As trailed in my blog last week, this is the week of the annual Gloucester Blues Festival; that time of year when the excellent pubs of Gloucester host a whole week of superb live music.
It has been one hell of a week so far: many pubs visited, many beers drunk and many superb live bands enjoyed. Learning lessons from past years I have taken Thursday and Friday off work so that I can survive the ordeal, so having now passed the mid-way point it seems like a good time to reflect on the week of blues so far. Apologies for the quality of the photos, my only excuses are a) in some cases I was relying on my phone and b) alcohol was being consumed.
I was determined that this year I would manage to attend all nine days of the festival, but this ambition was immediately thwarted: I had alternative arrangements for the first Saturday of the festival, so for me the week began on Sunday.
Sunday 25 July
Three pubs vied for my attention on Sunday: the Dick Whittington, the Fountain and the New Inn. The stand out, must-see act for me for the day was Laurence Jones playing at the New Inn, but because the weather was awful and the New Inn stage was outside, the start time was pushed back in the hopes of better weather.
Every cloud has a silver lining as this meant that we could get to the Dick Whittington to see Axe and Sax, starting around 5 pm. As the name suggests, this is a duo playing guitar and saxophone, and they were extremely good. Not to disparage the guitar playing, but the sax was especially good: Baker Street, the Pink Panther Theme and the Peter Gunn theme all gave me goosebumps – an excellent start to the festival.
We finally got to the New Inn at about 7pm, typically only just in time to catch the end of Paul Butler’s set and then have a long wait for Laurence Jones to take the stage.
It was worth the wait, however. Laurence Jones looks depressingly young, but he plays the guitar like he’s been playing it since birth. The blues has a definite rock edge and the three piece band produces a good, big sound. It even stopped raining.
Sadly we had to leave before the end to catch the ridiculously early last Sunday evening bus. Somehow I actually managed to drink six pints during the course of the evening – not good on a school night. Mental note to try to pace myself a bit better for the rest of the week!
Monday 27 July
The start of the new week saw blues back at the Cross Keys and Peppers Cafe, who both close on Sundays, and the Cafe Rene joining the blues trail with the start of its own annual festival within the festival.
Our evening started at The Fountain at 7pm with Bewelian, who were very good, but more Shanty than Blues.
With Bewelian’s set finished we moved on, catching the end of the first set of Stuart Earl and the Gunboat Diplomats at the New Inn (no even half decent photos available) before moving on again to the Cafe Rene for Babjack.
Babajack were another must-see band on my list. I saw them playing some time ago and loved them, but they have had some success, won some awards, and as a consequence moved on to bigger and better things, it was therefore a treat to have them back in Gloucester’s pubs.
They didn’t disappoint: the Cafe Rene was already packed when we arrived and the band were in full swing and belted out a terrific set. The Cafe Rene Blues Festival also has a beer festival alongside it, so that was a bonus too.
Tuesday 28 July
We decided on an early start today: 6pm in Peppers to see Oliver Darling.
Peppers is the only venue on the blues trail that is not a pub: it is a superb little independent cafe in Bull Lane. It puts on music regularly throughout the year and is a welcome addition for some early evening blues.
Oliver Darling was superb: just him and a guitar – sometimes a beautiful steel guitar – playing some good honest blues with a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll mixed in. For a couple of numbers he was joined by Tim Porter, hard working organiser of the bands for the festival, on harmonica.
Sadly we had to move on after his first set to meet up with friends in The Fountain once again to see Vapor: a four -piece band who confessed to not really being a blues band. Nonetheless they did an excellent job: the singer’s voice was wonderful and the sound had perhaps a little more of a ska/ reggae flavour mixed in.
Our last stop for the day was once again back at the New Inn for Hip Route Jim. Once again just one man and a guitar, but he played some mean slide guitar and some pure blues.
Wednesday 29 July
And he we were, once again back in the Fountain. Having a band on at 7pm is definitely a good move as they aren’t competing with everyone else at 9pm: it was certainly working for us!
We were here to see Alter Ego who, I’d found out earlier in the day, were accompanied by Keith Thompson on guitar. The music was proper blues – some good rocky blues standards. The lead singer’s voice was strong and clear and Keith Thompson’s guitar was, as you’d expect, superb. A great start to the day.
It was difficult to drag myself away, but I was keen to get to the Cross Keys to catch some of the Open Mic Night: hosted by Mark Cole and the Sons of the Delta, the Open Mic night is a Gloucester Blues Festival institution and not to be missed.
The beauty of Open Mic Nights is if you don’t like the act, wait a few minutes and another one will be along. This also makes it very difficult to get away as you keep thinking: I’ll just give it a minute and see what this one’s like.
But get away we did. I was torn about where to go next: Mumbo Jumbo at the Dick Whittington sounded promising, but in the end we plumped for Cafe Rene and Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra.
I’m not aware of having seen this band before, but I will make a point of looking out for them again: they were superb. With double bass and a fiddle player they produced a low, grungy, very evocative blues sound.
So that is it so far. The standard of music has been excellent and huge thanks must go to all the people behind the scenes who have arranged the bands and of course the pubs who have come together to make this happen: The New Inn, Fountain, Dick Whittington, Cross Keys and Cafe Rene – and Peppers, the honorary pub for the week.
If I haven’t spent much time in your pub yet I apologise, some very difficult choices have had to be made! Never fear, we are only half way through the week – I will be back!