Down in the Bonga Wonga Show Room things were warm and sultry.
Perhaps the hottest place around the Hafan y Môr Holiday Holiday Park in Pwllheli – the Bonga Wonga area – next to the boating lake – was the setting for the latest venture from those wonderful guys at Chic Festivals ( they have been busily organizing sell-out events for years with their regular HRH festivities) – this time they were introducing revellers to twenty-five of the best blues acts around – including Dr. Feelgood, Simon McBride and the Vargas Blues Band.
The Blues stage was about 15 minutes walk ( over a humpback bridge ) from two other stages at Haven – these were hosting AOR and PROG events. But the ‘Blues Folk‘ seemed happy to ‘stay at home‘ keeping themselves to themselves down at Bonga Wonga.
The first act of the weekend was the swaggering groove trio ‘Crowsaw’ from South Wales (also catalogued as Crossaw and Crobar in some listings) – this sizzling band were runners up at last year’s Highway to Hell competition run by Chic Festivals to discover the hottest new talent around.
The band blasted some catchy numbers from their gritty ‘Smoke and Feathers’ album. And their ear-bleeding hard-nosed blues numbers got the party well-and-truly started. These guys are as real and as earthy as you might imagine (and hotly political too … which went down a treat with the Blues fans.)
Their songs were as sparkling and shiny as any Buick Wildcat spark plug. They delivered a superb start to the weekend.
Swedish hard rock band ‘Bonafide‘ ( playing on the AOR stage on Saturday ) tend to fill the ears of the public with purple flavoured riffs – and solid Quo-ish boogies. But their Malmö born founder and singer / guitarist Pontus Snibb is also justly celebrated for his hard-edged Blues shows. He has been playing his devilish music all around the globe for many years. His ‘Loud Feathers’ album caused some excitement a year or so back, and now Pontus Snibb is set to release his ‘Wreck Of Blues’ project in April 2014. His almost-choking voice at HRH Blues was stretched beyond comprehension ( it was roughly “Chappo“ Chapmanesque in exercised bluesiness ) and his guitar-work was a torrid stretch of hooks and charismatically stretched woundings. It was simply sensational.
Gráinne Duffy is an Irish singer-songwriter from Castleblayney. Her songs are delivered with a deeply passionate hoarse voice (think Bonnie Rait) which fastens around the guitars like braided veils – giving each a shiny gemstone quality. Songs like ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ are densely packed with yielding infatuations and magnificent moments. Gráinne’s performance at HRH Blues really left the crowd with goose bumps.
For some unknown reason, the people at HRH Blues decided to leave the wonderful Lucy Zirins to perform in the dark. Her show was unplugged and seated – so maybe the stage managers thought that her introspective and gossip-laden numbers should be delivered with the minimum of fuss and bravado. Whatever the reason, Lucy performed for us without fuss or complaint and she weaved her hauntingly beautiful songs interspersed with tiny stories and happy chattings. The numbers took us along folksy highways – and into territories that were quaint and faintly familiar – almost reminiscent of Christine McVie in both sound and quality.
The second day introduced us to the Glasgow blues act ‘The Brian Rawson Band’ followed by the Irish trio led by the former Mama’s Boys and Celtus guitarist/violinist singer/songwriter Pat McManus. Pat’s guitar-work is joy-filled, loquacious and eloquently Gaelic in flavour – and it evoked memories of Gary Moore.
Whatever happened to Graveltones ? Who knows. But at least we were treated to the impressive voice and remarkable soul of Jo Harman – who had a surprise for us – a guest appearance by the talented guitarist Stevie Nimmo on her ‘Ain’t No Love’ number. It was blissful and sublime. Simon McBride’s set was also amazing – just the right side of the crackling and sinful.
And the rootsy grit from Buck & Evans was a revelation to the ears and sensitivity.
It is generally agreed that the highlights of the weekend were ‘Crowsaw‘ and ‘Pontus Snibb‘ but it is true to say that Dr. Feelgood rocked the house too. Those boys were on fire.
Here’s looking forward to HRH Blues number 2. We can not wait ….
Words & Images © Neil Mach 2014 @neilmach