Sunday, May 26, 2013

Day 2: Rebel Yelling and Cool Blues...Yeah, I need More More More..

....I am Jo. Gather Round Blues People and Hear My Word...

Sorry to drag Billy Idol into the headline....but when you're at the Midnight Hour and you need more, Hebden is the place for you... 

However, when you are six feet something tall, wear a red suit and a big hat and you and your colleague walk into a blues bar and announce yourselves as Mississippi MacDonald and Rosco Blues then there is a fair chance that you are either completely mad and looking for a fight, or you are a talented authentic blues duo looking to spread a little happiness.

Fortunately for the Blues Festival these two bluesmen were the real Thing. Quickly settling into a cool acoustic groove they took the hugely appreciative audience on a knowledgeable journey South,
stopping at all those traditional musical halts and raising their hats to their heroes on the way. (There was even a delightful story of Mississippi and his dad trekking to see Robert Johnson's recording studio only to find that it had been bulldozed down the day before!) The absolute purity and controlled power of MacDonald's voice is beautifully counterbalanced by Rosco's fine and delicate Sonny Terry influenced soaring harp lines. They are a perfect fit. How often do you go to a gig and hear a Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a stack of traditional numbers, the referencing of Little Lizzy Jane and, of course, the classic line that just has to be somewhere in any brilliantly played traditional set “You're so mean to me'. A great set by some serious musicians....and unsurprisingly they took two well-deserved encores.

Staying around for more acoustic, The Hat was totally captured by the duo that is Wooden Horse. Previously pretty low profile, these two fine musicians benefited from a slot on a recent Classic Blues cover disc and the serendipic release of a sublime CD and it is to be hoped that this appearance at the festival will get them further down the road. They made of lot of friends and fans.
Everything about the music of this pair is atmospheric. They are able to conjure sweet emotion out of thin air with the most spectacular of harmonies and carefully balanced thoughtful guitar playing. Crosby Stills and Nash came readily to mind but there is nothing imitative about Wooden Horse - their self-penned material, Robert Johnson numbers and a stomping 'Sweet Caroline' all had a distinctive touch. (Check out 'Simple Twist of Fate' on their CD.)There were points during this set where you could have heard a pin drop, such was the grip they took of their packed audience. An excellent set from a blues award nominated couple of guys from whom I guarantee we will hear a lot more.

Sprint upstairs to see Russ Tippins (Ok, The Hat doesn't do sprinting – more an elegant shuffle) playing to a full rocking room. I've said before that Russ should be playing big, if not huge venues (will some-one please book him!) as his playing totally commands the place and fills it from floor to ceiling. An extraordinary talented guitarist who seems to fit more notes into a number than most people can get into a gig and who makes well-bred ladies perspire, he can still confound his audiences by throwing in a perfectly pitched slow number, sung with grace and full of those beautiful spaces that only good musicians can leave. With John Dawson on bass and Ian Halford on drums, he is blessed with one of tightest and most talented back lines in the business and together they blew Hebden away – again – they did it last year. To add even more thrill to the set, Russ invited the major talented Jenna Hooson up on stage to sing a two-hundred-mile-an-hour-blow-your-sox-off 'Mama Don't Allow'..(go check on Youtube). Quite rightly, his two CDs 'Elecktrickery' and 'Combustion' are making waves and the buzzing, stomping room at Hebden clearly showed that this ain't gonna stop.

The Hat gets strangely confused when watching Rabbit Foot. They are totally impossible to pin down - and this, of course is their great, great strength and appeal. They are unique in style and are taking the blues world by storm - and yet - when you listen, one minute you are suddenly drumming in a Columbian village hearing Ella and George Thorogood partying like crazy and the next moment you are taken with this overpowering urge to throw shapes while Jamie Morgan and Carla Viegas whoop and swoop around each other like crazed shamen. What is truly attractive about this duo is not that they are both superb musicians but that they enjoy it and they insist, no, make you enjoy it too. They do dirty blues. They do ecstasy blues. They do jumping blues. Class act. Hebden loves' em. 
L.R.Phoenix could not be invented. Lives in Finland, can be very scary but is really quite unreasonably nice, sings blues, plays bottleneck, sings country, has a voice like Waits meets Howlin' and is hugely, hugely entertaining. The blues underground love him and you can see why. He brings with him not just  an obvious guitar talent but there is a touch of something subversive lurking and he likes to make you feel you are in on the plot. This was a cracking set by the sharp-suited and booted L.R and there was great delight in the audience (but no real surprise!) when he announced that he was fed up with lifting his guitar - and sang his last number, majestically, acapella! A true festival star.

Paul Lamb and The Detroit Breakdown don't take prisoners. You just get what is written all over the tin and from the first note there is no messing about as they take you straight into a ten minute roaring blues rock number complete with Yabbadabbadoo shout out. Paul is backed by the astonishing powerhouse of Layla and Joey and tight together they drove their mix of savage seventies blues rock and modern downtown Detroit blues straight deep into the heart of the evening. This is a brilliant, thrilling and roaring trio who lifted the roof off the venerable old Hebden Chapel and it will surely never be the same again. As they said in one of their self-penned numbers "There Goes The Neighbourhood"...and didn't we just love it...

The Hebden Chapel was the perfect venue for headliner Jo Harman. Bestriding the stage, in front of the pulpit, she took ownership of the place and her Congregation just lapped it up. The exciting thing about this singer is not just the sheer power and quality of her voice but the manner in which she uses it. Whatever the number – and the set contained a vast range of material – she brought to it all the subtleties and nuances that only a fine and accomplished artist can. Deep and heart-felt soul with drawn-out and movingly sustained power, stomping bluesy up-beat, the sparse and tender phrasing and even swinging jazz phrase elision were all perfectly pitched for the evening. The audience jumped from whooping and hollering to leaning forward and hanging on every word – and back again. Although Jo is apparently lining up big audience venues, it seems to The Hat at least that this kind of gig - where she could almost touch the audience vocally - shows all her strengths and talents at their very best. Her involvement with her songs, as she is singing them, is tangible and her knowledgeable audience knew and understood that. Surrounded by a band of superbly professional and understated musicians who complemented her perfectly, Jo delivered a true Headliner's set.

And finally. You all know that everything about the Hebden Bridge Blues Festival is Cool. Day Two offered ONE notable exception. The hottest place in town was the Heb Cafe where due to the disappearance of the booked-in caterer Emergency Plan B was crashed into action. In the real world, this means that staff who would normally spend some time enjoying the blues threw on their aprons, conjured saucepans, magicked food from nowhere and generally Saved the Starving at a moment's notice. Hat's Hat is off to Top Stars Hazel, Kate, Jenna and all the others, including Big Boss-come-Cook Jason, for stepping in and doing, fixing and sorting. Be nice to them when you see them.

Pip Pip!
The Man in The Hat 
pic thanks to Craig Shaw and Roger Allen