Colne Great British R&B Festival 2004
by Lee Wilkinson
Inspired by a first trip to the Burnley Blues Festival this Easter, I ventured up North again during August Bank Holiday to witness my first Colne blues fest, along with long-time attendee Shaky Lee. My God, they know how to present a blues festival in Lancashire; over a thousand acts appearing in a variety of venues up and down the “main drag” in the heart of town, with the American headliners strutting their rhythm’n’blues/soul stuff in the area’s principal venue, the Municipal Hall. Some thoughts on the U.S. acts in a mo, but let’s first look at some of the peripheral gigs that I caught. Most of these were by Walter Mitty’s Head, a punk band with a great feel for the blues; this was reflected in some of their chosen songs, with Bo Diddley’s “I Can Tell”, “Who Do You Love” and “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover” , Chuck Berry’s “It Wasn’t Me”, Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine”, and even Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel”. Once or twice there was a dash of Rock’n’Roll/rockabilly as well, with Bill Allen’s “Please Give Me Something”, Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac” and Link Wray’s “Rumble” (also worthy of note was a version of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”). On rhythm guitar in the band is none other than Scott Wilkinson, brother of our very own Lee, and it was great to meet with Scott and to see this highly exciting band whose performances I really enjoyed. Another fringe act I caught were the very visual King Bees, at the Conservative Club, whose saxman and guitarist made a habit of storming through the crowd and, in addition to a number of blues standards, they surprised yours truly with a powerful romp through “Great Balls Of Fire”. Good fun.
So, to the visiting Americans. Billy Branch, a fine harpman and singer, did a strong set with Sean Costello and his band on Friday, with things like Little Walter’s “Juke” and “Crazy Mixed Up World” on the musical menu. From Washington D. C., harpman Doug Jay and The Blue Jays impressed many, including self, with a powerful hour’s worth of rockin’ n’slow blues, Jay reminding me at least of Delbert McClinton. Bearing a more gospelly-approach was Sista Monica Parker, who also wowed the assembled. One of the must-see acts on my list was Earl Thomas, whose scintillating set at Burnley rates as my top soul/blues gig of 2004. Again he delivered the goods on this, the occasion of his 44th birthday. He pretty much reprised the Burnley 20 set, (sadly no “Look At Granny Run Run” or “I’d Rather Go Blind’, which proved to be a showstopper at Burnley) but, for an encore, he delivered a punchy rendition of Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s All Right”. If ever we’re lucky enough to see this guy in London (the Jazz Café would be an ideal venue), he will surely take the capital by storm. How about it, promoters?
Just a quick detour from the American contingent and allow me to praise sets at the Municipal Hall by Blue Harlem and by Maria Vincent and the Millionaires, jump-jive bands both, and each fronted by luscious lovelies. Imelda Clabby is the resident singer with AI Nichols’ fine band who frequently play London’s 100 Club, and Blue Harlem were in top form tonight, with Imelda delivering great versions, yet again, of songs made popular by Wynona Carr and Ruth Brown. Maria and the Millionaires also did a fine job in their set with things like Etta James “‘Good Rockin’ Daddy”, Wynona Carr’s “Ding Dong Daddy”, and Lavern Baker’s “Voodoo Voodoo”. Two tasty acts that you must try and catch. Back over the big pond now. Sharrie Williams is blessed with a gutsy, powerful voice but I felt that her Wiseguys were a bit too overpowering for me, very little subtlety in their playing, not enough light and shade. But she went down well with the Colne Kats’n’Kittens, so fair ‘nough. I was chomping at the bit to see the Chief himself, Eddie Clearwater, and he didn’t let ol’ Bunter down. Kicking off in superb style with “Messin’ With The Kid”, he eased his way through a slew of blues’n’boogie corkers including “Tore Up”, “Cool Blues Walk”, his rockin’ club favourite “2 Times 9″ and, as if to emphasise the Chuck Berry influence, “Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller”.
Mighty Mo Rodgers headlined on Monday night, and although his politically-motivated material may not be to everyone’s taste, I thought he was tremendous; he has a great deep Chicago voice that embraces blues and soul styles perfectly, his keyboard playing is downright funky and his band were musically spot-on. I’ve decided to save the best for last, and if I were to choose a top 3 list of blues/soul gigs of the year, Sherman Robertson‘s set at Colne would sit just below Earl Thomas and Gary “U.S.” Bonds. Make no mistake, after an absence of a few years, “the man” is back in form. Prowling around the stage like a caged tiger toting a hot Strat, full of “don’t mess with me” attitude, he despatched a performance that was truly something special; “Victim Of Circumstance”, “Don’t Want No Woman”, among others, totally enraptured the crowd; perched on the balcony, my thoughts often turned to a trip to the 2005 Colne festival; with shows of this standard, I simply must do it. And I intend to. So, dear reader, must you.
Before I finish, a huge, huge thank you to TFTW readers/supporters Steve and Sue Howarth and family for letting me stay at what is now their old address; the very best of wishes go to you at your new home. Yes folks, ol’ Bunter’s love affair with Colne has well and truly started; see you next year!!