GIG REVIEW - BLUES ON THE MEADOW 2015 - ALDERMASTON JULY 4TH
There's a movie entitled a 'Grand Day Out', well that sums up one of the best one day festivals on the British blues scene. This was year nine, held on a hot Summer Saturday in a beautiful meadow, a permanent stage, and just about the greatest group of blues enthusiasts running it all, and what a day they put on for yet another sell out crowd. A couple of years ago I called this event a jewel in the British blues crown, and that remains true, one of those unmissable events.
Come midday, folks had arrived, folding chairs out and ready so on stage came MC Chris, resplendent in white cowboy hat, along with the US flag to the side of the stage reminds everyone of the day being American Independence Day, before kicking things off with a return visit of Bristol's Red House, the live music was off with this trio's mix of blues and rock n roll covers. Just the perfect start to the day and enjoyed by everyone. A band with a full gig list and a sense of humour, such as 'we're hoping to get as many gigs this year as the bass players age', sixty plus already. It was already pretty hot, as the sun shone as much as the was the music likely to do. A good set of covers, and quite a few singing along already.
Next on stage was 'Jamside Up', lead by Tim Hain (guitar/vocals) and Greg Kofi Brown, and their band , Greg Kofi has been the bass man with Osibisa, also appeared in The Blues Brothers, while alongside were the keyboards of Phil Ramaking (The Wailers and Jimmy Cliff) with drummer Noel Tappa. This was an interesting and different set, as Tim said that Bob Marley was the king of Jamaica blues. The music being a mixture of blues and reggae, proved his point. By playing mainly blues guitar and the rest laying down these reggae beats Tim and his excellent band made you feel like you were on a Caribbean beach, albeit in a field in Berkshire. From songs like 'Stir It Up', 'Having A Good Time', the self written 'Pennies And Pounds', and even a version of Paul Simon's 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes', adding African rhythms a as well to the mix. Greg Kofi suffering with a bad throat tried singing a couple of songs, sounded pretty husky and did well considering. The band call their music 'blaggae' and are a very potent line up of musicians that are a joy to hear, the blues is very wide ranging and this was another side of it, south well south of the delta, hugely enjoyable. This was amazingly their first gig together, hope there's many more, and the ideal background to a Summer afternoon.
Chatting to Tim Hain after their set, he said a while ago he was playing with Tony Marten (Robin Bibi's bass player), after the set this young American lady came up and said how great they were, and asked how long they had been playing together, Tim looked at his watch and replied 'Since 9 o'clock!'.
Blues On The Meadow each year introduce new and young artists and bands, for the previous two years it was the excellent Red Butler. This time with her band, former Ben Poole backing singer Amy Eftekhari, performed a set of what sounded like pop ballads and late night club songs, a little too slow and unexiting. Things did liven up a bit towards the end of the set, over all the band didn't look as if they were enjoying it either !
Ben Poole was due on next but from playing a gig in Paris on the Friday were stuck like everyone else at Calais trying to get on a ferry, which they did manage, but would be later than expected, so on early came Big Boy Bloater and the Limits. For this one gig it was the original Limits line up of Matt Cowley (drums),Dan Edwards (keyboards) and a returning Mike Powell on bass. As ever Big Boy put on a cracker of a set, mixing new and older songs into the mix, he is an outstanding guitarist, and writes some great songs, this was almost a wholly original set that included the opening 'Hey Funky' from his The World Explained album, leading into the very catchy ''I Fell Extremely Happy' (now that your not around), 'Leonard Cohen', 'Ugly Way Of Thinking',' That Ain't My Name'. Then he began to talk about the swamps, the hard beating sounds of the delta swamps the song 'Out Of The Swamps' was a real slice of hard core blues and really hit the mark, this was Bloat the true bluesman bringing that lovely swampy feel on stage. Before picking up his slide with a song about going into town, then picked up his whammy bar for 'Double Whammy', of course the song about his favourite beer 'Black Sambuca' had to be included. He did another new song in 'I Got The Blues', showing he's moving into more blues among his more original material, then from the first Limits album, that reminds of Bo Diddley's song from way back, in 'Shut Your Big Fat Trap', a quirky blues rocker. To close the set was 'That Cool Man', hardly true on what was now a really hot day 'Even the beers warm, I'm down to drinking cold water'. But all wasn't over as folk wanted more, hot as it was he obliged so as an encore we had 'Nothin' But A Bearcat', closing a very hot in every sense by this highly talented and original artist and his first class band, no doubt off to the bar to get a cold beer and cool down a bit.
At last he was here, Ben Poole and his band had arrived, after a long frustrating day getting to the site, but you would never have know it. Even as they set up there was that air of expectancy so often the case when he appears. With Matt Beadle on bass, Craig Bacon on drums and Sam Mason on keyboard duties. If there is one outstanding artist who could and should take the mantle of the blues forward it's Ben Poole. Opening with two of his own compositions, the front of the stage was already packed to watch his amazing guitar playing. After this opening he decided to perform a blues classic 'Have You Ever Loved A Woman', which opened with a solo guitar segment, then his soulful voice began to sing the lyrics, bit by bit this grew into an incredible performance of the song, full of those time stood still moments as he poured guitar notes out like cascades all over the place. The crowd just cheered his every solo, then as he brought the song to it's climax straight away began the slow opening to 'Hey Joe', already a favourite wherever he plays, as it built it became almost fifteen minutes of the most powerful and hard hitting blues to be heard anywhere. One portion of the solo included him just punching on the guitar body while his fingers set the chords booming them out of his instrument. As he swooped the guitar in the air, pouring his whole being into it, it just grew and grew. The crowd showed their appreciation at every opportunity, and a standing ovation even by those sitting enjoying the cool of the now evening air, this was a simply awesome piece of playing, and Ben's voice, full of soul and emotion made this the best I've heard this song played since Hendrix himself. Following 'Hey Joe' he did a couple from the Live At The Royal Albert Hall CD, including 'Starting All Over Again' , before adding his tribute to Gary Moore, who he sais he'd had the pleasure of once playing with 'The Time Might Never Come', again he punched out guitar notes with the feel of Gary Moore's own style. All too soon, Ben's set was over, but not quite as he did his cover of Otis Redding's 'Mr Pitiful' to close a set that really had everyone wanting more from a very rare talent, a young man whose moved the bar up a few notches, and surely destined for the big arenas before too long, this is the 21st century face of the blues, Ben Poole is already proving what an incredible and exiting talent he is. Just who would be able to follow this ?
It was dark by now, the stage well lit, a lot cooler, it was 10:30 pm, Craig Bacon still on drums, he's not just Ben Poole's stickman, on bass duties Tony Marten, before the main man and regular at the Meadow came on, it was Robin Bibi, surely among the finest guitarists in the country (he was stood by me watching Mr. Poole as well). He opened with 'I wish I could play the guitar', before playing a superb set, including some not heard before, plus his walk around the area, standing on tables, photos being taken by the score by those alongside him. He'd begun the set with some searing slide guitar, leading to blues, rock and choice covers. His take on Lightnin' Slim's 'Things I Used To Do' ('I'll play a bit more blues tonight' he'd said), following with 'Shake Your Moneymaker', 'Let's Get Together', this is a man who let's his guitar do the talking, whether high octane rock blues or a slow blues, he really is a showman, an astounding talent in every sense, and remains one of the most popular artists on the scene, with his band he proves again and again what it takes to bring the day to a perfect end. As midnight approached, his version (because It's Sunday) of the gospel classic, 'Down To The River' took over 'Oh! I'm preaching now'.
The end of a perfect day, great venue, lovely weather, fabulous bands and artists, it was late, everyone was happy to either to go to their tents or begin the drive home. To Chris, Neil and the whole of the Blues On The Meadow team, thank you, see you on Saturday 2nd 2016. Get your tickets now, they will sell out, a day in a meadow with the best of blues you can't beat that !