Anyone who has come upon this blog before will be in no doubt that I enjoy frequenting Gloucester’s fine pubs now and then. I am also a big fan of blues music. The annual Gloucester Rhythm and Blues Festival is therefore a major event in my calendar.
This incredible event took place last week, between 27 July and 4 August, and what a week it was: my soul is nourished, but my body is broken!
Over the course of that one week I saw more than 20 acts in five different pubs.
My first memory of the Blues Festival is from way back in 2000. In those days the event was over a weekend in King’s Square and I felt that it was a good idea badly executed. There were some very good bands – in some cases flown in from the US – and they performed from the back of a lorry in the middle of the square. The problem was that no seating was provided, there was no provision for food or toilet facilities and the area was not licensed.
The event continued in this vein for a number of years, sometimes taking place at the Docks rather than King’s Square, which was better. Then it started to take place on the green outside Greyfriars and Cafe Rene took over the stage, catering and licensing of the area.
Even in the King’s Square days there were fringe events throughout the pubs in Gloucester and this aspect has grown; now the event is almost entirely pub based. It is organised admirably by Marketing Gloucester, and Tim Porter does a great job in booking the acts and co-ordinating with all the venues. Organising landlords and musicians must be a job that makes herding cats seem a breeze by comparison, so they all deserve a lot of credit.
Cafe Rene remains the main player in the festival: as well as the big extravaganza on the last weekend they host music every night of the preceding week, all accompanied by a beer & cider festival, with a barbecue over the last weekend.
It separately brands its contribution as the Cafe Rene Rhythm and Blues Festival – and this year was their 11th – but it is part of the wider Gloucester Rhythm and Blues Festival. Other pubs involved this year were (in alphabetical order): Cross Keys, Deans Walk, Dick Whittington, Dr Fosters, New Inn and Tigers Eye at the Old Bell. Peppers Cafe in Bull Lane also provided an early evening venue, and further out of town, the Gloucester Blues Club venue at The Wotton Hall Club in Barnwood also participated. The Gloucester Blues Festival website lists over 40 acts in total.
The event wears the ‘rhythm and blues’ badge fairly lightly – although generally blues or blues inspired, many bands cross over that fine line into rock and others border on folk or swing, but I can honestly say that of all the bands I saw throughout the week there wasn’t one that I didn’t enjoy.
What really makes the festival is the ambience: wherever you go you will find a diverse and cosmopolitan crowd – there are no barriers to age, sex, race, creed or musical affiliation, everyone just comes together to enjoy the music, drink, chat and just generally have fun.
So all in all an excellent event of which Gloucester should be rightly proud. It will be back again next year, hopefully even bigger and better, so put it in your diary, but if you want to make the most of it here are some hard won tips for you:
- Save up! Blues music is best appreciated with a pint of real ale or cider – over the course of a full week this mounts up. You also need to eat to mop up all of that alcohol and most of the pubs will happily provide food. Then there are taxis required to get you home as there are no night buses in the week. It’s worth it though!
- If you can, take time off work. Often the bands finish around 11.30pm, which is late enough if you have work the next day, but if you are in Cafe Rene you may still find yourself there at 2.00am. You may manage that once or twice during the week, but much more and you are going to die!
- Be prepared for the weather. This year at different points in the week there was danger of being burnt to a crisp in the sun, being drowned in a tropical deluge or being boiled alive in a packed, sauna-like pub. I’m still saying it was worth it!
- For the final weekend at the Greyfriars stage take something to sit on. Seating is still not provided, but you can bring your own deckchairs or rugs and it is a long time to stand up.
- Relax and enjoy yourself. Everyone has a good time, many people get very drunk, but it is always incredibly good natured at the Blues Festival.