A nice burst of Alpine quality snow dotted the streets as we huddled into the hot cavernous space of the main hall at the O2 Academy Sheffield to see the young and gifted
SUGARMAN SAM & THE VOODOO MEN who were opening the first day of the fantastic HRH Blues weekend 2016.
Their thrilling show was a breathtaking spectacle and established a level of expectation that would be difficult to follow. Guitarist and vocalist Sam seemed to forcefully rip each note from his guitar, his face taut with the physical trauma.
The sounds were vintage blues, played with a rocky edge. Very noble and very pure. This is a band with prospects … their good musicianship, hard work and steely determination will no doubt pay. These lads will go far…
Next up were the Welsh-wizards HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOE. Aled Clifford [guitar and lead vocals] let loose with a tempestuous fusillade of blues-soaked and yet slightly punkish rock ‘n’ roll numbers while his younger brother Brennig created powerfully hypnotic rhythms on drums.
Local lads the MUDCAT BLUES TRIO came next. With topnotch vocals from the drummer Matt Doxey breaking over the excitingly twangy and deeply earthy guitar-play from Chris Wragg.
Whilst up in the acoustic room, the oxidised and blurred, sweaty blues-rock outift PIG IRÖN began the first of two performances (the second would be full electric on the main stage.) Also in the acoustic room were SUGARMAN SAM and the VOODOO MEN.
We were looking forwards to London’s finest glam-blues exponents DIRTY THRILLS [main picture.] And they didn’t let us down. Their glowing set was filled with high strength histrionics, but more than enough taste and expertise to make up for their pure cheekiness and brash zestiness.
Almost everyone we spoke to had wanted to see TEN YEARS AFTER for ages. Many had made the trip to Sheffield specially… some travelling from continental Europe to see this legendary act. The line-up now includes the hugely talented Marcus Bonfanti and with Colin Hodgkinson on bass, Chick Churchill (keyboards) and original drummer Ric Lee.
Their fantastic set at HRH BLUES was a joy. We spoke to a guy who had not seen TYE since the Reading Festival  but he said they are as good now as they have ever been.
The final act of the first day — THE YARDBIRDS — though highly anticipated, were not so successful. There were finer bands on stage before this “heritage act”. Co-founder Jim McCarty is the only remaining ‘original member’ in a band that once boasted Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, Keith Relf, Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith and Top Topham. In fact the line-up over the years has included at least a dozen other names.
On stage in Sheffield the Yardbirds seemed confused by technical difficulties and one complaint was that their singer could not be heard over the rhythms. As a warm-up act, The Yardbirds would have been acceptable… but as a headline act they could not stir up emotions the same way that TEN YEARS AFTER had managed earlier.
Day two in South Yorkshire and the weather greatly improved. Some thin sun was glinting across the Dales and the bleary-eyed Blues fans made their way from posh hotels — past the Crucible Theatre, the World Snooker Championships had started the same weekend — to see the Hendrixy Tasmanian devil ROB TOGNONI who was on stage first.
Hobart Ron was full of bluster and energy. His fancy silk shirt clashed violently with the backcloth and his ego was the size of a concert hall. However, we assume that he must adopt this brash confidence if he is gonna pull off what is, essentially, just a one-man show.
PONTUS SNIBB is one hairy Swede who exceeds our expectations. His juicy American Blues were blistered with casted steel sharpness and melting guitar luminosity.
Songs like “I’m Walking” sounded truly authentic with fine finger-picking and a rusty voice. It was a family affair, with Mr. Elder Snibb on drums (son Pontus is also a strong and talented drummer) — this was a fine display of versatile musicianship from a Bonafide rock hero.
After Pontus, things became very exciting indeed as we headed toward the celestial culmination of a very fine weekend…
First was the West Yorkshireman JOHN VERITY who has worked with all the greats: Jimi Hendrix, Mountain, Canned Heat and Janis Joplin. He has played with Russ Ballard, Colin Blunstone, Keith Emerson, Ringo Starr and Mike Rutherford. He is best known for being in the rock group Argent in the mid 1970s. Verity had earlier played an unruffled and enjoyable unplugged session in the acoustic room. And when he burst onto the main stage, the excitement was palpable.
He brought with him ingots of strength and power. Verity admitted that he “Doesn’t mind covering other peoples work…” but he put his own finely crafted edge on all the numbers. It was a tight and exciting show.
After Verity we enjoyed the set from the legendary Irish guitarist PAT MCMANUS. Nothing can compensate for the void left by Larry Miller (Larry suffered a stroke last year, he is doing OK. We wish him well;) But behind every sorrow is a sky full of stars … and McManus, who has played stints with Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple and Gary Moore — gave us the kind of show that we were waiting for. Lots of ribboning guitars and face-melting moments. His twinkling Celtic tribute to Moore was one of the best moments of the weekend.
Next up was guitarist MICKY MOODY [he joined forces with Coverdale and Bernie Marsden to form Whitesnake back in the late 1970s. ] More recently this superbly accomplished finger-picker and composer has been working with Snakecharmer (although his vacated position in that band has now been filled by Simon McBride.)
Moody was appearing alongside the sensational vocalist ALI MAAS with whom he is now working. They plan a new album to be released later this summer. Their set ranged from high drama to wistful soulfulness. The MOODY band promised to play at least one Whitesnake number (which the audience adored) and Micky promised the audience “Much more later …”
Micky was, of course, referring to the gentleman BERNIE MARSDEN, who took to the stage shortly after Moody left it.
This generous golden-hearted man played us a selection of songs from his huge song-book. The vocal delivery and guitar-work from this humble performer was of the very highest quality. Bernie made every person in the room feel special.
We loved the venue and we loved all the shows. The HRH TV crew were a bit rusty (for example, they were focusing on Ali Maas when Moody was playing his most intricate solos.) The sound was great though.
There was ample seating. Plus there was plenty of space in the O2 Academy to move around. It felt very safe and comfortable. Perhaps there could have been more food available (but the city-center is only a few moments away.)
Overall, the staff were jolly helpful — but I think I got ripped off (others did too) when I was charged £8.45 for a bottle of beer… I thought that was a bit rich!
This was rattling good weekend, with outstanding fellowship, amazing musicians, corking-good vibes and the kind of atmosphere that would certainly persuade us to return again for another weekend session like this!