People familiar with my increasingly sporadic blog will know that at this time of year I am usually busily waxing lyrical about the annual Gloucester Rhythm & Blues Festival (see last year here and here)
This year, however, I have been strangely quiet on the subject.
There’s a reason for that: I have missed most of it.
I only have myself to blame really. Well, myself and the camper van.
You see, when we were in discussions about buying The Van with No Name*, one of the selling points to get my agreement was that it would mean we can go to music festivals.
Having secured the van, therefore, I rushed out to get tickets to Upton Blues Festival, which I had wanted to attend for many years. Shortly thereafter, some friends persuaded us that we should go to Ramblin’ Man Fair, so we got tickets for that too. Only later did I realise that:
- the festivals take place on consecutive weekends, and
- they coincide with both weekends of the Gloucester Festival.
Drat and bother!
Still, such is life, and that meant I got to see three festivals in one week.
Upton was first. This is a great festival that takes over the whole town, running from Friday to Sunday, with some acts on the preceding Thursday just to get you in the mood. As this was our inaugural festival in TVWNN we went on Thursday to make the most of it.
The festival takes place on a several main stages in the town plus in many of the pubs.
Many of the pub bands are more rock than blues, but there is a good range of traditional blues music too. My one complaint would be the weather – it absolutely chucked it down on both Friday and Saturday night.
This was very annoying after beautiful weather in the weeks leading up to it, but maybe it’s a bit harsh to blame the organisers for that. I’m guessing the pubs didn’t object though: you couldn’t get into them.
A few Highlights for me were (in order of appearance):
- Soul Stripper – playing in The Plough. Rock covers, lots of AC/DC.
- Folly Brothers – Meadow Stage. Bluegrass
- Debbie Bond – Riverside Stage. Soulful blues (previously seen in Gloucester and played the following weekend at Cafe Rene)
- Sam Green and the Midnight Heist – Riverside Stage. “Swamp infested blues, folk, roots, rock music” (also played Cafe Rene the following weekend)
- Hot Tubes – The Little Upton Muggery. Rock covers. The pub was so full we had to sit on the pavement outside. Luckily it wasn’t raining.
- Elles Bailey – Riverside Stage. Blues with a bit of country influence – my favourite new act of the weekend (guess where she was the following weekend…)
- Connie Lush – Meadow Stage. Brilliant blues vocalist. Saw her years ago at Gloucester and was my must-see act of the weekend
- The Gumbo Shakers – Riverside stage. “6-peice RnB blues and jump combo”. James ‘Big Jim’ Merris is good, but I was particularly impressed by the voice of Sarah Warren. Made the hair on your neck stand up.
Sadly we didn’t stay for Sunday night, so missed many fine additional acts, but we will be back next year (when I’m hoping it won’t clash with Gloucester again!)
And so to my second festival – just a short mid-week dip into the Gloucester Blues Festival on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. A poor show after managing 9 days out of 9 last year!
At this point, kudos to Marketing Gloucester for the website this year – a vast improvement, making it much easier to make my selections even without my (much ridiculed but I’m sure sadly missed) schedule spreadsheet.
My limited time meant I only managed to get to Peppers, Angie’s, New Inn, Cross Keys and Cafe Rene. That doesn’t sound too bad considering, but it means I didn’t get to see anything at Dick Whittington, Tank, Old Bell, or Tall Ship (new addition this year I think), and, of course I missed the big weekend finale. I will try to do better next year.
And then the third and final festival of the week: Ramblin’ Man Fair, a rock festival in Maidstone, Kent. It was a bit more of a trek to get to this one, and significantly more expensive to attend.
The main festival runs through Saturday and Sunday, but this year they added an extra night on Friday – this sounds good, except they charged extra if you wanted to go to that so, although we travelled down on the Friday, we declined on principal and went into town for food and drink instead.
And then I was very ill. Perhaps more about that in a future blog…
And then, on Saturday, when I was still felling distinctly under the weather and green around the edges, we ventured into the festival. And it rained. I mean really rained. Like biblical rain. Much like at Upton in fact: is this obligatory at festivals?
But then on Sunday I was feeling better and the sun came out and everything was lovely.
Illness and rain aside, it was a very good festival (although given the price of camping, their facilities could be greatly improved!). It is pretty small compared with the likes of Glastonbury or Download, and I imagine much more relaxed as a consequence.
There are 4 stages scattered around a relatively small area: the main Planet Rock stage, a ‘Grooverider’/ Prog stage; a Country/ Blues stage and a Rising stage (new acts, not a stage that comes up out of the ground!)
Bizarrely, there is also an American Civil War re-enactment each day. What’s that about?
This was the first multi-stage festival that I’ve been to and I have mixed views. The fact that the venue isn’t that big means that you get some overlap in sound, but that is overcome by the simple fact that the one you are nearest is loudest so drowns out the others.
The variety means that there is less chance of you having to put up with music you don’t like, but inevitably means that there are unavoidable clashes, like having to choose between missing the end of Blues Pills or the start of Big Boy Bloater, and whether to see Joanne Shaw Taylor or ZZ Top. I also found dashing from place to place a bit wearing, but that may be because I was sick or maybe just because I’m old. There’s a lot to be said for putting your chair out and staying put.
Nonetheless, reservations aside, there was some great music. A few highlights (in order of appearance):
- Caitlin Koch – Outlaw Country Stage. I was initially deterred by mention that she’d been on X Factor USA, but I was won over and well impressed with her voice and energy.
- Jessica Lynne – Outlaw Country Stage. More good rock/pop/ country stuff and an excellent voice.
- Dan Baird – Outlaw Country Stage. Formerly of Georgia Satellites I’d been looking forward to this. Sadly Dan Baird wasn’t actually there (sick I think?), but nonetheless an excellent set.
- Black Star Riders – Planet Rock Stage. Been meaning to see these for a while, so well pleased when they were added to the line-up.
- Stone Broken – Planet Rock stage. Never heard of them before, but very good, solid rock songs. Will look out for them again.
- Blindstone – Blues stage. Another new band on me; a Danish band playing some very impressive heavy blues guitar. Another one to look for again.
- Blues Pill – Planet Rock Stage. These were recommended to me and I’m glad they were. Good blues rock with strong female vocals and a lot of energy.
- Big Boy Bloater – Blues stage. Proper blues; love it.
- Aaron Keylock – Blues stage. Only 18 – if he can play the guitar like that now, what’s he going to be like with another 20 or 30 years practice!
- UFO – Planet Rock Stage. UFO were the first band I ever saw – Mechanix tour, Gloucester Leisure Centre, 1982. How could I miss them!
- ZZ Top – Planet Rock stage. Always excellent
It is a shame that I had to retire sick on Saturday night and so missed Extreme, but plenty of other good music to make up for it I think.
Many of my friends now have music festivals stretched out before them over the summer, but if I’m honest, I think that’s enough for me for now. If I get around to it I may get some more blogs out of these yet though!
*Some people – especially my wife – will tell you that the van does have a name, and that name is Penny**. I am not at all convinced by this as a suitable name, so I am remaining in denial: to me it remains TVWNN.
** The name Penny comes from the character in the comedy The Big Bang Theory***. I am refraining from any smutty comments about sleeping in Penny for the good of my health.
*** The name Penny sounds cleverer if you claim it is a reference to Penny Van, like the mountain in Wales (Pen-y-Fan). Unfortunately we didn’t even notice that until someone pointed it out.