There are occasions in life which, often for reasons that are not immediately obvious, become imbued with special meaning and significance.
These are times when friendships are forged, reinforced or renewed.
Times when people are drawn together through shared interests, experiences or just the desire to have a drink and a laugh.
Times which are fun, carefree and good for the soul (if not the health or the wallet).
For me, the annual Gloucester Blues Festival is one of these times.
This year’s blues festival has just come to an end, and it didn’t disappoint.
I have already blogged about the first half, but it is the second part of the week where it really begins to get into its stride, where you can really let your hair down (if you are lucky enough to have hair), and where you really experience its full splendour. And where, if you are sensible, you will take some time off work.
Being the kind of sensible chap who did take time off work, Thursday’s blues was able to start earlier than previous days, which meant 6pm in Peppers for Keith Thompson, a regular and un-missable fixture of the Gloucester Blues Festival.
Music at Peppers is held in their small but attractive courtyard garden and, as Peppers is a cafe, it is a good opportunity to get some food to sustain the evening’s drinking. I also took that as permission to have a cup of tea, but that didn’t last very long – they also stock a good variety of bottled beer and cider for the occasion.
Keith Thompson was as good as ever, so we stayed until he finished before heading to see Greg Brice in Tank, chosen because he shares a surname with some of our group who were keen to see if they were related. They weren’t. Or at least, he denied it. He played a good guitar though.
Our next stop was back to Cafe Rene to see the Worried Men, another regular band not just at the Blues Festival, but also around Gloucester pubs at other times of the year. They can always be relied upon to give some good, loud, guitar-led, blues inspired rock.
And so we came to Friday, which we were expecting to be the biggest, noisiest and latest night of the week, although this turned out not to be the case.
All started well back in Peppers, this time for Sons of the Delta Duo. If any one band epitomises the Gloucester Blues Festival it is Sons of the Delta, with Mark Cole, who we had already seen in Last Minute Hitch on Saturday and hosting the Cross Keys Open Mic on Wednesday. He is almost as ubiquitous at the festival as Damon T, and this is not a bad thing.
Sons of the Delta play good traditional blues and, on this occasion, were publicising their album Red Hot at Peppers, recorded in Peppers at last year’s festival. Unfortunately it rained – the only time during the festival that we got wet – but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits and a good time was had by all.
The set finished and we set off to the New inn to see Guy Tortora Trio, who played a good set of Americana blues.
We then moved on, later than planned, to the Cross Keys to see Blue Street, who played some really good early Fleetwood Mac-type blues.
Before we knew it the time was approaching 11pm, so we rushed off to Cafe Rene to see the Mike Hoddinott Blues Allstars. You can always rely on Cafe Rene for some late music.
Not on this occasion apparently.
We arrived in time to see them packing away their instruments – the problem, we assume, with the music now having moved to its weekend home on the outdoor ‘Green Stage’ at Greyfriars.
Being far too early to call it a night we hot-footed back to the Cross Keys, but it wasn’t long before they packed up too. So there we were, on a Friday night at not much after 11pm with no music.
The only thing to do was have a round of Tequilas and head for home.
And so to the weekend.
We started at 3pm in the courtyard garden of the Dick Whittington to see The Hush. I’d never heard of them before, but they were very good and I will be looking out for them in the future.
We had planned to move on, but the Ian Luther Trio came on who were also very good, so we stayed put a little longer.
Eventually we did move on to the Cafe Rene Green Stage to set up our encampment and to see Swampcandy, a duo playing deep blues with the aid of a double bass…
… and Red Butler, who we remembered from a hot, sweaty and excellent evening of the blues inside the Rene at last year’s festival.
A contingent of us then took a walk back to Dick Whittington for Luke Doherty Band, who were well worth the walk, providing possibly one of the best sets of the week.
We then returned to Cafe Rene to finish with Sari Schorr and the Engine Room, who provided and excellent up-beat finish to the evening. An evening that once again finished at a disturbingly not unreasonably late hour.
And so the final day was upon us. You have to make the most of the final day, so I had planned to be at the New Inn for 2pm. Unfortunately I missed my bus. Luckily my friends aren’t the sort of people who find humour in that sort of situation. Perish the thought…
Anyway, half an hour or so late, I arrived at the New Inn to see Four Dead Crows, a local Gloucester four-piece band.
It was then back to the Cafe Rene for Swampgrass (as opposed to yesterday’s Swampcandy) and some good high energy blues.
And in a day of flitting about, both musically and geographically, a few of us headed to the Dick Whittington for a quieter set of folk-blues with Jim Crawford.
Finally it was back to Cafe Rene for some blues rock from the Della Grants…
…before the big finale by Band of Friends who provide “a celebration of the music of Rory Gallagher”. They are obviously well known as there were more Rory Gallagher t-shirts in the audience than I have ever seen in one place. They were also extremely good – the best Gloucester Blues Festival finishing act ever according to my friend Kate, who knows a good concert when she sees one.
And with that, another Gloucester Blues Festival was over.
For the first time ever, and in accordance with my vow from last year, I managed all nine nights and definitely made the most of this year’s festival.
I think overall there was less choice for several days of the festival than in previous years, and it finished disappointingly early during the latter part of the week – although that is not necessarily a bad thing as in the past we have struggled through the final weekend!
These are small niggles, however: the quality of the acts was extremely high, there was great variety throughout and the pubs provided the perfect back-drop: overall an excellent festival.
For fear of sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech I am moved to thank some people for making the week so memorable:
- First and foremost I have to thank my ‘blues buddy’ Nick, the only one of my friends to accompany me throughout all nine days. Whether she likes it or not, we are now bound in a special bond of blues-based friendship.
- All of the bands and landlords involved deserve a debt of gratitude for making the whole thing happen and, of course, the legendary Tim Porter for herding those cats to produce a working festival.
- The weather should get a mention – except for a bit of drizzle on Friday it was exceptional throughout – most unexpected!
- And finally a big thank-you to all of my friends who joined in the the festival and can be relied upon for fun, shenanigans and piss-taking throughout.
So that’s it for 2016 – I’m looking forward to next year already!