Pontus Snibb is a new name to me so I did not know what to expect. What we got was a Swedish Rocker with a blues attitude. Not surprising really as he is also the main man behind Swedish heavy rockers Bonafide.
In his Wreck of Blues guise, he is supported by Kalle Johansson on Bass and “Dad” aka Hakan Nyberg on Drums. Dad has to get the award for most entertaining drummer of the weekend, old enough to know better but young enough to not give a damn he was a joy to watch behind the kit. Musically, a bit of Texas strut mixed with straight 12 bar, Snibb’s earthy growl and melodic guitar work give the songs a wonderfully raw feel and made for a very enjoyable set
Geoff Achison: another act that I had on my to-see list for a while. Over from Australia for a 33 date UK tour with his UK Souldiggers, comprising some of the best talent in the UK, Paul Jobson (Keys) Andy Hodge (Bass) and Sam Kelly (Drums), Geoff delivered a set of raw blues and funky soulful grooves, closing his set with the boogieful “I’m Gonna Ride” from his 2017 album ”Another Mile, Another Minute”
After the international guests, we returned to the best of British, this time in the form of Ben Poole.
Ben is another of the young Blues gods that give us so much hope for the future of this music we love. Just reading the plaudits bestowed on him from the Likes of Beck, Moore and Mayall, and you begin to realise how good this lad is. His performance proves it, with a confident swagger the power of his voice and his exquisite guitar work combining to hold the audience spell bound. His tribute to Gary Moore “Time Might Never Come” is a thing of beauty – emotional, raw, gritty, it grips you and demands you absorb every not
It would be hard to imagine the night getting any better after this tour-de-force but we still had the brothers Nimmo to come.
First up was Stevie, and the crowd were on their feet even before he reached the Mic. Still suffering the after-effects of his broken arm, Guitar duty was left to Dave Devlin, with Kelpie Mackenzie and Craig “Crispy” Bacon laying down the grooves on Bass and Drums respectively. Stevie does pick up the Guitar for “Gamblers Roll” but as he admits himself “It hurts, but it feels good”. No matter, the voice is powerful, no more so than on the set-closer, the crowd pleasing “Going Down”.
That elusive stage 2 had Del Bromham playing at the same time and it hard to tear myself away from Nimmo’s performance, but I managed to catch a bit of Del’s Performance. He had attracted a pretty good crowd and was rocking them aplenty.
It’s brother Alan’s turn next and the Grand Finale of what has been a fantastic weekend.
Considering it was Sunday night, it was getting late and Monday morning was lurking just around the corner, the house was pretty well packed out. Such is the draw of Kilted younger Nimmo. From the opening “Highway to Hell”, the Goosebump-inducing “Rush Hour” and the magnificent “Stranger to Love” closing the set, King King had the crowd in raptures.
All in all, A terrific and very successful weekend of Blues-Rock from the HRH stable. If you like your blues on the rockier side, you need to be putting HRH Blues 2019 in your diary and buying tickets real soon.