|Great British Rock & Blues Festival - Skegness, Butlins Resort - 25th-27th January 2013|
|Written by Mark Taylor|
|Tuesday, 12 February 2013 02:55|
One of my most favourite festivals on the rock calendar is the Great British Rock & Blues Festival held on the last weekend of January every year at the Butlins holiday resort in Skegness, or at this time of year with the cold wind blowing over the North Sea as we affectionately know it as S-S-S-S-Skegness. Joining me this year for this drunken jolly was my usual side kick (and kick him, I often do) Noel Buckley who thankfully this time around has a new pair of glasses, so I could feel more comfortable in the passenger seat on the drive up. In the back seat breathing in our fumes of fag smoke was the far more professional journalist Dave Ling and Sky Arts TV maker Sara 'Arding. Little did they realise that they should've been thankful for being made a passive smoker rather than breathing in the aroma from Buckley's armpits.
After the hassle free drive up from the Smoke to Skeggy. First point of call is our luxurious chalet or should I say “self contained three bedroom flat complete with flat screen TV, kitchen with microwave and dish washer” and it already has the heating on full blast. That’s because already in the room before us were the remaining two people within our party, the legendary Dutch Michaels (so called because only clogs will fit his feet) and top photographer Kevin Nixon of Classic Rock Green.
As always at any festival, the first thing to do is unpack the plentiful booze we've brought with us and it was only too right to treat ourselves to an early wee tipple. Now it has to be said, that for those who have purchased the top package at this here, event the food really is top notch, and for once, we were here early enough to get in for dinner on the Friday evening. So whilst Buckley & I were enjoying our JD & Cokes, Mr Ling being of a far more sensible nature wisely informed us, “we should adjourn to fill up our empty stomachs.'' “Hang on now Dave, just one more quick one, oh let’s make it a double.... trust me, we’ll be fine,'' was our assured reply.
After a filling dinner washed down with a bottle of red wine plus some cheese and biscuits, it was time to put on our reporting caps with notebook and pen handy, which I must admit remained unused all weekend.
First point of call was the Jaks Bar, the on site boozer with a stage ideal for the upcoming acts such as The Mentulls. A four piece outfit who are the Keane of the blues as they don't have a bass player, but nerdy looking Andrew Pipe has spent his formative years learning the six string to maximum use and put on a highly enjoyable set.
It's impossible to see every act here, as with all festivals there are many clashes, and although this is mainly a blues festival I’m an old fart rocker who likes my rock kept simple and timeless. He may well be playing with the Frantic Four of Status Quo in March but John Coghlan's Quo (or JCQ) was my first act of the weekend on the Reds Stage. With big nosed Bazza out front Coghlan's Quo played all the denim greats including gems such as 'Junior's Wailing’, the earthy 'In My Chair', 'Rain', 'Roll Over Lay Down', 'April,Spring,Summer And Wednesday' and a mammoth headbanging 'Railroad'.
The head banging didn't stop there either as a Biff-less Oliver Dawson Saxon soon got down to some serious heavy metal thunder. Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson were the meat and potatoes to the sound of early classic Saxon and it is always a pleasure to see this passionate pair doing their thing on the stage. All the classics that made Saxon were played including newer material such as the crunching 'Whipping Boy' and the hundred riffs per minute of 'Motorbiker'. Guitarist Hadyn Conway also does a grand job beefing up the sound and new singer Bri Shaughnessy from Seventh Son has a better set of pipes than the band’s former charismatic frontman John Ward, but his unkempt hair looked like a bird’s nest and the eagle had just landed in it.
Sneaking off to catch the last part of Dutch prog rock pioneers Focus fronted by the grandfather like organ grinder Thijs Van Leer. I promptly made my way to the very front of the stage in order that I could still stand without drunkenly falling over. New songs from 'Focus X' sounded good and I was very thankful that I managed to catch the instrumental classics of 'Sylvia', (a number 4 hit here in the UK no less exactly forty years ago) and rounding things off the all time yodelling classic of 'Hocus Pocus’. Axl Rose may have been handy with his whistling, but not even he could do a yodel and make it sound quite so grand. Glorious stuff.
With the time just gone one in the morning I staggered back to the room to meet up with the others and carried on drinking until daylight. By this time everyone had had enough of listening to my rambling and I eventually crashed out on the sofa, finally going to bed only to be woken a hour later saying it was time for breakfast.....Oooo my head hurt.
There was no way was I going to miss out on my full English, but after brekkie I went back to bed like a dirty dog with a sore head. Anyone who has read my reviews of festivals in the past will know that this is the deja vu part of any of my reviews, as I totally regret the great time I had the night before, whilst I’m still trying my best to feel human again. So yet again I miss out on the afternoon's entertainment where I reportedly missed out on great sets from the likes of Mitch Laddie, plus Leo Lyons & Joe Gooch who were here last year with Ten Years After, but were back as a duo in Hundred Seventy Split playing a storming set with tracks from their new opus 'World Won't Stop'.
After stuffing my face with some roast turkey in the evening I was back to some kind of normality, and it was time to catch one of my favourites in diamond geezer Del Bromham and Stray. Now rumour has it that tensions had been rising backstage at the Reds Stage and it was becoming something of a postcode battle between the W12 gang of Bush Ranger Del Bromham and the W11 mob of Notting Hill's space rockers Hawkwind, who apparently took so long setting their gear up that ole Del boy was getting in a right ole barney, and was ready to stub out their doobies in a cold mug of tea.
However all this only fired up Stray who stormed into three numbers from their last album, the rather terrific 'Valhalla', ''The first song was our soundcheck'' huffs Bromham who cheered up the moment he walked on stage in true Bulldog spirit. Stray were only playing their second gig with new bassist Robbie Stewart-Matthews borrowed from the Cherry Lee Mewis band and it has to be said that he beefed up the sound immensely playing in the style of John McCoy. Stray were free fall jamming at times with the volume turned up to ten. For the finale Bromham stuck his guitar up in the lighting rig for some maximum feedback effect. Stray played a blinder.
In a haze of smoke Hawkwind trucked into 'Masters Of The Universe' with a sonic visual attack complete with illuminating lights and two constant costume changing ladies who added a very surreal live experience. Dave Ling was so absorbed by what was going on that his eyes were spinning into a kaleidoscopic mirage of claret and blue. Many new tracks from 'Onward' were included but the surprise came as Hawkwind took us for a ride on the 'Silver Machine’. Not a song they include in every set.
Virgil & The Accelerators were over on the Centre Stage playing to a packed house and the queue for their merchandise was longer than the queue at the bar. Bad Company's Mick Ralph's was here with his blues band and were pretty standard fare with tracks such as 'Just A Little Bit' and 'Born Under A Bad Sign'.
Back at the Reds Stage things just weren't going right for Curved Air. Now it's normally dizzy blonde girls that have their moments, but the red haired DJ and compare read out the introduction from her typed out sheet of paper and only introduced the wrong bleeding band which surely wound up Sonja Kristina whose feathers were ruffled all night. The band never really found their groove and it was just one of those nights.
''Fiddlesticks'' was the word backstage, or so I’m lead to believe.
Over breakfast on the Sunday morning we were joined by former Stray tour manager Paul Newcomb who told us the night before in a packed Jaks bar he felt his lovely other half give him a loving squeeze on his jacksey. Thinking that he would lovingly return the compliments, he put his hand out without looking exactly where and got more than he bargained for as he felt something that went bump in the night that belonged to a six foot tall moustached Northerner. Realising the mistaken identity he had made, and not wanting to be the owner of two brand new shiners, Newcomb then offered to buy the guy a drink. Now readers I ask you to picture the scene, but baked beans were being spat out over the breakfast table as Newcomb who looked white as a ghost held his head in shame.
Midday Lingy, 'Arding and I made a beeline for the Hotshots Bar to watch the FA Cup clash of Brentford almost turning over Chelski on a very traditional muddy pitch. A thrilling match where the Blues saved their banana skins by a couple of touches of class.
Finnish lass Erja Lyytinen, whose name I can easily pronounce when I’ve had a few, was my first act to see on the Sunday looked striking in her silver glitter hotpants. She certainly is a cure for her homeland's Seasonal Adjustment Disorder and my cockles soon warmed up on this Skegness seacoast. New tracks from her 'Forbidden Fruit' album sounded good with 'Change Of Season' being a stand out.
In the Jaks Bar was the stunning Jo Harman whose sultry voice delivered on a cover of 'Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City’, but love was brewing right here on the coast.
I caught a little snatch of Band Of Friends who play a set of Rory Gallagher numbers but feature Rory's long time bass player Gerry McAvoy and drummer Ted McKenna who Uber Rockers may remember from his time in the Michael Schenker Group. On stage at the same time though was Zombies singer Colin Blunstone who for me played the best set of the weekend. The soft dulcet singer took centre stage as his band played new songs from the very decent 'On The Air Tonight' album, plus some golden memories via 'Time Of The Season' and 'She's Not There'. Other not so well known gems are just as euphoric though such as 'Andorra' and the song he recorded for the Alan Parsons Project in 'Old And Wise' where the crowd hushed into a beautiful silence for this melancholic number. Stupendous set.
After dinner I saw thirty year old German Henrik Freischlader play some soul, funking nu-jazz blues with songs from his 'House In The Woods' album. He's talented that’s for sure, but not even a cover of the Beatles' Come Together' could stop my mind from wandering and as I just had a Sunday roast dinner only a hour before I couldn't stop myself from nodding off in this very warm venue. Just don't mention the bore.
For the second year running I had to miss out on the wonderful talents of Steve Cropper and the Animals And Friends as they clashed with Blue Coupe who I simply wasn't going to miss, largely because they feature the Bouchard brothers Joe and Albert, from one of my all time favourite bands Blue Oyster Cult, plus Dennis Dunaway from the classic Alice Cooper band of the seventies. Blue Coupe played with a garage New York punky edge, a little rough and raw around the edges but the music was compelling. Early BOC treats were belted out such as 'The Red & The Black' and 'Cities On Flames With Rock 'n’ Roll’. Dennis Dunaway looked like he was from another planet, an alien version of a grasshopper that made full use of every inch of the stage. Cooper's 'I'm Eighteen' had the BOC treatment and the Dunaway penned 'Under My Wheels' was a crunching joy. Albert Bouchard is a great drummer trashing away on his kit and putting on a child's dinosaur mask for 'Godzilla'. 'Don't Fear The Reaper',' School's Out' and 'Kick Out The Jams' rounded off this monstrous set.
After the set I got an old poster of Blue Oyster Cult signed by the Bouchard brothers, which I already had signed before by the remaining members a few years previous...At last I had the full set, I was one very happy bunny and for me the night was over, so I returned to my room so I didn't run the risk of damaging my prized asset.
Dr Feelgood and tribute band AB/CD were closing the stages whilst those in the know headed the off to the Jaks bar to see the Robin Bibi Band for one final knee's up. But whilst the others were enjoying themselves I was back in the room watching the FA Cup highlights on the box whilst polishing off the remains of our booze.... Hic.
Same time next year boozers, for another cracking weekend away in Skeggy.
[Photos by Dutch Michaels]