Review: HRH Blues IV – Day 1 – 14-03-2018

Review: HRH Blues IV – Day 1

O2 Academy, Sheffield

Reviewers : Stephen Brophy (SB), Peter Scallan (PS), Steve Borkowski (SBork)

Photography : Stephen Brophy 

The Festival Season is upon us with a vengeance now as we arrive in Sheffield for this years installment of HRH’s Blues event, now in it’s fourth iteration. Thankfully this year it’s not clashing with the World Snooker Championships that take place across the road from our O2 Academy venue, which makes things a little easier for us all.

The Della Grants (Acoustic)  (SB)

To open any Festival can be a daunting enough experience, but to open both the Acoustic Sets on the 2nd Stage and then jump right over to the Main Stage to play a Full Electric Set is no mean feat. This band takes it in their stride, they play a really nice mix of Blues and Americana, and although 20 minutes isn’t really enough to properly evaluate a band there was certainly enough in this set to peek my interest for their opening slot on the big stage. Besides I’m a sucker for a bit of harmonica. As much as I love Acoustic sets it isn’t always the best way to see a band for the first time, but when bands are playing two sets it offers a great contrast.

Brian Rawson Band (Acoustic)  (SB)

Having seen Brian’s band playing the first HRH Blues in Pwllheli back in 2014 I was interested to see how they sounded now, and this weekend was going to be the first outing for a brand new lineup. Considering this was there very first live performance together I thought it the Acoustic set sounded great, nothing disjointed and Pete’s vocals worked really well with their sound.

Jim Fitzpatrick’s Heavy Weather (Acoustic)  (PS)

This is my first time attending the HRH Blues festival in Sheffield. While there were a few acts I knew and was looking forward to, my rekindled passion for blues and blues-based rock is still developing so there were many acts I hadn’t even heard of! However, my first band to review was none other Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather doing an acoustic set.

I know of Jim from his day job band FM and was looking forward to this short acoustic set. He did the set on his own and played three songs including the song Heavy Weather. I have maintained the that this guy is one of the main reasons that FMs live performances have moved up notch in the time he has been in them and this short performance just reinforced this notion. What did surprise was just how good Jim’s vocals were and it was a great start to my weekend.

The Rainbreakers (Acoustic) (PS)

Next up was The Rainbreakers whom I knew absolutely nothing about. These guys play a quirky take on blues rock, sometimes straying into soul. They certainly sounded tight, crisp and fresh but weren’t really for me.

Their unique sound is epitomised by Ben Edwards vocals which didn’t really hit the spot for me. However, they may well be one of these bands that demand more attention in terms of listening, which I will do.

Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather  (PS)

I moved to the main arena next to check out Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather doing their full set. Jim leads a basic three piece and played a great set including. I recognized the songs from the earlier acoustic and this guy really is a class act in terms of guitar playing. He also has a great voice but being able to compare the earlier acoustic performance with this band performance, I was less convinced about his vocals accompanying a full band in terms of power and cutting edge. None the less, the rapidly-filling main arena gave him a deserved rapturous reception.

Danny Giles Band  (SBork)

To many The Danny Giles Band or DGB as they like to be known were a new band, but not to me, Danny and I go back quite a few years and I’ve booked him a couple of times to play events (including my birthday bash), so I was looking forward to seeing how my old friend would go down with the Sheffield crowd on such a big stage.

Dan’s style is quite heavy, definitely more rock than blues, a big man with a big voice and tone to match, he’s backed by a tight rhythm section of Pat Garvey and Jon Chase, a classic power trio, who aren’t afraid to mix up styles blending rock and blues easily and throwing in a little fusion for good measure. Their own material is strong and well rehearsed, from many years and miles covered on the road, mostly in mainland Europe where the band play the majority of their gigs.

While this is clearly Danny’s band, he is a team player allowing his band to shine and take solos of their own, having played guitar in his father’s band The Chicago Thieves and also can be seen shredding alongside Will Wilde who’s performance on stage 2 at last years HRH Blues was one of the highlights of the entire weekend for many.

The DGB mix heavy tunes from their debut album ‘More Is More‘ including ‘I Won’t Let Love‘ and ‘Been There Twice‘, Danny displays his versatility by covering Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in a slow blues and Johnny Guitar Watson’s 3 Hours After Midnight which brings the crowd to it’s feet. The set seemed to finish too soon and the DGB left the stage to a roar of applause having won many new fans..

Brian Rawson Band  (SB)

Sadly with timings I was not able to stay for the full electric set from Brian Rawson Band which again, like their acoustic set, took place on the 2nd Stage. It’s always interesting to see a band play different types of sets in very short succession, and it shows a really good contrast. The band are really up for this 2nd set and new vocalist Peter Scallan is right in the groove from the very start, it may sound odd but they seem to have grown in confidence from the earlier set and have stepped it up a notch or two, having said that they are the one band from the Day 1 list that seemed most comfortable with both styles.

For me ‘Trip, Stumble & Fall‘ is probably the highlight and sounds better than the first time around, alongside ‘Sitting On Top Of The World‘ which was excellent. Wish I could have caught the whole set, but think I managed to see enough to get a good sense of the vibe and for a band that have literally just come together it has to be said that it’s been a really successful day and two sets that were very much enjoyed by the assembled crowd.

Sari Schorr  (SB)

Sari has been high on my list to catch live for quite some time now, having really enjoyed her recent album release and having not managed to catch Sari’s guitarist Ash Wilson up until now, this was definitely one of the sets that I was most looking forward to seeing all weekend, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Sari has a wonderful powerful voice and she’s backed up by a very talented bunch who all appear to love playing Blues music.

The aforementioned Ash Wilson is superb, also in the band is former King King keyboard player Bob Fridzema, who as always sounded great, the band seem to have knitted together really well, and the crowd is into this Set from the start. Tracks like ‘Demolition Man‘ and ‘Damn The Reason‘ have people singing and dancing in the aisles between the seats and all over the venue to be honest.

Something a little weird is that the live version of ‘Black Betty‘ really didn’t do much for me on the day, and I really like how Sari treats the song, but it certainly went down well with others. The songs in this set however stand up very well beside the voice and top notch musicianship from all of the band, these guys really know how to play and work tightly as a unit. Great set and the atmosphere around the Main Stage is certainly building. A rocking version of Zeppelin’s ‘Rock N’ Roll‘ is all part of a set that is well balanced and more often than not powerful and upbeat, until the next time.

The Black Hands  (SB)

Up next on the second stage were a band from the Midlands, The Black Hands and they definitely play Blues Rock, but with a harder edge and nice aggressive vocals, really enjoyed what I heard from these guys, unfortunately I didn’t manage to hear the full set but even if I’d only managed to be there for ‘45‘ that would have been more than enough to make me want to see these guys again.

Would definitely like to see how this brand of Blues Rock would go down on the main stage, personally I think it would really kick things up a notch early evening and hopefully the guys get a chance next time out. Keep an eye on this band there’s more to come..

Greg Coulson  (SB)

Greg Coulson not only fronts his band but he also plays the Keyboards and Guitar, not the easiest of tasks when you are concentrating on the vocals, but he does a fine job of things. There are many things to like about the style of Blues that these guys play, it’s classy, a little upbeat and sounds great, Greg is working with the crowd to get people involved and the interaction is good.

Highlight for me is probably ‘Someone To Be There‘, with a classic riff it lends itself very well to Greg’s vocals and gets people moving in the crowd. This is an artist that has experience while at the same time being relatively new on the scene, there’s a tonne of talent on the stage and will really look forward to hearing new material and getting to see this band live again. Great energetic and upbeat performance from an emerging artist, and that’s the brilliant thing about a weekend Festival like this you get to see Legends and possible future legends all on the same stage and Greg Coulson was another that got a great crowd reaction and should be on your radar if he isn’t already.

Rainbreakers  (SBork)

Rainbreakers are a band that defy genre, blending classic blues artists of the 60’s and 70’s with  modern soulful twist, their sound can switch from gritty to delicate in a heartbeat. They are like a breath of fresh air in that they are so different from pretty much every other band on the UK circuit right now.

Their own material is skillfully written and authentic, their influences clearly come from a very diverse musical palette, their covers usually from obscure US band such as The Wood Brothers or Monophonics. Ben Edwards vocals soulful, strong and full of emotion, Charlie Richards guitar fills and solos as good as any plank spanking front man, but Charlie appears to shy away from the limelight, happy to be part of a band rather than overplaying to draw attention to himself. The tight rhythm section of Sam Edwards and the always smiling Peter ‘Pedro’ Adams, complete the 4 piece.

The set is made up predominantly of tracks from their 2 EPS, Blood Not Brass and Rise Up, plus the new single Heavy Soul from the upcoming debut album in which Ben opens up about his battle with depression.

It was always going to be difficult to see full sets of every act playing. I wanted to support various friends who were playing but torn between some of the acts on the main stage that I don’t see often so for much of the last couple of hours, I dashed between, Rainbreakers, Danny Bryant, Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Marsden.

Danny Bryant  (SB)

Lets not beat about the bush here, HRH Blues like any Blues event is a celebration of fine guitar playing, and you need look no further than Danny Bryant, he plays with passion, emotion and makes everything look so effortless, this is what a lot of people have come to see. Have always thought that the vocals did not quite match up to the extremely high standards of the guitar playing, but that’s not to say they aren’t good, and the songs are very well written indeed, especially the new material on show from the soon to be released Revelation album, a very personal and moving piece of work.

Danny’s facial expressions can at times look quite menacing as he dominates the stage, certainly not shoe gazer. As mentioned the guitar is stunning throughout, this is one of those sets you can say it was a pleasure to be at and it’s not only Danny that’s top notch in this lineup, on keyboards is the always brilliant Stevie Watts, and when you have musicians of this caliber playing with you it perhaps allows you to just to what you do best, this is the case tonight, I don’t think anyone in the crowd would have been disappointed had Danny played another couple of hours, the set just built and built and with the tracks from the most recent albums, which for me have been his best, it’s just a quality 65 minutes of Blues rock, with some solos that were good enough to blow your socks off. Can’t wait to catch these guys again on Tour. 

Lewis Hamilton Band  (SB)

Lewis Hamilton and the band were in the unenviable position of being scheduled against Bernie Marsden on the main stage, but that didn’t hold this three piece back one little bit and the crowd that was present was very enthusiastic. Brilliant to finally get to catch Lewis live as I’ve been listening to his music for a number of years.

The room had a good sized crowd there to check the band out and they were most definitely getting into this set and Lewis’ guitar playing. In particular, some excellent solos right the way through, and the band were very appreciative of those that have made the journey upstairs to see them. This trio are very tight and the sound is pretty good the fact that the set flies by is indeed an indication of it’s quality.

There is a really impressive control to his playing while still managing to emit as much passion and feeling as possible, the atmosphere in the room was terrific and it built alongside the set, with plenty of movement and encouragement from the audience. Definitely another successful set to close out the 2nd Stage on Day 1, and perhaps in the future something can be done with regards to clashes like this where there are two artists on at the same time on different Stages, even if there is an overlap enable the audience to get the opportunity to catch more of both headline sets. The Lewis Hamilton Band made it obvious why they’ve been put into this slot closing out the stage, but also why they should definitely be in a lot higher up on the Main Stage, perhaps next time out, great stuff. 

Pat McManus Band  (SB)

Okay, going slightly outside of scheduled order here as Pat and the band were actually the last band on stage on the opening night, but it makes no difference when the guys hit the stage and how long they play for, as by the end of it you will have a smile on your face and wish they could have stayed longer. Pat McManus is not only one of the finest musicians on the scene but also one of the nicest you could meet and just look at the smile on his face when he plays, sheer joy, it’s infectious. The set is a mixture of styles, Blues/Rock/Celtic, there’s full blown rockers and powerful instrumentals, one of the highlights is always the wonderful tribute to the late Gary Moore ‘Belfast Boy‘.

The band are just so tight, Pat, Marty and Paul play so many shows all over Europe it’s no surprise, but each time you see them it’s a pleasure to watch, there’s a nice mix of instruments with, Guitar and Fiddle being the most used by Pat, he truly is a master of both. Having heard far too many people rule out his music because of the Celtic influences you really need to get out and catch this man live while we can, there are very few musicians on the planet that can touch him for passion and ability and he still has the beauty in his playing that can bring a tear to the eye, his rendition of ‘Parisienne Walkways‘ although not in the set tonight would have definitely had jaws wobbling. What we do hear is a great mix, instrumental, Rock and naturally Blues and what we get from the latest album Tattooed In Blue sounds great, but it’s always going to be the Mama’s Boys classic ‘Needle In The Groove‘ or ‘Still Got The Blues‘ that the crowd really get involved for. Brilliant way to close an evening….

….…..but lets look back a little and the Headline act for day one….. 

Bernie Marsden  (PS)

Bernie Marsden was one of those names that I was familiar with, having been a huge fan of early Whitesnake and his own band Alaska. I recently him playing a great set at the Winterstorm festival in Troon, Scotland. Therefore, I was really looking forward to seeing him again. Yeah – it’s a blues festival and you have to expect a smattering of blues classics. You also have to expect him to draw on his Whitesnake experience, which he did.

However, I have got to say I was disappointed in the Bernie Marsden set. In my opinion, it had too many blues standards and even the Whitesnake classics got drawn out a little too long for my liking and felt like it was being padded out. His Winterstorm set was shorter and it was possibly just the culmination of a long day for me. What wasn’t in doubt is just how good a guitar player he is and the stellar guitar sound he had. He could also maybe benefit from having someone else do some of the singing. Disappointing is how I would sum up this set.

This has been an excellent first day with a really interesting mix of bands on both stages and as expected a really good reaction from the large assembled crowd. Lots in top notch and fun performances from a collection of bands that not only seemed to be loving playing the Festival but also the reaction they were getting from the audience.