British Blues – Events – 7th Maryport Bitter & Blues Festival 2005

7th Maryport Bitter & Blues Festival 29th – 31st July 2005

by Lee Wilkinson

Being partial to real ale and live music I readily concurred when Linda suggested giving this one a go. Held in a scenic setting on the west coast of Cumbria the main stage is based in a marquee by the marina. Within walking distance are over a dozen pubs around town forming a blues trail with plenty of bands showcasing their stuff.

Friday evening at the marquee stage included Italian-American slide guitarist and harmonica player Studebaker John & the Hawks, and the remnants of a couple of British sixties bands. Animals and Friends with original drummer John Steel and a brand-new keyboard player were much better than anticipated, and the Yardbirds were pretty good too.

American artists appearing the following day were led by the irrepressible Lightnin’ Willie & the Poorboys. They may be a different bunch of Poorboys now but for a small band they produce a big sound and founder William Hermes still wields a mean guitar and sings with energy and feeling. Making his British debut, Dave Weld proved to be a very capable guitar player with quite an expressive voice. The festival headliners followed, billed as Legends of Chicago Blues, comprising guitarist ‘Steady Rolling’ Bob Margolin, ‘Mookie’ Brill on bass guitar and drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith with Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton and ‘Pinetop’ Perkins. Legends indeed, as they proceeded to rock the joint, which was crammed with over a thousand heaving bodies. Amongst the numbers featured were Killing Floor and Sittin’ On Top Of The World from Sumlin who picked his guitar keenly, Chicken Shack and Big Fat Mama by piano pumping Perkins and Harmonica Boogie from lusty harp blowing Cotton. To witness these guys in full flow was something else, and it is incredible that they can still put on such a sparkling show in their so-called twilight years.

Sunday saw a surprisingly good acoustic set from Tony McPhee with some vocal assistance from Joanna Deacon, despite the somewhat macabre tone of numbers such as John Lee Hooker’s Graveyard Blues and Son House’s Death Letter and O Death! Canadian vocalist Diana Braithwaite put on a highly entertaining performance and was joined on stage by Lightnin’ Willie towards the end of her set. Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes were in formidable form with the leader showing off his acclaimed harmonica skills. Mike Sanchez got the crowd on their feet in a roaring finale from the opening Down The Road Apiece to the encore of Let The Good Times Roll, a duet with Imelda Clabby. With another twenty songs in between including a pulsating Sapphire, a rousing Louie Louie and a heartfelt rendition of It’s Raining from Imelda the entire set was a pure delight. Oliver Darling was excellent on lead guitar standing in for the indisposed Andy Sylvester.

Away from the main stage the one act that we caught a couple of times is worthy of mention, the quirky Ben Ruth, a lively vocalist and harmonica player. Backed by guitar, bass and drums he leapt around like a man possessed and played a sort of punk rock/Chicago blues hybrid. But what about the beer I hear you ask. Well, the main sponsor is Jennings brewery based in nearby Cockermouth. So the tawny coloured malty Jennings bitter and the slightly stronger, paler and fruitier Cumberland Ale were quaffed with relish. However, despite opposition from CAMRA Jennings has recently been taken over by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries. It is not currently known whether this might have a bearing on the organisation of next year’s festival.


Lee Wilkinson