Skegness Rock & Blues Festival 2004
Butlins, Skegness - Friday 30th January - Sunday 1 February 2004
Last weekend music fans from around the UK flocked to Skegness for the Butlins Rock and Blues Festival. This now annual event features many top names, some of these bigger acts including Dr.. Feelgood, The Animals, Nine Below Zero, the Climax Blues Band, Trevor Burton Band and Slack Alice have appeared several years running. Others such as Steve Gibbons, Oliver / Dawson Saxon and The Blockheads were making their first appearance at the festival. Several lesser known names also brought their music to a new audience during the weekend.
There is a choice of two large venues, Centre Stage and Red Bar, in previous years each act has alternated between both venues, this year though some acts such as John Fiddler (formerly of Medicine Head) who played an acoustic set, the Downliners Sect and Nine Below Zero, plus headlining acts Dr. Feelgood, The Hamsters and The Blockheads only appeared on one stage, leaving people with the sometimes difficult choice of who to see, to ensure a seat and a good view.
The festival for us opened with the Victor Brox Blues Train at Reds. Victor Brox who plays keyboards and trumpet has a long and distinguished pedigree in blues circles, working in the past with Alexis Korner and Aynsley Dunbar's Retaliation. These days this father figure of the blues works with a younger band rather like John Mayall, central to this set up is daughter Kyla who was in the mould of American blues stars introduced after band had performed two or three numbers. The similarity to American acts didn't end there, as Kyla's superb vocals are delivered with a style befitting of those Stateside acts.
Next up were Cliff Stocker's Slack Alice who performed two fine sets first on Red's then as the night's headlining act on Centre Stage. Whilst their sets included some old favourites such as 'Piece Of My Heart' and 'Mystery Train', they also featured some new material which will feature on their forthcoming CD. 'Midnight & Jack Daniels' and 'Long Distance', a song about Leadbelly stand out. The first is a slower blues song, the second brought a flood of dancers onto the Centre Stage dance floor. The band also included a new cover of a song performed by Bonnie Raitt entitled 'Love Sneakin' Up On You'. Behind the seasoned Slack Alice frontline, talented young drummer Lee Davies making his debut performed exceptionally well, finishing the encore with a flourish of high flying drumsticks.
Saturday afternoon was a 'Rock Special' kicking off with Len Tuckey's Legend, led by the Suzi Quattro band guitarist. Their set featured rock covers. Next up were John Coughlan's Quo who soon had the audience up and dancing to the familiar sounds of Status Quo, Coughlan of course was the drummer with Quo in their 70's heyday. The final act of the Rock Special, Oliver / Dawson Saxon had apparently been added to the bill at a late stage. A little heavier than most of the bands appearing at the festival, Oliver Dawson's Saxon put on a great live show with plenty of powerful guitar riffs from the twin guitar force of Graham Oliver and Haydn Conway. They feature original Saxon members Oliver, Steve Dawson on bass and drummer Nigel Durham who bought along his artillery of percussion which included a double bass drum configuration to cement the classic sounds first heard in the late 70's during the NWOBHM era. This 21st century version of Saxon are fronted by vocalist John Ward, who formerly worked with the band Shy. An archetypal frontman, Ward's flamboyant style draws comparison to Freddie Mercury and Rob Halford (of Judas Priest). From the smoke filled stage the band tore through numbers such as 'Strong Arm Of The Law', 'Wheels Of Steel' and '747' from Saxon's classic era as well as some newer material including 'Past The Point'.
Saturday night opened with legendary 60's act the Downliners Sect providing a set of mostly classic blues numbers, and a couple of original songs including 'Little Egypt' that won the band many fans, most notably in Sweden. The band still feature original members singer guitarist Don Craine, still attired in his trademark deerstalker hat and bass player Keith Grant.
The Trevor Burton Band, fronted by the former Move guitarist are a very popular act at the festival. This year's festival was going to be the launch of the band's second album, the follow up to the excellent 'Blue Moons' CD released some 5 years ago, unfortunately a packing error meant that the CD's bound for the waiting masses at Skegness were elsewhere, and release of the album has been delayed by a week. The band did feature some new songs from the new 'Hit & Run' album, including the title track and a powerful version of the old Traffic song 'Mr. Fantasy' as well as old favorites such as 'Little Rachael'. Its not often this Midlands based band venture across as far as Lincolnshire, but they're well worth seeing if you get the opportunity.
Sweden gets two mentions in this review, the second, it being the place Steve Gibbons got stuck in due to heavy snowfall! On a week many fans perhaps wondered if they could get to Skegness due to the bad weather in Lincolnshire hitting the headlines during the preceding days, it was one of the top names on the bill who didn't make it on time! His band manfully pressed on regardless of the lost of their frontman, the lead vocal duties fell unusually to the band's drummer. Their set included some smooth blues material that had people up dancing, and some of repertoire that features in Steve's sets.
The night ended with festival favourites, the Climax Blues Band laying down some funk edged blues grooves, including of course their classic hit 'Couldn't Get It Right'. Colin Cooper's distinctive smoky vocals and sax playing are a major factor in the band's unique sound, they are great to dance to! They have their out and out blues moments too, including 'Take Me Back To Georgia' which features great guitar work and vocals from Lester Hunt
Sunday afternoon commenced with an acoustic blues chill set by sax player Snake Davis and guitarist Jim Diamond. An unfortunate string break resulted in an impromptu penny whistle spot by Snake who brought the house down with a brace of Celtic tunes. A replacement guitar was soon found for Jim, and the duo treated all to a lovely set of popular and soul songs including his number one hit 'I Should Have Known Better', a great start to the day.
Despite the acoustic afternoon billing both Roadhouse and Lights Out By Nine in fact played full electric sets.
Roadhouse are a new name to us, though the London based band have already released 7 albums, including 'Blues Highway' which is apparently receiving a lot of airplay in USA. The band line up includes two female singers and two guitarists, including Jules Fothergill another young guitarist to watch for. Their blues has a smoother edge than some heard over the weekend, tracks that stood out particularly were 'Voodoo Queen' and 'Blues Highway'.
Lincolnshire audiences not at the festival had a great opportunity to catch a full set by the final act of the afternoon, Lights Out By Nine last Saturday night at The Farm in Chapel St. Leonards. The Scottish based band not only looked the business in their smart black suits, they sound it too! The eight piece band led by Al Hughes have a soul pedigree, and though their material is more blues based now, the band's soulful roots show through especially with the brass section. Stand out songs included 'Feel Like Robert Johnson', 'Feels Like Rain', and 'When White Men Sing The Blues' performed solo by the band's frontman and guitarist Al Hughes.
All too soon it was Sunday evening, but time to squeeze four more acts in, starting with an acoustic set by Steve Gibbons who had eventually escaped the Swedish winter's clutches. Steve, together with his band's keyboard player who had swapped to accordion for this performance put together an entertaining performance which included original songs such as 'No Spitting On The Bus', 'BSA' and a Dylan song. Steve weaving the story of Elvis's early career in with the song 'Tupelo Mississippi Flash' provided a memorable moment too.
After last year's great debut at the festival, one act sure to be on the 2004 bill were going to be Danny Bryant's Redeyeband. The band's journeys to Lincolnshire have had mixed receptions, a sell out at Nettleham last month, yet a pitifully small audience for one of Boston Blues Club's final gigs. When blues rock legend Walter Trout gets excited about a young guitar slinger you know he's going to be a bit special! Those who missed his performance in Boston last May, will certainly be kicking themselves again, following another storming performance on Centre Stage at this year's festival. The word 'awesome' is all to frequently used in today's vocabulary lessening its impact, Danny Bryant however is a truly remarkable young musician whose fretwork, and more importantly intonation is little short of breathtaking. Many in the audience were drawn by invisible chords towards the stage, to stand in awe as he, backed by Ken on bass and Andy on drums performed songs from his new album 'Shadows Passed'. As the set ended, many in the audience were on their feet showing their appreciation for what had been a stunning set, with Centre Stage reverberating with deafening applause, an encore was assured before the band had even reached the wings of the stage, they duly returned with 'All Along The Watch Tower' which left the crowd buzzing.
Two to go, The Animals and Friends are regulars at the festival, now fronted by Pete Barton whose vocals have the deep and powerful tones required to replicate the true Animals sound from Eric Burdon's days. Sadly former Animals keyboard player Dave Rowberry who played at last year's festival died later in the year, his place was taken by Mick Gallagher who played in the original Animals in 1965 following the departure of Alan Price. Original drummer John Steel continues providing the rhythms behind the Animals and Friends, Jim Rodford, for many years bass player with The Kinks, and also with Argent and Johnny 'Guitar' Williamson who some in these parts will recall played with Skeleton Crew complete the band's 21st century line up. Playing a mixture of classic Animals songs, including the rarely performed 'I'm Crying' as well as a new song featuring Williamson on vocals and a delightful rendition of the Kinks number 'Sunny Afternoon' sung by Rodford drew a rapturous ovation at the end of their set.
The final act on Centre Stage were The Blockheads. Now fronted by John Turnbull who bears a striking resemblance to the late Ian Dury, they opened with 'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll'. A large band, Turnbull was one of the band's guitarists when Dury was alive, Mick Gallagher who played earlier with The Animals is also a long time member of the Blockheads, Norman Watt-Roy who sung 'Billericay Dickie' a great favourite with audiences continues on bass, Chaz Jankel on guitar and keyboards is another long term member of the band. The band also features sax player Gilad Atzmon who is well known in the jazz field. Their vibrant live performance and the legacy of Dury's idiosyncratic work recalled in songs such as 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick', 'Reasons To Be Cheerful (Pt 3)' and 'What A Waste', that one seems to know all the words to without realizing made for a very entertaining end to another great weekend of music.
Those still not convinced that Skegness is the place to enjoy a weekend of great live music have less than a year to decide, but don't hesitate too long, because we're sure that the majority who attended this and previous years festivals will be booking early to make sure of their place!