Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Review of Swanage Blues Festival - March 2009

The 9th Swanage Blues Festival –6-8/3/09by George & Julia Cairnsforth courtesy of Blues In Britain magazine – Volume 1 / Issue 89

Swanage Blues Festivals are multi-venue events with pubs, restaurants and hotel bars spilling over with fans throughout this friendly south coast Dorset town.As usual, organiser Steve Darrington had programmed a huge choice across the blues spectrum with 25 different Acts in 13 venues performing 40 gigs to over 2,000 people. Since starting these events in 2001 Steve has managed to keep an Admission Free policy by asking festival-goers to chip in towards expenses.“The first-ever Swanage Blues Festival grew out of a birthday party,” he explained, “and I like to keep this as a celebration!”

There is a 200 metre-long strip at the start of the High Street in which the nine venues that make up the central core of the event are located. Whenever we walked between pubs the strains of music faded in and out while crowds danced in the street. Gazing up we could even see New Orleans-style architecture to complete the scene! The other venues are not so central and include a huge Victorian hotel towering from the cliffs at one end of the picturesque bay, another hotel that is overshadowed by the incredible Corfe Castle at the end of a steam train ride, and world-famous country pub the Square & Compass, which has a museum and where they bring out the beer from the back room!

The whole weekend was definitely one great big party as old friendships were renewed and new ones created - both at Robin Bibi’s Electric Jams and the more acoustic Open Mic Sessions in the Red Lion. What a great job Martin Froud & Andrew Bazeley did every afternoon along with John & Johnny Sharp Jnr, all four making up the backbone of this year's house band. Dad's understated but consistently spine-tingling harmonica was often accompanied by Johnny Jnr's extraordinary electric guitar, both played sparingly and with huge feeling and subtlety. At one point Pete Harris stopped by on the way to his own gig to contribute a couple of quality blues and ragtime numbers. The enthusiasm of the real ale and real cider-fuelled crowds encouraged performers onto some great heights.OK, all the venues were indoors, but what of the weather anyway? Thankfully at 5.30pm on Friday when the Robin Bibi Band took to the stage at Bar 7, there was no trace of the heavy snow that had cut Swanage off from the outside world only the day before. The packed audience was left stunned by Robin’s incredibly powerful and tight band putting on a performance that would usually mark a festival finale, not the opening! Drifting out of the door at 8pm, festival-goers were wondering which of the ten further gigs that evening could follow what they had just experienced. But there was plenty of good stuff to choose from: Sonny Black, Rag Mama Rag, Will Killeen, John Crampton, The Jives, Pete Harris & Hugh Budden, Robert Hokum Blues Band, Jon Walsh Blues Band, Motel 6, and Chris Collins with Blues Etc. Quite an evening for us, hugely enjoyable and it all started to blur into one, so we decided to make notes from the next day on!Saturday afternoon started at Bar Seven with organiser Steve’s keyboard producing the most amazingly realistic left hand double bass sounds, while his right wandered between Memphis Slim piano and Jimmy Smith organ, accompanied by Bournemouth Fred on drums and the tasty strains of Chris Collins on guitar and vocals. Robin Bibi’s jam session next door was packed to the rafters, so we caught The Riotous Brothers at the Ship Inn playing some fiery rhythm & blues with original songs “Restless” and “Fever”, while covers “Mind Your Own Business” and “Deja Voodoo” drove the crowd wild.A few doors away at the White Swan we took in some of The Shakers’ set with ex-Boogie Band singer/bassist Paul Sharman ringing the changes from the rock ‘n’ roll of My Girl Josephine, rockabilly of “Everybody’s Tryin' To Be My Baby” and blues of “Jumpin' At Shadows”, to the bluegrass of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”. Hugely authentic played with great conviction and sincerity!Later on over at the Grand Hotel the largely instrumental band The Jawbreakers were delivering classic blues tracks, timeless jive numbers and a smattering of good old fashioned rock ‘n roll plus some incredible film theme tunes. “Jump, Jive and Wail”, “Help Me”, “Samba Pa Ti”, “Caravan” and the “James Bond” Theme all figured in an amazing set.Back in downtown Swanage we managed to catch a smattering of each act along the ‘Strip’: The Fabulous Fezheads’ own brand of merry mayhem in the Red Lion (Is it blues? Who cares? Pass another beer!); Robin Bibi’s funk, soul, rock, reggae and jazz again at the Ship; the Coalhouse Walker Blues Band (boogie bass on the piano) in the White Swan; John Crampton’s one man express train on harmonica and guitar at the Purbeck; C Sharp Blues (lots of Ben Waters’ sidemen there); and finally The Mustangsat the White Horse, with Adam Norsworthy climbing onto tables for posterity during “Gloria”. The place was heaving, packed to the rafters and everyone was up for a great night. We were sorry we couldn’t get to see Will Killeen or Sonny Black, but that wasn’t the end of it all, because the Red Lion specially opened the kitchen again from 11.30pm to 1.30am for those musicians who weren’t still playing, and anybody else who fancied a meal too.Sunday afternoon started off at 1pm again in Bar Seven with organiser Steve Darrington and Friends that included guitarists Chris Collins and Pete Harris, plus Hugh Budden on harmonica. This venue is a lovely addition to the blues festivals, being the original cellars of an old hotel “and reminiscent of the old Liverpool Cavern” as Steve told us, being where he played as a young lad. Bar Seven is also where Swanage Blues Club holds its weekly events on a Sunday and occasional Saturday if you’re ever in the area.The extremely reliable Robert Hokum Blues Band followed using only the minimal amount of equipment. With stripped-down drum kit and small guitar amps, they hit the whole range of classic Chess blues grooves and didn't let up - with a rhythmic repertoire that embraced Bo Diddley’s beat, John Lee Hooker's boogie and some tough funk, there wasn't a still foot in the house.Along the road we managed to catch some of The Riverside Blues Band in the Anchor, and these guys deserve a special name check for their contribution: Syd on Drums, Helen’s solid bottom end on Bass, Paul on Harmonica, and Dominic on Sax, all led by Stan on lead guitar and vocals.Back up at the Grand Hotel, as Sonny Black was finishing his excellent laid-back set, musicians arrived for the closing party on Sunday evening. Organiser Steve Darrington joined in on keyboards with Chris Collins & Blues Etc featuring Hugh Budden. The lounge was filled to bursting point with satisfied Swanage fans and expectant music lovers who weren't disappointed. The band ripped into Albert Collins’ “If You love Me Like You Say” and “I Got A Mind To Travel”, and slowed things down with Slim Harpo's ballad “Raining In my Heart”. Hugh took the mic for “Help Me” and “Five Long Years”, in which Steve, Hugh and Chris each played spine tingling solos.Just when it seemed it was all over, Steve Darrington gained a burst of energy and finished off the evening and the festival with three great songs full of personality and bursting with boogie, including two songs made up on the spot about this year’s festival.If you haven’t been to a Swanage Blues Festival yet, give it a try. They are all really special! We’ve got our guest house booked already for the next one on 2, 3, 4 October 2009 –- see www.swanage-blues.org by George & Julia Cairnsforth


Anonymous said...

Yep, it was good, nice review...

Anonymous said...

Excellent review, of an excellent weekend. We come down and fill our cottage with friends and family every time the Blues weekend is on AND WE SPEND. Talking of which, son is getting married this coming one (October) and I did suggest Swanage Blues weekend for the honeymoon but I don't think he fancied sharing with all of us. So if anyone wants to rent our cottage its on Steve's site. Carrants Court.

Swanage Senior Forum said...

March 2009 was our 4th festival, and definately the best !
Great music, great atmosphere, nice intimate venues and lovely beer !
Must take a lot of organising and does Swanage a power of good !
Looking forward to October already.