Monday, February 05, 2024

UK Blues Festival 2024

Winter Gardens, Blackpool. Friday/Monday 02/05-February-2024.

After five visits to the Great British Rock and blues festival at Butlin's, Skegness (Skeggy) the management decided to discontinue the event which had been going over 20 years. The cynical regulars reckoned it was because us oldies weren’t spending enough over the bar unlike the tequila shot-downing youth. So no winter blues, in a bad way.

UK Blues, Rhythm and Rock Festival to the rescue. Solid Entertainments organise a series of festivals around the U.K. this year at Blackpool for the first time. The line up looked very promising with a number of names we knew so tickets and accommodation were duly booked.

This was essentially the Skegness Blues Festival re-incarnated in Blackpool. We heard 25 bands over 3 days and were astounded by the quality of the music all weekend. The line up was excellent and it was noticeable that many of the performers are on the shortlists for Blues x of the Year in multiple categories. It says a lots about the calibre of acts booked. 

The event was very different to Skeggy. Butlin’s had everything on one site: parking, accommodation, restaurants and the stages. At Blackpool the festival was in the magnificent Winter Gardens but everything else was down to us to organise. Mary found an excellent apartment on literally 2 minutes walk from the venue. The drive down was much easier, 1½ hours almost all on motorway, as opposed to Skeggy which was nearly 4 hours with a lot of A roads. We abandoned the car in the nearby multi-storey at a cost of £26 for three days.

Perhaps because it was the first one, the event was far less crowded than Skeggy. There you queued for an hour to get decent seats in the main stage. Here there were ample spare seats so it was safe to amble around with no fear of being left with standing room only at the back of the hall. No more “seat anxiety”.

During their sets we heard similar messages from all the bands. They thanked the organisers for putting on the event and specifically someone called Steve. They thanked us, the audience, for supporting live music. And told us how much they enjoyed playing for us. It really brought home to me how many bands really need the buzz they get from playing live, getting the feedback from us and selling merchandise direct to existing and new fans.

The * ratings represent Mary's scores out of 3 for each band.

Friday 02-February. 

  • Backbone Blues Band (Introducing) *½ 
  • John Carroll (Introducing) * 
  • Brave Rival (Main)** 
  • Cardinal Black (Main) ** 
  • Colosseum (Main) * 
  • DC Blues Band (Blues) *½ 
  • Terraplanes Blues Band (Blues) **½ (missing Eduardo!) 
  • Eric Bibb (Main) *** 

Saturday 03-February. 

  • Brave Rival (Acoustic) *** 
  • Mississippi Macdonald (Acoustic) **½ 
  • Jim Kirkpatrick (Acoustic) **½ 
  • Mississippi Macdonald (Main) **½ 
  • The Cinelli Brothers (Main) ** 
  • Elles Bailey (Main) *** 
  • Catfish (Blues) **½ (only two songs due to timetable clash) 
  • When Rivers Meet (Main) ** (only two songs as we were tired and cold) 

Sunday 04-February.

  • Jube (Acoustic) * 
  • Connor Selby (Acoustic) *** 
  • Rambling Preachers (Main) **½ 
  • Bison Hip (Introducing) ** 
  • The Shakers Blues Band *½ (incl John Carroll) 
  • Connor Selby (Main) *** 
  • Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse (Main) *** 
  • GA 20 (Main) ** (only two songs) 
  • Climax Blues Band (Blues) **½ (new vocalist, good but different)

The Winter Gardens is an amazing Art Deco building with a variety of rooms to host the various stages.

The main stage was in the Empress Ballroom which will be recognisable to fans of Strictly.

Friday 02-February. 

Backbone Blues Band (Introducing) *½. Like Skeggy this festival had an "Introducing Stage" where new bands got a chance to showcase their wares and the audience could vote for their favourites each day. The band with the most votes each day gets to open on one of the main stages the following year. 

Brave Rival (Main) **. This was band one of the discoveries of the festival. Reading all the bands write-ups it was noticeable that many of them started around five years ago. I guess it takes that long to get their act together (literally), record an album and start to build up a following such that they get booked for these kind of events. Certainly there were lots of Brave Rival t-shirts in evidence.

Cardinal Black (Main) **. They were good buit to my mind didn't generate the same excitement as Brave Rival. 

Colosseum (Main) *. A long-standing, innovative jazz rock / prog rock band so I stayed for them while Mary went next door to see Terraplanes Blues Band. They featured blues legend Chris Farlowe who we last saw on stage with Van Morrison. They were OK but as they were not on my playlist back in the '70s didn't make as much impression as I was hoping for. I popped next door to join Mary for one last song from Terraplanes Blues Band.

Terraplanes Blues Band (Blues) **½. Mary's choice over Colosseum. She enjoyed hearing them again however they were missing Eduardo, their flamboyant harmonica player, and she felt his absence. 

Eric Bibb (Main) ***. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival. We had listened to his latest album Ridin' on the drive down courtesy of modern technology (Qobuz streaming service played through my phone into the USB socket in the car). This is "proper" blues but with a 21st century sensibility - songs about getting respect (Call Me By My Name) and forgotten black history (Tulsa Town).

Saturday 03-February. 

In the Acoustic stage I was amused by this cup-holder. When you need one hand to use your crutch you need someone to hold your beer.

Brave Rival (Acoustic) ***. Having seen Brave Rival of the big stage with the full band it was an interesting contrast to see the stripped down version on the Acoustic Stage. There was a debate about what counts as acoustic; they had drums and an electric bass guitar. This was a very enjoyable set with some of the same songs in a more relaxed style.

Mississippi Macdonald (Acoustic) **½. Now this was definitely acoustic, nothing but an acoustic guitar. Mississippi Macdonald played a set of his own compositions very much in a delta blues style. With a genre that has been a round for a while it is hard to avoid pastiche and cliche but he managed to walk that delicate line. 

Jim Kirkpatrick (Acoustic) **½. Jim first appearance at the festival, he was on later that same day with his full band whilst we were in the main stage. He did a good set earning two and half stars on the Mary-o-meter. His guitar skills were impressive 

Mississippi Macdonald (Main) **½. The reverse of Brave Rival in that here we saw the acoustic version first then the full band, an interesting inversion. Musically this set moved north from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and upped the energy levels.

The Cinelli Brothers (Main) **. This band seem to have a good reputation and following but, never having heard of them or their music they had some work to do to appeal to us. 

Elles Bailey (Main) ***. Of course Elles was the main attraction for us having seen her in concert on a number of occasions. She and her great band lived up to all our expectations.

Catfish (Blues) **½ (only two songs).  First seen at Skeggy, the timetabling clash with Elles Bailey meant a limited listen for Mary while I stayed to listen to Elles.

When Rivers Meet (Main) **. The Empress ballroom was not the warmest. With cold weather outside it would take some heating so heat up the cavernous space. Despite enjoying their music, by this time we were cold and tired so headed back to the warmth of our apartment.

Sunday 04-February 

Sunday morning we went for a bracing walk along the sea front past a number of interesting sculptures to the Pleasure Beach (closed) and the largest glitter ball in the world.

Then back to the apartment for lunch and off to the Winter Gardens for the final day.

Connor Selby (Acoustic) ***. The second time where we got the acoustic set followed by the full band. Some nice song writing and guitar picking. 

Rambling Preachers (Main) **½. They were good, we bought the CD. 

Bison Hip (Introducing) **. We enjoyed this band were pleased to learn that they were the favourites, as voted for that day, so will come back next year on one of the main stages. 

Connor Selby (Main) ***. Back on the main stage with full band. Very enjoyable. 

Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse (Main) ***. Given the very New Orleans influenced name of this band we were hoping for some southern style music and they did not disappoint. High energy and excellent musicianship.

Climax Blues Band (Blues) **½. They had a new vocalist, good but different to the last time we saw them. The previous vocalist, Graham Dee, had a very distinctive voice so for us not quite as enjoyable this time. However I'm sure once we get used to the new boy we will enjoy them just as much.

We believe in supporting the artists by buying their merch direct. They get so much more than the peanuts from streaming services and if we have a CD we can rip to our NAS drive for ease of playing. We came away with 7 CD's, 1 vinyl and 3 t-shirts! 

Only disappointment of the whole weekend was missing the unannounced appearance of Robert Plant as we were in the other hall listening to Eric Bibb. But overall, throwing in the impressive Winter Gardens, a parkrun, a breezy seafront walk with interesting sculptures, some lovely old art-deco buildings, a great apartment literally 2 minutes walk from the venue and a tasty curry, it was a brilliant weekend.

Definitely coming back next year!

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