HRH Blues VI – Day 1
O2 Academy, Sheffield (April 9th, 2022)
Review : Stephen Brophy
Photography : Stephen Brophy (Tears Of Fire Photography)
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 sixth 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.
Back after having to be postponed twice due to the Covid Pandemic the organisers have done well to get an international lineup in place, I honestly can’t imagine trying to organise an even at the moment, keeping a full lineup together is almost impossible, but getting replacements in at little to no notice is another art in itself, so well done I say. As usual it will be a 2 Stage event, Main Stage downstairs and a 2nd Stage in the smaller room upstairs. Unfortunately a number of the bands performing on that 2nd Stage are starting at the same time as sets on the Main Stage, which makes things more difficult to cover, that’s for sure, but tried my best to get around and up and down the stairs. So to the music.
Lol Goodman Band (Acoustic)
Each year the Festival begins with an acoustic set/s as a bonus for VIP/Royalty Ticket holders, this year there is just one set from the Lol Goodman Band, taking place on Stage 2. Can’t put my finger on why, but their acoustic set just didn’t grab me, maybe it was just starting my trip at 3:50am and trying to get my head together. But the crowd that were there seemed to be enjoying the set, I enjoyed the plugged in set on Day 2, a very different kettle of fish.
McHale’s Permanent Brew
This is one of those moments, with a band that has been drafted in at the final hour to fill a slot when another band has to pull out of a Festival you are not sure what to expect when you don’t know them. Maybe I have just been very lucky over the years but I’ve often found the new band to be one that puts on a terrific performance, and that’s the case today for sure The McHale brothers provide the excellent gritty vocal and oh so smooth guitar alongside the solid as a rock bass/drums of Stephen Broughton and Chris Orrell and that extra touch of class with the keys of Simon Lomax. Really great opening set that grabbed the crowd pretty much from the first note and there is no doubt that a lot of new fans were gained today. Tracks like ‘Drowning By Numbers‘ stay in the memory and loved the dynamic between the Acoustic and Electric Guitar, but what a voice, can see these guys being back on that stage very soon higher up the Bill. Discovering new bands to you is a joy at a Festival and this guys lifted everything straight away. You can go check out their album on their Bandcamp page.
Next up on the big stage are one of the bands I was personally looking forward to catching the most, Californian Blues/Soul/Rockers Porcelain Hill have a terrific sound and you can feel just what playing means to this three piece. Darnell is an excellent guitarist, singer and frontman, he’s got that presence so many are lacking these days, musically I feel a touch of a Hendrix sound in some of the heavier edged Rock songs. The band play as a very tight knit unit and exudes energy, getting people up off their feet from early in the set all the way to the finish. The songs themselves are a great mix, airing material from their recently released EP ‘Good Time Not A Long Time‘ and cracking tracks like ‘Sleeping Beauties‘ everything is just so solid from Sonny and Jakob, the music builds up and Darnell’s gritty delivery just helps everything come to life, this is an experience and a show rather than just musicians going through the motions. Crowd reactions can tell a lot early in a day at a Festival, and it was obvious that even with the amount of talent on show this was going to be one of the weekends top sets. Working hard to build their fan base and arranging Tours around a Festival slot is no easy task, and hopefully their new fans picked up a CD or merch, they certainly deserved it. Great stuff. I’m sure they will be back in a higher slot soon.
Back up the stairs to check out the Blues Rock music of Manchester’s Snakewater, and what a cracking set this was, just wish I could have been there for the whole set, but overlapping time slots meant I had to move between the two stages while they were on, having said that a full room was loving them, and I managed to catch most of it. Guitarist/Vocalist Bobby Grant was sporting a Thin Lizzy t-shirt which drew me to them anyway and their tribute to Gary Moore was just brilliant, Bobby’s playing throughout was superb throughout and for a three piece their sound filled the venue. On my list now and looking forward to catching them again. The crowd reaction when the band finished was one of the best of the weekend.
Oddly enough I had yet to catch Rebecca play live until today, missing some chances by bad luck or some events that didn’t happen. So wasn’t going to miss the chance this time around, and it was well worth the effort. Not only her own talents as a singer/guitarist but a really good band behind her. A really well put together set with the standouts for me being ‘Sailing On A Pool Of Tears‘ and the cracking new single ‘Hold On‘ but for me, and it is a personal choice thing, I would have preferred to here one of her original songs to finish off the set rather than a Beatles cover, but still really enjoyed what I heard and Rebecca is very appreciative of the support from the crowd and a an often difficult early evening slot has been very successfully completed. With her striking blonde hair or the animal print scratch plate on her Fender guitar it still comes back to that striking voice. No surprise really that it goes down well, an experienced band that has the touch of class about them.
One of my favourite artists in recent years always love catching Danny live, whether it’s in a small venue or on a large stage at a Festival, the playing is always superb and the songs are full of emotion and feeling. Danny is on unusual form today, but full of chat, communicating with the crowd probably a fair bit more than usual. The playing is as always superb, always an excellent tone when Danny plays, and we get treated to some tracks off Danny’s latest release ‘Rage To Survive‘, which was great, but as with a lot of the acts on Danny has a wealth of material to draw on for live shows these days. The man himself appears to be more talkative than usual this evening, throwing plenty of jokes into the set, but it’s always the playing that holds your attention, he’s the type of player that you can just close your eyes and feel the music, and this was another great set, perhaps some didn’t appreciate the note holding, but others will have loved it.
As with many other acts on over the weekend when you look at the talent in the bands you just know you are in good hands. Love Danny’s music and his playing, and his cheeky banter tonight, although I think some are a little confused at times, whatever this is once again a great set of British Blues, with his wonderful ‘Little Wing‘ cover thrown in as an added bonus, until the next time, great stuff.
Ryk Mead Band
Sadly this was the one band over the weekend that I really didn’t catch enough of to give them a proper review of, but of what I heard Ryk and the guys were sounding good and the crowd in attendance appeared to be enjoying themselves. For anyone like me that missed them Ryk and the guys are on the lineup for next years Festival.
Another interesting band over on the 2nd Stage. Having really enjoyed their the bands last release ‘Finest Ramshackle Jam‘ it was great to be able to catch at least a good part of the Thirteen Stars set, they are excellent. The music is a heady mix of Southern Rock, Country, Rock and Boogie, they sound different, but they sound great. How they managed to all fit on the 2nd Stage is beyond me, with two guitarists (Hoss & JJ Watt), a bassist, a saxophone player, drummer and two great backing vocalists, it’s quite some feat, but such a full sound, nobody is there for show, all of the instruments knit so well to the overall sound of the band. Really hope I get to see these guys again soon as I was really getting into it when I had to move back on again. Hoss Thompson (Guitar/Vocals) has certainly created an evolving monster with this band, and if you don’t know their albums, go check them out, well worth a listen.
Billy Walton Band
Billy and the guys have built up a loyal following in the UK, hard work, Touring and this is the 3rd time I’ve seen them at HRH Blues, will help to to that, but the reality is that they are a great band, very engaging with their audience, great music and attitude that endears them to people. Having mentioned in before, it still holds true that the horn section adds a lot to their sound and show and this time around is our first time being able to see the newest band recruit, Destinee Monroe who has a great voice and adds yet another dimension. This is a quality set from start to finish and a lot of fun too, but that’s always a given with this band. Such a great balance and you can’t help moving your focus around from guitar/bass, to the horn section to the keyboards or whichever vocalist is leading the track, it’s just class. Highlights for me this time around were ‘Hell Or Highwater‘ and ‘One In A Million‘, go see this band when they play on this side of the water.
Well there isn’t really too much to say, Legend pretty much sums him up, doesn’t it. Whether he’s playing his own Blues tracks, a few well chosen covers, or pumping out the Whitesnake Rock classics, it really is always a pleasure to to be able to see Bernie playing live. The crowd is really excited even before he reaches the stage, you can sense the respect alongside the building atmosphere, and I don’t think it matters what he’s playing it’s accepted and loved equally. Bernie always surrounds himself with some serious musicians, this time around stepping in at very short notice the excellent Phil Wilson on Drums alongside Bob Fridzema on Keys and Alan Glen on Harmonica. Each of the musicians shares in the creation of another terrific set, with Alan front and center with Bernie on the Blues tracks.
It’s noticeable after a while that the man himself needs to be seated for a portion of the set (due to some back problems), but that doesn’t detract from the playing or enjoyment of the music in any way at all, and I’m all for an artist being comfortable while plying their craft. As much as I like songs like ‘I Can’t Hold On‘ or ‘That’s Alright‘ it’s impossible to ignore the impact of the closing Whitesnake tracks on the crowd, looking around the venue there are so many people singing and dancing to ‘Fool For Your Loving‘ and ‘Here I Go Again‘ that the atmosphere is just euphoric and infectious, what a terrific way to end a great 70 minutes or so of cracking music. It’s not leaving an envious job for the nights closing act.
Well so much has already been written about the situation in recent times, so I’m not going into it here. But I thought it was important to go into this show with an open mind, something I believe is very important as a music fan, without it you can miss out on so much exciting and interesting stuff. To follow Bernie Marsden’s set was going to be difficult enough, but with I think added pressure on the guys, and a minority of people intent on trying to ruin the set by heckling in a very pointless manner, everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but not the time or place to voice it and damage other peoples enjoyment. Either way the guys got on with things, and at the end of the day I found it a really enjoyable set, the band were as tight as they have every been and Guy did a really good job on vocals, of course it’s different, how could it not be. But some of the songs sound a bit different, we got to hear some tracks that have either rarely been played or actually never seen the light of day in a live arena. Fair play to the band for putting on a show like this, in the late slot, which always ends up with patrons heading for their beds after a long day of music.
This has been a really excellent first day with a really interesting mix of bands, cracking sets on both stages and some names pretty new to me making a lasting impression, which is always an massive added bonus at a Festival. Roll on Day 2.