Ilfracombe Blues Festival Report — Weekend Highlights
Swansea-based MARK PONTIN and his able-brothers in arms are never happier than when playing on live on stage. That’s when that guitar from Mark spits hot tar while the bass and drums whistle and lick like hyenas and there’s no escaping from their glorious darkening ooziness.
His show at Ilfracombe was dramatic, unrestrained, unfettered and unfolding. With an incredible cover of the Jimi Hendrix number “May This Be Love” that started with a shimmer ( did this perhaps inspire “Angel” ?] And in Pontin’s safe yet creative hands, the number communicated the feeling of inner peace, but persistence, with a melodic growl in his heart.
Globe trotting blues-hero and one-man extravaganza EDDIE MARTIN is an accomplished composer/arranger & producer, guitarist and harmonica player who earned his stripes playing the “chitlin circuit” of the United States and the dirtiest juke-joints of the Mississippi .
His amazing acoustic finger style was percussive as he blended astonishing traditional blues slide with fancy fingerpicking and lots of other ingenious techniques.
His simultaneous harmonica and guitar parts were simply magical. His troupe at the Festival included the super talented Roger Inniss on bass.
The last time we saw the full SAIICHI SUGIYAMA BAND was at Planet Rock’s WINTER’S END Festival.
Then, the wonderful vocal talent of ARTZE MÓNICA was the highlight of the show. Although SUGIYAMA, with his bright guitar-play and jazzy serpentine compostions, though often hypnotic in quality, sometimes tended towards disarray.
Once again, at Ilfracombe, the extraordinary band vocalist was the talk of the camp and this time the incursions from SUGIYAMA were kept under tighter control. The whole show erupted with energy and enthusiasm.
Essex boy JOE ANDERTON recently mislaid his bandmates [ “nothing sinister...” he explained ] but played an excellent solo set at the Ilfracombe Holiday Park in North Devon.
His first solo EP is out next month, titled “Familliar Songs.”
With numbers like the tender and relatable “Country Girl” his songs are wonderfully poetic and have an emotional impact without losing any light. Hey, this guy should be on your “must see” list.
Bournemouth’s long-legged blues belle ZOE SCHWARZ and her Blues Commotion play adult-contemporary showroom blues with power and feeling. Composition such as the evolving “Angel Of Mercy” have that a Bramlett feel to them. Her set was lush and smooth, with polished rhythms and venturesome vocals.
SIMON MCBRIDE was one of two stand-out acts of the weekend (the other being Crow Black Chicken, more on them later.) We’ve been fans of the Belfast guitar-man since his “Rich Man Falling.” In fact, Simon appeared in our first print edition.
In between times, he’s opened for Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks and joined Snakecharmer.
Now the passionate composer, producer and guitarist has had a hairstyle change [more gel, less hippy] and as a result he has become younger and his music is getting darker — more inventively industrial too.
The band’s amazing set at Ilfracombe was filled with fiendish fire and expert rhythms and over-whelming sounds that propagated across the show-room like hydraulic pistons… Of course, all this was intelligent and articulate, with flowing electric-arcs of incredibly luminous guitar.
Saturday ended with the amazing and eagerly anticipated BLUES BAND formed in 1979 by the ever-young harmonicist and singer PAUL JONES. His all-star cast and perfect combination of standards and original songs was the superlative blues-pinnacle of an extraordinary weekend.
Hampshire UK GRIZZLY RHYS MORGAN plays rootsy blues on his trusty Anderwood signature Weissenborn acoustic lap-steel.
Seen usually fronting the Grasshoppers, Grizzly comfortably performed an excellent one-man show and provided an adoring audience with big-hitting vocals to go along with those intricately weaved guitar techniques and stonking stocking-stomped rhythms.
AMY KHONSARI is a solo entertainer who can hold her own in any club-room setting. Sometimes she sings with a backing band, but at Ilfracombe she performed as a duo with a talented acoustic guitarist.
Her cheeky, perky & buttery-smooth vocals were often very deeply bluesy. And her delicious interpretations of standards, such as “Take me to the river” with those flirtatious little oohs! Made us gasp for more.
Birmingham UK singer/guitarist GABRIELLA JONES was the next of three “Ladies of the Blues” promised by Solid Entertainments as a treat on Sunday morning [and possibly because “only about three” people turned up to see their UK tour, or so we were told.]
Jones reminded us of Susanna Hoffs with a sassy-sweet vocal style that was set against moderately rocky textures.
Her “Take Me To The Party” was a choppy chug of joy with tiny squirts of guitar and a hypnotic, smiley chorus. If you like Chantel McGregor compositions, you will have loved this.
Bristol-based ELLES BAILEY is a gifted song-crafter who coherently weaves unadorned country blues with soulful rock sounds to present a fashionable edge.
When she visited Nashville, Elles met with an impressive consortium of musical and production talents, including several award-winners who helped her create the ‘Wildfire’ album released in the autumn.
Her song-style reminded us of Etta James with remarkable resonance, while her fluent power, heartbreaking intimacy and brilliant compositions created great emotion.
“Wildfire” itself was an extraordinary grafting of metallic slide-guitar and moody rockiness conveyed within an evangelical landscape.
Note: The 2018 Ladies of the Blues tour promises: Connie Lush, Erja Lyytinen, and Kyla Brox
We have been great fans of RAINBREAKERS since the boys intervened at the last moment to replace The Brew in the fifth Cleethorpes Blues Fest, in 2015.
Recalling, for us, the best of British late 1960s and early 1970s hard-blues bands — The Rainbreakers gritty guitar sounds, with swamp-boogie vocals (from Ben ) and gasoil attitudes from the others, are as furtive as catfish in the Mississippi mud, but richer and more generously overpowering than a swamp of dark waters. As usual we thoroughly enjoyed their set.
See this first-rate group live at the Borderline London with JW Jones on 2nd December. Go on, give yourself an early Christmas treat.
CROW BLACK CHICKEN [or CBC] have been playing their diesel-greasy folk, sub-frame gritty hard-rock, and clutch-plate grinding-blues since 2009, gaining constant attention since their debut album “Electric Soup” and most especially following their “Rumble Shake.”
Their band symbol is a deer-stag, (strange choice for a crow based band huh?) but everything becomes clear when the mountainous grizzly man with a surprisingly soft speaking voice — Christy O Hanlon — explains how they “Ran into an an old deer on a trip through Galicia...” and the detrimental though hilarious consequences that followed.
If you can picture a Willie Nelson inspired power-blues combo fronted by a Seasick Steve type of character who sings as soulfully & dramatically as Rag’n’Bone Man and plays like (and even resembles) Matt Andersen … and whose band includes a young rhythm section that seems lost in their own darkly psychedelic mountains of mud, then you might come close to the experience.
Their set incorporated sludge as standard, so would go down well at any heavy-metal convention, however, their songs contained tremendous courage, true conviction and unequalled emotional spirit — as well as brilliant flashes of traditional blues inspiration.
Thus the time-honoured and consecrated call and response song “John the Revelator” came out like a raging fume of exhaust smoke, with hard shingle rhythms, rubberised bass-notes, and storming rock ‘n’ roll vocals.
Despite a tiny bit of dismay about the choice of the final headline act on Sunday: SNAKECHARMER…this was a tremendous day of variety and surprise.
“I’m sure they’re a first-class act and a really wonderful bunch of musicians, but they’re not my cup of tea and I didn’t come here for this..” said one attendee loudly to his mates as Snakecharmer came to the stage. Though others attended the festival especially to see this classy rock act.
All-in-all this was yet another weekend of substantial artistry, true comradeship and many, many memorable moments. Can’t wait for the next one!
Words & All Images: @neilmach 2017 ©
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