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12th to 14th November




Carlisle Blues Festival Review by Lionel Ross

The fourth Carlisle Blues Festival took place at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel on 12th-14th November. There had been eager anticipation for some time before the event in view of the mouth-watering line-up. That anticipation was proved to be fully justified as the magnificent programme was expertly rolled out to the delight of the 400+ enthusiasts in attendance.

Friday Evening

The festival was opened on Friday evening by Kevin Thorpe’s Tipping Point, who performed an emotive tribute to their founder, Kevin Thorpe, who had recently died immediately following the band’s appearance at the Newark Festival. The fondness for Kevin among the audience was palpable in their warm appreciation of the performance.

Chantel McGregor then grabbed the assembled throng by the throat and maintained her grip throughout her high-octane set of heavy blues rock. Her dexterity was stunning as was her impact on the decibel scale. Several punters felt obliged to leave the concert room to protect their hearing whilst fully acknowledging Chantel’s undoubted ability.

The ringing ears were soon restored to normality by the laid-back delivery of Mud Morganfield, the eldest son of Muddy Waters. Backed by the excellent Dirty Aces, he eased through his father’s songbook and a smattering of original compositions. His voice is uncannily reminiscent of his paternal heritage but his clear reverence towards the master ensures that he is far more than a mere tribute act as the warm appreciation displayed by the audience confirmed.

The evening’s entertainment was completed by James Hunter, who delivered an array of self-penned numbers, with his soulful vocals and spiky guitar work ably supplemented by his rocking band that included keys and a couple of saxophones. The fun was continued in the hotel’s bar with a jam session led by the highly talented Dale Storr, who had earlier contributed his considerable keyboard skills to Kevin Thorpe’s Tipping Point.

Saturday Afternoon

The Saturday afternoon session began gently in acoustic mode. First, hugely popular artist, Steve Jones (aka Pablo), demonstrated that his artistry is not confined to painting by accompanying himself on guitar to open the proceedings. He also contributed the main prize for the festival raffle in the form of a marvellous pastel portrait of Muddy Waters. Steve was followed by Lucy Zirins, an eighteen-year old singer/guitarist from Burnley, who confirmed her potential as she combined powerful vocals with impressive guitar work to deliver a commendably assured performance.

In stark contrast, The Revolutionaires then exploded into action with a vibrant mix of rock and roll and hip-shaking swing. Singer, Ed Stephenson, demonstrated his tremendous versatility by swapping his guitar for keyboard and harmonica with consummate ease. It was a powerhouse performance that had the crowd baying for more. And more they got – or to be precise, Moore – Nicky Moore’s Blues Corporation, that is. True to form, The Voice interspersed his top class singing with irreverent banter and was admirably backed by his splendid band, notably by his son, Tim, on lead guitar.

Saturday Evening

Blues music covers a profound spectrum, which offers the potential for considerable diversity at a festival, including the unconventional. Hokie Joint epitomises that category. Fronted by the rasping vocals of charismatic singer, Jojo Burgess, and embellished by the harmonica mastery of Giles King, they provided a gripping preface to the evening programme. The scene having been well and truly set, it required a big personality to maintain the momentum. Step forward Hamilton Loomis. The man from Galveston, Texas, delivered the goods in his customary all-action funky-laden style, oozing warmth, personality and quality musicianship. His band is equally dependable with Stratton Doyle excelling on sax and keyboard, underpinned by the exceptional talents of Kent Beatty on bass guitar and Jamie Little on drums. They delivered a highly entertaining set that raised the bar mightily for the final act of the evening.

Headlining the extravaganza was Michael Burks, who is widely hailed as one of the very best of the current crop of US bluesmen. Backed by a fine rhythm section and a superb keyboard player, the Chicago-based singer/guitarist began somewhat tentatively but once in his stride he proceeded to captivate the audience with his soulful singing and his brilliant guitar playing. The more he relaxed and integrated with the audience, the greater was the appreciation of his considerable talents. It just got better and better to round off a truly fabulous day.

For those who were not physically and emotionally exhausted, the night continued in the bar under the expertise guidance of The Deluxe, a Cumbrian band led by singer/guitarist, Christian Sharp.

Sunday Afternoon

On the final day of the 2009 Carlisle Festival, a relatively unknown young man from London wowed the unsuspecting audience with a terrific set of acoustic blues. That man was Marcus Bonfanti. On the strength of that revelation, he was invited back this year to perform with his excellent rhythm section of Scott Wiber on bass guitar and Alex Reeves on drums. Once again his incredible vocals and brilliant guitar playing were greeted with open-mouthed appreciation. Stardom beckons.

The wonderful show continued with a marvellous set from Florida-based one-man-band, Ben Prestage, who delighted the audience with his tremendous versatility on an array of guitars, bass drum, hi-hat cymbal and harmonica. His humorous asides were also well-received, not least when he introduced ‘his band’, instrument by instrument. It was a highly skilled and thoroughly inventive performance.

As MC, Mark Singleton, declared, it seems inconceivable that there would be a Carlisle Blues Festival without the inclusion of the hugely popular Ian Siegal. On this occasion, Ian played solo and produced a superlative acoustic set. Particularly outstanding among the many gems were his renditions of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and the guaranteed crowd favourite “Gallo Del Cielo”, which was greeted with rapturous applause. Siegal is quite simply one of the very brightest stars in the UK’s blues firmament.

The unenviable task of following the magic that had graced the stage all afternoon and to draw the weekend to its climax fell to Never The Bride. It is very much to their credit that they met that challenge with exemplary panache. Fronted by the forceful vocals and engaging personality of Nikki Lamborn, they blasted out a stirring set that reinforced the deeply felt euphoria that the fabulous weekend had established. It is plain to see why the band has developed an international reputation for their energetic performances with songwriter, Catherine Feeney, on keyboards, Murray Gold on guitar and a fine rhythm section complementing Nikki’s singing. 

No amount of praise can fully acknowledge the incredible effort, organisational skills and eye for detail provided by Nick Westgarth and his tireless team. The fact that the festival was completely sold out is a very appropriate testament to the quality of their programme and their dedication. November 2011 is already on the radar.

Lionel Ross

A big thank you to Lionel for the review
Alan White, Earlyblues.com


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